Urbantravelista: 2016 Year in Review

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Twenty years from now, if someone ask me about the year 2016 , I won’t know where to begin. This has certainly been a tumultuous year for many.  There’s been birth, growth, and a lot of loss. No one was exempt.  I mean, we lost Prince. That alone was enough to send many of us over the cliff.  But for me, the first half of the year actually started off on a good note. Exactly this time last year, I was scouting my favorite shopping malls and boutiques in search of THE perfect dress to celebrate NYE in Dallas with one of my besties. I brought in the new year surrounded by good friends, good people, and positive energy. We spent the first day of 2016 enjoying a fabulous champagne brunch at a friend’s home. We fellowshipped, prayed, and spoke our goals for 2016. The following day, I boarded my flight back to Chicago feeling inspired, empowered, and ready to smash every goal and intention I set for myself. And things went well in the beginning. They really did. But by July, 2016 turned on me like a rabid pit bull. But such is life, right? Sometimes, a year will give you everything you hope for and more. And other times, it will leave you wondering how you survived it at all. In spite of 2016’s tragedies and having to put some of my adventuring on pause, I did have a few great moments in travel and adventure.

The birth of my brand

In April, I gave birth to my lifestyle/travel blog, Urbantravelista™. I created it as an outlet to share my personal life and travel experiences. I debuted my blog recounting my first international solo vacation experience. BTW, if you missed it, no worries. You can read it here: Solo Travel: Tips for a first time “Urbantravelista” . This is my second run at blogging and it’s the longest I’ve ever stuck with a writing project. Truthfully, running this project and growing Urbantravelista has kept me sane and grounded in the midst of 2016’s insanity.  I guess I finally found my niche.  I look forward to seeing it’s growth and evolution in the forthcoming year.  My goal is to encourage others to create their own fulfilling experiences by embracing the unknown and stepping outside of their comfort zone. I want to inspire others to live their truth (the good, the bad, and the ugly) and to make lemonade in the midst of life challenges…and be fabulous while doing it.  Life is imperfect.  Therefore, we don’t have to be perfect.  But we do have to LIVE.

 The Iceland Blackout

Also in April, I had the opportunity to join a meet-up experience in Reykjavik. We dubbed this event “The Iceland Blackout” as we collectively represented a group of over 70 black likeminded travelers from all over the world.  You can read about it here: Don’t sleep on Iceland . This adventure was special to me, because I had NEVER travelled this far away from home alone. Iceland was a destination that I never fathomed I’d ever visit or even have the desire to visit. Well, I completely underestimated it’s DOPENESS. I basked in the warm waters of the Blue Lagoon, rode the Reykjavik bus system by myself, danced with Icelanders in a Reykjavik hip hop club, toured the Golden Circle, felt the chilling magnificence of Gullfoss Waterfall, learned about Icelandic culture, walked the path between the American and Eurasian tectonic plates, and danced in the middle of nowhere under the Reykjavik stars while chasing the Northern Lights. I’m looking so forward to my return in March of 2017.  Stay tuned!

 

Golfing

When spring opened up, one of my best friends introduced me to the game of golf. It started with drink and appetizer outings at Top Golf. To my surprise, the more I practiced, the more I wanted to experience going out on a real course. So we did just that and after a few outings, I got to be pretty good at it. I do have a long way to go before I become proficient at it, but my performance and interest motivated me enough to invest in a set of clubs of my own.

 

Being Bobby Brown

He may not be significant to you, but he’s very much important to those of us that grew up during the New Edition era. My mom found out he was in town for a book signing in my neighborhood. Because she was a bigger fan than I was, I braved to two hour wait in line and got an autographed copy of his new book for the both of us. It was a couple of days for before my birthday and he was the first person to give me a hug and wish me Happy Birthday. How cool is that? Thanks Bobby!

 

TouristInMyTown Summer Challenge

 Over the summer, I launched a “TouristInMyTown Summer Challenge” campaign to encourage people to take advantage of the culture and tourism in their own backyard. I promoted this campaign by patronizing the various festivals, events, and tourist attractions in my city and challenging others to do the same in their respective cities. I kicked off the challenge at the Wells Street Art Festival held in historic Old Town. This festival featured over 225 artists from across the continent. Next, I attended the Taste of Randolph, a food and music festival similar to the Taste of Chicago, but on a much smaller scale. As summer progressed, I took the challenge to the south side where I attended house music’s signature summer event, The Chosen Few Old School Picnic.  This event is held in Hayes Park and takes place during the Fourth of July holiday. This was my third time in attendance and it gets bigger and better every year. Next, I headed back to the western suburbs and attended Naperville’s Rib Fest. This event is also held during the Fourth of July holiday and expands over four days. My final festival of the summer took place at Lincoln Park’s Hot Dog Fest. I stepped far outside of my comfort zone by trying a hot dog for the first time in 30 years. Yeah I know, pretty groundbreaking.  And in between my summer “festivaling”, I reacquainted myself with Oak Street beach, a Chicago attraction I haven’t enjoyed since my childhood. Sunbathing on the beach with my city’s beautiful skyline as the back drop was everything.

Saying Goodbye

After experiencing one of the best summers I’ve had in years, travel and adventure came to a screeching halt when I experienced my biggest heartbreak ever, saying goodbye to my beautiful mother. Death is an event that you never see coming. It doesn’t send an invitation for you to prepare or RSVP. It just shows up on your doorstep completely uninvited and gives zero f*cks. My fall and winter itinerary suddenly became replaced by profound grief and sadness. Discovering my “new” normal and picking up the broken pieces of my heart has become my newest adventure. It’s all a very unwelcomed adventure, but still an adventure that most of us will face some day nonetheless. Looking back, I came into 2016 feeling empowered and inspired. Although my year took a tragic turn, I still find joy in the goals I was able to accomplish. I find solace in the positive experiences I was able to create and the possibility of inspiring at least one person to create some positive experiences of their own. I’m not sure what’s in store for 2017, but the only thing that keeps me optimistic is my desire to continue living the way my mother wanted. She lived vicariously through my adventures and I look forward to honoring her memory by creating more awesome experiences in 2017.  Sure, it’s dark now, but joy comes in the morning. Let’s hope the sun shines brightly in 2017 with more travel and adventure.

 

 

 

@urbantravelista

 

Random truthism: It’s okay not to be okay

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It took pretty much most of life to drop my mask and be myself. You know, the mask many of us put on before stepping out into the world each morning.  For years, I worked to stay on the path to perfection. And, if it didn’t appear perfect, I would just fake it until it became perfect.  Never show emotions, people will use them against you.  Always portray yourself as having it together, even when your life is really falling apart.  Don’t ask for help or ever need anyone, people have ulterior motives and will think you’re weak.  It wasn’t until a several years ago, that a major life challenge forced me to drop those facades. It’s exhausting pretending you’re okay and life is grand, when it’s not.  We live in a society where only the beautiful and positive is accepted and everything outside of that superficial bubble is rejected and discarded. But the reality is this: I’m not perfect. NO ONE is perfect. I can’t parallel park. I’m socially awkward. I suck at math.  I can’t dance on beat. I burn rice every time I cook it. And I seldom read articles on Facebook before commenting on them.  Hey, it is what it is…this is me. But, over the years, I’ve learned to accept most of my shortcomings and I’m perfectly okay with them. I know, shocking right?

Since my mom’s unexpected death, I can notice the self-acceptance I’ve worked so hard to attain slowly becoming undone. I’ve always taken pride in being myself around people. This is me, this is how I feel…take it or leave it. But now, I just want to retreat and suppress everything. I try to avoid talking about my mom’s death or experience, because I don’t want to seem negative to other people. I try to pull back on expressing my disgust for this year, because I don’t want to appear ungrateful for the few good things that did happen for me this year. But it’s really not working.  The reality is, I’m angry at the world. I’m jealous of people that had an amazing year. Damn it why not me?? I’m a good person. I envy those that will have their moms for the remainder of the holidays. Why my mom? I’m pissed that my Dad is spending their 43rd wedding anniversary week picking up her ashes from a funeral home. Who knew God could be so cruel?   I’ve tried to do all of the new age Louise Hay and Wayne Dyer positive affirmation talk, but it’s failing me miserably.   Sorry but, “yeah, even though I watched my mom slowly suffocate to death on her own fluids for two weeks and watched her entire body swell up 3 times its normal size, I did take a pretty dope trip to Iceland in April #grateful #byehaters #blessingsonblessings” just doesn’t resonate with me.  I mean, it sounds all warm and fuzzy, but the truth is, my 2016 sucked. It is what it is.  And, I will not put on fake façade and pretend to have the resilience of Superman to make you comfortable.  If my authenticity disrupts your happy, then keep it moving.  No love lost.  I totally understand.  Just like Marilyn Monroe, if you can’t accept me at my worst, then you don’t deserve me at my best.  BTW, I really hate that quote, it’s so corny. I mean, did she even really say it?

Anyway, the take away is this: it’s really okay not to be okay.  If someone ask how you’re doing and you say “life sucks, but I’m dealing with it” and they don’t like it, then they shouldn’t have asked. You might lose a few people, and if you do that’s okay…they weren’t for you to begin with. When people really care about you and your well-being, they help you through the bad (especially, if you’re helping yourself), they don’t just show up when all is well within your world. In the interest of clarification, this doesn’t mean you have to treat random strangers and casual acquaintances as if they’re your personal therapist and pour out your heart.  And, this doesn’t mean that you should keep yourself in a negative space. It is possible to motivate yourself while remaining true to your real feelings. It’s detrimental to your healing and recovery.  Pretending to be okay when you’re not and trying to please everyone else’s comfort level will eventually give you a mental breakdown.  Some of the biggest pretenders who seem like they have it all together are just one Instagram click and post from seeing the inside of a room with white padded walls. As much as we don’t want to accept it, we’re human. We hurt. We cry.  We get disappointed. We get jealous. We fail. We lose.  And through it all, with work, dedication, the love and support of those close to us, we eventually get over it and get up again.  Anyone who believes otherwise either just won the lottery or is medicated on heavy does of benzodiazepines.  Life is composed of duality and we can’t embrace the light without acknowledging and respecting the dark.

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I promise to get back to travel blogging.  Until then, here’s a really dope selfie of me in front of Gullfoss Waterfall.  #socute

 

 

 

What is the cure for wanderlust…when you can’t “wander”?

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Last week, as a favor, I picked up a friend from the airport. As I made my exit to O’hare, I couldn’t help but feel kind of sad. The last time I stepped foot on a plane was in June when I went to Dallas for my birthday. My last international trip was back in April when I went to Iceland. Outside of that, I haven’t traveled anywhere. And while I realize life is all about perspective (some people haven’t traveled beyond their zip code…not travel shaming, just stating fact), I had higher expectations for myself this year.  I mean, I launched a brand and blog this year dedicated to travel. How can I promote travel, if I’m not…well…traveling?  But hey, it happens to the best of us.  One minute you’re on a traveling roll then boom…life happens.  Meanwhile, in the midst of sulking and feeling sorry for myself, my social media outlets have been LIT with friends globetrotting this year. Thailand, Dubai, Greece, Colombia, Brazil, Paris…they’re doing it this year. And I’m happy for them. It makes me happy to see others winning, even when I feel like I’m losing at the moment.  My life’s motto is this: If I eat steak and lobster, I want everyone to eat steak and lobster.  If I have to eat Spam, I still want everyone else to eat steak and lobster.  I want us all to win. But in the meantime, how does one cope with wanderlust when they can’t “wander”..at the moment?

Be a tourist in your town

A few months ago, I wrote a piece about being a tourist in your town (you can read it here: #TouristInMyTown) for the summer. Well, this applies year round.  There is so much culture right in our backyard that we seldom take the time to appreciate.  Spend a day being a tourist and checking out the landmarks, museums, and festivals in your city. I’ve come to learn that we usually abandon these outings after departing our school years, only to return when we’re under “obligation” to do so. I haven’t been to the Museum of Science and Industry since I was 17. I lived just a few blocks away for 13 years, but never visited. I should really go. (<=see what I just did there).

Do a local “staycation”

Treat yourself to a hotel deal on Groupon or Living Social. This gives you the opportunity to rack up hotel rewards to use for your next BIG vacation. It also allows you to check out different hotel chains without spending a fortune. You can make a full weekend out of it. Book a room, go see a play/concert, have a spa day, try a new restaurant. You can also use Groupon and Living Social to find deals on the activities I just mentioned.

Plan a day trip

Are there any nice attractions that are within 2 to 4 hours proximity to where you live? For example, if you live in Chicago, the wineries in Galena and Michigan are a great option for a day trip. Or, maybe you want to try something more adventurous like hiking?  Starved Rock is a great option for my Chicago people.

 Buy a cheap flight to a domestic city

Take advantage of flash flight sales and try visiting a domestic city you’ve never been to before. Every once in a while, a friend of mine will check Google ITA and buy the lowest ticket regardless of the destination. Contrary to popular belief, there’s so much to see and experience within our borders. Again, this allows you to rack up miles to use for future travel.

Stay inspired/Stay encouraged

Comparison is the thief of joy. Don’t kill your joy by comparing your travel adventures (or lack thereof) to other people. Life happens. Whether it be work, school, finances, or illness, life challenges and obligations sometimes have to take priority over collecting the next passport stamp.  But remember this: change is constant and it’s all temporary.  Just because you’re not traveling as much as you’d like at the present moment, doesn’t mean you have to stop dreaming or lose your will. Keep adding destinations to your travel bucket list. Keep planning your next BIG getaway. Stay connected to your passion and be grateful for all of your travel experiences, big and small. This too shall pass…

 

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Aruba 2013 “Believe in Yourself”

@urbantravelista