Category Archives: Home Life

How I Had An Ambitious Year Without Any New Years Resolutions

It was June 28, 2016. I woke up in my van in Colorado, still high on the fumes of my very recent vacation to Alaska. I turned 30 there, watching a silly live show cuddled up with my platonic friend followed with chocolate cake in a hotel room in Anchorage. I blew out the candles around 2AM and wished that I could find what I was looking for – and be content when I found it. It turns out one of the “things” I was looking for was literally right in front of the candlelight- staring back at me with loving eyes. I discovered that a few days later in Denali. And the other was the opportunity provided me by losing my job on this day in my van on June 28.

After the call finalizing my exit, I took out my list of what I would do if I ever quit or lost my job. (This wasn’t entirely unexpected and I already had another contracting job mostly lined up.) I made a bazillion calls to cancel a bunch of bills, change a bunch of automatic payments, and put my financial life into a place that felt a little safer with the questionable continued income. Then, I took a deep breath and started driving to the gym. The whole twenty minutes drive to the gym, I cried about the loss – mostly of a stable income, the life I’d gotten used to, the coworkers I would leave behind. When I hit the parking lot, though, I wiped away my tears and started laughing. I called up the aforementioned Alaska man, who was understandably worried about me in my new job status. He asked me how I was feeling and I said “I’M FREE!” I was free of the job I had hated, the boss I couldn’t stand, and suddenly had literally no excuses not to re-write my life in the way I wanted it to look. It almost felt like my house burning down and the subsequent thoughts of “Welp, I’ve got nothing now. Where do I go from here? What do I actually want to acquire?” Needless to say, he thought I was a bit crazy. But he already knew this.

I thought a lot about what I wanted in my life at that point. I knew freedom, cooperation and a feeling like I was working *with* a supervisor and not against them was vital to enjoying my next job. I wanted more variety, a feeling of fulfillment in what I do day to day, and an ability to be myself and be appreciated for it too.

I spent a couple hours over the course of a few days writing down all my skills (personal and career-related) and what kind of jobs I could acquire with those. My main career would still be my main money in the bank, but I didn’t want to work more than 3 days a week doing that. I wanted at least a 3-day weekend and another day working on things that I am passionate about that I could make money off of but not depend on (and see if maybe that could become money I depend on too).

I also made a list of things I wanted to do with my free time besides pursuing career passions. Those included my other hobbies and passions (hiking, dancing, backpacking, photography, writing, self-improvement emotionally and otherwise, etc) and new ones I’d always wanted to begin (or begin again). I still haven’t gotten through all of those, of course (and hope I never will and hope the list gets continuously longer). I also wanted to have the time and space to devote to people I love – those in my life already and any new people I met that I connected with.

Acting from these goals, I ended up meeting my goals above and more- with sacrifices, of course (this just from June of 2016, not the previous year, which also included many adventures):

  • It took two weeks to finalize the contracting job and another back-up contracting position with an old boss. It’s come down to currently working Tuesday-Thursday contracting in the medical field, counseling patients by phone. It’s rewarding, I love my boss and all the people I work with, and have a huge amount of time freedom as long as I don’t have scheduled patients. I am appreciated for who I am, not just what I do, and I am actually using my skills that I went to school for. I also have unlimited vacation time (as long as I can be okay without getting paid that time). I’ve sacrificed money and stability (no benefits, no sure bet I have a job for any amount of time, no consistent income monthly) for time, freedom, and happiness. Totally worth it. And I don’t dread working!
  • I started cuddling for money. And realized I would do it for free. It’s so freaking rewarding. See this post for more on that. Oh and I also started cuddling contests. Ya know, because.
  • I started writing again (aka this blog among other things). I love writing. 🙂 Maybe I’ll make some money off it, maybe I won’t.
  • I entered a relationship that has been amazing in innumerable ways. I never thought I’d be able to have such a healthy, loving, accepting, integrated and yet independent relationship in my life. And I’m lucky enough to have more than one amazing relationship with amazing people in my life – platonic and otherwise.
  • I climbed and hiked and danced a shit ton.
  • I tried a number of activities I always said I wanted to do: Pointe (since I was 8 years old and was told in ballet that my ankles weren’t strong enough), Silks (since I saw my first Cirque Du Soleil show as a teenager), tango, and handbalancing.
  • I went to Japan and Hawaii. I rode a bike in the streets of Japan with the cars and buses. I visited multiple onsen (public bath/hot springs). I blues danced in Japanese gardens. I hiked in bamboo forests. I took a bullet train (then a cable car then a bus) to a mountain with Buddhist temples and stayed in one, served traditional vegetarian breakfast and dinner by Buddhist monks. I hiked mountains in Hawaii and paddled 8 miles synchronously with 50 other people in canoes into the Pacific Ocean. I snorkeled in a coral reef.
  • I traveled all over the US, while still working consistently from wherever I had wifi. I saw/hiked/backpacked more than 30 national parks (I can’t remember the exact number and am too lazy to calculate again). I even took some patient calls from the entrance of Canyonlands. I went dancing in so many different scenes and met so many awesome people. In one day, I hiked in Yosemite, took a soak in a natural hot spring, and danced blindfolded and topless by the light of the moon in a camp between Lake Tahoe and Yosemite. I hiked in three slot canyons with amazing people and even had a naked muddy dance party in between two slot canyons. I hiked 100 miles in 7 national parks in 7 days. I climbed naked on the rocks in a national park at the end of a hike. I took my first bath in 4 days in a freaking cold waterfall. I ate breakfast and watched sunrise and sunset in amazing places. I reconnected with a friend I hadn’t seen in 10 years. I rode horses in Sedona. I spent an entire week in Acadia National Park eating ice cream for every single lunch, stargazed cuddled up next to a wonderful friend and her family, watched the sun rise on the first place to see sunrise (Cadillac mountain). I showered in golden light from peak Aspens in Colorado. I learned how to start a fire with a knife and flint.
  • I explored friendships and relationships in all the ways I wanted to – as much or as little as we were both interested in and could afford. I reconnected with people who used to be in my life and ended connections too.
  • I learned how to be frugal, live well on little, have few needs and few wants. When I finally got the few boxes I had left in storage for the time I’ve been traveling, I realized I didn’t need any of it. I gave >50% away to other people or to charity. I furnished my apartment with $40 at Goodwill to get some chairs to have more people over. And my entire bedroom is filled with blankets and pillows for crashing.

The best part about all of this? I feel like I have all the time to explore the things I want to explore without feeling rushed to take advantage of every second of my free time. I sometimes even just hang out and don’t do anything without feeling guilty that I *could* be doing something. A new one for me! Oh, and sleep! Oh glorious sleep. I actually get like a real 7-8 hours a day!

Oddly enough, the more freedom I had and the more I explored it, the more I realized I was more happy settling for less. As I traveled, every new place felt less and less new. I found myself wanting to grow roots and bloom somewhere with others I loved. I even went to Japan- with people I loved and alone at parts- and felt no culture shock. All it felt like was “not home” and everything had become that feeling. I felt more than location-less…I felt homeless.

And so here I am now, trying to create a home – not just a place to rest my head (because that can be anywhere, even my van), not just a place where my stuff resides, not just a place to invite people into. I’m trying to create a place that others *want* to come to for safety, for love, for genuineness, for true “seeing.” A place I can tell people “This is where you can come for family” and mean it.

Then, maybe, the people I love will also find their niche, their freedom, and their perfect place in the world too and we can all live together in our very well-constructed dreams around us.

January 1 has just come and gone and I’ve never felt less interested in making “New Years Resolutions.” The goals I made for myself in June were for my life in the bigger picture and they were positive, things I really honestly *want/wanted*, not just commitments to avoid things I *didn’t* want (like weight gain or managing too much stuff, etc). What I found was that when I’m committed to doing the things I love and committed to avoiding the things I’m not so in love with  (like having stuff, like having a job I hate, like feeling so pressed for time that I can’t even enjoy the small amount of free time I would have with a full-time job even if I was getting more money) all the time, the sacrifices in order to get that are not difficult at all. The things I don’t want…just aren’t really relevant anymore.

Instead of making New Years resolutions (and likely not succeeding at them), I urge you to make lifelong resolutions to yourself. Consider not what you want to avoid, but discover what you really *want*, work towards that actively (while taking informed risks in that direction), and I will bet that the rest of your life will automatically fall into place.

Here’s to wishing you the best, most ambitious, happiest 2017! Don’t look back, only forward.

Namaste

New and Old Unite

Hi all,

To most of you, this blog is entirely new. To some of you, it’s a new URL with a lot of the same content from before.

The reality is it’s somewhere in the middle of both. I’m going to attempt doing something new with something old. Because really, that’s what I’ve been doing with myself. I’m still Nikki, but I feel like I’ve definitely changed since last writing here. And I’m trying to save the lessons, ditch the shit from the last 30 years of my life. Easier said than done, of course.

Here’s to an attempt. In the past, I think my efforts were in line with trying to be an authority on life. However, since last June, a lot has changed in me. I realize I’m an authority on nothing, for one. The life I knew basically collapsed around me and I had to pick up the few pieces I wanted and make something entirely different. I realized nothing is what we think it is. Nothing lasts forever. And who am I to say what is good or right for anyone? For another, I realize the value in vulnerability and sharing of real truth- in all its messy glory. I want this space to be a place we can all be real with each other without anyone assuming they know the truth. Life is hard enough. Let’s just help each other through it, hold each other in the pain, and love each other in all our struggles as they are. In that vein, I’ll be the first to tell my real story with my real struggles, not the sugar-coated version:

Last I wrote, I was in a marriage with D, took care of a beautiful dog, and had moved to Colorado. That was last April. Come June 1st of the same year, I walked out the door of D and my apartment and never walked back in.

The truth that you see online is of course only pieces of the truth. We all show the best parts of us to others- the shiny things, the smiles, the excitement, the adventures. Not the heartrending pain. And especially not the parts of us we won’t even let ourselves see. I was hurting when I wrote this blog before, but I was trying to rationalize it. I was trying to believe that my commitment to a relationship mattered more than my happiness. I was trying not to see how unhappy I really was.

I had gone off oral contraceptives and acquired a remote job (something I’d wanted for a long time) and for the first time in my life, I realized I could be happy inside of me. I had so much more energy to be social, to be alive and I suddenly began to see the reality of my life in a clearer way. I could finally see that my relationship held me back, it made me sad, and worst of all…it was abusive. I could only see that without hormones in my blood. I met some amazing people in the dance community, people who showed me that what I wanted was not only possible but something I deserved. They brought me the support and courage to finally walk out the door after a year of struggling to hold my marriage together.

Someone told me after I left: “Sorry for your loss.” Though it’s true that I lost certain things- most of all, a friendship of 11 years and a dog I loved dearly-, I have gained more than I could have imagined in the last year and change since. There are moments of grief still- over losing stability, knowing someone would be there for me always. Those are the things that still weigh on me. However, knowing now that those were only illusions anyway makes it easier most of the time to push aside those notions of what “should” be and focus on what “is.”

D and I had talked for a long time about a lifelong adventure, of building a house on the land we had bought in Colorado, of getting remote jobs and then traveling around in a converted van or maybe even out of month-long extended stays with our dog and each other. We got the jobs, we finished paying off the land, and we even moved to Colorado. But what we hadn’t factored into all the future planning was the present- the present that very regularly showed us we were not good for each other and were unhappy. We lied – to ourselves, to each other, and to everyone else too.

When the lie was finally dispelled, when I left him curled up in fetal position on my parents’ couch in our apartment…I decided to make the future my present. No more waiting, no more lying, no more trying and pretending. I told myself I wouldn’t accept the stability I so desired any longer; I would have to figure out how to be alone and how to be okay with ambiguity, with risk. For real. Because I would no longer sacrifice me in order to know what would happen tomorrow or the next day or five years from now. (And it’s all an illusion anyway.) I put 85% of my stuff in a storage unit and left August 1 for the longest, most amazing adventure of my life. I’m not sure if it’s over yet.

I stayed at Airbnb’s or houses of friends and family until the middle of this year, working the whole time, but also seeing national parks, going to dance events, and visiting with people I love. I also got rid of the 85% of stuff in my storage unit and built myself my “spaceship,” as some people call it. My adventure mobile. I live out of that now. Sort of. I still spend time with people in their homes semi-regularly. The uncertainty of where I live, work, and love is something I deal with on a daily basis. Sometimes it sucks and sometimes it’s the best kind of freedom I’ve never known before. It’s taught me so much – the biggest of which is how little I really “need” to survive, to be happy, and to share adventures and life with others.

So this is the place I’m starting from here, now. Love it or hate it. Share it or don’t. This is me- unadulterated and unabashedly. My life and my thoughts in all its messy glory. Brace yourself.

Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover

flu picYour mom probably said it a thousand times to you when you were a kid. “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” She said it to mean don’t judge a person’s character by their physical attributes or outward behavior. However, I think this statement should extend to something beyond character; it should also extend to not judging a person’s health by their outward appearance.

We as human beings make judgments every day, so it isn’t necessarily a problem to judge in and of itself. However, when we use judgments, we have to understand the reality of what they tell us as well as their limitations and inherent flaws. For instance, we may be able to look at someone dressed nicely and judge accurately that this person cares about how other people view them and are trying to make a good impression, but we cannot judge where they bought these clothes or how much income they make from this information alone. Additionally, we may be able to judge from a phone conversation with a close family member that they are not feeling well because their voice is raspy and nasal, but we can’t judge from this that they are experiencing a headache.

Conditions like chronic migraines, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, and many others are what some call “invisible illnesses.” There is no outward sign of illness with any of these conditions and therefore there is no way for others to immmediately judge that something is wrong. Moreover, when these conditions cause frequent and chronic problems that seem “invisible,” others are more and more likely to stop believing them and judge that they are using their medical condition as a crutch or an excuse to not do X, Y, or Z (including but not limited to going to work, to school, or completing certain tasks). Not only is this a problem socially with friends and family, this can become a legal problem when an employer stops providing accomodations or requires taking unpaid leave for lack of attendance. Though there are laws in place to help, this doesn’t solve the underlying problem- the invisible disease that is affecting these people with these conditions every day.

I’m writing this because I have been there and I have also been on the other end too. If you’ve been reading along, you know that I have a history of a heart defect, undiagnosed for many years which caused me innumerable problems, many of which were “invisible.” Most of my symptoms occurred at night because lying down instigated respiratory issues and many times I was on drugs like Prednisone, which caused emotional fluctuations like you wouldn’t believe (unless you’ve been on Prednisone yourself) and drastic weight changes. It was embarrassing and frustrating having to explain to my teachers why I burst into tears randomly in the middle of class or why I hadn’t gotten enough sleep because I was up all night coughing (and why I seem fine today). Most recently, I received a concussion from a girl swinging into my head while belaying at the gym. It’s been a month since the event, but I am still dealing with the effects of it- and they are very odd effects. It is difficult for people to understand why I can safely rock climb (on top-rope with precautions), but going grocery shopping or driving or reading in certain circumstances is a huge problem for me right now. Some people have been more than understanding, but others….well, others have not. I have also had many friends with “invisible” health issues including chronic migraines, genetic conditions that do not affect their appearance but affect them on a daily basis, depression and anxiety. All of these friends at one point or another were treated negatively, dismissively, and sometimes unfairly by a friend, school, or employer because of their condition.

Without ever having experienced a migraine, an asthma attack, depression, or any number of other problems, I can understand why it is difficult to be able to relate to someone explaining why they cannot do X, Y, or Z because of their problem. I can also understand why it is hard not to take it personally and to believe someone when they have told you for the tenth time that month that they have a migraine and can’t come to the function you invited them to. When someone looks fine at the times you see them and they are showing no outward signs of illness, it is easy to make a quick judgment that they are in actuality feeling fine. I of course am not speaking for everyone, as there may be people who are using a condition as an excuse when they are truly fine. However, I think the vast majority of people who state they have an “invisible” condition are being entirely truthful and when they “look” fine, it is because they have made efforts to live a normal life when they don’t feel normal or “fine” at all.

I am writing this because I have in the past been suspicious of what I thought was someone’s “fake” illness and after a long time found out that their problem was actually a rare condition finally diagnosed after years and years of extreme disability. After all those years of doubting, I felt horrible for acting in such a way that I always criticized others for acting about my medical problems. Thankfully, there was a cure for them. Many people are not as lucky and will have to deal with others’ doubts and flawed judgments for the rest of their lives. If we can’t cure people of their invisible illnesses, we can at least acknowledge what they perceive as a problem- whether we know it to be true or not- and offer to help them or at the very least keep offering them that invite.

Life Lessons from Colorado

I just got back from a long trip to Colorado, the home of my heart. I’ve grown to associate feelings with the word “home,” not places, as I’ve always felt like an outsider in most locations. My family, my friends, my husband, my dog and the things I feel when I think of them is what “home” has always been, but in CO, the mountains and the birds of prey and every rock and every person is somehow familiar and embracing of my existence. I hike and I climb there and nearly everyone I meet along the way becomes a friend I will come back and visit. They smile, they share, they expose themselves to me; there is no barrier preventing us from connecting. I feel like everyone has a place where they feel most familiar and in love with life, though some are still searching. For me, Colorado is it.

 

Part of the fun of trips to Colorado is never knowing what to expect. We’ve gone there in May and donned snowshoes on a couple feet of snow in the Rockies. We’ve gone there in December and comfortably climbed with a tank top and shorts. The weather is always entirely unpredictable, but always beautiful in its own way. This trip was no different. The forecast a couple weeks before called for 50’s, 50’s, 50’s. A week later, it changed to negatives, negatives, and maybe some 20’s and 30’s during the day. The initial plan was to sleep in our rental car the whole time. When we saw that forecast, though, we realized this would not be the climbing trip we had envisioned. We connected with our hiking friends in CO and climbing friends of our climbing friends where we live and managed to get a guaranteed four nights of the seven inside out of the freezing cold before we even left. We felt so lucky to have such generous and amazing people in our lives.  This brought us to our first lesson of the trip: Trust connections.

 

After flying into Denver, we picked up a rental car, grabbed some lunch, and headed to our friends in Loveland. They were organizing a Christmas party for that night and had invited us to the party and to stay with them that weekend. D and I are not usually the party people (being former complete introverted wallflowers), but we’ve found over time that friends of friends are usually friends of ours. We kept an open mind and had a blast- D having a heated debate with party guests and I playing fun games with our friends’ family and friends.  Second lesson of the trip: Be genuine and you will receive genuine.

 

The next day, we looked at the frigid temperatures outside and thought “We came to be outside. Let’s go!” We ate breakfast in Estes and headed to Rocky Mountain National Park with our friends. As we headed up the hills to Glacier Gorge parking, the temps continued to climb. When we hit the valley, the numbers dropped again. At 8 degrees Fahrenheit, we reached the trailhead, took a deep breath, put on some yak tracks and balaclavas, gloves, hats, snow pants, and pack on top of three layers of smart wool clothing, and we were off. I’m originally from Florida, so this degree of cold is totally foreign to me. Even with all this gear, my fingers and toes were still cold. I guess that is what -4 degrees does. However, I was comfortable otherwise and warmed up a bit while hiking. I was just so glad to be physically capable of hiking and appreciative that we were with friends (friends we’d met hiking in RMNP a couple years ago) and in this gorgeous place that the cold didn’t matter too much. As we hiked towards Loch Lake, a man in his 70’s+ lapped us at least twice. Then, a nineteen-year-old girl passed us, hiking solo in the wilderness of RMNP. Third lesson of the trip: Don’t make excuses for not doing what you love (not even age or negative temperatures)- Just do it.

 

Monday and it was still too cold to go climbing outdoors, so we decided to hike in Boulder instead and end the day climbing indoors at an awesome climbing gym. Some air outside combined with the variety of new climbing routes was enough to satisfy our outside and climbing desires. We met up with the girl who lapped us in RMNP at the gym and made another new friend. After getting some dinner, we headed to a climbing friend of a friend’s place with beer in hand and settled in for the night. Fourth lesson of the trip: Go with the flow.

Throughout the next few days, we continued to seek good views where we could, layering up for the cold, and meeting up with friends and family in the area. We enjoyed hiking in new and familiar places and exploring on our own as well as meeting new people and sharing time with them in their passion. We found a number of people were raw and open with us when there was nothing between us but time and shared experiences, and we had the opportunity to help people in their time of need. Fifth lesson: Give and you will receive. 

Wednesday, it was finally warm enough (in the 40’s) to climb outdoors. The combination of the floods and snow and ice had wiped away much of the approach trail, so what should have taken 10 minutes took almost an hour of stepping/slipping/sliding in others’ icy footsteps and searching through scree for a path to the route. We came across a couple of people climbing a 5.13. Their impression of the climbing was “It’s cold.” After finding the route and dropping our packs, I sat down to put on my climbing shoes, only to stick both hands into a cactus. Fun times. Another 20 minutes of picking spines out of my hand and we were finally ready to head up a 4-pitch climb. Thankfully, D led, as there were a number of moves that were very height-dependent (as in NOT meant for a person my height). Three pitches up, the belay station was immediately over the top of the canyon and the winds picked up. While belaying D, I was being slammed into the wall numerous times by the wind and only a few feet above me was a sheltered roost. So yes, I think the impression the other climbers had was perfectly accurate- it was freakin’ cold. It was not my most outstanding climbing attitude or day. The coolest part? Seeing a huge, perfect peregrine falcon’s nest up close. It was big enough for me to sit in- and don’t think I wasn’t tempted, as it was sheltered by the wind entirely. Rappelling down was an adventure in itself, as was the approach- which was more like a non-graceful glissade down the icy, snowy, rocky slopes. Sixth lesson: Adventure is not always “fun,” but it is always something to look back on fondly (unless someone dies…). 

After such an adventurous day, we were up for slightly less adventure the next. What did this mean? Aerial pursuits, of course. After seeing an amazing aerial silks performance in Cirque du Soleil earlier in the year, I had been intent on trying it. I knew it would be easier with the climbing skills we possessed. I had seen advertisements for some circus classes in the area and signed us up for a holiday aerial silks sampler. Unfortunately, no pictures as proof, but it was a whole lot of fun. I was impressed the skills I’d acquired in climbing were not only directly physically applicable, but also mentally. Before climbing, I would have been nervous about trying any of it, but I was more than happy to throw myself into moves I’d never tried before and loved it. Seventh lesson: Be open to new experiences.

The rest of the time, we spent time hiking and climbing indoors and hanging out with new and old friends alike. Okay, not unlike the rest of the trip. Still, it reminded me that not all trips need to be “productive,” that really it is all about finding the vacation balance. Moreover, it reminded me that constantly “seeking” something- anything- makes me unhappy. There is a time and a place for just being, for laughing, for socializing, not thinking too much, not working towards something, not having an agenda. Lesson eight: Stop searching for the sake of searching.

Any trips over the holidays that have taught you something?

Traveling on the Cheap!

In the last year, D and I have been on 17 overnight trips.  So many people are amazed by this fact and ask how we do it because, ya know, traveling is expensive. Well, unlike the average American, as our (my/D’s) income increases, our vacations continue to get cheaper. Instead of revolving around tourist attractions and fancy food, our vacations now are centered on physical activity and for the most part free events. Whereas D and my first vacation together in 2005 involved at least $600-700 for a few days in Disney, our recent almost week-long trip to New Hampshire cost us $350 total for two people and a dog including gas, food, and “accommodations” (our Subaru Outback). We could have made it another $100 cheaper had we brought dinners to cook on our camp stove and spent an extra hour on the road avoiding tolls (holy cow- NY and MD tolls are expensive!!). Here are the ways we cut corners to go on as many trips as we do.

1) Plan, plan, plan! 

All of the below require planning or you’re liable to spend way more than you originally thought. You will also likely find you are able to accomplish more with less energy during your trip. Studies are also showing that we are happiest when planning a vacation than even during it (Read more here)! My planning technique is extensive, involving a whole write-up with information about cheap but healthy food along the way, climbing gyms in the area (back-up plans), climbing crags, climbing routes, places to stay as plan A and plan B and C, etc. We don’t ever stick strictly to “the plan” and there is no way to accomplish hitting up all the items on the list, but we pick and choose when we get there, play it by ear, and have fun with no planning while we are there.

2) Stay with friends or family, in your car, at a campsite, or rent a cabin with a bunch of people instead of a hotel.

What I’ve found is that the best way to travel cheap is by taking advantage of connections. Staying with friends, family (or even friends of family or friends) provides not only free accommodations, but also often free food, a nice place to stay, and awesome time to socialize. If you don’t know anyone in the area, sleeping in your car is free. We’ve done it with two people and a dog and it’s honestly not that uncomfortable as long as your middle seat can fold down. Advice: bring pads for your hips/back! Campsites are often reasonable, $5-10 per night per person. Some even have wi-fi, game rooms, etc. If you have an RV or trailer (lucky you!), you can even find places that will let you park for free: I hear most Walmart’s allow overnight parking as do some rest stops. You have to check with them first.

3) Bring/cook your own meals. 

This is one of the easiest concepts, but the most difficult to execute (in my opinion). This all of course depends on your accommodations.

If you have access to a fridge and microwave: Your options are endless! Bring sandwiches, salads (like this salad in a jar concept), home-cooked hot meals, etc. Eat leftovers and be merry.

If you have access to a portable stove, but no fridge: You can either buy dehydrated foods that you can boil water for and add to (this can get pricey too) or make easy small meals on the stove like mac and cheese, rice and beans, etc. If you have a dehydrator, you can dehydrate veggies and fruits and sauces and bring those with spices and pasta and quinoa, lentils, etc. and cook those together in the stove. You can also put dehydrated meals into separate freezer bags and add boiled water into these as quick on-the-go meals. (See this video for an example.)

If you have no access to stove, fridge, or cooking supplies: D and I lived on bagels with almond/hazelnut/peanut butter for breakfast and clif bars with apples/oranges for a week. We ate dinners out, but could have easily eaten PB/J sandwiches, canned foods, etc. Another idea is bring a cooler if you won’t be going on a trip more than 4-5 days and bring most food to your heart’s content.

4) Choose cheap (or free) activities. 

Almost any outdoor activities are free or cheap (as in pay for parking and/or gear rental and that is it). Exploring towns and villages and window-shopping is free, but fun. Hooking up some more connections with friends could yield fun things to do without paying. Look online for free or cheap concerts, shows, or festivals in the area you’re visiting. There are countless activities out there that won’t break the bank.

5) Bring friends. 

One of the things that has cut down on expenses the most for us is bringing others along. Instead of splitting gas or accommodations between two people, we split it between four or five and that is two to three times more the trips we can make in the future with that money saved. If you share food supplies, costs get even cheaper. Plus, it provides you with awesome experiences with friends who become closer every trip you take.

6) Find the bargains. 

D and I start planning trips months ahead of time. Why? Because if we’re going to fly or get a hotel, it takes a while to find the best deal. It requires loads of research at numerous websites (I use Kayak, Orbitz, Travelocity, Expedia, CheapoAir, and Southwest to compare flights and sometimes hotels and rental cars too) and just the right timing to get cheap flights. Also, you have to be flexible. If you have it planned out that you want to go to Denver (for instance) sometime in the next year, wait until those 72-hour travel discounts come up and book then. We got tickets for D and I round-trip to Denver for under $450 total in this way. Tip: The best time to travel is a few days to a week after a holiday or big event. For instance, Jan 4- wow, everything will be empty! Sept 6 (when school starts)- awesome! Also, don’t miss the great websites out there that allow you to have nice accommodations for cheaper like CouchSurfing and AirBnB.

This is the first time Dan and I were in CO. We didn't know what weather to expect, so we decided to keep our options open. We went to RMNP and asked the ranger what they suggested. They told us to get some snowshoes and we'll be able to hike past the crowds. We had never show-shoed before, but went and rented some immediately and enjoyed ourselves thoroughly.
This is the first time D and I were in CO. We didn’t know what weather to expect, so we decided to keep our options open. We went to RMNP and asked the ranger what they suggested. They told us to get some snowshoes and we’ll be able to hike past the crowds. We had never show-shoed before, but went and rented some immediately and enjoyed ourselves thoroughly.

7) Be prepared and flexible. (insert picture of us snowshoeing)

How is it possible to be flexible and book a ticket anywhere at any time? By being prepared for anything. We are going to CO very soon and right now it’s looking like a cold trip. We plan on climbing, but we’ll be prepared to snowshoe or backpack if the weather isn’t holding up or worse case scenario go to a climbing gym and hang out inside. Because we go with the flow and especially the weather, we aren’t disappointed with any situation and we don’t end up spending money on redundant items (like sweaters or raincoats) because we didn’t bring warm enough clothes or rain gear.

8) Take pictures and memories back with you, not souvenirs. 

Souvenirs are for the birds. Seriously. Unless you collect specific things from every trip you take (like a sticker or a postcard because those are cheap :-)), do you really think a way-too-expensive ornament you bought in a gift shop on your trip is going to mean anything even a few days after you get home? In my opinion, the most important things about trips are what we experienced when we were there: the beautiful scenery, the sunsets, the challenges, and the people we spent our time with. Those can be remembered by photos and reminiscing with the people we experienced the trip with. So next time you go into a gift shop to buy a souvenir, take a picture of your friend in the crazy hat you saw instead. It will mean so much more years later. 🙂

9) Barter for pet or child care. 

Pet care is expensive. Way too expensive for my liking. I love Winter and want her to be in a safe place enjoying herself while we’re away, but I just don’t think it’s necessary to send her off to doggy daycare. We have plenty of friends who love Winter too and enjoy having a pet for a week. We are immensely appreciative, of course, and offer them gifts in return for taking care of her. Some even stay at our place with her while we’re away. I would much rather know Winter is in safe hands and not be spending a fortune than leave her with people I don’t know and break the bank on pet care instead of saving it for future trips. I don’t have children, but it seems like many family members or other friends with kids wouldn’t mind taking in your kids for a weekend while you have some time alone in exchange for reciprocation or just love and cookies. 🙂

10) Make friends for future trips. 

We’ve almost always met at least one new person during every trip we go on. Sometimes, those people become friends who we continue to meet up with every time we visit their home town. In CO, we have some friends who have been generous enough to open up their home to us almost every time we come into town and even offered us a Thanksgiving meal! It’s so nice to have a “home away from home” and people to visit and connect with during every trip.

This is a picture taken near San Luis Obispo in CA. Going all the way across the country doesn't make sense to do by car in terms of gas or time frame (unless you have time and money for a road trip- which is awesome). Do the math- some things make more sense to travel by car and others by flying.
This is a picture taken near San Luis Obispo in CA. Going all the way across the country doesn’t make sense to do by car in terms of gas or time frame (unless you have time and money for a road trip- which is awesome). Do the math- some things make more sense to travel by car and others by flying.

11) Do the math.

When you actually calculate out the multiple ways of getting to a location, you will find there are a lot of factors that influence the amount spent. Driving is often cheaper than flying, for instance, especially if you have multiple people in one car. However, if you’re spending a whole bunch of gas on just bringing yourself somewhere, it can be as expensive as flying. If you get a flight on a deal (or with mileage), it can even be cheaper than driving. Driving halfway or all the way across the US even with multiple people can still be more costly (and of course less efficient) than traveling by air. Mileage of your car is also a factor in expense. Bundling a hotel or rental car with a flight can make things cheaper as well (but not always!). The point is before your trip (months before if this is not a quick weekend trip), calculate each method of travel and all the deals available and determine which is the best for you on your budget so there aren’t any big surprises after you come back home or worst of all during your trip!

In the end, traveling in more efficient ways makes your wallet happy and your mind too. It makes you creative and forces you to experience novel situations. Moreover, it is good for the soul to vacation without the tourist traps. When you spend time on the “back roads” so to speak, it is possible to experience a location in a new, exciting, and possibly more authentic way.

The Holiday Debate

One Thanksgiving many years ago, D and I made the long trek to visit my extended family- my very large extended family. In my family, there are two large Thanksgiving get-togethers every year, each in different states. Each get-together consists of forty plus people. There is always one table with the “main” food and appetizers and at least two tables with dessert, as it is custom for each family to bring a homemade dessert. It is also custom that Thanksgiving “dinner” actually starts at 2PM and lasts until at least 8PM.

This was D’s first time meeting my extended family. We walked in the door and ten people greeted us with hugs and kisses on the cheek. Though I warned him, D was in a bit of shock. His family is…let’s say, not this way. My family is honest, loud, rambunctious, and sometimes even raunchy. This is what I know of family.  It’s not that one way of being a family together on the holidays is better over another; we all have our own ways of being together and appreciating each other.

After D became accustomed to the difference in family styles, he happily started heated debates with my not-easily-offended family members and after that year, happily drove hundreds of miles to continue in this ritual Thanksgiving event with me. It was this year that I was especially happy and appreciative to be a part of my family. It was this year that I realized that there is something about being blood relatives that makes a connection different somehow.

A year later, D and I made the trip to the big Thanksgiving event again. This time, just as we had filled our plate and were sitting down to start some heated debates, D got a phone call from work. Being the only IT guy in his specific division, he was essentially on call at all times. He spent from that moment until the end of Thanksgiving “dinner” at his computer fixing a work “emergency.” He was frustrated and I was sad…and angry at the same time. Angry that on Thanksgiving- the one day we have devoted to being with family and giving thanks- he was stripped of his ability to relax, to enjoy life. He was imprisoned by his computer, by his phone, and his job.

I understand there are emergencies in life that often happen at the worst times. I understand that there are life or death situations that require immediate attention- during holidays or not. I understand having someone who has to work for time-sensitive tasks. However, most work “emergencies” in general are not true emergencies. And is it worth forcing people to give up their time with family, their time to relax and not worry about being called in general, their time to be thankful in order for them to provide a large company with slightly more money (while the people making the big bucks in the company enjoy meals with their family, no less)?

D has since acquired a job where his company better understands the need for time with family, time for relaxation, and time to be thankful in life. However, not nearly enough people (in America especially) have this luxury. So many people working in retail and many other non-emergency-related jobs are now being forced to give up their time to relax, to enjoy family, and to be thankful in order to make some more bucks for the big shots in big companies. I know others feel differently, but having experienced so many nights and so many vacations ruined by D’s work, I can say it is a horrible feeling to have no reserved, unimpeded time for a sanctified day of rest, of thanks, of love. I am also disturbed that this is becoming the norm. I am disturbed that there seems to be a higher value placed on consuming, on corporate giants and their overflowing wallets over making connections with friends and family. And I am disturbed that some people are continuing to support these efforts to make the work/life line even more unbalanced for others.

Please consider whose Thanksgiving (and specifically future holidays) you are effecting through your actions this year.

How to be Successful in Online Dating

As my grandma continues to remind me, dating has changed over the years. Girls can initiate dates and ask guys to marry them, dating is no longer called “going steady,” and there used to be no other option but to find a spouse “the old-fashioned way.” For the longest time, people feared online dating. Sites like Match.com and eHarmony were perceived as “shady” and thought to “attract sexual predators” by some, but nowadays, this is a very typical means of finding a partner. Given that many more people are getting divorced and dating much later in life and the bar scene is no longer the ideal place to meet potential spouses (especially in older age), online dating makes it much easier to both meet more complementary “potentials” and more easily sift through them to find the one that is the best match for you.

I was never into the bar scene. When I say never, I do mean never. I don’t metabolize alcohol well, so I really don’t drink but a few sips of it if any in one sitting. And let me tell you, being completely sober while everyone around you is drunk is totally not fun- in any way (except maybe to laugh at the drunkenness). Without alcohol to provide me with social lubricant (because I am introverted and used to be much more so) and the desire to meet people in bars or parties, I knew I was at a huge disadvantage in meeting anyone. Also, I went to a very hippy dippy college, where it seemed like every guy I crushed on was gay or not interested in me because the few straight guys there had their pick of loads of other girls. I gave up with the “normal” ways to date and started online dating as soon as I was of legal age (or maybe before that…but shh). And then I met D. I am an online dating success story, and I am not the only one. Here are my tips to increase your odds of finding that special someone in online dating:

1) Have a clear, attractive, and accurate picture of yourself on your profile.

The number of people who will even bother looking at your profile are much much lower if you don’t include a picture of yourself. As much as it may seem superficial, appearance is very important to how people judge us. This doesn’t mean people are going to judge you negatively just because you don’t look like a supermodel. Most people I’ve met in online dating are looking for a few things within your picture: 1) Is this an accurate picture? If this person says they are 50, but they look 35 in their picture, chances are they don’t really look like that now and are lying about one or more things in their profile. 2) Are they cute? Of course people are always looking for someone who fits their definition of cute, but everyone has a different definition. You will fit someone’s, don’t worry! 3) Do they fit my lifestyle? Pictures say a lot about you- not just what you look like, but where you are when you take the picture. If you put up a picture of you running a marathon, you’re saying “I’m an active, fit person.” If you put up a picture of you drunken with your friends, you’re saying “I’m fun to hang out with and like the bar scene.” The list goes on. It is therefore important not only to put up pictures of you, but also to choose wisely and choose pictures that are accurate of who you really are. 4) Are they hiding something? Please please make sure that the pictures you choose are clear shots of your face and are not altered or cropped to show “the best” of you. A blurry shot or a carefully cropped image very obviously shows that you are trying to hide something and will deter the honest folk from communicating with you.

2) Be honest and genuine.

This is number two, but in my opinion is the most important one.  Nietzsche once said, “I’m not upset that you lied to me, I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you.” When we make online profiles based on lies, we are not only attracting people who like us for who we are not, we are also inevitably proving to others that we lack credibility (once they find out you lied, of course). I know a number of people who provided “small” inaccuracies in their profiles (like writing they were 35 when they were actually 50 or divorced when they were actually separated) when they began online dating. It seemed like such a white lie to them and it may easily have been something that when honest about would have still attracted numerous people, but because it was a lie ended up ruining all relationships that sprung from it. Being honest and genuine about who you are may not end up drawing as many people to your profile, *but* it will draw the right ones- the ones attracted to you for who you really are. And isn’t that who you want?

3. Be very clear about what you are and aren’t looking for.

This is a follow-up to being honest and genuine. Most dating sites will allow you to post what your deal breakers are and what you are looking for. Be frank with yourself- if you aren’t interested in kids, write you aren’t interested in kids and that you aren’t interested in being with someone who is interested in having kids. If you can’t stand to be around smoke, clearly state that being a smoker is a deal breaker. We all have different things that irk us, and though they may not be rational or “fair,” if we know those things will end a relationship with us, then why bother attracting it to begin with? What is more fair- letting someone know once you start dating that they have to stop smoking or telling them to begin with that you can’t date a smoker? Again, you are trying to attract the “right” person, not just another person who finds you attractive.

4. Keep an open mind.

Besides the deal breakers, you probably have some ideal features in mind for a future spouse. The reality, though, is that the chance of meeting that perfect person with all of those features is ridiculously low (if not entirely impossible depending on all of your criteria). As human beings, we are actually very poor at understanding what we want in general until we experience things first-hand. We also don’t usually understand the consequences of our desires (like the cons that come with them). For instance, a person who really loves to cook may also be extremely type A about how the kitchen is organized or someone who really loves to dress up likely takes a really long time in the bathroom getting ready every morning. People also change. Just because your idea of a perfect spouse is one that rock climbs doesn’t mean that you won’t meet someone who doesn’t currently rock climb, but could easily be convinced into trying it (and maybe even becoming addicted like you!). 🙂

5. Be balanced.

We are all human looking for other humans, and therefore the people looking at your profiles (assumedly human too) understand that people make mistakes and are not perfect. Looking for a partner is like a job interview: Generally, a future boss wants to know about what you can offer to their company- your strengths, your accomplishments, your assets. They also want to know about your weaknesses to understand what liabilities they would be inheriting by taking you on. Likewise, we are looking for what someone can offer us as a partner- mostly their strengths, but also how their weaknesses might fit with our weaknesses. Therefore, your profile should not be a list of all the great, amazing, crazy things about you, but a balanced explanation of who you really are and what makes you tic. Similar to a job interview, you might want to emphasize how those “weaknesses” are really strengths in certain situations. For instance, here is one from D’s profile so long ago: “I’m always willing to go out of my way to help my friends. Be it loaning money, a ride to work, whatever. It tends to set me up to be taken advantage of, which is why I’m selective in who I deal with, but I always try to be there for people.” Also, in being honest, be truthful about how you might like to improve yourself in the future. For instance, “I only work out one to two times per week, but am looking forward to taking up kickboxing as soon as this big project at work is over!” Because we are all human, we appreciate being provided with a very human description of a future partner. We can begin imagining how two lives can become enmeshed, and this is an important contributor to whether someone will send you a message.

6) Put forth genuine effort into your communication with others.

As much as you may think no one can tell that you spent all of thirty minutes writing a lame profile page, I promise you that people can. I spent more than a year on Match.com and only ended up communicating with a few people. Why? Because they were the only ones who demonstrated they were worth putting effort into, though I’m sure I would have enjoyed many of them (but how would I have known?). Greater than 90% of the profiles online are almost illiterate. (And no, the illiteracy rate is not that high in America!) I don’t know about you, but I’m likely not going to click on someone’s profile who didn’t bother to capitalize the first letter of any sentence or use periods correctly. Beyond that, about the same number of profiles are really not providing anything unique. I’m sorry, but “I like to have fun” will never cut it with most people. How do you have fun? What makes you passionate? How would you share this passion with your partner? This isn’t fishing, people! You aren’t just throwing a hook and bait out there waiting for any ‘ole fish to come along and bite. We aren’t throwing out lies and deceit or vague ambiguities in order to “reel ’em in.”  Moreover, as my cousin says, we are not looking for “low hanging apples.” We want those high up, great tasting, sun-kissed fruits that require getting a ladder, dragging it to the tree, taking risks and climbing up high. Spend the time on your profile and your communication with others and you will be rewarded with people who complement you well and appreciate that you put the “real you” out there from the start.

7) Give it time.

If you have an expectation in your head about how long it will take to find the right person online, you will likely be disappointed. As I said in my previous post about love, all relationships fail until one doesn’t. Similarly, even if every single one of your dates from online sites are horrible, all it takes is one to go right and you might have found long-term partner material. Keep trying. Also, make sure to learn something from every date that doesn’t go right- even if that is about who you don’t want.

8) When you meet up with someone, meet up in a public place.

Though the likelihood of someone you’re meeting up with from an online dating site having intentions of hurting you is slim, it doesn’t hurt to reduce the chances of anything happening and at the very least reduce the awkwardness involved in being at someone’s house and things not going as planned. Make sure to have a friend be aware of who you are going out with, where you are meeting up, and have a time you will communicate with them by no matter what. Also, it may be helpful to make the first date at a coffeeshop or somewhere you can get a quick drink or bite to eat so you can make a speedy exit if need be (unlike going to see Lord of the Rings in theaters- a horrible date I will never forget!). And hey, if things are going better than you thought, go somewhere else for a more intimate setting afterwards.

9) Don’t provide too much sensitive information up front unless you’re willing to deal with any possible consequences.

Though it is important to be honest, there are some things you may not want to mention publicly on a profile or up front before meeting with someone. One problem with online dating is the fact that anyone can see your profile, including coworkers, bosses, or family members (if they look hard enough, of course). If you display graphic details of your sexual likes and dislikes or discussion about how much you hate your job, this may come back to bite you. All I’m saying is consider the possible repercussions of being *very* open on your profile and weigh how much you want to tell people up front or after they’ve had some time to get to know you. There has to be some mystery in a relationship. 🙂

10) Don’t wait for someone to write you.

If I didn’t “wink” at D on Match.com, I don’t know that we would ever have met. Our social circles definitely didn’t coincide and he was about to give up on the online dating game entirely. So don’t sit around waiting for others to contact you. If you find a profile that interests you, make the first move and make it a good one. You might just get the person you “winked” at or emailed after all. 🙂

There is no exact science to finding a partner. However, if you’re out to find your life partner, being yourself is the key. There is only one you in this world – be confident that being you is not only “enough” but ideal for at least one other person out there!