My Luck is My Ladies

“Hey, want to go to Vegas for my golden birthday?”

See, it all started as a half-joke. I mean come on, even the term “golden birthday” is kind of made up. I’m turning 24 on the 24th and thought it would be fun to celebrate with a girlfriend or two in a big way. Vegas seemed fitting, of course.

But what I didn’t expect was for the “YES!”s to just keep coming at me.

Not just one or two but seven of my best girlfriends all took a gamble on a girls weekend in Sin City and flew out for my birthday.

(Not sorry about the puns…)

Lucky for me, these ladies shared my mindset: if you’re going to do something, do it right.

We got two adjoining suites at the glamorous Venetian (which honestly I might like a little more than I did actual Venice because it’s less crowded and they have a pool) and spent the weekend basking in the glitz and the ritz.

We wore fluffy white robes and soaked in a marble tub while eating cake and drinking Champagne (we took turns of course because we couldn’t all fit.) We sat front and center for the musical BAZ (great musical, but everyone dies in the end so it’s low key sad), and sang (okay, screamed) our hearts out at 3am watching ZEDD perform. We won big playing slots and roulette (and proceeded to promptly lose most of it), and we splashed around a day-club in our teeny bikinis (and loads of sunscreen because sun safety is key.)

Yes it was fabulous, but here’s the real secret sauce to my perfect weekend:

If you had taken away the glitter and sexy dresses, the bottle service and the suites, the limo and the shows. If that were all gone, I still would have been the luckiest lady in the world.

It was my golden girls who made it perfect.

Things are things, but good people are every-thing.

While I’m still not over the fact that seven humans got on airplanes to celebrate that I have aged another year, nor is my body over the trauma of three days of champagne and cake, my heart is so full.

To my beautiful friends: Thank you. I hit the jackpot when I met you.

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Domestic Diva

While I do consider myself the Martha Stewart of our generation, I’m referring to domestic in a slightly different sense.

I have temporarily traded in my international travel for domestic instead, embracing the life of a road warrior for my cool new career.

Seattle. Los Angeles. New York. Phoenix. Atlanta. Boston. Anywhere, I’m there.

Maybe you’ve noticed (you probably haven’t) but I’ve never really written about my travels within the US. In fact, I find it hard to blog about anything at all when it’s not about some fabulous and exciting foreign country.

Alas, I have decided that domestic destinations carry their own validity and their own stories and it’s about time I start sharing those as well.

Let’s start with the fact that today I managed to pack 14 different outfits, five pairs of shoes, and three handbags into a carry on.

People, if that isn’t an accomplishment worth writing about- then I don’t know what is.

More to come from this high heeled road warrior and her pink suitcase. Stay tuned, and thanks for flying along.

2017 Travel Reflections

I think most people would agree that 2017 was kind of a weird year, but hey- at least it turned out to be a pretty good travel year for me.

I must admit the first half of the year felt kind of like repeatedly stubbing your toe into a coffee table, but the second half of my year I was able to get back to my true self and was free to start traveling again.

So, I went to Bolivia, Spain, Nepal, and Mexico- an eclectic combo across four continents.(You, dear readers, came with- a MILLION thanks for that!)

Looking back, one of the questions I’ve gotten a lot (second to, “wtf Pauline, how?”) is, “well, what’s your favorite place you’ve been this year.”

Truth is, I can’t really pick one. Each of those places was spectacular in it’s own way and I found joy everywhere I went.

I found joy in zipping into a boiler suit, strapping on a helmet and exploring the mines of Potosi in Bolivia.

I found joy in putting on a pair of heels, slipping on a minidress and staying out until the sunrise in Barcelona.

I found joy in lacing up my hiking boots, powering through some nasty blisters, and hiking to the Annapurna Basecamp in Nepal.

And then, I found joy in taking it all off and diving into the ocean in La Ventana, Mexico.

They were all different, and they were all wonderful in their own way.

And that is exactly what I’m looking for in 2018.

Different.

I’m fascinated by the Middle East. I’m craving South Asia. I’m dreaming of Patagonia…

Should I just start throwing darts at a map?

Although I don’t know where I’m going next, I do know one thing for sure- I have a shiny new passport that needs a bit of weathering.

Cheers to 2018 and all the places we have yet to see!

 

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IMG_7810.JPGphoto by Christian Heeb

Landlocked

Ever since Drake popularized the lyrics, “Running out of pages in your passport,” I feel like it’s been littering the instagram captions of every wander-luster or travel blogger (or anyone who has ever gotten on a flight, really.)

Why would you possibly want that?

Do you know what happens when you run out of pages in your passport?

You have to march your pretty little self to a post office, give them all your money and wait until they decide to bless you with a new one 4-6 weeks later. (Or give them even more of your money and wait only 2 weeks.)

And you know where you’re going while you wait for your new passport?

Nowhere.

On Christmas Eve, I realized I had ran out of pages in my passport and immediately went into panic mode.

“I am landlocked,” I wailed dramatically through my house, “this is a disaster and everything is ruined.”

“Were you already planning on going somewhere in the next few weeks?” my mom asked, unamused by my antics.

It was a fair question, and the answer was no. It wasn’t like I already had flights booked somewhere that I would have to scrambled to change.

I just sleep better at night knowing that I can go somewhere when I wake up. And right now, I was a bird with clipped wings.

Fortunately, my father came to the rescue casually pulling out an application for a new passport out of his nightstand.

(Everyone has those lying around in their house, right?)

I frantically filled out the form, as if every moment counted (fully knowing that it didn’t because the post office wouldn’t even be open until after Christmas.)

Within the next two days, I had taken a new passport photo, braved the US Postal Office and gave the government a pretty penny to get this thing expedited.

I can breathe easy again, and start letting my mind wander (as if it ever stopped) to all the places I want to go in 2018.

Now accepting suggestions and invitations.

Baja

photo by Christian Heeb

Fiascos and Flights

This morning I woke up at 8 am. Which was a problem because my flight was taking off at 8 am.

I have been on hundreds of flights, and I’ve never missed one before. I suppose that’s what happens when you book an early flight the day after a holiday party, though.

I’m visiting my dear friends in Mexico for the week, and since I booked my flights pretty last minute- I had to get creative. Detroit has lousy connections, so I picked a flight from Chicago to Cabo. I figured I could just catch an early flight from Detroit and make it to Chicago in time for my 2pm flight. It was risky, but totally do-able.

When I got home from my company’s holiday party, I debated staying up until my flight but thought it would be best to just “rest my eyes for a bit.”

I realized how terrible of an idea that was when a text from my roommate wishing me safe travels woke me up at the same time my flight was departing.

I darted around my room muttering “fuck, fuck, fuck” and throwing things into my suitcase. (I had the ambitious idea that I would pack for my trip in the morning before heading to the airport. Another poor decision.)

I didn’t know if I wanted to laugh or cry, but I didn’t have time for either of those so I went into crisis management mode instead. There were no other flights that would get me into Chicago in time for my 2pm flight. No train or bus either, and I didn’t know of anyone driving there today. I don’t own a car, but realized that would be my best chance at making my afternoon flight, so I rented one.

By 9:30 am I had acquired a snow covered little blue car with Texas plates, and I hit the road.

The drive between Ann Arbor (where I live) and Chicago is about 4 hours so I had almost no margin for traffic or winter roads. I was taking a big risk, but I really didn’t want to have to rebook my flights. Luckily, the sun was shining, the roads were clear and the traffic was moving. I drove much faster than I probably should have been driving, but I was making really good time. Things were looking up!

Then, of course, with about 30 minutes left of my drive, the gas light went on. I really didn’t have the time to get off the highway and get gas, so I just kept going. The gas light is just a warning, right?

I started to get more and more nervous the closer I got to the airport. With about 10 minutes left the gas light started blinking and I knew I had a problem on my hands, but at this point I was nowhere near a gas station. (Should I just rename this post: Poor Decisions?)

Now, I’m not a gambler but today was already so full of taking risks, I figured one more couldn’t hurt.

About a minute away from the car rental drop off the car started making some funky sounds and started slowing down, and I held onto the wheel for dear life as if I could somehow will it to keep going. And it did.

I pulled into the car return port, amazed at how perfect the timing was. There’s no way that car would have made it another mile. I handed over my keys and hopped into mama Kulka’s car (mom to the rescue!) and we sped towards the United Terminal.

She handed me a Tupperware of her homemade persimmon walnut bread, and I raced to the check in counter with my glorious food in hand. I was going to make it!

I scanned my passport and to my surprise, I saw a message pop up on the screen, “No reservation found for this passenger.”

How could this be? I could not have gone through this entire ordeal and not have a flight. I aged a couple years in just one morning, and it couldn’t be for nothing.

Fortunately, I realized that my flustered self had just gotten the airlines mixed up and I was just at the wrong terminal. The bad news was that time was still of the essence, and I broke a sweat just thinking about how fast I would need to move in order to make it to the next terminal. For the umpteenth time today, luck was on my side. My mother is a very smart lady and very good at this airport drop off thing, so she had waited out front, “just in case.”

With her help, and the help of TSA precheck, I made it to my gate with time to spare.

I’m currently on my flight to Cabo, smiling to myself about how sometimes in life, “things just work out.”

Conversations with Strangers: Joel from Ann Arbor

I was having coffee on the lawn of my guest house in Tolka, overlooking the terraced hills of the Himalayas when an older gentlemen with the most soothing voice struck up a conversation with me.

His name was Joel, pronounced Joelle- the Italian way. He was born and raised in Ann Arbor, but has been living on an island off the coast of Tuscany for the last 9 years. He used to live in Nepal- working in the villages to aid the blind, and speaks fluent Nepalese as a result. We talked about Nepal, and it’s kind people and beautiful culture. We also chatted about life, and how the world really is a small and funny place. In life there are no coincidences, and it was certainly no coincidence that I met Joel on the last full day of my trek.

Best advice you could give someone?

“Go slowly.” Everything is going so fast these days, that it’s only when you slow down you can begin to see where you are.

What was your happiest moment?

Nepal.

His answer was simple and direct. Some things just don’t need explaining.

Namaste Joel. Thank you for the serenity you brought me, and for the reminder to slow down. I hope to take that with me on my journey home, and I certainly hope our paths cross again.

Day 10: Tolka to Pokhara

The End. Fin. Cue: We are the Champions. Follow with “Closing Time.”

In what seems like a blink of an eye (if blinking were really hard and took ten days of going up and down hills) my trek has come to an end.

Immediately after exiting the trail, and seeing my taxi waiting to take me back to Pokhara- I passed a beautiful French family of four that was just starting their trek to Annapurna Basecamp.

I gave my bamboo stick to the girl in the family, who must have been around 12, and Gambu gave his stick to the little boy, who was maybe 9. I told the girl that I had already taken the stick up to ABC and now it was her turn.

They all looked so happy and excited, and I nearly started crying because of how wonderful it was that they were doing the trek as a family.

Because, you see, I too did the trek with my family.

Of course, not as literally, but in our own way- they were with me. I carried them in my heart.

36 years ago, almost to the day, at 8:15am my father was in Pokhara starting the Annapurna Sanctuary trek himself. He was 27 years old, and also going alone.

Right before I left for my trip, he sent me a photo of his journal entry from that day. The only legible thing I could make out was that he was starting his trek and that he ate a banana. It was very poetic and to the point- much like my own writing. I too, kept a journal throughout my trek that maybe one day I’ll get to pass along as well.

Today is Thanksgiving and although to me this holiday only means vacation days that I can use to leave the country, the spirit of the day is not lost on me.

I spent the day thinking about just how grateful I am to have parents who instilled in me a love for travel and raised me as a global citizen.

My father followed along throughout my journey- reliving his own adventures in Nepal from when he was around my age.

And my wonderful mother, who is always happy to listen to my travel stories even when I know some of them raise her blood pressure, was cheering me on from afar the entire time.

I am thankful for them.

And I am thankful for my brother, who checked in to see if I was enlightened yet.

I am thankful for my girlfriends, who lit up my phone whenever I got WiFi with words of love and support.

I am also thankful for my adopted family- whether in Cali or Mexico, who are always faithfully reading my stories and showering me with encouragement.

I’m thankful for everyone else who came along for the ride (hike?) from all over the world, and showed their support in word or thought.

I was never alone- you were all with me.

And now, I am thankful for the deep tissue massage, hour long facial, poolside resort, and evening of room service that I treating myself to today.

Happy Thanksgiving to all, and Namaste!