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

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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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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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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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What Makes the Perfect Travel Buddy?

Amita and I, with our matching purses we got in Bali

Who you travel with can make or break your trip. As most spiritually in tune people know, energy is contagious. So you always want to be around people who are on a similar wavelength as yourself, especially while traveling.

Let’s face it. Traveling can bring out the worst in anyone. You’re completely out of your element in an unfamiliar place. Things can and will go wrong. At times, you will likely be pushed to your limits, stressed, tired, and uncomfortable. People deal with the inevitable ups and downs differently. How you handle and cope with it may differ from even the people you care most about. Also, you and the person you’re traveling with will pretty much be together nonstop. Will you get on each other’s nerves or get tired of one another? Sometimes you don’t find out until it’s too late and you’re stuck in a foreign place with someone you realize is not the travel buddy for you, wishing you could just be by yourself or just go the heck home. Worst of all, you could even damage your friendship for good with clashing too much. Ugh.

So while finding someone willing to go on a trip with you is pretty easy, finding a perfect travel buddy is pretty difficult and rare. Over the years, I have had both good and bad experiences traveling with others. I realized that even some of my best friends who I love dearly are not always the best to travel with. This caused me to explore solo travel many times because often, I would rather just go by myself. (See my post on solo travel here to learn more about why I often prefer traveling alone.)

But as much as I love solo travel, even that has its down sides. Who is going to take pictures of you, split costs with you, and laugh hysterically with you at the crazy things you encounter?! There is truly nothing like sharing a great travel adventure with someone else. Just think of all the fun you can have together, the memories you will make, and the bond that will form. With the right person, it can be a true joy and totally enhance the experience. But with the wrong person, it can be a complete nightmare and a waste of your vacation days.

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Living the Simple Life for a Day in Moloka’i

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One of the best things about living in Hawaii is being able to island hop when you need a slight change in scenery and a little getaway. Not that the islands are that different from one another, but each has an interesting history and unique things that set them apart. Of the eight main Hawaiian islands, Oahu, Maui, Big Island, and Kauai are the most popular to visit (in that order).

However, there is another often forgotten island I have always wanted to visit aside from these. Off the coast of Maui, there is a smaller island called Moloka’i, which is about 38 by 10 miles, and has a population of less than 8,000. There are no traffic lights, only stop signs, so you will not find any traffic at all. There’s a main town that you could miss if you just blink your eyes. Basically, it’s about as country as country can get. Normally, this would not appeal much to me but after reading a book about it, I was curious to take a day trip there to see what it’s all about. This past Saturday I boarded a teeny, tiny 9-passenger island hopper, and after a very bumpy fight, I got to explore Moloka’i with some close friends.

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A Southwest Road Trip for the Soul

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As much as I love traveling to foreign countries and getting new stamps in my passport, my wanderlust spirit does not have to go far to be wowed. America truly has a wide variety to offer, including not only famous cities but also a phenomenal National Park Service that grants us access to our many incredible forests, deserts, historical areas, and natural wonders. I have done quite a bit of traveling within the U.S. (my favorite cities include New Orleans, New York City, San Diego, San Francisco, Miami, Chicago, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Dallas, my beloved hometown of Washington, D.C., and of course, my amazing new home in Honolulu) and there is still so much more I have yet to experience. I often think to myself from the perspective of a foreigner, and if I were from another country and visiting the U.S., I don’t even know where I’d start! Think about it – we really have it going on! There are endless things to see and do all within our own backyard.

While other modes of transportation, such as air, may be more convenient and preferred, there is still nothing like a good road trip. One of the best things about this country is that many fabulous destinations are within short distances of each other, so you can hit multiple landmarks in one shot. That is exactly why the American road trip is such a treasured pastime for so many adventurers. There is something about the open road and the freedom that comes with it that is healing, especially for us free spirits. I am a firm believer that human beings have an inherent desire to wander and explore our incredible planet. In addition to being fun and teaching us some of the most valuable lessons in life, more importantly, this is how we become more grounded and connected to the earth we inhabit. Not only that, but it will make you appreciate how awesome our country truly is.

As much as I love living in Hawaii, that is the one thing lacking here. Road trips are not an option when you live on a tiny island like Oahu, since I can’t drive for more than an hour without eventually driving my car into the ocean. So I can completely understand why so many people claim they get island fever here. While I am totally satisfied with the endless adventures Hawaii offers me, I can admit that I did begin to miss being able to get up and go. Being from the east coast, I used to take advantage of this all the time. I would drive up to NYC almost every weekend at one point, and even took 10+ hour road trips all the way to Chicago and Toronto. As long as I had good music and good company, I actually enjoyed those road trips. But I never realized until I moved from the mainland to Hawaii how much I took them for granted.

Something about a road trip in the Southwest specifically allured me and has always been calling my soul ever since I can remember. Earlier this year, I realized the nagging urge was stronger than ever. Maybe it was from listening to too much Queens of the Stone Age. But something just kept telling me that driving from Vegas to the Grand Canyon would be badass. Not only in a rock star kind of way but in a spiritually liberating way. I had been fantasizing about going on this trip for years and I could never figure out why I wanted it so bad, but I was determined.

Well, this past May, I finally made it happen and got to check this bucket list item off my list. A good friend and I left Hawaii for a week of road tripping from Nevada to Arizona. It was definitely an amazing and memorable experience. However, it certainly was NOT what I expected in a lot of ways….

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Spiritual Awakening in Sedona

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There are a few places my spirit has called me to visit during my travels, but none have had the same effect on me as Sedona. When I learned more about this soulful city in Arizona a few years ago, a fire was ignited within me. I had to make my way there. And soon.

The first reason for this was obvious. It looked absolutely mesmerizing and I knew it would be even more incredible to witness in person. This delightful desert town is nestled among remarkable red sandstone formations and vast forests. The unique scenery has frequently topped lists of the most beautiful places to visit in the U.S. So it is a perfect stop and a fun road trip when visiting other popular Southwestern destinations (only four hours from Vegas and two hours from the Grand Canyon by car).

But the main reason I wanted to go was much deeper than just scenic beauty. Sedona was and still is considered an extremely sacred place for Native Americans. That’s because Sedona is home to four vortexes, which are powerful energy centers that radiate healing and renewal. The element of mysticism has attracted New Age and spiritual crowds to visit and even relocate here over the last few decades. Since I consider myself a spiritually conscious person and this is basically spiritual mecca within the U.S., I was on a mission to visit and experience this for myself.

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