Keep Calm… And Eat Chocolate. Lots of Chocolate.

I need carbs.  Lots of carbs.  And chocolate.  Chocolate now.

This is ‘stress eating’ at its best.  Certain times call for certain measures.  I have two choices: allow my anxiety to be put to rest through the delicious comfort of peanut M&M’s… or, to let it continue to gnaw at my stomach.  Or cry- I could definitely cry.  I think I’ll opt for the peanut M&M’s.

Picture 3

Today is big day in my life.  It’s the first trip I am taking on behalf of my Ambassadorship with AFAR—the magazine and media company that is my heartbeat—  and a trip that is, in many ways, the culmination of years of dreaming and planning.  MINI Cooper, owned by BMW, is flying me Business Class from New York to Munich, where I’ll be joining other journalists from the US, the UK, Germany and Italy to drive MINI Roadsters down from Munich to Tuscany for the International MINI Meeting.  Awaiting us in Mugello will be about 3,000 MINI enthusiasts with their new and fabulous classic cars, some of them with customizations like British flag hoods, the Mr. Bean Mini and Mini Moke.

Mr. Bean MINI...

Mr. Bean MINI…

I have always loved these little cars- I think the mild obsession began when I watched “The Italian Job” for the first time.  But, in the past week, I have seen no fewer than 100 MINIs as I’ve prepared for this trip, and I’ve observed just how perfect this little car is for city driving.  I am convinced that I need one of my own when I get back to New York City, and I can’t wait to get behind the wheel and experience it for myself.

That is, when I get to Munich.  Which leads me back to the peanut M&M situation.  I arrived this afternoon to New York’s JFK airport in plenty of time for my 5:40 flight.  Which, I learned when I got to the gate, was actually leaving out of Newark Airport in New Jersey—the furthest possible distance away from JFK airport, especially in NYC’s 5 o’clock traffic.

My heart dropped into my big toe, taking my stomach with it on the way down like a building undergoing mass demolition.  You know that feeling- it’s a heightened state of adrenaline, where the small of your back gathers instant sweat droplets and your muscles instantly tense up.  I start to panic.

Then, I remember all that I’ve learned in the past 11 years that I’ve been traveling internationally.  While this is the first time I have made this brilliant move, travel has put me in other situations where I’ve had to learn how to calm myself, realize that everything can always be figured out and work towards a solution.  One of the best skills that travel has equipped me with in life is to stay calm when my first reaction is to panic. 

My time in India has probably taught me some of these lessons more than any other place, and I'm very grateful to it for that.

My time in India has taught me some of these lessons more than any other place, and I’m very grateful to it for that.

I take deep breaths and call my contact at MINI who arranged all of my travel details.  How do I tell her that their appointed “Travel Expert” and journalist somehow missed the details of what airport she was flying out of?  This is like missing a job interview with Verizon because I thought it was with AT&T.  Of course, there is a reason my brain had JFK cemented in it.  I had gotten several flight options, one of which was out of JFK.  But none of that matters—what matters is I didn’t pay attention to look and confirm such an important detail.  Every fear that can possibly go through my mind, does:

What if this is the end of my career? 

What if I get de-Ambassadored by AFAR for this mis-hap? 

How embarrassed will I feel when I get to Munich and am that girl?  You know, the 31 year old who shows up in hot pink jeans looking 25 and holding up the entire group? 

And then…. I calm myself.  First with truth, then with chocolate (works every time!)  Everything will work out.  It always does.  People are gracious—we all understand that we’re human.  We make mistakes.  We read itineraries incorrectly.  We sometimes show up late.  Our own shortcomings as humans are what give us the ability to have grace with others.  It’s like when a brand new mom takes her infant on a plane for the first time– she  has backdated compassion for all of those mothers of infants whom she gave that “shut-your-crying-baby-up” look to during her twenties before she had children of her own.

Another shot from beautiful India...

Another shot from beautiful India…

Mia and Nathalie at MINI handle the situation with more ease, understanding and patience than you could even conceive of.  I knew this company was a class act, but now I really do want to go and buy a Mini right when I get home—if the quality of their staff is a reflection of the quality of their cars, I need one.  Plus, I want to wear a hot little black dress like Charlize Theron does as I flirtatiously weave in and out of traffic alongside Mark Wahlberg.  I digress…

Charlize Theron in "The Italian Job," courtesy of Corbis Images www.corbisimages.com

Charlize Theron in “The Italian Job,” courtesy of Corbis Images http://www.corbisimages.com

So, I’m Munich bound tonight, just 4 hours later than planned.  We’ll be visiting the gorgeous BMW Welt Museum and Plant tomorrow, before having an amazing dinner at Landersdorfer & Innerhofer.  Then, I’ll go to my exquisite room at the Hotel Schiller 5 in Munich and sleep well, I am sure.

Friday morning, we will be driving the roadsters down to Tuscany to the International Mini Meeting—less than a week from when I had my driving lesson to learn how to drive a manual transmission.  More on that to come- I will definitely be documenting this experience and am sure will be generating some laughs.  We’ll be stopping on the way along the gorgeous, scenic Garda Lake, before continuing on and spending nights at the Demidoff Country Resort in Firenze and at a private Villa in Tuscany’s Val d’Orcia.

Gorgeous Garda Lake, photo courtesy of www.eurotravelogue.com

Gorgeous Garda Lake, photo courtesy of http://www.eurotravelogue.com

I’ll be documenting the entire trip through my AFAR Highlights, as well as through social media: so be sure and like Travel With Castle on Facebook, follow me on Twitter @travlwithcastle and enjoy pictures on Instagram.

Pictures of the exquisite Tombolino private Villa we'll be staying at in Tuscany, courtesy of Merrion Charles http://www.merrioncharles.com/

Pictures of the exquisite Tombolino private Villa we’ll be staying at in Tuscany, courtesy of Merrion Charles http://www.merrioncharles.com/

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While at the airport, I’ve already received so much assurance from friends and readers who have experienced similar situations and have made laughable mistakes.  They have brought more comfort than M&M’s ever could… and the truth is, we all make mistakes and have oversights sometimes.  Travel has taught me, more than anything else in my life has, to relax and just keep moving.  Things always work out, so it’s best to keep calm…. And carry on.  Oh wait, I think someone already coined that slogan?  It sounds familiar.

Carpe Diem.

Picture 11

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Thirteen Years Later

Thirteen years later, back in San Francisco

Thirteen years later, back in San Francisco

Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of bios of other travel writers—and travelers, in general.  There is a common theme, I’ve found, that weaves our stories together:  each of us seemed to experience some kind of defining moment in our journey– one that filled our hearts with a resounding, unmistakable feeling that said, YES!  This makes sense to me.

Not every traveler goes on to pursue travel as a career, but for those individuals like myself who know that it is inside of them — knitted into their inner tapestry and something that they are truly called to in this lifetime — there seems to have been a point in our lives where we had a deep kind of personal understanding.  I would venture to say that for most of us, it wasn’t even a decision.  Travel chose us.

Enjoying Napa Valley on my recent trip to San Francisco

Enjoying Napa Valley on my recent trip to San Francisco

My defining moment occurred on my first trip out of the country, when I was 20 years old and decided to join my best friend who had been studying abroad in Italy for the semester.  We spent the following summer months backpacking throughout nine countries in Europe.  Prior to that, I had never owned a passport and hadn’t even been to Mexico, which for Texans fifteen years ago, was practically like going to Oklahoma or New Orleans.

Before that life-altering trip, traveling meant family vacations to Colorado in the summertime, road trips to see family in Minnesota and Wisconsin, more road trips to various National Parks and my childhood dream vacation to Disney world.  I feel very grateful for all of the early travel experiences I got to have, as I believe they planted seeds of exploration deep in my heart.

When I was eighteen years old, following my final exams as a freshman in college at Texas A&M University, I flew to San Francisco with my mom and sister for a girls trip.  It was my first visit to California.

Thirteen years later, I have returned.

And thirteen years later, I find that I am a totally different person.  I am no longer a pleated khaki shorts-wearing, camp-counseling college student.  I am an early thirty-something woman—a woman who has experienced a lot of life, love, failure, accomplishment, heartbreak, growth and joy.  A woman who has seen much of the world and discovered in the process who she is.  A woman who went from never having tasted wine on that first trip to San Francisco, to now being mildly obsessed with fine wines and fresh, organic foods.

One of the many reasons I appreciate SF: the unbelievably fresh food.

One of the many reasons I appreciate SF: the unbelievably fresh food.

Sushi at Sushi Bistro near Golden Gate Park

Sushi at Sushi Bistro near Golden Gate Park

Custard-filled homeade doughnuts for sale at the Ferry Market building at the Saturday Market.

Custard-filled homemade doughnuts for sale at the Ferry Market building at the Saturday Market.

As I walk the streets of San Francisco, I see aspects of the city that I remember: the large Ghirardelli factory by the harbor that my mom, sister and I rode bikes to and visited.  The notable scenes like the Trolley cars and Golden Gate bridge.  Flower baskets hanging on the street.  But this time, the experience is totally different- because I am different.  I see San Francisco with new, fresh eyes.

San Francisco in Spring- the beauty of this place over this years remains the same.

San Francisco in Spring- the beauty of this place over this years remains the same.

Flowers on each table of Delfina, in the Mission District of SF

Flowers on each table of Delfina, in the Mission District of SF

I appreciate the city’s culture and its areas like The Castro and The Mission District — areas that would have overwhelmed me thirteen years ago, with their free-thinking and free-spirited people.

This thirteen year old boy played and tap danced for hours by the Ferry Market building.  It's crazy to think that the last time I was in this city, he was a newborn.

This thirteen year old boy played and tap danced for hours by the Ferry Market building. It’s crazy to think that the last time I was in this city, he was a newborn.

A hazy smoke fills the skies of Hippie Hill in Golden Gate park on Sunday, 4/20 — what a day to be in San Francisco.

Throughout the trip, I am filled with a deep sense of joy and peace from who I have become in the years since I first visited this city.  I reflect on all of the inner changes that have occurred in my heart and life, and I am thankful that I’ve grown up.  I feel immense amounts of gratitude for having traveled to places that have enlightened my soul and opened my eyes to the beauty of our diverse world.

Deep in the heart.

Deep in the heart.

I encourage you to visit a place that you haven’t been to in years.  You may find what I did- that the place hasn’t changed all that much: the buildings and skyline are, for the most part, the same.  Some restaurants are new, but many remain.  The river or the bay is flowing as it always has, but the current in your own life and heart has changed with time. And hopefully as I did, you’ll find that it’s flowed into something more beautiful, and that you’ve created a life that you’re proud of.

Carpe Diem.

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Serendipity Exists All Around Us

“Ashley…. Is that YOU??”

I paused for a second as the gears in my mind turned and attempted to process this beautiful face in front of me.

“It’s Claire…. From Australia!!”

I nearly passed out from how serendipitous this moment was.  I knew that this girl, whom I had met nearly a year ago on a bus half-way around the world, and I were meant to be friends.

Gorgeous Bondi

Gorgeous Bondi

I backpacked the Eastern Coast of Australia in the fall of 2011, solo.  I headed out to Bondi beach on a typically gorgeous, sunny Australian afternoon and spent the day taking in the beauty of this place.  I walked the length of the beach, absorbing the playfulness of the culture and and sinking my toes into the golden specks of sand.  I hung out barefoot in the grass along the beach, wrote and listened to music.  I took a long run along the path that winds with stunning ocean views along cragged ocean rocks.  It was a magical day.

Sun lowering and making everything golden on Bondi Beach

Sun lowering and making everything golden on Bondi Beach

Running up along the rocks, overlooking Bondi

Running up along the rocks, overlooking Bondi

Shimmering in the sun's last rays

Shimmering in the sun’s last rays

The foot path along the ocean-cut-rocks

The foot path along the ocean-cut-rocks

Bondi's outdoor, ocean-filled lap pool at sunset

Bondi’s outdoor, ocean-filled lap pool at sunset

At dusk, I hopped on a bus and found the first open seat next to a beautiful, young Australian girl.  We spent the next few minutes chatting and getting to know one another.

“I would have loved to show you around Bondi,” she said.  “But you’ll never believe this- I’m leaving tomorrow to MOVE to San Francisco, where my boyfriend lives!”  So, we exchanged Facebook information and sent a couple of messages over the next week or so.

Fast-forward 7 months to April 2012.  I am back in New York, walking briskly on a Wednesday morning at 7am down 8th Avenue to hop on the subway and take it to JFK airport for a flight to Las Vegas.  I pass a pretty girl on the barren early morning NY streets but don’t think a thing about it- I’m in a hurry to get to the airport and catch my flight.  Thirty seconds later, I get a tap on my shoulder, and the above conversation ensues.  It’s Claire.  Half-way across the world.  In New York, where she doesn’t even live but is at for a business trip.  Staying in my neighborhood.  Walking on the street at 7am when she doesn’t have to normally get to work until after 9.  And if you know me, you know I am rarely up at 7am.

I do believe in fate.  I knew in that moment that Claire and I were destined to know each other—perhaps our purpose is to become good friends, or perhaps it’s to learn something from one another.  Or, maybe it’s to remind us that this world is quite small and that each time we put ourselves out there and invest into another life, even with a quick conversation, we emit a beautiful energy that always seems to boomerang back to us in some shape or form.

Claire and I have kept in touch, and on my recent trip to San Francisco this past week, we had the wonderful ability to meet up for dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant called Mau in the Mission District.  It was as if we had known each other for years—when in reality we had spent just 5 minutes together on a bus in Bondi beach, nearly two years prior.

Claire and I at dinner, April 2013

Claire and I at dinner, April 2013

I adore travel for this reason.  I have made friends all over the world—brief sparks of connection with other souls on this planet, that have enriched my life in such abundant ways.  Fellow travelers share a special connection-I know I could go to any of the places where I have contacts, and even if I had just met that person briefly and enjoyed a night of beach cocktails and laughter, I know I could always reach out to re-connect or contact them if I ever found myself in their country and needed help.  There is  shared spirit among travelers, which is one of the reasons the AFAR Community is so special and why it magnetized me from the first moment I learned about it.

On your next trip, I encourage you to strike up a conversation with someone.  Go off the beaten path.  Do something unconventional and challenge yourself in a new way to make friends and put yourself out there in the world.  So many of my best travel experiences come from those times where I have made unexpected friends and memories.  This is one remarkable story….one of many in life’s gorgeous tapestry.

As always, Carpe Diem.

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Travel: Lessons in Flexibility

Everyone collectively lets out a deep moan of frustration as the airline’s gate agent comes on the loudspeaker with the update.   Our 12pm flight to San Francisco, originally delayed until 2:30pm because of mechanical repair issues, is now delayed until 4pm.  Which, means that most of us will be in transit for about 14 hours today for a domestic flight: 2 or so to get to the airport, 6 at the airport and another 6 for the flight, not to mention missed connections and travel time once we get to San Francisco.

View from a flight from Lisbon, Portugal to Rio, Brazil on my around-the-world trip

View from a flight from Lisbon, Portugal to Rio, Brazil on my around-the-world trip

Travel has taught me many things in life—perhaps one of the reasons why I love it most.  I would not exist as the same person without these experiences that have stretched me, made me more patient and taught me that everything always works out, even if that means I am detoured, re-routed, bumped or even (temporarily) lost.

It has taught me immense amounts of flexibility... literally.

It has taught me immense amounts of flexibility… literally.

(Picture in front of Skogafoss Waterfall in Iceland).

These lessons began as early as family road trips, where my sister and I were woken up against our will, it still dark outside, and placed gently into the back of our grandparents oversized van, onto the brown velveteen seats that converted into a bed.  I always fought it when my mom came for me and disrupted my sleep, but when I awoke to the sunrise cruising the Texas highways, it felt like a magical adventure every time, and I loved our road trips for that.

The lessons really began during the summer I spent abroad traveling through Europe in college.  From the onset of being there, I was already put into a situation of feeling lost and panicked, where I had to calm myself down and figure things out.  And, I did.  That instance and that entire summer instilled a confidence in me that has grown with the years and each experience that has followed.  My travels have taught me that I can do anything—and even if there is something that I am not sure of, I can work it out.

There was the time in Paris when I learned that I needed a special kind of adapter that not only allowed my plug to fit in to the socket, but that converted the level of electricity from 220 Volts to 110 Volts.  I discovered this when my curling iron singed off and entire chunk of my hair.    I didn’t get upset or start crying (men, you may not understand that potential reaction, but any woman would).  Travel had relaxed me enough that I giggled with my friend Karen and chalked it up to learning something new.

On that trip to Paris-- I lost some hair but had a fabulous time!

On that trip to Paris– I lost some hair but had a fabulous time!

Karen and me in Paris

Karen and me in Paris

There was the time in Montreaux, Switzerland on that first backpacking trip in college, where a friend and I had broken off from the group to explore this unbelievably gorgeous city that is known as the ‘post card of Europe’.  We happened to be there during the legendary Montreaux Jazz Festival, and we happened to meet people who gave us free front row tickets to see the Buena Vista Social Club, as well as a free place to stay (all the hotels and hostels were booked).  I learned that sometimes when you let go of your plans and let them unfold how they will, something beyond what you could have ever planned pops up and right into your lap.  When you travel, you never know who you will meet and what opportunities will come to you.  This has taught me to go with the flow and to be open to new possibilities in life.

Then, there was the time that I was traveling in India for a month with my friend Stacie.  We had had an amazing trip, but India had stretched me in ways that I had never been stretched before.  Although it was one of the most impactful experiences of my life, it was time to go home—and I was very ready.  Through a series of events, mostly having to do with an Indian flight from Calcutta to Delhi (on an airline called Kingfisher that is now out of business), we missed our connecting flight home on Air France from Delhi to Houston via Paris.

Very dirty, very tired and yet, very happy.  Three adjectives that describe my India experiences, amongst many others.

Very dirty, very tired and yet, very happy. Three adjectives that describe my India experiences, amongst many others.

Things in India work differently than they do in America.  There were no gate agents, no one there to help us re-book a flight.  We were told to exit the airport, and I held firm on my stance that I was not leaving until I had another flight booked to Houston.  A security guard directed us to go outside, through a door and down the hall to wait for someone to come. We waited five hours, until 4 in the morning.  After a couple of hours of negotiation, a change fee that was almost more expensive than what I had spent while in India for an entire month and a flight that didn’t leave for 5 more days, we shrugged our shoulders-exhausted- and looked at each other with tired smiles that said, “What do you do?”  We just found a hotel and hung around in India for several more days.

Some cows hanging out with us in the narrow streets of Varanasi.

Some cows hanging out with us in the narrow streets of Varanasi.

Series of events like that, although not all as dramatic, have given me the ability to stay calm.  I love to have control in my life, and travel has gifted me with the lesson of learning to let go and trust that things will always work out, even if differently than planned.  I will always get home—it may just take longer. 

These lessons impact my life on a daily basis.  When the line wraps around Trader Joes grocery store in my Chelsea neighborhood (only New Yorkers would understand this), I don’t get upset- I just put in my headphones and enjoy some good music.  When the waiter is taking an especially long time to take my order, I picture myself in Rome or Paris, where service is much slower and a meal is more of a process, and it allows me to chill out and not be so impatient.  When a tourist stops me on the street and asks for directions or to take a picture of them, I always stop- even when I’m in a hurry- because I know I appreciate kindness from someone when I’m in their country and on the receiving end.

There are so many ways that travel has changed me and enriched my life.  When you can go with the flow and take whatever comes your way, it makes each day feel like an adventure.

Carpe Diem.

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Featured Traveler: AFAR.COM

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Today is a very happy day in my life.  I am overlooking the ocean and the mountains in a little beach town near Rio, Brazil, the salty breeze gliding onto my skin, so filled with gratitude.  I checked my email an hour ago and had a fun surprise from AFAR.com, sharing the news that I am their Featured Traveler for today.  Not only is this a huge honor for me, but it’s a culmination of vision as well as inspiration to keep me moving in the direction of my dreams.

Just over a year ago, I wrote a blog post about how much AFAR.com  means to me as a person and as a traveler.  It is a magazine and media platform that has built an incredible community, connecting some of the most engaged, knowledgeable and inspiring travelers around the globe.  You can go to the site to get insider tips and ideas for your upcoming trips, create your own Highlights to share your insider tips with other travelers.  You can also plan your upcoming or dream trips by compiling Wanderlists of your own.

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AFAR focuses on experiential travel and dives in to the essence of a place, its people and its culture.  When I first opened the magazine, its beautiful photography and detailed stories captured me– and not just as a reader, or even as an advocate, of which I am both.  It captured my soul and spoke to me in such a way that said, Ashley, you were made for this.  

I knew in that moment that I was made to do something with my life that involved travel, and that vision has grown more clear since that time.  I have taken steps to move me in the directions of my dreams, and I believe that when we align ourselves with our deepest passions and purpose, that the world opens up in such a way that we have never before experienced.  I have seen that this year, with winning the Trip Around the World with Travelocity, as well as becoming an AFAR Ambassador.

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This life is so full of beauty, and it is also incredibly short.  When we discover our greatest desires, I feel we have a responsibility, both to ourselves and to the world, to go after those things with passion.  I know when I follow my calling and live with purpose, I am my best self and able to give to humanity more fully.

Here’s to living life full out.

Carpe Diem.

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Pack Simply. Travel Simply. Live Simply.

“There are only 2 types of luggage: carry-on…..and lost.”  Rita Davenport

On my trip to Rio today, March 29, 2013

On my trip to Rio today, March 29, 2013

It might be a bold claim to call myself an expert packer, but I’m going to be bold.  I am notorious for being able to go anywhere with very little luggage (especially for a woman) and for being able to pack in a short amount of time.  Packing well, to me, is an art form.

On my recent trip around the world, I packed on the morning of my departure, and I carried just a backpack, a medium sized suitcase and a small computer/roller bag.  We went to 6 different global destinations, with temperatures ranging from 20 degrees below  Fahrenheit on the Great Wall of China, to 95 degrees F on the beaches of Rio.  I got quite a few comments from people asking, “is that all you took?!”  Yes, it was all I took- and I even had room to spare to bring home gifts for family and friends.

My two bags and the Roaming Gnome that accompanied me around the world

My two bags and the Roaming Gnome that accompanied me around the world

I went to Panama to visit my lifelong friend, Chrisi, about 2 years ago, and I got detained by TSA in customs when arriving into Newark Airport for an hour because they were so suspicious of my one tiny suitcase.  I am pretty sure they thought I was a drug runner.  I had 3 different male agents come up to me and ask,

“Is that all you brought?”

“Yes, sir,” I said.  “…… I like to pack light.”

“I wish my wife would learn to do that,” they all said, in a serious- non serious, chuckling kind of TSA tone.

I just smiled and politely asked if I could get on my way.

Living in NYC has sharpened my ability to travel light—I didn’t hone this skill until I had to, when I moved here 3+ years ago.  Growing up in a place like Texas, you can take 2 large suitcases for a 5 day trip if you want- you just roll them out your front door, put them in your car, get out at the airport, check those suckers and you’re all set.

Traveling light in Paris in 2010

Traveling light in Paris in 2010

In New York, I generally use public transportation to get to the airport- it runs me anywhere from $2.50 going to JFK (straight shot on the subway) to about $15 to get to Newark via subway and train.  That definitely beats an $80 one-way taxi fare.  When you come and go as much as I do, that can really add up.

I live on the 2nd floor of a brownstone in Chelsea—thank goodness it’s not the 6th floor- and this is my process to get to the airport:  I carry my suitcase down those stairs, roll it 6 blocks to the subway, go down 2 more sets of stairs, through the subway rotating entrance….hop on to the subway to Penn station, down more stairs to get underground where I buy my train ticket, and then down more stairs to get to the train.  Once I get to the airport, there are escalators—but, many times they’re broken or not working, which means trekking up more flights of stairs.

Doing all of this with a 50 lb. suitcase just doesn’t work—trust me, I’ve done it.  I learned this on my first trip after I moved here, and I’ve carried on my bags ever since.  I even carry-on during the holidays, when I have gifts to pack for my mom, dad, sister, brother-in-law, and nephews (**shopping online and having items delivered at my parents’ house is a key tip here).

Traveling light to Lisbon, Portugal in May 2012

Traveling light to Lisbon, Portugal in May 2012

So, I’m going to give you a few ‘tricks of the trade’ that help me.  I love living simply and traveling simply.  Less stuff in life makes me have less stress—and less stuff on a trip does the same: it’s less for me to manage and keep up with.  My personal rule is to have no more than 3 ‘things’ to keep up with—usually it’s my carry on, my backpack and an over the shoulder purse.  For you ladies, I would get a small little purse like this crossbody from Coach that I’ve had for years and love: it’s easy to keep up with, secure and compact.  You don’t have to worry about it falling off your shoulder or getting too heavy, and it’s perfect if you’re traveling internationally. Inconspicuous and secured with a zipper, it will keep your passport and cash secure and difficult for someone to grab.

Tip 1: Determine the Purpose of Your Trip

I’ve found that most times, people just over-pack.  They end up taking way more than they need and not wearing or using half of it.  To me, that’s just lugging around a lot of extra weight.  I have realized that I can take the same amount of stuff for a 3-day trip as I can for a 10-day trip.  Now, if it’s a business trip where you have to dress formally (suits, etc), you may have to carry more.

If I’m going home to Texas for 2 weeks, I’ll most likely be in yoga pants and comfy clothes while I’m at my mom and dad’s house, and I can re-wear those over and over.  I’ll be seeing people and doing some business, yes—but most of the people I see, I won’t see twice, so they won’t know if I wore the same thing yesterday to dinner that I’m wearing with them tonight.   Think about it: how many outfits are you really going to be wearing?  Will you be seeing the same people each day?  If not, simplify.

What's in my suitcase, RIO edition.  Yes, this is a Breville electric kettle- I even fit a rather large gift for a friend!

What’s in my suitcase, RIO edition. Yes, this is a Breville electric kettle- I even fit a rather large gift for a friend!

Tip 2: Mix and Match

For my trip to Rio, I’ve packed 3 pairs of shorts, 1 denim skirt, several tops that I could wear with any of those bottoms, and 4 dresses.  Now here’s the issue for most women: You have so many cute clothes and you think the world needs to see all of them.  You can’t fathom not taking your (fill in the blank) …. So, you pack it all.  And then you don’t wear half of it — you end up wearing the same denim shorts and top everyday, going to the beach and staying in your bikini most of the day.  I feel you, ladies.  I had 4 denim skirts I wanted to take on this trip—different washes, different colors….and they would have ALL been so cute.  But the truth is, no one really cares if I have on a different color of denim from one day to another.  So, I just packed one.

Tip 3: If You Want to Travel Light to the Promised Land, Let the Shoes Go

This is the primary reason why men pack lighter than women: they have fewer shoes.  Women love their shoes.  Again, I understand.  My closet is full of them.  But, shoes take up a lot of space…..so if you want to travel light, you must learn to simplify.  In the winter, I wear my most bulky pair of shoes/boots on the plane so I have one less thing to pack.  On this trip to Rio, I’m bringing 4 pairs: my running shoes (I don’t go anywhere without these- they’re bulky but necessary), my Havaianas (flip flops), 1 pair of brown wedges and a pair of nicer, decorative sandals.  That’s it.

Stacy and I celebrating her birthday and her new Christian Louboutins-- women love their shoes!

Stacy and I celebrating her birthday and her new Christian Louboutins– women love their shoes!

What about my high heels?  My wedges are serving that purpose.  Know where you’re going.  Rio, for example, is pretty casual.  If I go out, wedges suffice- I don’t need 4” stilettos, and if I brought them I’d look out of place.  But even if I were going to Vegas, I’d bring 1-2 pairs of heels and plan my outfits around them.  All 4 of my dresses go with these brown wedges.  I did have another black dress that I was going to take… but I would have had to bring 1 pair of shoes to wear just with that dress.  That wasn’t efficient for packing lightly, so I chose another dress.  Easy fix.

Tip 4: Figure Out if You’ll Have Access to a Washing Machine

This is key.  I’m only taking 3 Lululemon tops and bottoms on this trip, even though I’ll probably run 6 out of the 8 days while I’m in Rio.  I’ll have access to wash my clothes, so there’s no need to overdo it.  While I do have 6 sets of Lulu stuff that I love, I’m going for practicality here, not fashion.

In my Lulu on my last trip to RIO, about to go hang gliding- I'm obsessed with this stuff!

In my Lulu on my last trip to RIO, about to go hang gliding- I’m obsessed with this stuff!

Tip 5: Become Friends with the Container Store

Or, wherever you can find great little travel containers that allow you to consolidate your toiletries.  Not only do you have to have each bottle under 3.4 ounces to carry on, it also cuts down on weight.  I use Arbonne products, so I take either their skin care travel set that is awesome and compact, or sample packs of products if I want to pack really light.  Everything else- my shampoo, conditioner, lotion, sunscreen and even my sea mud face mask (it’s a must for me) are in small little travel containers.  I am definitely my father’s daughter: growing up, he would always cut open the toothpaste tubes.  I made fun of him then, but I’m finding myself doing the same now.  Waste less, use more.  I also found the best little baby hair dryer– $45 at Bed Bath and Beyond, it actually has nearly the same force as a full-size dryer.

My little factory where the magic happens.

My little factory where the magic happens.

I love experiential travel, and it usually encourages simplification in life.  I enjoy moving around and exploring, and to do that, I can’t be burdened by a lot of stuff.  Perhaps if you’re going to an all-inclusive resort and setting up camp for a week, it would work for you to take a bit more.  Most of the places I stay in are boutique hotels or hostels that are small and don’t have a ton of room for big, bulky American-sized suitcases.  But even if they did, I prefer to go the easy route.  Packing simply and living simply bring a lightness to my soul- if you’re used to taking a lot more, try downsizing on your next trip.  You may find that it does the same for you.

Carpe Diem.

Ashley

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The Traveling of the Soul

“The human soul travels from law to love, from discipline to freedom, from the moral to the spiritual.” – R. Tagor

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This quote resonates with me deeply, because a pivotal force in the traveling of my soul from law to love, from discipline to freedom and from the moral to the spiritual has been my travels.  They have molded and shaped me as a person; some of my life’s most transformative seasons have been birthed from experiences afar.

Taken on my first trip to India, one of the most transformative experiences of my life.

Taken on my first trip to India, one of the most transformative experiences of my life.

When I travel, I’m not only immersing myself into other cultures- I’m immersing into myself.  Travel allows me to delve deep and confront many aspects of who I am: my insecurities … my strengths … my fears … and my deepest desires.

We all have turning points in our lives– either things that happen to us, or things that we choose to create that forever alter our paths– for the better or for the worse.  These are our defining moments, sometimes recognizable while they’re occurring and other times only seen in hindsight.

Taken in Paris, my second trip back to Europe eight years after the first.

Taken in Paris, my second trip back to Europe eight years after the first.

When I was 20 years old and a Junior in college, I decided to save up money and meet my friend who had been studying abroad in Italy in Europe for the summer.  I had never been outside of the U.S.   I don’t know what inspired this other than my inherent desire to explore and create, as I wasn’t from a family of international travelers- the idea of going out and seeing the world stirred my spirit and just made sense to me, and I knew it was an adventure that I needed to embark upon.

I picked up extra shifts at the Blue Baker in College Station, Texas, making cookies and pastries and slapping together Santa Fe turkey sandwiches so I could purchase my Eurail pass and get as many stamps on my brand new passport as possible.

My flight was scheduled from Houston to Milan via Air France, with a quick stop through Paris.  As sometimes happens with traveling, my plane was delayed and arrived into Paris’ Charles-de-Gaulle airport an hour late, causing me to miss my connecting flight to Milan.  I was scheduled on to the next flight that left a few hours later–the only problem is that my friend was waiting for me at baggage claim in Milan already, this was my first time to be somewhere non-English speaking and it was 2001– I didn’t have a cell phone.

At first, I did the only thing that made sense at the time– I panicked.  Once I calmed down, I remembered Katie had given me a cell phone number that I could reach her at- some throwaway phone with a temporary number that she had picked up in Italy.  I made my way over to the payphone and everything was in French.  While I had studied French in high school and it wasn’t like trying to read Mandarin, it was foreign, and I was scared.  I figured out how to use my credit card to call this international number, half-worried that it wouldn’t work and the other-half worried that my dad would kill me for charging some insane amount on this credit card he had given me for ’emergencies only.’  I didn’t know how many Euros-or dollars- or whatever kind of currency they would be charging me, and I didn’t care.

The phone rang and rang, and Katie didn’t answer.  I tried again.  And again.  My stomach twisted in knots.  Finally, on the 4th try, she picked up.  I told her the situation, and she informed me casually and non-nonchalantly that we had a reservation in Salzburg, Austria, to get to that evening.  The train from Milan and our bed and breakfast had already been booked for that evening, along with the Sound of Music Tour through the hills of Austria for the following day.

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“So I’m going to go ahead and go on,” she said, the experienced Euro traveler that she now was after having spent the past 6 weeks in Italy.  “I’ll send this guy to the airport to come and pick you up– you can spend the night with his family and take a train tomorrow to Austria.”

“But Katie, I don’t know where I’m going??!,” I replied even more panicked than before.

“They’ll take care of you– I promise, Europe’s easy to get around in, you’ll be fine.  I have to run, I’m almost out of cell minutes.”

And just like that, I was on my own.  Tears filled my eyes and I wanted to grab a Toblerone and head into the bathroom stall to eat and cry.  How could she just leave me like this?  But she did, and I had to figure it out.

I landed in Milan, and sure enough there was a young Italian guy about my age waiting for me in baggage claim.  Relief flooded me.  He was the son of American missionaries who had come to Milan in their early 20’s and never left– so he was part American but mostly Italian, his English fluent but Italian his first language.  I was starving at this point but all I could find in the airport was cheese, bread and salami-like cold cuts.  Where were the turkey sandwiches?

When we made it to the apartment, I could hardly believe its tiny size could hold their family of five.  The teenage sons slept in bunk beds in what must have been a 10×10 room, it was summertime and they didn’t have A/C.  Ceiling fans clicked and clanked overhead and a dampness hung in the air and lingered on our foreheads, as I sat with the family at the table that evening feeling excited and anxious in my new environment.

The next morning they took me to the train station after our breakfast of cheese and bread, and with a ticket, some hand-written directions and no cell phone, I set out on my journey to find my friend with only an address for a bed and breakfast in Salzburg and my backpack.  I had to take 4 different trains to get there.  This was my first time on a train and I felt equally ambitious and terrified.  What if I went the wrong way or took the wrong train?  What if I got to Salzburg and couldn’t speak to someone in English to get a cab?  What if the cab driver had never heard of this B&B and dropped me off somewhere else?

On the train ride, an older German man and I started speaking- he was a professor and luckily for me, fluent in English.  He was also headed to Salzburg and helped me to make my way the entire duration of the trip.  When we arrived, he spoke in German to the cab driver to make sure that he knew where to drop me, and paid for the ride in advance to take care of me.  That day, I felt like he was my angel of provision.

I got to Salzburg just as evening was setting in.  When I arrived up to the room, I looked out the window onto a river flowing beneath and to Salzburg’s castle, lit up like the crown jewel of all of Europe, just for me.  I plopped on the featherbed and started crying tears of relief.  I had made it.

The view from my room-- I can still tap into the fullness of emotion that I felt in this exact moment.

Salzburg’s magnificent castle that my room looked out upon

I grew up more that summer abroad than I had in all of my previous 20 years combined.    That trip was the catalyst of my personal evolution that moved me from discipline, law and morality into freedom, love and spirituality- and, in to discovering who I really am.  Travel has, and continues, to change me– which, is why I am so passionate about encouraging you to get out there: in addition to some incredible memories, you’ll be left with a stamp of transformation if you allow yourself to be open to each experience that awaits you.

Carpe Diem.

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