Happy 2015!

I lied on my social media pages, saying I was going to bed early and would be asleep before midnight.

I was totally awake, working on the book. I wanted to start the year off RIGHT, y’all!

Here’s to 2015! The year things are going to happen!! (Which, by nature of life, is true no matter what. But I’m talking about THINGS.)

Vote for THINGS in this totally biased and unscientific poll:

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Eat. Pray. Blog.

For nearly three months last fall my cousin Alysse took an epic trip around the globe. In a stroke of excellent luck, she drew my name for Christmas and I received a gorgeous bag from Thailand. In a stroke of awesome cousin-ness, she agreed to write a post about her travels. I asked her to do it because I believe a person can’t have an experience like that and not come back somehow enlightened. (I’m right.) All of the astonishingly beautiful photos are hers.

A combination of things inspired me to take my trip: I wanted to see the world and I felt like I was getting stuck in a rut at work and in my normal routine. I decided to go solo. It sounds cheesy, but I felt like I was really going to accomplish something if I was courageous enough to travel alone — I wanted to be proud of navigating my way around the globe. At first I didn’t have 100% support from everyone (mainly certain family members), but eventually they realized it would be better to support my trip because it was really happening!

I visited Canada, France, India, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Singapore. Canada was very similar to the U.S., but a bit more laid back and very friendly.  My best friend joined me for the first leg of my trip and we basically partied our way from Toronto to Montreal. It was a blast! 

Niagra Falls

Niagara Falls

From there, I headed to Paris, where my sister was patiently waiting. Paris is now one of my favorite cities in the world! After getting over some extreme jet lag, Noelle and I ate and walked our way through this beautiful place. We of course saw the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and the Arc de Triomphe. We drank lots of wine and ate about 5,000 different desserts. And we saw Lady Gaga at the Stade de France… jealous yet? 😉

Arc de Triumphe

Arc de Triomphe

At the Eiffel Tower

At the Eiffel Tower

Sweets in Paris

Sweets in Paris

India was my next stop. It was not what I expected — it was worse. I have never felt so unsafe as a solo woman traveler. I saw the Taj Mahal and took an awesome cooking class, and I left as soon as I possibly could. 

Taj Mahal

Taj Mahal

Henna

Henna

Thailand is my favorite country I’ve ever visited and where I spent the bulk of my time. The locals are incredibly friendly, the food is incredibly fresh and everything is so affordable! I’m talking $6 per night for a nice room! I spent a few days in Bangkok, which is a must if you are visiting Thailand, and did way too much partying on the famous Khao San Road. I also went on a jungle trek, rode an elephant and met a great group of English girls who I met up with again later in my trip. 

Northern Thailand

Northern Thailand

Khao San Road

Khao San Road

Welcome to the jungle...

Welcome to the jungle…

From northern Thailand I took a slow boat to Laos, which meant two full days on a really… slow… boat. This was not the most enjoyable thing ever, because I was recovering from “Thai tummy.” (Plan on getting sick at least once if visiting Southeast Asia.) Laos was a beautiful country! I stayed in a city called Luang Prabang, which sits right on the Mekong River. 

Laos

Laos

Mekong River

Mekong River

I headed to southern Thailand next and was in absolute heaven! I went to yoga in the morning, spent the day at the white sand beach and relaxed with other travelers at night. I’m pretty sure I could live in southern Thailand for the rest of my life 🙂 

Southern Thailand

Southern Thailand

Kayaking

Kayaking

A room with a view

A room with a view

Cambodia was next, and I will one day go back. It is peaceful, simple and breathtaking. There are hundreds of old temples around the city of Siem Reap, which is where I stayed. I spent three days touring these temples, including the most famous, Angkor Wat. Walking around these ancient ruins was totally worth being completely drenched in sweat by 10 a.m. (Did  I mention the humidity in Southeast Asia?) 

My very last stop was Singapore. I was there for less than 24 hours and didn’t even book a place to sleep, unless you count the airport. In that time I rode the Singapore Flyer (the tallest Ferris wheel in the world), saw a Korean pop concert, went to a casino and waited two hours in line for a taxi. From Singapore, I flew to LAX; L.A. to Dallas was an easy 29 hours on a Greyhound (that’s a whole other story in and of itself.)

This trip was one of the best times of my entire life. I met so many great people from around the world, some who will be lifelong friends. I got to experience things that some people never get to see. What I learned can be summed up in one word: happiness. I met and interacted with so many happy people, especially in Southeast Asia. These people weren’t happy because they had a lot of money, great jobs or fancy cars. They were happy with exactly what they had. They were happy to be in their beautiful surroundings, whether that was the thick jungle of Chiang Mai or the crystal ocean in Koh Samui. They were happy to be alive and surrounded by other happy people.

The other thing that my trip made very apparent is that holding back sucks. I think it is better to just go for things and take chances than to lead a boring, safe life. My trip has given me a huge surge of confidence — I feel like I can really accomplish the things I want with all the opportunities that are available to me.

I absolutely LOVE the bit about happiness. It reminds me of Tom Shadyac’s documentaries, “I Am” and “Happy,” which I cannot recommend enough. In short, he shows that true joy is not found in possessions or individual accomplishments; rather, in moments of selflessness, community and shared experiences.

I am so happy for Alysse to have had this experience, gotten something out of it and that she shared it with us. 🙂

Let’s talk about having a moment

A few months back, I read this blog post about why it’s important for writers to travel. Certainly if a writer is setting a story in a place, he or she should have a good knowledge and understanding of that place if they want to sound like they know what they’re talking about. But more than that, the experience of travel — any experience, really — gives the writer (or any other type of artist) gravitas that can’t be easily faked.

Our first night in Rome, we took a night walk from Piazza Navona to the Pantheon, then by the Parliament building, then to the Trevi Fountain, then to the Spanish Steps. I had a moment between the Pantheon and Parliament.

We turned away from the ancient building to fill our water bottles at the public fountain in the center of the piazza. It was our first taste of the water that we’d seen people drinking and using to wash their hands and faces. Tiny rivers filled the cracks in the cobblestones around the fountain’s drain. The water was cold and as fresh as anything that would come out of a tap back home.

The map told us to head north out of the piazza. The short walk to Parliament took longer than it should have because we stopped to peek into shop windows to make note of things we might want to come buy the next day. The lane narrowed between two restaurants whose patios stretched into the street. As I passed through, diners’ laughter, the twinkle of candles on the tables and the thick aromas of pasta and grilled meat met me from each side.

A short Italian man strolled by, lazily squeezing his accordion, veering toward the patios in hopes that someone would request a song, but acting like he just cruised the neighborhood all the time. I looked up to the stars that winked from their perches in the black sky, then closed my eyes and took a deep breath. The cobblestones under my feet, the music, the food, the cool night air… this is why I came. This is Italy.

I really did stop and take inventory of that moment, and (geek alert!) I totally teared up, too. If I wrote that scene into a story I wouldn’t have to make any of it up, and hopefully it would come across more legit than if I’d never experienced it and was just guessing.

My book has a lot of “inspired by a true story” moments. They come from things that really happened to members of both sides of my family. I hope I’ve given them the gravitas they deserve. And I’m going to pay extra sharp attention to things that happen in the present, big moments and small. Any one of them could be a moment worth writing down.