Arms Wide Open

Living life with open hands can be a unnerving thing at times. 

Taken in Iceland, along the beaches in 2010, right after Eyjafjallajökull erupted- a mix of sand  and volcanic ash in my hands

Taken in Iceland, along the beaches in 2010, right after Eyjafjallajökull erupted- a mix of sand and volcanic ash in my hands

I am confident that I am called to live life this way, but some days I feel like I’m about to jump off this platform and launch into the air on my first solo flight, not knowing how long I’ll be up, how exactly to get down or even if I’m headed in the right direction.   All I know is that the view will be incredible and that I love the way the salty ocean air feels on my skin as I float through the clouds.  So, I’m trusting that this is the only way to live– to be all in.

The view from the launching pad

The view from the launching pad

It’s not like I don’t have security- I do.  I’m not a vagabond traveler, living off of couches and pop tarts, wondering where my next meal is going to come from and trying to make it on less than $20 a day.  I have a successful Arbonne business that’s allowed me to have utmost flexibility while still making a solid income, something I will be forever grateful for.  I’m not in debt, I have savings and if anything happened and I lost it all, I am grateful to have amazing family and friends whom I could fall back on if I were in dire straights.

It is a different kind of security that I have chosen to forgo: the security of a more conventional kind of life, one that would allow me to better predict the happenings of my future.  A life with more regularity and daily routines.  A life where I would get up around the same time each day, go to work, stay there for 9-10 hours, eat lunch around the same time, go to the gym after work, see some friends, and then head home to get ready to sleep and start the next day again.  A life where I had some certainty that I’d live close to my family again one day, own a home and have a few kids.

My version of conventional, jumping atop the Lisbon skyline at sunset.

My version of conventional: Lisbon December 2012

There are no ‘good or bads’ here, no ‘right or wrong’ way to go about living this life.  I am just realizing that I have chosen a different way, one that is less predictable– and this path has me swinging between a state of confident elation and feeling like a little girl hovered in my twin bed with a flashlight, reading in the dark with a blanket over my head.

People often ask me how I’m doing following the Travelocity Trip Around the World.  “Amazing!!” I say- and how could I not be amazing after winning a free $65,000 global trek?  It forever changed me, and I’m stepping into a new and exciting phase of my life.  I am on my own for really the first time since I was 19 years old, I have my own business and I’m traveling and working to create new things in my life…. and everything is totally, completely, unbelievably open.  I could move anywhere in the world.  I can do anything I want.  I can be whoever I want to be.

IMG_3438

Standing on Arpoador Rock between Ipanema and Copacabana beaches in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Isn’t that exciting?  Of course!  But I have moments where  it terrifies me.  I believe many people stick to their routines because routines are comfortable — and, because they would never want to find themselves in this place where I’m at now:  a place of hopeful uncertainty, where I’m learning that I truly have to let go, open my hands and live in the present.  It’s a forced kind of active daily presence– for the first time, even my planner-mentality can’t predict what the future will hold.

Taken in Iceland

Taken in Iceland

So, here’s to waking up each day and giving it my best.  To opening my eyes and determining what I will create for that day.  To being open to going to new places and to meeting new people.  To opening my hands and heart to new opportunities, new ideas and new travel plans.  To letting go of timelines that often whisper into my ear and to embracing the possibilities for each new day.  After all, today is really all we are promised, isn’t it?

Carpe Diem,

Ashley

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Travel With Castle: New Title, Same Journey

“Isn’t this like the 4th time you’ve changed the name of your blog, Ashley?”

“Actually, mom- it’s the 5th.”

“Do people normally do that so much?  And didn’t it used to be called Buttercup something?”

It did, in fact.  Back in those ‘early days.’  Back before ButtercupBackpack, it was GratitudeCastle– about a “twenty-something girl living in New York and her quest for life and love..there and everywhere.”   Three years have passed and I’m no longer a twenty-something girl–

I’m a thirty-something woman.. or girl… or whatever.  But, my quest still remains.

Early winter 2010- first true NYC winter!

Early winter 2010- first true NYC winter!

Experiencing my 1st fall in NYC, almost 3 years ago!

Experiencing my 1st fall in NYC, almost 3 years ago.

So, you are now reading TravelWithCastle.  I believe this is a permanent name (fingers crossed), at least for now.  How can anything be totally permanent in life when everything constantly evolves…. and also when I am continually becoming something new?

I enjoy change.  With my constant desire to get out into the world and see new things, meet new people and have new experiences, that may be obvious.  I’ve moved 9 times in the past 9 years; I’m about to re-sign my lease, making this the first home I’ll have stayed in for more than 12 months since I was 21 years old.

The view from one of my favorite homes over the past 9 years: sunset from my lanai while living in Maui, Hawaii

The view from one of my favorite homes over the past 9 years: sunset from my lanai while living in Maui, Hawaii

It’s not that I am not content in life-quite the contrary.  I possess a heart that is continually seeking.  Seeking to grow and to change.  Seeking to evolve into something more beautiful that houses more compassion.  Seeking out inspiration and truth.  This is why travel moves me; it is an integral part of my lifelong process of searching and learning.  When I travel, I expand as a person.

Hence, my blog’s name change.  When I started this journey of blogging about 4 years ago, I was a different person.  I was living in Dallas, Texas, and had recently been through some trenches (some, self-inflicted and others, life-inflicted…but isn’t that the way ‘trenches’ normally go?)  I was writing sometimes hours each day, and a friend suggested I start a blog.

“A blog — me?”

I didn’t know why anyone would be interested in what I had to say.  What, even, would I say?  But I started- just getting some thoughts down, thoughts without much direction… but they were still my thoughts launching out into the universe, and that was what mattered at the time.

IMG_0729

I then moved to New York, and my whole world changed again when this city stretched me beyond what I ever thought was possible.  In the first 3 months, I would swing between elated feelings of being on top of the world and feelings of desperation, trying to deal with how small I felt in such a big place with big people who all had bigtime ambition.  I felt lost in this maze of humanity and drive, not knowing my place or what to do with any of the talents I was once so confident in.

Making it in New York City is by no means an easy task: the competition is fierce in every aspect, the cost of living often feels hard to justify and we all somehow become ok with living without a dishwasher, microwave, washer/dryer or privacy.  But for every frustration this city can bring, it brings in equal measure inspiration and a feeling of being alive that is hard to understand unless you’ve lived here and experienced it for yourself.  This city has been a steroid shot of evolution for me.  It’s given me more grit and gratitude.. and daily, it ignites a fire in my soul.

My 2nd apartment in New York sat right across from Morandi, on the corner of Charles and Waverly in the West Village.

My 2nd apartment in New York sat right across from Morandi, on the corner of Charles and Waverly in the West Village.

Some people seem to know from an early age what ‘career path’ they want to go down.  For me, it’s been a process of getting to know myself.  Of putting enough mud- or whatever- up on the wall and seeing what makes sense as I’ve evolved.  Since I’ve been in New York, I’ve taken acting classes… and memoir classes… and language classes… and childrens’ book writing classes.  To some, this may seem void of focus.  For me, all of my exploration is what has given me direction.

Life often feels like this: each path or choice could take you to a different direction...yet all are good.

Life often feels like this: each path or choice could take you to a different direction…yet all are good.

The name changed several times and temporarily landed on Jetsetcastle.com, as I narrowed my focus to writing about travel and how it changes us as people, giving us fuller, richer lives.  The name Jetsetcastle served me well, but I’ve realized that it doesn’t really reflect what I am about.  I’m not really one who jetsets, which is defined as:

An international social set made up of wealthy people who travel from one fashionable place to another.

I enjoy a nice hotel like the rest of you.  On my recent Trip Around the Globe with Travelocity’s Roaming Gnome, we stayed at places like the luxurious Peninsula in Beijing.  But my norm is not to jetset; when I travel, I desire to get as deep into the culture as I can and to meet the people who reside there, rather than staying pool-side next to fellow tourists who are drinking a Manhattan in Mumbai (although those conversations can be stimulating in their own right).  With each journey, I seek to have my perspectives deepened, altered and renewed.

My typical preferred accomodation when I travel: clean, affordable and in the city's center so I can walk everywhere- this boutique hotel/hostel was in Lisbon, Portugal May 2012.

My typical preferred accomodation when I travel: clean, affordable and in the city’s center so I can walk everywhere- this boutique hotel/hostel was in Lisbon, Portugal May 2012.

I invite you to travel along with me– to Travel With Castle— and for us to change and grow deeper, together.  With each day, I become increasingly aware that life is a process.  I will be on a quest for the rest of my days– I hope that you open your heart to all that life has to offer and join me.

Come along and join me!

In Buzios, Brazil

Carpe Diem,

Castle

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Where’s the Wine??

No one told Jeanne or me about the post traumatic traveling-the-world stress we’d experience when we got home–or, about the fact that we’d need therapy to get back into the swing of normal life.  Self-medication with Argentinian Malbec has seemingly done the trick for me.

Wine and chips with guac could really solve the majority of the world's problems

Wine and chips with guac could really solve the majority of the world’s problems

Of course I’m only joking….. kind of.

Last Saturday, I went for dinner and wine at Jeanne’s apartment; it was the first time we had seen one another since our tearful goodbye at the Rio airport on December 22nd, when she headed back to New York and I stayed behind in Brazil after deciding to extend my trip.  Our reunion was full of emotion; we have experienced something so unique with one another, and through the thousands of miles traveled, countless hours spent, numerous champagnes sipped and multiple half-asleep plane documentaries filmed, we developed an inexplicable bond.

Taken our final night in Rio together, before our journey together came to a close and Jeanne headed back to New York.

Taken our final night in Rio together, before our journey together came to a close and Jeanne headed back to New York.

She and I talked and chuckled about our adventures– like the day we were in transit for 35 hours, not knowing what time zone we were in and not caring, drinking wine on a Business Class Lufthansa flight as we reclined our chairs into beds and laughed at the beauty of this crazy thing called life.

Our  first toast on the flight from NYC to Rome

Our first toast on the flight from NYC to Rome

Champagne toast from Lisbon to Rio

Champagne toast from Lisbon to Rio

Sleepy travelers from Rome to Beijing

Sleepy travelers from Rome to Beijing..early morning flight but the champagne was still flowing!

Delirious travelers laughing about our "Tips" while in one of the 3 German airports that day going from Mumbai to Lisbon

Delirious travelers laughing about our “Dirty Tips” (inside joke) while in one of the 3 German airports that day going from Mumbai to Lisbon

Just flat out losing it in the midst of exhaustion and happy deliriousness.

Just flat out losing it in the midst of happy exhaustion.

After an experience such as this, it takes some time to settle back into everyday life again.  I’ve realized that I’m not even settling back into the life that existed B.T.R.G., ie, Before The Roaming Gnome.  My life has been altered.  I am in the process of figuring out this new mental and emotional reality.  Life will never be the same as before, as the way that I have seen the world and what I desire to create in it has changed.  I have changed.

I left Jeanne’s that evening in a flood of emotion and walked from 77th and 2nd Avenue all the way home near 20th St. and 8th Avenue.  If you know New York, you know that was quite a walk: 56 blocks south and crossing over half of Manhattan from East to West. Soon after I left her place I passed The Surrey Hotel, which served as the starting point of our trip around the world in New York.

Sitting in the Surrey in NYC the morning we were leaving to begin our global adventure!

Sitting in the Surrey in NYC the morning we were leaving to begin our global adventure!

Our final morning in New York before we departed to Rome, I went for a long run through Central Park.  During it, I had strong feelings of positive anticipation; I knew my life was about to change as the December chill hit my cheeks.  It was the deep knowledge that becomes familiar to the soul right before it knows it’s going to experience something of magnitude.  Just 40 days later, walking past that same hotel felt like a surreal dream.  Having been to 6 countries on 4 continents during that short period of time, it was difficult to process it all, especially now that it was over.  Completed.  Finito.  The river of life continues to flow, and what was *just* upstream was now flowing over rocks downstream, making its way out to the ocean.

I continued and walked through Times Square until I walked all the way home, thankful for this complex city to return to and for the life that I have here in New York.  I love this city.  I love that there is chaos and insanity and messiness and that it’s not predictable or orderly all of the time.  I enjoy the edginess and magnetic energy of New York and that I get to connect with all different types of people.  It felt good to walk through this place that I love so much and get to know my life here again.

Walking through Times Square

Walking through Times Square

Overcome with gratitude and thoughtful emotion on my way home

Overcome with gratitude and thoughtful emotion on my way home

The city lights danced as I continued on, and a peace washed over me as I saw how life flows together so beautifully; a journey sometimes comes full circle, simply so we can take a step back and have a moment to pause– and in doing so, receive its lessons.

Carpe Diem.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Forever Changed – Thank You Roaming Gnome

I am home.  After a 30 day trip to 6 global destinations on 4 continents via 12 international flights, I am tucked in to my cozy NYC apartment sipping my Arbonne detox tea with the lights dimmed, trying to mentally and emotionally process all that I just experienced in the past month of my life.

Quite a full passport after all of these stops: -NYC -> Brussels -> Rome -> Zurich -> Beijing -> Bangkok -> Mumbai -> Stutgaart -> Frankfort -> Munich -> Lisbon -> Rio de Janeiro -> NYC

Quite a full passport after all of these stops: – NYC -> Brussels -> Rome -> Zurich -> Beijing -> Bangkok -> Mumbai -> Stuttgart -> Frankfort -> Munich -> Lisbon -> Rio de Janeiro -> NYC

The trip

The Trip

I knew before this journey started that it was going to be a life-changing experience.  In fact, I had a deep knowingness in my soul the minute I walked through Madison Square Park and held that flier in my hand that read, “One Lucky Person Could Win a Trip Around the Globe,” that my life was going to be forever altered.

New Year's Eve on Ipanema beach in Rio

New Year’s Eve on Ipanema beach in Rio

It is strange to sit here in my familiar apartment while feeling totally changed by all of these places, cultures and people that are now interwoven into the tapestry of my life.  It is a meaningful, yet overwhelming set of emotions to wade through.

On the beach at sunset, listening to music and taking it all in

On the beach at sunset, listening to music and taking it all in

I believe we have been created for two main reasons: to learn and to love.  At this stage, I have awareness of only a small portion of all that will unfold in my life over time because of this experience I’ve had traveling the world.  But, I can pinpoint some meaningful ways that I have changed through this experience that I would love to share with you:

Anything is possible
Anything.  No dream is a ‘pipe dream.’  If you want to create something in your life, you can do it.  It will take vision, focused intention, action and positivity to bring it to life, but it is possible.  So if you haven’t started yet, start dreaming.

I have spent countless hours in my life writing out my dreams and desires and creating vision- we can only go after something if we have a clear picture of what it is that we want.

I have spent countless hours in my life writing out my dreams and desires and creating vision- we can only go after something if we have a clear picture of what it is that we want.

Travel Changes People
I have known since the first time I traveled abroad to Europe when I was 20 years old that travel changes people, because that experience forever changed me.  It changed the way I saw the world and its people and helped me to realize that I am not just an American- I am a global citizen.  We are all one world.  Yes, we may do things differently in different places, but as humans we all desire the same things deep down.  Travel opens up your mind to other ways of life and helps you to find beauty in cultures that are unlike your own.  Travel is so much bigger than taking a fun vacation- it is an agent of goodwill and peace. For this reason, my passion for travel and sharing my experiences with the world has deepened further, and I now know that it is my mission and my calling in life to inspire others to live a more full, rich existence through travel.

Some of the beautiful children at the Indian village we had the opportunity to visit and learn from a few hours outside of Mumbai

Some of the beautiful children at the Indian village we had the opportunity to visit and learn from a few hours outside of Mumbai

Life is about giving back
This experience has invigorated my passion for service.  Through Travelocity’s Travel for Good program, we had opportunities to volunteer in both New York City and Mumbai.  I realized that living in New York has stretched me in some significant ways- and because of that, this has been a season in my life where I’ve centered in more on myself, what I really want and how I’m going to get there (along with my ever-full social calendar).  This experience with Travel for Good has refreshed some of my perspectives and reinforced  how interacting with humans in meaningful ways nourishes my soul and is something I am going to put more energy in to.

My soul felt so rich while in India

My soul felt so rich while in India

I can operate without a schedule
Normal life works on some kind of set plan.  For me, it involves how I eat, how many hours I sleep each night and how many times a week I go to the gym.  All good things, yes — but I learned through this experience that I can live in other ways and that both are beautiful.  For a month straight, I barely knew what day of the week it was, didn’t have any regular sleep and ate whatever made sense at the time.  I went on 3-4 hours of sleep most nights and ate immeasurable amounts of bread, butter and chocolate.  Sometimes it makes more sense to just go with the natural flow of life and not be so concerned about ‘normal’ routines.  What is normal, anyway?

Taken on a 35 hour travel day: Mumbai to Stugaart to Frankfort to Munich to Lisbon

Taken on a 35 hour travel day: Mumbai to Stuttgart to Frankfort to Munich to Lisbon– good thing were were in amazing hands with Lufthansa’s Business Class- it made the travel day much, much easier even with delays and weather re-routes!

I can unplug, detach and simplify
I purposefully unplugged.  It was an intentional decision to let the cell phone go.  I didn’t get an international plan because I wanted to be present in each place and with every experience, not checking my Facebook or tweeting while on the Great Wall of China.  I am so happy I made the decision to detach.  I took 30 days without a phone and just updated my Facebook when I had some time back in the hotel.  It helped me to realize that I can put better boundaries in place moving forward between me and technology and that sometimes I probably miss what is going on in my actual life because I am wrapped up in peoples’ status updates.  The beauty of having a simple life was also reinforced.  I am after experiences in life that impact my heart and soul, more than I am after collecting a bunch of stuff.  Travel is a strainer that helps me to sift through materialism and vanity, and I love it for that.

On a train in India

On a train in India

Now that this trip is over, many people have made comments like, “It must have been so wonderful- well, now back to reality!”

I am choosing and declaring that this is my reality.  All of it.

Paying rent and bills in my NYC apartment, traveling to see my family in Virginia, going to the gym and all of the routine things that I do on a daily and weekly basis….. as well as traveling to new places often, learning from different cultures, eating new foods, running on beaches all over the world, learning acrobatics at a circus school in Lisbon and driving Ferarri’s in Italy.  This is my beautiful life that I am working to create: the ‘mundane’ as well as the new and challenging.  It all flows together to produce this fascinating existence, and I want to drink every last drop of this amazing gift that we have all been given.

Cristo Redentor watching over all of Rio

Cristo Redentor watching over all of Rio

Our final night together as a crew in Rio, watching the sunset out on the water

Our final night together as a crew in Rio, watching the sunset out on the water

Majestic

Majestic

I hope as you’ve seen my life transformed through this deeply meaningful experience with Travelocity, that you have been given some hope and inspiration to seize each day and life full out.

Determine how to love the life that you have.... it's precious!

Determine how to love the life that you have…. it’s precious!

After all, la vita e bella.  Carpe Diem.

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

The Great Gnome Nabbing Continues…. Beijing and Mumbai

It’s difficult to express, or even to process for that matter, the impact of an experience like this on my life.  I’ve been gone for just over two weeks, but in the course of that time, my life and perspectives have already deeply changed.  It’s a process that I know will continue and deepen long after I return home.

Watching the sun come over the horizon at the Gateway of India

Watching the sun come over the horizon at the Gateway of India

We’re leaving for the airport in just a few hours to fly from Mumbai to our next destination.  Mumbai and Beijing were both such rich, memorable parts of this journey.

Climbing the Great Wall of China (in negative 30 degree F with the wind-chill conditions, nonetheless) is a moment in time where life stands still.  It is an overwhelming to be in such a majestic place, fully realizing that I may never get back there in my lifetime.  I did my best to soak it up and take it all in.

The magnificent Great Wall

The magnificent Great Wall

Majestic, and very cold:

So windy that I wanted to put you right there with us- the wind nearly picked me up and blew me off towards the top!

We went to one of China’s most prominent Kung Fu schools, where the kids actually come to live and train.

It was such a rich experience to speak with a few of the girls, one of whom introduced herself as Ann and who spoke English proficiently.

Jeanne and I speaking with these 2 precious girls at Kung Fu school.  Meaningful interactions like this change the world by widening perspectives and narrowing biases.

Jeanne and I speaking with these 2 precious girls at Kung Fu school. Meaningful interactions like this change the world by widening perspectives and narrowing biases.

Jeanne and I got to ask Ann and another young girl who spoke no English about their dreams and hopes and what they aspired to do in their lives.  We had told them about this trip around the world and how we earned it, and they just giggled with delight at the thought of something like that.  When Ann asked her friend and translated her answer back to us, the little 10 year old girl had said, “I dream of being free.”  Ann said she was meaning free to travel and to do the kinds of things that we’re doing.  Her answer made me catch my breath.  I’ve always felt completely free living in America, where we can do or be anything or anyone we want to be.  I have a new appreciation of freedom after having been to China.

Guards at the Forbidden Palace in Beijing

Guards at the Forbidden Palace in Beijing

China is a beautiful country, but I felt an oppressive kind of feeling there.  The overall feel was polite, but not warm.  Most people we met had never thought of leaving China to go somewhere else– partly because that may not be an option, but my guess is also because it’s not even something they’ve been opened up to thinking about.  It was my first time in a Communist country, and I did find the overall sense felt different.

IMG_1275

In Tienanmen Square

We then set off to India- I have traveled quite a bit, but I have never experienced three different cultures back-to-back like this with visiting Rome, Beijing and Mumbai in such a short period of time.  It makes their differences seem more exaggerated:  the foods, the languages, the transportation methods, the attitudes and mentalities of the people, the levels of hospitality, the service at restaurants…. are all truly words apart.

Just a taste of life and traffic in Mumbai:

I was in India for a month nearly 4 years ago.  It was a month after I had ended my marriage, and it was a pilgrimage of love and self-discovery that molded me in some substantial ways.  I left India in 2009 a different person than who I was when I entered it.  Because the experience was so meaningful, coming to India on this trip was very rich for me.  There was such a level of comfort amidst the horns, the millions of people, the pollution and the chaos.

The sobering view of the slums in Mumbai while on the train:

Life is raw here.  I don’t believe another place exists with such dramatic extremes.  From the division of classes and the extreme levels of poverty, to the smells, the sounds and the visual stimulation of a million things happening at once, it is a bit overwhelming to the senses, but I love it.  There is a truth and a beauty found in a place and a culture that is so vibrant and open.

A Fish Market in Mumbai:

Travelocity has a program called Travel for Good that focuses on taking travel to another level of significance.  Travel changes people; it opens us up to new ways of life and perspectives.  We had the honor of getting to spend the day with Indian people from a few villages about 2-3 hours outside of Mumbai, where a program has been started to teach women different skills so that they can become self-supporting and have a better life– sewing, computer skills and cosmetology, amongst other things.

We drove up to the village and everyone was dressed in their finest attire, the jewel-toned saris and gold jewelry sparkling in the sunlight and the sounds of drums and singing awaiting us.  We got off the bus and they adorned us with flowers and gifts before taking us inside for a beautiful welcome ceremony.

The children sang and danced and they called Jeanne and I up to dance with them- as we learned their village dances, laughter and cheering erupted in the crowd of around 200 people who were there.  It was an unbelievably special moment.

We really aren’t all that separate.  When verbal communication isn’t possible, we are united through facial expressions and smiles, music, dancing and the vitality of the human spirit.  I couldn’t communicate with the majority of those people, but from our exchange together, I believe we both knew that we are really all a part of the same family.

Jeanne and I with some of these precious girls that we had the honor of dancing with.

Jeanne and I with some of these precious girls that we had the honor of dancing with.

There are only 2 destinations and 9 days of this trip left.  We have done and seen so much that it feels like we’ve been gone for months.  I’m focusing on the beauty and fullness of each day and not on the end of this trip, as it’s all a wonderful part of my life journey.  My life vision has budded like a morning glory in the sunshine–this is just the beginning.

Carpe Diem.

**See Travelocity’s beautiful videos from both of these experiences– they sent a 4 person production crew with us all over the world to capture these beautiful moments:

Beijing:

Mumbai:

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Nabbed to Rome… La Vita e Bella!

Today marks one week since The Roaming Gnome nabbed me from my cozy NYC apartment for a trip around the globe.  I’m seated in business class on a Swiss Air flight from Rome to Beijing, with a stopover in Zurich, Switzerland, looking out at the billowy clouds beneath me spread out like a down blanket, with reflections of the soft pastels of pink, orange and blue lighting up the sky and beckoning this day forth.

IMG_2997

In the car on the way to the NYC hotel we stayed at right after the Gnome Nabbed Me!

Boarding the Brussels Air flight to Rome via way of Brussels, Belgium-- first class all the way, baby!

Boarding the Brussels Air flight to Rome via way of Brussels, Belgium– first class all the way, baby!

This has been the most beautifully overwhelming week.  I knew when I got that flier for this contest to get nabbed by Travelocity’s Roaming Gnome that my life would be forever changed.  One week in, it already has.  I got to have the kinds of experiences in Rome that storybooks are made of, like Ferrari driving through the Italian countryside…

Getting ready to go for a spin...

Getting ready to go for a spin…

Styling in our aviators

Styling in our aviators

Ferrari looks good on us, don't you think?

Ferrari looks good on us, don’t you think?

An authentic Italian cooking class where I expanded my baking horizons from chocolate chip cookies, my famous ‘ooie gooie’ chocolate chip peanut butter caramel brownies and my cupcakes to homemade tiramisu….

Italian cooking class...

Italian cooking class…

Homeade tiramisu... I am adding this to my baking repertoire!

Homeade tiramisu… I am adding this to my baking repertoire!

Tours through the Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Cathedral, the Pantheon, the Colosseum and making wishes at Trevi fountain…..

Making a wish at Trevi fountain

Making a wish at Trevi fountain

In awe at the Colosseum

In awe at the Colosseum

Beautiful Italian Piazza where we stopped for gelato...

Beautiful Italian Piazza where we stopped for gelato…

Gladiator school where we learned how to fight like the Romans did– quite authentic, and Jeanne and I were quite bad at it….

Before our final match

Before our final match

In the action-- I could hardly fight because I couldn't keep from laughing..

In the action– I could hardly fight because I couldn’t keep from laughing..

A private four hour Vespa tour through Rome, stopping at places like the Spanish steps and panoramic overlooks of the city….

Getting ready to ride!

Getting ready to ride!

My 1970's vintage Vespa for our tour through Roma...

My 1970’s vintage Vespa for our tour through Roma…

I am learning a lot about the expansiveness of the mind and that there are truly no limitations in life to anything that I desire to create.  We were brought into this world to create beautiful things, to love, to learn and to inspire others.

Someone asked me this week if in my wildest dreams I could have ever imagined getting to have experiences like these—flying first class all around the world, staying in five star hotels and having all of these ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ kinds of opportunities.  My answer to that would be both yes and no.  No, in that I wasn’t prepared for it to be this good.  Travelocity and their amazing team has been better to us than I could have dreamed up.  But, I say yes because even if I couldn’t have planned it coming together so beautifully like this on my own, I have always know in my spirit that I was created for greatness—greatness in my love for life and for other people, greatness in the life experiences I have known that I was made to create and savor.  When I entered this contest, I continued to think and  ask myself, “Why not me?”  Why not me being the one to ride in a candy apple red Ferrari through Italy’s rolling hills?  Why not me to lick a big cone of gelato in Piazza Navona in Rome?  Why not me to take in the beauty of Michelangelo’s work in the Sistine Chapel?

Funny moment in Gladiator school.

Funny moment in Gladiator school.

Cooking our incredible meal at cooking school...

Cooking our incredible meal at cooking school…

So I ask you the same question.  Why not you to have all that you dream of in life?  How do you view your life and your ‘luck’?  Personally, I think I am one of the luckiest people on this earth…. but I thought that far before I won a trip around the world valued at $65,000.  How you see life determines what you perceive about it.  Of course things that other people could consider as unlucky happen to me sometimes.  When I was traveling through India a few years ago, a series of events happened that caused me to miss my Air France flight from Delhi back to the U.S.  Flights were full for days, so I was stranded for 4 days waiting to get a flight out.  I would go to the airport each day for hours to wait standby and see if anything opened up.  My change fees for the flight ended up costing me about as much as the entire amount that I spent in India during my three weeks there.  Instead of believing I was down on my luck, I chose a positive attitude and the belief that it’s a normal part of travel.

When you change your mindset and expect for amazing things to come your way, you’ll be able to recognize them more easily when they do.

I am heading from a place that I love, full of warmth, beauty, homemade pasta, cappuccinos in the morning and flowing wine throughout the day, to a place totally foreign to me, a place where I don’t anything about the culture or the cuisine and where the language is less romantic and the traffic much thicker.

As I leave behind this first leg of our incredible international journey, I have a full heart.  La vita è bella.

Carpe Diem,

Ashley

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

It’s Official: The Nabbing Has Begun!

It was just a gloomy, regular-kind of Wednesday morning in New York City.  I was hustling to my Gilt office on Park Avenue and 32nd Steet down my usual route, crossing over Broadway and up through Madison Square Park and passing the Flatiron building along my way.

The Flatiron Building in Manhattan that borders Madison Square Park

The Flatiron Building in Manhattan that borders Madison Square Park

I saw a group of people in baby blue t-shirts handing out fliers, but there is a different company each day in that area handing out promotional materials so I didn’t think a thing of it.  Was it Sprint this time selling a new data plan, or possibly Vita Coco handing out samples of their new Berry blend coconut water?  Irregardless of who it was, I didn’t have time to stop and take a look.

I continued walking briskly, even though I noticed that the company out there was Travelocity, an obviously well-known travel company with an extremely handsome and famous little mascot.

As soon as I learned about the Gnome Nabbing contest, I started seeing signs and billboards for it all over New York City, which made being a part of it that much more exciting.

As soon as I learned about the Gnome Nabbing contest, I started seeing signs and billboards for it all over New York City, which made being a part of it that much more exciting.

I love travel.  It is my heartbeat, and it has been for a long time.  I had the opportunity to meet a friend in Europe the summer before my senior year in college who had studied abroad that previous semester, and I took it.  I worked at a local bakery in College Station, Texas and baked hundreds of dozens of cookies to save money for my EuroRail pass and hostel accommodation for what would be a two month-long trek through Europe.  I was twenty years old when I ventured from U.S. soil for the first time and landed by myself in Milan, Italy.

Jeanne and me in front of the wall-sized world map that hangs in my apartment

Jeanne and me in front of the wall-sized world map that hangs in my apartment

That trip forever changed me.  We went to nine countries during those two months, and I interacted with people who lived all over the world, had different views on things than I did, spoke multiple languages and who had such a healthy take on work-life balance.  It was a beautiful experience.

I have taken some substantial twists and turns in my life, but my thirst for travel has remained consistent in its passion and has deepened with each experience I have had.  Since that trip, I’ve backpacked through India and most recently, I backpacked through Australia solo for two months, amongst many other trips in smaller duration.

In Byron Bay, Australia last fall

In Byron Bay, Australia last fall

I continued on to work, and as I walked away from the twenty-something blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl doing day work passing out fliers for some extra cash, I had a nudge in my spirit to go back and grab that glossy piece of paper.  But I didn’t.

The next morning was another gloomy October day, as if she was warming up for winter.  On my twenty-two minute walk to work, I neared the Flatiron building and saw that the Travelocity reps in their blue T’s were still out there.  Today, I was going to at least grab a flier.

After all, Ashley… You love to travel.  Might as well at least stop and see what this is all about. 

The flier that I picked up in the park.... got to my Gilt City office, took a quick look online and knew I had to enter!

The flier that I picked up in the park…. got to my Gilt City office, took a quick look online and knew I had to enter!

I took the baby blue flier and looked down to read it as I continued my walk through Madison Square Park.  “The Great Gnome Nabbing: One Lucky Person Could Win A Trip Around The World!”  I paused briefly under the swaying trees that were starting to lose their leaves.

Ashley Castle, you were destined for this.

My heart fluttered with the kind of hope that touches to the depths of the soul and trickles out to each hair follicle and fingertip.  At that very moment, I knew that I was not only going to enter this contest, but that I was going to win it.  I don’t know how to explain the certainty of the spirit when it speaks or how I came to this conclusion; it wasn’t even an active, intentional thought.  It was just a sense of knowing.

This was taken a couple of days after I found out I had won.... it was amazing to walk around the city, see these signs and know that I had been chosen as the 1 lucky winner!  Sheer joy.

This was taken a couple of days after I found out I had won…. it was amazing to walk around the city, see these signs and know that I had been chosen as the 1 lucky winner…in ALL of NYC and the U.S! Sheer joy.

I got to my office and looked up the URL online and read over a few of the rules.  The winner needed to make a 60 second video about why he or she deserved to be nabbed by the gnome for this trip of a lifetime.  I picked up the phone and texted my friend Jeanne.

“Hey, I need you to do me a favor this weekend.  Can you come over Sunday morning?”

“Yeah, of course.  What’s going on?”

“I’ll explain when I talk to you, but  it’s going to be big.”

Jeanne and I had just been talking a couple of weeks ago about our visions, passions and gifts and how those things could be of service for the greater good of the world.  She is a friend who inspires me greatly through her perspectives and the way she leads her life with intentionality and purpose, and she’s also been a dear friend to me who’s helped me to get clearer on my own purpose and how to align that with my passions.  She’s always known that travel is one of my biggest life passions and missions and has encouraged me to step in to that more and more.

The day that we shot the video- afterwards, we went to grab brunch at Westville , buzzing with excitement and hope for this opportunity

The day that we shot the video- afterwards, we went to grab brunch at Westville , buzzing with excitement and hope for this opportunity and all that was ahead of us

Jeanne told me later that she could sense that whatever was behind the energy in my text, is was big, as I don’t normally text with that level of insistence.

She came over late on a Sunday morning and I was dressed in my green jeans- turns out she was wearing green jeans, too, which just seemed to be a part of the magic.  I’ve noticed that the more I believe that good things are destined to come into my life, the more they do.  The more intentional I am to see the world with eyes of wonder and believe that everything in my life path aligns not only for my good, but for the greater good…the more all of that comes into being.  I took a few minutes that morning to jot down a few ideas regarding the video and what I wanted to do.  I knew that this was a marketing campaign for Travelocity, so it needed to be catchy, show my spunky personality and by the end of those 60 seconds, have them convinced that I could be their girl to trek the globe with their beloved mascot.

All in all, the video took less than 2 hours to complete and post, and the voting period began.

In the coming weeks, I felt totally overwhelmed by the love and support that I received from my family and friends.  The finals voting period fell during the week of the presidential election, and I was running my own campaign alongside it.  I believed I had an opportunity to make it to the finals and then win, but I wanted to do everything possible on my end to help make it happen.  I stayed up until 3:30 am and woke up at 7 am during those five days of the finals, working on social media, emails and pictures to do everything in my power to increase my chances.  When you marry intention with action, some amazing things can happen.

It's going to be an ADVENTURE!!

Forecasts of our adventure that I posted

An example of a 'campaign picture' I created a ton of for a bit of comic relief and for friendly reminders

An example of a ‘campaign picture’ I created a ton of for a bit of comic relief and for friendly reminders

When the finals ended, I felt peace in knowing that I had done everything possible to earn the trip, and more than anything, I felt so surrounded by love and support that the feelings I had were overwhelming and emotional.  I knew I had a lot of people in my life who loved and supported me, but seeing them all come out at the same time and express it was so beautiful and humbling to be a part of.  Irregardless of the outcome, I understood how rich I was already from having so many meaningful relationships in my life.

Jeanne and I were flown out for a launch party in Dallas with Travelocity's home office and everyone who worked so hard to put this together- it was awesome!

Jeanne and I were flown out for a launch party in Dallas with Travelocity’s home office and everyone who worked so hard to put this together- it was awesome!

And then, it happened — I won.  It all came together, and now the flavors of hazelnut Belgium chocolate and French Chablis reside on my palette as I’m reclining in my massage chair on this Brussels airlines business class flight, direct from New York’s JFK to Brussels, Belgium and then on to Rome for the next leg of this amazing journey.

We’re only two days in to the trip, and I am full to the brim and overflowing with gratitude.  Travelocity is truly an incredible company.  We’ve met so many of the people who have made this trip happen from its conception to working out all of the incredible details, and their entire goal is to make Jeanne and me feel more special than we’ve ever felt and for this to truly be the trip of a lifetime.

In the gorgeous Surrey hotel on the Upper East Side of Manhattan during my 1st hour of starting the trip!

In the gorgeous Surrey hotel on the Upper East Side of Manhattan during my 1st hour of starting the trip!

The trip kicked off in our own NYC- it was so much fun being a tourist in our own city, going to see “Rock of Ages” and meeting the cast backstage, taking a carriage ride through Central Park and going iceskating with the gnome on Wollman rink in the park.  On this wintry morning, I took a long run through the park and went back to our gorgeous room at the Surrey Hotel on 76th between Park and Madison, only to return to the most exquisite massage and spa treatment I have ever had.

Skating on Walden pond in Central Park

Skating on Wollman rink in Central Park

It’s an interesting feeling staying in such a magnificent hotel, coming from a practical middle-class family in Texas.  As I went up the elevator in my LuluLemon gear aside a young woman about my age who was elegantly donned in Hermes and Chanel, I pondered to myself how different our life experiences most likely have been.  I wondered if there was a thought in her mind regarding how exquisite and special this entire experience actually was and how 99.9% of the world’s population will never know luxury like this– Or, if it was just a normal day and a normal elevator ride up to a usual-kind of hotel room for her.

All of a sudden, I felt a tidal wave of gratitude for the ability to feel and experience such deep levels of gratitude and recognize things in life for being as special as they are.  Sometimes I rush through my days and let them pass too quickly without acknowledging their uniqueness, beauty and brevity, but I work to live with intentionality and to really see the world, its people and live each day full out.

About to head to Rock of Ages with Jeanne and our new Boyfriend

About to head to Rock of Ages with Jeanne and our new Boyfriend

Perhaps there are many things of beauty in the world that I miss that someone else really sees.  When I worked at the orphanage in India, I remember how those childrens’ faces would light up with a piece of candy.  They saw so much joy in something that I quickly unwrap and devour and see as something so commonplace- normal and not to really be valued or appreciated.

Getting ready to leave NYC at the awesome Bon Voyage party Travelocity put together for us

Getting ready to leave NYC at the awesome Bon Voyage party Travelocity put together for us

It’s been two days, and I have already changed from this experience.  I believe with a new level of fierceness that I can do anything and be anything in this world that I choose to create and be, and that is a powerful realization.  But, there is a new sense of weightiness with that feeling, a deeper sense of responsibility.  To whom much is given, much is expected.  I want to serve and inspire the world in this process of life as I grow in mental, spiritual and physical abundance.

There is a new level of trust in the course of my life, and I find myself analyzing and worrying less and simply resting in what is, more.

As I embark on this journey, I want to truly thank each of you who have been a part of this process, through your votes, your love, your support and how you inspire me in so many ways to live for more fully, reach deeper and live my passions.  It is my hope for each of you that you will do the same, and that we will all live full out during these limited years that we have here.  After all, it is a beautiful life.

Carpe Diem.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments