The Big Fifty

Remember when you always wanted everything you now have?

I read that somewhere once (refrigerator magnet or Instagram caption, can’t remember, doesn’t matter) and I can’t help but repeat that to myself as I bask in my own contentment today.

I wanted to travel to 50 countries before I turned 25. And I did that. About 25 days shy of my 25th birthday.

Poetic isn’t it?

And pretty fucking cool.

(Sorry mama.)

When I first sat down to write this piece, the word fifty autocorrected to “gift”, and I have to acknowledge how fitting that was.

What a privilege to have seen 50 incredible and unique countries across 6 continents, and too many cities and towns along the way to even count.

I have eaten sushi in Japan, pho in Vietnam, gelato in Italy, shark in Iceland, guinea pig in Peru, and dhal bat in Nepal.

I learned how to surf in Australia, how to tango in Argentina, and how to white water raft in Costa Rica.

I rode camels in Morocco, swam with whale sharks in Mexico, rode elephants in Laos, and fed the monkeys in Indonesia.

I drank Tokai in Hungary, Soju in South Korea, Sangria in Spain, and Caipirinhas in Brazil.

I could sit here and write something about the 33 other countries- but you get the gist: I’ve done a lot of really cool things in a lot of really cool places.

No really, if you look up “things to do around the world” I’ve done most of the major ones.

Which leads me to the question…what happens when you get what you’ve always wanted?

I’ll admit this is something that use to give me a lot of anxiety. I like the idea of always having something to work for. A goal, a North Star, a light at the end of the tunnel, whatever you want to call it.

Yet, today all I felt is a quiet and calm sense of accomplishment. (Perhaps because I was day drinking in Uruguay and they make really fantastic wines- who knew?!)

Jokes aside, my sense of calm came from the fact that I already know the answer to my own question. When you get whatever it is you wanted or achieve whatever it is that you wanted to accomplish, you just go and figure out the next great thing.

(You’re probably thinking, “no shit, Sherlock,” but sometimes simple things have to be verbalized as a reminder that there is no need to to over complicate things.)

And in my case, my next big thing is just to keep on keeping on. There are still many more countries to visit; my 50 isn’t even a full third!

And while I don’t have a numeric target in mind anymore, I do have a goal in mind for myself: to venture into the unknown, the unpopular, the inconvenient. The places that are far away, the ones that scare people just a little bit. Perhaps the places you can’t pronounce, and couldn’t find on a map either.

Myanmar, Turkmenistan, Botswana, Azerbaijan, Liechtenstein, Moldova…just a start.

There’s a whole beautiful world out there to fly away to.

Heck, my next trip is already booked!

PS: For the record (not that any of you are keeping a record anyhow), I do not count territories that are not independent countries, nor do I count countries I have travelled through but haven’t left the airport in – I earned my milestone fair and square and I’m pretty damn proud of it.

Rio is a dangerous place

Rio is a dangerous place.

Dangerously beautiful, that is.

Haha see what I did there? Funny? Nope, okay, moving on from the dad jokes.

It first occurred to me that Rio was a stunner while drinking caipirinhas with my father on the beach the evening we landed. The beach was alive with Brazilians, all scantily clad and proud, a six piece band played samba in the background, and the curve of the beach allowed for breathtaking views all the way to the end of the bay.

It occurred to me again while I was having my copacabooty handed to me in the mighty waves of Copacabana beach. The ocean water was perfectly warm, and even though the sun was long gone, replaced by the glow of street lamps, there were dozens of people alongside me, laughing and letting the waves tumble them around. Pure joy.

Of course, there were dozens more of those moment where I would pause and think, “wow.”

Rio hands down has the best geographical location for a city that I have ever seen. It pains me to admit this because Barcelona always held this honor, but between the beaches hugging the bay, the jungle heart of the city, and the sharp mountains and small islands peppering the ocean view- Rio has it all.

Their version of street food is Açaí bowls for a few bucks and caipirinhas so strong that you feel a slow burn in your belly after just one. (Two make it hard to walk, and three make it hard to keep the first two down.)

Pretty much all of the beach goers are clothed just enough to cover the fun bits, and you immediately notice how proud and comfortable people are in their bodies. The women have the tiniest waists and greatest butts ever- and those who don’t are still rocking the teeniest bikinis (power to ya!) And while I really didn’t need to see so many old dudes in banana hammocks, I respect anyone who unapologetically does their thing. How refreshing from the States where we are all either prudes or plagued with some sort of body dysmorphia.

Last but not least, there is plenty to see and do in Rio de Janeiro. You can catch a Samba show, cruise through the jungle in a Jeep, or sightsee in the old square if architecture is your thing. You can stroll all the way from Copocabana beach to Ipanema beach, while singing their respective famous songs of course.

“Tall and tan and young and lovely…the girl from Ipanema goes walking…”

Sorry, started humming.

The famous statue of Christ the Redeemer is incredible and can’t be missed, though I must admit tight sweaty crowds give me anxiety and I preferred the view from Sugar Loaf- a mountain that overlooks the entire bay.

Plus you get to take a cable car up to the top to Sugar Loaf, and fun fact about me- there is a very special place in my heart for cable cars. They’re magical and soothing, and I understand none of the physics behind them.

Friends, I’ll admit this is a longer post than usual (I clearly have lots to say about Rio!) so feel free to take a snack break or something.

Back? Okay. Good.

I started this piece with a joke about safety in Rio, but it would be remiss not to comment on it in greater depth.

Most people believe Rio is dangerous, perhaps too dangerous to visit.

It is a city with the same problems as any place with millions of inhabitants, but I truly believe that if you are cautious and aware of your surroundings- you’ll be fine.

I wore my favorite jewelry (with the exception of necklaces on a long chain since those are an easy target) and I did not dress down (which, to be fair, I don’t think I am physically capable of doing…) I wandered the beach alone and walked around the neighborhood by myself in the evenings. I even visited a favella, the well known slums of Rio de Janeiro.

There, I had an incredibly informative conversation with a man who worked as a social worker in the favellas, providing support to women who were survivors of assault. I asked him about safety in the favellas and where the perception came from that they’re deadly. (Media, of course.)

He explained to me that the favellas are actually quite safe, often safer than the rest of Rio. Most of them are controlled by drug lords who do their own “policing.” If you commit a crime, they will find you down and they will decide your fate (I didn’t ask for details, though I imagine it’s not a merciful sentencing process.) Tourists are actually very safe in most favellas for a simple reason. If a tourist is harmed in a favella, the entire police force of Rio (mind you the entire very handsome police force of Rio) descends on the favella. And you know who doesn’t want that? Drug lords. So you know who will make sure you’re safe? Yep. Drug lords.

Fascinating isn’t it?

I am not at all saying that you should go on your own and wander about with your Gucci belt and gold chain out, but I am encouraging you to visit a favella if you do come to Rio.

Almost a million of the city’s inhabitants live in them, so it’s worth seeing the city from their perspective. Literally though? Because the views from the favellas are pretty amazing!

I certainly hope to return to Rio one day because three days just wasn’t enough. I didn’t get a chance to perfect my Samba dancing, or party til dawn to Tropical Funk music, which I have a strange amount of saved to my Spotify, or even the opportunity to fall in love with a famous soccer player. Not that I can name more than two of them, but still.

Heavy sigh.

Obridago for reading.

(Pssst…that means thank you!)

The girl running through the airport

I have been on two flights per week for the last eight weeks straight.

Every single one of them, yes all 14, has either been on time or landed early.

This is obviously an anomaly, and I’m a firm believer that if too many good things are happening to you in sequence- it means that the universe is getting ready to screw with you.

And I was right.

(For anyone disagreeing with my theory, I never promised to be an optimist so zip it.)

My connecting flight to Atlanta was delayed and set to land at 7:30; my flight to Rio boarded from the international terminal at 7:05.

Now, I’m no mathematician, but let me tell you- that math doesn’t add up.

Here’s something you should know about me: I do not condone running in public places unless you are being chased, or doing cardio. Both equally unpleasant things that I do not wish upon anyone.

I do not chase things.

If you want to get all deep on me- sure, fine, whatever- I chase dreams and aspirations, money and highs. (And fine maybe the occasional boy, but only the really terrible ones after one too many tequila sodas.)

However, I don’t run to catch the elevator, or the train, or the light at a cross walk. There will always be another one. (This applies to boys too.)

But the thing about my flight to Rio is that the next one wasn’t leaving until the next day…

So you bet your ass I laced up my new Allbirds (they’re very comfy and super cute, thanks!) and picked up my suitcase (there is NO time to roll that shit even though AWAY cases roll smooth like butter on a warm bun) and I SPRINTED through Hartsfield International.

And not even the cute “oh I’m going on a light jog in this unsustainably bouncy ponytail and matching two piece athleisure set,” but the ugly and breathless “get out of my way, I will bulldoze your ankles with my suitcase” run.

It was certainly worth it as I made it on my flight with five minutes to spare, and treated myself to a window seat in Comfort Plus (sans neighbor) for my troubles.

And by treated myself I mean I sat down, sprawled across the row and never got kicked out. (Pro tip, no one will ever actually check your boarding zone, or your seat number on a half full flight.)

Anyways, thanks for reading a post that could easily be summarized to “this one time Pauline ran for three minutes.” You all are too kind.

I’ll be spending the next ten days dancing the Samba through Rio de Janeiro and tangoing my way through Buenos Aires so I promise I have some good stories and fabulous outfits coming your way.

(I’ll be in Uruguay and Paraguay too, but I have no idea what they dance there so I had to cut it out of the above sentence for literary purposes, obviously).

Besos!

The Classic Ski Weekend

There are a couple of trips you absolutely need to take in your twenties.

The college euro trip.

The Southeast Asia backpacking trip.

The solo trip to some zen place to find yourself.

The wild Vegas trip with your girlfriends.

And the one that had somehow eluded me all these years:

The classic large group ski trip.

A group of nine of us headed to Breckenridge, Colorado for a long weekend and it was everything my ski trip dreams were made of.

We rented out the most gorgeous secluded cabin in Blue River, with floor to ceiling views of snow covered pines.

We hit the slopes at Keystone and Breckenridge during the day, and drank cheap beers in the hot tub to ease the sore at night.

We cruised through the mountains taking in the views and enjoying the Rocky Mountain high. The John Denver song, of course.

We wore cozy furs and Nordic sweaters, wandered the cute ski town streets, and indulged in buttery crepes and midday wine flights.

Okay, so objectively, I just listed a bunch of clichés and at least three of you are rolling your eyes (even though you know my ski sweater was really freakin cute.)

Yeah, we did all of the things that you should do on a ski trip, but without a key ingredient, I’ve just written out a glorified generic itinerary.

And that key ingredient is actually pretty simple.

Good friends, good fun.

There is no rush quite like speeding down your last ski run of the day, in the dark, surrounded by your best friends whopping and hollering the whole way down.

That’s magic.

Ugly gut laughing as one of your sweetest friends reads off the most dark and twisted responses to Cards Against Humanity?

That’s magic.

Gathering around a big breakfast spread with the gang, grateful to be there with friends that have known you either all your life or at least through the last few years…

Magic!

While I’m certainly glad to no longer be wearing ski boots, which are actually athletic torture contraptions, I’m looking forward to a new tradition with my friends:

The classic ski trip.

Los Angeles and a love note

What if you could piece together your perfect day.

Do you ever think about that?

What would it look like? What would happen to you? How would it make you feel?

What if you woke up next to your best friend, laughing at your miraculously white pillow cases, proud that somehow both of you had managed to take off your makeup after a long night of champagne and warm chocolate chip cookies (gooey, with sea salt.)

And what if you spent your morning giving your old pup obnoxious kisses, and laughing so hard with your brother that you fell to the floor and almost peed yourself.

What if you hugged your mom for a few more seconds than usual, and breathed her in because she smelled like home.

What if your uber driver carried your suitcase from the front door so that you wouldn’t have to drag it in the snow, and gave you a Twix bar for the ride. (A real one, not just a fun sized one.)

And then you surprised yourself and found that the suitcase you had packed hungover, actually had everything you needed.

And what if there were no lines at the airport and your flight left early.

And you landed in Los Angeles, and it rained and you didn’t care because you got to see an old friend.

And then you hugged her tight and you cried because you had missed her, and because a sad thing had happened to her and you were there to try to make it all better somehow.

And what if, and what if, and what if.

And what if those “what ifs” weren’t “what ifs”, and you didn’t have to think about what the perfect day might look like, because the perfect day had already happened.

I spent five days last week in Los Angeles (half pleasure, half work) and it took me a few days to sort out my mixed feeling.

I don’t love LA. I still don’t.

But last week, I loved the way it made me feel.

I now realize it was never LA. It was the people, the moments of joy.

I got to spend time with one of my best friends, cozied up in the most charming boutique hotel, mending a broken heart with shoe shopping, chic cocktail bars, and soul cycle.

Her strength, her positivity, her relentlessness and new found motivation to seek her own joy- that gave me joy.

I saw another old friend from college, a woman who I am incredibly proud to know, who now lives in LA. She loves LA. She is LA; all the good parts, none of the bad: she is the California sunshine, the Pacific Ocean calm. Her energy and her joy being there, that was contagious.

It reminded me of the time I spent in Los Angeles last year, strolling Venice beach and cruising the California coast with another close and wonderful friend. And yes, the coast was beautiful and Venice beach was fun, but it was the person who I shared it all with that brought me my happiness.

Dear readers…

What started out as a commentary on the concept of a perfect day, has now ended up a love note of sorts to the incredible women in my life.

And while it bothers me at my very core that there is no clean tie from beginning to end in this piece, I’ve decided not to mold this musing into some neat literary formula when clearly my heart had other things to say.

It’s Valentine’s Day, after all, and I’m using that as my excuse for why I’m writing with my heart today, and not with my head.

To my friends, to my family:

Thank you, I love you.

Go with the flow

We travel for a lot of reasons.

We travel for work. We travel to relax. We travel for adventure.

To learn. To grow. To escape.

And sometimes, we travel just so that we can sit and have a beer in Mexico with people who are important to us.

Once a year, I visit La Ventana, Mexico to hang out with my friend Peter, whom I met four years ago while trekking the Camino De Santiago in Spain, and his lovely wife Susan.

It’s always such a joy to be down here, in a place that feels like a home away from home, with people who feel like family.

La Ventana is famous for being a kitesurfing Mecca, and as a non kiting Chicagoan, I often get asked why I’m here. (Politely of course, because everyone down here is so kind and cool as fuck.)

Well #1 is of course to visit my loved ones. (Unofficially, #2 is to ogle kite surfers since they’re all smokin’ hot and usually half naked.)

But one of the things I love most about being here is that it’s an exercise in being human.

Okay, okay, hear me out (and no I haven’t been drinking. Well, maybe. But just a Pacifico, and that’s basically bubbly water.)

Life is just “go with the flow” here. And I am not usually a “go with the flow” kind of gal. I must direct the flow.

I am the captain of the flow, in command at all times; a high functioning humanoid, who plans and optimizes every minute of every day.

But here, I kind of just…chill out. Like I imagine normal people do.

(Or people with good xanax prescriptions or expensive therapists. But I fired mine for asking too many personal questions, so I have to make do with a passport and credit card instead. Which, I might argue, is all you really need in life.)

When I’m here, I drink cappuccinos (slowly!) and watch the sunrise. I do yoga. I lay out on the beach. I watch the kites. I nap. I visit with people. I eat tacos and drink beer (and I don’t even like beer.)

I don’t feel the need to be doing something purposeful at all times. I can just…be.

In fact, right now I’m laying on the outdoor couch at Peter and Susan’s gorgeous home and I’m so relaxed that I don’t even feel the need to end this post in some clever or insightful way.

I’m going to nap now.

Little Luxuries

I’ve spent the last two weeks answering the same question, “How was your trip!?”

And while I usually consider myself an articulate person, my reply to this question has been, without fail, some version of the word vomit below:

“Hi! Thank you! It was super fun and really cool and different, and everything is shiny and luxurious and there are Bentleys everywhere and when you go to the mall a man in a top hat opens the door and serves you coffee and a date. I loved it, I loved everything about it. Alas, I could have been an Emirate princess and now I’m just another girl answering emails. *heavy sigh*”

I mean really, is it too much to ask for me to find a beautiful Middle Eastern Prince to marry?

Then inevitably leave him two years later, taking our pretty little blonde Arabic speaking children, my fine China, and half of everything he owns?

I’m just kidding.

He can keep the fine China.

I digress, back to my trip. Dubai is basically Vegas on steroids- high-tech, luxurious, futuristic and blinged out.

Often, people write it off as a “fake city,” and I had a few folks tell me that they didn’t like it there. I understand that it’s polarizing in that it’s all very superficial- Dubai doesn’t have much culture or history, and malls are one of the main attractions the city has to offer. However, the beauty of traveling the world is finding something to love in every place you go.

My advice to anyone hoping to visit, is to live a little- bask in the luxury and INDULGE.

I spent my evenings in Dubai being wined and dined with fine champagne and lobster poutine, exploring swanky bars and clubs, sipping 24K gold cappuccinos (I don’t recommend them though, the gold flakes get caught in the back of your throat and it’s really unpleasant actually) and giving myself full permission to have all the lovely things.

That’s what credit cards are for, amirite?

In fact, I stayed an extra day after my father left and treated myself to a day at the Versace Palace Hotel in Dubai, one of the most opulent places I have ever stayed. My room was complete with a white marbled bathroom, baby pink silk sheets and accent chairs, and a balcony overlooking the marina.

It was a Barbie dream house. Or shall I say, a Pauline dream house.

For a girl who has no problem crashing in a shack in Nepal or a hostel in Cairns, I really do love my luxury hotels.

All in all, I know that the UAE hasn’t seen the last of me- in fact, I can see myself moving there for a short stint in the Middle East. I think the glamour of Dubai suits me well.

But for now...khallas.

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