All posts by wayfaringbridges

About wayfaringbridges

I'm Stephanee. I'm 26, a former travel agent who got tired of selling trips to others and decided to start taking trips of my own. I'm traveling as far and as often as I can.

Peak Pics Series: The Bridge

This bridge held such promise for me. It was the bridge I crossed to officially enter onto Rocky Mountain National Park. The second my foot left that bridge, I was in the park, I was free. It was also, at the end of a tiring hike, my welcome home.

While you were standing on it, if you looked to either side, was a beautiful river that carved its way through the landscape. During the winter months, it was sheathed in ice, but there were spots that the water flowed freely. It was fascinating to watch and to see nature, tireless in its conquest. It didn’t matter that ice had frozen parts of it over, it was still going to move.

The bride itself was constructed of large wooden logs that made you feel like you were standing on history. Who knows how long it had been there, who knows how many pairs of feet had passed over its surface.

Families on vacation, solo hikers looking for something more, a couple trying to reconnect with nature, elk and deer and bears, myself…all a part of this collective narrative that was held there.

There were times that I passed over it without a second to acknowledge it, my mind consumed with what laid ahead, there were other times when I sat on the bridge for minutes and minutes.

There was one hike that I sat on the bridge, letting my feet dangle from the bridge and leaned my head against one of the posts that supported the handrail. It was freezing that day, in the 10’s and there was snow all around. The sun was hiding that day, taking respite behind the clouds, and I sat there and watched that river. I contemplated life and my existence within the space I was occupying. The more I sat there, the more connected I felt to that space. Like a tiny string had connected my heart to that bridge and as I sat there, that tiny string became a rope, then a cable, then steel bars binding me to there.

Looking back on it now, it held such symbolism. A bridge, taking me to where I needed to be to heal, and welcoming me home with what looked like open arms at the end of the day.

I’ll always feel connected, hell, even writing about it, my mind flies there, and settles on that bridge, listening to the river and watching the trees sashay in the wind.

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Peak Pics Series: Into Rocky Mountain National Park

This hike will always stand out in my mind. I remember the day before, trying to decide on a place to go, the forecast was supposed to be sunny and in the 50’s, a beautiful March day in Colorado.

When I woke up, I still couldn’t decide so I just…went. I took a shortcut into the park and just started walking.

I thought about the grandeur of walking through the park as opposed to driving through. Your feet hit the earth with each step and your lungs fill with this crisp air, and your vision is flooded. Your eyes can’t seem to focus on any one thing for very long, there’s too much to take in.

I walked through a valley and kept pushing forward, eventually finding myself following a small stream. What struck me was how clear it was, how serene. As I traveled, I stumbled onto the trail for Bear Lake. I remember being excited because I had a set destination now. It had been a couple hours and I was excited to see other people.

I followed this trail for a while, passing Cub Lake and Bear Lake but then coming to a point when I realized I wasn’t wearing the right shoes for this trail anymore. It had become steep and icy and I realized I had gained elevation, more that I thought I had.

I was staring at a canyon wall. It was rather confusing, how had I gotten here and where the heck was I? The next person I saw had snow shoes and walking poles, when I asked how far away I was from Bear Lake, he told me at that point I was closer to Fern Lake and that I should just keep going, so I did.

What was funny about this day, was that I remember how warm it was. Especially how sunny it was, and how much the sun reflects off the snow. Fun fact: I had one of the worst sunburns of my life after this hike.

I kept going, up a winding trail. It started as switchbacks but then seemed to go in a slow circle up a mountain. The frustrating part was the sun was melting the top layer of snow, so I fell in to my knees about every 4 steps. I would just fall through, have to climb out and it just kept happening.

When my patience seemed to be at it’s end, I saw the top of a sign buried by snow. I dug it out and found out that I was .7 miles from Odessa Lake. So I went.

It was unreal. The moment I turned the corner, it took my breath away. I just kept audibly gasping and muttering, “wow.” I had never seen mountains that looked that way, I had never felt like the only person in the world to be experiencing them in that way. I was blown away.

Three jagged, piercing peaks jutted out from the lake that had been frozen over, the sun bouncing off the white and almost spotlighting the mountains above them. I sat on a rock and ate an orange.

I breathed. Deeply. I can still smell that citrus filling the air around me as I sat dwarfed by rocks that had thrust themselves up from the earth millions of years ago. I still feel that small ping of vulnerability, how small we are, how grand they are. I sat there for an hour and a half, unmoving.

When I finally came to, I smiled and for whatever reason, saluted to them.

The hike back was elated, things seemed easier, the air fresher, my legs felt stronger. It was like I had been given a fresh start. Like, I hadn’t just walked 13 miles and had 13 to go, that didn’t matter. I felt so good.

I ended up doing a literal marathon that day, and to this day, I still don’t really know where I went. I don’t know which trail I was on, I do know I was at Fern Lake at one point. Regardless, I felt like I had such a beautiful moment in those mountains, and I wouldn’t have traded that in for anything.

Peak Pics Series: Emerald Mountain

Emerald Mountain sat at the back of the YMCA’s sprawling property, it towered ever so slightly but not in a menacing way, somewhat of a gentle giant.

I first did this hike with two friends; Matt and Julian. We ate lunch together on a day off then set off around noon. Normally, this hike takes about two hours to reach the summit, but since it was our first time we had allotted ourselves a couple extra hours to catch the sunset.

I remember it being quite easy at first and then all of the sudden, becoming a scramble. We took the wrong path and since there was intermittent snow, we lost the trail multiple times, but we just kept aiming up.

We had so much fun on that hike, I remember it started snowing half way up and we just laughed and told stories. The sun shining on us while snowflakes fell around us.

We climbed rock formations and pretended like they were our homes, we free climbed and crawled through small crevices that the mountain seemed to be hiding. We reached a small lean to that had been created by other hikers at the summit.

By this point, a full snow storm was coming and the wind was howling. We stared into the Rocky Mountains and let the wind sing to us. It sang to the mountains, whipping around them like it was whispering to them as it passed.

Peak Pics Series

Hiking, climbing, lungs burning, legs heavy, my breath pillowing out in smoke as the cold air around me wraps me tight. Looking up, I see them. The mountains that call to me in a distant roar, that pulls at the bottom of my chest, like an inner animal that is fighting its way to get out, to be up there.

Living in Colorado, I hiked more days than not. I went as far as I could, as high as I could. I sat at the top where the only sound I could hear was my heartbeat in my ears and the wind twirling and swirling around me. I thought about all aspects of my life, thought about my past and present, about where I was going. I felt so clearheaded.

Hiking, putting one foot in front of the other, climbing up and up and up, made the world make sense. I saw these mountains that couldn’t be tamed in front of me, and I sat alongside them. I sat within them, feeling their pulse in a way that I can never put properly into words.

Life became full of possibilities. Which peak would I climb to next? Which mountain would make my heart sing that day? It became a beautiful symphony of longing and conquering. Wanting and doing.

The more I climbed, the less pictures I took. But it wasn’t always that way.

In the beginning, I was infatuated with getting the perfect shot. Making sure the composition was just right, the lighting was where I wanted it to be, the colors setting each other off in just the right way.

I put them up on social media, showed them off to the world as if to say, “Look what I did!” But more so, “Look at this picture, isn’t my life perfect?”

I was obsessed. I spent more time on my hike thinking about what I wanted to portray than actually looking around me. How could I make sure that everyone who follows me will like it?

Then, my roommate Miranda gave me a disposable camera and I made a promise to myself.

I would only take one picture, and I would take it as soon as I got to the top so I wouldn’t think about it while I was up there. No longer would the obsession be about the perfect picture, but it would be about enjoying the view at the top.

This was in 2016. I had honestly put this disposable camera in the back of my mind, had pretty much forgotten about it until a week ago, when I was cleaning out an old dresser and I found it. I was so excited.

I got them developed and wanted to show them to the world, but I wanted each one to carry their weight of the impact they had on my life. I wanted them to tell the story of each hike, of each peak.

Because these weren’t just pictures of mountains, they were a souvenir of a hike that I had done, that I had struggled through, that I felt my lungs burning, felt my legs getting stronger with each step. They were moments in my life that were important, that will always remind me of that winter.

I’ve traveled many places, I’ve seen so many faces, I’ve experienced so many beautiful things, but this winter, this was the winter that I became who I am today.

Living At The Foot of the Rockies

Grandeur. Jagged. Raw. Unforgiving. Relentless. Awe-inspiring.

These are some of the many words that come to mind when I think about where I live. I work seasonal employment and so I am lucky to live in some of the most beautiful places in the US and it allows me to afford to travel the world (read about that here). I am currently living in Estes Park, Colorado at the YMCA of the Rockies and our campus sits at the base of Rocky Mountain National Park. We are surrounded by all sides by these incredible peaks, and as a friend lovingly refers to it as “our cereal bowl of mountains”.

I wish that I could put into words what it feels like to be encompassed by these mountains, by these unrelenting and absurdly large creations. These mountains, they’re like something bigger than you can imagine, bigger than you can grasp. You stand at their base, you stare up at them and think about all those who have summited and how incredible that is but also…how tiny they are in comparison. These lives of these people, while great and mighty, are so infinitesimally small compared to the mountains that have stood, watching for generations and generations and generations. Years and thousands and millions of years, they have stood, just watching.

It’s only when I’m climbing them, do I become finely aware of their grandeur. Living within walking distance to over 12 peaks, I hear so often, “Oh yeah, the mountains, you kind of forget they’re there.” To which I’m always stunned. How? How on earth do you forget about these beautifully raw souls. When I see these mountains, I see their peaks and crevices and their hills and their rocks and their boulders and their outlines sharpened against the sky. I see a being. A being greater than I can imagine, a living soul that is calling out to me.

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The longer I stay here, the more I find others who hear that same call. The Rocky Mountains speak to you in a way that I’ve never been able to replicate elsewhere. I don’t feel the same pull as I do when I think of Eagle Cliff and CCY. Even when I’m thousands of miles away, I can still see their outline, I can still feel the rocks sliding beneath my feet as I scramble my way to the top. I can feel my lungs burning as I climber higher and higher.

And once you get to that peak…I can’t even explain the serenity and calm that comes over you. Being able to sit atop that mountain and see further into the park and to see just the scores and scores of mountains, layered upon one another. It’s unearthly and at the same, I never feel more connected to the earth than I do at that moment. I feel my breath coming in and out of my lungs, I hear my heartbeat in my ears, drumming to a song that I’ve known my whole life, and I feel steady. Clarity encompasses me and the peace that I find within myself in all-powerful.

I wouldn’t want to live anywhere but here at this current moment. These mountains, they’ve become my family, my home, and I’m appreciative every single day.

How I Afford To Travel The World

Probably the number one question I get asked when it comes to my travels is, “How do you afford it?!” Since I work seasonal employment, it’s not exactly the most profitable field, and therefore I shouldn’t be traveling as much as I do. But, the answer lies in the details. As a former travel agent, I have a few tricks of the trade that have helped me throughout the years and as I travel more, I have gained a few tricks of my own. 

RESEARCH RESEARCH RESEARCH. I scour websites like Momondo and Skyscanner and STA travel and Student Universe, and I’m not picky. When I bought my ticket to Japan, I originally had no idea of where I wanted to go. I used the “Take Me Anywhere” feature on Momondo, and found my $378 round trip ticket to Tokyo. I didn’t really have any interest in going to Japan, but at a price like that, I couldn’t say no.

Being flexible allows more doors to open and better flights to pop up. If you have one particular place in mind, chances of finding the “perfect” flight at a stellar price are pretty slim. But, if you go into it with no expectations of where you’re going, there are some absolutely phenomenal flights out there to places that are super up and coming.

Save. Everything. Since I work seasonal jobs, my bills are almost non-existent. Most of my contracts offer me food and housing, so I can save nearly everything I make instead of having to pay for rent and utilities and car insurance and car payments and and and…While this isn’t the case for a lot of people, when I worked a “normal 9-5”, I was putting 20-25% of my paychecks away for future travels.

Because I’m committed to traveling as much as I can, I was willing to sacrifice a few nights out with friends or going out to dinner or splurging on a new outfit if it meant that I could take a helicopter ride in Iceland or order an extra bottle of wine in Venice or stay in the hotel that I had been looking at for years online. While 25% is steep, you can always adjust that to whatever you’re comfortable with.

I have a Round-The-World trip planned for this September and just about everything I’m making is going towards tickets, hostels, excursions, food, drinks, etc. It’s sometimes hard to debate with yourself as to whether saving is worth it when there are so many things going on right now, but it always pans out well. 

Be Diligent. Once you’ve found an area or a location that has captured your heart, and clouded all your daydreams, sign up for fare alerts, check up on the price when you can, and check fare predictors. (Skyscanner and Student Universe both have pretty reliable ones.) Word of Caution: a lot of these third-party sites that offer lower rates usually use cookies, and if they see that you’re checking the same flight over and over, they’re likely to raise the price solely because they know you’re interested. To avoid this, turn off your cookies while browsing or browse in private mode. 

Travel on Tuesdays. If you’re traveling internationally, try to book your flight for a Tuesday and search for your flight Tuesday or Wednesday. Airlines tend to lower their prices to match competition on Monday nights, so you’re going to find cheaper flights on these days. Try to avoid searching for flights on weekends, as the prices are usually inflated. As for traveling on Tuesday, fares are usually less expensive than say, Sunday afternoon. 

Book Your Trip During The Shoulder Seasons. Shoulder seasons are the month(s) before and after peak travel times; think April, September, October. While you might miss out on the best weather, shoulder seasons are much cheaper both airfare wise and expenses during your stay. Hotels and exclusions are usually less too. And shoulder seasons tend to have less crowds, which is always a plus. 

Think Outside The Box When It Comes To Lodging. Hotels. They can be so, so expensive. Think about staying in hostels, Airbnb’s, or couch surfing. If you’re dead set on staying in hotels, try hotels.com, they have a fantastic rewards program where for every 9 nights you book through them, you get 1 night free. Which adds up so quickly. Plus, once you sign up, they “unlock secret prices”, which is usually $5-25 off the listed price. 

Pack Light. Luggage fees are getting more and more exorbitant. Airlines like Spirit and Frontier make a large majority of their profit from fees and last time inchecked, luggage fees for Frontier were upwards of $65. That’s as much as a ticket! Try to pack what you can into a carry-on and your personal item, not only are you saving on luggage fees but you’re also saving yourself from having to schlep around a ton of luggage. 

Don’t Be Intimidated By All-Inclusive. I have to admit, I was not at all keen on the idea of any trip I took to have the words “all inclusive” anywhere near them. I felt like it was cheating, or there had to be some sort of catch. But, when I found an all-inclusive trip on Living Social to La Fortuna, Costa Rica for $250, I was intrigued. It included lodging, food, drinks, and an excursion (I went ATV’ing on a volcano 💁) and it was so worth it. I didn’t have to worry about constantly having money with me, and I was still able to leave the lodge and walk around the town and get a sense of the local culture. 

Honestly, traveling is as much of a priority as you make it. If you’re bound and determined to see as much of the world as possible, you want to make it happen and you’ll do what it takes to see it come to fruition. If you’re okay with a vacation a year, that’s awesome too, we all have different priorities and it’s your life to live. 

I travel as much as I do because it’s probably my number one priority. It’s what I’m always thinking about, it’s what I save for, it’s my therapy and my escape. I’m so very lucky to have such an incredible and supportive family who lets my wanderlust take over and they’re there for me every step of the way. 

Travel is as achievable as you want it to be. Go forth, my dears. 

What To Pack: A Month in Japan Edition

I decided one day that I needed something, anything to distract me from the seasonal lifestyle. I’ve been jumping job to job to job with no break for over 2 years; mind you, I’m not complaining in the slightest. I work in the most beautiful locations, I meet incredible people and I have some of the most amazing experiences, but I just hadn’t had over a week of in 2 years: I needed a vacation.

I searched for the cheapest flight to anywhere in the world and I managed, somehow, to find a round-trip ticket from LAX to Tokyo for $378. How? I got so very lucky. And once I found that fare, I kept a close eye on it until I was ready to buy. Here are the sites I normally scour to find great deals. I had never really had an interest in traveling to Asia whatsoever, but I can’t turn down that price tag.

So I left my job in Lake Tahoe when my contract ended, and I knew that I would be alone in Japan for a month, what the hell was I going to bring?

My itinerary was a rough outline at best. I had plans on stopping to see two friends and I knew I was flying into Tokyo, but other than that, I had no idea what I would do. With that in mind, I stated doing some research. My friend, Miranda lived in Tokamachi, which is in the Northern region of mainland Japan. As it was November/December, it would be cold, if not snowing. My other friend, Moose, lived outside of Hiroshima in Ube, which is in the Southern region of mainland Japan, a warmer climate.

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So I needed to pack for all seasons. Neat.

I was using my High Sierra Appalachian 75 L bag that I had gotten on a season’s end clearance. I knew it could hold as much as I needed to but I didn’t want to over pack in case I was to find something I wanted to bring home.

In my bag I ended up packing:

  • 3 pairs of pants (2 black leggings, 1 pair of jeans)
  • 5 shirts (1 long sleeved, 1 t shirt, 1 “nice” shirt, 2 tank tops)
  • 2 pairs of shoes
  • Toiletries (dry shampoo, mascara, moisturizer, deodorant)
  • So many socks. So many.
  • Eno Hammock with straps (in case money ran low and I needed somewhere to sleep)
  • Leather-bound journal (which I wrote in every single day, really helped me remember small details that I may have otherwise forgotten.)

As I traveled through the country, I tried not to buy too many souvenirs until my last day because I knew I would have to carry everything on my back. It was the perfect weight for me personally, I think at it’s heavies it was 28 pounds, but I knew I could go heavier if I needed to.

Japan is still one of the most diverse and culturally rich places I’ve ever been to and I know that I’ll go back someday, I hope this packing list helped!

Why You Should Travel To Japan For Your First Solo Female Trip

I took my longest solo journey to Japan this past November and I have
to say, it was more than incredible. I never felt unsafe, everyone was
so respectable, and getting around (once you got the hang of it) was
surprisingly easy.

I did little to no research before I left for Japan and hit the ground
running, I wanted to see as much as I could and experience as much as
I could fit into a day. I landed in Tokyo and stayed in Narita a few
days before heading North to Niigata. After Niigata, I took the
Shinkansen to Kyoto, then onto Hiroshima, Fukuoka and finally Okinawa.

At first glance, the rail system in Japan is terrifying. There are
usually no English characters and most people don’t speak English
whatsoever, so asking for help can be tricky. There were definitely a
few times when I got onto a train and just hoped for the best, not
entirely sure of where I was headed. But, to be fair, it is fairly
straightforward and everything is conveniently color-coded with routes
that overlap, so if you do happen to get onto the wrong train, you’re
usually only a few stops off.

There was one day in particular in Kyoto where I felt I finally
“mastered” the trains. Having only ridden the trains for about a week,
I was nowhere near mastery but I felt confident, and that’s what
matters, right?

Traveling alone as a female, safety is always a concern. In Japan, in
the month that I was there alone, I honestly and truly never felt
unsafe. Even carrying all of my worldly possessions on my back, I
never felt that gripping sense of fear. There was a night, waiting to
catch an overnight bus to Hiroshima, and the bus wasn’t set to depart
until 10:30pm, so I was wandering around alone for a few hours while
it was dark and if anything, I felt like I was more respected than
anything. Men would bow their heads and make eye contact as if to say,
“nothing to worry about.”

What’s so wonderful about traveling alone is dictating your own
schedule. You can wake up when you please, you can do whatever suits
you during the day, and you can go to bed as early or as late as you
want to. There were days where I packed so much in, I was dizzy by the
end of the day and then there was a day in Ueno, where I had no energy
and so I stayed in my hostel, drank coffee, read books and watched
netflix. You can do whatever you want, and it’s so freeing.

All in all, Japan is a great place to start your adventures as a solo
female traveler. The food is iconic and delicious, the sights are
historic and stunning, and the people are warm and respectful. So, go!

Narita, Japan

The most beautiful thing about travel, to me, is that it lends itself to you in such transformative ways. It opens these doors that you didn’t know existed, not only in the literal sense but in your mind and your soul. It allows you to have moments of complete and total clarity, unclouded by the chaos that surrounds you.

I just spent the last month in Japan, traveling the country alone and taking in as much of the sights and sounds and culture as physically possible.

On my first full day in Japan, I was anxious to see. I was anxious to get out and explore, so I asked the front desk where the closest shrine was and they pointed me in the direction of Shinso-Ji Temple in Narita, a 4 minute walk from where I stayed.

Since my body wasn’t used to the time change yet, I was at the temple at around 6:30 in the morning and I recommend going at that time to anyone.

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It is so peaceful and gives off such serenity that I was taken aback. I was alone, walking amongst these buildings and gardens that were hundreds of years old. The mist of the morning was clouding these pagodas that are so brightly colored and rich.

There were so many moments where I would just stop and stare for minutes on end, transfixed by the history and unable to grasp how many thousands upon thousands of people from all walks of life had stood where I was standing, in awe of the same unmoving and unchanging building.

As the morning ticked on, I became more aware of people around me, bustling through the park to get to their job or gliding lazily through on a morning stroll, a couple visiting from South Korea who couldn’t seem to stop smiling and a pair of friends from Vietnam who wanted nothing more than to practice their English with me.

About the time I decided to head back to my lodgings, a processions of brightly colored monks made their way through the main gardens, accompanied by a loud drum and a ringing triangle. I obviously followed as we made our way to the main building.

15781550_10155642135623135_6997755831028819612_nThere, they began a ceremony, at least that’s what I’m assuming from what I gathered from context clues. A fire was lit, chanting began, and those watching with me began bowing at specific times. I was overcome with emotion. Here I was, a girl on her first day of travel alone in a country she knows little to nothing about and the universe was rewarding me with this abundantly beautiful showcase of culture and religion.

As I sat silently crying, thanking anything and everything that would listen, I watched as those around me; travelers, couples, children, families, and businessmen alike come together for a brief moment in time. The deafening drum beat became our pulse and the chanting monks transfixed our hearts. And then, with 3 sharp blasts to the giant drum, it was over.

I sat stunned for a few moments, as those around me clamored to get up quickly. I didn’t know where to go from there. It was my first day of travel, alone, and I had witnessed more than I thought I was going to see in an entire month.

How lucky I am.

Onwards.

It has been quite some time since I have updated you on the going-on’s of my travel life. Since we last spoke, I have lived in Raymond, Maine teaching ceramics and pottery to children at Kingsley Pines Summer Camp. That place has honestly become my second home and thinking about it, I am calmly reminded of the smell of pine and a gentle summer breeze.

I then went on to Argyle, Texas where I worked at a camp for adults who have special needs and it was not only the hardest and most taxing job I’ve ever had, but it was the single most rewarding thing I have ever done. Every day I was reminded of how truly blessed I am to have working limbs as well as how fortunate I was to be in the company of such beautiful, wondrous and creative souls. There I met Ali, a 27 year old woman who changed my life more than I could ever put into words.

 

img_2397She changed my perspective on the world, she brought such an innocent and glowing joy to my life and I don’t know that I can imagine my life without her in it from here on out. Her smile makes the world turn and her laugh makes my heart soar. With every morning, she would wake up a remind me that the only way to show the world true happiness is by sharing it.

 

 

After leaving Texas, I moved to Estes Park, Colorado and I found serenity. I sat at the foot of the Rocky Mountains and I was reminded of my mortality. I was reminded at this universe’s ability to create raw, jagged beauty that goes unmatched.

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I hiked, I climbed and I found myself. I found the person that I wanted to become and I found the world to be a better, calmer place at the top of those peaks.

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I am currently in South Lake Tahoe, California working at a conference center and I have to say, it’s one of the most stunning places I have ever been.

The conference center backs up to what we call Cathedral, it’s this massively daunting and jagged mountain that screams at your soul to be conquered. It also is surrounded by the bluest waters I have ever seen. From 50, 75, even 100 feet, you’re able to see the outlines of rocks and tree trunks that have fallen through the years at the bottom, just lazily swaying.

I will be here until November, where, from there I will be traveling to Japan, Bali and Java for a month. I was fortunate to meet a beautiful, wonderful friend in Colorado who shares in my love of travel, lust for adventure and absolute impracticality when it comes to rational decisions regarding buying plane tickets.

Our plan is to travel to Tokyo, roam around Japan for a week or two then lazily make our way through Bali and Java. I’m excited to be shocked, to be immersed and to hike through rice fields and volcanoes. It’s exactly what I need.

I’ve realized over time that travel cures our souls. It takes all the hurt, it takes the unwanted and it makes them incoherent. It makes every person feel; it makes their senses heighten, and it puts you in an entirely new frame of mind. It allows you to become the person you actually want to be and it heals old wounds that you may have never even knew existed. It’s exhilarating and exhausting and essential to keep the true nature of our being.