Let Her Be Untamed

“Wow! Lara, huh? That’s an unusual name. Where did it come from?”

As the driver pulled up, he didn’t get out of the car to help me with my bags. Slightly annoyed, I opened the trunk and threw in my pack. I was in the middle of two days of travel on my way to Peru. More importantly, I was pre-coffee, which meant that no one should be talking to me. For their own sake.

I climbed into the back of the car. In the driver’s seat was an overweight man, probably in his mid-60s with grey hair and stubble framing his face. He looked like a classic Texan, worn jeans with holes and grease stains, suspenders tightly clinging to his belly and a grey t-shirt. His eyes look back at me through the rearview mirror.

I looked back at him in the mirror. “Have you ever seen the movie Dr. Zhivago? That’s where my parents first heard the name.”

“So it wasn’t just a misspelling, huh?” He chuckles. “Where are you headed?”

“I’m on my way to Peru. I had a layover in Dallas and I’m back at it today.”

“Peru! Wow. You must be an adventurous woman. You remind me of my daughter. She took a year after college and saved up to go and travel Asia. She spent three years over there! It was impressive to watch her take great care in planning and preparing herself. In the year leading up to it, she took scuba lessons, wilderness classes, practiced camping and the whole bit, so that she was completely self-sufficient once she got there.

“One of my favorite stories was when she was in Kazakhstan. She had planned a backpacking trip that was going to take three days to hike in, one day to stay over and three days back. So she was carrying seven days worth of food with her. Turns out that once she got on the trail, it took her six days to trek in instead of three. So halfway through her trip, she ran out of food. She decided to take the ridges of the mountains back because that was the most direct route, but also dipped down into the valleys to try and find people who could possibly give her food.

“At some point, she did find a pair of women who lived in the valley and had a garden and plenty of food. She didn’t speak the language so she tried to communicate through hand gestures that she needed food. The women watched her politely, but then turned their backs and went back to work.

“Rachel knew that she would need to provide a gift in order to open up communication with them. So she started searching through her backpack to see if she could give them anything in exchange for food. And you know what she found? A tin of Earl Grey tea. So she pulled them out of her pack and offered them to the women.

“’Earl Grey tea!’ they exclaimed in English.

“She was amazed that they knew what it was and immediately their entire demeanor change. The two women not only offered her a meal, but also food to take with her to finish her journey.”

Needless to say, he got me smiling after I heard that story. His enthusiasm was contagious and he made me laugh more than once. We chitchatted for the next 20 minutes and it came up in conversation that I had grown up in Beijing. We talked about all the countries that I traveled as a kid and compared notes to the ones that his daughter had visited. I had asked him if he ever felt nervous with his daughter traveling all over the world, especially since it was at a time where email was just becoming popular. He told me that he didn’t really worry, because all he could do was pray and hope that it would all work out. And it did.

What a refreshing conversation. Not once did he tell me that I shouldn’t be traveling or to be careful because I am a woman. He was encouraging. Because it was such a different pace for me, it struck me how much time I typically spend explaining myself to people on why I do what I do. It’s exhausting to feel like you are constantly justifying your choices, especially when you see your male counter parts traveling all across the world will little to none of the same intense questioning. Almost across the board when I tell someone that I am going to XYZ country, their very first question is, “I hope you’re not going alone, are you?” It was a breath of fresh air to have such a lively and wonderful conversation and not to be scolded for being independent. He was genuinely excited for me.

It was with this kind of attitude in which I was raised. My dad was constantly trying to ship me off to other countries when I was a young teenager (duh, who wouldn’t want their thirteen-year-old out of the house), in addition to our family vacations all over the world. Never once was I told as a kid that I shouldn’t go somewhere to do something. I remember my brother and I taking a train down to Hong Kong with his girlfriend’s family and spending the day exploring Macau, just us kids. Or the time that my dad took a bunch of my friends and I to hike the unrestored parts of the Great Wall because I had to prove that I could do anything my brother’s could. With that kind of background, it’s been a battle to have to deal with that so much push back on traveling alone as an adult.  

Don’t get me wrong. I recognize that every person who has worried about me traveling has completely good intentions. They are concerned for my safety and their worry comes one hundred percent out of love. Even my own mother, who is not one to typically worry, has voiced her concern about me traveling. I give her credit though, because she will always tell me once that I should be careful and then just lets me do my thing. She learned a long time ago that I cannot be controlled and if anything, when someone challenges me by telling me I can’t do something, it lights a fire under my ass to want to do it even more.

Here is the thing that I always come back to. Women are going to travel. Even if it wasn’t me, there are plenty of adventurous women out there traveling the world, experiencing new things and exploring unchartered territory. And the more of us who are out there, the safer we all are. Whether it be living van life, traveling the US, being a nomad, backpacking across South America, or whatever it is that she wants to be doing, there is strength in numbers. Do we really want to let men have all the fun and explore all the new places?

I have met some incredible women on my travels and they are the ones who I keep in touch with. One women who I met in Guatemala last year, went home after that trip, finished saving up to meet her financial goals, quit her job cold turkey and is now traveling the world. All on her own. Because of meeting her, I now have an open invitation to visit her at any point in her travels. Right now she is in India, which is one of the places that I’ve wanted to go to most since I was ten years old. That invitation exists mostly because we were two single women hiking in Guatemala and hit it off. That kind of connection or bond wouldn’t have happened if I had been traveling with someone else. Naturally, when you meet women like that during your travels, there’s an unspoken agreement that we have each other’s backs.

I want us all to be smart when we travel. Not just women, I want us all to prepare, be strategic, plan and make smart choices. I also want to challenge us to set aside our worry and put that energy instead into calling upon whatever higher power or energy or deity you believe in, so that we are all surrounded with positive energy as we embark on our adventures. The last thing I need when headed out into the wilderness for days, is to feel like everyone around me is worried. How much more empowering would it be if I knew that everyone around me was cheering me on? Invest in the positive energy. It’ll pay off in much greater dividends, I promise you.

Being a Nomad on the Road with a Dog

If you follow me on any of the social medias, you will already know that I am a self-proclaimed co-dependent human with my dog, Simone. I have no shame, especially since I know she is just as co-dependent with me as I am with her. We go through withdrawal from each other and I would not have it any other way. We just recently celebrated our seven year anniversary in honor of the fateful Saturday where I woke up and decided I wanted a dog. I spent a short time on Pet Finder and I immediately fell in love with her. After driving to the Bloomington, Indiana Animal Shelter to pick her up, I put her in the car and she immediately peed all over the back seat. But I didn’t care. She was perfect in every way.

Until she chewed up my couch, running shoes, leather belt, slippers, clothes, bedspread…

I am often asked what it is like to have a dog with me on the road and my immediate response is it is freaking awesome. I love having a hiking buddy who never complains and can keep up with any activity. She loves all the same things I do — hiking, snow, physical challenges, water, being free, breakfast sausage…  you know, the staples in life. I call her my little mountain goat, because she is more agile and nimble on rocks than I am. And there little in life that is more rewarding that seeing the bliss on her face when she is prancing through the woods.

With that said, she did not come to me that way. The first six months of having Simone was an absolute nightmare. I spent a ton of time training her (i.e. training myself) and there were even points where I thought I was going to have to bring her back to the Humane Society because I could not handle it. I cried every day for those six months. I hated her. I thought I was going to get evicted because she would whine, cry and howl every time I left the house and I was sure all of my neighbors were complaining to the landlord. I vividly remember after a month of having Simone I was lying on my bed (crying) thinking, “If she doesn’t get noticeably better in two weeks, I’m out. I’m bringing her back.”

It was then that I decided to bring Simone to dog training. She was about six or seven months old. Keep in mind that she was my first dog, so I recognized that I needed as much training as she did and we needed a third party to keep us from killing each other. So I took her to a training class where I dropped her off in the morning and picked her up after work. They spent those hours working with her to teach her basic commands. Then, when I came to pick her up, they would tell me what she learned and how to reinforce it at home.

This was a literal life saver.

All I needed was to be told what to do and how dogs think and we were golden. I had spent too much time on too many blogs and read about too many different ways of training a dog that I was overwhelmed and confused. But once we had one trainer telling us one way to do things, it all worked. The key was consistency. If I let her slip just once, we set ourselves back by a month. So I buckled down and stuck with it for six long difficult months.

And ta-da! I got a perfect dog out of it.

I know that not every dog is the same and for some it may take longer than six months to reinforce the good behavior you want. The morale of the story is that you get out of your dog the amount of work that you put into them. They need stimulation. They need a job. They want to do the right thing, but they need to be trained on what the right thing is and rewarded when they do it. And hugs and kisses are not enough of a reward, folks. If you want your dog to do what you tell them to do, bring out the big guns. For example, Simone wasn’t crazy about the hard baked treats, but anything soft and gooey or better yet, a piece of real meat, would incentivize her to do anything. If you want a good dog, praise is not enough of a reward for good behavior.

One of the other big lessons I learned with Simone early on was that unless I wore her out every day, she wouldn’t listen to anything I said. So it was fetch twice a day plus walks once or twice a day as well. That’s a small price to pay for an obedient dog.

Now that I’ve rambled for far too long, I want to highlight a few things about having a dog on the road and what you should expect if you are choosing the nomad life with your pooch.

1) Invest into training.

I bring Simone everywhere with me. She stays at campgrounds, she sleeps in the van, she stays at my brother’s house when I’m in Minnesota and at Air BnBs when it’s cold. So it was imperative that I could trust her to be well-behaved in just about every scenario. Admittedly, she has slipped up a few times… the most recent was when she got upset and destroyed several paintings that were on a counter at a friend’s house who is an artist. Of course I was appalled and embarrassed. But to her credit, it was because I was lazy and did not play with her that day.

For the most part, she is a good dog. As long as I put in my time to play with her and stimulate her brain, she is good to me. I can trust her to get along with most other dogs, back down when I tell her to be nice, rest calmly at a home if needed, and not get into other people’s stuff. She doesn’t take food from counters, make a lot of noise, and she is sweet when she meets new people. All of that came with an investment into training and it was one of the best investments I have ever made.

2) National Parks do not allow dogs on trails.

This was something that I did not realize until my sister warned me when we were planning out my route out west last summer. National Parks don’t allow dogs on trails, mostly because of the wildlife in the parks that they are trying to protect. Dogs attract that wildlife more than humans, so it is an increased risk to have them on the trails. I have mixed feelings about this policy, but it is what it is. If you are planning a backpacking trip or even a long day hike, you will need to board your dog or leave her with a friend. Most of the time I am able to board Simone at a place nearby the park. I haven’t had an issue finding a place when I need one. However, I will warn you that many dog boarding places are not open on Sunday, so if you are planning a weekend of hiking, you may need to wait until Monday to pick up your pup.

3) Always have your vaccination records on hand.

Since I board Simone so often, I keep her vaccination records available with me at all times. I have both a hard copy and a PDF on my computer. At first, I would call my vet and ask them to fax her vaccination records to the boarding place, but it just became such a hassle to call them every time, especially since I was at a new national park every couple of weeks. I had to be sure to call them within the hours they were open and get the fax number from the boarding place and then follow up and make sure they got them. It was a pain, to say the least. Now that I have copies myself, I can easily send them to the boarding place when I make Simone’s reservation, which makes my life much easier.

4) Let your dog off leash at your own risk.

I know a lot of people who break the rules and let their dog off leash when they are hiking. Admittedly, I am one of them. However, I will say it again that you need to be able to fully trust your dog in order to do this. The only way it works for us is because whenever we see someone else on the trail, I’ll call Simone and put her back on her leash and keep her there until we pass the other hikers. I can trust her to comply with this plan.

Without coming to me when she is called and stopping when I tell her to stop, she could easily get in a fight with another dog or scare someone on the trail. I view being off leash as a privilege and if she ever starts to get out of line or stops listening to me (which she does at times) then it’s back on the leash. You should be so sure about your dog’s obedience that you know they’ll listen to you and come, even when they are tempted to go into a dangerous situation instead, such as interact with a larger animal.

I do not recommend to hike with your dog off leash until she gets to a point where you have full confidence in her obedience. It’s only a privilege that the best of dogs get to enjoy.

5) Sometimes you’ll need to sacrifice plans for your dog.

The one downside of traveling with your dog is that it does change your plans at times. When we were in Colorado this summer, we had planned a full day hike up to a glacier lake and drove quite a ways to get there. When I got Simone out of the van, I immediately noticed that one of her nail nerves was completely exposed on her paw. It looked terribly painful. She actually did not make a fuss about it, but I knew it would just get worse if we went through with the hike. So I was able to clean and wrap the wound and we chose to instead spent the day laying by the lake.
Not being able to go to National Parks every weekend and having to change my plans at times is a small price to pay for the numerous benefits of having a dog with me when I travel. She is such a great companion and I would not have it any other way.

Hiking the Peruvian Andes Mountains

One of my best qualities is that I am really good at making things as difficult as possible for myself. My trip to Peru definitely fell into this bucket. I had a myriad of travel fails in the process of getting to Peru, which ended up in over 30 hours of travel to get to Lima. Then I missed my flight to Cusco and had to wait all day at the Lima airport for the next flight (which was of course late). I didn’t let that get me down because even if my time was cut short, it was better than not having gone to Peru at all. The main thing that I was there for was my 4-day hike through the Andes, so as long as I got to do that, I would be happy.

The night before the trek into the Andes Mountains, I lay awake listening to the drunken shouting from the bar across the street. It sounded like someone was really upset and I wondered if I should go down there and see what is going on. There were car horns blaring and dogs barking. Someone thought it was a really great idea to have a “battle of the car horns” where different horns were trying to match the pitch of the others. I’m not used to sleeping with urban noise anymore and of course, weekend nights are particularly bad. Then, all of a sudden, I felt a tight pain in my stomach. It began turning and turning in circles. This was not good.

Oh no. Something was going to come out. [Insert Ripley/Alien imagery here] I wasn’t sure which end it was going to be, but my body was not happy with whatever what was inside it and I was going to be sick.

Going into this hike, I was mostly concerned about my knee and the ligament that I had torn several weeks beforehand. I was still limping a bit and my leg couldn’t fully straighten. I was also putting most of my weight on my right leg, so it was also unusually strained. In addition, I had to give up my training regiment preparing for this hike due to the injury. So naturally, I was nervous about what to expect. My only choices were to either go or not go, and once I start, there is no turning back. I would have to get myself off of that mountain one way or another. Let’s be honest, I couldn’t not risk it. I had booked this hike months prior and it was a bucket list trip for me. So I decided that no matter how much pain I was in, I knew I would not die, and I was going to complete the trek through the Andes Mountains.

Sounds reasonable, right?

Little did I know that my knee was going to be the least of my concerns. We were driving into the Andes as the sun rose. The fuzziness of the green grass clinging to the mountain sides was enchanting in the glow of the morning light. It was the end of rainy season, so all of the plants and trees were proud and blossoming. It was like a magical fairyland of green lush beauty.

Yet, here I was. Riding in the van, bent over my legs, trying my best not to puke. I couldn’t even look out the window. The road was bumpy at best and rickety carnival ride from the 1970s at the worst. But I felt quite accomplished when I made the 1.5 hour ride without getting sick. The rest of the group consisted of only men and I overheard one of them ask another, “Is she going to be ok?” Per usual, that comment did kick in a bit more determination.

Now to start our 30 miles, three-day hike into the Andes mountains, ending in Machu Picchu on day four.

After a couple of hours into the hike, I didn’t give a damn about my knee. All of my energy was going into taking just one step further without getting sick in one way or another. We were told that day one of the hike was the hardest hiking day, as we escalated 4,000 feet in elevation. It was basically a straight up shot for the next seven hours, beginning at 10,000 feet.

Growing up in a big family, and especially considering that I am a middle child, I have always prided myself on my ability to go with the flow. But between being the gimp of the group, not having slept the night before and still recovering from food poisoning, I was clearly the weak link. It was a hard pill to swallow to realize that I was going to have to go much slower than I am used to and in the process was going to slow down everyone else as well. I even took up an offer to carry my pack on day two because I was struggling so much. It’s really frustrating to do a hike when you’re not at your peak health, then throw on top of it that you are at a much higher elevation than you are used to.

Regardless, I persisted.

We had been hiking for a little over six hours on day one and the worst was over. We were finally on flat ground, which I had never been more thankful for in my life. I knew we were somewhat close to our campsite, but I’d already learned to take anything our guide said and add 50% to the time he quoted me. Then, it looked like we were going to have to go up hill again. At that point I, was so broken, in pain and exhausted that I decided I would rather sleep on the grass in the middle of that field with the horses than take one more step up. I literally stopped in my tracks and all I wanted to do was sit down and cry. I’m pretty sure everyone else could see the fear in my eyes and the guide assured me that just over this hill was our site. Thankfully he was right and I did not have to sleep with the horses.

That night I was terrified because if day two was going to be anything like day one, I was not going to survive. The pain of being sick, my knee, my leg… and now I was beginning to also get a cold. I had a terrible sore throat and knew it would just get worse with sleeping in the cold and pushing my body so hard.

All I could do was tell myself to sleep as well as I can and hope that my body miraculously recovers overnight.

Day two was a much better day. Good nourishment and a decent night’s sleep can work wonders. We woke up around 5 am, ate breakfast and hit the trail again. This was going to be our longest day, so I was already mentally preparing myself. It was supposed to be a 10 hour day, but ended up being about 12, because I was slow.

The views were incredible. Since I wasn’t constantly feeling like I was about to die on day two, I could actually enjoy the views and take more pictures. I was absolutely obsessed with the morning clouds and fog that hovered over the terrain in the morning. Mornings are always my favorite and I was so glad that we could enjoy brisk air, lush greenery covering and the clouds. Being at the tail end of the rainy seasons, it was a perfect combination of gray beauty and blue skies.

I did pretty well most of day two, except I kept getting the feeling that we were moving too slowly for our guide and he was worried about time. He kept offering that we could bring a horse for me to ride part of the time, but I couldn’t bear to think about giving up like that. But of course, I pushed it too hard and the last hour of downhill just about destroyed my knee. We were losing daylight so we were moving pretty fast. I decided that I had no other choice but keep up with the pace no matter how much it hurt my knee, otherwise we’d be hiking into the night. I kept trying to think of the things that I tell myself when I am running a race to encourage me to keep going. We had thirty minutes left until camp. Anyone can get through 30 minutes of hell, right? So I started my mantras.

Do it for your family.

Do it for your nephews and niece.

Do it for all the little girls who will know that they can do this too.

Do it for all the kids.

Do it because you had women in your life who showed you that you could do anything you set your mind to.

Do it because you know you can.

You’ve trained and your body is capable of getting through this.

You can handle 30 minutes of anything.

I looked down at my watch — only five minutes had passsed. That’s when the tears started. As you can imagine, crying while trying to hike really fast at 10,000 feet elevation just makes everything worse. I couldn’t breathe so I tried hard to make it stop, but I almost couldn’t help it at that point. I don’t often cry from physical pain, but I think that’s partially why I couldn’t stop the tears.

We finally made it to camp and got the tent set up. I immediately went inside and lay stomach down on the ground and sobbed. Everything hurt. I couldn’t tell if my knee hurt worse or my legs or my back. My feet were so tired. I tried to combat the negative thoughts by thinking about what parts of my body didn’t hurt. My arms, I guess. My arms didn’t hurt. Well, that’s one thing… It didn’t really cheer me up.

By now my sore throat was a full blown cold, I could barely talk and was super congested. This made it almost impossible to be at such a high altitude since I couldn’t breathe at all through my nose. Similar to the first night, I felt like if the next day was going to be like day two, I wasn’t going to make it. But supposedly day three was mostly downhill. Going downhill was painful on my knee, but is nothing compared to not being able to breathe from my cold and the altitude so I did my best to feel grateful.

Day three was when we hit the Inca trail and started to see the first other hikers since we had started. It was odd to have so many people around us after being alone in the wilderness for days. We heard all languages and accents from our fellow hikers. I started to feel pretty happy that I chose to do this hike instead of the full Inca trail, because it was packed with tourists. Having so many others around really takes away from the magic of the Andes.

Regardless, it was fun to at least see a part of the Inca trail and many ruins on our way down to Machu Picchu. Day 3 really was a breeze compared to the others and we only hiked about 5 hours before we had lunch and headed into town for the night. The next day we went to Machu Picchu and enjoyed the misty morning clouds among the ruins. It was absolutely breathtaking.

 

If I had known how difficult this hike would be on my body that was not at 100%, I don’t think I would have done it. I was also incredibly grateful for my hiking companion Justin to cheer me on. I felt like such a whiny baby, so to hear him tell me that I was the toughest person he knew definitely brought a renewed determination when I felt like I couldn’t go a step further. The funny thing about pain is that we feel is so strongly at the moment, but afterwards, your memories immediately get fuzzy. I am glad I did the hike. I am proud that I was able to finish it, without a horse, and without any other injuries. The head cold definitely took its toll on me and put a damper on the rest of the trip, but I would still say it was worth it.

I also am so grateful to our guide Savi who I can confidently say was one of the best hiking guides I have ever had. He is also a history teacher and was able to tell us so much about Inca and Peruvian culture. The Incas have such a beautiful tradition where they focused their energy on integrating into nature, rather than trying to dominate it. So all of their architecture, water and food systems assimilated into the mountains. They worship Pachamama and other elements. Sadly, they did not have the weapons to compete with the guns of the Spaniards, so much of their history has been lost. I had very little knowledge of Peru or Incas before this trip and now I am itching to learn more.

You could tell that Savi has a deep love for his country and so much pride for the people, especially in the small farms that we passed along the way. He told us he would like to go into social work to help small villages in Peru be more successfully and preserve their heritage. I cannot recommend enough how wonderful Action Peru Treks was to us. The food was incredible, the views were out of this world and Savi was a great host for the trip. Even though I was in pain and struggling most of the time, they truly made this an awesome experience. My advice for you if you are doing the Ancascocha trail would be to extend it longer than the 4D/3N hike. You’ll want more time to enjoy the scenery.

 

 

8 Texts That Prove You Just Can’t Adult Anymore

We’ve all had those moments where we just throw up our hands and say, I give up. I have a terrible (or wonderful?) habit of taking screenshots of texting conversations where that has been the case for me, and of course whenever I look back at them, I cannot help but laugh (mostly at myself). You’d think that a third of the way through my life I would be a well-functioning adult, but alas, we all have our moments. I recently stumbled upon several ridiculous conversations that I have had with various friends throughout the years and felt that they were too good not to share. More to come in future posts!

1. You’ve reached “dude status” with the guy you’re dating.


 2. You choose your neighborhood based on number of men with beards.


 3. Instead of taking sound medical advice when you have a fever, you choose bourbon.


4. You send a calendar invite to your back-up plan guy.


5. You fail your vegetarian friend by not stoping her from going off the deep end.


6. You use living in a van as your pick-up line.


 7. Weapons become your new fashion accessory.


 8. You rely on a friend to make your major life choices.

5 Pieces of Advice from Three Decades of Learnings

I realize that thirty is not that old. I honestly feel more energetic, full of life, and young-at-heart than ever, which I think is more of a testament of a state-of-mind rather than how many years I’ve been alive. Thirty is a great age, because you are old enough to have had hard experiences and learned enough difficult lessons to know that life is better on the other side. Life has likely been cruel in one way or another and you know that more hard things are coming, but you are better equipped after each one to handle the next. You are also old enough to be confident in your own skin and far more sure of yourself and your beliefs. There is less defensiveness and taking comments personally because you know who you are and hopefully have come to point of actually liking that person.

To put it simply, at some point during young adulthood, one begins to live life with less fight and more grace.

I do not claim to be profoundly wise, I have plenty of older and more enlightened people in my life to bestow that upon me, however, I do think that I’ve learned to be a better human in the three decades that I have been graced to wander this earth. People often ask what I wish I could have told my younger self, so in the spirit of self-reflection that so often comes with milestone birthdays, here are the pieces of advice that would have saved me a lot of struggle if I had known them more fully in my earlier years.  

1. Nothing you do will change your value.

I cannot take credit for this idea, since it is something that my older brother Nate has instilled in me. He once said to me that as humans, what we are all striving for in life is to be seen by someone and know that they like what they see. It’s a part of our DNA to crave this sort of acceptance and we change all kinds of things about ourselves in efforts to accomplish this goal. In reality though, every human life has value. I have value. And it doesn’t matter what I do or do not do in my lifetime, I will still have value, simply by being human. Knowing that we each have value is a lifelong process and I am not convinced that any of us come to full enlightenment of the idea, but I do believe that if I had embraced this more as I embarked on the journey of adulthood, I would have saved myself a lot of pain. When you are first starting your career, getting involved in politics, caring about your community and meticulously carving out who you are, you can’t help but keep looking around and waiting for that pat on the back for each of your choices. Sometimes that pat will never come. Especially as someone who loves affirmation, this is a tough lesson. I do not claim to practice this virtue perfectly, however, it certainly has helped to repeat it to myself in times of self doubt.

2. People and relationships are a gift, not a right.

As many of you know, I grew up overseas in Beijing. Unknowingly, I picked up many cultural norms from Chinese society that I did not necessarily realize until I became closer friends with people in the United States. One highly Confucius ideology that permeated my subconscious is that every person has a responsibility to each type of relationship in their community. There are expected patterns for how each person should function towards another human depending on what that individual’s role is in your life. For example, there are social norms for how a child interacts with a parent, how an older sibling engages a younger sibling, authority towards subject, etc. Some of these assumptions were also because of how I was raised in a big family. Regardless of all the contributing factors, I falsely assumed that other people followed these same relationship structures. One of those assumptions was that just as I felt a responsibility to act a certain way towards the people in my life, I assumed that they would act a similar way in response to me.

The reality of life is that each person has their own choice as to how they want to relate to you. This can be a really beautiful thing because it can also bring about unexpected surprises. And if a person decides to care for you or be giving towards you, that is a gift and not an obligation. I think I almost believed that relationships were more transactional — I give you x and you give me y. Simple.

That philosophy was quickly shattered when I found myself in the middle of a divorce. As I’ve said before, it takes two people to contribute to those circumstances, so I am not placing blame with this statement, but when I was going through it, I could not help but question everything he had ever said to me. When someone promises to live their entire life with you and all of a sudden that promise is no longer true, it completely shakes up your world. You question everything that person said, but also everything that anyone has said to you. I put 100% of my faith into another person, yet at any point they have the right to change their mind. I am not using this example to shame people for changing their minds about a relationship. Quite the contrary, actually. I wish I could tell my younger self to treasure every moment with the people I interact with. There is no guarantee those moments will last forever. Love is a choice, no matter what kind of relationship, so be grateful for the precious experiences where you are blessed with that love.

3. You are not your job.

“Life is a long preparation for something that never happens.” ― W.B. Yeats

This relates to my first point, but is important to separate out as its own idea because of the intense pressure of overworking that our culture forces on all of us. Somehow in the US we have decided to create this sick competitive game where the more you work, the more bragging rights you have with your peers. It doesn’t take long in the workforce to recognize this tension. Especially as someone who graduated amidst the Great Recession, it was reinforced over and over again during the beginning of my career that I will work hard, I will work overtime, I will be paid nothing, and I will be grateful that I have a job. This was not the American dream I was promised in college, but I consciously decided in my 20s, that was the time where I was going to work hard, as hard as I had to, to get ahead.

I experienced some really crappy jobs in the beginning of my career, and even one incredibly boring one (which was way worse than working hard for very little pay, btw) and then eventually after getting my MBA, landed the job of my dreams. I had sacrificed every other part of my life and finally it was starting to pay off. I loved my job. I loved the work. I loved the people I worked with. And I continued to climb the ladder. I felt so satisfied and it was the one thing that I was sure that I was good at — my job.

Until I got laid off. Then all of a sudden, the thing that I had wrapped my entire identity into was ripped away from me. I had to completely reevaluate what was important in life. I just wish I could go back to the woman who was graduating college and tell her that her job is just one part of her personhood. That she can still be a feminist and also care about more than just work. That she shouldn’t give up her creativity and artistic outlets. That she should value relationships and her family just as much as her career. It’s so so hard to do that in your 20s because the pressure to succeed is overwhelming at best, crippling at worst. Yet, I was and am not my job. My job is a piece of who I am. I often stop and look at so many other cultures in the world, and realize again the ridiculousness of our career rat race.

4. There are so many advantages to being a woman.

When I first started getting into the workforce and especially when I started learning about business, the message that women are at a disadvantage was like a ton of bricks that hit me over the head day after day after day. Women are underpaid. Women don’t have a seat at the table. Women don’t negotiate hard enough. Women aren’t in enough leadership roles. Women are always the note-takers. Women aren’t learning STEM subjects. On and on and on. I am not arguing that these realities don’t exist, but I do feel like there was a bias in how the story was being told. The story was not that women are underrepresented in certain circles, and therefore, women have an opportunity to fill the gaping holes and provide incredible value. There is so much to being a woman that can be used to my advantage, but I had very little insight into this story early on in my career. Being a women with a career was about fighting and barking and being assertive in order to force yourself into where you want to be. Looking back, I just don’t believe that has to be our reality.

I am die hard optimist. I would much rather think about the positive aspects of a piece of myself, even if it’s minuscule compared to the disadvantages. But that has been a learned skill over years of practice. I wish I could have helped my younger self develop those skills earlier. I’ve learned that I become paralyzed if I focus too much of the negative and it sinks into my soul. If am I too aware of how the cards are stacked against me, I become discouraged. So in all honesty, I would rather live in ignorance to some degree and believe that I can change the world just as much as the next man, even if my chances are tiny.

This is something that I wish people would have told me more often as a young woman. I didn’t need to know that only 4% of fortune 500s have female CEOs, what I needed to know was that I have unique leadership traits that 96% of the fortune 500 CEOs do not have.

I don’t want to live in a world that is self-prophesying because we talk so much about the roadblocks for women. Is that how we want to raise this generation of girls? I wish I had changed my internal conversation to how being a woman equips me with an incredible advantage in so many ways because I bring a unique set of skills that is vastly under represented in the world of business. That sounds like a competitive advantage to me.

5. Love hard, even though you know it will hurt.

“We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.” ― Winston S. Churchill

I’ve never regretted being generous. Or doing something kind for another person. Or acting in love towards someone else. Or being in love. I have endured incredible pain because of those choices, but I do not regret them. Yet as a young adult, I was so scared to get close to people and I honestly believed that my closest friendships were in time periods that were behind me. I didn’t think I would ever be as close to someone as I was my high school best friend. I felt so betrayed with how our friendship fizzled out that it was not dissimilar to a terrible break up. There is baggage that comes along with that. And I wasn’t willing to risk getting close to friends again for a long, long time. In fact, it wasn’t until grad school where I met some of the my best friends to this day, that I opened myself up again.

Looking back, there were a lot of wasted years where I could have been growing friendships and giving more love. If I had done that, I likely would have been hurt again. I likely would have had added frustration. People are frustrating. People can be the worst. But people are also the best. The best, most joyful parts of our lives emerge because of people. I wish I could tell my younger self that was a risk I should have been willing to take. Because the rewards are indescribable.

Adulting as a Nomad

Living the nomad lifestyle is invigorating. I wake up to the warmth of sunrise creeping through my windows, I drink my coffee near the edge of whatever given mountain called me to me that day, and when I want to explore somewhere new, I go. No ties, no one to report to, nothing holding me back. Early in my career, I always thought I would end up with a job that sent me all over the world for work, and when that wasn’t happening, I decided that I needed to create the life that I wanted to live. And I really love it.

When I was a kid, I wanted to be an astronaut when I grew up. I was fascinated with stars and space. I mostly blame Tom Hanks and Apollo 13 for these dreams. When I was twelve years old, we took a family vacation to Australia and happened to be there just at the right time to see baby turtles hatch in the middle of the night and run towards the white foamy waves of the ocean. I honestly don’t know if I watched a single turtle that night, as the entire rest of my family of seven eagerly watched the adorable little creatures, but what I do remember is the feeling of looking up at the stars and experiencing everything else around me fade into the distance. It was like the world was on mute and me and the stars were in our own dimension, completely isolated. I felt like there was a tunnel pulling me up towards space and I couldn’t break my gaze.

As you may have realized by now, I did not become an astronaut. That dream shifted pretty quickly when I realized how much physics I would have to take. After that, I honestly don’t really remember what I wanted to be when I grew up. When I pictured my life as an adult, the main images that came to mind were all of the places I was going to visit. I thought I might live in Thailand or the Philippines. I loved (and still love) Southeast Asia. Such warm and welcoming cultures where people take care of each other. But I also had never been to the middle east or Africa or South America or Russia. There was so much to see.

I had the great privilege of growing up in a family that took vacations around the world and I absolutely loved those trips. When we first went to China when I was seven, I remember that I got so excited that I had my own porch off my room and was convinced that I could now get a horse and keep it on my porch. Or when we went to Thailand for the first time, I had never seen a dolphin or driven a jet ski. Each trip was so exhilarating. The thrill of exploring somewhere new becomes quite addictive. Even the vacations where I was a complete brat and didn’t want to go to the Natural History Museum or Stonehenge — just leave me alone and let me listen to Savage Garden on my walkman! — e’hem… our family trips are what I remember most about childhood.

What I realize now looking back, is that wanting to be an astronaut was my internal spirit’s way of telling me that my lifeblood was to explore. I wanted to see everything and experience it all. And when I dreamed of life as an adult, I knew that was my path. I spent a lot of my adult life getting distracted from that truth. It’s not that I didn’t travel or explore before choosing nomad life, but it wasn’t a top priority and I was minimizing a part of me that brought incredible joy. I am sharing this background to remind myself (and you) to go back to those childhood memories. To really feel what it was like to be happy in those most perfect  moments and pinpoint what it is that brought you alive. Go back to those the thrills of childhood. There is something so genuine and true about the joys we experience as a kid. Make those dreams real.

With all of that said, choosing to live my dream of endless travel and adventure, comes with sacrifices. And it turns out that adulting is still a thing, no matter where you are or how much you try to simplify your life. I a still  I am a tax paying citizen, I pay my bills, I get junk mail. People often ask me what I do to handle these types of scenarios. Where do I bank? Where do I shower? How do I do laundry? So in attempts to bring some of the adulting to the romanticized life of the nomad, I am going to answer a few of those questions.

Where are you a resident?

This one is tricky because it impacts my taxes, car registration, voting, how my employer pays taxes, etc. I don’t have a childhood home or parents who even live in the country, so there hasn’t really been an easy default location to choose to be a resident. So I decided to keep my residency in Indiana. It didn’t make sense to change it to somewhere else if I wasn’t sure I would be there long term. Fortunately, I have friends who are gracious enough for me to use their home address in Indiana. I was still able to vote in the 2016 election, I filed my taxes and will be able to renew my car plates this month. My advice for other nomads? Stay a resident wherever makes the most sense for your job and is somewhere you go back to often enough that it won’t be too complicated.

How do you get your mail?

Honestly, there’s almost nothing that comes through the mail that I need to have access to. A few super old school businesses like my doctor and vet, but other than that, I purposefully made sure that all of my important info comes through email before I hit the road. This is SO important and really only takes a couple of hours to set up. As far as anything that does come through the mail, the easiest way that I’ve seen so far is to have a PO box somewhere in the country where you can request them to forward you your mail periodically. Forwarding is pretty easy and most of the time I have things sent to General Delivery at whatever USPS I will be closest to. A couple of weeks ago, I ordered a package and sent it to General Delivery in Port Angeles, WA and when I showed up at the post office, there it was. Even the smaller town post offices offer this service. It’s pretty incredible! It has also allowed me to get a few letters and packages from friends here and there, which is always a highlight when you are on the road.

Where do you bank?

This one wasn’t much of an adjustment for me since I already had a completely online bank — Capital One 360. So I have not noticed much difference being on the road vs. not. If I need to send a check (god forbid…) I can issue one from my bank and it takes about a week to get to the recipient. I haven’t done that in over a year though and almost always use Venmo or PayPal to send people money. I don’t have a checkbook at all. There have been a few times where I had to get a money order, but that is also relatively simple. You walk into CVS, ask for a money order, fill out the little slip, hand them your cash, and there you go. Nothing from my bank goes through the mail, it’s all paperless, and I can deposit checks from my phone, so this is one area that is pretty simple to navigate.

How do you shower?

I am not sure if I am proud to admit this or embarrassed, but I went a solid six months without having regular access to a shower. Some vanners have solar showers that are hooked up to the back of their van where they can wash off. I do not have such civilized contraptions… So I would shower wherever I could. Sometimes I would sneak into a campground to shower, a few of them actually had pay stations for their showers. In between long stretches, I would just bath in a lake. I actually didn’t mind doing that for a couple of weeks even. I could even kill two birds with one stone by soaping up Simone and playing fetch with her in the water until she was rinsed off.

On a daily basis, I use facial wet wipes to wash my face and at least every other day to wipe down the rest of me. It’s amazing how refreshed you can feel from something simple like that. I also use dry shampoo almost daily for my hair. I have since grown up (slightly) and gave in to buying a gym membership. I joined Planet Fitness, which is inexpensive and all over the country, so I have access to a shower in most states.

Where do you do laundry?

About once every two weeks or so, I’ll hit up a laundromat. I no longer sort colors, white and linens, it all goes into one giant washer and one giant drier. I actually kind of the like the routine of sitting in a laundromat, people watching, as we all stare into the massive machines tumbling our outfits round and round. There is something very iconic about the experience and it makes me feel like I am in a movie. To wash all of my clothes, it costs me about $10, which is not very different from what I was paying at the apartment previously.

Where do you go to the bathroom?

I was having a conversation with a group of people recently about building out vans and one of the guys mentioned that he didn’t think he would need a bathroom. I was quick to agree and said, “Hey, if I as a girl can function without a bathroom in my van, then any man should have no problem without one. Is that really gross and way too much information?” We all laughed.

TMI alert, I do not have a bathroom in my van and I frankly, I don’t really need one. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve stopped on the shoulder of an off ramp to open my two side doors as “curtains” to pee. When you travel as many miles as I do, you don’t have time to stop at a gas station every time you have to pee. It’s completely inefficient. When I’m hiking, I pee in the woods. If I have to do more serious business, there are a million gas stations, McDonald’s, restaurants, Starbucks, etc. that I have access to. As much as I’d like to be in the middle of nature most of the time, the reality is that we live in a highly civilized country and accessing a bathroom is not difficult. Honestly, it’s the least of my worries on the road.

 


So there you have it! The logistics of adulting on the road has actually not been as painful as I originally thought it would be. The main way to make it work is to have supportive friends and family to help when needed. Happy to take other questions for anything I missed!

Online Dating for the Unconventional Woman

One of the results of the Internet age is that for my generation, we have experienced dating both pre-dating apps and post-dating apps. We are among the few who are able to attest to watching that shift and comparing the differences. When I was first dating, boys would make me mix tapes (or later mix CDs if they were from the nicer side of the tracks), hand write me notes, have to talk to my dad when he called my house, and possess enough courage to ask me out on a date in-person. For me at that time, I would have given him printed photos of myself (as any narcissistic teenager would), try to pry information out of his sister to find out if he likes me, and fight my siblings for the phone line to talk to said-boy into wee hours of the night.

Fast forward to 2017. Now I can Google search my date before we even meet to find out what he does for a living, where he grew up, if we have any mutual friends, what his hobbies are and if he checks off my list of boxes before going on a date. I can get someone’s number from a dating app and have hours of conversations before even meeting face-to-face. Romance is practically dead. Next to no one picks me up at my house. Gifts are rare. I have had a few men make me meals, but that usually comes after my consistent hints of how much I like food. When we go out, I’m never really sure if the man will pay until I get to the end of the date. I have even had times where his card was declined and I ended up paying for the date. There are no such things as grand romantic gestures. (Ok, there are a few, but they are nearly extinct). Then again, there aren’t those traditional games. You pretty much know what you’re getting within the first 20 minutes of a date. Red flags are more apparent. It’s a far more efficient way to date rather than the rigmarole of courting someone.

I’ve been dating in the Internet age for over three  years now and the number of guys that I have gone out on a date with from “real life” vs “online dating” is about 1/20. I spend most of my time swiping past people who I would never dream of going on a date with, then the majority of the rest of the time chatting/texting with the handful of ones that seem interesting enough, trying to figure out if this guy is really worth my time for a date. With the final fraction of my time, I MIGHT go on a date with the guy, but even if I do, it is not likely to end up in a second date.

I’ve gone on a LOT of dates in the past few years. Think about the math for a second. Let’s say I swipe left past 100 guys for every 1 that I talk to. Then I go on a date with maybe 1 out of 5 of the ones who I chat/text. The number of those dates that turn into a second date is probably half. Out of those, the men that I’ve “dated” for more than a few dates is probably around 10. And of those, I’ve only have one turn into a relationship longer than a month. Seems like a lot of freaking work for very little ROI. But I comfort myself by viewing it as a numbers game. I have to go on x amount of dates to find someone I’m interested in, so just keep going on dates.

Keep in mind, those numbers are all based on a dating app like Tinder where you have to match with someone in oder for them to be allowed to message you. Don’t get me started on the ones where just anyone can message you. You know in the spring time when you see a flock of about 45 male ducks all going after just one poor female duck who is hurriedly trying to swim away in the opposite direction? You feel so bad for her, but it’s like a train wreck and you can’t look away. Multiply that by about 15 and you’ve got Ok Cupid.

Don’t get me wrong. This is not a post about how terrible it is to be single and how everyone should feel bad for me. In fact, I really love my life. When I look around me, there are less than a handful of long-term committed relationships that I admire for their richness and compatibility. For the most part, I see broken relationships where neither one of the people is happy and certainly aren’t bringing the best out in each other. I don’t want a mediocre relationship, so I will gladly wait for the person who will bring out the best in me, be compatible to all of my weaknesses and flaws and enjoy and rich and fulfilling life together.

For the same reason, I don’t view the past relationships that ended as failures either. By the time I got divorced, it had been nearly ten years since I had dated, so I had a long learning curve ahead of me. I’ve been slowly figuring out what I want in a partner and frankly, what I want out of life. I am still discovering who I am, where I want to be and what I want to do, so to think about how another person would fit into that, shouldn’t be a rushed process. A relationship is a bonus. I have made huge sacrifices to build a life that I want and am proud out, and I can truly say that I am living out my dream. I am truly grateful for all of the experiences I’ve been gifted, so adding someone who would enjoy that beauty with me would really just be gravy.

Sorry, got distracted there for a minute. So what else makes online dating different than traditional dating? Well, I’m sure you’ve heard that online dating profiles can be deceptive. That is 100% true. I never really believe anything I read in someone’s online profile until it’s proven in real life. For example, men LOVE to talk about how much they enjoy adventure, camping, hiking, traveling, working out and being outdoors in their profiles. I guess it makes them sound more like a badass. Or something. So often times my first question to him will be, “what was your last great adventure?” I promise you I am not exaggerating when I say that 90% of the time the guy will answer something like, “well, I went on a camping trip with some buddies like five years ago…”

…. [insert annoyed emoji here]….

The other thing that happens with online dating is that you might see the person out in real life before your date. Especially if you live in a smallish city. Or even better, you’ll mention to one of your friends, she asks to see a picture and responds, “Oh yeah. We went out once. Super clingy. Watch out for that.”

Again…. [insert annoyed emoji here]….

This next one definitely crosses the line for me. Since I have an unusual first name, it’s not that difficult to find me on Facebook or through a Google search, so far more often than I would like, men will message me on Facebook or Instagram and say something like, “I saw you on Tinder and accidentally swiped left, but luckily I found you on Facebook! Wanna grab a drink sometime?” No. I can guarantee you that he did not “accidentally swipe left,” I was the one who swiped left and this was his desperate attempt to try to get my attention. Nope. Just nope.

So going back to how it’s pretty common for me and my friends to match similar people on online dating apps. Well, fellas, I hate to break it to you, but girls talk. Remember the guy from a few blog posts ago who told me that I looked like Alyssa Milano, but she is way hotter? Well, same dude happened to match one of my friends on another online dating site. She recognized him because I had shown her his pictures and told her the whole story of how rude he was to me during the entire date. So naturally, as any decent human would, I suggested that we start messing with him. So she started telling him about how she is so sick of rude men can be on dates by insulting a woman’s appearance and scarf and oh, she hates it when men don’t like travel… basically our entire date verbatim. Long story short, I think he learned his lesson in crossing the line from sarcasm into insults when on a date.

The most awkward part of online dating is when you see someone you thought your friend was dating on a dating app. Questions start rolling through your head such as, “Did they just have a fight and this was his way of getting back at her?” “Are they in an open relationship?” “Is he cheating on her?” “Does she know he’s on this app?” “Doesn’t he realize that someone is going to see this and tell her?” Remember how I said that girls talk? Well, that’s still true in this paragraph, just like it was in the other one. How could I not tell a friend if I saw her partner on a dating app? Girls gotta have each other’s backs, y’all. So inevitably I disclose the info and they guy is always on the defensive. Come on guys. You seriously thought that you could get away with that?

One of the best questions that I get from people I meet online is “You’re so pretty, why are you single?” Oh, the infamous question. If I had a dollar for every time someone said that to me, I would be living happily on my own private island in the Gulf of Mexico.

[Steps onto soap box]

This could be news to some of you, so you might want to sit down for this one. Not being single doesn’t mean “I’ve won.” Being single isn’t punishment or purgatory until you get to the “heaven” of a relationship. In fact, last time I checked, relationships are really hard. It’s hard to get to know someone, it’s hard to be vulnerable and open, it’s hard to figure out how to communicate with your partner, i it’s hard to trust someone fully, it’s hard to share your life and learn how to coexist together, it’s hard to adapt to each other’s eating habits. And you do all of that work knowing that on any given day, that person could break your heart. Not that those things aren’t worth it for the right relationship, but let me reassure you that being single really is pretty easy. No one tells me when to wake up or go to bed, I can eat whatever shameful meal of peanut butter/oats/almonds/honey mixed up into one giant glob and call it a meal, I can sit in complete silence for hours and not be disturbed, I don’t have to go to anyone else’s company outings or family dinners, I don’t get in fights, no one is around to eat the leftovers I was saving, I can change my plans last minute and no one else will be affected or annoyed, all of my disposable income is truly my own, and the list goes on.

I’m not trying to bash relationships. My point is that being single can also be pretty great, so please, let’s stop shaming those who aren’t married by wondering how could it possibly be that no one loves them, or wondering what’s wrong with them, or encouraging them that, “don’t worry, you’ll find someone.”

Maybe when someone says they are single we should start by high-fiving them. And then ask them about the rest of their fucking awesome life.

Ok, off of my pedestal (for now, at least). At the end of the day, I view online dating as a great source of entertainment. I would much rather open up an app and hear someone else’s funny life stories than turn on a TV show. I would gladly spend an hour at dinner listening to what brings another human joy in life. I have made several dear friends through online dating apps and I am grateful for those people in my life. As for my faith in online dating’s ability to produce a life-long partner? Jury is still out on that one. Maybe I was just born in the wrong era?

11 Tips for Working Remotely [VIDEO]

I am nine months into living as a nomad and I decided to transition to creating more video blogs since it is easier to film while on the road rather than writing. I am truly more of a writer at heart, but I think this will help get more content out there for fellow adventurers.

I get asked a lot what it is like to live and work on the road as well as how I got my current job. When I try to explain what I do, I am mostly met with confused looks, so in attempts to show you a bit of what it’s really like, I will share some of my tips for working remotely. If you don’t have time to watch the whole video, I’ve written out a short recap below:

  1. Discipline: First, in order to get a remote job, you need to prove that you are disciplined.
  2. Schedule: Stick to a schedule. Treasure your routine, wake up at the same time and end work at the same time.
  3. Timezone: Choose one timezone to work in no matter where you are.
  4. Weekends: Protect your weekends, even if it means you are working longer hours during the week.
  5. Food: Prepare your food and eat regular meals. This will reduce distractions during your day.
  6. Environment: Change your environment periodically throughout the day as you switch projects.
  7. Focus: Don’t mix work and personal. Don’t do laundry or talk to your mom or schedule appointments.
  8. Music: Listen to music. It will help distract you from outside noise.
  9. Coworkers: Communicate expectations, over communicate with them on where you are and when you are available.
  10. Make friends: Spend time calling your coworkers! Ask them about their life, which takes a lot more intentionality than working in an office together.
  11. Tech: If you want to succeed as a remote worker, you need the right tools, which are different than what you need for an office. You’ll need: a laptop, Spotify, noise-cancelling headphones, MiFi, cord cases for organization and a durable bag where you store everything and can bring with you everywhere.

Would love to hear from you on what your experiences are living and working on the road!