Urbantravelista | Adulting: Getting through the things we never asked for

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While perusing one of my favorite social media outlets, a friend of mine posted the following question: “Honestly, does anyone REALLY feel you’re truly succeeding at this adult business?”. It didn’t take long for me to respond with all of the nopes I could find. I’m just 6 days shy of my 44th birthday. And, after much reflection and introspection, I can truly say that I’m failing miserably at adulting. And nothing supports my claim better than the last several months. Life is funny. After experiencing the most devastating loss ever (losing my mom), I thought the Universe would maybe reward me with a break. I mean, that’s what happens in the movies? The person goes through this horrendous challenge then life is gravy again, right? They find the love of their life, win the lottery, quit their job and travel the world? Yeah, in the “movies”. But in real life, NO! To shed some perspective, the last several months have felt like a game of kickball, with me being the ball. For starters, my grandmother has suffered a myriad of health challenges over the last few months. In my mother’s absence, I am now the matriarch of the family. I’m the listening ear, the conflict and problem solver, and the “go to” person. I could say the politically correct thing, like “it’s an honor to have this role and I’m so open to the task”. But I’m far from politically correct. So I’ll be transparent because that’s all I know how to be. This is a role I wanted no parts of, at least not for another 20 years. I’m still a kid myself. My routine work days have been replaced with sudden runs to the emergency room. My social life has been replaced with taking care of my grandmother. I cancel plans at the last minute. In fact, these days I rarely commit to anything at all because I don’t know what health emergency is gonna come up. The structure I once had in my life is gone. Every day is unpredictable. I launched a travel and apparel business with lackluster response. I don’t blog or write as often because my passion is slipping away. My laptop died this week (yeah, it was almost 10 years old, but still). And due to my own fault, I lost a 13 year friendship this week. AND, on top of all of that, I’m still dealing with my own grief. I could go on and on, but I think you get the picture. So no, I don’t feel like I’m succeeding at this adult business. Enduring maybe. But succeeding? Absolutely NOT.

When my mom passed away, I was often provided with the following platitude: “God never puts more on you than you can bear”. I guess this is supposed to comfort people in their time of confusion, heartache, and pain. But it really doesn’t. I know people have the best intentions when they attempt to comfort you with such phrases. I totally get it. But maybe people simply “bear it” because jumping from a bridge isn’t an option for them…yet? Who really wants to bear hardships, failure, and loss? Thanks God, but I don’t want to bear it. I want no parts of it. If I can’t bear prosperity, love, or even just one week when all hell doesn’t break loose, take it back or give to someone else. Now to clarify, this isn’t a “woe is me” or look at how terrible my life is piece. Because in spite of my challenges, I don’t view my life as being terrible. It has it’s rare high moments. Tough breaks come with the territory of living and life could always be worse. I know this. The intent of this piece is to let those of you that feel like you’re failing at adulting know that you are not alone and that there are solutions to help you through the storm.

So how do I stay grounded in the midst of chaos? I’m glad you asked:

Live in the moment

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Next week is my birthday and have some down time planned. The one thing about loss and challenges is that it makes you recognize what is truly important. My birthday plans have gone from planning an international trip to a spa day to now, a week of being home doing absolutely nothing. Life has been so chaotic for me lately, that all I want is a couple of days of uninterrupted quiet time. But with my grandmother’s unpredictable health status, I know that my birthday may be spent with trips to the emergency room and hospital. And if it happens, oh well. I will deal with it if it comes. I focus on the day and whatever task I have on my plate at the moment. Focusing on next week won’t hinder the bad that may come.

Practice gratitude

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At the beginning of the year, I began keeping a “gratitude jar”. Being that I was going into the new year without my mom, I thought this would be a challenge. But so far, I’ve been wrong. I bought a mason jar and fill it with at least one post it note of something good that happened or something I’m grateful for. At the end of the year, I will read each note and hopefully find that maybe I’m succeeding at adulting better than I thought I was. We’re only half way through the year, and my jar is 3/4 full!

Self-care

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This is paramount. If you don’t take care of yourself, you are totally useless to someone else. In order to accommodate everyone else, I found myself putting off much needed health screening and wellness appointments. I stopped going to the gym. I stopped eating clean. I stopped doing the things that I enjoy. I gained 10 pounds. I started slacking on my financial responsibilities and goals. None of this is helpful to me or the people in my life that need me. How can I help my grandmother if I’m in a hospital bed too? So, I’ve learned to try to carve out at least a few hours during the week to do something strictly for me. I treat myself to massage or a movie. I take myself out to dinner. I try to get in the gym at least one day a week. I take off from work when I have the time to do so and tell no one that I’m off. And I do all of this UNAPOLOGETICALLY. Because when those that we cared for are eventually gone, who will be here to take care of us? That harsh reality reinforced the need to stay in the best physical and mental state for as long as I can.

Release what you can’t control

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As I mentioned earlier, I lost a 13 year friendship this week. Although it was primarily my fault, I truly valued the person and the friendship. Without going into too much detail, I attempted make amends and owned my role in its demise. I really tried to make it right. But this person chose to write me out of their life, at least for now. I beat myself over this all week. But then I realized, I can only control my actions. I can’t force people to stay connected with me. Leaving is as much as their right as it is mine. I owned up to my mistake and tried to make it right. That’s all I can do. Release it and let it go. Because if it’s the Universe/God’s will for the friendship to be restored again, it will be.

Journal

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I’ve been journaling ever since I was in highs school. I use my journal to jot down my thoughts, feelings, ideas, and aspirations. It’s a great tool to write out your vision, goals, and affirmations. Journaling helps me vent and also helps my stay connected to my goals. It’s easy to lose sight of your dreams when you don’t write them down.

Therapy

Sometimes, in spite of our best efforts even our best isn’t good enough. If you’re barely holding life together with a safety pin, it might be time to talk to professional. I sought counseling a few years ago when I through my divorce and just after my mom passed away. After that, I thought I could handle all of the challenges coming my way alone. I’ve always prided myself on handling everything on my own. I wore it like a badge of honor. But this time around, it was crushing me. Life was literally crushing my soul. If you look forward to sleep because you’d rather not endure your waking hours or you find yourself and passion for life slipping away, reach out for help. There is no shame in self care and ensuring your mind is well. Your mind is just as important, if not more than your body. Again, what good am I to those that need me if I’m in a mental institution or worst, an early grave because I couldn’t hold on anymore.

In conclusion, I hope this helps someone. I may not have the family I always dreamed of, the house with the white picket fence, or a million dollars in the bank. I may very well be failing at adulting. But I will always summa cum laude the hell out trying and overcoming.

@urbantravelista

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

 

 

 

The spirit of gratitude: Lessons learned during my mother’s death journey

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Life is funny. Actually, sometimes it’s down right cruel. Today, I was supposed to be going a family road trip for the Thanksgiving holiday, just like we did last year. We would crack jokes the entire way, stop at Boomland to buy useless knick knacks, and hit the casino as soon as we arrived in Tunica, MS.  And the following weekend, I would be preparing for my last trip of the year, a solo vacay to Montreal I had been planning since September.   But none of that would ever happen.  Why? Because tonight, I’m preparing for my mother’s memorial service next weekend.  A memorial service.  I had to say it again, because I’m still in disbelief.  I know she’s gone, but I don’t want to believe she’s gone.  I had hoped that both my mom and I would grow old and gray together. I think most would agree that we all want to believe that our parents will live well past the age of 99 and pass peacefully in their sleep. We don’t expect to lose them so suddenly, especially when life is going pretty well. This isn’t exactly how I intended on ending 2016.  But, I guess life isn’t the last 2 minutes of The Titanic.

Life can really change on dime.  Nothing would prove this theory greater than the events of October 26th, 2016.  I never fathomed a simple ER visit would lead me here: looking for poems to include in my mom’s obituary, yet here I am. Vague flu-like symptoms would turn into a severe headache.  A severe headache would turn into a full blown seizure.  My mother’s last audible words to me would be, “make it stop”. I would rub her head and tell her everything would be okay.  And every day, over the course of 15 days, I would be reminded that everything would NEVER be okay. She would never speak again.  She would never laugh again. She would never squeeze my hand again. She would never gain consciousness again. My worst fears would be realized and my emotional rollercoaster would begin.

Fifteen years of nursing experience would never prepare me for the nightmare in front of me.  As a health care professional, it’s a difficult place to be when the roles reverse.  I mean, I speak their language. I’ve seen this movie before in my professional practice and I know how this story ends. I know pathophysiology. I read the expressions of concern and hopelessness in my mom’s prognosis when the residents and attending make their morning rounds.   I comprehend abnormal lab values. I understand abnormal diagnostic reports.  I know when I walk into my mom’s room and observe she requires three powerful vasopressors to sustain a blood pressure, that it’s NOT a good sign. I know that abnormal ABGs and a low oxygen saturation levels means that my mother is going into respiratory failure. She can’t breathe on her own. She can’t provide oxygen to her most vital organs.  She can’t talk to me. She can’t fight off whatever infection is ravaging her body.  And the worst part about it is that I know ALL of this and there isn’t a damn thing I can do about it. I’m completely powerless. I don’t sleep at night, because I know a phone call in the middle of the night means the worst.  I sleep with my lights on holding my phone.  I don’t drink alcohol at night or go to social events, in anticipation of having to rush to the hospital at any given moment.  I exchange the same looks of worry and despair with other families when I visit every day. My heart drops in the pit of my stomach when the ICU attending wants to call a family meeting to discuss palliative care and hospice options.  Nursing school prepares you how to meet the needs for other families during a time of crisis, but it never prepares you how to keep it together when it’s your own loved one. This isn’t my patient or a case study. This is my mother. It’s a devastating place to be…a hell I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

So, what could I do?  What do you do when your the woman that gave you life is dying and there is nothing you can do it about it?  What do you do when you pray, but the answer is no?  The only remedy I could provide was to ensure my mom was comfortable as possible. I could accept her fate and make decisions the way she would want me to on her behalf. We didn’t have much time left.  So, I could make those last moments count.  I could spend as much time with her as possible.  I could talk to her and speak from my heart even though she couldn’t hear me. I could massage her feet even though she had no idea I was there.  I could thank her for being an amazing parent to me and my brother, wife to my father, and grandparent to my nephew. I could thank her for the many life lessons and wisdom she has passed down to me.  I could tell her that if she was tired, it was okay to go, even though it hurt like hell for me to let her go. I could reassure her that we would all be okay and I would carry the baton if she wanted to pass it to me. And on November 10th, 2016 at 11:10 pm, my beautiful mother did just that.  Her last vital organ shut down and she took her last breath.

It’s only been two weeks since she’s been gone and it still hurts as if it were that fateful day. But I still find gratitude in having my mother, a pretty AWESOME mother might I add, for my 43 years of life.  Many people don’t have that.  I’m grateful that we had a great relationship at the time of her passing. She was there for every important milestone in my life that mattered: my graduations, my nursing pinning ceremony, my sorority induction, and my wedding. Some people can’t say the same about their mother and daughter relationship.  I find gratitude in being there with her every step of her death journey, from the time she lost consciousness until she took her last breath. I advocated for her and carried out her wishes the way she would want, at least I hope I did. I find comfort in learning how many people loved my mother as much as I did, and hearing how amazing she was from the perspective from other people. I find solace in those that have reached out to me during my bereavement and encouraged me to remain strong and live the life my mom would have wanted me to live, even though at times I feel like dying. I find gratitude in my parents’ example of undying love. My father, husband of 43 years never left my mother’s side.  He never gave up on her, even when the doctors had given up…even when I had given up.  I am a product of their love and I am grateful. In the midst of my gratitude, I would be a liar if I said I didn’t feel angry, hurt, or cheated.  I feel all of these things… to my core.  We had so many plans that will never materialize. But gratitude was the greatest lesson in this journey. I would be doing my mother’s memory a disservice if I didn’t focus on the gift she passed down to me: GRATITUDE.

 

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Thanks for everything Mom, Rest in Power ❤

@urbantravelista

Urbantravelista | Do you value experiences or things?

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When I was in high school, I had two opportunities to travel abroad. The first opportunity was a trip to Paris with my French class during my freshman year. And, the other opportunity was a bus trip to Canada with my band during my junior year. Both trips would’ve been great opportunities for a black teen whose family didn’t even own a passport. During that time, my travels never extended anywhere beyond visiting relatives in Michigan or my birthplace in Arkansas. My parents supported my decision to go. So why didn’t I go? Well, both trips took place around Christmas break. And like most teenagers, I looked forward to getting Christmas gifts. But my family was far from the Huxtables.  I mean, my parents were (and still are) very awesome and loving.  But like most parents, they couldn’t accommodate both my desire to travel AND provide me with the gifts I wanted for Christmas. So they gave me a choice: I could take the trip in lieu of Christmas gifts or have a decked out Christmas and skip the trip. Being the teenager that I was, I took the latter. I have my whole life to go to Paris, right? I have my eternity to go to Canada, it’s not the far away?

Well, that was almost 30 years ago. And guess what? I still haven’t been to Paris or Canada.  I mean, I’ve been to some pretty dope places, but this reflection reminds me of how even as adults, we often value “things” over experiences.  I don’t even remember what I received for Christmas those years I declined the trips. I can’t tell you what clothes I received or how long I had them. Those material things are all gone. They didn’t last.

I did start to travel about 5 years ago. And I’ve come to learn that my travels and experiences hold so much more value. I can’t tell you what I got for Christmas in 2012. But I can tell you about the adrenaline rush I got when I went zip lining in the jungles of the Dominican. I can’t recall my summer wardrobe from 2013, but I can recall the magnificence of stepping in the Caribbean sea for the first time in Aruba, as if it happened 5 minutes ago. I don’t even know if I still have the pair of gloves I purchased last fall or what they even look like. But I do remember the freedom and liberation of taking my first solo trip to Cancun and trekking the Mayan ruins last October.

Looking back, I regret not choosing the travel opportunities extended to me when I was in high school. Those experiences would’ve lasted a lifetime. I have finally reached a place in my life where experience trumps everything.  I would gladly take an opportunity to visit Spain over a designer handbag or uncomfortable pair of Louboutin heels any day. And I think it all started with that first passport stamp back in 2012. Since that time, I’ve lost a lot. I’ve had to downsize and even rebuild. But through it all, I’ve come to know that the world can strip you everything. But your experiences…your experiences will last a lifetime. They will be with you when you’re old and gray on your death bed.

So the take away it this: Possessions aren’t loyal. They eventually break, tear, or leave. Most of the overpriced junk we buy doesn’t retain value. But experiences…they will ride with you until the very end.  Experience over things…always!

@urbantravelista