Playlist: U.S.A. summer feels

There might be no stronger keeper of memories than music — even more than photos and stories, songs have a way of sending me back, viscerally, to specific moments in time, to an almost palpable state of mind.

SO: one of the things I want to do more of moving forward is creating playlists based on place and my time moving through them. I’m starting with my nearly four-month cruise through the States (plus a week in Canada!).

It was a hell of a journey being in my native country — even my former adopted home, Minneapolis — as a nomad, this time. It was both familiar and strange; comforting and challenging; indulgent and driving.

Live Inspired: an emotional return to Minneapolis

• In partnership with John Reamer and Associates

Last Wednesday, I landed in Minneapolis for the first time in a year.

And the first emotion I could identify upon my return to my adopted home of eight years was “weird.”

Obviously, I was more than excited to see friends and former colleagues, for a three-week summer stint on the precipice of returning to Central America.

But as the plane from Montréal, my previous stop, descended into the Twin Cities, I could only think of the last time I was in that air space. 

It was June 28, 2018, and I was leaving everything I knew, bound for everything I didn’t. I was ready for this move, I thought. Weeks earlier, I had sold all my belongings — the things acquired over 32 years of life — left my job at the Star Tribune, said a tearful goodbye to the house that claimed so many memories, bid farewells to friends of a lifetime. I did so with so many dreams, with so much motivation. I’ve never felt regret. 

But in that moment, in a left-side window seat in the back of the plane, I was struggling to breathe. 

How to visit New York City on a budget

Ten tips for spending time in the Empire City without breaking the bank

• In partnership with John Reamer and Associates

New York is a vixen. I keep traveling, but it still remains the most alluring place I’ve ever been, a city bubbling with palpable energy and spirit. It will entrance you with its buzz, awe you with its anonymity, lull you into private moments in the midst of a crowd, and community on a near empty street.

Aaaannnd the sticker shock can break your spirit faster than a 2.5-hour wait at brunch. Yeah, most of New York ain’t cheap — from the Did-I-Just-Buy-A-Designer-Handbag hotel prices to the $18 cocktails.

But the best part of the empire city is that is does both high brow AND low brow incredibly well; public parks and other free-admission areas are, for the most, as manicured as the top museums; many street carts are manned with professionalism and skill of a lauded restaurant.

You can spend a week or more here and stay on budget and live really well.

Live Inspired: Indulging the senses in Annapolis

• In partnership with John Reamer and Associates

Spending a weekend in Annapolis requires one, primarily, to use their senses.

Of sight — the heritage colonial architecture, the parade of American flags hung from businesses and residences, the sultry, boat-filled waterfront erupting with blazing sunsets, the pristine turquoise domes and lighted posts at the naval academy, all coalescing into a watercolor landscape from a painting you once saw.

Of smell — the scent of saltwater and magnolia flowers hanging in the air, the salinity of fresh oysters as they’re pried open, the richness of the tide’s other bounty as it’s simmered in olive oil and white wine and butter.

8 cheap eats to find in Denver

Related content: how to eat for cheap; how to travel the U.S. as a broke nomad.

Maybe thanks in part to Instagram — the king of presenting an idealistic reality — we tend to think of travel as glamorous, very expensive, maybe even unaffordable.

As someone who has made travel a lifestyle rather than an escape, I say there are a lot of strategies to buck those ideas and make adventuring fit into your regular budget. One of the keys to that, of course, is eating cheap. Make no mistake, that does not mean eating bad — in fact some of my favorite bites, the world over, have been for less than $10.

Here are 8 of my favorite cheap eats in Denver, Co.

Live Inspired: 11 things I love and hate about Los Angeles

• In partnership with John Reamer and Associates

Over the course of a week in Los Angeles, I trekked all over the city, met up with five different friends, and presented them all with the same incredulous question:

Do they LIKE living in LA?

I asked with equal amounts of adoration and exhaustion — because during the time I’ve spent in the City of Angels (7 or 8 trips in the last decade), my impressions have ranged from <heart eye emoji> to <eye roll emoji,> sometimes in the span of a single half hour.

Here in LA, you can get bangin’ egg rolls for $1 but you might have to eat them next to a rabid-eyed crew that has been awake for 37 hours. There are a million cool neighborhoods to explore but it might take you 1.5 hours and 17 sudokus to make it across town. You can walk your dog to year-round soft breezes, mild temps and palm tree views but your pup might also pick up some used sanitary napkins on the stroll.

You get the idea.

Here’s how I size it up:

Live Inspired: How to travel around the U.S. for a summer as a kind-of broke nomad

On Sunday night, I had a nightmare that I got sick while back in the States.

In the dream, I had a cold that wouldn’t go away, so I went to a hospital. At the end of the appointment, I asked the doctor how much this visit would cost, sans health insurance. She wrote down and slid a number across the table that jolted me from sleep, wheezing.

Health insurance, you see, is one of the many things that just isn’t in the budget for this three-month stint in the U.S. — a venture I’m both very excited and very stressed about.

After I awoke, I lay in bed for a minute, doing a mental check of every part of my body to ensure sickness wasn’t creeping up inside of me. I considered that I should probably drink fewer beers and smoke fewer stress cigarettes. I mulled how many more tunafish sandwiches were in my future. I checked my bank accounts, again, and the tally of all the various reward points I have.

When people in the U.S. marvel at how I’m able to afford to travel full time, they’re usually doing so with a North American mindset — scrutinizing just how much everything costs, here. By moving through developing countries, I tell them, I spend a lot less money to travel full time than most people do to stay in one place. That, of course is because everything in the U.S. is more expensive. Healthcare is a pretty dramatic example (seeing a doctor and obtaining medicine in Central America are tiny fractions of what such things cost here), but vast differences, exist, too, in travel, housing and food.

In Central America, I make enough money to buy my coffee each morning, eat out three meals a day (sometimes on the street though), drink too many aforementioned beers and occasionally stay in a locale with AC, hot water or (!) both. In the States, that budget would barely get me a sandwich and a dorm bed.

On Monday morning, thinking of all this, I considered breaking all my plans and zipping back to El Salvador, stat.

But alas, I have already booked nearly a summer’s worth of travel, and have some events in the works, too. SO, I guess I’ll figure out how to make it work. Hopefully. Maybe. Con suerte.

Here’s how to do it (I think):

While we get outraged about Russian interference, we should consider our own history too

Last week, the redacted version of the Robert Mueller investigation into possible Trump collusion with Russia to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential elections was released, and seemingly all of the U.S. — particularly its media — took the opportunity to find new ways to be aghast, disgusted, horrified by the idea that a foreign government could be involved in dictating our leadership, our way of life.

It’s disturbing, certainly. I’ve been among those enamored with fury, too.

But lately, I’ve instead been thinking back to a conversation I had a few months ago in a bar in Belize.

My Belize City friend, Ian, chuckled then as we shared a glass of wine, talking politics in a small bar in Placencia. At some point the Mueller investigation came up.

“Americans are outraged that Russia helped choose your president,” he mused, “even though it’s what your country has done with leaders of countries all over Central America for decades.”

Despite knowing the history, foggily, the statement hit like a 2×4 block of concrete to the face.

Because, well, let’s face it: as U.S. natives, we don’t like to think of ourselves that way.