We're standing at the bar top - Pepe, Luca and me - drinking rum with ice to cool us down. The humidity of this South American evening wraps itself around me. I'm in a sultry dress looking older than usual, older than 25. My companions are pushing 40, with faces worn by age and children. As we drink, we don't say much for a long time; the music has taken us away, transported us to a world where only the beat - and nothing else - exists. We're at 1940, it's old Cuba here in New Colombia. I can feel eyes turn toward me as my hips move faster, so I move behind the crowd to feel the music in ecstasy and in peace. Next to me, an older couple dancing like they've had thirty years together to find their rhythm. It's beautiful. It's exotic. It's intoxicating the way they flow. He can't take his eyes off her, even after all these years. The music gets faster, the air, hotter; cigar smokes mixes with sweat. It's so sexy here in Cartagena. There are no problems here in Colombia, at least not tonight. Pepe, another drink!
Where do you live - Brooklyn, NY
Favorite local restaurant - Talde (from Chef Dale Talde) is my absolute favorite. Get the guacamole, whole grilled branzino and crab fried rice for one of the best meals in New York. Cocktails are great, too. In the city, it’s a little spot called Lovely Day. It’s unpretentious Thai food in a very cool setting. If you go, make sure you sit downstairs. (It’s hidden). I also love to eat anything prepared in my own kitchen.
Did you travel when you were young - Always. My parents are huge advocates for family vacations. We camped a lot, traveled to Costa Rica, Montreal, Europe, New York (by way of California). We all used to love Hawaii - I think we went six or seven different times when I was younger. When business was really good for my Dad, he would surprise us by having a limo pick us up and take us to the airport. As girls, we used to love that. Now that both my sister and I are grown up, we travel more modestly, or at least differently from vacations that are solely for relaxing. We’re very lucky because all four of us enjoy the same things: a hotel room with character, hiking, museums, a nice meal and bottle of wine, and blues music. This past year, we went to a Blues Festival in Portland, Oregon, danced all night in New Orleans and went to multiple shows in San Francisco. We love to have fun together: I feel very fortunate.
Favorite airport - Can’t say I have one. I like the ease and familiarity of San Jose airport. Once I get my bags from the carousel, I know I’ll be home in less than 15 minutes, where my Mom will have already decorated my bedside table with a bouquet of flowers and left scattered newspaper clippings for me to read. Nothing really beats that.
Least favorite airport - JFK over the holidays can be a headache, but I’m not great with airports in general. I remember one time, flying home from living abroad in Paris, I got stuck for half a day at Charles de Gaulle. It was December 19th, the day after my 20th birthday. I had stayed out at a club until 6am, then came home to collect my suitcases and left straight to the airport. I might have been a bit drunk going through security. A massive snowstorm hit and delayed the flight by six hours. I don’t know how, but I managed to make my connecting flight in Chicago by only a handful of minutes. I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to hug my parents.
Gadgets - Nothing much, really. As long as I have a book, a journal, a magazine and music, I’m perfectly content. It’s good, because technology adds a lot of weight to your bag. Though, I suppose books do too.
Favorite apps — Again, I don’t use many apps. I wholeheartedly believe in disconnecting when I travel. At home, I’ll browse Twitter to get my news and prefer email to keep in touch. I post photos to Instagram after my trips, once I’ve had time to process and re-live and appreciate the places for myself. I don’t understand the current fascination with Snapchat. It feels like it gives us an excuse to stay less in touch, because we already know what people have been doing. Who knows...I still write and send letters, so maybe I’m just old school in that sense.
Travel routine — I don’t have one! That’s the beauty of travel for me. I think the best way to get to know a city is to walk it, and walk it alone if you have the opportunity. Being on foot, by yourself, requires you to be hyper-aware of your surroundings, from the street names to the smells to the colors of the trees. I also always ask the people working at the front desk for their favorite local spot to eat with friends. I do love the research process before a trip - talking to people, reading independent guidebooks - because it gets me excited by possibilities. It always allows me to have a more holistic understanding of the culture so as not to arrive ignorant.
Travelers you admire — Anyone who takes the risk to travel alone. Obviously, traveling with a partner is deeply rewarding in its own ways, but traveling alone takes bravery and tenacity, and shows a certain level of open-mindedness. People who travel with a purpose to volunteer, or to learn a new language or work abroad: vacationing is easy and it takes experiences for one to learn that travel has a lot more to do than the seeing of sights. I admire everyone who has an understanding, or an interest in understanding, that it is necessary to immerse ourselves into a culture in order to develop a deeper connection to the people and the land, and have an experience that is greater than ourselves.
Where are you dreaming of now — So many places! Cape Town, Canada, all of South America. I’ve been a pescatarian for almost five years now, and I’m looking forward to going to a country famous for its meat to taste it again for the first time (e.g. devouring a steak in Buenos Aires).
Country you would most like to return to — it’s a difficult question for someone who is always wandering toward a new place, toward the unknown. With so many places left to explore, I love the idea of continuing to seek out somewhere completely foreign. Though, there is something romantic about returning. While the destination is the same, the way we remember a city might be different. We as an individual, as well as the circumstances will be different, and so we can create entirely unfamiliar memories. When I went back to Paris for three weeks after living there as a student, I suddenly had my own budget to savor the luxuries I bypassed years before. Plus, my sister was traveling there at the same time, so I was once again captured by the delights of Paris but with fresh eyes. Going back to the original question, I recently returned from Guatemala and feel it could lure me back for years to come.
Where to, next — I spent last year planting my feet in New York, creating a home and developing my professional life. But travel is really more of a mindset in how we engage with the world, rather than a checklist of places. So my mentality this year is ambitiously imagining a trifeca of balancing home, career and travel. This year, I’m planning to take a lot of adventures in the US, to get to know the great cities of the country and find out what makes them so “great.” Hopefully somewhere in South America, like a trek through Colombia. Also, I’ll be traveling with my family to Indonesia and Southeast Asia.
Home is — someplace warm, with artifacts that inspire you. Los Gatos, California. A fire in our fireplace during wintertime with my family around the coffee table. The sound of my Dad playing piano in the living room. Newspapers and lots of books.
Travel is — both difficult and incredibly rewarding.
. . . On saying goodbye to the little things
The paper cup was barely the size of my palm, but large enough that my fingers could grip around it comfortably. The espresso inside was a dark roast, both strong and potent in its aroma and taste. I knew drinking it at 4pm, even on a lazy Sunday as it was, would keep me wide awake with thoughts of California. Seated on the one of two benches available in the coffee shop, I took the first sip. I added a pinch of brown sugar cane powder from the wooden condiments shelf: it tasted more pure than white sugar and somehow felt healthier, too.
The shop was also small and comfortable, with bare brick walls illuminated by filament bulbs. Three circular top hats hung behind the man in a plaid top and denim apron who took my order. At that time in my life, I should have been conscious with my habitual spendings, but still I forked over 4.5 dollar coins for the drink. All of it — the simplicity of light, the smells that make you happy to spend, the artisanal everything that are not considered artisanal, but rather normal — is typical of Melbourne. Of which there are many, these qualities are just a number of the things that I loved.
I didn’t plan to sit there for an hour, carelessly lost watching as customers walked in and out. Most of the people who came and went carried colorful, heavy bags filled with produce purchased just outside at the Queen Victoria Market. I remember this vividly because I, too, carried colorful, heavy bags that I would later bring home to prepare for our weekly Sunday family dinner.
It was never my favorite coffee shop in Melbourne, nor was it one that I frequented, but on this day I enjoyed it all the same. On this lazy Sunday in particular I realized how special it was: I sat and savored my espresso slowly, thoughtfully, knowing that in just a few days I would be on an airplane home.
Most recently back from London and New Orleans, among other heat-filled locations, one destination still sits at the core of me, bursting for attention. To reach it one has many options, such as to fly direct to the town’s single terminal that services both domestic and international flights, or to spend twelve hours in a haze of discomfort on an overnight sleeper bus. For land travel, guide books warn the faint-hearted to take precautions before attempting the rutted and sleepless journey engrained within the transport system. There are ‘VIP’ bus offerings that are not in fact ‘VIP’ but rather the foreign business man's attempt to squeeze an extra $20 out of the easily-connived traveller. Alternatively, you can arrive by way of boat — a wooden, less-seats-than-passengers, ramshackle boat— that passes through the natural mountainous regions of the north of Southeast Asia. I opted for the latter of the three choices to reach Luang Prabang in Laos, convinced by travelers’ preferred route of a multiple-day, whiskey-fueled expedition down the Mekong River.
Imminently upon boarding, boat passengers replaced their young Thai coconuts with the nighttime poison of Lao-Lao and began to share longwinded stories about the people they were back home. Joey the frustratingly confident middle school film teacher; Michael the artist and party supplier; Carrie the recent divorcee, with blue eyes like diamonds, trying to make sense of a broken relationship. On the first leg of the ride, I sat next to Steve, an overly apprehensive American traveler who, despite his apprehension, offered a form of comfort in the familiar. Steve and I listened, and we told our own stories. He, the 28-year-old banking consultant who one day woke up fearing life would pass him by; me, the writer naive to many things besides kind strangers and the comforts of my affluent upbringing.
There were no windows or rafters on the boat. All of the backpackers in too-loose fitted pants swung their arms and legs over it's wooden edges and murky mist splashed on their shoulders. When the sun exhausted, we reached our half-way destination. Anticipating our arrival, every local family from the single-road town waited at the dock. The $1.50 guest room fee to stay at one of their guest houses fueled their entire economy -- the clothing and technology weighing down my backpack had never felt so trifling.
We eventually reached colorful Luang Prabang. Those vibrant colors drew me more than almost anything, along with the Laotion attention to flavor and artisan tapestries. My quest East, guided less by inner transformation than I hope to admit, was fueled and fulfilled by a desire for new sensory experiences. At the night market, come 5pm, every night of the year, the city’s main street of attraction came alive against its dirt backdrop. Women line the road with exotic red and orange stalls, all of them selling the same paintings as the vendor two stalls down from them. The goods for purchase are unchanging but are regularly frequented, likely because it is one of a small handful of evening attractions. The vegetarian all-you-can-eat buffet — tucked down a loud, potent alleyway — being among the others. Halfway through the market, if looking closely enough, you can find a hidden entrance to a long hike of stairs that leads to Wat Poissy. The top of the temple, it seems, overlooks the entire country. Everything in the town moved slowly, but I felt neither lost nor restless — two attributes history has long associated with reason for movement — for being lost or being restless are deep curiosities that propel us outside of life's regular routine.
On one Saturday in November, the low-hanging clouds splashed gray in all directions. The sun had not yet risen and I basked in the extraordinariness of the fog and the eery silence. An older woman with tired, kind eyes whom I purchased bananas and rice and a bamboo-crusted mat told me to kneel opposite of the embankment and wait patiently in anticipation for the early-to-rise monks. The cuff of my jeans were stained dark from kneeling on the asphalt. Three minutes became fifteen until a dozen monks, in their unlaundered orange robes, reached my peripheral. Here I was in Laos, this ordinary young woman, alone on the edge of the embankment, watching these beautifully aged and slender bodies grow closer and closer. When their feet eventually reached me, I passed my offerings dutifully — and as quickly as they appeared, they disappeared into the early morning.
These are all just feelings that I have, not defined memories. Remembering the sheer mysticism and the remarkable details of this place and this past life, I feel compelled towards the simple act of movement itself. I have always been impressed anew by the range of movement that life can offer; we can move and be moved physically, emotively, geographically, gravely, quickly, in fleeting moments, in passing. Almost three years have gone by since I stepped foot in Asia, and in that time the fast-paced, almost anxious movement that was once my defining feature has subdued and subsided. Now, more than ever, I prefer to hear the sound of my feet on the pavement when I walk as slowly as ever, wandering back across the ocean to these places in my mind.
If you have 48 hours in any major city, the following rules will apply:
1. Pack just enough.
2. Familiarize with native language/slang/transport system.
3. Ask locals to recommend their favorite spots, and then seek them out.
4. Walk across a famous bridge.
5. Rent a bicycle as preferred mode of transportation when possible.
6. Research the best bookstore and allow time to get lost inside.
7. Trust the chef.
8. Trust the bartender.
9. Sleep for only as many hours as your body needs to function; You will be back home soon enough.
10. Let serendipity be your guide.
My parents always believed that travel was a necessary part of my upbringing. From family trips to Montreal just when the tree leaves turned from green to pastel to a cruise ship tour across Europe to island hopping in Costa Rica, we seemed to do it all. There was the time (and time again) we swung through the treetops of Maui. Or when we rented an open-air jeep to ride the windy roads of Corfu. And the miles of hiking through Australia's Blue Mountains with only the sound of mist and our own laughter. My sister and I, we took it all in and we loved it. We loved it all.
I even remember the trips I wasn’t old enough to remember. “We used to always take you girls camping. You don’t know it, but we did,” my mother would tell us over dinner table conversation. She’d somehow think she needed to convince us of a once loved past time, although we already knew it to be true. These places and moments came to define how I perceived the world around me, with an eager and ever-present curiosity.
Because travel is in my blood, I find falling in love with a city an easy thing to do. Maybe that’s why I move frequently — from San Francisco to Paris to Melbourne to now, New York. But a true Explorer knows that to be 'well-traveled' does not come from number of destinations lived nor number of cities/villages/towns visited. What makes one worldly is in actuality the ability to compare cultures from one another, and use that knowledge to create more meaningful exchanges. This is the reason I dream of visiting London.
Among these great monuments - the Eiffel Tower, the Empire State, the Golden Gate and the Great Ocean Road - are the ones I've never seen - London Bridge, Big Ben, Hyde Park. I had picked up on what London might look like for a traveler: a fast-paced ecosystem of old, Victorian architecture, high fashion retail, groomed men with striking accents, covert cocktail bars, interactive theatre and gastronomic experiences that leave one satisfied three times over.
My flight leaves JFK headed to Heathrow at 11:30am. I allow myself just 48 hours to get lost — hopelessly lost and potentially, intoxicatingly in love. The whole thing is amusing novelty.
I go in style, packing my essentials from practical to posh: an activity tracker to visualize my cosmopolitan adventure using data, an unused journal to ask strangers for hand-drawn maps and sandals because I’m desperately hopeful for sunshine. The clothing in my bag is versatile and functional, neutral colors with bold patterns, a wardrobe for all occasions.
At arrivals, I hail for a Hotel Hoppa, this brilliant little system that transports you directly to your accommodation for just 4.50 pounds. My driver is an older man with burly, white hair and a hearty laugh; his age translates into historical wisdom of the city. The tour starts before I even drop my bags as we exchange conversation about well-known architecture and royal parks. I offer him an extra few dollars for his shared knowledge and he bids me adieu at the entrance of The Artist Residence, 52 Cambridge Street in Pimlico, just 5 minutes from Victoria Station. The bespoke hotel is more chic than I pictured, a modern vibe mixed with rustic aesthetics. There are 10 bedrooms across three floors, each individually decorated. I am assigned to door number 7, an intimate room flanked by brick walls and vintage leather seats. ‘Eclectic luxury’ offers a more personalized, familiar stay: the concierge service more like an uber-chic in-the-know British aunt who raves about all the places simply not to be missed.
But, I’ve also done my research. I know that Borough Market offers a sensory overload of delicious sweets & treats in London Bridge; Electric Coffee Company is an outstanding place to get caffinated; St. Paul’s dome is worth the hundreds of odd-steps for a view on a sunny day. I also know that cocktails here often come with art because everything is a conversion of sorts, like the museum that hosts late-night experimental shows.
I consult my Wanderlist, a catalog of hidden gems curated from well-esteemed London experts: friends who once lived abroad, the most respected New York Times travel journalists, and Londoners themselves. According to the experts, if I eat, drink and play according to their recommendations, I’ve by-passed the most hyped-up venues and discovered the most memorable and authentic highlights, where one can people watch and enjoy the most delectable Sunday roast.
As any traveler venturing to new land, I pool information from these collective networks to gather ‘locals-only’ insight.“Doing what the local people do when I’m on the road comes naturally. To do anything else would seem silly,” Alfredo Gangotena told AFAR Magazine in 2014. I always keep back issues of travel magazines stacked along my bedside because even as travel becomes increasingly ‘digitized’, the fundamentals always stay the same. Gangeotena's words resonate as I re-read the old content, flipping through pages of ideas that remain relevant however far they are from the past. Just one instance of the power within travel is that perspective remains critical no matter how we age and change with each new country discovered.
But enough of all that. It’s morning now, and I want to see the city proper in the very early morning, the day and the night. Into the streets we go.
I orient with a map at Monmouth Coffee Company, any ardent coffee-drinker’s mecca in Convet Gardens; The potent, strong roast floods me with memories of sitting alone at my favorite coffee shop in Melbourne and immediately I am filled with a sense of nostalgia. I allow myself to be fully consumed by sights and flavor.
Most eloquently, London’s ex-mayor once told the New York Times that “um, visitors should hire a bike and ride through the park.” And most naturally, I’m inclined to. I rent a bicycle and ride through Hyde Park; later I walk slowly through Kensington Gardens for comparison. And then, I continue walking — across the Millennium Footbridge, through Trafalgar Square and its four surrounding plinths, and everywhere that tourists are sprawling but not imposing. I take the mandatory writer’s pilgrimage to the city’s oldest bookstore, Hatchards, where I am completely absorbed by books I can read anywhere yet set amidst an environment that inspires me. I purchase keepsakes for my home; I hope to preserve this foreign memory for years to come.
London has an old legacy of art and architecture. The museum buildings are impressive structures in their own right. The Victoria and Albert Museum is a place that culminates both crafts, the world’s largest museum of decorate arts and design filled with fashion, photography, multimedia and objects. But even more, I am mesmerized by the content of the British Library: drawing inspiration from Leonardo Da Vinci’s sketches, Alice’s Adventures Underground and a Gutenberg Bible. Digital images can’t ever give you the physical sensation of what it feels like to stand in front of this type of history. Like synagogues for prayer and museums for viewing, libraries elevate the experience of reading, which is possibly why we feel uplifted in the presence of old books and ancient artifacts.
By night fall, everything is just divine. I take this time to rate the city’s culinary and drinking scene to that of other major cities. My controls are a number of characterful new and legendary destinations discovered on a self-led grub-crawl. Polpo, a stylish Italian tapas restaurant group occupying three unique spaces around the city, all of which received the Michelin Guide’s Bib Gourmand for five consecutive years; the Blind Pig, an sultry speakeasy serving cocktails in a wood and leather flanked setting; Cahoots, a 40's swing bar nearly disguised from the street; The French House, a classic always-packed, always serving pub in Soho; and Duck & Waffle, for 24-hour cuisine on the top of a skyscraper. I can certainly get used to pre-theatre/post-theatre thrill of excitement — the buzz in the streets and the smell of bourbon long after dark. The energy of the city is unshakeable and slightly seductive, or so it seems this late at night.
Breakfast is equally rich with options, such as Wolseley, a name among the critics for old school english service and tea. Then there’s the full english breakfast destinations, The Delaunay or Electric Diner, but since everywhere serves the classics, I choose the Riding House Cafe to manage the morning after like the locals. The modern all-day brasserie offers greater context while seated among fellow diners at the communal table. I fancy a conversation with a charming English man, and this place seems to afford the most fortuitous encounters.
The gent seated next to me wears a dark blazer with dapper leather shoes. His two front teeth have a slight gap. As with almost everyone I’ve met here, he’s congenial, rather entertaining, slightly charming and eager to please. I tell him we can meet later, and he can be my tour guide (rule 3, 10), because I am deeply curious about East London, and left with just twelve hours before I spin the globe once again.
I’m writing to tell you that I live in New York now. Officially. Though I lived in New York before— officially then, too— it still doesn’t feel natural to say out loud. I guess this time around is different — entirely different — because there’s no turning back if I want to. Before I lived and had fun, and now I have to live and survive — a learning process and a growing process that I’m ready for and also not ready for at all. Saying all that makes sense when I think it to myself on long walks/riding the subway/shopping at the bodega, so I hope that it makes sense to you, too, whoever you are.
The rain was heavy on the morning I arrived, carrying with me two fifty-pound suitcases and a shoulder bag brimming with cookbooks and novels and literary magazines. At 9am, my housemate, a seemingly nice enough Russian/27/Event Planner passed off a new set of keys left by the tenant, an American/29/Moved-To-LA-To-Find-Myself-But-Don’t-Know-If-I’ll-Like-It. The apartment lease is ‘a two months and then we’ll see’ situation, a trend among the other fleeting aspects of my life, namely work contracts and men. Though, of course, I’d much rather all of those things were stable and none of them were temporary. I organized all one hundred plus pounds of life within the first hour: coordinated my sweaters, shirts, jackets by color in the closet, hung up a San Francisco Farmer’s Market calendar, and other tedious details you attend to when you first move somewhere new.
After I unpacked, I ran downstairs into the rain without an umbrella. I ran and ran with the wind in my face to the nearest grocery store. Everyone was speaking Russian. I started writing a story in my head about how much time alone I would spend writing stories in my head. My thoughts moved from elation to angst to indifference and then re-circulated again and again; I can never figure out what it is about New York that makes you feel a million different feelings in the shortest amount of time.
If you need to write me, I’m located directly off of the G train at Nassau Ave, or the L when it’s bearable enough weather to walk eleven minutes to the Lorimer stop. Four stories up, a stone’s throw from 5 Leaves and The Manhattan Inn and McCarren Park is an artist’s nest filled with small shrubs and navajo decor. When a New Yorker sees my new home they say, “Wait, THIS is your apartment?!?” whereas a tourist might say, “Wait, this is your apartment. . . .?” It’s small and colorful and mostly everything that I need. There are tranquil emblems that decorate the living room walls, and a quaint fire escape and no oven. The Russian leaves the kitchen untouched with minimal produce in the fridge, which is probably the truest of all signs that we are amidst the fast-pace that is this big city life. The apartment is certainly cozy, with the potential to be lonely — lonelier than anywhere I’ve ever lived.
In spite of all the excitement and movement towards this brilliant destination, I can’t help but wonder, every now and again, is this really the best decision? I mean, one day you’re laughing with friends at a bar, drunk off red wine, thinking about how man, there really is nothing quite like New York City, and the next night you’re sitting at your apartment, drunk off red wine, wondering what it means that you’re alone while millions of people are moving at the speed of light right outside of your window.
All of the faces that pass me by seem so intent and purposeful, because most personalities here will do whatever it takes to pursue their aspirations and careers against the odds. The young women, all beautiful, dressed in black. The young men, all beautiful, dressed in black. Everyone is always talking about how determined they are, or how worn-down they are by this persistent city. It feels like a constant fight upstream to search for the truly genuine ones who have only good intentions, but the other news is the more I start doing the things that I love the easier those people are to find and befriend.
So, friend, that’s just a little news about me. I suppose I’m just making any excuse to write my thoughts down as not to forget them when I move somewhere easy and slow years down the line. And now that I live here I’d love for you to visit me. I’ll show you my neighborhood and we can sit and talk for hours about how fast life is moving and how nice it is to just slow down to enjoy each other’s company — in the midst of this race-against-the-clock, wear whatever you want, drink as much as you like, spend too much money ‘cuz that’s what life’s all about, horn-honking, subway delayed, chaotic, unforgivable, irresistible New York City.
People ask me to tell them a story,
but I can’t seem to figure out where it begins, exactly. If I’m quantifying the tale as my years abroad from home then it begins on August 20, 2012 in San Francisco, my mom tearing up at the airport and holding onto me for dear life. In return, I smile and mock her fears.
“I’ll only be gone for six months, and I’ll see you even shorter than that in Bali,” I say, at the time believing it to be true.
I had traveled before. I had been seduced by people and places but after sometime away I was always seduced back to my hometown. In Los Gatos — a small, affluent community — I could have anything I ever need, really. But I guess my mom could sense in her heart that this time around the World would fully entrance me, the wandering gypsy.
That time in August my backpack was heavy upon my shoulders, pushing double the weight of my fragile body into the Earth. Every step forward I felt the discomfort. But I was brave, because joy emanates from all around us if we find the courage to walk into the unconventional lifestyle and embrace it. I was optimistic, and a human with optimism on their side can survive anything. I had the humbling opportunity to explore hidden magic in places I’d only dreamt about.
I moved starry-eyed cross countries; I was harmonious and mesmerized. I looked West and recognized that there was little I envied.
I was brave.
I was brave.
I was brave.
Until two years later when I was not brave. Until I had to say goodbye to my makeshift house, in my new home, in Melbourne, Australia.
When I arrive back to America my Dad waits to greet me. I can feel his energy before we even land and all I yearn for after hours of staring at the clouds is his warm embrace.
The plane ride is an emblem of my nomadic self. My memories of days in the sky dreaming of distant places are not so much a memory but ingrained within me. Sometimes I imagine that I am invincible up in the air, untouchable and tuned out to reality down, down, down below. The crests of the mountain ranges, the dots of cookie-cutter houses, specks of people moving about their daily routines — and me, watching from above in meditative transit.
The act of flying itself feels so routinely familiar. Gaze hazy-eyed at the magazine stands lined with unknown tabloids as I walk through stale airports. Voices overhead call out to lost passengers and gate changes. Not wanting to drink coffee so I can be cool, calm, restful on the plane. Wanting to drink coffee because I crave it; I crave the warm, dark drops against my tongue so that I am awake and invigorated.
Security moves quickly: laptop out, shoes off, passport in hand, Come through. Thank you, Miss, repack your bag.
Always a suitcase. Always repacking. Will I ever stop?
Back to the aisle seat and I can’t stop looking out of the window watching it all pass me by. I plug in; I disconnect. Where am I going?
The man at the counter forgets to ask if I’d had a nice trip. “Australia is an incredible country, you should visit,” I tiredly bark. Then I heave myself the rest of the way through customs.
My Dad hugs me and begins to tell me about his weekend: the Niners game and the California heat and the state of the draught. I want to ask him if he knows how mundane it all sounds, given that less than twenty-four hours ago ten people caravanned me to the airport and hugged me tightly as we said goodbye for the last time in a long time.
I felt empty, defeated by forthcoming prospects. This goodbye wasn’t like the one to my mother. As a nomad I knew this goodbye was permanent; I shut the door on a life I would remember fondly as a time I had once lived and loved. A life with deeply-rooted relationships and routines and traditions and favorite cafes and places that stimulated my most creative self. I left the city with regret, softened only slightly by my return to the sunshine state. “You’re going home! Think of how wonderful it will be!” They all told me.
But now I was the one holding on for dear life, or attempting to without prevail. I knew over time the traditions would subside and my memories would fade, and I feared it. Because Melbourne possesses such ever-changing uniqueness, character, innovation that we can leave even for a fleeting period of time and come back to an entirely new city. We can turn left at the same street we turn left everyday and find that a new space — a haven, an alcove—exists that profoundly intrigues us. We can climb the stairways up and up and up, following the bitter, inviting smell of a fresh roast from a speciality cafe. That coffee: that’s the coffee I crave.
Like New York or Paris, everyone makes their own Melbourne because its hidden laneways and decorated alleys make every moment feel like a personal discovery to be savored and treasured. Though we make it our own, we want to share it everyone we know.
But maybe the story doesn’t begin at the airport or up in the clouds. Maybe it starts at 19 years of age living in Paris, when I first left what I knew to be true in order to seek fulfillment from the unknown. Youthful wanderlust they call it these days. Andy Warhol always reminds me of this because his picture hangs above my desk. The World Fascinates Me, it reads. It’s the same desk where I sit and stare when the ideas fail me and the desk I honor when the words spontaneously come pouring out. At home when I close my computer and look at Mr. Warhol, I see everything that surrounds him. The objects: carefully, delicately, thoughtfully placed objects. They are the objects that found me somewhere in my life, somewhere in the world. The Argentinean mug, the Laotian cloth, the New Zealand stones, the Parisian chocolates.
But the value of these objects cannot be understood between the owner and the observer. The observer didn’t see me when I was falling in love with Paris, and also falling in love in Paris. From that chance encounter had matured one of the most fruitful and romantic of intimacies. An Australian lover in Paris: could I ever have predicted the consequences of that relationship? When we met again at that cafe in the Melbourne CBD he was just as genuine and handsome. That time he was engaged to be married and I was engaged to my transience. It all felt so obviously ironic.
Back at my desk, I am showered in the gifts of the past. Past cities, past lovers: smiling with all of myself at opportunities afforded and nestled in solitude disheartened by another lost chance. These objects keep me balanced. Remind me of the fluidness of life and place. I once read that we travel the World to find where we are happiest. I think I found that in Melbourne and I think that’s what I fear the most. Time drifting and life moving quickly and seeming aloof to it all. How do you say goodbye to a place you never wanted to leave? Where do you pick up the story and start again?
When in Melbourne
Not unlike most great cities, Melbourne food culture tells stories through flavor, presentation, innovation and ambiance. Across vibrant neighborhoods and down colorful laneways, new restaurants and cafes pop up regularly and catch the attention of stomachs and cameras. Melbourne's dining scene represents an important part of the city's rich and diverse culture; meat eaters and plant eaters alike can find both unique and exceptional food [x good vibes] all throughout the city. Locals and travellers sing the praises of dishes that support local suppliers and simultaneously fuel bodies, minds and souls. Below are the Constant Wanderer's recommended eats to consume, devour, nourish. Not all of these places need descriptions: trust us they're great. Put down your phone & pick up your fork.
When in Melbourne | Brunch
+ Manchester Press. A rustic hole-in-a-laneway serving gourmet bagels & Melbourne's best salad. 8 Rankins Lane, CBD.
+ Hardware Societe. A minimum wait of 20 minutes for a $20 plate of eggs that's worth every minute and every dollar. 120 Hardware Street, CBD.
+ Tall Timber. The tagline says it all: "good coffee, good good, food people." Versatile and well-crafted menu meets minimalist decor. Order the pumpkin bruschetta and head to the outdoor courtyard. 60 Commercial Road, Prahran.
+ Two Birds, One Stone. 12 Claremont Street, South Yarra.
+ COMBI. Raw & Organic Bar. Get your smoothie fix on. Shop 1 140 Ormond Road, Elwood.
+ Barry. A thoughtful menu of health food with blazing natural light that will make you want to stay all day. 85 High Street, Northcote.
+ The Kettle Black. Fine dining meets casual brunch spot, with every post meal sweet treat your heart could desire. 50 Albert Road, South Melbourne.
+ Bluebird Espresso. 134 Johnston Street, Collingwood.
When in Melbourne | Bites & Vibes
+ Journal Cafe. 253 Flinders Lane, CBD.
+ Lentils as Anything. Donation-based vegetarian buffet at the Abbortsford Convent. Kick off your shoes and lay in the grass. 1-3 St Heliers Street, Abbotsford.
+ 1000 lb bend. All about the good vibes. 361 Little Lonsdale Street, CBD.
+ Naked for Satan. 285 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy.
+ Little Mule Cafe. 19 Sommerset Place, CBD.
+ Shebeen. Not your typical cafe: 100% of profits go to the developing world. 36 Manchester Lane, CBD.
+ Auction Rooms. 103-107 Errol Street, North Melbourne.
+ Kinfolk Cafe. 673 Bourke Street, CBD.
+ Messina. Australia's best gelato just hit Melbourne. 237 Smith Street, Fitzroy.
+ N2 Gelato. 329 Brunswick St, Fitzroy.
When in Melbourne |Restaurants
+ Feast of Merit. An initiative by Y-Generation Against Poverty. Locally and ethically sourced produce where all of the proceeds support youth education and leadership projects in Malawi, Ghana, Rwanda, Cambodia &Australia. 117 Swan Street, Richmond.
+ Ike's Rack Shack. Picnic tables line the back of the Beaufort for ribs, cocktails and pool. (+ a vegan rib stack!). 421 Rathdowne Street, Carlton.
+ Colonel Tan's. 229 Chapel Street, Prahran.
+ Smith & Daughters. All vegan Spanish-inspired dining with a badass, rock 'n roll vibe. 175 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy.
+ Coda. 141 Flinders Ln, CBD.
+ Vegie Bar. 380 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy.
+ Chin Chin. A bustling Melbourne institution of upscale Asian fusion of small and large sharing plates. They don't take reservations so line up at 5:30pm to put your name on the waiting list. 125 Flinders Lane, CBD.
Travel is enchanting and magical, but the consumed traveler is one who fears all that is constant. The motivator to travel in the first place feels foreign and close to forgotten. The once-hungry appetite for newness is replaced rather by an impulsive fear that static is the only thing lurking over the grassy hill and across oceans.
For a traveler, the sustenance of life relies fully in the unknown. As one reflects on times of divine happiness, the travelers associates it not with years or numbers or candles on the cake, but geographically. Our happiness is defined by destination. Culture. Country. City. Strangers. Getting Lost in Foreign Landscape. Exoticism. Language Barriers. The Temporariness of Intimacy. We remember the times when we were happiest as 'those years on the road,' flickering memories that keep shape, but lose detail the older and wiser our minds grow.
When the first explorers set out on adventure they were young, but also blind and brave and bold. Instinct as a roadmap and vulnerability to create trust. They were the real voyagers. The Greats. Travelers who run straight at the wind without looking back. I imagine the way they would wince at my traveler's life now, for the strangeness of the world that once attracted those early adventurers has been swallowed by the immediacy of technology. Would they chide us for the way we act in our own modern musings?
As they grew older, did they also grow more nomadic or is that insatiable desire to be lost inherently traded when we find reason to stay grounded? An older generation of explorers seems to be more and more arcane - a notion of travel while you're young before the seduction of stability grabs tight and never lets go.
Maybe these older souls know the other riches that life has to offer -- of the wealth caused not by nature's beauty but by the comfort of human touch: of a love waiting for us on the other side of the front door and the children's smiles.
At what age must one trade the traveling self for the realist self? Running far fast suddenly seems the most sensible when both pressing dynamics exist in a versus. The deliberate challenge is to examine how the former and the latter can coexist in harmony when each lie on opposing sides of life's mirror. The reflection of the vagrant self is clear - joyful, comely, and more mysterious while reality stares back, eyes green with envy.
Our realist self knows as we grow with the changing world, being forced to reckon with all of the flaws of overstimulation and loss of bookstores and illiterate countrysides, that the minds of our younger, traveling selves require an entirely new type of attention.
As I grow older, I hope to savor these stories and nurture my children through life with maps and words, with a hidden doorway to their mother's imagination. Along with the stories of their Grandmother, one of the Greats who left home at 17 to fall in love with the world over and over again. At some point in our aging process the two paradoxes of self - traveler against realist - will meet at a crossroad of nomad, stability, our past and future self. Which direction do we run?
So, you want to be a travel writer, do you? To remember the smells of the trains, the details of the faces, the emotion that sparked from the touch of a beautiful stranger. You want to get intentionally lost and unearth something great. You want to forget time and date and the notion of space.
Do you also want to feel off balance? To question your self-worth and be lost in translation or unsure of your purpose for traversing the world. Do you want to wonder whether what you're doing is right or wrong? Do you want to follow the dirt path to desolation for hours and hours?
At some point you'll find a canyon that is infinitely dark and vast - its shadows haunting as you peer over the ledge. The rocks crumble from the Earth into tiny bits and tumble into emptiness. They cripple in a downwards spiral until not a sight or speck or sound is left. You're alone, paralyzed in fear. It's suicidal -- a dance with devil -- but standing at the edge of the ridge, with the bright stars above, there's an energy that is wildly alive.
Would you jump if you didn't know where you'd land?
Would you still write?
Young and free soul, you want to be a travel writer, do you? Do you also want to pay the bills and enjoy *luxuries in life?
You must find pleasure in simple and organic luxuries, young and naive soul. You must feel gratification from a stranger’s kindness and the knowing that you’re on the cusp of doing something worthwhile. You must love the intrigue of the unknown and unfamiliar. You must be fascinated by the lessons of the imaginative lives before us -- of the Wildes and of the Kerouacs. There is hidden magic in their stories, wouldn’t you agree?
You want your words to change the world, too, do you?
Go to the ledge of the canyon and then walk the foreign perimeter. Study its landscape: down the shaky crevasce and up the unbeaten path. Search and question; be awed and be humbled. You will certainly grow rich with life, young travel writer.
*open to interpretation
Dripping sweat and backpack heavy upon my shoulders, I paced manically looking for any directions in English that would calm my eager nerves. My excitement of stepping off of the plane in Thailand slowly escalated into weak exhaustion as I moved — lost — about the airport. There was no romanticism in the sights around me: long, white walls stretched on for miles and overpriced restaurants were filled with tired conversation.
The travel companion whom was to greet me as a guide to safety in Bangkok was nowhere in sight. Not left nor right nor up nor down, because I checked there. Twice, three times. I was but a jet-lagged backpacker unaware of my present surroundings. It seemed of the hundreds of International passengers and custom attendants no one could lead me to the direction at the end of my treasure map.
The question, “arrival gate?” was greeted with blank stares. “Free wifi?” returned with empty eyes. When people pointed me in one direction, the next pointed me straight back.
“Is this what backpacking is all about?” the question pulsed like a tick of anxiety in my mind. It wasn’t a question of fear or vulnerability that the guidebooks prepare your subconscious for, but it was a desperate confusion which is something quite notably on par.
Charing past sleeping families waiting for their flights and monks grazing through special security, I climbed the escalator stairs determined to reach the highest floor. I knew there wasn’t much waiting for me except an escape from crowds, a calm in the midst of the storm.
The top floor was quiet and sterile, but even there I couldn’t breathe a sigh of relief. I was still lost: a foreigner far removed from the comforts of my own country.
But there was one man, casual in plaid with a sturdy pair of boots, who typed away unnerved at a computer desk. He was faceless, a result of my purely selfish concerns at present. I charged past him, too, straight towards the waiting attendant. My backpack shook the desk as it dropped unforgivingly from my body to the ground.
“I need to check my email. Quickly, please! Just one minute!” My voice in pleas and my eyes sad.
She rattled back about baht, a monopoly currency out of my vocabulary and of which I had none.
I was stranded without money to open the email I could read perfectly in my head, except for the line with our meeting point which was fuzzy and unattainable from my subconscious. I had been so foolish to not write down the coordinates; naivety led me to believe my memory could carry me around the world. My excitement about Thailand was reduced to a barely-audible sliver of hope.
But the faceless man was an English-speaker, and an eavesdropper. Rising from the computer desk he handed a colorful display of paper decorated with a photo of the Thai king and 500s pressed around the corners. He offered me the money; he was leaving the country for home in Melbourne.
“Find your friend,” he shared with a genuine smile and slip of a business card.
Quickly enough as he entered my story he was gone. I glanced down at the information of the nameless knight and tucked it away in my wallet.
The kind stranger’s money unlocked invaluable words on a computer screen, the words that read where to meet to start my backpacking adventure through Southeast Asia.
I starred at my belongings that were strewn across the floor in a frenzy and gathered momentum to strap myself into a bag full of meaningless possessions. I trudged down and down four escalator stairs.
Tucked between foreign taxi drivers and custom passenger arrivals was a pair of recognizable eyes: big, green eyes against dark, tanned skin. There was my travel companion, casual and calm, licking a popsicle with a grin on his face and without a care in the world.
“Hey there!” He smiled. “Where’ve you been? Welcome to Bangkok! This place is crazy!”
(Also published @Medium https://medium.com/p/fd18f23dc82a)
Walk. Keep walking. Get out. Explore. Be alone. Be awed. Take in the sights. Then let the sights pass you by. Eat the food. Try the spice. Make it spicier. Get lost on the streets. Ride the bus. Ride the boats. Let the wind blow through your hair. Look down, but remember to look up. Admire the bridge. Then walk across it - twice, three times. Climb the stairs higher than your legs can carry you. Sit in the gardens and look out at nothing, or out at everything. Engage a stranger. Make a friend. More importantly, make two. Walk.
Keep walking farther.
Where are you now?
I have been to unpublicized villages, semi-developed and undeveloped. And where before I would have sensed only despair, now I feel that the despair lies more with the observer than the people. I have learned to see beyond the dirt and the recumbent figures on string beds, and to look for the signs of improvement and hope, however faint: the brick-topped road, covered though it might be with filth; the rice planted in rows and not scattered broadcast; the degree of ease with which the villager faces the official or the visitor. For such small things I have learned to look: over the months my eye has been adjusted.
Yet always the obvious is overwhelming. One is a traveller and as soon as the dread of a particular district has been lessened by familiarity, it is time to move on again, through vast tracts which will never become familiar, which will sadden; and the urge to escape will return.
It was winter, July ‘13. He was driving, and I was passenger. He knew the right side of the road, and I knew the American side of the road. He knew how to read maps, and I knew how to get lost. He had explored the countryside before, and I had eager, foreign eyes soaking up every inch of new terrain that stretched across the horizon.
He guided us up Australia’s East Coast, the long stretches of highway eased by the simplicity of our plan: no plan. He would point to stars on the treasure map describing beautiful beaches and scenic campsites, waiting for me to confirm or deny. But I never denied so we kept on driving further and further. His intuition was our guidebook, and I trusted it.
It felt organic. It felt honest. It felt like no mystery at all although everything was a perfect mystery to me.
In Cape Cohran, he boiled tea and played guitar beneath the stars while my mind silenced for the first time in a long time. In Mimosa Rocks, he guided me to an empty beach ironically covered in great lengths of fresh footprints. Up the coastline, he stopped at viewpoints that could only be described as heavenly. In Newcastle, he took me to his home and we laughed with his childhood friends. In Bodella, he pulled off to mom and pop shops so we could observe the lives of people far removed from city-life ‘normalcies,’ – if there ever were such a thing.
The company of my travel companion was beautifully comfortable as he often reached over and squeezed my knee, or when he put his arm around my shoulder and tapped the beat of the song humming from the speakers on the crest of my neck. He pulled me in closer, closer - even though we were already close enough. Suddenly, the homesickness that had been haunting me back in Melbourne belonged to another person. I realized, with the windows down and wind in my hair, that I was at home: here on the wide open road in a stranger’s country.
One of the greatest rewards of travel is the return home to the reassurance of family and old friends, familiar sights and homely comforts and your own bed.
Here I am on this flight I've taken one hundred times from New York to the West Coast. I blinked and summer was over; I blinked and this chapter of sleepless nights in my five story, West Village walkup have come to a cliffhanging end. Where did the days go? I folded my clothes and zipped up my suitcase, this act of coming and unpacking and leaving and packing feels all too routine. These goodbyes are familiar, but they never really get any easier.
I tried to do a lot of soul searching on this trip home, which is ironic that
+ I just referred to New York as a trip,
+ New York and soul searching are used simultaneously
One humbling year ago, to this exact date, I was talking to strangers on a flight to Israel, a one way ticket. A silly catchphrase that took me around the world: to Parisian hotels, to underdeveloped villages, to cross-country roadtrips with Australian boys who surf the world's most magnificent beaches while I scribble notes in my journal and watch with my toes in the sand from afar.
On this worldly journey in search of whatever it is I'm searching for I repeatedly come back to a funny note to self: only time will tell. Only now upon reflection do I question what that means, for time itself is a funny thing. I've lived more life in one year, three hundred and sixty-five days, than well, this lifetime to date. My adventures, almost unfathomable experiences, underlying insecurities top the charts but this one year anniversary doesn't feel like just yesterday, how all other monumental occasions often feel.
Then, I was so truly amazed at the prospect of the open road as a solo traveler. Vulnerability didn't exist in my vocabulary; I felt intrepid. Now, I am whole-heartedly awed at the delight of this beautiful home as an emblem of sincerity and stability. At home all of my favorite reads perfectly line the bookshelves to admire and hand-crafted trinkets collected from countries far and wide decorate the walls.
When I rode out of New York, across the bridge wide-eyed at the city's magnificent skyline, my mind awakened with a sense of rejuvenation. Rejuvenate: this tiny word that holds so much meaning. For people tend to believe that backpackers are fearless, but truth be told, we are not. We are simply a bit out of touch with reality and need to return to the real world - whatever that means - for a revival. At least that's how I found myself.
Maybe this whole desire for a constant reawakening is part of growing up.
Maybe I don't want to grow up.
Maybe I'm just rolling with the punches.
Maybe only time will tell.
It might be said that a great unstated reason for travel is to find places that exemplify where one has been happiest.
Our infatuation first started when I was a young, less-cultured wanderlust of nineteen in the Charles de Gaulle airport. I fell painfully, desperately in love with the sophistication of the Parisian lifestyle, poise of the well-dressed inhabitants, cobblestone alleyways that led to yet another trendy jazz club. We had our differences - the snow that rested on my brick windowsill in the chill of winter and our never-improving language barrier - but I quickly learned to appreciate those differences as a beautiful reason for my affection. When I returned home after that six-month affair and rested my head on a pillow of familiarity, my heart grew fonder for travel, yes, but it also grew more eager, anxious, unfulfilled.
So I left again. This time on my own account with nothing but spontaneity to guide me. The first few months were better than I remembered them, elated by the newness of experience and by my return to those cobblestone alleyways in the sunshine. I remember the overly hospitable welcome of the Israelis towards a foreigner in their country, the metro rides to Montmartre to talk about life and our futures and nothing in particular with my sister in Paris. I remember the peaceful calm of North Thailand, the enchantment of quiet Laos, my feelings of angst and depression in Vietnam, the tranquility of Koh Ta Kiev and its ability to slowly return my spirit in Cambodia. I remember the feeling of culture shock as I boarded the plane to Australia and as I returned to the Western world.
Some days when the Xs across the dates on my calendar grew more frequent, I remember feeling exhausted. I questioned myself - is it normal to be tired when living a life of so much privilege? ["In an all blue world, color doesn't exist. If something seems strange, you question it, but if the outside world is too distant to use as a comparison, then nothing seems strange." - Alex Garland.] Living a life on the road of constantly packing, moving, meeting people is what gives definition to this backpacking experience, but in the most unexpected of times it takes its toll. It's not always as easy as fromage et baguettes at the Eiffel Tower with the comfort of stable friends. But here I am today, half a year since I left Los Angeles airport, with health and stability in this travel relationship. Today, I will remember this feeling of happiness.
For this occasion let us not raise a glass to my own good fortune, but to the people who helped make my imagination a reality, who provided dialogue to my story, who gave me reason to feel homesick, who acted as a source of strength when I felt defeated. Let us raise our glasses to those unique, cultured, articulate, like-minded individuals who are worth traveling to find.
So here's to you, people of the world. Let us dance and sing and drink and be merry and love and laugh for many months - and years to come. You have brought a light to my life, and I am forever grateful.
[We're happily registered at bookstores worldwide.]