Live Inspired: holiday traditions

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Last week, my best friend and I were gingerly hanging silver globes and ceramic stars on our 2018 Christmas tree, when I paused a minute to think about the whole ordeal.

Then, our glasses were filled with wine, Christmas music was playing in the background and we were sifting, gleefully, through the sparkling, palm-sized memories we have collected over the years.

But the day preceding that moment was fairly hectic. We had made four (FOUR!) stops attempting to find the perfect tree — after the three cut-your-own farms let us down by having only Christmas Sequoias or Christmas bushes left, we procured The One, at long last, from a trailer stand behind a Golden Corral.

Then there was getting it on the roof of the car, pinning it down well enough to sustain the drive back, and, you know, wrangling a live shrubbery through the door, inside the house and into a Frankenstein collar whose screws twist as though they were made in the early 19th century, too.

We named him Gerald, the prickliest tree I’ve ever had; so surly you had to handle him with gloves.

Live Inspired: my very serious guide to spending time in Belize

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How to find the desire to go: Do you like places that offer beautiful beaches, diverse culture, astounding landscapes, ancient pyramids that aren’t overrun with tourists, cheap, fresh seafood, bars with in-the-ocean seating and $2.50 cocktails? If not you should probably avoid Belize.

Live Inspired: discomfort, an integral part of the journey

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On Sunday, I had brunch on a perfect, white sand beach, hammocks swinging near by, then ordered a drink, dipped in the pool and selected a lawn chair, book in hand.

Cool breezes floated in from the ocean. The sun beamed down through palm trees.

And under my sunglasses, tears were falling down my face.

I was exhausted. And suddenly, it was all pouring out.

After a bit of a rough week, I had made what is an unusual decision for me: I was giving myself a vacation day, free from work and discomfort. I cabbed to a beautiful resort 30 minutes away, and feeling far from my typical reality of sweaty, sleepless nights, constellations of mosquito bites and street food, I plopped down and immediately started crying.

Now, I realize many of you reading this are doing so with mounds of snow outside or maybe from under the fluorescent lights of a cubicle. Sympathy for someone gallivanting around the coast of Belize and writing paragraphs like the one I just did is a hard sell, so I won’t try it.

I’m thrilled to be traveling through lesser tread parts of the world and sharing their underrated beauty. I experience incredible highs, deep fulfillment and satisfaction in an internal, if not always superficial sense. I wouldn’t change a thing about my decision to do this; at this point, I really can’t even imagine going back.

But beyond the veneer of “a glamorous life abroad,” this is also the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and I am still very much adjusting to a world flipped upside down.

Live Inspired: Traveling not to visit, but to live

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If there’s one skill of the nomad life I’m terrible at it’s this: staying in a place for only a week.

It’s torture — a week seems to be just enough time to find myself settled and fulfilled by new routine before uprooting again. 

As I’m leaving San Ignacio today (Monday), I’m feeling that sentiment sharply.

Somehow, in my old life, I did this on the regular while vacationing. When I look back and think about traveling through Mexico or Asia or Europe, spending three short days (or even TWO?!?!?!) in a single place and acting like that was normal, my mind is blown.

Indeed, my original “itinerary” when I was playing with the idea of doing this was jetting across Asia and Africa, spending only two or three days in every town or even country. (A BIG LOL TO THAT.)

Most of the other travelers I run into are on this kind of track, so much so that some guest houses are shocked when I tell them I plan to stay even a full week.

But of course, what I’m doing is very different now. I’m not on vacation anymore. I’m not even on a work trip. I making my way across the world, full time. To do that, one has to keep moving. Sometimes I’ve relented, staying in a particular spot for two, three weeks, even a month in Panajachel.

Still, it’s never enough.

Live Inspired: being alone vs. being lonely

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Ten minutes ago, I was at a cafe, having breakfast, when a couple of tourists collapsed down next to me on the bench-style seating. I immediately looked around. Was the place full? No? Why did they have to be so NEAR me then?

It didn’t help that one of the guys was tapping the table and intermittently humming  sections of the song playing that wasn’t even close to accurate. (Really? You don’t even speak Spanish. There’s no chance you know this 1970s Puerto Rican ballad.)

But really, it wasn’t about this guy and his humming habits. It was more about the fact that it was morning and I had my computer and I was near the lake and feeling peaceful, and these are generally among the list of situations in which I want as little human contact as possible.

I needed to get out of there, to go somewhere where no one was looking at me or sitting near me or threatening to blurt out: “So, where ya from?” like I’m just dying to answer that question AGAIN at 9 a.m. on a Monday.

OK, OK, before you call me cold or anti-social, let me explain.

I love people! I do! Really!

I just don’t want them around me all the time.

Live Inspired: learning to be my own (sane) boss

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Last week, after flying to North Carolina, last minute, to vote, I was at home with my family.

For a full work week. In the middle of several projects. With self-imposed deadlines creeping around the corner.

Normally this would have stressed me out far too much — Would I be able to spend time with my family and also Get Things Done In a Timely and Efficient Manner? — but in the last couple of weeks, I’ve started to feel some of my anxiety and need to maintain a relentless pace melt away.

I am trying to turn off my “work brain” more often and allow time for activities that won’t later be spun into an article, video or photo gallery. Finally, I’m starting to feel some semblance of balance when it comes to my work life and the time previously reserved for teeth brushing and sleeping.

Getting there has been a journey.

You see, everyone dreams about leaving their jobs and working for themselves because they want to be their own boss.

But not many people take time to think about just what kind of boss they would be.

And as it turns out, I’m a nightmare.

Live Inspired: the hard days

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Some mornings it’s hard to get up.

Sunday morning was one of them. Well, I’ll be honest, Monday and Tuesday, too. I stared at the ceiling for a while, and finally rolled off the bed onto the hard floor in the dark.

Oh, you might be thinking — if you’re new to this column — I thought this series was supposed to be about inspiration.

Well, yes. It is. But inspiration doesn’t come easy, doesn’t drop into your lap. Getting to the inspiration part is often messy, often frustrating, and real as hell. Those transitions are just as truly parts of inspiration as are the finales.

I realize from afar, travels like these can seem like they are nothing but rainforests and empanadas. But in reality, this journey has been a great melting pot of things. In the last four months, I have experienced some of the most memorable moments of my life. I have met so many people. I have seen such beauty that it affects my heart rate. I’ve cried, more than I thought possible, from awe, from beauty, from gratitude, from kindness received.

And yet I also go through low stretches.

Live Inspired: 4 days in charming, complicated Guatemala City

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If the universe had done its work properly, I would have been utterly terrified by the time I stepped foot in Guatemala City.

Long before I arrived a week ago, I had gotten snippets of what to expect. The highlights were these:

Danger. Robberies. Crime. Stabbings. Death.

Don’t walk anywhere, I was repeatedly told, by Guatemalans and other travelers — even during the day. And then when I entered my intended address into the U.S. State Department’s citizen travel database, the information the government sent me reinforced those warnings.

“Violent crime, such as armed robbery and murder, is common,” part of the State Department’s dispatch read. “Do not use public ATMs. Request security escorts. Do not display signs of wealth. Do not hail taxis.  Avoid walking at night. Avoid driving at night.”

OK, try not to be alive at night, got it. If you’re alive you’re already dead.

What should I really expect? I wasn’t totally sure. I’d never been in a city where I was told not to walk anywhere during the day. Could it really be that bad?

Live Inspired: How to live (or stay for an extended period of time) in Guatemala

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Well, part one in this beautiful country is coming to a close.

I’ll be back, of course, after a two-week hiatus in the States, and I’m excited to explore the Northeast side of Guatemala when I do. But since I’ve been here for two months now, I thought I’d reflect on some of what I’ve learned with this guide:

How to find somewhere to stay: 

There are plenty of hostels, of course, and some hotels, but I go with Airbnb. If you travel in the offseason, as I am now, it’s possible to negotiate for very good prices, especially if you stay for longer than a week. I typically pay about $10-13/ night to stay in very nice places, typically with shared bathrooms and kitchens (although I have also had my own bathroom, as I do now, for that price) and charming features all their own (such as a jungly outdoor bathtub). And if you want something very lux? It’s possible to have that for about $30 or $40/night. But seriously, lower your standards. You’re in Guatemala now.

How to walk around town: 

Slowly. The foot traffic moves extraordinarily slow here. The general pace of moving is extraordinarily slower here than it is in the U.S., and there is not a lot of — OK zero — walking etiquette, so if you’re a fast walker like me, you may find yourself in need of some walking zen. People may cut in front of you, stop abruptly in front of you, wave their arms in the air and whack you in the head; they’re not screwing with you, this is just how they walk.

Live Inspired: Cooking, everywhere

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The journey, so far, through five kitchens and a couple dozen markets and to the simple realization that everything is different, yet the same, began in Hualtuco, a beachfront village on the Oaxacan coast of Mexico.

It was the first place in my travels that I had access to the basics: two tiny gas burners, a toaster oven and a small collection of cutlery and bowls, pots and pans.

My host uncle, there, was a fisherman, and would bring home beautiful, pink huachinangos, or red snappers. Once he saw that I had a love for both fresh seafood and using my hands, he began showing me how to prepare them — cleaning and scaling the plump, shimmering bodies and then frying them in chunks, or grilling them whole on the two-foot-high asada, butterflying the ribs open and slathering them with chipotle sauce.