North America

Lisa Niver We Said Go Travel Camping with the Cows 2015 Sage Porter #CWTC2015
CWTC 2015

Moooooooooove Over Traditional Camping, time for something different!

Each May my family and I pack up our car with our tents, sleeping bags and gear and head out of our busy Los Angeles life for a weekend of relaxing camping. I’m not talking about your usual camping in the woods, secluded from other people, braving the elements with only what we can carry in our packs. Where we go there are no mosquitos, bears or snakes, oh no! But there are COWS, happy cows who graze every day in lush pastures.

Mooooooo CWTC
Mooooooo CWTC

 

One weekend a year for the past 4 years, the family owned Organic Pastures Dairy (who is celebrating their fifteenth year anniversary!) opens up their fields for a customer appreciation weekend of camping, games, family fun and all the raw milk you can drink (and if you’re my family, it’s a lot!)   This year there were 400 people, but you’d never know it, there’s so much space. It’s a two-day event that my family is already looking forward to for next year and we just left!

This year we arrived about 12:30 on Saturday afternoon. It was a perfect, warm afternoon. We picked our site towards the end of the field and started to set up our tents and shade tent as we waited for our friends to arrive.   The kids almost immediately took off to the hay maze (next year they will learn to put up the tent… next year) and as their friends arrived they took off as well.   The environment is one where the kids are free to run around as they want in the kid zone, or the fields, it’s a time where they get to explore and enjoy the openness of the fields.

Tents 2014 CWTC
Tents 2014 CWTC

After a brief welcome from the owners under a huge tent (filled with lots of seating, a toddlers play area, arts & crafts, refreshments and even a charging station for your phone) we headed back to our area for a relaxing drink and catch up with our friends.   The rest of the afternoon was filled with a tractor ride and tour of the farm, a milk chugging contest, a friendly game of Dunk the Dairyman, and my favorite… actually getting to milk a cow named Moolary (she was really adorable!)

Me, Lisa with WSGT & Moolary CWTC
Me, Lisa with WSGT & Moolary CWTC

VIDEO: Camping with the Cows 2015

Milk chugging 2015 CWTC
Milk chugging 2015 CWTC

After a delicious catered dinner everyone gathered around on blankets and camping chairs under the stars for a movie in the field. We watched A Bug’s Life on a huge outdoor screen with cookies and milk.   The kids snuggled in as the temperatures dropped to a lovely cool evening and once the movie was done, some went off to bed and some stayed up for s’mores around the bonfires (you just cannot have camping of any kind without s’mores!) We had a friend with a guitar playing in our group around the bonfire and an evening of fun.

Dunk the Dairymen CWTC
Dunk the Dairymen CWTC

On Sunday morning my kids and I awoke really early. They went off playing as the sunrise overtook the fields.   A bit later as more of the campers awoke everyone walked, jogged or rode the tractor to the site where Organic Pastures Dairy just broke ground for a new milk parlor that will open later this year.   The owners made a beautiful and emotional talk about their passion for sharing great health and a wonderful product with everyone gathered around.   Owners Mark (a former paramedic) and his wife Blaine (a former nurse) spoke of the nutrition, safety and comfort of their customers AND their cows.   Their milk goes through third party triple testing and can land in stores and farmer’s markets within 24 hours.   They also sell other products like cheese, butter (to die for!), cream and kefir.

Sunrise fun CWTC
Sunrise fun CWTC

 

CWTC 2015
CWTC 2015: Lisa and Sage won awards for social media participation during Camping with the Cows 2015

After, we headed back to our campsite and started to pack up our site.   We played a bit more and reluctantly got back in the car for our drive home.   Before heading on the road we stopped at their little store and filled up our cooler with milk, butter and cheese so we could make the coming week a bit more delicious.   We headed back home complaining that we only got to spend one night there at that peaceful, fun farm, but knowing our next trip back would only be a year away.   Moooooooooo!

Fresh field growing CWTC
Fresh field growing CWTC

The next time you run away from Los Angeles to the beach, stop at Captain Kidd’s in Redondo Beach. Captain Kidd’s is a seafood market and restaurant located in King Harbor in Redondo Beach. It was founded in 1976 by the current owner’s father. Today, John operates the business and travels around Southern California for the best seafood he can find. Also a local fish market, Captain Kidd’s offers a huge variety of fresh seafood options. Here are a few of the can’t miss items from my trip to Captain Kidd’s.

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1. Mexican Prawns

These battered prawns were absolutely massive and perfectly crispy! A life-long prawn enthusiast, I was delighted to find such a perfect prep of one of my all-time favorite foods. This is the perfect order if you’re looking for something fried and delicious.

2. Clam Chowder

The clam chowder was creamy to perfection. Often times, my biggest problem with clam chowder is a lack of clams, but at Captain Kidd’s, this was not an issue! The chowder was packed with clams.

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3. Fresh Crab Legs

The fresh crab legs were the first thing to disappear on our table. These were the perfect crowd-pleaser. Everyone wanted them! They were delicious and fresh, served with butter and lemon.

4. Scallops

I’ve only ever had overly complicated scallop preps, with elaborate sauces and garnishes. These were simple and delicious!

But I saved the best for last…

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5. Smoked Salmon

Captain Kidd’s smoked salmon is smoked in a 38-year-old brick oven. It was tender, richly flavored, and did not disappoint. I’ve had some quality smoked salmon preparations before, but this one wins! This is the absolute must order, when you go!

On your next weekend trip, head to Redondo Beach! And be sure to stop by Captain Kidd’s for the best fresh and simple seafood around.

 

The Marine Life Engravings on the Pier

Redondo Beach, just 40 minutes south of Los Angeles, is the perfect escape for a weekend. Far off the freeways, you’ll quickly forget you are anywhere near LA and become immersed in the relaxed beach culture. For your next weekend trip, here are the must-dos for a Redondo Beach vacation:

To Do:

After the Rainstorm
After the Rainstorm

1. Paddleboarding (SUP)

Hit up Tarsan when you want to try out paddleboarding. The instructor Elizabeth is nice and helpful, providing equipment for everyone to check out the marine life under the water. Paddleboarding through the marina offers ample opportunities to see sea lions and spot garibaldi fish.

2. Diving

Visit the Dive n’ Surf shop when you’re ready to get underwater. The Dive Pros there shared how Redondo Beach is unlike any other diving destination: divers spotting whales is a frequent occurrence and you can swim through a handful of different shipwrecks.

3. Whale Watching

The whales aren’t shy in Redondo Beach. They frequently come close to the beach because they follow plankton (their meal of choice) into a deep crevice near the shore. Whale spotting is frequent, even from your hotel room window!

4. Boating

Whether sailing or speed boating is your game, the local marinas offer a selection of opportunities for you to get out there and enjoy the fresh sea air. When I went out, a big rainstorm had just passed. The sky was beautiful as the clouds mixed with the light from the setting sun. Getting out onto the water cannot be missed!

 

To Eat:

A Sampler Plate at Kincaid's
A Sampler Plate at Kincaid’s

1. Kincaid’s

For a nice dinner out, look to Kincaid’s. The menu is vast and delicious, offering amazing appetizers. The short ribs cannot be missed, and the key lime pie is a must for dessert. The massive windows are perfect for watching the ocean. When I ate there, it was raining. Watching the rain from Kincaid’s was beautiful.

2. Tony’s

If the coconut shrimp from Tony’s crow’s nest bar won’t get you there, the view will. Add their signature mai tai to your tab, and relax. This nautical-themed restaurant is perfect for an afternoon drink and casual lunch.

3. Barney’s Beanery

If you’re ready for pub food, get to Barney’s. The chili fries and wings are perfect for sharing, and the drink list is a beer-lovers dream. For someone looking for a fancier drink, the WeHo is a delicious blended drink. If nothing else convinces you that you’re on vacation, the WeHo, served in a pineapple, will.

4. R10

For the hipper crowd, the R10 is the spot to hang out. With great appetizers and a nice bar, the R10 packs in the deliciousness with their whisky loaf, and my personal favorite, their thai curry mussels. For you oyster fans, their prep is excellent, serving them with a yuzu cream.

 

To See:

The Marine Life Engravings on the Pier
The Marine Life Engravings on the Pier

 

1. The Whaling Wall

Painted by renowned muralist Robert Wyland in 1991, his Whaling Wall, officially titled “Gray Whale Migration,” is part of his worldwide series of marine life art. He started the 100 piece series in 1981 and completed in 2008.

2. The Pier

The Pier makes for an awesome walk past great restaurants, an arcade, and plenty of surf shops. I even spotted a free yoga class being taught. The real feature of the pier, besides the view, is the engravings of sea life. From whales to sea lions, there’s plenty to see, even if you’re somehow tired of looking at the ocean!

3. The Sea Lions and Other Wildlife

Redondo Beach is not short on amazing wildlife. From beautiful birds to plentiful sea lions, and of course, whales, the marine life is a huge draw to Redondo. There’s always something cool to see, making it the perfect family destination. What child doesn’t want to watch the sea lions play in the water?

 

To Stay:

The Lobby at the Portofino
The Lobby at the Portofino

1. Redondo Beach Hotel

Recently remodeled, the Redondo Beach Hotel is the perfect family spot. Across the street from the marina, the Redondo is a convenient choice for all of your waterside vacation activities. The breakfast bar in the lobby has both delicious and healthy options, from oatmeal to waffles!

2. The Portofino

For an upscale spot, the Portofino is located on the water, with spectacular ocean views. Sea lions are something of a mascot for the hotel, as they frequently settle themselves right outside the hotel. It’s the perfect waterfront hotel for a luxurious weekend.

Drinks at Bella Vista, overlooking the ocean at sunset

I have had a crazy 18 months. I knew I would (finally) have some free time, so I planned a vacation where I could really get back to myself. I set out on a restorative trip to find some peace. I went to Santa Barbara, and stayed at Four Seasons The Biltmore.

I had been there before as a teenager, but had never experienced the place as an adult. I’ll admit, I wanted a lazy vacation where I never had to get in the car. I wanted good books, poolside drinks, and palm trees. The gorgeous views were expected, but there was no way I could predict how relaxed I’d feel only a few hours into my stay. Here are the highlights of my trip:

Drinks at Bella Vista, overlooking the ocean
Drinks at Bella Vista, overlooking the ocean

1. Outdoor dining. For three days, I didn’t eat a single meal indoors. Breakfast on the patio, lunch by the pool, dinner across the street on the balcony at Tydes. I never got tired of the spectacular ocean views available from the Bella Vista restaurant at the hotel. It’s quite easy to spot dolphins swimming by every day. Some of the hotel staff told me they have spotted an occasional blue whale, as well. Above, you can see our drinks the first night, over looking the ocean. The poolside lunch menu was clean and delicious, featuring an amazing chicken salad that I couldn’t help pairing with a decadent piña colada.

2. The service. Having stayed in top notch hotels all over the world, the Four Seasons Santa Barbara has some of the best service I’ve ever experienced. By the pool, the wait staff came around with complimentary smoothie shots and fresh fruit. The concierge were always happy to rework a dinner reservation, and even afforded me a luxurious late checkout, so I could squeeze a few more hours by the pool. My book was just too good to stop reading!

Lounging by the pool
Lounging by the pool

3. The incomparable atmosphere. The pueblo-style compound immediately put me in the mindset of warm-weather vacation. The sound of the ocean drifting through the windows while I got a massage was amazing. And the beautiful, colorful decor in the rooms, including some fantastic, artful tiles, made me want to stay in my room almost as much as I wanted to hit the pool.

4. The beach. Santa Barbara is not your standard SoCal destination. It’s on the cooler side (during my visit the weather stayed between 68 and 72 degrees), but the beach is perfect for surfers and taking scenic walks (with a sweater). There is even a very unique graveyard on a cliff overlooking the ocean within easy walking distance. If you want to stay out of the cold, both pools at the hotel are wind protected and it feels way warmer on a sunny day!

Morning coffee on my balcony
Morning coffee on my balcony


After such an intense year and a half, it was amazing to sink back and feel the stress melt away in only a short, three day trip! I highly recommend taking a lazy vacation. Perfect weather, perfect pool days and perfect piña coladas!

 

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 Brave Girl in 15A over the Ocean

Seeing the bullfights in Portugal (they don’t kill the bull, mostly), dancing the tango in Argentina, diving the reefs in Australia all have one thing in common for a girl from Illinois.  First she has to get there.  If you want to head out across this big blue world, so will you.  Unless you have an outrigger crew or a ticket on the next QE2, you may find yourself buckled in beside me as we zip along great circle routes at 600 miles per hour.

On the off chance there is a newsworthy airline emergency, I will be more valuable than all your platinum frequent flyer miles.  Why?  Because I have studied those laminated safety cards in the seat pocket in front of you on every flight I have ever flown, I have looked up from my in-flight magazine to see how to pull the elastic to tighten oxygen masks, and I know that the closest exit may be behind you.

I became a serious student of airline safety when my babies started flying with me.  They became my singular focus on every trip, like a bear protecting her cubs. Every flight had me running mental non-stop disaster scenes, but I did not want my children to develop agoraphobia, so I got proactive and started educating them and myself about airplane safety. I had them count the rows to the nearest exit, point to the other exits, and find their flotation devices.  They were not unduly concerned, and I certainly become calmer about flying.  It was just what we did, our routine, like buckling your seat belt, with the fit tight and low or opening the window shade at takeoff.  With tray tables stowed and locked and our seat backs in their upright position, we cheerfully headed up into the sky.

Now my children sit in exit rows solo, which means that I have had decades of thinking about the life vest stowed in the compartment under my seat, knowing with calm assurance that if it does not inflate upon tab pulling you can just hyperventilate into the little plastic tube.  All this knowledge was gained while 99% of other passengers were preoccupied doing important things like playing computer solitaire or chatting up the blonde in 38D.

Nope, I am not afraid of flying.  Even though I know that smoke is the number one killer in crashes, I have visions of staying calm in those nasty smoke-filled scenarios helping other people’s babies, besides those in-pocket safety card scenes are so reassuring.  All the little passengers are so well-groomed.  There are no flames, it is broad daylight, and the passengers, with enviable posture, are in perfect alignment with arms crossed as they jump onto the bright yellow slide.  No panic in sight, which is a good thing, because I can’t imagine how instructions with a real crash scene would go over. The cards should say in caps, YOUR CHANCES ARE NIL, but I would be laughing at my own joke, because as we know, nobody looks at those things anyway.

I am brave, but as an added bonus of protection I pray.  Sometimes during routine take off s and landings, or if I awaken, say, at 2 A.M. realizing that we are on a flight plan directly over the Amazon, and I start to think of the piranha there waiting in the dark.  Well, that is just long-haul dehydration playing mind tricks, but in a true emergency you can bet I will be praying hard for help from a higher being, which would be pretty high, since we are already at 41,000 ft.

I got the prayer idea from my parents.  Once during a night flight home they got an upgrade to first class which was marred by the worst turbulence of their lives.  Everyone was clutching their armrests or each other’s arms, putting their palms over hearts to keep from crying or over wine glasses to keep their cabernet from sloshing out. A curious sound was heard between the instructions coming from the cockpit and the claps of thunder.  A passenger was snoring.  A man of  God, a visiting Cardinal flying from DCA to STL.  Totally at peace.  My parents, and presumably, most of the other passengers learned a few lessons on that white-knuckle flight.  Lesson.  Be ready to meet your Maker.  Lesson.  Request white wine.

Yes, I have prayer and preparation on my side.  I am prepared to put my oxygen mask on first, then attend to others, remembering that the mask might not become fully inflated, but oxygen will still be flowing.  I plan on getting out of any smoke-filled cabin pronto, so relax, leave your personal belongings behind, and take my hand. You will not have to follow the escape path lighting alone.

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Family Travel

Gone are the days when family travel was considered a luxury. With the wide-range of travel promos being offered today, and (thanks to the internet) easy online booking process of airlines, hotels, tour operators and travel agencies, families are now going places to have unique experiences together.

Family Travel

And it looks like the upward trend will continue. A study commissioned by the Embassy Suites Hotels indicates that millennial parents take trips with their kids significantly more than older generations, and 38 percent of them do so three or more times a year.

The difficulty of traveling with kids may be slowing down the trend though. The same study mentioned earlier says that 11 percent of parents surveyed find family travel stressful, and that stress was a top reason why some did not take trips with their kids more often. Dealing with child tantrums while waiting for boarding at the airport, finding ways to entertain a bored child at a resort, trying to get hot meals for the kids while away from home are just a few of the demands of traveling with children that parents need to deal with while on vacation. Who would want to travel again soon with their children after a nerve-wracking trip?

Embassy Suites Bumper

To address these family travel concerns and enhance the family travel experience, the Embassy Suites launched the #PrettyGreat Family Travel Hacks program in March 2015.

The program includes an online community that engages parents and provides fun and useful tips from family travel experts and fellow parents to help make traveling with their kids easier and more fun. After all, a vacation is supposed to be time away from the stresses of daily living!

Embassy Suites Dance Party

Here are nifty samples of the ‘hacks’ on the #PrettyGreat Family Travel Hacks hub:

  1. Pack your kid’s outfits in separate bags.
  2. Do not pack clothes that require ironing.
  3. If you have an early flight, get the kids dressed the night before in comfy clothes so they are ready to roll out of bed and make that early morning flight.
  4. Wear your baby. It’s helpful to have your hands free in the airport when you’re lugging around two suitcases, three carry-ons, three personal items, two kids, and the overpriced lunch you grabbed in a rush on your way into the terminal. Bonus: the stroller is then free to be used as a luggage cart.
  5. A pool noodle can act as a bed-bumper on the fly.
  6. No speakers? No problem. Put your phone inside an empty glass to amplify the sound and let the dance party commence.
  7. Use the hotel garbage can as a stool. When they can’t reach the sink in the hotel to brush their teeth, flip the garbage can over and let them stand on that.

Tic Tac Toe Napkin

Aside from the online community, the Embassy Suites is adding new family-focused amenities as part of the #PrettyGreat Family Travel Hacks program. Families can expect coloring books and crayons upon check-in and cocktail napkins with family-friendly games during the evening reception, among other stuff on the house. Select hotels are even providing baby care amenities such as baby wash, wipes and other essentials this summer. These are on top of their usual family-friendly two-room suites, free made-to-order breakfast each morning and complimentary drinks and snacks for two hours every night.

Embassy Suites Buzz Lightyear
Photo: Lisa Niver, We Said Go Travel

 

And, further to the all-suite brand’s commitment to providing families with a great guest experience, the brand is incorporating family-specific training into its orientation program and on-going team member training sessions. This is to equip its team members with the necessary skills to ensure families staying with them can focus on enjoying their vacation time together, discovering awesome places and building beautiful memories.

*****

Photo credits:
Family Travel: Colleen Kelly via Flickr
All other photos: (c) 2015 Embassy Suites

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The Memories That Never Go Away

I will never forget the longest plane ride of my life. Traveling across the Atlantic Ocean going faster than any human could ever run. Our first stop was an airport in France, one of the biggest airports in the world. I was personally ready to explore, but not remembering I was in a different country. As soon as I got off the plane I began to notice that everything in the airport was a different language. My mother grabbed me by the hand and made me follow her in a group with the other mutes that could not speak French. The leader of the group spoke English and directed us to our next flight, which flew us to our next destination. Venice, Italy. Our first mission was to find the hotel my mom and I were staying at. Things can get a little difficult when the streets are made of water. Our entire luggage was loaded onto a water taxi and the man that could speak very little English told us “Just give me da name of yor hotl and I will delivver yor luggage in an hor.” Barley able to understand the Italian man, my mother recited the name of our hotel slowly.

The next mission was finding where the hotel was located, by ourselves. My mom grabbed my hand and made me follow her to a water taxi. The strange man tried speaking to us in Italian. As my mother tried communicating through gestures that we did not speak Italian, she told him the name of our hotel. The Italian man nodded his head and told us to come on the boat with the wave of his hand. The boat ride was cold and my noes turned so red a little Italian girl would probably have mistaken me for Rudolf. As the man docked the boat, he said that would be 15 euros. We were not prepared to pay in Euros, so my mom tried to explain how there was an atm inside the hotel she could use. He did not understand and would not let us off the boat. “Call the hotel mommy and ask someone to translate for you.” I said in my childish voice at the time. “I had to turn my cell phone off otherwise I would get a huge phone bill.” My mom explained looking at me. Then a teenage boy walked by and heard the water taxi driver and my mom arguing. He walked over and translated for us. The taxi driver understood and allowed my mom to go inside and get Euros from the front desk. She paid the man and even gave him a big tip.

The ladies at the front desk spoke English and I asked them what there favorite part of Venice was? She said, “Why Saint Mark Square seems to be a fun place to visit, you should check it out.” She gave us a map and the directions to the square. Our journey had just begun and a water taxi wasn’t needed to get to our destination. We walked across bridges as boats made their way under us. The streets full of water were so pretty, better than the plain old cement streets back at home. Seeing Saint Mark Square was better than seeing fireworks at night or being hungry and fixing yourself a huge meal. Birds, birds, and more birds. Pigeons were everywhere landing on my shoulders and flying away again. There was a corn stand, where you could buy little bags of corn to feed the pigeons. I insisted on buying one, being the brat I was. My mom bought me a little bag of corn and as soon as the bag reached my hand pigeons swarmed me. Flying on my head, standing on my arms, stepping on my feet. This was the best experience I had ever known. The bag of corn disappeared from my hand in less then a minute. And once the bag of corn was gone I grabbed 3 Euros from the purse, that could get me all the toys and food in the world. And ran over to the corn man to buy some more. He handed me the bag and the process started all over again. I didn’t want to leave what I believed was heaven. I cried when my mom told me we had to go. And from being 9 years old to being 17 that is still a memory that will never go away.

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As I sit in my airplane seat, I look at the backpack full of workbooks in which I must address. “Alright, I should use these four hours wisely. I have enough time to finish at least one workbook. I can do this.” It seemed only a matter of seconds before realizing the plane was in full acceleration and taxiing down runway for takeoff. I had to put the book down momentarily and watch the ascension, as it was always my favorite part of flying. As we reach peak ground speed, I could see the other planes aligned for their turn to takeoff. They slowly recede into a multicolored blur. The exhilarating feeling of taking off is an act of physics and imagination that can’t be replicated anywhere. I was pressed against my seat as the nose of the airplane raised up. We were off the ground.

I had organized my space quite well. I had my backpack between my feet, and I was slightly leaning against the window, settling in for the long flight ahead. The slightly cramped feeling of an airplane seat was exactly what I needed. I had everything neatly organized and within arms reach. I had a table to work on, a window to look to the skies, and, of course, my in-flight beverage of choice, orange juice. Everything was in its right place and it was a comfortable, even secure, feeling. I turned my head and looked out the window. A highway full of cars came into view and then quickly faded until they looked like tiny ants crawling along the pavement. I couldn’t help but follow them until they were too small to notice. The orange and yellow hues of the sunrise flooded the cabin. Everyone in the cabin was in there peaceful state, including me. One is neither at point A, nor at point B, one is right in the middle of transition. One is afforded the rare opportunity to escape the chaos and take time to relax. Being contained in an airplane allows one’s imagination to be set free.

 Being in a plane allows for a sense of freedom. You can relax and let go of all my worries for that period of time. Although we can not completely escape the chaos of the world, being in an airplane gives you the opportunity to forget about all of your worries and relax.

 You become inspired also. The sky turns into a beautiful painting just waiting to be admired. You become accustomed to your constantly changing surroundings that pass by with every minute. The powerful yet calming hum of the engines slowly lulls you to sleep; and within a matter of hours, you arrive in a completely different world. The rush of rejuvenation comes over you as you imagine the endless possibilities you have at your disposal. That cramped yet secure airplane seat allowed your mind to set free and roam into the new depths of your mind.

Being thirty thousand feet in the air allows one to see the world from a different perspective. One peers down at the earth and everything seems different. Cars aren’t just cars anymore. They’re tiny ants. Lights aren’t just lights anymore. They are stars scattered upon the ground. You become lost in thought. You forget all your worries and become mesmerized by the world just beneath your feet.

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“It was quite an adventure, one of the best in my life. Getting lost in those crumbling catacombs beneath Rome”, “We were always just famished, that was until we discovered the amazing bread stores, that’s when our waistlines were compromised”, ” my mother’s stories of her travels around Europe had me spellbound. I grew up with my mother speaking to us in the Spanish she perfected while abroad in Spain. I always told myself that one day I would have an experience that would forever change my perspective of the world. It was my mother’s stories perhaps that got me interested in traveling however, my obsession with language and culture has always been a part of me. It was never uncommon to see me attempting to have a full on conversation with myself in Japanese or Chinese

When I got my first job at age 15 at Panda Express I worked hard to save up for my first car. By age 16 I was driving around looking for the next big thing to save for. I had my heart set on traveling to the Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C., It had been a dream of mine since I was young. This is where I got my first taste of freedom and independence. I saved up my money and flew out, it was one of the most amazing experiences so far in my life. I had never encountered such a variety of cultures in one area. Washington D.C was bustling with life and I was swept up in the experience.

While I sat in a Zen state of mind in the National Botanical Gardens, a young man approached me and asked me to take a picture of him and his family, I gladly obliged. Afterword he and I began to speak and I learned that he was visiting from China so I began to speak to him in his native tongue of Mandarin. It was in that moment that I realized how truly free and independent I was. Here I was across the country, actually getting to use the language I learned in high school and soaking in the radiance of the botanical gardens. I will never forget that experience as it set ablaze within me the desire to travel even further and meet even more marvelous people.

I am leaving for Chiang Mai, Thailand on August 20 to study at Chiang Mai University. This will be my very first time out of the country! Although I am rather scared, I am determined to broaden my horizons and gain even more independence. I am an anthropology major and studying abroad will give me abundant insight into my major. Learning about different cultures while abroad, offers a wealth of knowledge that most textbooks do not convey. Using the language skills my mother acquired while abroad has always given her a competitive edge when out searching for a job. I too, hope to stand out amongst the rest when I am looking for my career, colored in the multicultural hues of the world. I know that having a world view will benefit me in any career as it will allow me to relate to and sympathize with peoples of many different backgrounds.

I truly believe that to become a citizen of the world, traveling is essential. Until one is capable of seeing the world through the lenses of varies cultures one is operating under a handicap. Blinded by their own ideologies, dreams, and prejudices. This is why traveling is so important for me. To travel is a great thing, to evolve as a human being is something even greater.

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An Overdose on Natural Freedom

The clearest way into the universe is through the forest wilderness. “ James Muir must have been the smartest human on earth”. He seems to have deeply understood what it means to be consumed by the natural forest. I was married in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Personally, I think the park should be renamed to Great Smoky Mountains National Forest, because the National Park is made up of more than 500,000 acres of forest. Not to mention the fact that Ninety-five percent of the forest is home to a diversified group of wildlife.

Tennessee has some of the most amazing parks in the country, but the Great Smoky Mountain National Park is a site that will change your life, and all the opinions you have about the world around you. The National Park’s entrance almost over takes you as you leave the cheap scenery outlets and the vast amount of hotels for the mountainous array of trees like the sugar maple and yellow birch. You leave loud roar of everything unpleasant and you fall head first into nature.

TN Scenic Route escorts you directly into the National Park. So that if you are not careful you will allow the distraction of the radio and common conversation to keep you from observing a majestic entrance that could only be mimicked by Walt Disney himself. I know all too well about being caught off guard because upon entering into the National Forest, my radio was low playing in the back ground to the conversation my husband and I were having about where the first few picture shots should take place. It happened as suddenly as the average blink, (literal blink) of an eye.

The forest made itself known to me through the loudest silence I have ever experienced. It only took a few seconds for my ears to adjust to audio sensation of wildlife around me. It was as if I could hear the silence through my window. The action of rolling my window down was immediately followed by one of the most beautiful sounds in nature. The symphony of wildlife was being performed by every animal and plant in the forest. My senses were going wild.

Before I had time to understand what was happening, the greatest feeling ever was taking over my body. Unsure of what it was, I took a glance at my husband and sure enough he was doing it too. Breathing! It was amazing at that very moment in my life when I realized I was breathing, or maybe I was always breathing, but here at the National Park I learned how to breathe proficiently. That moment made me feel as if I had inhaled and overdosed an unadulterated large amount of fresh air for the first time in my entire life. At that point we had only driven 500 feet into the forest.

So no matter the reason for your vacation, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the place to be. Whether you choose to take the entire family on a wilderness hike, looking for a gorgeous place to take beautiful wedding pictures, or you just want to get away with your significant other to rekindle the romance, you will find Great Smoky Mountains National Park as the best place to be yourself; The best place to find yourself, and the best place to be free.

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