How to Torture a Traveler, Part 3

Because my luck is that bad.

I used to love traveling, like the specific act of travel. The thrill you get driving to the airport, successfully passing through security, watching people and trying to match them to their destination.

Well, no more!

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Super flattering, post-travel photo courtesy of my dad…

To be fair, I wasn’t as emotionally stable during this last leg between Siem Reap and Orlando as I normally am. I was lugging literally all of my belongings in two HUGE bags and had just said farewell to my best-est friends without knowing when I’d see them again. After checking in and finding a seat in Siem Reap’s ever changing international airport I opened up the farewell trinkets and letters my friends sent me off with. I was simultaneously laughing out loud and blubbering like a baby and boarded my first of many flights thoroughly emotionally drained.

On the bright side, I’ve traveled this route so frequently I am very familiar with all of the airports and know exactly where to go for food and the best nap locations. In Shanghai, I took up residence on a familiar row of seats, set an alarm and waited for the transit desk to open. Oh yea, it was 4 a.m.

Everything started out so well and I dared to dream that I may make it out of this travel experience sans extra (emotional) baggage. I was first in line through security and found an ideal napping space next to my gate and a handy water cooler, which I swear was clearly labeled “Drinking Water”. So I filled up my Nalgene, drank half of it, and settled in for sleep.

An hour or so later I woke up feeling, well, not so great. I was so tired from the previous red-eye plus having not actually slept the night before I departed, that I could hardly keep my eyes open. But I knew I had to wake up, something did not feel right.

My stomach rumbled. I located Starbucks and crossed my fingers that a hot cup of coffee and a blueberry muffin was all my wishy-washy belly wanted. I nibbled as much as I could handle and decided to try and sleep it off.

Barely able to rouse myself for my flight I zombie-trudged to the gate all the while willing myself to keep down the bits of blueberry I’d managed to consume. Nausea came in waves but I held it together like a master of mystery illness until I was all buckled in, ready as I ever would be for this 14+ hour flight.

Just as I began to believe I’d won my intestinal battle another wave washed over me.

“Nope!” I said to myself, less quietly than I had hoped, and reached for the sick bag.

My mind flashed back to the judging looks I had given the passengers on my previous hell-flight as they had emptied their stomachs all around me. Was this karma? Why does karma always pay me back for the bad things? What about the good things, Karma? Karma, why are you such a bitch?

Three bags later the flight attendants were getting a bit tired of my pleas for more ginger ale, especially since I kept getting weaker and had resorted to using the call button.

“Can I get some more sick bags?” I asked to blank expressions.

I mimed vomiting.

“Yes, here.” The attendant handed me a stack.

Eventually, the poison water (it had to have been the water) worked its way through my system and left me even more exhausted, but able to sleep/listen to Harry Potter for the rest of the flight.

Given my recent penance, I thought surely karma would leave me alone now.

While trudging through the Toronto airport, all of my belongings stacked precariously on one of those wheelie carts, I heard an ominous flap flop flap flop. I pulled out of pedestrian traffic as best I could and examined my shoes: my favorite, pseudo-Doc Martens purchased for $8 at a store selling second-hand clothing shipped from Japan, which had seen me through many a bartending shift and been a protective barrier against cockroaches and spiders alike. The sole of my left shoe hung limply away from where it was intended to be. I looked at my sock, visible through the gaping hole and tried to remember where I had packed my other shoes.

After rummaging through all of my bags I located a pair of moccasins (also purchased at the Japanese second-hand store) and lovingly placed my boots in the nearest bin.

“So long, my loves…” I whispered as I walked away.

Stripped down to my last layer after working up a sweat during Operation: Shoe Location, I lugged my bags towards my last customs check.

“You must be going somewhere warm, eh?” The agent asked, eyeing my tank top, which was obviously not suitable for the outside Toronto winter.

“Yes sir, I’m going home.”

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When Life Punches You in the Face

Someone once shared a quote with me:

“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.” – Mike Tyson

Recently, life punched me in the face. Hard.

My plans tend to look differently from most. Rather than plot my moves I tend to envision different realities. What will my life look like if I keep this job? Move here? Stay with this person? I have a million different “plans” or ideas of what I’d like my life to look and feel like factoring in all these choices I could make.

For example, when I was deciding whether or not to move to Cambodia I looked at my current situation. If I stayed at my job or took one I was being interviewed for at the time I could save some money, get a fancy apartment, buy nice clothes, go out to fancy dinners with friends, etc. If I took the job in Cambodia I didn’t really know what to expect but I knew it would be an adventure. I chose the adventure and it offered a whole new, diverse set of variables for me to factor into new potential futures.

Like I said, I might not have had a solid plan in place but I had factored some variables I didn’t really want to lose. The past month has been a struggle, trying to stop the bleeding, if you will, shaking it off. I’ve been struggling with a lot of different emotions; doubt, insecurity, anger, while trying to piece what I left back together to make a new plan.

The Tyson quote reminds me of a conversation I had a while back at an event at the 1961, way before I started working there. It was almost like a networking event, which tend to cause me serious anxiety, not that this one didn’t, but I went anyway. I had recently hit a wall inspirationally. I worked 9-to-5 with a few freelance projects on the side but my heart wasn’t really in anything. My weekends weren’t much better, spent out with friends partying until the wee morning hours. By Sunday night I felt more exhausted than refreshed. I felt like I was on autopilot, just hovering along without really going anywhere.

One of my friends (who was also quickly growing tired of this routine) and I decided it was time we branch out and expand our friend network to include those people we never see out, because they are, you know, doing life things. So when I saw the event post I knew we had to go.

The gathering, Choices: a conversation, was about probably exactly what you think: how do we make decisions given all of our different choices?

Before we really got into the discussion we had an icebreaker: talk to someone we didn’t know and share about why we were there. My palms instantly started to sweat. I wiped them on my cat-dress (a dress with cats on it, not a dress for cats – unlike the cat-socks at the $1.80 Japanese store which are in fact, socks for cats) and approached a non-intimidating looking woman. I began to relax as we casually chatted about ourselves, what brought us to Cambodia, and ultimately to this event. It’s been about a year since that conversation and I couldn’t tell you her name, or why she was in Cambodia but one thing she said to me has stuck: I’ve been going along, doing what I think I want until the universe knocks me back.

Growing up in a Christian household in a Christian community I am very familiar with this line of thinking. We think we know what’s best for us but God has a way of interfering when you stray from His plan. We think we know what we want and where we should be and what we should be doing but if we stray from our path the universe (or God, whichever you choose to believe) finds a way to get you back on track, and not always in the most gentle manner. We always think we know what is best for us and it hurts when you’re told “Nope. Move along.” And it only hurts more the longer you fight it or linger on it’s memory.

The past couple weeks I’ve been trying let go of what I think I want and focus critically on the things I know I need in my life:

  • a supportive community of friends
  • more frequent contact with my family
  • a routine made up of healthy practices
  • a career that fills me with a sense of purpose
  • time for my creative endeavors
  • spiritual reflection

It’s hard. I’ve been spending a lot of time alone, examining all of the things I have thought I needed against those things I actually need to feel fulfilled. This doesn’t mean I’ve been able to simply move on. Letting go is hard and doesn’t feel natural. I want to be selfish and want everything to work out the way I planned, but we don’t always get our way. I wrestle with my emotions, part of me wanting to wallow and hide away while the other part gets sick and tired of feeling like shit.

I stumbled across another quote on the Blogilates Instagram (part of my new, healthy routine):

I’ve been keeping this in mind, sometimes repeating it to myself over and over. I’ve been given so many choices and even though right now it seems like everything is slipping out of my control maybe it’s just the pieces of my life falling away so I can see what I should be doing more clearly.

p.s. I’ve been illustrating more than writing recently, check it out: awkwardandaware.com

How to Survive a Juice Cleanse

A while ago I did a juice cleanse. This is how it went.

Taking the plunge

I know what you’re thinking, “Cleanses and detoxes don’t work!” Believe me, I am well aware cleanses and detoxes are heavily disputed. For every article I read touting the magic of going liquid-only for a few days I’ve read one detailing how ineffective it is and how dangerous cleanses can be. I really wanted to have all of/most of (because I get lazy) the facts before writing anything about the science behind juice cleanses and detoxes so I Googled, “scientific research AND juice cleanses” and the top few pages were all titled along the lines of, The Juice Cleanse Myth or Detoxing: The Truth Behind the Fad. I know of someone who passed out trying to train for a marathon while on a juice cleanse. I mean, that’s dumb. I’m confident enough to state that I’m not dumb. I may be on a juice cleanse, but…..

I’m also the type of person who likes to believe in unicorns and the magic of Disney despite my rational, scientific mind so I decided to give this whole juice thing a go. You know, just for kicks (and self-induced torture).

Since I live in Cambodia and it would take months to never for a program to send shipments of pre-made juice, my friend, Elena and I signed up to a program run by The Hive, a local coffee house. The Hive’s menu boasts a number of “a la carte” juices for a variety of ailments as well as several different “juicing” programs for the bold at heart, ranging from the “Casual Cleanser” to “Mega Cleanse”.

Lucky for us, all juicing programs were 20% off through the month of July. Being poor and only motivated by sales Elena and I decided now was the time to stop all of our talk and actually do it. We’re both really healthy people. Sure, we eat our fair share of cheese, but as a whole aren’t really big on the whole meat and dairy scene. We exercise, eat tons of vegetables, actively search out ways to replace chemical-filled products with natural things (although my boyfriend, Kyle would probably appreciate it if I gave up the natural deodorant…) and while Elena has been drinking camel-enviable amounts of water for years I am quickly catching up.

Elena signed up for a longer, five-day cleanse in which she replaces two meals a day with juice, eating something light, like a salad for lunch. Since I was going to be out of town for a day or two I signed up for the shorter “Mega Cleanse” and replaced all three of my meals with juice*.

*On The Hive’s program you replace one meal with two juices, one “heavy” and one “light” for a total of 24 ounces of liquid.

Juice Cleanse

Just some background on why this was such an ill-formed plan (besides the general, “juicing is bad”):

I have a REALLY fast metabolism. I eat A LOT of food at a fairly constant rate and I’m not large by any definition. My Mom used to joke that I have a tapeworm. True, most of the food I’m eating copious amounts of are like, veg and hummus or gluten free, vegan oat cookies. Once I was vegetarian for about a year, which wasn’t that big a deal because I eat very little meat anyway, but I was definitely missing out on some types of fats and proteins because my roommate was literally scared to talk to me I was so grouchy.

I also forayed into veganism for six weeks. Elena and I decided to try it out a while ago after watching a documentary on America’s food industry. Honestly, it wasn’t as bad as being vegetarian because I was way more informed about how to eat a balanced diet and had to think about what I was eating a lot more than before. The only problem, Cambodia isn’t very health-issue friendly. Almost everything is cooked in fish or oyster sauce and if you order something without meat, they usually throw in an egg and look at you like you’re crazy.

One last thing, I get hangry. Like, I am probably where that term originated. Whenever I’m home my parents carry “cranky crackers” because they know if I get hungry before the allotted meal time I will become unbearable.

Over the three-day “cleanse” I learned quite a bit about my body, how to take care of myself, how to juice in a manageable way, and what to expect on a liquid-only diet.

Don’t take yourself too seriously.

This is the most important. I am very competitive and have a tendency to over do things just so I can feel like I’ve won. But on a juice cleanse, no one is really winning, except for the person/company taking your money. I started out wanting to go full on, but shortly after my first juice meal my stomach started growling. We began our cleanse over the weekend so we wouldn’t murder our coworkers, but that also meant a lot of free time to think about being hungry and meet-ups with non-juicers who will inevitably want to eat something.

I ended up eating the Detox Salad from Sister Srey, which is basically just a pile of raw vegetables so I decided not to feel bad. My body just needed something to munch. Plus, I drank an espresso and knew that wouldn’t go down so well without a stomach buffer.

Listen to your body.

Having done food/diet experiments in the past I am pretty aware of my body’s needs. I can tell if my hunger pangs will be suppressible or will turn me into a raging rage monster. Juicing was a fun (I use that word lightly) challenge, but at the end of the day you have to listen to your body.

If you feel like you’re going to kill someone, EAT SOMETHING! There were way too many moments when I felt like I was going to burst into tears because I was so hungry and exhausted overall. When Kyle was trying to figure out where to get lunch I snapped, “Well I’m not eating so I can’t make the decision for you!” And then almost cried. And ended up eating his side-salad.

I ended up eating something once a day, whether it was a salad or homemade “cookies” with banana, peanut butter, oats, cranberries, matcha, and black sesame.

You will be tired.

Getting up in the morning was the hardest thing. I don’t eat breakfast as regularly as I should so I’m used to getting up and not “eating”, but getting up having not physically eaten anything the night before was a feat. Usually, when I’m tired I turn to my old friend, coffee but was wary our relationship wouldn’t be as compatible on an empty stomach. Despite usually taking my coffee black I switched it up and added some chia+quinoa milk and a spoonful of cinnamon to make it a bit less harsh, plus cinnamon is supposed to help regulate your sugar absorption.

Not all juices are created equal.

My favorite juice was the Ultimate Veg, which contained pretty much every vegetable you could imagine.

While some juices are downright delightful, one or two taste like, “biting into a compost heap” according to Kyle. Broccoli, kale, and celery tend to have that effect when mixed in liquid form.

Try something new.

I used this as an opportunity to get over my very deep-seated issues with celery. I hate it. Unfortunately, my opposition to the primarily water-filled veg limited my juicing options. So if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. While some juices were a bit celery-heavy and hard to swallow there were one or two that were pretty delightful. Although I don’t see myself munching stalks anytime soon, I’ve definitely opened my horizons to include celery-plus-a-lot-of-other-things juices.

Your body will change.

It’s been a few weeks since I “cleansed” (I’ve been busy, ok…) but my body is still recovering. I have zero tolerance for cheese anymore. I think I’ve always been a bit lactose sensitive, I don’t eat a lot of dairy besides cheese but I just can’t anymore. I still eat it, don’t get me wrong, I just regret it immediately.

Shortly after I finished the juice cleanse Kyle and I went to Laos and my body was definitely in no mood for an 8-hour van ride… I was having trouble keeping anything in my stomach for long (probably due to lack of fiber). Elena was experiencing the same difficulties and talked to a doctor who guessed she had a parasite but had already flushed it out with all of the water + juices, so there wasn’t much she could do about it. So maybe I did have a tapeworm after all?

I’m in the process of finding a diet (not the lose weight kind, the general foods you put in your body kind) that works for me, most likely no dairy, lots of veg, and the occasional meat product until I find an adequate protein substitute.

To cleanse or not to cleanse?

My take-away, juicing is a great way to get a surge of vitamins but as an add-on to a healthy diet full of actual food. I don’t see anything wrong with the occasional meal replacement, but only if you are eating healthfully to begin with, not as a detox after a weekend bender.

Plus, food is just too good to give up.

25: a retrospective

25 days ago I turned 25. One quarter of a century.

It's embarrassing how long it took all of us to determine whether or not there were actually 25 candles on the cake...
It’s embarrassing how long it took all of us to determine whether or not there were actually 25 candles on the cake…

This year I was lucky to be home for my birthday and spent the day with my brother at the most magical place on earth, Disney (obvi). Since weird things happen to me, I somehow managed to severely bruise some ribs riding Thunder Mountain Railroad and was having trouble breathing so we had to leave early 😦 On the way home I was belting out the soundtrack to Tangled, with some difficulty (it’s not easy to sing with a bruised rib, but you do what you have to do), when I started to actually listen to the lyrics of the song, When Will My Life Begin?

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Growing up I always pictured what my life would look like when I was “older”. I was sure I’d be popular and perhaps have a steady boyfriend when I turned 16. By the time I reached university surely I’d have a hip internship and be able to afford nice clothes and nights out with my friends. And of course, growing up in the South means an engagement after graduation. My university did have a saying: Ring by spring, which an alarmingly large number of seniors took to heart.

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Me at 16: the reality.

Even though my mom would share stories about how when she was my age she was getting married she always encouraged me to take time for myself, explore and see the world before settling down in a relationship or career (though I’m pretty sure packing up for Cambodia wasn’t really what she had in mind).

My mom on her wedding day.
My mom on her wedding day.

Regardless of whether or not certain daydreams came true I grew up with goals certain that if I reached them, then life would really begin.

I’ve been reflecting a lot recently, not necessarily because of my age, but just trying to figure out what I really want out of life, and I’ve realized even though nothing really turned out as planned, the life I’ve led thus far is unique and has shaped who I am and how I see the world.

When I was 16 I got involved with Invisible Children, a nonprofit dedicated to stopping Joseph Kony and his crimes against humanity. I helped raise around $26,000 for the organization and was able to travel to Uganda with a handful of other students (Invisible Children made I documentary about it and you can watch the trailer here). I’ve lobbied government representatives on behalf of Invisible Children on multiple occasions and took a semester off from university to live out of a van and share my experience with students across the country.

Team Mid-Atlantic

I spent one summer traveling around Europe and the UK, meeting international public relations firms and reconnecting with friends.

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After an internship with a hospital in Florida I was asked to stay on and run a campaign for Breast Cancer Awareness month.

My office was a "Pink Army" war zone...
My office was a “Pink Army” war zone…

A year and a half ago I moved to Cambodia, where I didn’t know anyone and have since created a family of friends from around the world.

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Whether I’ve noticed it or not, life began a long time ago and the only tower keeping me from experiencing it is the one I’ve built in my mind.

I can already tell 25 will be a difficult year, not because I’m getting “older” but because I’m starting to realize the life I always imagined, a life full of comfort and stability, may never be a reality. But I’m ready to embrace it. I’ve learned so much about myself and the world and how I fit into it over the years. I may not know what I want, but I know what will make me happy. I know that sometimes the best decisions are the hardest ones to make. I’ve experienced more goodbyes than I can count and have learned the importance of making the most out of the short time you may have with someone. The power may go out for days and your water could cut off mid-shampoo, but the relationships you build make everything worth it.

Will I be an expat forever, hopping from country to country? Will I ever experience the type of stability found in settling down? I don’t know. But I can tell you I won’t be wasting any more of my life wondering when it will begin.

How to Torture a Traveler: Part Two

Given the number of times I’ve traveled back and forth between Orlando and Siem Reap something is bound to go wrong from time to time and this last trip felt like the universes way of making up for the good luck I’ve had so far. Except for this trip, of course: How to Torture a Traveler.

This was the first delay notification. It only got worse.
This was the first delay notification. It only got worse.

I sat anxiously next to my gate in the Orlando International Airport nervously watching my departure time push back further and further. I refreshed the flight information I had looked up on my phone over and over noticing the estimated arrival time get dangerously close to my next flight’s departure time.

“You might as well take the flight,” The guy at the help desk advised. “If you miss it they’ll just do the same things I’d do here. You might as well take the chance your next flight is delayed.”

Never listen to the help desk.

I tried to relax as best as could during the flight knowing there was literally nothing I could do from in the air. When we landed (three hours later than originally scheduled) I painfully watched the seconds tick by on my watch.

3, 2, 1… And there it goes…

A nearby passenger saw the anguished look on my face.

“Are you trying to make a connection?”

I hung my head, “Yes, but I doubt I can make it in 30 seconds.”

Just in case I rushed to the next terminal, which as luck would have it, took 30 minutes on an airport shuttle bus because the AirTrain system was shut down…

The Etihad Airways ticketing desk was deserted except for one security guard standing next to the help desk.

“Can I help you?” He asked, not concerned at all.

“I just missed my flight…”

“Come back tomorrow at Noon,” He stated matter-of-factly before turning back to his paperwork.

I hopped on the shuttle bus and went back to my arrivals gate to seek help from a Jetblue representative.

“You’re going to have to reschedule through your booking agent,” He said unsympathetically after looking over my flight itinerary. “Call Expedia.”

After a quick cry in the women’s bathroom, I trekked to the baggage claim help desk. First things first, figure out where in the world (literally) my belongings were.

I handed the lady my baggage claim ticket and she typed inhumanly fast into her computer.

“Since your bag is checked to Bangkok, that’s where it will end up. It might even be on the flight you were scheduled on.” She reassured.

“Well, since you know my last flight was still taxing to the gate after boarding closed for my next one I’m just going to guess it didn’t make it either…” I was trying desperately not to burst into tears, since that’s my default reaction whenever I’m stressed, anxious, scared, etc.

“All I can tell you is it’s checked to Bangkok so it should turn up there.” To her credit she looked a bit more caring than everyone else I had spoken to so far.

Somewhat relieved I had one less thing to worry about I found a semi-quiet corner and spent over an hour (the majority of which was spent listening to crappy hold music) on the phone with an Expedia.com agent who was able to rebook all of my flights for the next day (literally 24 hours later…).

At least I had time to Snapchat all of my friends.
At least I had time to Snapchat all of my friends.

All that was left to do now: find a semi-dark spot (it wasn’t dark at all) on the floor (tile, next to a trash can) where I could pass the night and hopefully get some sleep. I managed a few hours before my hips and knees started to cramp and I couldn’t take the pain from my bruised ribs any longer (more about that in a later post). Once the sun came up I treated myself to an actual breakfast at the airport diner then tried to check in to my flight, only to be told I had to wait until 6:40 p.m. to do so.

In case representatives from JFK found this via my SEO: PLEASE put some actual chairs in the arrivals/ticketing area! My boney butt can only take so much floor time.

By the time I actually reached Bangkok, as anticipated, my bag was nowhere to be found. It wasn’t even registered in the computer. To be fair, the woman at the Etihad help desk was super nice and helpful and assured me as soon as my bag is found she’ll call and email me and ship it to Siem Reap. Yay. And, to be fair the whole check-in process moves a lot faster when you are bag-less.

So now, in addition to trying to catch up on work and prepare for freelance meetings, I get to file insurance claims and phone airlines. Double yay…

At least I packed one pair of clean underwear in my carry-on and have started a ‘wash one, wear one’ system, which thanks to Cambodia’s heat cuts drying time in half.

Author’s note: I know I’ve been a bit (more like a lot) behind on updates but I do have a couple in the works! Stay tuned for a post about loss while abroad, an ode to turning 25, and how to survive a week-long blackout. And for illustrated updates about my living and traveling as an extremely awkward person, check out my newest website: Awkward & Aware.