Why New Orleans is My Favorite US City 

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Many people may not know this, but here is a little secret about me that may shock you. During my middle school and high school years, I was really into goth. I wore only black, listened to bands like Bauhaus and Siouxsie and the Banshees, and embraced all the darker things in life. This was very reflective of the hard times I was going through during that period. When my tortured soul felt misunderstood, the goth scene embraced me with open arms. Although that may seem depressing, I actually look back fondly at this time because I had a LOT of fun and it made me who I am today.

Obviously I am very different these days. I am generally a very positive and bubbly person that openly identifies as a hippie, I wear vibrant colors and floral prints, I’m tan, and I listen to a wide variety of music. On the outside, some would say I look “normal” but anyone who really knows me knows that I am definitely not a conventional person. Deep inside, the goth girl is still very much alive. I still love the music and fashion, which will never ever change. Some are surprised to learn that I still go to punk and metal shows whenever I can. And while my sense of style is quite bipolar and varies based on my mood, the truth is my favorite thing to wear is still all black, combat boots, leather jackets, band tees, etc. And above all else, I have a fond appreciation for alternative lifestyles that deviate from the mainstream. There is simply no way to classify what I have become or who I am today. The best word I have come up with is multi-faceted.

One thing that has remained constant throughout my life despite phases and changes I’ve went through is my obsession with all things spooky and dark. Very little gets me more excited than Halloween, horror movies and Tim Burton. Just ask my poor husband, who is forced to watch scary movies he hates.

Because of this dark side of mine, New Orleans is a city I have always been fascinated with and dreamt of visiting. It’s full of dark history and a very distinct French flavor, which is another culture I’m obsessed with. As a kid, I would read Anne Rice books and fantasize of visiting the same streets where tales of vampires, ghosts, and voodoo queens took place. The Big Easy was always at the very top of my bucket list.

In 2014, I finally got to visit for the first time and fell in love. I have yet to come across a city that so deeply satisfies so many of my biggest interests and fascinations at the same time… food, history, culture, music, architecture, and especially the scary/spooky/horror/occult/macabre obsession. More than three years later, I am still delighted with how I planned a flawless and unforgettable trip, and I remember every detail vividly. As my favorite holiday, Halloween, approaches, my New Orleans nostalgia is especially great as I look back on what became one of my favorite travel experiences to date.

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Why the Hurricane Disaster in Puerto Rico Serves as a Reminder to Travel the World ASAP

One of the official symbols of Old San Juan, garitas, which were used as sentry boxes to stand watch over the forts

With the recent crisis facing Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria, I can’t help but feel devastated. I have spent the last week weeping every day as the situation seems to continue getting worse for 3.5 million Boricuas without food, water, and electricity, which has led to desperation and even death. It is always tragic when a disaster like this strikes, but this one hits home for me. I was raised among Puerto Rican culture and have visited the island countless times. So truly Puerto Rico is simply a part of who I am. Even after all my travels, I proudly call it my favorite place on earth.

As I remained glued to news stories and accounts from loved ones on Puerto Rico, I was also haunted by the vivid memories I have from how the island once was.

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Why You Should Travel As Much As You Can in Your 20’s

As Amanda approaches the big 30 in a few days, she shares some of her reflections on what your 20’s should be about

There are many general beliefs that people have about the magical time known as your 20’s. Most of them equate to it being the most important decade, where every decision you make will impact the rest of your life and define who you are. If that is true, everyone should spend the precious years of their 20’s wisely.

I am a firm believer that everyone is different and each of us has a unique path and timeline for our lives. There is no cookie cutter shape of how your life should be, no matter how much society tries to convince you otherwise. Many people feel pressure to meet certain milestones by the time they hit 30, but to me, there is really only one thing that is true about this defining decade.

Your 20’s should be a time of discovery.

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My Farewell to Hawaii! Plus: Things That Surprised Me About Living in Hawaii

So….. I have some pretty big news. My husband and I just got orders to relocate from Hawaii to San Diego, California in August. Yep, you heard that right. I’m leaving Hawaii.

San Diego is one of my favorite U.S. cities and will definitely be a great place to live. But at the same time, I become very emotional at the thought of leaving Hawaii and the “HI life”. Due to all of this, lately I have been doing a lot of reflecting about the two and a half years I have spent here.

Moving to Hawaii has been an amazing experience and will always remain as one of the best decisions I have ever made. Here I found and married the love of my life, traveled throughout Asia to places like Japan (not once, but twice), KoreaChina, and Indonesia, learned the meaning of alohavolunteered, got to island hop to places like Big Island and Moloka’i; and most of all, learned many lessons. Along the way, I fell in love with myself in the process. I even got to witness an epic surf competition. So yes, I guess you could say Hawaii has been good to me, and will always be near and dear to my heart. This has been a priceless experience that has made me who I am today and left quite an imprint on my soul.

At the same time, Hawaii faces its share of problems. Homelessness is HUGE here. The cost of housing is completely unaffordable for most local families. Overdevelopment plagues the island of Oahu. Public transportation is virtually non-existent and traffic is horrific, yet attempts to build a rail system have been a failure thus far. The environment is at risk due to pollution and rising sea levels. This is just to name a few. It’s been a true eye opener for me to realize that nothing in life is perfect, even paradise.

Looking back, sometimes I am surprised at how different the reality of HI life actually is compared to my expectations before I moved here. There were a LOT of things that were new to me or that I did not realize until I actually called this home. Since people from the mainland generally know very little about Hawaii, they tend to think life is all rainbows and sunshine here. So it may surprise you just like it surprised me to learn many of these things about how it actually is to live here…

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Hawaiian Honeymoon Part 2: Strange Adventures in Kaua’i and Maui

Meet the Stranges

Anyone who knows me or follows my travels probably expects that my honeymoon would be no different than other trips I take: full of adventure. As I mentioned in part one, honeymoons should be all about what the couple loves doing most. And for Mr. and Mrs. Strange, that is exploring.

For our honeymoon, we decided to island hop within Hawaii. Since we knew we were about to move soon, we kept the honeymoon small and affordable, yet still managed to pack in a lot of fun and adventure. We spent four days in Kaua’i and three days in Maui, and it will always be the most memorable trip of my life. 

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Hawaiian Honeymoon Part 1: 5 Myths About Honeymoons

Many people dream of their wedding day their entire life. Of course I am one of them, but more than anything, I was looking forward to our honeymoon. This should not come as a surprise to anyone considering that I am a known travel addict that hops on a plane any chance I get.

Don’t get me wrong. My wedding was amazing. Although small and simple, my husband and I were surrounded by our closest friends and showered with so much love the entire day. We received such an outpouring of support and well wishes from everyone we know. Best of all, we got to take vows and celebrate our love.

But still. A chance to go on a much needed vacation after the stress of wedding planning and travel with the love of my life to experience unforgettable adventures? Yes. Much more appealing to me. I was counting down the days.

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Why I Am Not a Fan of Shanghai

It is pretty rare for me to say the words “I am not a fan of” when it comes to somewhere I have visited. In fact, I am pretty sure there is only one place I can ever remember feeling that way about in all my travels and that is Shanghai, China.

Before I explain, I will caveat this by saying my travel buddy and I did not have a lot of time in Shanghai and probably missed out on things that would have made us fall in love due to lack of knowing. Maybe we just had a bad experience that does not truly represent the city and need to try it again. I would never label a city as one that I don’t like or do not recommend. I am just stating that I did not particularly enjoy my time there or become a fan. Most of the time when I travel, I am wowed and constantly in amazement. That is exactly why I love to travel so much. Somehow, I just did not experience that here for the first time ever. In fact, I could not wait to get home.

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Happily Ever After in Hawaii

It’s been two years and two months since I moved to the Rainbow State. Overall, it has been the greatest experience of my life and the best decision I’ve ever made. I have had amazing adventures enjoying all Hawaii has to offer, including beaches, hikes, island hopping, watersports, even swimming with sharks. I met my soul mate, who I am marrying in a few weeks, and I made some amazing friends who have become family. I got to learn about Hawaiian history and be immersed in Polynesian culture, which has been so eye opening and profound for me. I attended countless cultural festivals here to live like a real local. I even got to take advantage of the location by traveling throughout Asia several times.

But more importantly, moving to Hawaii has taught me so much about myself and who I am. Spreading my wings and being brave enough to leave home for an unfamiliar place so far away where I knew no one, and yet creating such a fulfilling and fabulous life from scratch has been a journey of self-discovery like no other. I’ve gotten to explore and study my spirituality on a deeper level. I connected with nature like never before. I uncovered my true purpose in life. Best of all, I truly fell in love with myself in the process and could not be more proud of the well-rounded woman I have become as I approach my 30th birthday this year.

So now, as I face the possibility of moving away soon to wherever my fiancé’s next duty station will be, I become a bit emotional at the thought of leaving a place I have grown so fond of. Hawaii will always be the most special and magical place in the world to me. I came here in search of something and I wasn’t even sure what, and along the way I found my soul AND my soul mate. So yes, you could say Hawaii has been VERY good to me. If it weren’t for the high cost of living and extreme over crowdedness, it would be the most perfect place on earth to live. And if it weren’t for me marrying someone in the military, I would probably stay here for a very long time. However, there’s a big chance that it’s time to spread my wings yet again.

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Finding Bliss in Bali

            

When one thinks of exotic places in the world worthy of a top bucket list spot, Bali often comes to mind for many people. This tropical island in Indonesia is unlike any other place in the world, with an extremely unique culture and geography. Here you can find dreamy beaches, jungles, volcanoes, bustling urban life, and rural farming villages that seem to be stuck in an older time. It became a trendy destination due to Elizabeth Gilbert’s ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ book/movie. But for me, it has always been at the top of my “places my soul needs to visit” list because this is without a doubt one of the best places on earth for those looking for a spiritual awakening or renewal.

After visiting this past November with my perfect travel buddy, I found Bali to be a paradox in many ways. Known as an intensely spiritual and scared place, many go to Bali seeking peace and the answers to questions they’ve asked their whole lives. It is famous for a plethora of spas, yoga centers, and new age retreats. However, there are also starkly contrasting aspects, such as a crazy Vegas-esque nightlife area, extremely hectic driving, overwhelming strips lined with endless boutiques and restaurants, and a completely oversaturated market for souvenir shopping and tourist activities. Some go here for luxury and pampering, while others go for the exact opposite – to be completely humbled. It is truly a place that can offer something to anyone. Personally, I found the mix to be delightful. If I wanted to relax and connect with nature, I could. If I wanted to party, shop, or go on an adventure, I could too. And I did a little bit of everything. The options available were limitless.

The Balinese claim that Bali is the center of the universe, and therefore, extremely sacred land. The energy found here is said to be cleansing and rejuvenating for the spirit. So in many ways, this trip was a pilgrimage for me to find out for myself if this was true.

Well, I can report that all the fuss is for good reason. Bali not only earned a new fan in me, but it quickly became one of my favorite places. If you’re thinking of visiting someday, here’s some information and details on the ups and downs of my overall amazing experience and one of the best trips in my life.

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