Allow me to introduce myself.

So, I’m going to travel again.

I’ve known this before I even got back to the states. The travel bug bit and the only thing I’ve been certain about in the last seven months is that I. must. travel. again.

I’ve realized that the hardest part of planning extended international travel is just deciding that you’re going to do it. From there, you just start putting the pieces into place to make it happen, and that’s what I’ve been doing for the past several months.

Let’s back up. I realize that I’ve never really provided much context for this site or for what I’m doing with my life in general (honestly, I’ll have to get back to you on that one).

A evening at the highest rooftop restaurant in Udaipur, India

My name is Austin. I’m from the suburbs of Chicago, IL, USA. I grew up in a typical Catholic family, the eldest of four, the only daughter. I graduated high school with honors, went on to get a Bachelor’s Degree from a reputable university in Chicago, and then got a “real job” in marketing before moving out to Denver, Colorado. I was there for four years and despite having great friends, a good job, and living in one of the best cities in America, I was desperately miserable and unhappy. I would suffer through the work week only to binge-drink my weekends away and melt into a puddle of sadness and anxiety on Sunday. Rinse and repeat.

I finally got to a point where I decided I could not go on this way. Life is too short, I was too young, and I was far too miserable. I said f**k it and sold most of my belongings, packed what was left into my RAV4, drove back to Chicago and got on a plane to India in January 2019.

Enjoying a riverside chai near Laxman Jhula Bridge, Rishikesh, India
Celebrating our graduation from Rishikul Yogshala, Rishikesh, India

I completed my 200hr Yoga Teacher Training in Rishikesh, India, and then travelled through Jaipur, Udaipur, Goa, and Bangaluru before spending a month in Sri Lanka. After that, I made my way through Thailand and Vietnam, and then finished my trip in Myanmar with a 10 day Vipassana silent meditation. I am not exaggerating when I say that this experience was completely transformational in every way and that it has changed the trajectory of what I thought my life would be.

Touring the ancient Jaigarh Fort, Jaipur, India
Beach yoga with a new friend at Weligama Beach, Sri Lanka

Upon my return to the US in May, I knew that if I wanted to have the freedom to travel again, I needed to get my house in order. I had been carrying around (and ignoring) credit card debt since college that had grown to over $10,000. On top of that, I owed a couple thousand dollars on my car and was still chipping away at student loans from that aforementioned reputable university.

Within days of my return, I dropped off resumes at all of the nicer restaurants in my area and was rewarded with the opportunity to start training at a family-owned Italian restaurant nearby. A few weeks later, I got a second job as a daytime manager at another Italian restaurant.

Since then, I have been g r i n d i n g, working 6-7 days a week and spending next to nothing while living at home with my mom (the first time in ten years). It hasn’t been glamorous. It hasn’t been exciting. It hasn’t really been anything worth writing about.

That said, it has been humbling. It has been rewarding. It has been eye-opening. And to my surprise, it’s actually been pretty fun. For the most part I am lucky to have fun coworkers, and I’ve really had an opportunity to brush up on my Spanish in the meantime.

Much to my surprise, I completely paid off my credit cards by September – in just 4 months. I finished paying off my car in October. I still have a way to go with my student loans, but thankfully I have pretty fair interest rates and I’m under $10,000, which is a pretty good position to be in compared to many of my peers.

That brings us today, where I am sipping my second glass of wine, writing this from my bedroom in my mom’s basement, on my first night off in twelve days. I hope that none of this comes off as a humble-brag. because I am all too aware of the privilege that allowed me to accomplish all of the above. But I hope that if you’re reading this, and if you have a dream of traveling, this helps you to see that it’s possible.

Floating cabins in Khao Sok National Park, Thailand
A delicious and memorable lunch in Huế, Vietnam
One of many street markets in Hanoi, Vietnam

Before I went to India, I thought travel was a privilege reserved only for the wealthy or the retired. While it may require some elbow grease, it’s possible and it is SO worth it. I think the world would be a much better place if we all got out of comfort zones and saw more of the world. So if you’ve read this far, and you’re looking for a sign, this is it.

YOU CAN DO THIS. YOU SHOULD DO THIS.

I also thought I might be able to offer a unique perspective to others as I work towards planning my next trip (South America) in real time. Most travel blogs that I’ve come across are either from intimidatingly well seasoned travelers, or from people with budgets I could only dream of. It also seems that many articles are written after the fact, with the entire trip wrapped up into a quick summary and tied up in a bow. If you want to see more than just a highlight reel, stay tuned.

So if you’re interested, I’ll be over here working away for the next few months. Working and planning and dreaming and waiting until the day I can once again throw caution to the wind and see more of this beautiful, dynamic, vast, incredible world.

Until next time…

From before we met.

Hey you.

Is that what I call you? Or maybe I use your name? Please tell me we’re not a babe couple. 

I just had an interesting thought. Wouldn’t it be kind of sweet to gift you this letter on our wedding day? You see, we haven’t met yet, or at least I don’t think we have. I don’t have any idea what you look like, where you live, what you’re doing right now, or how or where we’ll meet. I have no idea what to expect, but I just know it’s only a matter of time.

As I’m sure I’ve told you, I’ve been pretty unsuccessful in love before meeting you, despite trying out many different types of people and being open-minded about who I date. I’ve been single for about 2 and a half years now, and outside of some people that I’ve casually dated here and there, I’ve had no real prospects. But I just know you’re out there, and I know that our meeting will be perfect and our relationship will work and we’ll both just know that this is it.

I think you’re probably really clever, and witty, and I hope we just keep each other laughing whenever we’re together.

I imagine that I’m insanely attracted to you, but you make me feel desired in such a way that I never question what we have.

I hope that you really are my best friend, even though writing that down right now makes me cringe.

I know that you’re a gentleman, and that you treat me with respect, and as an equal, but also know how to treat me like a bad girl lady.

I like to think that you’re proud of me. And that I’m proud of you. And we get excited for each other. Do we work together? Or are we in the same type of work? Or did we somehow end up in totally different fields?

I’m guessing that our life is a little bit alternative in one way or another. Maybe we live outside the US? Or maybe we’re business owners? Or maybe we’ve become liberal LA hippies? I don’t know what it is, but I think we share a mutual desire to push beyond the limits of what a “normal” life looks like.

I’m sure we’re not perfect, but I imagine that the good days far outweigh the bad. I imagine I am excited to wake up next to you and I can’t wait to come home to you. I imagine that when friends ask how we’re doing, I can only respond with a goofy, telling smile.

So even though I’m approaching 30, I’m not worried about “settling down” because I know that I’ll meet you when I’m meant to, and I can’t doing anything to change that. I trust in divine timing, and my time is much better spent challenging myself and doing hard things and growing and learning rather than wasting time trying to will you into my life. I’m sure I could easily settle for someone if I grow impatient, but I believe that there our romance is worth waiting for, and that once we meet, neither of us will doubt that this is what we’ve both been waiting and wishing for. 

Anyway, I’m really excited to meet you.

Learning is cool, dude.

2019 has been a year of learning.

Learning how to travel solo, (re)learning Spanish, learning how to push boundaries, and learning what I really want out of this brief time on our beautiful planet. It’s also apparently the year I learn about film photography.

As of two days ago, I am the proud new owner of an Olympus OM10 SLR film camera. I don’t really know the first thing about how to use it, but with a long, cold midwest winter on the horizon, I wanted a new hobby to keep me busy. I also am in the early stages of planning another trip (more on that later) and thought it would be a cool opportunity to up my travel photography game.

OlympusOM10

I was inspired by my friend Hayley Nedland, a super cool girl from Vancouver I met in Hanoi this spring. She’s equal parts stunning, effortlessly cool, and super freakin’ nice, and she’s also a professional photographer and content creator (learn more about this lil mama here). A few months after we went our separate ways in Vietnam, she emailed me some of the film shots she had taken during our time together and I fell in love.

C564347-R1-27-28C564347-R5-02-3AC564347-R1-28-29C564347-R5-04-5A

Wish me luck! If you know of any great blogs or photography sites, or have any beginner tips of your own, please leave them in the comments 😉

xxAustin

If you’re bingeing & want to stop, put the food down and read this.

**DISCLAIMER: I am not a therapist, counselor, or doctor, so please consult a medical professional if you find yourself in need of help**

Thinking back, I’ve had a pretty fucked up relationship with food for most of my life. Not necessarily to the extent of an eating disorder*, but “stopping when I’m full” has never come as easily to me as it seems to for others. Thanks to good genes I’ve always been relatively slender, but I’ve gone through different extremes along the way, especially while transitioning into adulthood and the food freedom that it offers.

My senior year of college was the first time that my roommate and I had ever really experimented with pot, and MAN OH MAN did the munchies hit hard. Fueling each others’ cravings, it wasn’t unusual for us to order a large pizza, go out for cheese fries and milkshakes, or pound a loaf of bread with parmesan cheese and olive oil. All in one week. I was in denial for a long time about the weight I gained that year.

Fast forward a few years and you’ll find me on the opposite end of the spectrum. I had just broken up with my long term boyfriend and rather than sit alone in an empty apartment, I gravitated toward the small gym in my complex and watched The Bachelor while I did cardio. Sometimes for 2 hours… When I would return to my apartment exhausted, I was usually too tired to deal with cooking a meal and then cleaning up after myself, so I just… wouldn’t eat… On top of that, I was invited on a trip to Belize and staved off hunger with the dream of my future bikini body. When I showed up for a family wedding a couple of months later, my considerable weight loss was the main topic of conversation with my entire family.

Currently, I’m struggling to find the right balance. I’m back home, living with my family, which means I no longer control what food comes into the house. On top of that, I work at not one but two Italian restaurants 6 days a week so it’s carb-o-clock all the time. Despite my best intentions, when I get home at 10:00 after a long day, all I want to do is sit in bed and snaaaaaack. A few months ago it was getting out of control, and I found myself turning to the internet for help. I found a lot of resources to help long term, but came up empty when looking for tips to help in the moment. I’m by no means a professional, but some of the below tips have worked for me and I thought they just might help someone else.

DISTRACTION

Stop in the middle of whatever you’re eating and do something else, knowing that it will still be there when you come back for it. Walk outside for a minute, drink a glass of water, grab something from another room. Anything to help you break the binge trance. Once you’re distracted, it gives you a minute to actually taste what you were eating, and also gives your brain a second to catch up with your body’s hunger signals. You can still enjoy the rest of what you decided to eat, but you’ll hopefully do so more mindfully and feel more satiated as a result.

DIFFICULTY

Make it really hard for yourself to go back for more without giving it a second thought. Everyone’s heard the rule about pouring a bowl for yourself before sitting down in front of the TV. I for one, never sit down on the couch with a big bag of chips. Instead, I stand in the dark kitchen, alone, and hover over the counter with the bag of chips, muttering this is my last one to myself over and over until the bag is somehow empty.

But I digress.

Let’s say you’re making a frozen pizza. Consider making a smaller personal size pizza, or even cut the frozen pizza down the middle. Put the other half in the freezer for another night, rather than futilely promising yourself that you won’t eat the whole thing (again). When you finish the last slice, your binge brain is telling you that you want more, but you’ll have to ask yourself if you want it bad enough to get out of bed**, go to the kitchen, reheat the oven, wait for the pizza to cook, and then enjoy it. 9/10 that’s too much work for me.

**come on, where else do you eat frozen pizza by yourself

ANTICIPATION

For me, the salty/sweet cycle is my worst enemy. If I have something salty, I will almost go nuts if I don’t have something sweet to follow it and “balance it out.” Alas, the same goes for sweet>salty, so you see my dilemma. Something that helps to reduce overeating for me is to anticipate this and make something that is both salty AND sweet. If I’m making a buttery, garlicky english muffin, I’ll put a little jelly on the other half. If I’m having some hummus and crackers, I’ll pair it with a handful of grapes. By having both the salty and sweet together, I’m not as likely to go back for more.

If you can, it also helps to avoid bringing the junk in the house in the first place. If there’s nothing in the fridge or cabinet when you’re searching for your fix, you can stop the binge before it starts. If you’re like me and share a kitchen with roommates or family, that’s not always possible.

MINDFULNESS

This one is the most obvious tips and may elicit an eye roll, but it has the potential to be the most powerful. In the moment of that binge-induced serotonin euphoria, try to tell yourself to slow down and enjoy this food while you eat it, rather than thinking about what you’re going to eat next. Remember that you will get to enjoy this food again in the future, and it’s ok if you don’t eat every last bite and then swear it off for good.

If you try any of the above, or have any tips of your own, please leave a comment!

*after writing this post, I’ve realized that might be debatable. What can you do, hindsight is 20/20

another you

Sometimes I forget about John Mayer.

Yeah, the singer. Like I’m actually a pretty big John Mayer fan (of both his music and his Instagram commentary). I know most of the words to most of his songs, but sometimes I just won’t listen to him for months at a time. But JMay (do people call him that) always beckons eventually.

Today was one of those days.

As I began a walk with the dogs, something struck me and I pulled up This is John Mayer on Spotify and settled in. I was listening to Still Feel Like Your Man and these lyrics jumped out at me:

still think I’m never gonna find another you

And for some reason, after hearing those lyrics a hundred times before, the truth of the statement just really hit me in the gut. I think that’s the hardest part of any breakup, and the reason so many struggle through on again, off again relationships. We’re so afraid that we’ll never be able to find someone else like them. Maybe someone better than them, but hopefully at least someone as good as them. Despite whatever their flaws may be, we wonder if it’s worth taking the gamble and throwing away a maybe-not-so-good-kinda-terrible thing in favor of…nothing?

I’ve been single for about 2 and half years after ending a good, albeit b o r i n g relationship. As of just recently, I feel pretty ok about it. It no longer feels like being single is just the default option – I’m actually embracing the freedom and selfishness that being on my own allows me. Am I open to whoever might be put in my path? Yes, absolutely. But for the first time since I can remember, I am not actively seeking a partner and letting that pursuit dictate my behavior.

What do I mean, letting it dictate my behavior? I think most of us are guilty of it.

Do you ever go out when you’d rather stay in because you just might meet someone, or at least get some much needed attention? Have you convinced yourself to stay for one drink longer just because your future husband might be about to walk through the door? How many times have you allowed yourself to be dragged to a party you don’t want to go to on the off chance that so-and-so might stop by?

I’m not judging any of those behaviors. I’ve been guilty of all of them over and over again. Sometimes it’s really fun. But I’ve been at that game for too long and I’m over it.

As part of this transformation I’ve been going through, I am way more in tune with what I really want, and I’m getting better at letting those desires win. If I get an invite to go out after working a long double and being on my feet all day, I really consider whether that’s something I actually want to do, or if I just feel a sense of obligation. Would future Austin be happier in bed with the dogs watching Netflix? Usually the answer is yes.

Sorry, I’m rambling. It seems I’ve forgotten about John Mayer once again.

I began this whole musing on the idea that we are all so deeply afraid that if we let a person go, we might not get someone else in return. I think what I’ve realized is that when you’re truly happy and living more in alignment with who you are and what you need, that fear gets smaller. Sure, sometimes it creeps up at moments of vulnerability and sure, I’d love to meet someone eventually. But even if I never find another you, I’ve already found me.

7 Essentials to Pack on Your Next Trip

If you’re currently planning any type of extended trip – be it three weeks, three months, or three years – you’ve probably already read through dozens of suggested packing lists. I know I did. Those lists are super helpful when it comes to identifying the true essentials, like the right bag, power adapters, and silk bed liners (verdict is still out on that one as far as I’m concerned). As I read through list after list, I began to become overwhelmed by all of the items I “needed” in order to go traveling through Asia. Part of the appeal is throwing caution to the wind and traveling light, right?

As I narrowed down my packing list (and felt how heavy my bag was getting), I decided to go as minimalist as I could and started eliminating almost all non-essential items. Hair tools? Pshh. Multiple pairs of shoes and sandals? Ix-nay. Extra swimsuits? I’m a MINIMALIST, hello!

The end result was that everything fit into my carry-on bag, and I was feeling preeeeetty slick, if I’m being honest. Fast forward 6 weeks and there were a couple of items I was longing for, and having an unexpectedly difficult time finding replacements for while on the road. Thus, I have put together a list for you of some of those non-essentials you may want to stuff into your bag before hopping on a plane.

SUNSCREEN

I know, I know. This one should be obvious. I *did* bring a small travel size sunscreen with the expectation that I could surely find more once I arrived at a yet-to-be-determined sunny beach town. While this is true, sunscreen is EXTREMELY expensive in Asia since it is really only used by tourists. There are also a lot of fake sunscreens that are quite convincing if you’re not looking closely. I learned that the hard way after getting sunburned in Goa for three days in a row. Long story short – bring enough sunscreen, and make it at least SPF 30+ (you’ll still get your tan on, don’t worry chica).

MAKEUP & PERFUME

At home, I wear makeup nearly every day. As I was preparing for my trip, I was so excited to ditch my makeup routine and go au naturale, which for the vast majority of the time, I did. Tropical temperatures + humidity + foundation is not a cute combo. What I was glad to have in my arsenal, however, was a good mascara. I wish I had also brought a lipstick or tinted lip balm. Despite being a “grungy traveler” there were more opportunities to get a little dolled up than I expected, whether it was an invitation to an Indian wedding or a night out dancing in Weligama.

I have to give credit to my friend and seasoned traveler, Beth, for thinking to bring perfume. Throughout our time traveling together in India, we shared her jumbo bottle of perfume on evenings that we wanted to feel a little more human. I loaned her my mascara, she gave me a spritz of perfume, and we were ready to take on whatever the night had in store.

SWIMSUITS

Another obvious one, I know. Here’s the thing. When I first set out on my trip, the only confirmed destination was northern India, in January, which only gets up to about 65F/18C during the hottest part of the day. That, coupled with the fact that India isn’t always the most bikini-friendly place, I thought I would be just fine with one suit. Plus, I thought a cheap backup suit would -again- be easy to find in the event I needed one. I was wrong. It is not.

Swimwear in Asia is either absolute crap quality, or insanely expensive for a slightly higher quality, and there is no in between. When you’re on the beach almost every day for weeks at a time, you’re going to want to switch things up. Bottom line – bring at LEAST two suits, maybe 3 depending on your destination(s).

BRALETTES & CROP TOPS

photo credit: https://weheartit.com/music_infinity

In my pursuit of being the ultra minimalist, I refined my packing list to only the items that I considered highly practical and multi-functioning. This meant that a lot of my crop tops and cute bralettes didn’t make the cut. While I still stand by less being more, I would bring along a couple more cute layering items and lacy bralettes on my next trip. If you’re traveling somewhere with a hot, tropical climate, these items are an easy way to keep your wardrobe feeling fresh and trendy without being hot or bulky. I also ended up wearing a lot of loose high waisted pants and skirts, which pair oh-so-nicely with a cute cropped shirt.

NAIL CARE ACCESSORIES

Please, if you take nothing else from this article, take a nail file and clippers with you. I distinctly remember reading an article stating “leave these behind as manicures/pedicures are cheap and easy to come by throughout Asia!” so I made the mistake of not bringing any of the above. Sure, salons are relatively affordable throughout Asia, but if you’re ever at a point where you’re deciding between a meal or a manicure, food usually wins. And sometimes, you just don’t spend any of your precious time sitting in a chair waiting for polish to dry.

Why nail polish you may ask? Because despite my best efforts, my nails were filthy at all times. No matter how many times I cleaned the dirt from my nails, it was there. Eventually you turn to nail polish to hide the reality of your filth, or you use your handy emery board to file the issue away.

HIGH QUALITY TRAVEL SANDALS

When I was researching what to bring for my trip. the thought of “travel sandals” sent a shudder down my spine and I was determined not to be one of those travelers. I had a pair of simple sandals from Nordstrom Rack the previous summer that were super comfortable and matched everything I packed, so I thought I was set. That lasted for 3 days before they started to fall apart from the constant walking and inconsistent dirt roads and paths. This set into motion of series of shoe mishaps that I could write an entire article about. All that to say, research your sandals and make sure they’ll hold up. Thankfully, travel sandals have come a long way with brands like Merrell, Naot, and Teva. In fact, Birkenstock is having its own little fashion moment right now.

WORKOUT RESISTANCE BANDS

If you’re going on a shorter holiday, you can skip this item (unless of course you plan to film some #Insta #Fitness #BeachWorkout #Content. In that case you go girl). If you’re going to be traveling for an extended period of time, on the other hand, these may come in handy. I’m not a serious athlete, but I do like to pick up and put down some heavy things every now and then. I wasn’t worried about leaving behind my gym membership when I set out for my trip, but after about 6 weeks of travel there were more than a few times I longed for some resistance bands to get a bit of a workout in. These are lightweight, affordable, effective, and you can use them anywhere. Win, win, win, wi- you get the idea. Well worth the .05 pounds and very minor space they’ll take up in your bag.

i’ve been going through phases

I’ve been thinking a lot over the past few months about the phases of life. Some phases are meant to be brief. Some are meant to last much longer than I would have like (ahem puberty).  Some phases are fun, exciting, and full of new challenges. Some are boring. Some are really fucking hard. I’ve realized that most of those phases, at least in my fortunate life, can be positive in one way or another.

Perspective changes  e v e r y t h i n g.

In my current phase, I’ve moved back with my mom to the suburbs of Chicago. I’m back to working in the restaurant industry. I have no social life to speak of. I spend next to nothing as I’m trying to chip away at the mountain of credit card debt that I made for myself back in Denver. But I’m happy. I’m enjoying myself. I wake up most days excited and ready to take on my day. Since moving back home, I’ve resisted the entire experience, forcing myself into feeling guilty about my situation and assure everyone I meet and friends and family that it’s only temporary. Which is true, it is just temporary, but all the more reason to enjoy it. Because every phase of life is temporary – fleeting – be it for better or worse.

While traveling I had “flashbulb” moments, let’s call them, where I would just be stopped in my tracks, my breath taken away, with all of my senses overwhelmed by the beauty and magnificence unfolding in front of me. It was a moment of pure bliss, of total and complete presence, and I was lucky to have that experience several times throughout my trip.

IMG_0484

After returning home from my travels I had a short period of forced optimism, still going off the adrenaline of the trip. Following that I fell into a pretty significant depression. I was afraid that everything I had experienced was just a bandaid, and returning back to “normal life” would send me right back down the hole I had just managed to climb out of. The worst of those feelings are behind me, and  just now I was blessed with another flashbulb moment. Walking my favorite dogs, rounding a corner and being struck by the most stunning dusky sky. Absolute, body trembling bliss. And it’s clear that there has certainly been a shift in my life.

I am happy. I am ok. I’m back to enjoying the mundane, something I haven’t truly felt in years. This isn’t forever, but for right now it’s just fine.