Traveling Within Borders

If you have been keeping up with my blog you will know that I recently went on my first road trip about a month ago. It was a fantastic spring break, but it also made me realize something special. Travel is not limited to crossing international borders. I am always thinking about where the next stamp on my passport will be from, but what if I instead traveled to destinations within my own country? Living in the United States, there is so much to see and do within the country that I had never thought much about before.

United States License Plates

Don’t get me wrong, international travel is amazing, but it is not always an affordable or realistic option for everyone. Sometimes, a little travel within your own borders is enough to fuel that travel bug temporarily. It is so cool to be able to drive a few hours away and discover such a different location and lifestyle. The United States is such a large country that has so much to offer. There are mountains, beaches, national parks, festivals, big cities, lots of different food and music, and more.

Travel is not so much about where you are, it’s about exploration of yourself and a unique place and culture. It’s about opening yourself up to new experiences and trying different kinds of food or music for the first time. It’s about talking to the locals and hearing someone else’s story or meeting new friends. Travel is engaging in the moment and learning something you did not know before. You can travel across the world or to a neighboring city and still discover a fresh idea or viewpoint. Wherever you go, take advantage of the many possibilities that this world has to offer and don’t let those little moments slip away.

Music, Art, and Vampires

Of course, we had to start off our last full day in New Orleans with early morning beignets from Cafe DuMonde. We enjoyed the beautiful weather and indulged in the doughy, powder sugary goodness while looking over the Mississippi River.

Cafe Du Monde Mississippi River New Orleans Mississippi River

Next up: shopping! We walked over to the French Market to buy some New Orleans goodies and went in some of the other shops along Decatur Street. One of those shops was the Pepper Palace. This place was awesome and deadly at the same time. They have free samples of just about every salsa, hot sauce, and more that they sell. I love spicy foods, so I decided to go for one of the hotter salsas. Bad idea. I happened to try their scorpion salsa and my face got all red and my throat was on fire. However, I would definitely suggest checking this place out if you are in town- just be more careful about what you are tasting!

After we spent plenty of time shopping, we continued exploring the French Quarter and took advantage of the many musicians playing live on the streets. One of the bands was The Smoking Time Jazz Club. You can see a short video below of them performing one of their songs. Later on at night we also saw some of Davide Martello’s performance. Davide goes by the musician name of Klavierkunst and plays beautifully on his piano. I enjoyed his music so much that I even bought one of his CDs. You can check out some segments of his tracks on his website.

The Smoking Time Jazz Club

The Smoking Time Jazz Club

Then we headed to The Beach to get some drinks and bask in what felt like 90 degree weather on their outdoor patio. After being entertained for a few hours, we ventured off to check out some of the different artists selling their work on the street. Although you are not allowed to take photos of their artwork, we did get the names of a few artists whose work really stood out. My favorite was the work by Alan Zakem. Zakem Art creates contemporary pieces of city nightlife that are colorful and eye catching. Soon, we headed to Pierre Maspero’s for dinner and then caught some of the St. Patrick’s Day parade after we left.

NOLA St. Patrick's Day Parade

Next we went back to Jackson Square to get ready for our Vampire Tour! This is a tour we could not pass up. We booked the tour with Haunted History Tours, and got to walk around the French Quarter while learning about the different potentially vampire related incidents that happened all over the city. After an exciting day and a spooky night, we wrapped up our spring break adventure and got some rest for the long drive home we had ahead of us the next day.

Soaking Up New Orleans

What better way to start our first full day in New Orleans than by going to a cemetery? We went to St. Louis Cemetary No. 1 and walked around inside to see all the above ground tombs. It is the oldest cemetery in New Orleans and has been in existence since 1789. St Louis Cemetery No 1 St Louis Ceremony No 1 St Louis Cemetery No 1 St Louis Cemetery No 1 St Louis Cemetery No 1St Louis Cemetery No 1

It was really cool to walk through and think about how old some of the tombs were and who these people and families were during their lifetimes. One of the tombs that the cemetery is famous for is Marie Laveau, a Louisiana Creola practitioner of Voodoo. Although I did not participate, many tourists believe an old rumor that if they wanted their wish granted by Laveau, they had to draw an X on her tomb, turn around 3 times, knock on the tomb, and yell out their wish. If it was granted, they needed to come back to the tomb, circle their X, and leave an offering for Laveau.

Marie LaveauMariw Laveau's Tomb

Amidst all the decades-old history, decaying tombs, and legends associated with the cemetery, there is the pyramid tomb seen in the photo below. Since we were not on a guided tour of the cemetery, I would just Google general information or certain tombs that looked interesting. So that is what I did when we came across this tomb. To my surprise, I discovered that this was to be the final resting place of Nicolas Cage. He purchased the last two side by side plots in 2010 to have this pyramid built. Because why wouldn’t you need a 9-foot tall pyramid to spend all of your eternity in?

Nicolas Cage Pyramid

Omnia Ab Uno (Everything From One)

After the cemetery, we took a walk down Bourbon Street and started out with a drink as we continued on our day in the French Quarter.

New Orleans

We then headed to get some lunch at Cafe Amelie. Hands down, my favorite restaurant we ate at in New Orleans. There were a lot of good ones, but this place definitely tops them all. We started out with the satsuma pepper glazed shrimp, which I thought couldn’t be topped. That is, until our entree of the amelie shrimp pasta arrived. The savory flavors and fresh ingredients of the food along with the peaceful, garden ambiance make this restaurant a winner in my book.

Cafe Amelie Cafe Amelie

Satsuma Pepper Glazed Shrimp

Satsuma Pepper Glazed Shrimp

Amelie Shrimp Pasta

Amelie Shrimp Pasta

We continued our day by more walking around the French Quarter. Then we headed back to Bourbon Street to have some drinks and a crab cake appetizer at The Embers. We got a perfect seat on the balcony overlooking Bourbon Street where we could people watch and enjoy our food and enormous drinks.

Crab CakesBourbon DrinksKrazy KornerBeads on Bourbon Bourbon Street

After our snack and more walking, we headed to Crescent City Brewhouse for a delicious dinner and live jazz music. This long and exhausting day would lead to another long and fun filled one up next!

On The Road Again, Heading To NOLA!

Road Trip 2014

Although I would have loved to stay longer in Pigeon Forge, we had New Orleans ahead of us and I couldn’t be more excited! First, we had a few pit stops to make along the way. We stopped in Chattanooga, Tennessee and ate at Urban Stack, which was delicious and very affordable. Make sure you get a milkshake to go with their amazing burgers if you eat there! Next, we stopped in Tuscaloosa at the University of Alabama. Such an awesome campus with massive buildings! Then we powered through the rest of our drive as great food, music, and more awaited us in NOLA!

Russell Hall Alabama Business Building Bryant-Denny Stadium

When we finally arrived in New Orleans, we checked into the hotel and headed straight into town to get some dinner. We ate at Cochon, which was a fantastic start to New Orleans dining. We of course had to order some fried alligator, which was my favorite at this restaurant out of all the fried alligator we ate. At Cochon, the alligator is served with a chili garlic mayonnaise sauce that tops off the dish. We also ordered the catfish courtbouillon which was another tasty dish. Satisfied by a delicious meal, we relaxed after our long day and prepared for another great day to come.

Alligator and Catfish

Only YOU Can Prevent Wildfires

Smokey the Bear

A few hours later and we arrived in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee! As we entered the town it was like we were in some childhood dream. There were so many fun activities for kids to do, or adults that want to get a little taste of their childhood again. Although it took a while to find our cabin up the steep and curvy mountain roads, we finally made it! The scenery was breathtaking as the view from the porch looked out over the Smokey Mountains, and the cabin itself was spacious and cozy. We stayed at the Sherwood Forest Resort Treehouse Cabin, and the pictures shown on the booking page do not do it justice. There was a wraparound porch with a jacuzzi and grill included, two bedrooms, two bathrooms and a large kitchen that comfortably fit 6 people. They even had a pool table and PacMan game upstairs. It was a fantastic place to stay that I would definitely recommend.

Smoky Mountains

After finally making our way to the cabin and settling in, we decided to go into town and have some tasty barbecue from Bennett’s Pit Bar-B-Que. We stuffed ourselves to the max, did some grocery shopping for lunch and dinner the next day, and headed back to the cabin where we had a relaxing night hanging out in the jacuzzi. The next day in Pigeon Forge was packed with adventure and fun. We started out the day with white water rafting on the Pigeon River! Although I do not have any pictures to share, it was tons of fun and something that I would love to do again. Next up, we headed across the border into North Carolina to do some hiking on the Appalachian Trail. It was a beautiful hike and I wish we had time to go farther. We hiked up the trail and ventured off the path a few times to get close to the water, which was so clear and blue! Everything seemed so clean and it was great to be out in the fresh air.

Hiking

Appalachian Trail

Hiking Trail

Beautiful Blue

Clear Water

Waterfall

After a long and tiring day, we stopped to pick up some Red Bulls and headed back to the cabin to shower and grill up some dinner. Afterwards, we hit the town to get a little taste of childhood fun again. We went to the FunStop where we rode go karts and played games in the arcade. I even got a fun dip to snack on with part of my winning tickets. Overall, this was another successful stop on our journey as we continued on to New Orleans the following day.

FunStop

Pigeon Forge

Shark Shot

Road Trip 2014: Nashville and Onwards!

This year I spent my final spring break on my first ever road trip in the company of great friends. The first stop was Nashville, Tennessee. The first night there we started with dinner at Saint Anejo for some delicious Mexican cuisine. We splurged a bit and ended up with tons of delicious food.

Saint Anejo

We went out on Broadway and enjoyed lots of live music. The next day involved plenty more live music as we spent the day on Broadway again and went to the different bars. We started out at Tootsies and soaked in the beautiful, sunny weather on their rooftop patio. Nashville was a great way to start the road trip. Next up, Pigeon Forge!

Tootsies Broadway Broadway NashvilleTootsies Crew Honky Tonk

Judge Thy Neighbor As Thyself?

We each have our own beliefs, and that belief system has been shaped (and will continue to evolve) over time by our experiences and by other people, whether they are close friends or just acquaintances. I believe it is important to stand up for your beliefs, as here in the United States and in many other parts of the world everyone is entitled to their own opinions.  But trying to impose those opinions upon others is just plain wrong.

One person’s belief is no more true than the next. Now I won’t go all philosophical on you, but basically everything you believe is based upon something, whether it be your parents, your friends, where you grew up, etc. However, if someone else has a different belief than yours, that does not make them wrong. Or right for that matter. They simply just disagree.

Fight The Assumptions

Having an open mind does not mean throwing out everything you stand for and “searching” for new beliefs. It is about listening and trying your best to understand, without judgment. It can be hard to listen to someone with a strongly opposing viewpoint to your own without automatically making assumptions about them. But guess what? These reactions are completely natural. They are a normal part of human nature that are necessary for survival. By making assumptions we can make inferences about situations that guide us to take appropriate actions. For instance, we know that it is not safe to walk down a dark alley alone at night. So we would infer that it is dangerous to take the short cut home through the alley. This action is based on an assumption that could be life saving.

But consider this example. A doctor in the emergency room receives a patient that is the victim of a car accident. The doctor sees the patient and says, “He needs surgery, but I can’t operate on him. He’s my son!” The doctor is telling the truth but is not the boy’s father, as most people would initially assume. The doctor is the boy’s mother. It is common for people to assume that doctors are male, and most people will not even realize they are making this assumption.

Our inferences are based on the assumption actually being true, and this is where the faults in human nature kick in. In contrast to what some people might believe, we are not always right! Our assumptions may be completely off, leading to judgments of others. Each person has a unique set of experiences shaping their values and beliefs that will impact how they perceive different situations, which is evident especially when traveling. Assumptions can vary significantly between cultures, and these assumptions account for some of the major differences you will begin to notice after spending time in another country. This is why it is so important to consider the perspectives of others when differences are present, as I talked about in my last blog post.

It will take regular practice, but the more we can distinguish between what is fact and what is inference based on our own viewpoint, the more we can expand our outlook and be more open minded. And we all know, sometimes it is just best to simply agree to disagree.

Little Matters,
Marissa

Shake Up Your Perspective

Reality can differ from person to person. That reality is all about each individual’s perspective. How you view the world can shape your opinions and beliefs and determine what you see as reality. This TED Talks video is a short talk, but it conveys an important message that really struck me. Raghava makes it clear that his religion knows no barriers. And he aims for the same with the children’s books for iPad that he creates. By simply giving the iPad a shake, the parents of the child in the story can change from a lesbian to gay to straight couple. Raghava believes in not limiting children to one single “bias,” and rather teaching them multiple biases in which the world is viewed.

“Teaching perspectives is the best way to teach creativity.”

He goes on to say that by teaching perspectives, kids will be able to put themselves in the shoes of someone who is different from them even at an early age. Misunderstandings tend to occur because of differing perspectives. If we understand how to acknowledge the viewpoints of others (even if we do not necessarily agree with them), we can transcend boundaries and get much more out of our experiences internationally as well as right in our own hometowns.

Little Matters,
Marissa

7 Packing Essentials For Volunteering Abroad

Do Something

Preparing for a volunteer abroad trip can be a bit intimidating and overwhelming. Above all, it is important to do your own research based on the work you will be doing and the location you will be traveling to. I am sharing the following 7 essentials to help get you started with your packing.

1. Snacks
If you love food as much as I do, you will not regret bringing whatever snacks you can squeeze in your luggage. Not just is it nice to grab a quick snack out of your bag, but it can save you some money instead of buying more expensive food at your destination. Energy/protein bars are a great option to fill you up and grab on-the-go. Nuts, seeds, and crackers are other good options to carry along. Always keep in mind the regulations in airports and what food you can and cannot bring into the country you are headed to.

2. Face wipes
Especially if you are heading to a warm climate, you will have many hot and sweaty days. Having some cool, refreshing face wipes at the end of the day is like a breath of fresh air. I brought along these Yes to Cucumbers hypoallergenic facial towelettes, and they are perfect for travel. The brand has a bunch of different kinds too if you want another scent or a kind for a certain skin type. These are compact enough to take with you on the plane too, and feel great when freshening up after a long flight.

Yes to Cucumbers

3. Mosquito Net
This is not applicable for all locations, but depending on where you go it may be in your best interest to bring along a mosquito net. I got this net for only $13.95 on Amazon.com and it worked great! It was easy to set up and folded up into a bag to fit nicely in my luggage without taking up much space. See how it worked for me in my post “Welcome to Africa!” Feel weird about sleeping under a net? It is not as bad as you might think. It actually made me feel safe and comfortable!

Emergency Zone Canopy Mosquito Net

4. Bug Spray
Bug spray is a must if you are going to a warm climate with lots of mosquitoes. Although you may have used regular bug spray before, you will likely want to purchase a more heavy duty repellent with high DEET. I ordered one with 40% DEET from Amazon.com, and there are a variety of options and sizes to choose from. I liked the spray the best, but they also have lotions and smaller travel sizes if you prefer. The scent is strong immediately after you put it on, but it fades very quickly. As long as you remember to put it on it works really well. It is safe to put on your clothing and I also sprayed my mosquito net just as an extra precaution.

Repel Insect Repellent

5. Hand Sanitizer
This is a must have for all travel, especially volunteering! Being able to clean your hands on-the-go keeps you healthy and feeling fresh. When volunteering when you are likely going to be working a lot with your hands, and using some hand sanitizer periodically will give your hands a nice refresher.

6. Sunscreen
The last thing you want when volunteering abroad is to have sunburn. Especially if you are heading someplace closer to the equator than you are used to, the sun will be hotter and stronger and your skin may not adjust the way it normally would. Using a normal 35 SPF sunscreen should work best since higher SPFs than that typically do not really increase your protection from the sun. Your best bet is to make sure you apply your sunscreen early and often when you will be outside. This means even when its cloudy too!

7. Flashlight
The last thing I expected to do when traveling to Africa- or anywhere- is go camping. I have always tried to avoid camping at all costs. But my volunteer trip pushed me to expand my boundaries and I gave in and went on a camping trip the last weekend I was in Africa. It was a great experience and I had a blast! But without my flashlight there is no way I would have made it to the bathroom without tripping or ending up in someone else’s campsite. It doesn’t take up much space, and you will be glad to have one just in case!

As always, make sure you do your research on your destination before you leave to ensure you don’t forget any important necessities that you will need at your location. Hopefully these will get you started on some of your packing essentials! I would love to hear about your volunteer abroad experience- feel free to share in the comments!

Little Matters,
Marissa

A New Take on Travel

http://en.wikiversity.org/wiki/Happiness_research

We are constantly planning for the future and waiting for “the next big thing” to happen in our lives, and it is causing us to forget about the present. As much as I try to soak in and appreciate the current moment as much as possible, I am sometimes guilty of this too. Living in the moment can be a lot easier when traveling. You are in a different place and may become absorbed by your new surroundings and feel an astounding sense of wonder that you almost cannot help but try to be frozen in that moment as long as possible.

News flash- that feeling is right within your grasp wherever you may be. If you travel in search of happiness, you are probably looking in the wrong place. Happiness can reveal itself in the little things. Like the baby that just gave you the biggest smile at the supermarket. Or the perfect song that comes on your Pandora radio. Or even from the dollar bill you found in your pants pocket. Whatever it is, embrace it. Don’t let these moments pass you by. Find pleasure in the smallest things in life and you will be forever changed.

“…pleasure isn’t something we seek out there in the more exotic places, but instead is something we discover here in the simple moments.”

If you have had the opportunity to travel away from home, think about what moments truly stood out to you. In many cases, these moments are not seeing the popular tourist attraction or hitting up the coolest club. The best memories are the little things that brought joy beyond words. Some of my favorite travel memories include eating gelato at a small cafe in Italy, having a picnic in the park in London, feeling the mist on my shoulders at Victoria Falls, and the first time Ivy grabbed my hand to play catch with her in Zambia. Take a deep breath, slow down, and acknowledge the beauty of the moment you are in because you will never have another one exactly like it.

“Sure, travel will stretch you, she’ll provide moments and opportunities, but you have to be present enough in your own soul to slow the heck down and step into those moments and find the true pleasures of life there.” 

We all know that sometimes reasons such as finances, work, or simply life in general just do not allow us to take that dream adventure to Sydney or Barcelona. No matter where you are at, take in each and every moment and cherish your blessings. Enjoy what you have at home, or maybe even take up a new hobby while waiting on that next excursion. The secret to life is all about perspective- and happiness is waiting right at your front door.

Little Matters,
Marissa

*This blog post inspired by BootsnAll Travel