How I fell In Love with Traveling

My family doesn’t have a lot of money. When I was a kid our family vacations were a long weekend away to the beach or mountains, not more than 4 or 5 hours from home. At 12 years old I had visited 4 states (including the one I lived in) and had never been on a plane. I had no idea that that year I would been given a life-changing opportunity.

I grew up in a small town in central North Carolina. My parents grew up in central North Carolina, and so did their parents. This is how things are in small town, USA: people don’t really leave. When I was 10, I moved from the small town I grew up in (that my dad grew up in, and his parents, and their parents…) to the middle of nowhere about 20 minutes away. We didn’t even leave the county. Neither of my parents had been abroad (now my dad has visited Mexico once on a day trip, before passports were required for US citizens) and my grandfather was stationed in Guam with the Army Air Corps in WWII, but that about sums up international travel in my family. Basically, we are small-town folks.

One day, when I was in 7th grade, I got a letter in the mail. I had been offered an opportunity to be a student ambassador with the People to People program, founded by President Dwight D Eisenhower in 1956. The program I was invited to participate in took 12-14 year-olds to England, Ireland, and Wales for 20 days over the summer. My parents were ecstatic. After a brief (and terrifying; I have suffered from social anxiety for a long time) interview process I was accepted into the program.

Over the course of about 9 months, I attended monthly meetings with the other kids participating in the program, and our parents, of course. We learned about cultural differences, what we would get to experience in the program, etc. We were also encouraged to fundraise–while the program was government-run it was not free. I did my best, but begging for money has never been something I’m good at, so my parents ended up taking on most of the cost (thanks, Mom and Dad!).

In June after 7th grade, I packed my bags and my parents drove me to the airport. Security was pretty tight as this was only a few years after 9/11, so we said goodbye outside of security. And I was on my way to another continent with 4 adults and about 20 other kids, none of whom I really knew.

After an overnight flight that I was way too excited to sleep on, we landed around 7-8am GMT and hit the ground running. The whole first day was spent sightseeing, with no time to rest. Despite not drinking coffee, I was wide awake all day. Everything was so similar to life at home in North Carolina, but so different. At times I’d forget I was on another continent, then I’d see another castle (we just don’t have those in the US) or a building twice as old as my homeland. Obviously everyone in England speaks English, so that wasn’t a barrier, but there are diffences nonetheless.

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While I did get more sleep than the first day, the rest of the trip was just as fast-paced and exciting as the first. We spent the first few days in England, the next few in Wales, a week in Ireland, then reversed: back to Wales, and to England again. It was a whirlwind. I think I called my parents once (this was before smart phones!). I had found the thing I loved more than anything else. And about 11 years later I still haven’t found anything that tops traveling in my book.

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The UK wowed me with castles and culture, Ireland blew me away with endless green scenery (and more castles), but my favorite part of my trip were the last few days, which were spent in London. I had never been to a city even close to that size, and the fast pace, the culture, the diversity of a big city thrilled me. We saw the tower of London, Big Ben, rode the London Eye, took in a show, but the best part was just absorbing everything. Even in July the rain made it chilly enough everyone stopped for hot drinks midday (okay, mine was hot chocolate, I still don’t like coffee or tea). I loved just watching everyday people going about their everyday lives, whose lives were different than mine.

I still love it. After that trip, I decided I was going to move to Ireland one day. And while my dreams have gotten less specific, I still plan to live abroad. Maybe it will be Ireland, maybe it will be Stokholm, or Lucknow, or Rio de Janeiro. Maybe it will be all of those places and more. I’ll let you know when I get there.

What made you fall in love with traveling? Tell me about it in the comments below! Did you enjoy this post? Share via Facebook or Twitter, and as always, follow me here on WordPress for more GREAT content like this.

Auschwitz

I don’t believe in ghosts. I don’t believe in spirits or monsters or witches or anything of the sort. Auschwitz, however, is the most haunting place I’ve ever visited.

We entered in a hot, sweaty crowd of tourists. German, French, Russian, Polish, Spanish, and English conversations swirled throughout the crowd. It was June and dozens, if not hundreds of people swarmed to the site of one of the greatest atrocities in human history, cameras ready, bright red fanny packs bulging around their waists, prepared to take in the sites.

The tour guide lead us from room to room, peppering us with facts and figures through a microphone headset in accented English. I could barely pay attention. The entire tour was a blur. It was uncomfortable. It should be uncomfortable.

I didn’t take pictures, I couldn’t bring myself to take pictures, but images are still burned into my mind; a list of all the lives lost in the holocaust, covering both sides of a long hallway in terribly small print; the ashes and hair of people burned alive; the grooves in the walls, dug by human fingernails as desperate people tried and failed to escape certain death.

There is a room full of shoes; men’s, women’s, and children’s shoes, which are mostly a big grey mass at this point, but here and there is a faded red leather pump or dirty red tennis shoe. Other displays show the prosthetic limbs and suitcases of the victims. The most haunting, however, was the hair. A huge display shows an unforgettable mass of filthy hair cut from the thousands of victims’ heads. The inhumanity makes me feel nauseated just remembering it.

We were quiet as we were led through this place, this awful place where so much happened, where so many lives were not just lost but needlessly tortured to that bitter end. I felt cheap, tasteless, touring this the place of so many innocent men, women, and children’s demise. But I couldn’t look away. It was like a horror movie, when you see the serial killer creeping up on the innocent man going about his business and you want to look away before the poor guy is bludgeoned to death, but you can’t. Auschwitz was like this, but 100xs worse because it was real.

I don’t believe in ghosts, but Auschwitz was haunting.

Adventures in Body Modifications

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I didn’t get my first piercing until I was 13 years old. Neither of my parents have any tattoos or piercings (not even ears!) so they didn’t let me get my ears pierced until I was old enough to care for them myself. I remember the time in my life pretty well…

In the span of a few years I had 3 different friends get their ears pierced at a popular chain jewelry and accessories store in the mall, at two different store locations. All three of them became infected (two of these friends to this day have not gotten their ears re-pierced). This temporarily deterred my desire to get holes punched in my head. When I turned 13, however, I revisited the idea. I looked into different options and talked to local folks who did piercings and settled on Wal-mart. The lady at the jewelry counter was an older woman, very sweet and grandmotherly with plenty of experience; she reassured me that it wouldn’t hurt and she’d done this tons of times on kids and even babies.

I remember I didn’t get my ears pierced that day, but within a few weeks I went back with my mom, selected simple diamond studs ($10 with free piercing, a steal!) and nervously sat behind the jewelry counter while the piercing lady got the gun ready. She marked my ears and asked me if they looked even. I said yes. I closed my eyes, and felt a slight pinch in my right ear, then my left. I let out a breath opened my eyes and looked in the mirror at my freshly pierced ears! She gave me cleaning solution and told me to clean them 2-3 times a day and don’t touch them too much. Of course I wanted to play with my new accessories constantly, but was reminded that touching them introduces unwanted bacteria and can lead to infection.

Waiting 6 weeks to change the earrings was agony at 13, but I waited and finally, after 6 weeks I took out the diamond studs and checked out the holes in my ears. I went to sleep and woke up the next morning, ready to try out some cute little pearl studs. But they wouldn’t. Go. in. The holes had closed up somewhat overnight! With some work and a little pain I was able to punch the original studs through the tiny film of skin that regrew overnight*. I didn’t leave my earrings out overnight again for a long time after that.

My next piercing was a second set of ear lobe piercings. I was 17 when I decided to go for the double pierced look, and luckily my parents were on board. My grandmother offered to pay for the piercing as a birthday gift. We went to walmart one afternoon, ready for round 2. I browsed the jewelry, including various studs and even a do-it-yourself piercing kit. Once the lady at the jewelry counter (I do believe it was the same sales clerk from 4 years before) was free my grandmother told her we were there to get my ears pierced. “Is she 18?” the lady asked. “No,” I answered. “You have to have a parent’s permission if you’re under 18.” “I’m her grandmother,” my Nana told her. “I’m sorry, Ma’am, but it has to be a parent. If it was up to me that would be fine, but it’s a law.”

So we left, exasperated with the system for their rules. “Mom, they sold piercing kits there!” I said in frustration when I got home and told my mother what happened. “We could’ve bought one, brought it home, and *you* could’ve pierced my ears, but to have a professional do it, I have to have you there.” She agreed that it was ridiculous.

We went back the next week, my mom and I, to finally get my second set of holes. It was much the same as the time before, but I was less nervous.

My 3rd and final piercing experience was when I was 21 (again, four years later). I decided to get a cartilage piercing. I did a little googling, and found many people recommend against the piercing gun in favor of a needle. So I looked into tattoo parlors nearby and settled on one about an hour and a half from me, but down the street from a friend of mine. This friend had gotten a tattoo from the parlor and recommended them.

I went to visit that friend one Friday night. We may have had a few drinks. Saturday morning we rose, not necessarily feeling 100%. We carried on with the plan, and I went to the tattoo parlor. The artist and I discussed placement (she complimented my ear shape) and the earring she’d be putting in, a hoop.

I sat nervously in the chair, with my friend nearby for moral support. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and felt a pinch, then she said “we’re done!” She handed me a mirror and I checked out my new piercing. It looked badass. I was very pleased.

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We discussed payment and cleaning. I stood up to get my wallet and the world swooped around me. I felt like I was going to fall down face first on the tattoo parlor floor. “Are you okay?” One of the patrons asked. “Yeah, yeah, just…Dizzy” “It’s totally normal,” the artist said calmly “I just opened a red bull do you want some?” I nodded, embarrassed. She gave me a small cup with red bull and said, “just sit down back here as long as you need to.” The concerned patron even gave me a Capri Sun juice pouch.

After a few minutes, I felt better, paid, thanked everyone, and my friend drove us back to her place.

For the next 6 months I cleaned my new piercing regularly. Twice a day, every day. I didn’t have any issues with it. After 6 months, according to the person who pierced my ear and multiple online sources, my piercing was all healed up. I decided not to take out the earring though, as I was satisfied with it. I continued to clean the piercing irregularly, just in case.

About 3-4 months after the healing process was over I fell ill. Most notably, I had a low-grade fever. My piercing was very tender, so I asked my husband to look at the back of my ear. “Oh my god! It’s really red and swollen…we need to take this earring out.” Never having removed it before this wasn’t the easiest task. We finally got the earring out (with quite a bit of pain for me and quite a bit of swearing from my husband) and it was so gross. I won’t go into detail but there was a lot of pus and ickiness**

Luckily, removing the earring did the trick. My fever went down, I started feeling better, and the piercing eventually stopped leaking pus. I still haven’t gotten it re-pierced, although I’d like to. And my husband and I have plans to get tattoos, but that hasn’t happened yet either. I know for future body modifications I’ll be more careful, and take out the earring once in awhile.

Did you enjoy my story? What piercings/tattoos do you have? Share your stories and pictures in the comments below, I’d love to hear from you! Share this post on Facebook or Twitter and, as always, follow me here on WordPress for more GREAT content like this!

*I don’t recommend this method. Go to someone who knows what they’re doing if you piercing closes up.

**If you suspect you have an infection, please visit a medical professional for guidance.

Spontaneous Beach Trip

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I had a hard week at work the other week. I won’t go into details, but I was feeling very overworked and underappreciated. By Thursday I was a big ball of stress. My husband brought me dinner at work, and somehow we decided to go to the beach that weekend.

We live about 2-2.5 hours from the nearest beach, so it’s easy to do for a weekend. He wanted to go for just the day, but I didn’t think it would be worth it. So Friday evening we booked an Airbnb. Less than 24 hours in advance we booked accommodations for Saturday night. We packed in a flurry, thinking “are we really doing this?”

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Now, I don’t believe in fortune-telling and I firmly believe you make your own destiny. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy fortune cookies! A couple of weeks before this spontaneous trip, I went with some coworkers to a Chinese restaurant where I got a fortune cookie. My fortune was “there are unexpected adventures in your future.” I loved it. I taped it to the mirror in my bathroom. No, it doesn’t actually predict unexpected adventures, but perhaps it inspired them?

After a flurry of packing and a good night’s sleep, we got up and headed for the coast. This was before summer, so it wasn’t peak season yet and we were going to be among the only tourists around.

We arrived at the address of the Airbnb. We called our host who helped us with parking and brought us up to his apartment. Let me pause right there and say the idea of staying with a stranger makes me uncomfortable. Our previous Airbnb stays have always been whole apartments, and this time we were just renting a room from some guy off the internet. However, our host turned out to be a really nice doctor who showed us our room and pretty much left us alone.

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After dumping our stuff in the little bedroom with adjoining private bathroom, we changed into swimsuits and headed for the beach. It was a quick 10 minute drive, and getting out of the car, smelling that salt air and hearing the crashing of waves, I could already feel the stress of my crazy week fading away. While my husband braved swimming in the cold water in March, I set up my towel on the sand with a novel. After who knows how much long I woke up to my husband asking if I wanted to leave or if he should feed the parking meter. “Mmm I can stay longer” I answered sleepily. He kissed me and left to feed the meter. I tried to go back to my book, but ended up just soaking in the sun.

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That evening our host was at work, so we got some food to-go and ate at the counter in the kitchen of our Airbnb. We had talked about going to some bars, but ended up having a couple of glasses of wine at “home,” relaxing, and enjoying being away from home for the night.

The next morning we went to a cute bagel shop across the street from our Airbnb. It was predictably packed, as it was Sunday morning. The bagels were to die for! That’s why you should always try the local shops and restaurants when you travel–you might find the best bagel of your life!

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After our bagels, we drove about half an hour away to the aquarium. It’s a great aquarium, and we had a lot of fun looking at the fish, and feeling like kids again. Our stomachs started rumbling again, but we didn’t want to pay for overpriced food at the aquarium so we just started driving back home with the plan to stop when we saw something that looked good. A little burrito place caught our attention. We stopped and went in. It was probably 2-3pm, but we still had to wait for a table. The restaurant had kind of a Dia de los Muertos skulls theme. We were finally seated and found out we got unlimited access to their salsa bar. They had about a dozen different salsas and I think we tried most of them. Then came our meals. Oh man. To die for. The service was great, the food was great, the atmosphere was casual and cool, and the prices were low. Always. Eat. Local.

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After stuffing ourselves with burritos, the last thing we wanted to do was drive back home, but alas, our spontaneous beach trip was coming to an end. We dragged our full bellies back to the car, and drove home. Would I take a spontaneous trip again? Hell yeah. But when? Who knows…. 🙂

Have you taken a spontaneous trip? Tell me about it in the comments! Did you enjoy this post? Share via Facebook or Twitter. And, as always, follow me here on WordPress for more GREAT content like this!

The Anniversary Party

In April of 2012, my grandparents celebrated 50 years of marriage. My dad and his two brothers got together (despite living in different cities) to plan a (partial) surprise 50th anniversary party for them. A local staple restaurant had recently re-opened, so they chose it for the venue. A date was set, word was spread, out-of-town guests made arrangements to visit, and unbeknownst to me, my now-husband was purchasing an engagement ring.

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After a whirlwind of planning, the day of the party arrived. My boyfriend had met my parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and 1st cousins, but had not yet been introduced to my extended family. I was nervous, but excited.

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My dad and uncles had booked a private room at the restaurant, and told my grandparents they were taking them out for their anniversary. My grandparents had no idea that us grandkids would be there, nor that their siblings (some of whom came in from Texas and Georgia) were in attendance. They were thrilled, to say the least. We all had a nice dinner and anniversary cake and took some photos.

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While in line for the salad bar, my now-husband ended up in line behind my dad. (I honestly have no idea where I was at the time or how I missed this exchange.) Not being the most formal or wordy guy, my now-husband said “hey, can I ask you a question?” My dad turned to him and said “yeah, sure.” “Can I marry Allegra?” My dad, also not being the most formal or wordy guy, smiled and said “yeah.”

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Around a month later, while hiking in a local park, he got down on one knee and pulled out a ring. But that’s another story for another day.

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Did you enjoy this post? I wanted to share a personal post to mix it up a bit and help my readers to get to know me better. Do you want to see more posts like this? Let me know in the comments below. And as always, share via Facebook or Twitter and follow me here on WordPress!