How to Choose Your Own Adventure: 6 Valuable Tips!

7 11 2017

It’s true, we love to travel. A LOT. But we would still love to travel even more than we do. Which begs the question we get asked often, “What’s your next trip?”


Believe it or not, we actually have SO many places that we want to visit, we need a spreadsheet to keep track of it all. And we are also armed with some very key strategies to help us choose, “Where to?”



For most people, planning vacation can be pretty easy. Pick a sunny beach in Florida and book a week in January. Done. Rinse and repeat. This is swell for those people, but this just doesn’t cut it for those of us with the insatiable Wanderlust bug. It can sometimes feel overwhelming, knowing that I won’t live long enough to see ALL the places I want to see before I die. So how do we choose?


We’re Not Getting Any Younger

Although I’m only 37 1/2, I’m very aware of the reality that, the older I get, the harder it’s going to be to travel. Some of the most vigorous hikes will become too challenging for my aching bones. Long flights will wreak havoc with my veins. It will take me longer to recover from the energy spent simply getting there.

Tip #1: Do the most difficult hiking now. Push your boundaries while your body is at its physical peak, before it declines too far. The older I get, the more I recognize my own mortality, which can cause doubt, and make you shy away from something you wouldn’t have thought twice about in your twenties.

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I can tell you know that I’ve enjoyed several life-changing hikes, and some of them were so physically intense, I doubt that I will ever attempt them again. Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park in Utah, USA is one not for the faint-hearted! At least that hike is only a couple of miles from the starting point. Havasupai in Arizona, USA was not just scary at one point, but also tested our endurance, with 34 miles logged in a 2-night trip.

15492141_1392043570878263_2220117331010704962_nTip #2: Fly as Far Away as Possible! While these longer flights can be tougher to afford when you are younger, your body will thank you for sticking closer to home in later decades. Recently, I spent over 50 hours traveling to Sri Lanka, and when I arrived, both of my ankles were noticably swollen! This has never happened to me before, and I didn’t realize that I wasn’t moving enough while flying. The swelling lasted for 24 hours, and was a bit scary and uncomfortable. This can also be a symptom of another serious risk, Deep Vein Thrombosis. The risk of thrombosis increases on longer flights, and gets worse with age, as well as many other factors (including birth control pills!). This may seem like a weird thing to think about when you are young, but, believe me, blood clots are a serious and deadly risk. This is why you see airline passengers standing and walking around for long periods of time on flights over 4 hours.

So, next on my long-distance list? New Zealand!

The Climate IS Changing… Faster Than You Think

When we add a new destination to our travel spreadsheet, a critical factor is climate change. There are some amazing places on this planet that I may not get to before they are irreversibly changed as a result of climate change. We prioritize these destinations based on the estimated risks.

Tip #3: Prioritize Places at Risk from Climate Change. This is not a hoax. In 2014 I decided to cross off Glacier National Park because I had read about the melting glaciers. I wanted to make it there before Glacier has no glaciers left to see. It was a last minute, 4 day trip, and was not nearly enough to explore all of the amazing sights and experiences to be had there. Now my goal is to make it back before 2020 for some back-country thru-hiking. 10426120_681178748631419_2884749765749576765_n

Here’s my own list of climate-change destinations that I’ve managed to check off:

  • Glacier National Park in Montana, USA. This is one of the most stunning, expansive parks in our country, with an incredible variety of visual decadence to explore! Experts believe we have until 2020 before the last of the monumental glaciers are gone forever.
  • Everglades National Park in Florida, USA. Sea levels are slowly rising, at different speeds across the globe. As the ocean starts to take back Florida and other coastal areas, the unique biodiversity harbored in the freshwater/seawater interchange will be devastated, causing extinction of numerous creatures.
  • The Maldives.  This chain of over 2,000 islands makes up a paradise country located closest to India.  The former president of the Maldives recognized the harsh reality that their entire country- no more than 4 feet above sea level- would eventually be completely lost to climate change. He fought to take the country to being Net Zero Energy to slow climate change, but was since removed from office after a coo. There’s a great documentary called The Island President that can catch you up on their plight.


Travel is Getting Riskier

Turkey, Istanbul, Haghia Sophia Mosque interiorIt’s a scary time in our world right now. The number of terror attacks had rapidly risen compared to just 10 years ago. I’ll be honest- it’s terrifying to think about. I don’t want to let terrorists win by becoming a fetal position shut-in, but I also take this risk seriously. When we booked our flight to Sri Lanka last year, I debated about whether or not to take the cheapest fare, which took us through Turkey, with an 8 hour layover in Istanbul. I researched heavily before deciding whether or not we would leave the airport to see some of the city while there. The day we flew out of Chicago, we were delayed 4 hours in a snowstorm, and my phone started blowing up with messages from friends on Facebook asking if we were okay. There had been a bombing in Istanbul that we had just missed.

While the optimist in me wants to hope that we will win the ‘war on terrorism’ globally, my gut tells me otherwise. I see such a rapid increase in radicalized groups and violent attacks, that I fear it will never be safe again to travel to some parts of the world. Would I love to see Pakistan? Sure! Do I think I will ever feel safe enough in my lifetime to go there? Nope. 2E81B6E900000578-0-This_table_documenting_the_increase_in_terror_attacks_in_recent_-a-67_14477001334622E893C6400000578-0-image-m-13_1447774752237

Tip #4: Don’t Ignore Political Shifts. If a country that is on your list appears to be getting less safe, pay attention! I wish I had gone to Egypt a decade ago, and don’t know if I’ll ever get to go now. I’m incredibly grateful that I got to visit Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, however briefly, but I don’t think I’ll ever go back. I’m actually flying through that same airport again next April, and have zero interest in leaving the airport next time, due to safety concerns. Before you book your flight, do your homework and know your risks. 

There are many amazing, world-renowned world heritage sites, but some of them are at risk due to wars. UNESCO catalogs all of the official World Heritage Sites, and color codes them to highlight ones at risk of being destroyed. If it’s safe to go there, don’t wait.

travel warning

Make a Plan, But Don’t Stick to It!

I’m all about research, spreadsheets, and lists, but I do not recommend you treat this as a commitment. In my Wanderlust spreadsheet, I collect links and jot down places I’ve never heard of when I read an article about someplace new. For those that I’m serious about, I actually put in a target year for traveling there, and sometimes I actually get there that year. Other times, it may get pushed back, or some new destination takes higher priority. And that’s okay. When my friend Raina moved to Sweden 7 years ago, it got added to my list, but I’m just now finally making it over there to see her!


Tip #5: Be Flexible, and Jump at New Opportunities! When your high school friend joins the Peace Corp and moves to Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso for 2-3 years… don’t be caught kicking yourself at her welcome back party because you never made it to visit her while she was there! Knowing someone in a foreign country is a perfect excuse to travel, and a great way to get a local experience!

Tip #6: Make Your Own Opportunities! If you have the travel bug, and you know this will be a lifelong need, don’t waste time wishing you could travel more… build the life you want! Do you have a dream job that would help you to travel? Apply relentlessly!

While I love my job, my travel is limited to the state of Indiana, so I only get to travel on my own time. But, I chose to combine career advancement and my love of travel, and started applying to present at international conferences. This strategy has taken me to Split, Croatia, Sao Paulo, Brazil, and Kandy, Sri Lanka! I go on my own dime, using vacation time, but now I can proudly list on my resume “International Speaker” for 3 very prestigious conferences in my field of expertise. Win-Win!

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Do you have a natural ‘break’ in life, like going back to school or moving across the country? Take advantage of it! I actually delayed starting college after high school so that I could travel the U.S. for 3 months, and it’s the best thing I could have ever done. I made that choice when I was a sophomore in high school, and started saving up for my epic graduation road trip.

Are there volunteer opportunities that you can get involved with and get to travel? Do it! There are a number of ways to give back while sharing another culture. Build a school with a community, dig a well in Africa, or raise money for a good cause through travel sports! My first trip to Hawaii was done for ‘free,’ by fundraising $4,500 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society by running my first Marathon in Honolulu!

Bottom line, if you want to travel, there are a myriad of ways to achieve your goals. 

Don’t wait until it’s too late. Go grab the world by the mountaintops!

Remember, not all those who wander are lost.






Curitiba by Night

25 10 2017

I’m worried about the place you are staying,” Sandra told us as we loaded our backpacks from the airport into her SUV. It’s not a safe part of downtown, and there is lots of drugs and crime.

Well, that wasn’t exactly what I wanted to hear as I arrived in a foreign city for the first time, ready to check into our AirBnB. Our friend, Sandra, was a well-dressed, 50-something Principal of an architecture firm, whom I had met a couple years earlier at a GreenBuild Conference in Philadelphia, and stayed in touch with via Facebook. Our host was much younger, in her late twenties, and renting out a room in her 2 bedroom flat in downtown Curitiba. She had good reviews, and I felt like she was honest that there might be some sketchier neighbors nearby, which did not surprise me for a downtown location in a major metropolis.


When I found out that I had been accepted to be an international speaker at GreenBuild Brasil, I immediately reached out to Sandra to let her know that I would be visiting her country for the first time. She offered to pick us up from the airport and show us around for the afternoon, as well as giving us a tour of her Architecture firm. She, too, would be speaking at the conference, but was thrilled that we were able to take a few extra days to come visit Curitiba before heading to Sao Paulo for the event itself. As a grad student, I had studied Curitiba for its groundbreaking push towards sustainable mass transit and green spaces nearly 40 years ago. I wanted to see how it had held up over time, and to experience the city first hand. Sandra was the perfect person to share the city’s history and Architectural highlights with us on our short stay.

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After our tour by car, with several stops and recommendations on what we should come back to see on our own, we drove back downtown. Up a narrow alley with nothing seeming to be open, there were four or five ‘street kids’ sitting on the sidewalk with nothing to do. They reminded me of some of my stoner friends in high school. Although it was daylight, we could see that this might get a little sketchy after dark. Sandra dropped us at the curb of the 16 story apartment building, and waited to be sure that we could get in through the locked gate. Our code worked, we waved goodbye and “See you in Sao Paulo!” before heading through the courtyard to find our way to our AirBnB.


We let ourselves into the flat where we were staying, greeted by a sweet guard kitty. We got settled, and started developing a plan for our remaining 2 1/2 days. Shortly after 6, our host came home from work and greeted us. Her English was stunning, which made sense once she told us that she is an editor. Her walls were lined with books, mostly in English, and stacks of classic albums. We hit is off right away, and she rattled off some places she thought we might enjoy. She had plans that night, but offered to have us join her for a party Saturday night, which we gleefully accepted.


At night, the streets came alive. What appeared to be abandoned storefronts opened up, twinkling with fervor, as locals lazily strolled in for a late afternoon capereina. Narrow alleys were laced with strings of lights, and echoed with laughter and the primal drumming of a street artist. We explored just a few blocks from our place, nervous about being targeted as tourists. Every place we stopped in was unique and atmospheric. Our Portuguese was not great, but it was hard to find people who spoke English, so we made due with simple phrases, crude translations, and gestures.

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When our host confirmed her plans to meet some friends out later, we were so happy to be able to join her. There was an afro-beats dance party at an arts collective about a mile away. It was just past the more populated areas we had already explored, and definitely not an area we felt comfortable walking to by ourselves- especially at night.


We all got dressed up and ready for a night out. Brazilians seemed to take going out fairly seriously, and dressing up was absolutely expected. I did the best I could with the few travel-friendly dressier items that I had packed. I was more concerned about being dressed comfortably so I could dance all night. Together, the three of us set off into the night to walk a little over a mile to our destination.


With our host’s confidence, we were able to really take in the night time experience. I peered into dark alleys, keeping my party in my peripheral vision. I stared into illuminated dive bars, traced the architectural details with my eyes, and inhaled the sundry scents of Curitiba. The event was apparently quite popular, with a line around the block of an ambiguous building. I would have never guessed what was inside.


The large hall was filled with beautiful, exotic Brazilians of every size, color, and style. Never have I seen a culture so truly varied and integrated! We almost fit in, except for our American dancing style. We samba’d and shimmied, and broke out into full on singing when Michael Jackson songs blasted through the crowds. We stayed up dancing until the wee hours of the morning, and walked home in comfortable exhaustion. It was exactly the kind of local experience that I seek out, and made Curitiba truly memorable.


Saturday in Sao Paulo (Part Two)

9 09 2015

11863253_10207677214278603_1144298162982304423_nAfter enjoying a refreshing, lime caipirinha near the top of the food truck alley, Bethany and I decided to keep wandering up Augusta. We stopped in a store that worked like an artist collective, and had a long conversation with a man in his 30s selling his screenprinted photographs of Sao Paulo on t-shirts. We passed an antique shop/ bar surprisingly filled with Route 66 Americana. We kept wandering, and identified the Blitz Haus building in daylight. Then we paused in our tracks.

We heard the sound of several ‘pops,’ and the smell of sulphur in the air. We were walking past an 8 foot tall corrugated metal construction fence on our left, covered in graffiti, and could see people standing up the block with signs written in Portuguese. On the other side of the street, there was a row of police officers, around a dozen of them, lined up neatly like dolls in a display window. They were not moving, they just stood there, backs to the wall, watching calmly from across the street.

“I think we should cross,” Bethany said. I nodded back, “Si.”

11873456_10207677216158650_6690853518186474290_nAs we stepped back up onto the sidewalk on the other side of the street, she asked one of the officers in her broken Portuguese whether it was safe for us to keep walking.

“Securitas?” while gesturing.

Without hesitating, he replied with a simple, “Yes,” and so we decided to continue. We paused for a minute, with a small crowd of other onlookers, to try to discern what was happening. A protest of some sort, but we weren’t sure what. There was music coming from behind the fence, and young people ducking down to squeeze through a hole in the metal barricade. We couldn’t see what was on the other side, but the flow of visitors going in and out was fairly steady.

11914876_928128913936400_7568490999787016423_nAs we left behind the mysterious happenings, dusk was settling in. We decided to walk to try to find an 80s dance bar that was on the screenshot of my phone’s map. It was clear that we were not going to get on the Metro and explore other parts of the city after dark, so wandering close to Augusta felt like a safe compromise.

The street split up and changed names, as we twisted downward into a less populated area. Storefronts were all closed up for the night, and few pedestrians passed by, leaving us with a desire to get back to something less deserted. We descended down a long flight of wide stairs with one man sitting on the steps 30 feet down, then up a street that we thought we knew the name of, based off the partially accurate GPS feature of my phone that worked without service. We passed by a tiny convenience store where the owner and his male cohorts all sat outside drinking their beer, and thought about asking the name of the street, but opted to just keep walking to be safe.

As the major street disappeared into a tunnel, we turned left and headed back uphill. I saw a plaza with steps leading up to another street above us, and we went that way, hoping to return to Augusta. As we crested the stone steps, we found a bustling sidewalk with more refugees selling sunglasses from impromptu stands. Bethany found a pair she liked while we heard the story of a young man from Africa who came here 3 years ago to escape. He was one of the only street vendors we met who spoke English, and that explained where he learned it.

11892218_928128950603063_8976573084823619351_nWe started to make our way back south toward Augusta, when we heard a faint sound of music. There was a large stone church and a tree-lined street to our right, so we decided to follow it. At the other end of the block, the urban forest was intersected by a dedicated bike path, which then gave way to a plaza filled with tables of happy denizens. It reminded me of a biergarten in a lot of ways.

A row of small storefronts framed the opposite edge of the plaza, and one restaurant was serving platters of beer to every table while Brazilian samba music flowed through the crowd of dancers. A 5-piece band played song after song as we found the one empty table and ordered drinks. Bethany and I watched the crowd, and grooved to the music, along with 100 other locals. Not one word of English was spoken, as we gleefully observed the diverse crowd of Brazilians. Every age, every race, every color, all intermingling. Bethany carefully studied the large older man who paced slowly from brim to brim, tossing short comments to wait staff, and occasionally sitting at an empty table with his drink. She looked in her phone to find the Portuguese word for ‘owner,’ and then asked him if this was his establishment. “Si,” he said, forcing a wrinkly smile as an afterthought. He’s likely retired, we supposed, but doesn’t trust anyone else with his business, so he watches the crowd like a hawk.

Back on Augusta, night had fallen like a thick blanket. We were glad that we never strayed too far from the one street we knew, keeping a close eye on our surroundings as we walked. Up ahead, I saw the glow of activity from that protest site from earlier. This time, there was a young woman with some sort of bicycle contraption, carrying a generator that powered neon colored lights that illuminated artwork and pamphlets. She was speaking to a couple of kids in their early 20s when we approached. The police had left, and Bethany tried to ask her what was going on.

The woman explained that this was a block of undeveloped land that had been treated as a neighborhood park for decades… until last year, when a developer purchased and wanted to build on the land. The people of Sao Paulo protested, demanding the government designate it as a park and keep it that way for the neighborhood. The group organized, and has been occupying the land non-stop since last December, in order to protect it. We saw two more people duck under the metal fence and asked if we could see the inside too.
11889502_928129023936389_199324839091889453_nBehind the divide, it was much darker. It was a grassy lot with a few mature trees. Not much else that we could see in the night. There was a rented security guard with an attack dog protecting the gate from the inside. As we went to leave, a crowd arrived bearing torches and singing. It was a very eery feeling to be a small part of something like this in a foreign country. We’ve been told many times by citizens here that the government is corrupt, and I can’t help but wonder what the chances are that they will persevere.


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