20lbs Down

27 Jul

WARNING: POTENTIALLY TRIGGERING POST AHEAD

I would like to preface this with the fact that I have been thinking about writing this post for a few days now, but didn’t exactly know where to start. I figured it should be something organic, so at this point I am just sort of going to free-write my emotions. You’ve been warned, sorry if this gets sad.

A little over one month ago, my life changed forever, dear readers! I didn’t explore a new city, I didn’t go to a fantastic party, and I didn’t meet a new friend. Even better! A little over a month ago I somehow got my life back.(And I kind of actually got re-acquainted with an old friend too—myself).

It all started when my mom recommended that I go see this nutritionist who uses Chinese medicine and chemistry to diagnose and heal body ailments. Now, I’m not sure if I’ve ever mentioned this on here before, but virtually everything I eat makes me sick. So much so, that it was ruining my life. Not only was I in pain 24/7 and miserable, I was pre-diabetic with high blood sugar. I was on a slow path to diabetes which, if not treated properly, could have eventually resulted in the most serious repercussion.

I was desperate for change. I was desperate for help. But I didn’t know where to turn…and then I met this doctor.

Through a series of questions, tests and reflexology, the doctor was able to determine the cause of my problems: my body wasn’t producing enough bile, therefore, none of the food I was consuming was able to be properly digested. Instead my body was storing everything and making me feel incredibly sick.

This news felt like a victory! So it wasn’t JUST the french fries? It wasn’t JUST the PCOS? I didn’t have a thyroid problem after all?! I KNEW there was a reason why I was working out all the time without any results! It felt like the mystery of all my sorrow was finally solved…but it came with a price.

While the doctor let me know all the foods that were detrimental to me, he only offered one remedy: an insanely strict meal plan. I had mixed feelings.  No bread? No pasta? No chocolate or avocado? No sugars, salt, starches or fats?! And I can’t drink alcohol at all anymore? Yikes.

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(Above: the doctor had me circle all the things I typically eat and then went through and crossed off all the things my body cannot consume–welcome to my new health plan!)

But I knew that this was not only my chance at better health, it was my chance at a better life, and I followed the meal plan religiously for the next month.

Fast-forward to now and it’s been 37 days on the meal plan and my stomach doesn’t hurt me anymore! My back doesn’t hurt me anymore. I never get a “4 o’clock feeling” of drowsiness at work. I sleep soundly. I can exercise with ease. My skin has cleared up and my hair is so silky. I have energy to burn. The results from simply eating foods my body can actually digest for the past  month is astounding. I am now a new person. I feel a little invincible.

And I have lost 20lbs.

I was debating the proper punctuation for the end of that previous sentence. A period makes it a statement, an exclamation point makes it a shouted declaration. So I went with the period, because this change is a proven fact, one I never thought I would write, because I have never been able to do this before. But a fact I don’t want to end with an exclamation because then this happy side effect of good health becomes the main focus. And it shouldn’t be, because I’ve worked so hard to feel normal. But I can’t help also being a little vain, & I can’t help being slightly selfish. Because this previous sentence is a fact, true, but it’s also proof that I am slowly but climbing up from rock bottom. My fingernails are clawing up the chasms of doubt and defeat. I am facing my ultimate bad habits head on.

And it’s hard, yes, but it’s also so easy—like suspiciously easy. Because THIS is all it took to finally find some peace of mind?!

Sometimes we get so wrapped up in our bad habits that we lose hope of ever successfully facing them. They’re paralyzing and repressive—something that just seems constant, if not, permanent. Whether you can trace the origin of the downward spiral or not, it doesn’t matter, because it’s already become so ingrained. The flaw becomes like another strand of your DNA. It defines you. And for me it was my terrible body image.

For as long as I can remember, I have been self conscious about the way my body looked (see previous posts Why I Don’t Want A Thigh Gap and Starting A New Chapter). & I mean that. I cannot remember a single time in the entirety of my memory of the past twenty-six years where I looked in the mirror and was 100% satisfied.

Sure, there must have been a short time of ignorant bliss way at the beginning, but the first ax I remember that hacked away at my positive body image was when I was just 6 years old. I remember being called “fat” by a boy in my kindergarten class–and that’s where the downward spiral began. The next few decades are blurs of dull aching pain. I remember the endless diets, and the excessive exercise. I remember skipping pool parties and avoiding changing rooms. I remember learning that “carbs were the enemy” and always shopping for the largest sizes in stores. I remember comparing myself to literally everyone around me. I still avoid mirrors and would never tell you what size I wear. I still look at photos on Facebook of when I was “skinny” in 2007 knowing damn well that I was also miserable with myself in that photo too.

And it’s EXHAUSTING.

Sometimes I wonder if maybe this all could have been avoided. Maybe 6 year old me could have escaped a years of shame had different advice been given to me on that traumatic day in kindergarten. But instead I was met with looks and shrugs. And in that moment I realized the problem must be me.

I grew up being one of the tallest girls in my class, and also (in my mind) one of the heaviest. I couldn’t blend in if I tried. From the outside looking in, it never seemed so bad—because I was happy. I had a loving family, I always had friends and, when high school approached, I had boyfriends too. And I let my emotions reflect that. I believed from a young age that playing the victim was tiresome and even the closest of friends soon grew bored of hearing each other’s problems. So I tricked myself into being confident. I stood tall, I smiled and I gave off the air of the girl I hoped to be, and people always bought it.

But deep down inside was such a different story; I was disgusted with myself and fighting a constant battle of shame. I would even cry to my mom once a month about my body, all the way up until high school. It was so draining.

They say that we are our own worst enemies, and for me, this was incredibly true. The voice inside my head was pure evil. She said things that I would never even think of ever uttering out loud to or about others.  Things I’m too ashamed to type right now. She was brutally cruel and warped my sense of outside perception that others have of me. And while she has learned to chill out since high school, sadly, she still hasn’t gone away…not even now.

At this moment when I step on the scale, I don’t believe my eyes. I think there surely must be a mechanical malfunction or I’m not counting correctly. But right now I have actually lost 20lbs. Whether that number seems big or small to you, just know that I have virtually never had this happen before. And the emotions I’m experiencing with facing this reality are so incredibly complex. I am happy, giddy even, but I am also terrified. I’m happy that my hard work and dedication is finally realized and paying off, but I am so scared at what will happen should the rug be pulled out from underneath me. Is this a temporary high? Or actually something that will last?

One good thing about my character is my extreme commitment and dedication. Once I am given a task, I focus, and ultimately, excel. For me, this new meal plan is just another goal I’m hoping to achieve. But so comes the question—when will that goal be met? Will it be when I’m feeling completely better? Will it be when I’ve lost a certain amount of weight? Will it be a certain dress or jean size? Will it be when I’m finally satisfied with looking in the mirror? This is a slippery slope and the ambiguity of this makes me nervous.

Luckily at this point in my life I have much more positive role models. I have an incredible personal trainer who has supported me no matter what weight I am, and have formulated some pretty deep friendships that are multi-dimensional. Though at times I can still hear the insidious words of the past echo in my head, I am combating this with fact. My clothes ARE looser. My body DOESN’T hurt. I DO feel stronger. I am trying hard to focus on leaning out muscle and improved strength opposed to a number on the scale.

However, while I am still trying to find peace within myself during this lifestyle change, perhaps a more curious observation is how others are dealing with this lifestyle change.

People are coming out of the woodwork to compliment me on my new look. Co-workers I barely talk to are praising me, acquaintances I haven’t spoken to in a while are hitting me up, and family members are practically ecstatic with glee. And it’s a little bizarre. Because it’s just 20lbs. But others have been treating me like I’ve shed a freakin’ cocoon. And it’s nice, but it’s weird, and it’s addicting, but it’s awkward. Because while I like this attention, a tiny voice in the back of my head can’t help but ask: Well what did you think of me before? Who was I 37 days ago in your eyes?

I can remember reading an article of a body positive way to compliment a weight loss. The writer suggested instead of joyfully screeching: “You look so SKINNY!”, instead say something like: “You look so STRONG!”, or better yet: “You look so HAPPY!” Sometimes I wonder if this would make me feel better because right now in this moment, I don’t feel skinny yet but I DO feel happy and strong.

“You’d be surprised who comes back into your life once you start losing weight!” I can remember my old personal trainer, Laurie saying. “Most of the dynamics in your relationships with others will change.”

I am worried about this for two contradictory reasons:

  1. I hope to someday fully shake that insecure self conscious girl that I have always been deep down
  2. But I am also worried that once I’m “skinny” I will forget her altogether and become this snob who forgets where she came from

I guess we won’t really know until we get there.

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(Happy to feel comfortable in my own skin!)

Until then, I’m taking it one day at a time and trying to stay sane while smashing all these goals that less than 40 days ago I never even thought were a possibility for someone like me. (It’s so weird wearing clothes that mere weeks ago I was planning on throwing out because they were too tight!).

I would describe my current state as cautious optimism.

Sorry if I was rambling a bit here, dear readers. But I really appreciate it if you’ve read this far. This blog has always been a wonderful outlet for me no matter what I was feeling and that still proves to be true today 🙂

Stay tuned for more of my health journey including my first vacation abroad while on my meal plan (remember Brandi, my bff from TEFL? She’s getting married in Prague in September!). And please feel free to confide in me about any of your own struggles!

All we have are each other in times like these and I feel so lucky to know so many people are cheering me on from the sidelines both near and far.

JG ❤

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Life Lessons Abroad: PT 2

27 Mar

Hello, Dear Readers!

Last week I went on yet another wonderful, yet completely unique, vacation to Europe. I took my Grampy & brother to Prague, Vilnius, & Amsterdam! We went during my brother’s college spring break & had an incredible time.

However, this vacation was completely different. Even though it was only eight days of travel, my adventures once again were complete with intense, unexpected amounts of soul searching.

Of course we had a great time (um, HOW could you not) it was just a very emotional trip–& one I’m still processing.

As a writer, I always try to find symbolism in interactions & experiences. So here are the main life lessons I learned while on this trip abroad…

  1. Prague: Change is Not Only Inevitable, It is Necessary 

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(Above: Grampy & Adam in Old Town Square, Prague)

The first stop on our trip had to be, where else, but my beloved Praha!

Since living there three (!) years ago I had always vowed to someday show Grampy my beautiful second home since he never got the change to visit while I lived there.

I always love taking people to Prague for the first time, mostly because of their set expectations of the city (a.k.a. none). No one knows what to think of Prague before their first visit. It’s a mysterious up-and-coming tourist destination that only gained independence 25+ years ago. But venturing to Prague with no pre-conceived notions is a beautiful thing, because the city will absolutely blow you away. And that’s exactly what happened.

Looking back on our trip now, Grampy said that this enchanting city was the most pleasant surprise & his favorite of the three destinations we traveled to!

While this makes me happy to hear from a tour guide perspective, I was also happy to get the closure I needed from the city as well.

You will always have a nostalgic bond to the places where you spent significant amounts of time, especially if it was the site of major personal growth. Well, if you’ve been following this blog for more than a few days, you know that Prague is the single most important city in the world for me. It’s not only where I grew up, but where I learned to survive.

Prague is the place where I found myself & it will always have a special place in my heart.

But going back to symbolism & personification, I must say that I’ve always loved Prague & the Czech Republic in general, because of how dated everything seemed. Mullets are a fashion statement, Crocs are footwear staples, your credit card isn’t accepted anywhere, pub receipts are pieces of paper with tallies on them, internet is spotty everywhere & English is not widely spoken.

While living in the city these were things that would, at times, drive me crazy. However, after a while it simply became a part of that Czech charm. Prague, even though it was a major European city, always had a sort of “off the grid” vibe.

But unfortunately during my latest visit to Prague I noticed some changes—the city had made strides to join the 21st century!

Suddenly WiFi was available everywhere, computer paper receipts were handed to me at the restaurant, Grampy’s card was used all over & there’s even now a metal detector for you to walk through to enter Prague Castle!

For anyone else looking in, these updates seemed necessary, but for me, it felt like Prague was selling out just a tiiiiiny bit.

Because three years ago I was blindly walking winding streets lost with a paper map & now here I was sitting in a Costa Coffee by the Astronomical Clock posting Instagram photos. Things change I guess.

However, one thing that did NOT change was the strong bond with the incredible friends I met up with while we were in Prague!

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(Above: My former EF work wife & more recent Praha transplant, Meghan. And my TEFL ride or die bestie who moved to the city with me all the way in the beginning, Brandi)

Let me first admit that having friends abroad is both a blessing & a curse.

It’s a wonderful thing to travel & have a tour guide in many different cities around the world or watch loved ones succeed in different environments. But damn, does it suck how little I’m able to see these incredible people 😦

For some reason I’ve noticed over the years that my deepest friendships were those with other expats or people who live far, far away. Maybe it’s that worldly perspective that never leaves after you’ve attempted to assimilate to other cultures on your own before. It’s a sense of chameleon survivalism that bonds people to together.

The first friend we met up with in Prague was my beautiful angel lover, Meghan! I first met Meghan a few years ago at my current job & we bonded instantly. She’s a sassy free spirit with a huge heart. But last year she was looking for a change of pace so I suggested following in my footsteps—move to Prague, get your TEFL, teach English–& she actually did!

This was my first time reuniting with her since she moved to the city last July & unsurprisingly, we had a blast! We all met at an awesome pub, ordered traditional Czech food & downed a ton of beer—it was my dream night in Praha!

Meg, I’m so proud of you for sticking it out so far (we all know those first few months are NOT easy). And I noticed a beautiful aura of happiness around you regarding your new home. I love you so much, girl, & I’m always here for when you need to vent 🙂

The next friend we met up with in Prague was Brandi.

If you remember correctly, you know that Brandi has seen me at my best & at my absolute worst. She has a common theme of being my second mom in Prague & has nurtured me so much through some pretty low points like CZ Visa struggles & my break-up with Filip.

It was so wonderful to catch up with her. We dropped the boys off at a nearby sports bar & sat at a random Starbucks talking for hours. And it was probably one of the realest conversations I’ve had in a while.

Even though we haven’t seen each other since 2015, nothing had changed. We picked up right where we had left off & for me, this is a sign of true friendship.

Brandi recently got engaged to her long term Czech boyfriend (WHO I INTRODUCED HER TO WHEN I LIVED IN PRAGUE!), so expect future adventures when Mama G & I venture back to the city this September to celebrate their wedding 🙂

Brandi, you are absolutely one of my soulmates. You are such an incredibly strong woman & please know that I am always here for you, girl. Can’t wait to see you again this fall!

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(Above: View of the Prague Castle from the banks of the Vltava River)

While it was odd to see how many changes & updates there were in Prague, it was nice to know that my friendships with these two lovely ladies were exactly the same. And more than that, I even saw pieces of myself in them. Meghan represented me in about March 2014 (finally legal to work, had close friends/a relationship & was getting the hang of things yet still daily cursing the Post Office/CZ Management styles), & I assume Brandi represents me if I never moved back to the U.S. (something I actually wonder about quite frequently—especially in times like these).

Love you both so much, ladies! Thank you for, once again, teaching me so much. Ahoj 🙂

 2. Vilnius: To Understand the Present, Look At the Past

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(Above: At the Gates of Dawn in Vilnius, Lithuania)

After a wonderful little reunion in Prague we headed next to Vilnius. I know, you’re probably wondering “where”? & if not, then you’re most definitely wondering “why”?

Vilnius is the capital of Lithuania, a small Baltic country located in Eastern Europe, near Poland & Russia. It’s known for its dumplings, churches & basketball players. It’s one of the only countries to still celebrate pagan traditions during Christmas & Easter.

Vilnius is also the city where my great grandparents used to live before escaping the Soviets & immigrating to the U.S.

Originally Vilnius was not too high on my bucket list. It was a city that I would someday eventually like to travel to. However, when booking this trip, my brother was the one who really pushed for it (he actually has the country’s crest tattooed on his shoulder blade, LOL). So, seeing it as another new country for me & a cool place to learn history, I booked a flight to Vilnius.

And boy, am I glad I did.

Growing up, I never really knew too much about my heritage. All immigrating grandparents were deceased & the closest connections we had were celebrating St. Patrick’s Day for our Irish heritage & eating rich creamy hamburger dumplings called Klaskies (sp.?) that my dad’s grandmother taught him how to make.

I would say to people that I was “Irish & Lithuanian” but never really knew what it meant. Our heritage had been watered down with assimilation so much with each generation that it was hard to find answers. It was a bit of an identity crisis. I would often revel in friends who were first or second generation Americans. Their food, language & family traditions were mesmerizing to me.

But as I matured, I realized that while immigrants may bring delicious food & beautiful culture to a new home, they are also often carrying a historic pain.

Uprooting one’s life & family to move far away to a new language, culture, & way of life is one of the single most difficult things a person can do—especially if you’re bringing you’re entire family with you! Moving to Prague only gave me a tiny miniscule glimpse of this & I cannot even imagine the courage & resilience those who immigrate must possess, especially if their move is to seek refuge.

After asking more questions over the years, I realized this was my great-great-grandmother’s case.

When he was a young boy, my Grampy lived with his parents & siblings, but also his grandmother or Babudda (sp.? F.Y.I. we also learned this is NOT the Lithuanian word for “grandmother” but actually derived from a Baltic-Russian hybrid language).

My Grampy doesn’t remember much about his Babudda except she wore all black, would constantly say the rosary & spoke zero English. During his childhood, Grampy would actually only speak to Babudda in Lithuanian. He has since forgotten the language from lack of use, but still remembers a few words.

Before our trip to Vilnius I read that there were city archives one could utilize to find out about their family. I thought this would be a great idea, until my Grampy informed me that he didn’t even know Babudda’s last name. This idea really shook me. A last name is a huge part of family, community & identity. However, Babudda fled Lithuanian at such a young age, got separated from her family & immediately began working in a factory in the U.S. to support herself & the children she had at a young age. Times certainly were different & she sounded like an incredible strong woman which I someday hope to learn more about.

After learning a little bit more about my family heritage (including more about my dad’s maternal grandmother who fled from Latvia/Lithuania to the U.S. & actually lost the tip of her thumb on barbed wire in the process), I felt like I was ready to face Lithuania, this mysterious, undeveloped Eastern European country.

In hindsight, I can’t even believe how silly my pre-conceived notions were of the city (hey, how much do YOU actually know about Lithuania?!), because Vilnius was so incredibly modern.

We arrived in a tiny airport & were picked up by a driver who worked with our Airbnb host. He not only spoke great English, but was super helpful in telling us more about the country—including the fact that Lithuania has some of the fastest internet in ALL of Europe due to having some of the best IT Schools (the more ya know!).

Right away I knew I would love Vilnius & I was right.

We explored the city in an incredible free walking tour that took us through the picturesque Old Town, winding side allies & most unique of all, the quirky autonomous neighborhood of Uzupis. Uzupis, (much like Copenhagen’s Christiania) is a place where a lot of artists live & displays a very laissez-faire government style. They even have their own Constitution which included things like: “Everyone has the right to die—but it is not an obligation.”

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(Above: The hilarious, yet pure, Constitution of Uzupis Republic)

Uzupis, much like the John Lennon Wall in Prague, made me smile. It’s beautiful & hopeful to know that in places with such ugly pasts there is hope for a bright future.

Our walking tour was charming & informational, but I knew that while in Vilnius we had to educate ourselves on the cities darker times as well, so we decided to go to the KBG Prison & Museum of Genocide.

Much like The Anne Frank Haus in Amsterdam, this museum was of course, very emotional & difficult to visit, but insanely important. I am a firm believer in being a multi-dimensional tourist when I travel, for it chips away the Western privilege & forces you to actually contemplate the history of the streets you’re walking on.

I’m not sure how much you know about the history of the Soviet Union, but much like the Nazi Regime, this was a very disturbing time. While Nazis targeted Jews & minorities, the Soviet Union targeted those who would not bow to the Communist Party. The state was controlled by rigged elections, media propaganda & a whole lot of “alternative facts”. Resisters were either tortured for more information & killed, or rounded up & deported to hard labor camps. Thousands & thousands of people died & this was not too long ago (CZ gained independence in 1989), which makes it even scarier.

This museum was uncensored, raw & incredibly real. It was the actual building where the KGB originally met to formulate their plan for the deportations & the basement features actual cells were prisoners were held, questioned & tortured.

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(Above: KGB prisoner cells in the basement of the Genocide Museum)

Visiting the museum was not only one of the realest travel experiences I’ve ever had, it was hands down the closest I’ve ever felt to my family’s heritage. It was both a stark reminder of the pain & struggle that my ancestors endured as well as a terrifying representation of the patterns of history when power is abused.

It’s no secret that it’s a tumultuous political climate right now in the U.S., which I was overjoyed to escape for a week. While Prague showed a ghost of the past & tempted me with the idea of just how easy it would be to escape it all & move back, Vilnius was a cold hard reminder that I need to stay right where I am. Because, like my ancestors who stayed behind to fight injustice, I too am a resister.

Remember, history repeats itself, dear readers, & you absolutely do not want to be on the wrong side.

3. Amsterdam: There Is A Place For Everyone In This World

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(Above: Me, Grampy & Gillian in Amsterdam!)

After friend reunions in Prague & family history lessons in Vilnius, it was time to head back to the U.S. However, never one to pass up an opportunity to squeeze as much culture into one trip, I decided we needed a long layover on our way home.

I searched flights & then I saw it—a 22 hour layover in Amsterdam! Some people might just want to get home to rest, but I wanted to visit a completely different city on our trip for the boys to compare the different ends of the European culture spectrum (in Vilnius LGTBQ couples are not recommended to openly display affection; in Amsterdam you can basically openly display whatever you want).

Amsterdam is absolutely one of my favorite cities in the world. I love how unique & open minded the city is (prostitution & marijuana have long been regulated & legal), as well as the incredible artistic influences (Van Gogh is Dutch), & fantastic food (Stroopwafels!). It is truly one of a kind & a place I believe everyone should venture to once in their lives!

Another great plus of going to Amsterdam was an opportunity to reunite with Gillian (a.k.a. the cooler older sister I never had!) who lives a short distance away in Den Haag. Gillian took the train in to spend the day with us & finally meet Grampy (a very unlikely but surprisingly successful meeting).

As you know, Grampy is one of my favorite people in the world. Therefore it is extra special when he gets to meet some of my other favorite people like he did on this trip J

We decided to drop the boys off at The Heineken Experience & grab some wine to catch up. I always love talking to Gillian because she is one of the most courageous women I’ve ever met & hands down one of the most intelligent people I’ve ever met. We first met when we were both working at that awful school in Prague & a beautiful friendship was born!

Gillian has played a major part in turning me into the woman that I am today in regards to my ethical morality & for that, I am forever grateful. She is originally from California but has lived all over the world until finally (probably?) settling down in Den Haag a few years ago. As someone who also loves to wander & will most likely have a few more (international?!) moves in my future, it’s nice to see her so happy in a place that feels like home.

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(Above: Me, Grampy & Adam with the ‘IAmsterdam’ sign)

As I approach my later 20’s I feel the looming social pressure more & more to settle down, get married & have kids. But who KNOWS if that’s what I really want to do or will end up doing & it’s anybody’s guess as to where that will be & with who. Gillian gives me hope that I truly can someday find a home that feels right on my own watch, not society’s. And that home can be absolutely anywhere in the world that feels right.

Gillian, thank you again for being the best & putting up with all our antics that day! Per usual, our “work meetings” got way too wild & I’m sorry for Irish Goodbye-ing you! You are my older sister, but remember, I am the little sister who is still learning by making dumb decisions. But if who I am now compared to who I was when we met September 2013 is any indication—you know that I do definitely learn from you. I love you & am forever grateful for all The Onion Articles, Florida Man News & of course, poignant essays about intersectional feminism & privilege. I really look up to you & hopefully we can see each other this fall 🙂

So there you have it, dear readers! Another great vacation in the books, but this one was served with quite a lot of soul searching, which is exactly how I like it. I am back refreshed, recharged & ready to face whatever comes at me this year (or at least until my next trip this September). And I cannot wait to take Grampy on his next adventure! 79-years-young & he’s doing more globetrotting than most people I know.

Until next time, never stop exploring & be not only aware, but open, to all the incredible life lessons around you.

JG ❤

My Response to RWU’s “Gym Dress Code”…

15 Sep

Well, well, well here I am typing up a quick post at 6:30am before work because last night I read an article about a new change at my Alma Mater, Roger Williams University, that really upset me…

The school instituted a new dress code.

Not for class, but for the gym. 

Take a minute for that to sink in. No, I’m not joking, here’s the article from Barstool Sports: WTF

(Yes, I know my source is from a bro-ey sports site, but these quotes are from real faculty that I know personally).

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Have you ever heard of ANYTHING like that before?

The closest thing I can recall to hearing something like this is was when there was a woman in Planet Fitness who was told she was “too intimidating”. And she should put a shirt on because others were “complaining”.

I have lived in dress codes my whole life, starting from 2nd grade Catholic school all the way up to my senior year of high school at a Prep school, & do you know what I realized about them? They are almost always secretly directed at girls. 

I cannot tell you how many times I got in trouble for something being “too short” or “too tight” (not in an x-rated way either, but like semi-form fitting/above the knee), not because it was preventing my ability to learn, but it was because allegedly others around me couldn’t learn. My developing pre-teen body was too distracting for them, so I was shamed & embarrassed into covering up.

It’s an interesting paradox in a society that is obsessed with the hypersexalization of teenage girls, shaming & policing them to suddenly cover up their bodies. Or what? Horny pubescent classmates may get distracted? A full grown teacher might fantasize about them? Someone might call them a derogatory name..or worse? Welcome to Rape Culture 101. 

My main issue with dress codes are not that they exist, of course there are clothes for different times & places (duh, don’t wear flip flops at the gym!), however, when they are so incredibly blown out of proportion & disguised as something else. 

When you’re concerned about a girl’s collar bone, you miiight have gone too far.

At first, I honestly thought this article was saying no such gym clothes could be worn as class attire. And that, even as an anti-strict dress code person, made sense to me.

But this dress code is not for an academic setting–it’s for an athletic one. 

The gym was one of my favorite places at RWU. It was, quite literally, a place where I felt comfortable & safe. A place I could escape the stresses of college for a bit in a healthy way. I would put my headphones in, zone out & let the endorphins take me away.

I could care less what anyone around me was doing, I was not there for that. 

My biggest issue with this dress code is, like Catholic schools disguise their sexism with “concerns for a female’s ability to learn”, RWU is disguising their bias with “hygienic concerns”.

News flash: a gym is a FILTHY place.

A ton of people use them & get their germs & sweat all over everything. Solution: clean up after yourself. That gym has SEVERAL sanitizer stations with paper towels. Problem solved.

Nope.

Because this rule really has no concern for sanitation. It was created to inadvertently institute yet ANOTHER space on campus where the women of RWU can be judged for their bodies.

Because that doesn’t already happen enough at class (“That outfit is too distracting for class”), at the cafeteria (the dining hall entrance is a catwalk for judgement & shit talking & you know it) or at parties (“But what was she wearing? What a slut.“). Now it has to happen in the gym too?

In a place where women feel like they FINALLY have a space to relax & not feel judged, they can literally be tapped on the shoulder by a 5 foot tall man with awful frosted tips asking them to cover up their shoulder blades.

And that is absolutely wrong.

Because ladies, I don’t know about you, but just going to the gym is a struggle.

Being brave enough to enter that testosterone filled room without make-up & in sweats is courageous. And if you dare to ever step foot over to the male dominated weight/lifting side of the room, be prepared to have ever single eye on you.

I’ve done it. For four years.

And I did it in visible sports bras, tank tops with back cut outs & the dreaded yoga pants (wow, men at this school REALLY have an affinity for those don’t they?!) & guess what: no one died. 

No one crushed themselves with a weight at my distracting shoulders, & no one died from a virus my sweaty back passed along.

Everyone was fine.

And you know who was even better? Me. Because I was being healthy. I was coming to the gym focusing on reps & weights, not my outfit. (But new gym clothes totally make you feel fierce & strong & improve your workout 100x more too!)

Now I’m not sure what I would do if I was a current female student at RWU.

Hmm, probably do a lot more laundry, that’s for sure, since I’d be forced to wear baggy unflattering t-shirts every day to the gym that make me sweat more & make an already severely body-conscious girl want to look at herself in the mirror mid-workout a whole lot less.

To be quite honest, I would probably end up going to the gym a whole lot less.

Because I wouldn’t feel as safe anymore. 

I would feel like I was being watched & monitored throughout my workout. And if someone came up to me while I was at the height of an adrenalin rush to make a scene about my clothes in front of the entire gym–let’s just say, it wouldn’t be pretty.

Because just like I would have preferred to stay in class for a lecture, but was interrupted because of the rivets on my pants–I would really like to focus on improving my treadmill mile time without an adult male telling me that my outfit isn’t his idea of what a woman like me should be wearing.

You may notice that there is a small ‘men’s section” of this dress code. Ignore that, it’s fluff. Because you’ll also notice men cannot have their entire chest exposed, however, the woman standing next to him cannot have any type of (even modest) cleavage exposed. So run along now, Menanists.

————————————-

If you’ve been following my blog, you know I absolutely LOVE Roger Williams University, but looking back on it, there were a lot of pros & cons. And the cons had nothing to do with what people wore at the gym.

But since it seems like they’re suddenly sooo concerned with making changes, here, let me give you some topics to start with…

-Serves “Black History Month” food aka: fried chicken, mac & cheese, corn bread, etc. in February to a student body where only 2.6% identify as African American. I don’t even have time to explain how wrong that is.

-Instituted “mandatory bag checks” for the freshman dorm, a place where ambulances frequent on weekends to take away students with alcohol poisoning.

-Racial/homophobic hate crimes happen EVERY SINGLE YEAR & I’m wondering if anyone has ever done a study on campus rapes/date rapes too, because I’m pretty sure those are being handled just like you’d expect

-Has incredibly harsh penalties for assumed drinking by the power-hungry RAs. TWICE I have been fined & penalized when others were drinking around me but I wasn’t. Once when I was age 21+

-Has a “frozen tuition” nearing $50,000 (yes, that’s what I paid A YEAR for university, to all my awestruck international friends out there)  & treats this like it’s a blessing to the student body. You wonder why your diversity lacks, huh?

I love Rog with all my heart, but today, after seeing this dress code, I am very ashamed to be a hawk.

JG

**Also please watch this wonderful video I posted earlier this week to reiterate my point! The live footage is especially shocking**

My Top 5 Favorite Travel Destinations

21 May

So at this point in my life, I have been lucky enough to have traveled to over 15 different countries around the world (more if you include Caribbean Islands)! And people always ask me, “What’s your favorite place? & “What do you recommend?” or even the most flattering of all–“Will you plan a travel itinerary for me/book my flight?” Side note: YES! Please ask me these things! I really do enjoy helping people plan the perfect trip!

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(Easy to navigate with so much to see, Vienna was a great solo travel destination!)

But sometimes the most wonderfully overwhelming aspect of planning a trip is deciding exactly where to go! When making this decision, I suggest you break it down to 3 questions:

1. Who are you going with? (family, friends, children, solo?)

2. How long are you going for? (A couple of days, a week or several weeks?)

3. What kind of trip do you want to have? (a cultural city excursion with art, museums, monuments or a beachy/relaxing holiday in the nature?)

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(Though a bit pricier, Copenhagen was a beautifully refreshing city )

While most international cities can be quite accommodating, it is important to narrow it down as much as possible. **And remember: a well-planned itinerary booked a few months prior will save you much more $$$ than vague plans thrown together at the last minute**

If you still need some inspiration on where to take your next vacation, here is a list of my Top 5 Favorite Travel Destinations…

#5. Florence, Italy & The Tuscan Region

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Why You Should Go- Italy in general is a great country for rookie travelers. There is enough English spoken & hospitality for you to get around, there are plenty of cultural activities & the food alone is enough to satisfy any type of traveler

Times Traveled- 3 (two times with friends, once with my mom)

Best For- museums, culture, shopping for authentic leather goods, wine, FOOD!

Travel With– family, children, friends, solo (but if solo female, be weary of sometimes aggressive catcalling Italian men)

Must See- Climb to the top of the Duomo! It is a daunting 463 steps, however, a beautifully epic hand-painted mural on the inside of the dome & a breath-taking view of the city await you at the top! If you are a wine-lover, then schedule a wine tour in the Tuscan countryside! The sights alone are well worth it.

Must Eat- Pizza, gelato & all your other dream Italian food can be found all over the city! I especially recommend the famous Gusta Pizza.

Where To Stay- In the city center! Since there is no metro in Florence, things are quite walkable since the city is not that big. If traveling solo or with a very small group, I recommend Dany House, a small b&b run by the fabulous Jonathan!

Things To Know- 1. There IS a small airport in Florence, however, flights may be more expensive to fly into the city. A cheaper option is to utilize the Pisa airport, which accommodates more airlines. Fly into Pisa, take a photo with the Leaning Tower, then hop on the train for a cheap (10euro, I believe) ride through the countryside into Florence. You will be dropped off at the main station.

2. To purchase Duomo tickets, you must visit a nearby visitor center. Make sure to do so before standing in the massive line awaiting to climb to the top of the church!

3. Always check what days museums/attractions are open! Italy can be very traditional in having shops closed early in the evening/on Sundays!

#4. Hong Kong

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Why You Should Go- Hong Kong is the perfect city of East meets West. While extremely modern, it is quite easy to also find authentic Asian culture in the city. English is one of the official languages, so signs are often bilingual. Plus the city is located along the beautiful Victoria Harbor, which presents a nice breeze in the sometimes humid city.

Times Traveled- Once with my grandfather

Best For– culture, theme parks, shopping, food

Travel With- friends, older family members (parents/older siblings), children (there are several theme parks, including Disney HK), solo

Must See- Lantau Island/Ngong Ping Village! This is located at the end of the metro line, then a 30 minute monorail ride over the mountains! But it was the absolute highlight of the trip! Here you can visit the remote Ngong Ping Village, complete with a Starbucks & Subway (sandwich shop), but no atms & wild cows/dogs/cats wandering around! Climb to the top of the stairs to see the Big Buddha aka: the largest outdoor seated Budda in the world!

Must Eat- Hong Kong speaks the Cantonese dialect of Chinese, therefore, most authentic cuisine is Cantonese. The most notable of Cantonese food being Dim Sum! Travel over to HK Island to sample some extremely authentic dumplings in a very “no-frills” dining experience.

Where To Stay- Though it is definitely not the cheapest option, you HAVE to stay nearby or overlooking Victoria Harbor! The buildings light up interesting colors/patterns at night & reflect off the water. Plus beautifully strange ships with bright red sails can be seen all night.

Things To Know- 1. Like most Asian cities, HK’s public transport system is incredible. Buy a rechargeable Octopus Card, which can also be used on all transport mediums (including the ferry!). Grab a metro map from your hotel or a shop & feel free to navigate the city yourself as taxis can be quite expensive & the city is too big to walk.

2. There is an obvious difference between Mainland HK & HK Island. While the Mainland is incredibly modern, the island is insanely authentic. Take the ferry over to the island to explore the large open food shops, but do not be surprised if you experience so very interesting sights or smells!

3. Like most large Asian cities, the air quality in HK is not the best. Buy yourself a mask if you have any respiratory problems as smog levels can be quite high.

#3. Dubrovnik, Croatia

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Why You Should Go- Feel like you are absolutely visiting a post card! Dubrovnik is rather less known for Americans, but has long been a vacation destination for Europeans & it’s clear to see why! The beautiful Old Town is actually a fortress (complete with a draw bridge you must walk over to enter the city!) located on beautiful azure waters & is a much more affordable seaside getaway than other Southern European cities.

Times Traveled- Once with my mom

Best For- relaxation, water sports/swimming, nightlife, food

Travel With- friends, family, teenagers, solo–anyone really! (Since the Old Town is a series of winding streets with cute shops that are easy to navigate, I would have no qualms allowing a novice traveler to wander them solo)

Must See- Hike around the Old Town walls! These were used to defend the fortress & you can still see several look-out stations & cannons! However, be weary that climbing these stairs is QUITE the workout! Avoid going during the hottest part of the day to avoid sun burn, but also keep in mind that there are a few outdoor smoothie pubs built into the wall along the trek!

Must Eat- You will never get fresher seafood than that in Old Town Dubrovnik! Dishes consisting of prawn & cuttlefish are common, while I recommend sampling some Calamari or, if you’re more adventurous, Black Squid Ink Pasta! Wines are also proudly bottled all over Croatia; ask your server about local specialties to pair nicely with your seafood.

Where To Stay- While staying in the fortress of Old Town is convenient, you must decide which is more important for you on this trip: to sleep or to party. If you want to party, stay in Old Town. I was blown away by how LATE things stay open! We went in October (off-season) yet souvenir shops, restaurants, gelato stores & bars were still open past midnight! If you want to sleep, stay outside of the fortress of Old Town as it is much quieter. We stayed at the fabulous Edi’s Sea View Rooms, which is a house run by a fabulous man named Edi. His rooms not only have breath-taking ocean views & are insanely affordable, but Edi knows EVERYTHING about Dubrovnik! …& everyone in Dubrovnik knows Edi! His recommendations of the city were always spot on & I will always stay in his house whenever I visit this city!

Things To Know- 1. Dubrovnik is a rather small city, therefore during high season (summer) it gets insanely crowded. Plus this is also when temperatures are upwards of 80 degrees daily. I recommend visiting in September or October, like we did. It will be much more affordable, less crowded, but the weather is still nice enough to swim.

2. Dubrovnik is in a unique location where it is nearby to other fabulous places such as Montenegro & Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina. If you have the time, I recommend taking a guided tour to a nearby country for a different culture!

#2. Prague, Czech Republic

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Why You Should Go- Ah, my second home! Prague is EXTREMELY underrated, but is thankfully, a very up-and-coming tourist destination for Americans! I mean, it has everything you could ever want: enchanting architecture, exciting nightlife, ample history & very uniquely delicious food! A lot of people I know travel to Prague with virtually no expectations & are absolutely blown away by how awesome the city is! So put it on your bucket list right now.

Times Traveled- Lived here for 1 year, was visited by several friends & then returned for a solo trip & also another time with my mom

Best For- nightlife, culture (the city was freed from Communism less than 30 years ago), shopping (it’s insanely cheap city), food, BEER!!!

Travel With- Anyone legal drinking age (18 technically but they don’t really care) who likes beautiful buildings

Must See- Old Town Square needs to be your first stop. Here you have Church of Our Lady Before Tyn (3rd photo), the oldest Astronomical clock in the world (!), the clock tower which you can climb up, & usually some cool festival/vendors selling treats depending on the season. Plus this is not too far of a walk from Charles Bridge & Prague Castle!

Must Eat- Well, first off, get ready to drink beer 24/7. Czechs consume more beer than ANYWHERE else in the world! You can find several classic Czech brands such as Pilsner Urquell, Kozel & Staropramen. I recommend the addicting Kozel Cerny, a dark beer that literally got me through my time living there. Pubs & beer halls are around every corner.

As for food, Czech dishes are incredibly hearty. Gulas, Schnitzel & Kolbassa are classic meat served with either potato or bread dumplings, however, if you’re more adventurous then my favorite, Svichkova (Google it now!) is worth a taste! Dessert wise, try the delicious trdelnik (aka: that awesome fried cinnamon thing in everyone’s Prague insta photos)

Where To Stay- Near Old Town there are ample hostels that are very affordable for travelers of all ages. I recommend the beautiful Dahlia Inn which has affordable rooms for families. As for where NOT to say, avoid Zizkov or Karlin as these are the “rough” parts of the city. Personally, I don’t find them to be that dangerous, however, it is best to stay near more touristic areas of the city if you’re a first time traveler.

Things To Know- 1. Prague is very much a walking city due to it not being very big. However, there are fantastic public transport options! The metro has only 3 lines (you will not be able to pronounce any of the stops/they will not be in English so pay attention!) that are easy to navigate. The tram goes all over the city & runs nearly 24/7. And for more remote areas, you can take a bus. If you are using public transport, be sure to purchase a ticket beforehand in either a machine in the station, or a tobacco shop nearby. Once you have the ticket be sure to STAMP it in yellow machines at the entrance of the metro. These tickets are monitored by time. Some are 30 mins, 60 mins, 90 mins, 1 day, etc. Make sure you hold onto this ticket as there are typically ALWAYS ticket checkers. If caught without a ticket you risk paying a large fine.

2. Czechs do not speak much English & are not always the friendliest about speaking English. Keep this in mind. Learn some basic phrases like dobry den (good day) & dekuji (thank you). Do not expect anyone to speak English to you in grocery stores or normal shops that are not directed to tourists.

#1. Paris, France ! (obv)

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Why You Should Go- Are you KIDDING me!?Paris is one of the most iconic cities in the entire world & the most magical place I have ever been. There is so much culture, history, delicious food, pastries & wine & you will be absolutely blown away by the landmarks around every corner!

Times Traveled- Once in 2006, studied there for 5 months in 2012, once in 2013, once in 2014 & once in 2015! I cannot stop going back!

Best For- history, culture, museums, art, food & wine, nightlife, shopping

Travel With- ANYONE! Paris literally has activities for all ages! However, solo female travelers should be weary of catcallers in the northern parts of the city

Must See-Eiffel should be your absolute first stop. It will be the most beautiful thing you ever see in your life. Make sure you go see her at night as well! (The tower ‘sparkles’ every hour on the hour after sunset). As far as museums, I recommend Le Musee D’Orsay over Le Louvre (more do-able in a reasonable amount of time), & NEVER count out the fantastic parks of the city to have a relaxing picnic with some wine!

Must Eat- French food, even when dirt cheap, will always be well-cooked. Try classic dishes like confit canard, boeuf bourguignon, les escargots whether you’re at a five star restaurant or at a hole in the wall cafe. I recommend going to the Latin Quarter near Notre Dame for a fixe prix 3-course-meal at a set price!

Drink as much wine as possible & eat all the pastries! Crepes are classic staples, however, never discount a delicious baguette & some cheese. No matter what food you eat in Paris, it will most likely be delicious.

Where To Stay- If you look at a map of the city, you will see it is divided into arrondissments or numbered neighborhoods. I would suggest staying more towards the center, so the 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7th arrondissments. Arrondissments 12-16 seem to be alright as well, however, I personally avoid anything north of the 2nd arrondissment. These neighborhoods can be a bit more dangerous, especially for female travelers.

A key to finding a hotel in Paris is READING REVIEWS. Unfortunately “you get what you pay for” seems to be true in this city, however, there may be some hidden gems!

Things To Know- 1. You must take the metro to get around since this is not really a walkable city. The good news is that the Paris metro has 14 lines & can get you basically anywhere in the city! There are ticket machines in English at all stations & workers in booths who mostly speak English to help purchase your tickets. Like in Prague, save your ticket/pass as there are sometimes ticket checkers waiting for you at station exits.

2. Beware the scammers! Since Paris receives such a high volume of tourists year round there are people literally lurking everywhere to scam you out of money. BEWARE anyone approaching you! I hate to sound negative, but in most places in Europe, if someone is approaching you, they either want to scam you or are going to pickpocket you. ALWAYS be weary! Be weary of someone asking you to sign a petition, be weary of someone trying to tie something around your wrist, be weary of everyone!

3. Your experience will be 100x different if you learn some French. Unlike the Czechs, most Parisians speak English well, however, reluctantly at times. If you say a simple bonjour (good day) upon entering a store/restaurant, & then merci, au revoir (thank you, goodbye) upon leaving, the service you receive will be much better.

4. Check the local city calendar before you arrive! Certain days museums are free, festivals take place, local markets are open! This will save you so much more $$$ if you plan ahead before your trip!

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(The Netherlands is DEFINITELY an honorable mention! Especially Amsterdam, a place where your mind will be blown)

So there you have it! A few tips for your next vacation!

As always, please let me know if you ever have any travel questions! I think the best part about venturing somewhere new is trying out all the recommendations of past travelers, while also exploring new places on your own…& then recommending them to the next traveler! Then we have a never-ending cycle of adventure seekers 🙂

As for me, I will officially be traveling with my family to Nice, France & Lisbon, Portugal this upcoming fall, two places I have never been. So please, give me some tips!

Venture on!

JG ❤

 

 

Learning To Be Alone

24 Apr

Hello, dear readers!

Well, believe it or not, I have just come back from yet ANOTHER awesome trip! This time to the Netherlands to visit my friend, the infamous Gillian, then off to Denmark for some solo travel. I just wanted it to be simple & relaxing, which it totally was!

However, upon announcing this trip I was faced with the same questions I always get when I travel alone: Why are you going by yourself? Won’t you be lonely? Don’t you want to share this with somebody else?

And I can completely understand where these questions are coming from because I, myself, used to ask them. 

While studying abroad I would meet people in hostels who had been traveling alone for MONTHS & it blew my mind! I asked them the same line of questions & their answers made no sense to me.

It wasn’t until I was literally forced to partake in solo travel that I learned just how incredible it can be.

(Statue selfie during my first solo travel trip to Vienna!)

I was living in Prague & applying for my Czech working visa. In order to get the visa I had to travel to the Czech embassy in another country. The company scheduling the appointment let me know that my appointment was in Vienna, Austria for the following Wednesday at 9:00am.

Since it was a work day & very last minute, none of my friends would be able to join me. I panicked. Would I get lost?! Would I be safe?! Not to mention Mama G was freaking out.

It was then that I realized I would just have to plan, prepare & book the ticket!

The travel & navigation went off without a hitch, my hostel was cute & the appointment went well. Afterwards I had a few hours to explore before my bus back to Prague, so I decided to venture to Schonbrunn Palace.

I spent the next couple hours walking around the palace’s massive gardens alone in a state of awe. It was almost meditative. And I realized how relaxed I was on my own exploring a new place. I wasn’t scared & I definitely wasn’t lonely. It was at that moment that I was completely sold on the idea of solo travel!

(Having a stranger take a photo of me in the “I” from the “IAmsterdam” sign!)

It’s not surprising that I would enjoy solo travel because I have always thought of myself as an extremely extroverted introvert. I equally enjoy the company of others & being alone. It’s a balance & something I have learned to grow into.

And I think we all kinda are.

When you are young you value quantity. The more friends you have, the better. Popularity can only be calculated in numbers & the larger your friend group is, the more people sitting at your lunch table, or asking you to hang out, the more you feel valued.

But as you grow you learn to instead appreciate quality. 

Your friend circle may decrease a bit when you realize who actually has your back. And suddenly the number doesn’t have to be so high.

It’s the same with romantic relationships.You eventually realize that a quality relationship is the most important type of relationship.

This is part of maturing & learning to be more comfortable in your own skin–which is exactly what solo travel helps one do as well!

Because the more I travel alone, the more I realize how much I enjoy it. Of course I like adventuring with loved ones, but seeing a city on your own is something that is so liberating.

Not only do you have absolute freedom to plan your own itinerary, but you can literally be anyone you want to be. You can be a social butterfly making as many new friends as possible or you can be a pensive loner, opting instead to venture to landmarks by yourself.

Plus, in a way, solo travel can sometimes put extroverts completely out of their comfort zone.

Instead of having long conversations with others, or relying on someone else to plan activities…you are forced to experience things all on your own. You also have time to reflect on any emotions or things you have mentally been running from; it’s quite therapeutic!

(Solo travel in Budapest allowed me to meet so many cool new friends!)

On my solo trip to the Netherlands & Denmark I did so many things alone that I would be too afraid to do alone here in the U.S. Like go to a restaurant alone, go to a park alone, even go to an amusement park alone!

And guess what? I still had so much fun even though I was by myself.

I wondered why don’t I ever do things like this alone at home? Because I’m worried about being judged by others, or concerned about looking like I have no friends?

That’s so dumb. 

So I have been actively trying to do more things on my own, & not just when I’m on vacation.

I, of course, am always down to do things with friends. But for too long I have avoided activities, events, parties, opportunities simply because I didn’t have a companion to accompany me. 

And I missed out on SO much!

So now I have no problem buying one museum ticket, one concert ticket, or one theater ticket. And you know what, dear readers? I don’t just use the protective shield of my phone to make it look like I was blown off, but I am actually enjoying the experience. 

There was a specific moment on my trip where I realized just how important this lesson was.

It was my last day of vacation & I decided to go to Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen a.k.a. the 2nd oldest amusement park IN THE WORLD. It was a once in a lifetime experience.

I originally planned to just walk around the park, but decided at the last moment to buy an unlimited rider pass for the attractions. It was a bit awkward at first, being alone surrounded by children & families.

But I love amusement park rides & I hate missing out so I rode every single ride. I laughed until I had tears in my eyes & smiled until my face hurt.

I got to cut all the lines since I was a single rider & even sat in the front row of the park’s insane roller coaster! Of course it would have been nice to share the experience with someone else, but I didn’t HAVE anyone else so I just went for it!

(Single rider selfie in Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen!)

Solo travel has taught me so much about myself & all that I’m capable of. It has helped me become more introspective & so self aware. And you know what, dear readers? I realized just how truly independent I am. And this lesson transcends more than traveling, it actually says a lot about my relationships with others.

For example: I have officially been single for a while & it used to be hard. I was lonely & craving human companionship. I went back to my grade-school “quantity” fixated self instead of caring about quality. The result was a few people who just weren’t good matches that I was using to fill a void.

Now I have become much more content with my single self & trust that things will work out how they’re supposed to.

And you know what? I don’t even feel “alone” because I’m really not. I am surrounded by so much beauty in the form of loved ones, a fantastic job & new adventures that are always on the horizon! And I am happy with that. 

(The elderly couple who took this photo told me I was so “brave”, I told them I just wanted to see Copenhagen!)

They say you must learn to love yourself before you can love others & I truly believe this. I also think you don’t need to be dependent on someone else for your own happiness. So consider this: how many wonderful things have you missed out on or postponed because of others?

How many times have you said “maybe next year”, “maybe someday”, “maybe when I find someone”?

Do yourself a favor & don’t let that happen anymore.

Stop waiting for your friends to save up to join you on a trip, & stop waiting to find a significant other to take all these dream vacations with. Because “maybe next year” could go on for a long time & soon, before you know it, you’ll be looking back on a life full of regrets.

If you learn to be comfortable with the idea of being alone & solo travel, I promise that life will gift you with so many new friends, memories & adventures waiting around every corner.

You just have to be willing to book that ticket.

JG 🙂

 

Never Stop Exploring

2 Apr

Welcome back, dear readers!

So as you know I started this blog before my big move to Prague. It was 2013 & I was nearing my university graduation & had no idea what I wanted to do.

So in the single most important act I have ever done–I bought a one-way ticket & moved to a faraway land all alone for a year of ups & downs.

Fast-forward 3 years later to today, where I can honestly say that I am in such a happy place. While I am now living a lot closer to home, I still have made a point to surround myself with as much travel opportunities as possible.

Whether with family, friends, or solo, I made a pact to myself when I moved back to the U.S.: never stop exploring no matter what. 

No matter what others say & no matter what the news says–just keep going.

Even if you have to save up entire paychecks for plane tickets, take painfully long yet affordable budget buses cross country, or sleep on someone’s lumpy couch for a couple of nights.

It will absolutely always be worth it.

And it always has been.

But sadly while the past few years have been comprised of some of my best vacations abroad, they have also consisted of some of the most tragic world events.

Every day tells of another bombing or shooting or death toll; innocent lives are drastically being wiped out by evil.

It’s unexplainable, it’s incomprehensible…it’s terrifying.

So why would I still want to travel?

Why would I put myself at risk to be another statistic

Well, that’s simple: because travel has always given me so much.

It has given me global perspectives: shattering ethnocentric ideas, expanding cultural knowledge & fully allowing me to experience being “the other”.

(Quite noticeably the only Westerners in Hong Kong’s remote Ngong Ping village, Grampy & I just went with the flow) 

It has given me self confidence: learning to navigate new cities, new languages & unfamiliar customs all on my own.

(Living in a city with minimal English-speaking, I learned the Czech language basics fast. Especially when it came to pivo!)

It has given me my dream job, uniting students & families from all over the world to form life-lasting bonds.

(Wonderful exchange students my company brought to the U.S. & are currently living with volunteer host families)

And of COURSE it has given me all my wonderful friendships with so many extraordinary human beings.

(My Japanese “sisters” in Tokyo)

(My host mother & host brother, Simon, in Paris)

(My TEFL “family” in Prague)

(My friend Meaghan & I spending Xmas 2013 with the family of my French friend, Apolline!)

When I say travel is my passion–I mean it.

And when you are fully invested in a passion, you will let nothing else stand in its way.

And I won’t.

Think about it: some people have “risky” passions like extreme sports. Yes, there is possible danger, however, with proper education & precaution, the dangers minimize drastically.

The same way you wouldn’t get behind the wheel of a race car without proper training, I would never travel to a foreign city without doing proper research.

Of course, any true traveler knows preparation is key. Making sure maps, currency conversions, accommodations & plans are finalized before moving forward. & A heightened sense of common sense can go a long way.

“Traveling smart” has saved me more than a few times abroad. Whether it be using my intuition about bad situations or being prepared should plans go wrong–this is my first rule of going anywhere.

(Though considered a “Second World Country”, Thailand had some of the nicest locals I’ve ever met)

As prepared as I am, every time I announce a new trip abroad, I am still always met by a response of worry & concern.

While sometimes it can seem understandable, I am still so sick of justifying my travels to people who know nothing about the destinations I’m going to.

To people who allow a heightened sense of media-induced paranoia cloud their logic. Reading exaggerated headlines & watching sensationalized videos that teach them that every thing outside their front door is a war zone.

& I’m sorry, but I refuse to buy into this mindset.

Don’t you understand? That is what terrorists want. They want us afraid & divided. They want us hateful & unable to continue our daily routines. They want us to scapegoat & point fingers.

Well, I don’t know about you, dear readers, but there’s no way I will let them succeed.

I will never stop exploring, asking questions & looking for answers.

I refuse to close my mind. I will not stigmatize 1.6 billion people for the horrendous actions of few. I will not panic about going to a city near Brussels when my own city has already had several shootings in 2016. I will not listen to politicians who use racism to further a disgusting agenda of hate. & I will never use blanket statements like “they” or “them” when discussing large groups of people.

(MEPI friends from various countries in the Middle East/North Africa!)

Because every human is different, & I refuse to believe that everyone is inherently bad…& travel keeps re-enforcing this for me. 

I have met with Hurricane Katrina survivors in New Orleans who have an indescribable sense of faith in the wake of so much tragedy.

(Service trip with my High School to New Orleans in 2008)

I have had strangers in Budapest, Prague & Vienna (who spoke zero English) literally take me by the hand to steer me in the right direction when I was lost & afraid & alone.

 

(I only found my way around Austria & Hungary thanks to the kindness of strangers!)

I have had wonderful experiences in Tokyo, Istanbul & Paris that would not have been half as special if it was not for the overwhelming hospitality of local friends.

(Mike is from Chicago but he was the best tour guide in Istanbul! Thanks, brother!)

& I have met extraordinary human beings in every single city I’ve been who have shared delicious meals, informative pub debates, & deep insight into their beautiful cultures with me, an outsider.

(Like my Japanese sisters, I am also very close with the group of Brazilian students we befriended who were studying at my university in 2014)

So next week I will venture back to Europe alone. I will FINALLY be reunited with the cooler older sister I never had, Gillian, in her new home, The Hague. Then travel by myself to Amsterdam & Copenhagen.

And I have not an ounce of fear.

Because I will do what I always do. I will pack all my travel supplies: my maps, my converters & my clothing layers. I will print out all my itineraries, my plane reservations, & my hostel addresses.

& I will be aware of my surroundings.

Not a panicked hyper-awareness, but not a foolish lack of awareness–just simply aware.

Like I always am when I’m in a new city.

And I will be fine.

I mean, I get to explore two brand new cities! I will see the wold-famous Keukenhof Tulip Gardens & the beautiful seaside Nyhavn canal & get to have some much needed pub talk with one of my best friends!

(See you soon, Gillian!)

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over these past few years, dear readers, it is that you cannot allow anything to dictate your happiness. 

No job, no lover, & absolutely no fear.

You must continue to venture on, to explore the unknown even when it can be terrifying. Because you never know what wonderful experiences or people may be waiting just around the corner.

Happy travels!

JG 🙂

 

 

 

The Other Side of The World

8 Mar

Whew. Sorry it took me so long to update you on my life, dear readers! I have been so busy traveling the world & then attempting to regroup from the jet lag from said travels! But now I think I’m finally back to normal, enough to tell you about some bucket list milestones I recently crushed including:

-Drink out of a fresh coconut

-Take a Japanese bullet train

-Visit a monk in a Buddhist temple

and…

TRAVEL TO ASIA!

If you know me/have been following my blog for a while you know that traveling is definitely my true passion & it seems like I do it a heck of a lot. Well, you’re certainly not wrong, but one thing to note is where I travel–to all the SAME places!!!

I definitely have my “favorite cities”, which I cannot get enough of. So I keep going back whenever I get the chance. I mean I’ve been to Florence 3 times, Prague 2 times after living there for a year & Paris a whopping FIVE TIMES.

It was time to venture some place new!

Also remember how I vowed to treat one person to “a special vacation” every year? Well this seemed like the perfect chance. But who to take?

If you recall, my last trip was with my Mom. She is truly my best friend & really helped me the most through my dog bite fiasco. We longingly planned adventures while I laid in a hospital bed & hoped maybe one day they’d come true.

Then they did.

Last October we took a girls trip to Dubrovnik, Prague, Paris & Florence! And it was the best. I lead, she followed. I spoke the languages, held the money, organized the tickets, passports, keys & directions…and she had one hell of a time!

And it was a success! So successful that I was pinching myself. No pick-pockets, no scams, no disasters, & no sickness (well, I stuck it out until the very last night!). It was pleasant too because, besides Croatia, I already knew all the places we traveled to so well. 

I was comfortable & familiar. 

However, as much as I absolutely LOVE Europe, I knew the day was coming: the day when my wanderlust would force me to wander into the unknown aka: anywhere but Europe, or in this case–Asia.

Ever since I was young, I have always been fascinated by Asian culture. Mulan was my favorite movie growing up, I learned to use chopsticks at a young age & a few of my exes even have Asian roots.

My desire to travel there grew the more I made wonderful friends hailing from this vast continent, specifically a group of Japanese girls that I worked with at my university during Summer 2014.

Once their program was over, the girls begged me to someday come visit them in Japan.

Little did I know that fate would step in & allow that to happen much sooner than expected.

(Summer 2014 with my girls <3)

So yes, I knew that my next trip HAD to be to Asia & I was freaking out. When would I go? Where would I go? Who would I go with?!

Not sure which of my friends would be adventurous enough, let along who could even get the vacation time, I considered my yearly travel rule. Who was next on the Jessi Dream Vacation List?

And then the answer was clear. Who else but the youngest 70-something I know. The person who not only helped me through all my lowest lows, but has always been my super hero…

My Grampy.

It all made sense. He was energetic, adventurous, & had told me Hong Kong was the top of his bucket list! Oh, & one thing you should know about Grampy is he has endless energy & positivity. He may be 78-years-old, but he still does backflips into the pool & loves a good dessert. He is the epitome of a kid at heart. 

Plus he could really use a vacation from Grammy sometimes.

So I planned & planned & then it was settled: I was officially taking my 78-year-old Grandfather on a 12 day backpacking trip through Thailand, Hong Kong & Japan!

Grampy was ecstatic once I broke the news & fully packed long before the trip.

Piece of cake.

Only not at all because I was so anxious. 

So anxious that I was freaking out a bit. I was venturing to 3 countries I have no familiarity with, on the longest flight of my life, eating exotic spicy food with most sensitive stomach & babysitting the most novice traveler 24/7.

See what I mean?

But I just did what I did best: prepared. I screenshotted directions, learned useful phrases, printed out tickets, wrote emergency contacts, organized folders & finally took a deep breath. Soon the day came & there was no turning back!

The next 12 days were just purely awesome…& I’m glad I allowed myself to realize that. 

Some takeaway things I learned on this trip based on my experiences:

1. I have never felt so safe. 

I mean this on a few different levels. First off: the crime rates in the countries we traveled to were insanely low & that was noticeable. In the U.S. you have to watch your back, in Europe you have to watch your belongings, but in Asia I felt at ease.

No one tried to approach us to scam us, no one tried to grab me (in a sexually harassing way), no one even stared at us due to our physical differences. Even in the suffocating crowded yet eerily silent Tokyo metro, no one batted an eyelash when we spoke English. And it was pretty nice. I was glad to not be on alert 24/7 like I usually am while traveling.

The cherry on top of this experience was when we were waiting for a ferry in Hong Kong & a Chinese man made conversation with us. My Grampy asked him if he had even been to the U.S. & he said:

“I was going to go 10 years ago but didn’t get to. I probably should have because now it is too dangerous there, it was much safer back then.”

The LOOK on Grampy’s face. Mic drop. Perspective.

2. We are ALL the same! 

While Grampy & I met many wonderful strangers in Bangkok & Hong Kong, the real highlight of our trip was venturing around Tokyo.

We ended up meeting up with those same Japanese girls I had taught a few years ago & it was awesome. Because originally when we met I was teaching them English & showing them around a small Rhode Island town, now here we were two years later & they’re showing me around this massive city speaking their language for me.

A very special travel moment indeed. 

They could have just met us for lunch, but no, these girls were A+ tour guides. They showed us landmarks, ordered us food, took us to traditional Shabu-Shabu dinner, sang karaoke with us for 3 hours & then gifted us with Japanese goodies!

Talk about some good friends!

The best was spending one of our last days on the trip in their home town Shizuoka, which is 3 hours south of Tokyo & near the famous Mount Fuji!

Girls, I can never thank you enough. My Grampy & I had the best time in Japan because of your kindness, you are truly my sisters for life ❤

3. Follow your instincts 

One of my biggest fears going into this trip was the unknown. I was afraid of getting lost, using unfamiliar money, metros, languages, hell even bathrooms. I was nervous about standing out so much & had absolutely no clue what to expect.

But then we landed in the sweltering Bangkok airport a 10pm…& I directed the taxi driver to our bed & breakfast with the directions I’d printed out. & Then I navigated not only the Hong Kong ferry system but also the metro, which, after 4 separate transfers took us to Lantau Island & the beautiful village of Ngong Ping to see the Big Buddha. And then, on our final day of the trip I figured out the Tokyo subway system, during rush hour to get to the MASSIVE Otematchi underground station & then find our shuttle bus to the airport just in time.

The funny thing about this trip is I realized it didn’t matter that I’d never been there before, because I already had all the skills I needed to find the way. 

My sense of direction, my judge of character, my intuition are all tools that I use whether I’m in Boston or Bangkok. They’re survival skills that all true travelers rely on wherever they go.

And if something goes wrong that’s okay too. 

If you don’t understand–ask. If you don’t know what to do–observe others. If you realize you’re headed the wrong way simply turn around. Don’t panic, don’t freak out, just take a deep breath & continue on, you are on vacation afterall, remember? 

So thus, our trip was a HUGE success! It went better than I could have ever hoped & Grampy had such a good time.

He drank all the mango juice in Thailand & laughed on the back of the tuk-tuks. He stared in awe at the massive Buddha on Hong Kong’s Lantau Island & slept like a baby in our luxury hotel (my one splurge!) overlooking Kowloon Bay. & He sang his heart out during karaoke & he lovingly told everyone in Tokyo that the 5 Japanese girls following him around were his grand-daughters.

(Admiring the wats/Buddhist temples in Bangkok)

(The world’s best Pina Colada in Thailand)

(Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong)

(Ngong Ping Village & the Big Buddha) 

(The Tokyo Tower)

(Singing some karaoke in Japan with the girls.)

So there you have it, dear readers! Another amazing vacation spent with some truly wonderful people. I will definitely be back, Asia!

In the meantime, stay tuned for my next adventure!

JG 🙂