Strangled on the Streets of Amsterdam

Strangled on the Streets of Amsterdam

Yes, you read that correctly … strangled. Grabbed from behind, arm wrapped around my neck, forced into a full blown chokehold as I was walking down the street in Amsterdam. And not by some dangerous foreigner lurking in the shrouded shadows of an alleyway … but by a 21-year-old, white American male from Michigan who slept in the bunk next to me in the co-ed hostel.

The trip to Amsterdam started off great. I arrived at the quiet and luxurious Generator Hostel on my first afternoon in the city and promptly met my three roommates in the four-bunk dorm: two girls from England and one guy from the U.S. The girls were traveling together, the guy was solo. The three of us hit it off immediately. All extroverts, all new to the city, and each of us happy to have a cool little group to hang out with in the evenings.

The first night was flawless. Everyone in the group was jet-lagged and exhausted, but the enticement of a new city beckoned us to explore the after-hours parts of Amsterdam you could only do safely in numbers. It was great. Lots of fun, lots of giggles, and lots of, “Oh my, did you see that!?” We made it back safely to the hostel with smiles on our faces and stories to tell.

On the second night, things got weird. The evening started off great – another night of food, fun, dancing, and friends – but then something happened on the way back to the hostel. Timmy started acting strangely. The happy, mild-mannered boy from Michigan turned angry and belligerent. He started yelling. First at strangers, then at the English girls, then at me. His blurted out words turned into incoherent sentences and incoherent sentences turned into loud, angry guttural noises. Clearly something was off.

Now, I hadn’t kept track of Timmy for most of the night. Yes, we went out as a group — we arrived together and left together, as we had agreed upon for safety — but as adults and individuals who had each traveled to a foreign country on their own, the assumption was that everyone could handle themselves. Everyone knew they were traveling to Amsterdam — where stories and stereotypes of pitfalls and temptations were well-known, but surely people would prepare, plan, and act accordingly … right?

As Timmy became increasingly volatile, my natural peacemaker reaction was to calm him down. After all, he was part of our group. He was 21. And most importantly, he was sleeping in the same room as us. I had no clue what substances he had or had not taken, but I’ve dealt with drunks before and I thought surely he’d sober up a bit and just fall asleep once he was back at the hostel. I was dangerously wrong.

As our group walked down the street to catch a cab, Timmy and I got separated from the two girls. He FREAKED OUT. He started screaming at the top of his lungs in the middle of the crowded alleyway. His face turned beet red. Veins started to protrude. His eyes glazed over like a crocodile ready to pounce. And then it happened. Like someone flipped a switch inside his head, Timmy lunged at me with lightening speed. He grabbed my forearm with the force of a wrestler, spun me around backwards with one arm and wrapped his other around my neck. I couldn’t believe what was happening! At first I thought it was a bad teenage joke … really, a chokehold? Is this the WWE? What’s next, a pillow fight!? But then he started to squeeze. Tightly. Like a boa constrictor going in for the kill. Slow and steady. You know how time stands still in the moment of a car accident? That’s what this felt like. I was in shock that it was actually happening, confused by why he was doing it, annoyed he wouldn’t get off me. And then my slow-motion moment caught up to real-time panic. I suddenly realized the frightening reality of what was happening. He squeezed tighter and tighter. I got mad. He started to lift my body off the ground with the force of his forearm. Then I got angry. My fight or flight kicked in and I got violent. I jabbed him as hard as I could with my free elbow. He barely loosened his grip around my neck but released my other arm which had been pinned behind my back. I stomped his foot, he squeezed tighter. I took both of my hands, reached up to his arm wrapped around my throat, and gouged my short little nails into his skin as hard as humanly possible. That did it! He squealed with the voice of a second-grade school girl, “Ooww! You hurt me!” I broke free. I jumped from his clutches, spun around and said, “WHAT THE F*@! ARE YOU DOING!?!? I’m out of here … you’re on your own now!” His response, he lunged at me again! Only this time he didn’t have the element of surprise. He barely got a hold of my wrist. I started yelling, “Get off me! GET AWAY FROM ME! F*@! YOU!” People started to take notice of what was happening as I yanked myself away and fled in the opposite direction. Shockingly … he came after me AGAIN! This time, flight was the best option. I quickly maneuvered away from him and immediately ducked into a crowd of people waiting outside at a nearby club. Timmy headed for the crowd. I yelled, “Please help, I don’t know that guy! He just attacked me!” The crowd jumped into action and shielded me. The bouncer at the door stepped in and grabbed Timmy. Finally, some help! Two other men stepped in and hauled Timmy off by force as he fought and yelled the whole way down the street.

I stood there shaking. Thankful to be alive. Dumbfounded by what just happened and utterly appreciative it hadn’t been worse. A string of “what ifs” started playing through my head … what if I had been drunk, what if he had been bigger, what if this had happened IN the hostel!? The reality of the situation sank in as my adrenaline burned off and the crowd around me subsided. Then I realized, I had to go back to the same shared room. All of my things were there. But surely he wouldn’t be. Surely he had been arrested or detained or something and wouldn’t be waiting for me in the room.

I collected my confidence and headed back to the hostel. Sure enough, Timmy was there. He hadn’t been arrested. He hadn’t been detained. But at least he had been stopped. Bloody and groggy, Timmy mumbled incoherently from his top bunk as I stealthily gathered up my things and moved out of the room.

I never saw Timmy again.

The experience left me a little shaken but a little wiser to the world. Things CAN happen out there, and they will, when you least expect it by the most unexpected. Luckily, I was able to draw upon a few basics lessons I learned growing up in Texas: remain vigilant, use your voice, fight like a girl, say your prayers, and retreat but never surrender. I don’t blame the city – Amsterdam was absolutely wonderful. It turned out to be my best adventure and favorite place in Europe. And in the end, at least I survived … and have one hell of a story to tell!

Timmy the Strangler just hours before the incident

Favorite Cities in New Zealand

Favorite Cities in New Zealand

I LOVE New Zealand. I spent almost three weeks traversing both islands top to bottom, from Auckland to Invercargill. I was blown away by the nature and wonder around every corner and equally impressed with the cool communities nestled alongside the scenery. Here’s a look at city life from my top three spots in New Zealand:

WELLINGTON • North Island

It’s easy to see why Lonely Planet called Wellington the “Coolest Little Capital in the World,” in 2011. Hip and trendy pubs, bars, restaurants, and craft breweries line the serpentine streets, and every neighborhood seems to have a unique and colorful vibe of their own.

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HAWKE’S BAY • North Island

The southeastern coastal region of Hawke’s Bay is a favorite holiday destination for Kiwis, and for good reason! The neighboring cities of Napier and Hastings welcome tourists with black sand beaches, delicious food, bountiful orchards, and exquisite vineyards. Plus, Napier is home to more than a dozen little blue penguins, found in the National Aquarium of New Zealand.

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QUEENSTOWN • South Island

Ah, the beauty of Queenstown! Located between sculpted mountains and crystal clear waters, this resort town offers thrill-seeking adventure and jaw-dropping wonder for people of all ages. Skyline Gondola provides picturesque views of the city, Kiwi Birdlife Park allows visitors to get up and personal with the country’s national animal, and if you’re daring enough to try, Kawarau Gorge Suspension Bridge is the world’s first permanent commercial bungee site.

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58 Days Away

58 Days Away

Let me just say, I truly didn’t think I would last this long! 58 days away from home. That may not seem like a lot to some, but for me… someone who went to college an hour and a half away from my hometown, an only child and an only grandchild of a small family, and someone who was never really shipped-off to summer camp … 58 days away is crazy and quite an accomplishment! It baffles me that I spent an entire month in Australia, two whole weeks in Hawaii, and I’m rounding-out my second island on an 18-day adventure in New Zealand. It’s still so surreal, especially since I spent the last 11 years in little ol’ Waco, Texas. But, that’s what this past seven months has been about … expanding my horizons, challenging my norms, and stepping outside of my comfort zone.

My comfort zone. I’ve struggled with that phrase on this particular trip, especially in terms of my photography. Many of my photos are of beautiful landscapes. I’ve been lucky enough to traverse stunning islands and gorgeous parts of this planet, and it’s hard not to photograph things that move you to tears. But I sometimes get discouraged thinking, I’m not trying hard enough or I’m not branching out or stepping outside of my comfort zone with my photography … and then I remember, 58 days away. I did 36 on the road by myself across America. I flew to Scotland after quitting my job, packing up my apartment, and leaving my comfortable lifestyle (and salary) behind. So maybe the end of my comfort zone isn’t necessarily about photographing homeless people in the back alleys of Auckland … maybe for me, right now, it’s about pushing forward each day and living in the moment of this adventure. Of making it to day 67 and not coming home at day 35. Continuing on with a smile on my face as a white, American, 38-year-old female, exploring the world alone – hiking through cities, renting cars in different countries, driving on the left for thousands of kilometers, finding a new place to sleep and eat every one of those 58 days, and putting myself out there 8,000 miles away.

So, maybe this is more of a note of encouragement to myself … and a quick check in with my blog after 4 weeks … to say, keep going, you’re doing it! The great state of Texas, delicious mouthwatering Mexican food, and your adorable fuzzy pups are waiting for you whenever you’re ready. But for now … finish strong and keep going. Do it for those who can’t.

Four Islands in Fourteen Days

Four Islands in Fourteen Days

Well, I survived! Four Hawaiian islands in fourteen days all by myself over the Christmas holiday. I wasn’t sure what to expect — would it be easy to travel between islands, would it be as expensive as everyone warned, would I find places to stay, and the big question — would I survive Christmas by myself!?

The answer to all is, yes! I survived Christmas, found lodging, spent money (but also saved money by reaching out to friends of friends), and easily explored each island with the help of rental cars and flights with Hawaiian Airlines. There were some emotional ups and downs, of course, but it’s all part of the journey and I’m thankful and delighted I went through with the trip, tried something new, and made the most of my Hawaiian journey!

Here’s a look at the Hawaiian sights from my perspective — and don’t forget to check out my Instagram feed for daily photos from my travels! Mahalo!


THE ISLAND OF HAWAII 

 

MAUI

 

KAUAI

 

OAHU

 

Here I go again on my own!

Here I go again on my own!

Well, after 5 months (to the day) of quitting my comfortable desk job, I launched-out for another solo adventure … this time to the Pacific! 

It all started when a few of my family members told me they were heading to Hawaii for Christmas, and of course, I offered to tag along! I had a friend on the Big Island and had been wanting to visit her since she left Waco — so why not!? One week with her in Hilo and one week with my family in Honolulu for Christmas — what a wonderful way to celebrate the holiday with friends and family, plus, spend time in a new, beautiful place! Also, since I still had some money left and always wanted to travel to Australia and New Zealand, why not make this the third-leg of my year-long adventure!? Truly test myself and set sail half-way across the world to see what I could document and discover. So, I bought a one-way ticket to Hawaii for two weeks over Christmas and cashed-in my credit card miles for a second one-way ticket to Australia for New Year’s. What an adventure this would be!

And then I got the first text message. My family backed out. No one was going to Hawaii after all. Three days later, my friend texted. She was moving back to Texas. She would no longer be in Hawaii by the time I arrived. Well, crap. Best laid plans, right? With two tickets already purchased and paid-for with specific destinations, it didn’t feel right to back out. And then a wave of panic hit me … I’ll be ALL BY MYSELF FOR CHRISTMAS in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Granted, I’ll be in Hawaii, but still! By myself for Christmas! What in the hell just happened!?

But as any good solo traveler does — which, honestly, I never set out to become .. but life continues to steer me in that direction and I’ve chosen to embrace it — I dusted off my emotions, and with the help of my close friends, left my pity party and started formulating a plan. Where would I stay, what would I do to fill my time on the islands, how could I swing two extra weeks of finances? I always believe God has a purpose and a plan for our lives … and apparently He wants me to spend Christmas in Hawaii, alone. 

So, here I am! I packed my international bags once again, stepped over the nearly-debilitating fear that creeps up every time I’m a week out from a solo adventure, kissed my dogs and parents goodbye, and got on a plane to Hawaii. Because, why not. You only live once and this is part of my journey. After all, I quit my job to give my dreams a chance and try to tackle more than what’s comfortable and easy and mundane. Who knows … it could be fantastic. I mean, after all — it is Hawaii .. for Christmas … all by myself.  🙂 



Solo Road Trip across America

Solo Road Trip across America

12,575 miles, 53 days, 31 states, and 1 little Subaru — what a great way to see and celebrate Fall in America! Last week, I made it back home to Austin, Texas, after spending the better parts of September and October on the road by myself. I loved the adventure—the open road, the changing of the seasons, the new sights, and the freedom to go wherever I wanted. It was everything I had hoped for and often dreamed of!

Julie Road Trip Map -SEPT AND OCT
My solo road trip route! The thinner west-looping line is my two-week September trip, while the thicker east-looping line is my Fall Foliage route.

My first trip started-off on a whim — I arrived home a little early from Ireland and had two weeks before my high school reunion, so I hopped in my trusty little Forester, opened the map, and said, “let’s just see where the road takes me!” The adventure took me to 10 states … up and out of Texas into the Midwest, across the beautiful open-spaces of Nebraska and Southern Wyoming, and into the gorgeous, prehistoric-looking lands of Utah and Colorado.

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My “fall foliage” trip was something I had wanted to do for years and was a big reason I didn’t take-off across the globe for months-on-end. Growing up in Texas, where Autumn consists of “brown and down,” I’d always dreamed of seeing the vibrant colors in New England — and my goodness, they did not disappoint! 36 days, 21 states, 7,845 miles, and endless landscapes of gorgeous color. From Austin to Albuquerque, across Route 66 to the Great Lakes, through fall colors of New England, down the rugged coastline of Maine to the crazy streets of NYC, across the Appalachian Mountains down the Blue Ridge Parkway, back to my home state of Texas! It was truly an epic road trip and my head is still swimming with visions of red, orange, and yellow leaves fluttering in the daylight.

And now, I’m in Austin for a few weeks—sorting through thousands of photos from the last few months, updating this blog (because I discovered it’s difficult to pull yourself away from the in-the-moment beauty to sit in front of a computer screen), and preparing for my next big adventure, which starts mid-December in Hawaii!

Also, a big thank you to everyone for following along on Facebook and Instagram. Be sure to check out my photography site for the high-quality, sellable images — ready and uploaded by Thanksgiving — and stay tuned for more content right here on Workday Wanderlust!

Photo Editing at Spider House
Sorting through TONS of photos at my favorite Austin coffee shop, Spider House. Stay tuned for more great images!

 

The First 100 Days

The First 100 Days

Today marks 100 days since I quit my job to travel full time! Even though it’s only been a few short months, it feels like an entire lifetime by since I was stuck in the 8-5 grind, trying to decide how to make a bold move in life.

And now, I wake up every day — usually in a different city — thankful and amazed that I have the opportunity to live the life I always imagined. Each day is a completely different routine and there are definitely ups and downs along the way, but somehow it feels like the perfect fit. Many days I’m not sure where I’ll be sleeping that night, and most days my travel direction is based only on a gut feeling or desire to see something new — and while that may sound crazy to some people, it’s been absolutely liberating. So far, I’ve traveled to 4 countries, 21 American states, and driven more than 14 thousand miles by myself! Here’s a quick look at some of my favorite places and sights along the way.

 

Unexpected Travel Friends

Unexpected Travel Friends

When you travel solo, you meet people. It’s one of the things I love most of all about traveling by myself. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of alone time – even in the midst of a crowd, you can easily avoid eye contact and blend-in with the masses if you choose – but the universe has a perfect way of placing people in your path when you need it the most.

Solo in a crowd

During my adventure to the UK and Ireland, I met a handful of people who undoubtedly increased the richness of my experience: The polite man on the plane ride over to Dublin who informed me that Brits are scared of American food portions. The French girl who, in broken English, offered to share an appetizer with me at a London café, and I, in turn, became Facebook friends with her. The sweet expat sitting next to me on an eleven-hour bus ride who graciously shared her favorite photo locations in Ireland. The kind man in Glasgow who alerted me to the fact that I’d left my credit card in the self-checkout machine! The Polish woman on a flight who mirrored my beliefs about love and life, and offered me a place to stay on my next adventure. And the lovely couple from California staying at one of the B&Bs, who invited me to dinner and we drank the night away in Ireland’s pubs. All of these people entered my travel adventure when least expected and provided me with lasting memories and fun times along the way.

But a few of my encounters turned out to be shockingly serendipitous and truly helped to inspire and validate my choice to embark on this great adventure!

Justin and Clare
As I departed from my group in Scotland, I had a minor freak out about what was to happen next. I reached out to a friend in Austin to see if his brother was still living in England, and to my surprise and great relief, Justin did live in England, and in fact, was only a few short hours away from Stonehenge! Justin and his girlfriend Clare welcomed me into their home and lives for four wonderful days. They generously shared with me delicious, home-cooked meals, a free and comfortable place to stay, use of their washing machine, and all of the comforts of home I desperately needed to give me the confidence to continue in my solo, international adventure. Thank you, guys, I’ll forever be grateful!

Katie and Rebekah
Talk about serendipity! On my last night in London, I sat down at the fabulous little Italian restaurant next to my hotel and immediately heard an American accent coming from the table next to me. Within seconds, I hear the word “gymnastics” and “bless her heart.” Both phrases were music to my ears and I couldn’t miss the opportunity to give a Texan, “hello!” Turns out, the two girls were from Kentucky and headed to Dublin the next day – just like me!! Our world views were similar, our travel plans were similar, and the extent of our serendipitous encounter elicited shock and awe on both sides! We wound up meeting in Dublin for dinner and drinks and catching up like old friends for hours! I was thrilled to find out they had quickly become fans of my blog, and it was fun to share the crazy, back-story details of the articles they found fascinating. Such a wonderful experience – the true epitome of being bold, talking to strangers, and making new friends in foreign countries. Thank you, ladies, you’re famous in my book!!

Lisa and Haley
As I was walking along the precarious trail of the Cliffs of Moher, selfies just weren’t cutting it to document my presence in such a grand place. I turned around to the two closest humans and asked if they could take a photo of me. As luck would have it, I was wearing my Food for Thought T-shirt, and both girls immediately recognized it and exclaimed that they were Baylor alumnae! How random and perfect – here I’m on the side of a cliff in Western Ireland and in the midst of hundreds of tourists and five kilometers of rugged trails, I strike up a conversation with fellow Baylor Bears! The synchronicity of it all amazes me.

The greatest lesson I’ve learned from these encounters and connections is to be bold and communicate — reach out, be polite, and sincerely engage with others. You never know when a new friend might appear!

Quick and Current Update – Ireland

Quick and Current Update – Ireland

Hello, friends! If you’re following along with my adventure on Facebook or Instagram, you’ll see I’m a couple of weeks into my travels – but still at the front part of my blog! I’m so linear with certain things, I feel I have to go in order with my blog posts … but I wanted to stay current and dive right into where I’m at now. So, I’m throwing linear organization to the wind and jumping ahead five or six articles!

Yesterday, I wrapped-up 17 days in the UK and headed to Ireland. The trip thus so far had been filled with beautiful scenery, sleepy towns and bustling cities. London was an explosion of culture, tastes, transportation – and surprisingly – gorgeous weather! There have been some ups and downs though … about a week and a half into my journey I hit an emotionally gloomy patch. Rainy days coupled with fear of the unknown had me in tears and telling myself, “I can always go home tomorrow.” A little ridiculous, I know, but those feelings were very real and part of my journey. I’m a hundred times better now and feel that with the help of sunny skies, lots of prayers – and a few calls to mom – I’ve gotten over the hump and I’m starting to get my rhythm back. The rhythm and comfortable confidence of … “I can do this.” I enjoy meeting new people, seeing new places, and exploring on my own. I’m excited to be in a new country, and even more excited to see what this country has in store for me. I have peace knowing that I still can go home tomorrow … but until then, it’s one foot in front of the other while giving this adventure the best effort I can!

Here’s a quick look at my first 24 hours in Ireland, all shot in Dublin with my new Samsung Galaxy S8+!

And my first meal … Guinness and Beef casserole! Ahhh, it’s like you’re right here with me!

 

Launching-Out with a Group of Friends

Launching-Out with a Group of Friends

Let the adventure begin! What better way to set-out on a world adventure than to start the trip with friends. I’m blessed to have a group of travel companions who venture out each year to international places like Italy, Iceland, Canada, and Mexico … and this year’s trip was scheduled for Scotland! As I started to craft the details to my hair-brained idea of traveling for a year, it dawned on me that I could couple my group trip to Scotland with a few extra weeks in the U.K. — someplace “easy,” English-speaking, relatively safe, and an environment where I wouldn’t really stand out. My initial idea was to start in Morocco, but after a mild panic attack, I came to the conclusion that as a single, blonde, female, starting in a third-world Muslim country during Ramadan might not be the best idea. So, Scotland it is!

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I met-up with my travel group in New York and we flew to Glasgow on one of our favorite airlines, KLM. The ticket was a little pricier than some of the low-budget airlines I’d researched through Google flight tracker but it was important for me to fly over on the same plane as my friends — a little bit of comfort and security in the midst of ongoing change. It was already a big difference for me to pack clothes, makeup, meds, and shoes into a 36L backpack and carry it around like a pack mule. The least I could do was splurge a bit and sit next to my friend on the seven-hour flight over the pond.

We arrived in Glasgow and it was gorgeous! We were warmly welcomed by our hired driver, Robin. The U.K. drives on the opposite side of the road as the US, and just to be safe, we left the right-side, roundabout driving to a local professional. Robin was excellent! He was extremely knowledgeable about the country, laid-back in nature, and truly cared about our well-being and happiness throughout the journey. We contracted with him through Skye Tours in Glasgow and I would highly recommend him, and the company, to anyone who’s interested in exploring Scotland!IMG_0115

The town of Oban was our first destination. This quaint little bayside town was the heritage site of one of our group members and it was neat to see from where her ancestors originated. The beauty of traveling anywhere — especially for an extended period of time — is learning the nuances of a new country and discovering sights, sounds, and local flavors along the way. On the way to Oban, we stopped at Sterling Castle for photos, snacks, and a tour of the castle. A few things I quickly learned about Scotland … the landscape is absolutely stunning with its rolling green hills covered in black and white sheep and hairy brown cows, there are castles and churches and VERY old buildings everywhere, British people typically drink tea instead of coffee and they take it quite seriously, the food is fantastic and often times made up of seafood, and the language is similar…but oh, so different.

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We stayed in Oban one night and enjoyed the local cuisine, 60 degree temperatures on the last day of July, and a little time to recuperate from jet lag. Then it was time to head north up to the Highlands and the beautiful Isle of Skye. But photos and stories from that leg of the journey will have to wait … stay tuned for the next posting!

Today I Quit My Job to Travel for a Year

Today I Quit My Job to Travel for a Year

It’s true! I did something bold and brave and definitely a bit crazy. I left my stable, comfortable job at Baylor University and opted for the adventure of a lifetime. It’s not that I don’t like my job — it’s just that I want more out of life than being stuck behind a desk all day.

It all started nine months ago when I was struck with an epiphany. I had attended an event hosted by my department when all of a sudden, I was overcome with a surreal, almost out of body experience. I realized I was sitting in the midst of a triad—the perfect convergence of my past, present, and future. The event resembled so many from the early days of my career when I worked for the Baylor Alumni Association and hosted numerous, large-scale events for hundreds of people. The event I was attending that day was a good, quality event, but my role and responsibilities paled in comparison to the duties of my past. But the content of that event was life-changing. Three women formed a panel discussion on a small stage—two professional photographers and one financial advisor. The women shared stories of how they grew in their careers from humble beginnings to successful professionals by following their passion and landing (or creating) their dream jobs. And it hit me … “I have to do something more than what I’m doing right now.” It was the slap in the face I needed to truly ask myself the question, “What do I want to do with my life?”

That epic question had weaved its way through the patchwork of my life. As a child, the question was, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” In my teens, “Which college do you want to attend?” In my 20s, “What career path will you follow?” All had good answers and each stage came with peaks and valleys, blessings and heartaches, trials and tribulations—but in my 30s, I realized the question became much more weighted. The thoughts and appeasement of, “I’ll follow my dreams one day,” all of a sudden turned into, “Holy shit, I’m 37 years old and ‘one day’ keeps slipping further and further into the future.” So at that small event on that life-changing day, for what seemed like the first time ever, I examined my life-options with no barriers attached.

What I discovered—the true unearthing of my passion—was that I had an innate desire to document the beauty of the earth, the people in it, and the stories waiting to be told. I knew I could no longer ignore my calling—I had to be bold and brave and step forward through fear to realistically give my dreams a shot. My life journey had led me to a place where I had no husband, no kids, and no mortgage—and instead of continuing to make excuses for why I could never do something so bold as to travel the world, I started researching the possibilities.

So here I find myself … after nine months of planning, years of speculation, and a lifetime of dreaming—and I’m actually doing it! I don’t know what the future holds or what beauty and speed bumps lie ahead, but I do know I’m finally willing to give this a shot—to pay respect to my dreams and stop ignoring my passion. And hopefully, at the end of this journey, I can look back and say—I followed my calling, I gave it my all, and I have no regrets with what might have been.

Fun and Sun in Cozumel

Fun and Sun in Cozumel

Ahh, the beach. The sound of the ocean, the feel of the sand in your toes, and the fruity little drinks with umbrellas—what’s not to love!? I recently traveled to Cozumel, Mexico, with a close group of friends for a little relaxation and adventure. There’s something wonderful about traveling with female friends that makes the experience richer, more adventurous, and somewhat freeing. Maybe it’s that conversations have no barriers and that every topic is fair game—from kids and husbands to boob jobs and botox!

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What I loved about this particular trip was the relaxation mixed with adventure. The photos do a great job of capturing the moment and I had so much fun renting old Volkswagen Beetles and cruising the entire island of Cozumel. The thrill of driving a convertible stick shift, the open road in a foreign country, and the hilarity of the missing parts on our 1960s bugs: one license plate, two rearview mirrors, a headrest, and a hubcap! But it’s Mexico—and all part of the adventure!

As with any good trip to the beach, there were also endless hours of sun and sand—and plenty of beautiful things to photograph. Hopefully, a few of my images will serve as an inspiration to start planning your own beach vacation today!

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A Winter Trip to Iceland

A Winter Trip to Iceland

Apparently, Iceland is all the rage now! When a friend suggested a trip to the small Nordic island in Winter, I thought it was a bit random and a little crazy, so of course I said yes.

As with any trip to unfamiliar territory, I started my research and brushed up on my geography. I was delighted to discover Iceland is home to glaciers, volcanoes, geothermal springs, geysers, and lava fields—plus, it’s located so far North it actually touches the Artic Circle!

Since Iceland is the new hot-spot for tourists (and there were A LOT of tourists), the recommended way to traverse the island is by double-decker tour bus. My travel group opted for two tours: a full-day bus excursion around the Golden Circle, and an evening adventure with hot springs and a chance to see the Northern Lights. Both tours were wonderful and I quickly discovered why people visit in the winter—the breathtaking landscape and the Northern Lights!

In addition to the natural beauty of Iceland, I was enamored with the charm of the largest city and capital, Reykjavík. There’s a certain quirkiness about it with its vibrant colors and unique architectural design. I had fun trying to pronounce and decipher the Icelandic language on street signs and buildings—all part of the unique experience when visiting a new country.

Anytime you visit a new city or country, valuable lessons are learned along the way—either from your own experiences or from the people you encounter. Here are a few tips I’d like to share … for when YOU take the plunge and check out Iceland for yourself!

Tips and tricks for the future:

  • Expect high prices. Iceland was ranked the World’s 4th most expensive country in 2015 and the cost to visit keeps going up! Costs aren’t high enough to be a deterrent … but make sure you plan for New York City prices.
  • Rent a car. The large tour buses are nice, but if you’re looking for a little more freedom and authenticity, rent a 4×4 vehicle, block-off five days for adventure, and drive the entire Ring Road loop.
  • Pay attention to details. If you are going the tour bus route (which is the main mode of tourist transportation), make sure to pay extra attention to which bus is going where. Large crowds of tourists plus dozens of double-decker buses with similar destination signs in the window, equals getting on the wrong bus!
  • Northern Lights are not guaranteed. It may sound silly, but a lot of tourists think the Northern Lights happen all night, every night in the winter months. I learned that a lot of factors influence the Aurora Borealis forecast, including cloud coverage and solar activity. Be sure to check the forecast before you go!

kyla and NLights

New York in the New Year

New York in the New Year

This year, I decided to kickstart my yearly adventures with a trip to New York City. I love using federal holidays as my motivation for a vacation—and I knew the MLK weekend fell within the first few weeks of January. I scored a low-cost, non-stop plane ticket through my favorite, no-hassle airline, and I was on my way!

It’s easy to see why people fall in love with the Big Apple—the people, the buildings, the energy! Sophistication entwined with grittiness, midtown traffic mixed with tourists, and the palpable electricity of the hustle.

I enjoyed submerging myself in the sights and sounds of the city—getting caught up in the current from time to time, peddling as fast as I could to keep up and look like a local. My proudest moment (second only to successfully navigating the subway) was when a New York native exchanged glances with me while waiting for a newcomer to awkwardly enter the turnstile. “Pfft, tourist,” he scoffed. I, of course, echoed his sentiment with a slight eye-roll and smile, “ugh, I know!” I felt as if I’d just been handed keys to the city.

NYC panorama w logo2

Adventure, new sights and sounds, and lessons from another city are right around the corner. Throw a dart, pick a place, make a plan, save some funds—a new perspective is well within your grasp!

Buffalo Round-Up in South Dakota

Buffalo Round-Up in South Dakota

It’s amazing how many quirky events take place throughout the U.S. on any given day. One of these unique events is the Buffalo Round-Up, held annually for more than 50 years in the beautiful Black Hills of South Dakota’s Custer State Park.

I had the pleasure of attending the Round-Up this fall with a group of friends from North Dakota. I wasn’t sure what to expect—being from Texas I was familiar with cowboys and longhorns and rodeos … but rounding up buffalo!? What in the world would that entail? Well, I definitely found out … and I discovered it was great!

It starts with a beautiful drive into Custer State Park during the magical season of Fall. Cowboys greet car-packed tourist with a smile and a tip of their hat. The event is free and open to the public and allows young and old to get up-close and personal with the historic beasts.

Thousands of people line the rolling hills with chairs, binoculars and cameras, waiting for the stampede to begin. The purpose of the event is to corral roaming bison for inoculation, sorting and branding, to help the dwindling population find its foothold again.

As the anticipation builds, children squeal in delight, adults move closer to the flimsy fence, and photographers secure their tripods. And then all of a sudden—there they are! Cresting the hill and traversing the valley—a stampede of hooves and dust, fur and horns. The electricity builds as people whoop and holler, cowboys crack their whips, and the ground vibrates with magnificent force—and for a moment, everyone is transported to another time when these beasts roamed wild and free on the open planes.