“Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans” -John Lennon.
People are often fascinated with the globetrotting I’ve been blessed enough to experience over the last year. My good fortune then, more often than not, leads to one question over and over; how do you afford this? Well, my fellow adventurers and traveling daydreamers, let me counter with a question of my own; if you, yea you, had the time and finances to execute your heart’s desire, would you? Most people would assume the answer would be a resounding YES. The reality, however, is that most people when given the chance to dive headfirst into their dream-even if they were given a parachute or safety net-still wouldn’t jump!
Would you dare to cross the bridge to your own success?
Let’s back up-
After two and half years living and working under a government contract in Macedonia, I found myself fluent in another language, more fulfilled in my work than I’d ever been and had traveled to over ten countries in and around the Balkans. With my time overseas fast approaching its end, I challenged myself with one question; what exactly was I rushing back to?
“I can go visit my friends in Spain!” No… “I should get lost on several breathtaking beaches in Greece!” Nah…
The inner dialogue played out like this for months with me lacking all desire to go back to the States and “properly adult” by throwing myself back into a 9 to 5, the rushing to-and-fro, never enough time to breath, American lifestyle that I was eager to escape from in the first place. The untimely passing of my life-giver, coach, and best friend cemented the inevitable existential fork in the road forcing me to make a choice. A choice that would give me space to properly grieve the unexpected loss of my Mother, offer direction for this new motherless type of existence and to follow my heart. No pressure!
My heart wanting to race to the countries and continents Mom and I always wanted to see, I deliberated for months for a resolution that would grant me a brief reprieve from my ambivalence. I started simply by booking a trip to my number one dream destination; India. I thought to myself, what better place to face my grief, explore a new culture, and meet new faces from around the globe. The poet in me prayed that my voice-temporarily silenced in the depth of my heartbreak-would find a muse in the fulfillment of traveling to this bucket list destination. The itinerary of the adventure tour (as booked via GAdventures) was three and a half weeks with stops including Varanasi, Mumbai and the Taj Mahal. Tapping away on the keyboard one afternoon whilst researching these destinations, an ad for the New 7 World Wonders found me.
I read on about the global voting system allowing anyone anywhere to nominate then vote for the wonder of their choice. I was fascinated reviewing the list of nominees and the seven winners were chosen in 2009 by voters across the world. The wheels in my brain got to turning and my heart thumping. Having visited Rome, and by default, the Colosseum earlier that year I was reminded of a standing offer to visit a dear friend living just outside of Beijing-a stone’s throw to The Great Wall. Light bulbs exploded in my head and the lofty travel goal to see all of the recently voted seven world wonders in one year while documenting my journey served as the foundation for my adventure travel blog, Bag Lady; Meredith San Diego.
Italy; Colosseum #1 of 7 (*August 2016*)
Italy, more specifically the Amalfi Coast where I spent most of my time (save the expedition into Rome) mesmerized me with secret swimming holes, the island of Capri, fresh seafood dishes, the pasta/pizza, the sheer size of the lemons, its ancient history and men with faces out of fairytales! Coming into Rome solo I did all of the things tourists do; visited Vatican City, the Pantheon, and lunched by Trevi Fountain. I filled my belly with prosciutto wrapped melon and sweet white wines sharing internal dialogue with my Mother who was always with me in spirit. The vivid, warm memories of jubilance seeing the massive structure of the Colosseum in the distance as I approached passing Basilica after Basilica, wandering through ancient alleyways, made my smile grow wider with every step. The teeming mass of people conjugating around the ancient amphitheater seemed to be the heartbeat of the entire city, encouraging my own heart to beat stronger for the consummation of adventure via travel.
India; Taj Mahal #2 of 7 (*December 2017*)
My time in India was everything one would expect; spiritual, disgusting, colorful, challenging, spicy, and an all-around olfactory experience to remember. I was introduced to the Taj Mahal at sunset from the gardens just behind the grounds. It was a peaceful exchange surrounded by nature. Distorted pastels danced across the white marble as birds flew overhead in flocks of ten or more. Easy winds blew the dust in my hair, but I couldn’t take my eyes away from this monument-a tomb for a loved one lost. My shattered heart sang many a sad song on this journey and I tried too hard not to shed tears. Desperately clinging to happy memories and relishing the reality of the adventure before me it became overwhelmingly clear that my first step in overcoming the power struggle with grief lay in my inability to embrace vulnerability.
Jordan; Petra #3 of 7 (*February 2017*)
Snowfall-yes snowfall-followed a day behind each tour stop forcing me to bundle myself in no less than three or four layers to stay warm. Loathing the cold, my temperament often matched my tolerance in the long desert days of my expedition through Jordan. The biblical history of the region I found to be both inviting and contradictory at once; standing in places of war and glory. Petra, made of stone and remarkable by design, inspired silence from within me. I was highly introverted and reflective walking the rain-soaked stone steps contemplating the sophistication of the civilization that carved this place. The desert was vast and calming, an ideal combination at just the right time in the grieving process. Highlights of my time in Jordan, besides visiting Petra itself, included floating in the Dead Sea and crossing the Israeli border on foot.
China; The Great Wall #4 of 7 (*April 2017*)
The honest truth is that I never wanted to visit China; the hazardous air quality, the size and the lack of hygienic tact of the population being personal justifications as to why. Setting the travel goal to see the New 7 World Wonders though brought me to the country in order to witness (and climb) three different sections of the Great Wall. Although my bias too often dictated my experiences I searched-as I do-for positives when negatives would overwhelm me. Quiet walks, mystery meats on a stick and a pretty amazing zoo combined with the opportunity to reunite with a dear friend granted me several handfuls of great memories to take away from the superfluous destination.
Peru; Machu Picchu #5 of 7 (*May 2017*)
Llamas and food are my most poignant memories of Peru. Ancient boulders from temples long ago appear in road medians and the Spanish colonial architecture almost had me apartment hunting. The altitude took immediate hold and the heart flurries were enough to worry me sick. Still, I was not deterred from my quest and set out on the three and a half day trek on the Lares Trail through the Andes. Realizing the no amount of training could prepare one for the impact of the altitude it was with frozen snot and tears stuck to my face I put one foot in front of the other to reach the top then practically ran to get down! The beauty of the ancient ruins did more than take my breath away, it navigated poetry from the depths of my being to the surface as I stood in awe of the majestic landscape wrapped in mist.
Brazil; The Redeemer #6 of 7 (*June 2017*)
More often than not I was confused for a local and had several one-sided conversations in Portuguese that filled me with glee. Stomping through the tiny walkways of Rocinha while soaking in the hustle of this culture gave me Rio served on a platter. Witnessing art through dance, on canvass, in textiles and jewelry, even in baking was an extraordinary experience. The cool temperature of the sea along the Tropic of Capricorn on my toes while walking down the beachfront of Ipanema humming the notorious melody of the song sharing the same title and the guttural laughs of witnessing sand artists make thongs out of seaweed for their artistic displays of the female backside feed my memory bank like quarters in slot machines. Loving my body on Copacabana where all body types were fitted in bikinis I sipped caipirinhas and chewed shrimp grilled fresh on the beach as I soaked my chocolate skin in the delicious sunshine of the Southern Hemisphere-The Redeemer high on the hills side with an ever watchful eye and an inviting embrace.
Brazil highlighted my internal ambivalence about needing roots. This peripatetic life began to catch up with me forcing me to question how long I could keep living out of my backpack. Doubt was becoming more and more common in my internal dialogue revealing the necessity of finding a balance, and quickly. Running parallel to my depression, living in the moment was my biggest challenge at this point in my travels. Writing feverishly, trying to grow my skills along with my vernacular, I found myself creating material that made me proud unlocking the importance of writing less for everyone else and more for myself. Slowly, and with the help of an enthusiastic young Chilean, my work began to get recognized by the adventure tour company I utilized multiple times during the year, G Adventures, to complete my travel goal.
Yucatan; Chichen Itza #7 of 7 (*August 2017*)
Saving the best for last, Chichen Itza was a homecoming of sorts being the first time in a long time that I was back in North America. Born and raised in San Diego the Mexican culture has been ever-present in my upbringing and day to day existence. Having visited several Mexican cities in the past, the region of the Yucatán had escaped me! Mayan ruins and ancient sports at my fingertips, I was mesmerized by my final wonder and was filled with vast emotions of accomplishment. Exploring cenotes, geographical wonder in their own right, and gorging on frijoles con queso (beans with cheese) while practicing my now broken Spanish filled my heart with glee.
***For more information on the New 7 World Wonders and how they’re voted visit their site as found by clicking here: New 7 Wonders
BLMSD Q & A-
Which two of the 7 World Wonders was your favorite?
Hard to say! My most memorable would be the Taj Mahal considering the timing in my life that I traveled to India. The most challenging and by default, the most rewarding was undoubtedly Machu Picchu. Trekking three and half days to an elevation of 47,000 meters above sea level had me fearing for my life on more than one occasion. It cemented the beauty of the smallest of pleasures, i.e. a hot shower, warm/dry clothing, and the reality that Incans did/do this trail like the back of their hand often and at a MUCH quicker pace in beautiful or inclement weather.
What did you discover about the culture of those two countries and about yourself?
India reinforced my gratitude. To have been born in a free nation granting me countless opportunities for things like education and employment, and a country that proudly voices support for aspiring young females, provides health care to those with disabilities, and an institution to monitor animal and child cruelty reached new profound levels for me. Witnessing oppression and widespread poverty changes you in an instant. So does the smiling faces and kindness of strangers, which was in equal abundance among the chaos.
The Peruvian food scene was exhilarating leaving my taste buds wanting more than my stomach could handle. The view of the Sacred Valley left me speechless and I fell farther in love with llamas. Peru is a nation rich with ancient history tangled in modern contemplation. Incan ruins are all around and the countries effort to preserve the history and educate visitors was astounding. My time in the Amazon along the Madre de Dios River poured nature into my thirsty soul and I lapped it up like a dehydrated animal presented with fresh water. I had always known the impact of nature on my person, but the Amazon awakened the humanitarian in me in regards to voicing the need for preservation and rehabilitation of the rainforest and the indigenous people that depend on it.
Which of the seven world wonders you experienced would you recommend?
Machu Picchu will unequivocally be my suggestion. It is a life-changing experience that, sadly, is rumored to be coming to an end in the next decade or so. The country wants to greatly reduce the amount of tourism on the mountain in order to preserve the site. The journey itself can be done by train, bus, or trekking/hiking so you can get out of it as much or as little adventure as you please.
What would you say is the 8th Wonder of the World?
I’m an adventurer and a globetrotter, yes, but I am in no way qualified to decide such things! I can say that the South Island of New Zealand has some of the most breathtaking views of nature I have ever seen. Further still, a little spot called FergBurger in Queenstown gave my classic double-double, protein style and animal style from my favorite burger joint on the West Coast, In N Out, a serious run for its money!
Travel Tips from BLMSD-
Get smartphone gems such as:
Travel discounts sites are not a saving grace, but you can use them to your advantage and get the most out of what they have to offer. I have navigated whole pathways of adventure tours based on travel deals on airfare to one region of the World. I have personally utilized G Adventures more than any other adventure tour company and the various tours they offer can be found at discounted rates and you can compare rates on my favorite go-to site, Tourradar.com.
The Devil is in the details
I’ve been bit more than once being impatient during travel planning. Do your best to avoid booking travel details like flights and hotel stays when you’re exhausted. You miss one detail in a time zone change and welp… Though there’s a quick learning curve on this mistake it’s a reminder that spontaneity is your friend, yes, but organization is your best friend!
Packing tips from an over packer
Put everything you think you’re going to need for your upcoming trip in front of you nice and organized (by outfit is my personal method). Now cut that in half. Then take three more clothing items out of the lineup after that. You DO NOT NEED the majority of the stuff you think that you do! The rest of the things you’re convinced you can’t live without, obviously not including prescription medication, etc., you can! You REALLY can.
The Florida Keys hold many natural treasures with a day trip that will give you an introduction to the most fragile ecosystems in the world and many endangered species. This one focuses on the coral reef and mangrove island habitat, which are disappearing fast as development continues to put huge stresses on the limited natural and human resources