Santa Teresa, Costa Rica: 5 Things First Time Travelers Need to Know

This past spring, I spent a week in Santa Teresa, Costa Rica. There’s no denying the beauty of Costa Rica, but even a trip to the greatest destination can be ruined if you don’t prepare correctly!  Make sure you do your research on what to pack and what to expect when you get there.  Here are some things you need to know if you are traveling to Santa Teresa for the first time.

  1. Cash is king.  You’ll mostly likely use cash for 95% of all of your transactions while staying in Santa Teresa.  If you are flying into the San Jose airport, take advantage of the ATMs at the airport and pull out the cash you think you’ll need on the trip.  There are two ATMs in Santa Teresa.  I had heard and read reports about the ATMs running out of cash, but didn’t experience that while I was there.  Important note – the grocery store (Super Rony) does take cards, so purchases made there are easy!

2. Dress code is casual AF.  Leave the stilettos at home–not only would they be completely impossible to wear around Santa Teresa, but you’d stick out like a sore thumb.  Remember, this is a surfer’s and yogi’s paradise.  Think lots of athleisure wear, jean shorts, and either sneakers or flip flops.

3. It’s DUSTY.  I knew that Santa Teresa’s main road was unpaved, but nothing really prepared me for the level of dust I encountered.  Any time you leave your hotel or walk along the main road, you’ll get covered in dust from the knees down.  I brought a pair of light closed toe espadrilles as walking shoes, and the one time I wore them they quickly turned beige.  Your best bet is flip flops, ideally ones that can get washed off.  I also found myself showering after most trips into town, just to say feeling clean!  I’d avoid lighter colored shoes, or any that stain easily as well as avoiding maxi length skirts or overly long pants that might drag.

4. Don’t stress about bugs.  If you know me, mosquitoes are drawn to me no matter where I travel.  As such, I was stressed that my trip was going to be ruined by getting eaten alive.  I shouldn’t have worried.  I left Costa Rica relatively bite free (probably less than 5 bites which is miraculous for me!).  I still packed Ben’s 100 DEET% Insect Repellant, and was pretty proactive about applying it — but bugs in general were much less prevalent than I was worried about.

5. If it’s not rainy season, don’t worry about the rain.  One of the top tips I saw when I was researching for my trip was the need for a lightweight but waterproof rain jacket.  I stressed and ordered one on Amazon to make sure I had one for my trip.  I didn’t see a drop of rain the entire week I was there, so unless you’re heading to Santa Teresa during the rainy season, feel free to skip the rain jacket!

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6 Tips for Visiting the Scandinave Spa in Whistler in Winter

The Scandinave Spa in Whistler is such an awesome place to stop and spend a half day!  Especially epic if your legs are killing you after hitting the slopes, but also as a nice treat yoself experience just because.  The Spa is a very quick drive from most of the hotels in the Village, and if you don’t have a car you could easily cab.

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Scandinave a complex of hot and cold pools, saunas, steam rooms, and relaxation rooms as well as treatment rooms for massages in the Scandinavian tradition.  I’m sure it’s fun in the summer, but there’s something incredibly special about enjoying it in winter time, as the steam rises all around you into the cold air.

Two things to note about the Scandinave Spa are that they are an electronics free and silent facility, and they take this VERY seriously.  I saw people admonished (albeit nicely) by the staff for talking and you won’t see any phones out at all.

1. Book a service

Luckily for us Americans, that CAD to USD conversion rate is strongly in our favor!  However, I definitely still feel like it’s worth it to book a service.  Entrance to the baths alone costs you $70.  Here’s the kicker – it’ll cost you $13 extra to rent a robe.  Which is absolutely mandatory with the freezing temps.  While I don’t think the “package” with lunch and robe rental is really worth it, I do think by the time you are considering $83 to just use the base services it’s time to think about a massage.  An hour long Swedish massage will run you $175, which in my mind is worth it.

2. Eat beforehand

While there is a cafe with coffee, tea, juice (bottled not fresh squeezed), some baked goods, and sandwiches it’s a bit overpriced and honestly nothing to write home about.  I’d recommend going to one of the many other eateries in Whistler instead of investing in a meal at the spa.

3. Pack flip flops

When it’s 15°F outside, you’d never think about walking around barefoot with your feet wet.  Unfortunately, the Scandinave Spa doesn’t offer you any flip flops or slippers, and you can’t even rent or purchase any.  When you’re experiencing a 80° drop in temperatures from the pools to the outside temps, you’ll feel it on your feet – HARD.  Luckily, you don’t have to go very far before finding a fireplace or a sauna but I wish I had known this beforehand!

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4. Bring a magazine or book

If you’re one of those people who can silently meditate and enjoy yourself for a few hours, that’s amazing.  That is also… NOT me.  Do yourself a favor and bring a magazine or book for the relaxation rooms.  They are so beautiful and peaceful, but you can begin to feel a little antsy after spending more than 15 minutes in there in complete silence.

5. Remember a hairbrush

While the locker rooms come equipped with hairdryers, lotion, cotton pads, and Q tips, and the showers have shampoo, conditioner, and body wash, there are no disposable combs.  Do yourself a favor and make sure you can comb out and dry your hair (or at least throw it up in a messy bun) before you head back out into the freezing temps.

6. Make a plan

Because the Spa is silent, it’s important to figure out what you and your crew want to do before you head out of the locker room.  Are you one of those people who wants to try the cold plunge pools?  Hate the dry heat of the sauna but love a good steam?  Just want to sit in the heated pools the whole time?  Figure it out beforehand so you’re not trying to decide through a use of excessive hand gestures and facial expressions.   Also, you’re there to relax and it’s no fun stressing to make sure everyone else is having a good time.  Decide if you want to stick together or meet back up at a certain spot before you leave.

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7. Take a picture from just outside the cafe

However, one thing that shouldn’t be missed is a picture from the top of the stairs right outside of the cafe.  I didn’t notice it when I first got in but while I was enjoying the baths I saw multiple people pop out the door on the left side of the cafe and snap a picture of the grounds.  It’s a great viewpoint above all the pools, and since you’re technically not in the baths yet no one will yell at you for using your phone.  I took a picture on our way out, but by that time it was already very dark.

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Top 4 Themes, Ideas, and Trends I Saw at SXSW

SXSW can feel a little bit like being in a super condensed academic setting.  You rush from session to session, doing your best to take it all in.  After having about a week to think about all the things I learned–here are my key takeaways.

Mobile EVERYTHING

It’s important for us as marketers to meet consumers where they are.  And where they are is on their mobile devices all. the. freaking. time.  Not only should you be thinking about this in terms of apps (so social media – Twitter, IG, Facebook, etc) your design strategy should revolve a mobile first mind set.  You can’t just reuse ad assets that were made for something else, whether its a TV spot, print, or email campaign.  Think about how it look son mobile first, then make it sure it looks beautiful on desktop as well.  Also, think about how your consumers are going to interact with your brand beyond just viewing your ad.  Don’t operate in a closed circuit.  One company on a panel I sat in on talked about how they tied mobile receipts to consumers, so they could later serve them ads knowing that  previous transaction had already occurred.  That’s brilliant!

Imagery is King – but video is God

Consumers are becoming more and more visual in nature.  As marketers compete in an increasingly cluttered landscape, they have to find a way to stand out.  “Thumb stopping power” is something we as marketers hear over and over again.  It’s directly related to the visual experience that consumer have.  As they are scrolling through their newsfeeds, they have to see something that makes their thumbs stop, so that they click or investigate further.  We’ve been told in meetings at Facebook that their internal studies have shown that the absolute first thing that users look at is the image — not the copy you put.  So that’s incredibly important to keep in mind as we create ads.  What is the most visually compelling image you can use?

Going one step further, videos are where the ads of the future are going.  Let me correct myself –video is where the digital content of the future is going.  Over and over at SXSW, panelists talked about the importance of video.  On one panel Facebook’s Global Marketing Solutions Director said, “Videos are the fastest growing segment of our ads.”  Marketers who aren’t thinking about how to add video in their matrix will soon find themselves left behind.  One solution we have at my agency for some of our more cost sensitive clients is to create gifs — either via animation or through photo shoots.

Authenticity in marketing

I saw the theme of authenticity in marketing come up in a few distinct ways.  1.  The rise of the influencer  2. Increase of importance in diversity and 3. ads as more than ads.

I firmly believe that there is a significant ROI to be found when it comes to influencer marketing.  As Amber Venz Box said on her panel, she finds influencer marketing to be the cheapest kind of marketing available to advertisers.  She kept referring to influencers as “our peers” which, while I find to be a bit of a stretch is also understandable in context.  Brands our not our friends (at least not typically) we don’t look up to them for advice, we don’t crave the intimate details of their OOTD or their latest vacation trip.  But when it comes to influencers not only do consumers want to consume that content, they seem to have an insatiable appetite for it.

Diversity was another frequently plugged solution for bringing more authenticity to the marketing space.  There were so many panels that focused specifically on women.  As marketers, to forget about the powerful segment that is women is just plain stupid.  But beyond that, beauty and fashion panels talked a lot about increasing the kind of women we are seeing in marketing.  We need to see an increased range of shapes, sizes, colors, ethnicities, etc.  Consumers are no longer being endeared by models who not only look nothing like them – but feel inauthentic and inaccessible.

Because consumers are becoming more and more sensitive to the authenticity in advertising, or as one panelist put it “consumers have a bullshit detector.”  There was a lot of discussion about how to elevate the content of our ads.  Steve Patrizi of Imgur described their attitude of one where they try to give more than they take.  This doesn’t necessarily mean giving away free things or discounts.  It could mean entertainment or content.  As marketers we can’t just think about the business objective, we also have to keep our consumers front and center.  How can we make their interaction with our ads more enjoyable?  We need to inject, storytelling, content, and emotions to connect with them on a more authentic level.

The explosion of VR

Mark my words, before we know it, everyone sitting on transportation will be looking into a VR headset instead of looking down at our phones.  While this may mean wonderful things for our collective postures, what does this mean for marketers?  I see this as the logical next step from the rise of video.  Consumers want an immersive…honestly, almost magical experience.  They want to be transported, tantalized, and transformed from where and who they are.  I had the opportunity to try out Facebook’s Oculus at the Virtual Reality Hall at SXSW and I could have stayed there for a whole day!  By 2025, VR will be pervasive.

Did you attend SXSW?  If so, I’d love to hear what your takeaways were!

Lana

Social Shopping: The Influencer Tech Driving Billions with Amber Venz Box and TechCrunch’s Fitz Tepper

I was super pysched to attend a session on Social Shopping.  Not only am I seeing more and more clients in my marketing work looking to drive visitors on social network to complete e-commerce transactions, but I’m also a huge social shopper.  I follow lots of influencers on social media (especially Instagram) and I’ve certainly purchased pieces of clothing because I’ve seen the piece in a photo online.

It’s funny to me that in my lifetime we’ve seen online shopping transform physical spaces (with the death of malls) but the rise of social media is certainly influencing the digital landscape when it comes to e-commerce.

Amber Venz Box is the co-creator of a company called LIKEtoKNOW.it.  You’ve probably seen little liketoknowit tags on instagram, especially if you follow any fashion, beauty or lifestyle influencers/bloggers.  Basically, LIKEtoKNOW.it was created because instagram doesn’t allow you to post links in your instagram posts, or rather, they do but they aren’t actually clickable.  So if you sign up for this service and like an influencer’s post, you’ll trigger an email notification that tells you where to buy the products featured in the image.  So it really was created to answer a need that wasn’t being fulfilled by the original platform.

There were a few themes from this session that stuck out to me:

The power of mobile:

This was a common theme throughout many of my sessions here at SXSW.  If you are thinking of the way consumers interact with your content – you should first and foremost always be thinking of users on mobile!  We’ve gotten to a point where mobile has become the priority — and everything should be done with a mobile first perspective.  Thinking ahead this means that creative should be optimized for mobile, but then be viewed through the lens of a desktop user as well.  It should look good regardless of platform or operating system, but mobile should be the priority.

The power of images:

As Amber put it, “Conversation is becoming more image based.”  Additionally, google search isn’t cutting it anymore.  Users don’t want to find products that are like the one they are looking for, they are looking for very specific items they want to purchase.  I’ve been working more and more with Pinterest when it comes to our clients.  They see this as a great platform to invest in with great ROI.  Beyond Instagram, Pinterest is a great example of the power of visuals when it comes to connecting to consumers.  When we think about “thumb stopping power” what we are really referring to are images – are they powerful enough to make a consumer sit up and pay attention?  If you have stellar copy and a great product, but a shitty image you aren’t going to find success.

The power of Influencers:

Today, people are getting more and more content from peers than traditional media content.  Even with the explosion of ads on social media, you log on and follow people that you relate too (even if they are influencers).  Traditional media content is part of that consumption, but not he majority of it.  As such, Amber sees the power of influencers only growing.  Plus, she claims its the cheapest form of marketing around.  She also says that influencer marketing is becoming more and more democratized.  It used to be celebrities, but now it’s more relatable people who gain online followings.  She also dispelled the myth of follower count.  She said that one of the most successful influencers on LIKEtoKNOWit only has about 30k instagram followers, but is so powerful in her influence in terms of transactions.

 

SXSW: Product Mavericks: Top Tips From Women Who Build

So, people warn you about this about “South by” (yes, people really call it that)…sometimes you can’t get into the session you planned on attending.  That happened to me on my first day.

My first choice for an afternoon session was cancelled.  My second choice was at capacity.  My third choice was cancelled too.  Which is how I found myself sitting in on a session called, “Product: Mavericks: Top Tips from Women Who Build”.  This session was a panel including a veritable badass lineup of ladies such as:

Fidji Simo: Director of Product at Facebook leading Video, News, and Advertising in Newsfeed.

Merci Grace:  leads the Growth team at Slack

Stephanie Hannon: CTO for Hillary Clinton, Director of Product Management for Social Impact at Google, worked on the Google Wave

Tali Rappaport: VP of Product at Lyft

Even though I’m not a Product Manager, there were some awesome takeaways from this session.

On a Product’s Purpose:

For many of us who work as managers, whether it’s for a project or an account or a product, it can be easy to lose sight of what we were originally tasked to do.  After a few conference calls and email threads you might find yourself in a meeting thinking, “Scope Creep!”.  Fidji Simo emphasized the importance of keeping the original goals and purpose in mind.  Think to yourself, “What is the primitive we are trying to test?”  I remember one of my most successful social projects I’ve done so far.  I loved the way that we structured our social assets because every single creative choice we made was done to answer a question that could inform future decisions.  So, it might be a question like, “Does X messaging drive more sales?” or “Does X imagery perform better than Y imagery?”.  Fidji Simo used the example of Facebook Live.  Even though since it’s launch many features have been added, her team always keeps in mind the original goal of the product which was to have a conversation and to get feedback from your community.

It was interesting to keep this in mind with regards to the fake news phenomenon during the US election (especially since the panel included both a Facebook and former Clinton campaign employee!).  Fidji Simo said it was important to have strong principles you can fall back on.  This means, when you have to make a decision in a moment, you aren’t just reacting, but rather are relying on what you’ve already identified as important principles to guide your decision making.  I think we can argue about whether or not they made the right decision when it comes to fake news on Facebook’s platform, but certainly they stayed true to their value of uninhibited expression.  I remember once attending a speech by former South Carolina Governer (now UN ambassador) Nikki Haley, who said she had a 24 hour rule for decisions.  When something happened, she would consider her options for a full day before executing her strategy.  I’m not in a place to determine whether or not this philosophy always worked in her favor, but there certainly seems to be a common theme here in terms of not making decisions in the moment or through gut instinct, but rather having some sort of logical framework to help you.

On Change:

In today’s business world, timelines are so much shorter than they used to be.  Everyone is constantly looking for the next big thing that will make it big.  This means that companies should take a portfolio approach and not just be focused on one single thing.  It also means you have to encourage a culture of change at your company — where change is embraced and change is rewarded.  Inertia is something I’ve recognized we all easily fall victim to–and in a creative/agency setting it’s absolutely dangerous.  We have to make sure we are constantly challenging the status quo whether that is with the work we are producing for clients or even if it’s the way we internally create the work.  For example, brainstorming.  It’s important to try different techniques and methods to avoid creative burnout and keep people excited about the projects we are working on.

On Failure:

Failure is one of those words in SF that I feel like doesn’t mean what it used to mean.  Now it’s all about “failing faster” so you can rebuild as if you are some kind of metaphorical phoenix.  Merci Grace said, “We need to stop pretending that Silicon Valley embraces failure.”  And she mentioned this especially in the context of being a woman in tech.  She explained, “I know a bunch of men who have had the opposite expeirnee.  If you’re a dude, you an fail and then go raise a bunch of money to fail two or three more times before someone stops you.”  This got a bunch of laughs from the room, but it was also kind of sad.  Stephanie Hannon who worked on a product called Google Wave (which I didn’t know existed–oops!) explained that she had grown to not let fear of failure hold her back.  Her advice was to not be afraid to try big things, because even if they don’t succeed there is always the opportunity to take the learnings from that failure and implement it on future products or work.  For example some of the features they created for Google Wave were later used in products like gmail and and google docs.

On being a working woman:

I feel like it’s always easy to talk about the challenges of being a female in the working world (hello! I’ve read Lean In like 3 times), but it means so much more coming from women who aren’t quasi-celebrities and who are still “making it”.  There were a lot of helpful tips from the panel such as:

“People will underestimate you and you can use that to your advantage.” – Merci Grace

“I learned a lot just from listening.  I got an inside view from executives.” – Fidji Simo

“Say what you don’t know and be curious.  Put yourself in a scary situation and find a way to thrive there.” – Stephanie Hannon

“Realize that you have more power than you think you do.” – Fidji Simo

“Break the negative self talk.  You are often your own worst enemy.  You are going to get a lot of negative feedback.  One of the most important things is being right with yourself.” -Merci Grace

I’ve been really impressed by the female leaders, speakers, and panelists that SXSW has had on the schedule.  It’s made me feel really inspired about what I can accomplish when I get back to work!

 

 

 

SXSW: Keynote Speaker Cory Booker

Today was my first day of my first trip to South by Southwest!  What a time to be alive.

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I kicked off my day with the keynote speech with Cory Booker.  It was a little surprising to see him at SXSW but Joe Biden is coming as well, so I guess SXSW is getting a little political this year.  His speech focused on one theme: love.

He claimed that we were all here at SXSW because we were part of a “massive conspiracy of love.”  Eh, that might be a little bit of a stretch, although I’d wager to say that the majority of people come to the conference because they are passionate about what they do.  It’s no surprise that a ton of tech, film, music, and marketing folks descending on a city like Austin lean a little to the left.

He also focused quite a bit on the difference between tolerance and love, which I thought was an interesting distinction given much of the political discourse in this country.  As he explained: “Tolerance builds fences, love tears them down.  Tolerance crosses the street when it sees you coming, love embraces you.  Tolerance says I don’t need you.  Love says you are essential.”  

I loved this part of his talk, because it touches upon a subject that is very close to my heart.  I love America because we are a place where diversity should be celebrated not just tolerated.  Our differences make us stronger as a whole.

Booker also shared his through that Americans share a “civic gospel”.  We see common refrains in our documents, our songs, etc. such as “Liberty and Justice for all”.  There are universal beliefs, values and ideals that we all hold to be dear to us as a people and a nation.

He did touch upon the challenges of technology in this day in age, and how it can actually serve to disconnect us from each other instead of just connecting us, because we create our own virtual bubbles around our individual lives where we are no longer seeing people who are different than us.  This compounds our confirmation bias, and as he put it “Not seeing each other creates a very dangerous reality.”  

Technology is an incredible tool, but like any tool it can damage as much as it creates.  I definitely see this in my own life.  When I see news on my Facebook feed or my Twitter feed, they are usually stories that fit within my own world view as a moderate who skews left.  My Facebook feed is a little more diverse because when friends of mine (especially Southern friends) share news articles they don’t always come from the same sources or come to the same conclusions as the news sources that I typically read.  In that sense, I also think that technology can be an incredible tool to connect us with those who we don’t disagree with.  If we make the assumption that we self-segregate based on politically beliefs, and this conscious or sub-conscious grouping is echoed in geographical patterns, it can be hard for you to find people who disagree with you politically within a realistic physical range.  Technology makes distance obsolete.  It enables you to get a better understanding of what someone in Oklahoma is thinking about, even if you live in California.  Is there a way for us to leverage technology to increase our understanding of one another?  Is there a way for us to create digital pen pals to help fight the polarization of beliefs?  His talk left me with a lot to think about.

5 Tips For Anyone Planning a Solo Cross Country Road Trip

Driving across the country on my own was certainly a learning experience.  There were so many people, places, experiences, things that I was exposed to for the first (and maybe last time of my life).  But, if I were to do things over, there are some things that I would do differently.

Now that I’m a veteran of the solo cross country drive, here are 5 things I wish someone would have told me before I headed west, and what I’d share with anyone who might be looking for advice.

1. Eat out less.

Listen, I know almost all of us can be united with our mutual love of a good Chik-fil-a sandwich.  But, the sad fact of the matter is, those things are NOT good for your body.  Neither are disgusting roadside McDonald’s Chicken Tenders and soggy fries, or countless bags of spicy cajun bar mix.  Sometimes, eating fast food is inevitable on the road, like when you find yourself between Austin and Marfa at 11:00 PM and it’s pitch black and when you finally come across a rest stop it’s like a freaking oasis in the desert.  I should have taken the opportunity while I could to stock up on items at Whole Foods or other grocery stores when I could.  If I would have done it all over again, I would have invested in a mini cooler in the car to keep berries, pineapple slices, hummus, carrots etc to keep on hand when I was starving but there was nothing available or convenient.

2.  Splurge on the occasional fancy nice hotel.

Driving across the country can be expensive.  Meals, gas, lodging, etc can really start to add up.  I tried to be as budget conscious as possible, but staying at motel night after night really started to stress me after several nights.  Although I was lucky to stay with friends a few times on the trip, I can’t tell you what non-stop nomadic travel starts to do to your psyche after a while.  It’s like you become a cranky little toddler.  Splurging on a nice hotel and feeling like you can take your shoes off and crawl under the covers without thinking,
“Wonder how many mid-level prostitutes have been in this room before…” can do wonders to salve your soul.  Oh, and a nice, long, hot, bubble bath.

3.  Download more podcasts/audio books/Spotify playlists.

This one might seem pretty self explanatory, but I was obviously super clueless here.  When you drive through rural Mississippi and the only station for 3 hours is either gospel music or a fire and brimstone preacher telling you that he’s pretty sure we are all damned because of the “homosexuals and feminists” believe me you are going to be desperate for any other type of auditory stimulation, even if its a 5 year old interview from Fresh Air.  Although, I have to admit, cruising the local talk radio stations can be fun — but only for the first hour or so.  If I was going to do it all over again, I’d make sure I always had a mix of things to listen to: serious books on audible I always claim I’d get around to reading, fun fast paced ones like The Hunger Games, some emo music when I’m feeling weepy, some head banging tunes when I’m scared I’m going to fall asleep at the well, and a smattering of podcasts for when you’re feeling lonely, curious, or just want to hear someone and not think for a minute.

4.  Exercise more.

I know, I know.  This is probably applicable to every situation in your life.  We could always use some time off of our butts and getting our bodies moving.  But this advice is doubly important when you are spending all day every day sitting in a car.  Eating Chik-fil-a sandwiches.  And Oreo McFlurries.  I personally would recommend finding a studio or gym that offers classes, because it’s nice to feel connected with other people even if it’s just for an hour.  I went to a barre3 studio in Mobile, and it was so great to spend the class with friendly, sweet people (and the owner even knew the gal who owned my previous barre3 studio!).  I left feeling re-energized and ready to take on the rest of the day. I did do some (minimal) hiking as well but–not enough.  And, you always push yourself harder in a class anyways.

5.  Be flexible.

Even though I didn’t always have a plan, I still felt an undeniable need to keep going west every single day.  I wish that I would have just relaxed a little bit, and realized that I had no deadline to getting back home, nothing was going to go terribly wrong if I stretched out my stay by a day or two.  I definitely would have done this for my time in Natchez (don’t know if I’ll ever make it back there and that’s a real shame!), and it would have been nice to do it for a few other places too.  I felt on many occasions on my drive back west that there were a lot of lessons to be learned on the road.  Learning to take a deep breath and do something that is not what I had originally planned is not necessarily in my nature.  But sometimes the most wonderful moments are the ones you didn’t expect or plan for.  Cliche, maybe, but definitely true.

Do you have any tips for solo cross country travelers?  Leave them in the comments below!

Favorite Memories From My Road Trip – 3 Months Later

When all is said and done, my road trip totaled somewhere between 2,600 to 3,000 miles.  That is A LOT!  To give you some perspective, the distance between Paris and Moscow is 2,800 miles.  Cairo to Casablanca is just shy of 3,000 miles.  Buenos Aires to Lima is about the same.  That’s the crazy thing about America — It’s just so goddamn big.  On any other continent, I would have been passing through different countries, with their own unique languages and cuisines (Although arguably, I did experience lots of different dialects and food on my trip).

While there are almost 3,000 miles of memories I know I’ll value greatly, probably forever, there are a few moments that stick out as absolutely my favorite.

The Rainbow Tunnels in Birmingham, AL:  Even though these tunnels were not quite what Pinterest built them up to be, seeing them late at night on my first day on the road was kind of magical.  I don’t think it was even the aesthetics of them.  I can just so clearly remember that feeling of anxiety, excitement, nervousness on doing this thing completely on my own.  I think in that tunnel what I was experiencing more than anything else was freedom.

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The drive to Dauphin Island, AL:  This was such a “Southern” drive to me.  I remember the feeling of excitement in the car as Remy and I kept seeing snippets of the ocean.  It was an absolute scorcher, and I kept trying to leave the windows rolled down to catch the breeze before giving up and blasting the AC.  Every store, house, building we passed seemed to fit right in even though none of them were the same and I am left with an overwhelming memory of brightness and color.

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Driving up to Longwood in Natchez, MS: This was a dream come true to me.  Big plantation homes and the live oaks covered in spanish moss are one of my favorite things about the South.  I loved taking visitors to Charleston while I lived in Columbia, and going on adventures to see all of the amazing historical homes in South Carolina.  I knew this was probably the last plantation home I’d be on for a long while and I soaked up the splendor of it.

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Seeing Perri in Houston, TX:  I didn’t realize how much I needed to see a friendly face until I got to her house, but I was tired, hungry, and getting a little lonely.  The joy of fellowship with her revived my soul a little bit.

My day of adventures in Austin, TX:  In case you don’t remember, I freaking loved Austin.  Ready to go back already!

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The drive out of Marfa, TX: Leaving Marfa I wanted to stop every 5 minutes for pictures.  The landscape was so overwhelmingly beautiful and immense.  I would have pitched a tent and stayed there watching the grass grow if I would have had the time.

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Sky City/Acoma Pueblo:  There are two very distinct memories in my mind when I think back to New Mexico and they both come from my visit to Sky City in the Acoma Pueblo (sorry the entire rest of the state).  At the end of my tour, I walked back from the mesa to the cultural center.  In order to get down to the main road, we had to go down a series of steps/footholds that had been carved into the rock.  It was an incredible experience to use the same foot and handholds that had been used for generations of people on the mesa.  I felt a sense of connection to the people who had walked in literally the same footsteps I was walking in at that very moment.  The second memory is one that I never shared on this blog.  When I left the cultural center and headed back to the main highway I was stopped on this rural road by a herd of horses.  I’m not sure if they belonged to someone on the pueblo or if they were wild because they had no brands, or halters, or anything.  I rolled down the window to watch them cross over the road and into the desert.  As I sat there watching them, one of the fillies turned back around and looked at me.  I’ve loved horses my entire life and have spent a lot of time around them.  But that moment was incredibly special to me.

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Seeing the red rocks of Sedona, AZ:  One of the overarching themes of my trip was the inescapable beauty of the landscape of America.  Sedona served to reinforce this theme.  Another place I wish I could have spent more time.

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Hitting the California border in a town I don’t know the name of: This felt so surreal to me, but even then I recognized that this was a huge and happy moment.

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Staying at the Westin in Mammoth Lakes, CA:  Mammoth Lakes you are so beautiful (and of course, I was so shocked by the SNOW), but my memory from this leg of my trip will ALWAYS be about the sumptuous comfort of my amazing heavenly bed, deep bathtub, and roaring fireplace.  Not even embarrassed about it.

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The drive out of Yosemite:  Even though I still had a distance to cover once I got out of the National Park, this drive felt like the last part of my true road trip.  And, it was one of the most stunning stretches with amazing scenery ever inch of the way.

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Surprised at what I still remember 3 months later?  Me too!  Here are some highlights I thought for sure would have made this list before my trip:

Hot air balloon ride in Albuquerque (if you recall, this was a big splurge for me!)

Basically everything about New Mexico

The Grand Canyon

Don’t worry–a post about what I wish I would have done differently is sure to come soon!

What inspired me to quit my job and move across the country or why I think you should be happy

For a few months before I decided to quit my job and move across the country, I stared at this quote from where I’d taped it just to the right of my monitor.  Every day I’d look at it and think, am I who I want to be?  Am I where I want to be?  Am I doing what I want to be doing?  And if the answer to those questions are no, what am I going to do about it?

Here’s the thing that we all know, even if we don’t voice it: Starting over is freaking hard.  And it’s scary!  Change is hard, anything new is hard, because the law of inertia applies to each and every one of us.  Even if we don’t love what we are doing, sometimes it’s easier to just stay stuck in our rut and live the life we are already comfortable with.

But do you want your life to be comfortable?  Or do you want your life to be incredible?  Do you want to wake up every day with your brow already furrowed?  Or do you want to open your eyes and say, what are we doing today?  Because, I don’t know about you but I want more than just a series of days that add up to weeks, and then months, and then years.

I’ve never been a super timid person, but like everyone else I had gotten into my groove.  I was comfortable.  I had a job that paid the bills, a long term relationship, an apartment that I loved even if it was always messy, a dog that greeted me like a hero coming home every day at 5:30.  But deep down, I was getting no fulfillment from my work, and I never looked forward to the tasks waiting for me on my desk.  When you are spending 40 hours a week (at least!) on something, it’s important that it brings you not just money but some sense of accomplishment/pride/joy or some combination of all three.  Just because your job is feeding you bank account, doesn’t mean it’s nourishing YOU.

This is something really difficult to talk about, and I found myself saying things like “I can’t complain, I have a job!” whenever people asked me about my work.  I recognize that there are so many people out there that would be beyond grateful to have any job at all, and I was worried to put out into the universe how much I disliked what I was doing in case it made me seem ungrateful or selfish.  But we aren’t put on this planet to settle.  I strongly believe that part of our journey is to strive for that green light across the water, whatever that green light means to you.

It wasn’t that I woke up one morning and decided I wanted a new life.  But over time, I recognized that I wasn’t happy.  So I want to issue a challenge to you––Are YOU happy?  Maybe not all day, every day.  But most days do you come home and say, “it was a good day”?  Or are you coming home sad, frustrated, angry, depressed?  Do you notice the things around you, or are you walking around in a fog, just trying to make it through the day?  Because the only way to change any of that is if you decide to action.

Change is scary.  I had a lot of doubts.  I thought about keeping my job and just moving to California because that would be the safer more secure path.  I was worried that I was too old for a career change and that I’d have to start over from scratch.  I was worried that I would never find someone to be with and that I’d be alone for the rest of my life.  But I decided I couldn’t let fear hold me back.  Like the quote says, “It’s never too late… to be whoever you want to be.”  If you aren’t satisfied with who you are right now, it is never too late to change.  And every moment you spend being unhappy is a moment wasted that you will never get back.

So, I walked into work, gave my 2 week notice, gave half of my things away to Goodwill, sold most of my furniture on Craigslist, packed up my car and drove off into the sunset (just kidding it was like 2 pm when I left).

What I really want to leave you with is this: “I hope you live a life you are proud of, and if you are not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again.”  There are many ways to measure success––money, cars, house, clothes, status, job title.  But I want to be proud of my life.  I want to have that feeling of contentment in my soul.  I want to be able to meet my eyes in the mirror and smile.  I want to run out into the world with my arms wide open.

If you are aching for change but are too scared to take action, I hope this post inspires you to become the protagonist in your own life story.  Quit the job you hate, get out of the relationship you were stuck in, move to a city you love.  And start living a life you are proud of.

*PS the quote I shared is actually misattributed to F. Scott Fitzgerald.  It was written by Eric Roth for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.  Which means, the person who really said this was Brad Pitt… so basically the same thing.

Mammoth Lakes, CA to Orinda, CA

Have you noticed a little time lapse in my last post of my road trip?  I have a tendency to delay the end of things… which is why almost a year after binge watching all the episodes, I’ve never seen the show finale of Numb3rs (a highly underrated crime drama featuring a brother duo of an FBI agent and his genius mathematician brother).

But, I’m back now and want to finish were I left off–the 2nd to last day of my road trip.

After probably the best night’s sleep of my road trip, thanks to Westin’s Heavenly beds, I woke up and thought I would have a lingering last morning in the mountains.  Instead of eating out, I decided to get some takeout and enjoy my beautiful fireplace and comfy sofa before my last drive back home.  I headed over to Old New York Deli & Bakery Co. Omelette and bagel in tow, I leisurely meandered back to my hotel room.  I thought the rest of my morning would follow this relaxed tone, but the weather had other plans!  All of a sudden, I look out my window and it’s snowing.  In a panic, I throw all my stuff together and haul my bags out the door.  I head down to grab my car from the valet, who tells me that I’m probably going to have to drive up to Lake Tahoe to make it back home, since all of the passes through Yosemite are still closed.  How fun.

I settle myself in, and after about 30 minutes of driving I see a sign saying that Tioga Pass is open.  I say a little prayer and make the turn into Yosemite National Park.  The ranger station is tiny, with just one window open.  When I make my way through the line, I tentatively ask the ranger if I’ll be able to make it through.  He responds first by saying “What a cute dog!”  I’m thinking, I KNOW DUDE JUST TELL ME IF THE PASS IS CLEAR! He then goes on to tell me that the pass is open… for now.  Given that it’s snowing, they aren’t sure how long it’ll stay that way.

Did you learn about the Donner party in school?  I feel like we were taught about how they got stuck in a bizarre snow storm in the spring.  Well, I would have been in the Donner party… because who the hell is expecting snow in May?!  Not me.

Even though I knew I had to hustle through the park, I wanted to make sure that I got a chance to appreciate the beauty of Yosemite too. Tioga Pass is a great way to do this, because it takes you through a great variety of features of Yosemite all from the ease and convenience of your car and a few different turnouts.

The first placed we stopped was at Tenaya Lake.

  

This lake was such an amazing beautiful steel blue!  The fog seemed to be hovering just above it.

I also stopped at Olmsted Point.  From this viewpoint, you can look southwest into Yosemite Valley.

You can also see Half Dome in the distance.

Of course we also took the opportunity to get out of the car and run around a little bit as soon as it stopped snowing!


This was only the second national park I went to on my trip (the other being Grand Canyon National Park which, if you read my blog post you’ll know, was a total flop).  I was glad to be able to come through Yosemite Park, as it was a part of my original route from day 1.  But, in this drive, I also recognized that Yosemite is really not that far from the Bay Area at all!  And this got me super pumped for all future weekend trips I’ll be able to make here now that I’m back living in California.

The one thing I do want to note, is that Yosemite is not particularly dog friendly.  You can really only take your dog in developed areas and paved paths/roads.  This means if you want to go on a more strenuous hike, you’ll have to do it solo.

The rest of our drive home was pretty uneventful.  Remy fell asleep pretty much immediately…guess those windy roads slowly lulled him to sleep.

We stopped for a little snack at a roadside fruit stand, and I drove the last few hours home deep in thought.

I couldn’t believe that this 12 day long adventure was coming to an end.  I’d made it!  Was it what I had expected?  In some ways, yes, and in other ways, I was surprised by some of the experiences that I had along the way.

Going on a cross country road trip had been on my bucket list for a long time.  I never thought it would be something that I would do on my own.  I learned a lot, met people I probably never would have otherwise, seen places far off the beaten path and thought a lot about what makes America, America.  Not to get too deep on you.

I also learned about myself.  In the end, I was proud that I made it!

Getting back to my parents house, I was all smiles!  My sisters were waiting for me, and we feasted on a delicious meal of Thai takeout.

I’m planning on posting some more wrap up posts about my road trip, as well as about some of my other adventures I’ve been on since making it back to CA.

But, before all that, thank you for following along on this journey.  Thank you if you were one of those people who commented, texted me, or called me when I was bored on one of my 7 hour drives through nowhere.  Thank you for all of you who encouraged me when I was feeling low, or told me that they were proud of me for going on this adventure.  Even though I was alone on this journey, it made a huge difference to know I had friends, acquaintances and sometimes even strangers who were rooting for me along the way.

Distance traveled: 269 miles

Low: Freaking out about snows closing the passes in Yosemite

High: Getting home!