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

Urbantravelista | Get out of your comfort zone

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I guess it’s safe to say that 2016 has definitely been my year of summer “festivaling”.  A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to add another summer festival to my resume: The Chicago Hot Dog Fest.  Located in historic Lincoln Park, the event took place over three days and featured some of Chicago’s top hot dog vendors, live entertainment, face painting, and games. Proceeds benefit the Chicago History Museum and this year marked the fourth year of the festival’s existence.

But here’s an interesting plot twist. I hadn’t eaten a hot dog in almost 30 years. As a native Chicagoan, that’s considered pure blasphemy.  Hot dogs are a staple in my city.  But, once my eighth grade teacher Mr. Patrick (may he rest in peace) decided to share how hot dogs were processed, I lost my desire to ever eat one again. But fast forward 30 years later, attending the fest motivated me to give into peer pressure. I mean, how can I blog about this event and not even try the main product? So, I stepped outside of my comfort zone and tried a hot dog for the first time in 30 years.

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After posting the photo and caption above on my Facebook page, it didn’t take long for the food Nazis to express their disgust and disappointment.  And I totally get it.  I can understand the naysayers.  In a failed attempt to go completely vegan, I gave up pork and red meat a few years ago. But when I travel abroad or have a new restaurant experience, I try to remove those limits.  We tend to play it safe in life, especially when we travel. We will venture thousands of miles, across several time zones and even cross the international date line, just to eat the same routine foods we eat every day when we’re at home.  Life is short and I don’t believe in wasting experiences anymore.

So the take away is this: whether you’re at home or abroad, it doesn’t hurt to step outside of your comfort zone. It won’t kill you to try something new or unfamiliar. I’m living proof. I ate a hot dog for the first time in 30 years…and LIVED to write about it. And BTW, that hot dog was AMAZING…but it will probably be another 30 years before I experience another one.

4th of July Finale: Naperville Ribfest 2016

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So, I ended this year’s 4th of July celebration doing something that I’ve never done before: I attended the 2016 Naperville Ribfest. The festival is typically a four day event and ran from Friday, July 1st to Monday, July 4th.  It’s hosted by the Exchange Club of Naperville to raise funds to help fight child abuse, domestic violence and to strengthen families in local communities.

The festival  has a north and south entrance featuring vendors, raffles, and carnival rides/games, that meet up with “Ribbers Row” (the 12 national rib vendors that make up Ribfest).  There are also two stages set up for live entertainment.  This year’s line up featured Sheryl Crow, Matchbox 20, and several blues, country, and rock artists.  And are you a vegan or vegetarian?  Or are you just trying to watch your waistline?  Well no worries, because Ribfest offers many alternatives to accommodate the most health conscious palate. I don’t eat pork but had no issue feasting on a chicken sandwich, onion blossom, and funnel cake (pictured below).

General admission for Ribfest is $20 for adults.  It’s a great event for families, couples, groups, or even if you want to roll solo.  There is something for everyone. And as a finale, Ribfest puts on a huge fireworks show, usually hosted by one of their big sponsors. Check it out next year!

 

@urbantravelista

Chosen Few Weekend: Chicago’s Biggest Family Reunion

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So, part one of my 4th of July weekend began with one of Chicago’s biggest annual reunions, The Chosen Few Old School Picnic. Also known as the “Black Woodstock”, the Chosen Few Picnic is one the most anticipated musical events of the summer. House Heads near and far, get up at the crack of dawn (like seriously out at 3am) to set up their tents, throw meat on the grill, and dance and socialize to endless hours of house music. The event is held on the south side of Chicago in Hayes Park and always takes place on July 4th weekend.  It started over 20 years ago as a small gathering and has now grown to thousands of attendees annually.  The event features world renowned guest DJs, live performances and, of course, the legendary Chosen Few DJs.

Now I’ve never considered myself to be a true “house head”, but I do love house music.  It’s a part of my generation and it is a part of Chicago. I remember when it originated and I am part of the generation that used to record mixes from WBMX to my cassette tapes.  I wasn’t old enough to go to the clubs, but I remember my older counterparts raving about the Warehouse, a house club hosted by world renowned and late house DJ pioneer Frankie Knuckles.  Overall, I suppose the event brings a certain feel of nostalgia. You get to listen to the music that saw you through puberty and reunite with old family and friends.  It’s peaceful and drama free. Everyone is there for the same purpose and common goal.

The Chosen Few picnic usually takes place July 4th weekend. Traditionally, it’s always been one day event, coupled with other pre-party and after party events.  But this year, they decided to make it a two day affair.  And as the event has grown over the years, so has the admission. For example, when I first attended five years ago, the cost was only $10 for general admission.  The cost this year was $34 for advanced purchase and $40 at the gate.  There is been a lot of controversy regarding the increasing cost.  Some attendees feel it’s completely justified and others feel the city is trying to take control of the event to generate another income stream. Either way, I think all of us can agree: it’s a damn good time. And I suspect that no matter how much admission goes up, loyal house heads will still be there. And I probably will be too.

I pledge allegiance to “the house”.

 

#TouristInMyTown: Taste of Randolph

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This weekend, I had the opportunity to cross the Taste of Randolph off my summer festival bucket list. Yep…ANOTHER EVENT I have yet to attend all of my many years as a Chicagoan SMH. Nestled along the 900 west block of Randolph between Racine and Peoria, The Taste of Randolph is like the appetizer to Chicago’s summer main course, the Taste of Chicago. Historically, it runs the third week of June and started Friday, June 17th at 5pm Sunday and ended June 19th at 10pm. The Taste of Randolph is hosted by the West Loop Community Organization, an a non-profit 501(c)3 agency that continuously works to ensure positive progress for the neighborhood, while offering social events and beneficial developments to improve the quality of life in the West Loop.

The entry fee is a reasonable $10 donation (all proceeds benefit the West Loop Community Organization) and grants attendees access to top local cuisine, art vendors, and live music.  This year, the festival partnered with Chicago based independent promoters, Silver Wrapper to bring three eclectic stages featuring raw talent including Chicago’s brightest young musical acts extending from indie rock to dance music. If you’re a foodie, music lover, or artisan, this event is for you. There’s something for everyone to enjoy. As for me, I heavily enjoyed the red sangria, chicken kabobs, and house music!

And if you missed it this year, there’s always next year. Until then, you still have the Taste of Chicago to look forward to which runs from July 6th through July 10th at Grant Park (admission FREE). Stayed tuned for my next review and come “summer” me with as I become a “Tourist In My Town”.

@urbantravelista

#TouristInMyTown: Wells Street Art Festival

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So this past weekend, I kicked off my #TouristInMyTown Summer Challenge at the annual Wells Street Art Festival. Usually held the second full weekend of June, the event takes place in historical Old Town, on Wells Street between Division and North Ave.  Sidebar: For almost 3 years, I used to work on the same block as this event and never ever attended SMH!!!

The Wells Street Art Festival features over 225 artists from across the continent with an estimated 50,000 patrons in attendance over the entire weekend . Many of the disciplines represented include: traditional painting and sculpture, artisan woodworking and metalsmithing, jewel craft, and digital arts. There is also live entertainment, a children’s play area, and over 20 food and drink vendors from most of the restaurants in historic Old Town. The festival is located in close proximity to Chicago’s Magnificent Mile, walking distance from North Avenue Beach, and very accessible via public transportation.  The cover charge is usually based on whatever donation you would like to give.  This year, they requested $7.00 from each attendee. The gate donations support various community organizations and causes such as homeless services, local schools, hunger initiatives, health education, and arts and culture organizations.

Overall, this event made my weekend. It was peaceful and the first Saturday that we saw 90 degree weather.  And, I also appreciate the festival’s efforts in providing a social platform for unknown and upcoming artists to share and promote their work to those of us that don’t usually get the opportunity to enjoy it.

For vendor or sponsorship opportunities regarding next year’s festival, please visit their website at http://www.wellsstreetartfest.us/#!contactus/c24vq

@urbantravelista

 

#TouristInMyTown Summer Challenge

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So what exactly is the #TouristInMyTown Summer Challenge? Well it’s a challenge I created to inspire myself and others to take advantage of the abundant tourism that’s right in our own back yard. I’m always intrigued whenever I meet people from other parts of the country and globe that have experienced and know more about my city than I do. I mean, how exactly does this happen? How is that John has been to Navy Pier more than I have and he lives in Seattle? Well, I have a theory. Just like a relationship, we get complacent. The attractions we have access to will always be there, so we take them for granted.

In the early 90’s my family and I relocated from the burbs to Hyde Park. If you’re not familiar with Chicago, Hyde Park sits along the lakefront and houses the prestigious University of Chicago and Museum of Science and Industry.  And it is also home of our current First Family. Although it’s changed a lot over the years, there has always been great beauty and a lot of history there. Growing up as a suburbanite, moving to Hyde Park was a welcome change for me. I was so excited to be taking the plunge into city life. I mean, who wouldn’t be excited living on the 22nd floor with a panoramic view of the lake. I couldn’t wait to stroll on the lake with the rest of the joggers and bikers. Well, after my few times, my enthusiasm died down. After my first year, I can count on one hand how many times I went back over the 12 years that followed. And the Museum of Science and Industry? I didn’t go at all. It was walking distance from my apartment building SMH! Truth be told, I really haven’t gone to any museums or zoos since my high school years. And the last time I went to the Sears Tower (I’m a native Chicagoan, it will NEVER be the Willis Tower) was for a job interview. Why didn’t I check out the new Skydeck? I didn’t even get the job, so it would have at least made the trip worth my while.

A second theory I believe keeps us complacent is the “work factor”. Many of us live in the suburbs and work in the city. When we have our freedom on the weekends, the last thing we want to do is travel back to where we work. We commute in, do our work, and leave. Meanwhile, the tourists are having a field day taking advantage of every awesome experience we take for granted. While we’re running to catch that last train back to the burbs, they’re passing us by on their Segway tour.

I want to inspire people to venture outside of the comforts of their own neighbor for leisure rather than work, school, or a doctor’s appointment. Everyone isn’t in the position to quit their jobs to globetrot and island hop every weekend. Everyone doesn’t have the financial resources or even available time off to travel. Some people even have trouble getting passports. But EVERYONE can take advantage of the tourism opportunities right in their back yard.

So how to do you do the #TouristInMyTown Summer Challenge? It’s simple. Pick a day (or a few) and pick out a few attractions you want to check out over the summer:

  • Museums/Landmarks/Tours: Check out the museum or landmark you haven’t visited since childhood. Try going for pure leisure, instead of going because you have to chaperone on a field trip. Does your city offer a walking or bus tour? Try one. You’ll be surprised at what you might learn.
  • Ferris Buller Day: Remember the 80’s classic Ferris Bueller’s Day off (I know, I’m telling my age)? While I would never advocate anyone jeopardizing their job, you can play hooky from work and spend the day in your city sightseeing. Just don’t go near your workplace LOL!
  • Day Trip: Find a destination a couple of hours away from your city and plan a full day trip. Is there a winery or beach you’ve always wanted to visit? Is there an activity you’ve wanted to try, like kayaking or hiking, but never made time for it? The possibilities are endless with a day trip.

 

 

It is my sincere hope that this challenge will give us a new appreciation for where we live and what we take for granted. The news reminds us daily of what’s wrong with our city. Let’s show the world what’s “right” with it. There is so much history and beauty right in our backyard. You can start anytime you want over the summer. Rep your city and don’t forget the #TouristInMyTown hashtag in your social media pics. Let’s go!!!

@urbantravelista