091b61d

I’m sailing to Haiti on a relief boat. Here’s why.

UPDATE: Guys, I wrote this post before I knew that the trip was going to be $1000 more than I had budgeted. Fuel is expensive and boats are incredibly pricey to maintain, so I know this happens, but it means I’m kind, of um, desperate.

I leave in seven days, my flight is already booked, and the awesome folks at the Haiti tourism board has been incredible in arranging a tour program for me. They need all the help I can give them in spreading the word about the great things that are going in this country. I’ve set up a Go Fund Me page. I have never done crowdfunding before and I didn’t intend to start now, but it’s my last resort before canceling the trip.

As a travel writer and blogger, I’m supposed to be requesting press trips to try out new hotels and asking for sponsored posts. Instead I’m hopping on a relief yacht sponsored by the International Rescue Group and sailing into the poorest country of the world to hand out medical supplies, clothing, toys, and water–which I can’t even afford.

Why?

Haiti and the Caribbean Still Need Help–and it’s Our Fault. Here’s why:
1. It’s been five years since the devastating earthquake hit Haiti, one of the world’s poorest countries, killing 200,000 people. A disaster of such magnitude would be hard-hit for any country, but for an already-impoverished nation, it’s going to take much longer than that.

2. The media has forgotten Haiti–which is why we can’t. The media tends to report on the latest disaster of the moment, turning their attention away from those that dominated the headlines just a year ago. Just because you don’t hear about something anymore, doesn’t mean it goes away.

3. Although the physical rebuilding has begun, disease is still rampant. Haiti is one of the few countries in the world that still suffers from cholera, According to CNN, it has now infected upward of 700,000 people, and has claimed the lives of nearly 10,000. And it may be that we’re to blame.

According to the AP, peacekeeping troops from Nepal carried strains of the disease with them, contaminating a large portion of Haiti’s drinking water. The U.N has denied any wrongdoing, and in January, a U.S. judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by human rights groups seeking compensation for the victims.

This is the last thing this country needs is for the U.N to dodge responsibility for this mess. While there may be no legal redress for this anytime soon, our crew on the Tandemeer is bringing clean drinking water and medical supplies to do what we can to combat this.

4. Even when people get their basic needs met, their emotional needs are still there. Toys, books and other supplies are needed for children. These kids need a chance to be kids, and sailing on Tandemeer we can help them do that! For example,  in Haiti, IRG partnerned with organization Zoe’s Dolls to distribute dolls to 40 girls.

unnamed (1)

5. Education! Kids can’t learn if they’re struggling with basic needs, let alone afford school books or uniforms. IRG has partnered with Little Footprints, Big Steps to help the neediest children in Haiti get a good education and a chance at life.

6. As someone who writes about travel, I don’t always have to be the one who’s running off to the it-destination of the moment to party with the beautiful people and tell you where to drink sophisticated cocktails and be seen. Of course, that’s where the money is, so I tend to forget that.

But the truth, greatest travel experience of all time was on a 100-square mile island in the middle of the Atlantic with no tourist industry to speak of–and it was because of the people. The guy at the bar who saw me across the room and beckoned me in and made me feel at home.

While I’m there, I’ll also be in contact with the Haiti tourism board in order to hopefully see the brighter future of Haiti, one where economic prosperity will attract people from around the world, because they want to be there.

There are people in these regions who struggle with issues I can never hope to understand, but I will watch and listen and try. And that’s why I’m sailing to Haiti

 

Due to a last-minute price increase (and the sudden loss of another source of funding) I need to raise $1400 to go on this trip, so I’m turning to Go Fund Me. I will be so grateful for anything you can offer me. Continue to follow along here as I set off on my trip!

Thank you so much!

bigstockphoto_Message_On_The_Baech_33400

5 tips for publishing your travel writing on major sites

Recently, I was chatting on a message board with a fellow travel blogger, who had come across my site and saw all the badges on the the side of my blog. “I’d love to write for some of those,” she said. “But I don’t know where to start!” I was surprised, because she’s a successful blogger who’s got slick concept and a great-looking site. But, like most bloggers, she’d love more exposure for her writing and the perks that brings–traffic, more paid assignments. Hmmm, that gave me an idea for a new post!

I’ve been a professional freelance writer for almost a decade, long before I started this blog (although I had other blogs, a long time ago in another life!) I know there are a lot of bloggers who’ve yet to do any freelancing, but would love to gain a bigger audience by publishing their work beyond their blog, but may not know where to start. I’m here to help!

Weirdly, I found one of my biggest travel writing clients, Matador Network, by accident, when they syndicated my post on XOJane, which was an article that arose out of my book, Princess of Pirates: How I Ran Away to Sea. But if they aren’t coming to you yet, go to them!

How To Get Started Writing for Travel Sites in 5 Short Steps

  1. Decide where to pitch. Don’t know where to start? Start at the easiest place–with the blogs you already read and love. Chances are you might have an idea for a post on a subject they haven’t covered and are looking to cover. Don’t be afraid to think big–even if a blog has a lot of traffic, that doesn’t mean they aren’t looking for a subject matter you might be an expert in–like working a yacht, for example, or train travel, or luxury hotels in Singapore, or…
  2. Do your research. Log onto the site, browse it thoroughly to make sure you get their tone down and get a sense of what they seem to publish most often. You don’t want to waste your time pitching “10 tips for solo travel in India” when they just published “What I learned from traveling alone in India” two days ago. (At least you know there’s an audience for it, so save that piece for somewhere else!) Be sure your concept is fresh, but still falls within the scope of what they publish. For instance, Matador had published pieces on yachties, but nothing on tall ships. Cha-ching! Found my niche. The subject doesn’t have to be brand-new, either. You can also adapt one of your previous posts (generally they don’t want a complete duplicate, so you will have to change it a little).
  3. Craft the pitch. Offer to write about something that they haven’t covered, and convince them why you should be the one to do it. What are your qualifications? give them a link to your blog and/or portfolio. Remember don’t bore them with a bland, predictable pitch: “This is what I’m going to write about…” You’re writing, so write the pitch the way you would write the post. Make it sing!
  4. Send your pitch. Make sure to check out their submission guidelines to see whether they accept pitches or want you to submit the entire piece, or have any policies you should know about. Sometimes they’ll give you a generic email address (e.g. info@bigtravelsite.com.) If you can try to find the name and email address of an actual PERSON. If you can greet them by name, it helps shape personal connection that makes them less likely to ignore you.
  5. Follow up. Editors are busy–don’t be afraid to nudge! If you don’t hear back right away, don’t throw up your hands and give up. I can’t tell you how often editors have gotten back to me and said “Oops, I never saw this. It fell through the cracks, but we’d love to publish it!”
  6.  Don’t give up. Rejection SUCKS. Believe me, I hate it more than I hate just about anything in the world–which as a writer, is quite unfortunate for me! (The only thing I hate more than being rejected is being ignored altogether, which also happens). But I grit my teeth and keep going, because this is my business; this is my life. Rejection is NOT a referendum on you as a human being, and it doesn’t mean your story is worthless. It just means “not here.” Maybe you’ll get accepted right away. Maybe you won’t. Find another market who does want it (see below). Remember, as long you think it’s going to take to get accepted, it will most likely take 100 times that, or longer. But if you keep pitching, brainstorming, and sending great ideas, it will happen. Take it from me, the Rejection Queen.

6947051813_07e29a2a93_z

Here are some great resources I’ve found for finding new places to submit your work, tips on submissions, and all around support:

  • Facebook Groups for Travel Blogging. Once you request to join, these are incredibly useful in networking with other bloggers, sharing ideas and (sob) stories, getting advice, and spreading word of mouth about sites who are looking for writers/pitches! Plus, helping other writers makes you feel fuzzy inside! The ones I belong to:
  • Next Level Travel Blogging
  • Female Travel Bloggers
  • Girls vs. Globe
  • Drifters Unite
  • Pitch Travel Write. Veteran travel writer Roy Stevenson has written literally thousands of articles for travel sites, and has dozens of valuable tips for how to pitch, what to pitch, and the business of travel writing.
  • Make a Living WritingThis site isn’t specifically about travel writing, but it is covered in several posts, as well as hugely use list of sites paying $50 and up, including a long list of travel-related sites. Carol Tice is a rock star when it comes to offering tips to chase big sites and clients, and more importantly make $$$!
  • Matador Network. The site actually offers a class on travel writing called Travel U. I haven’t tried it, but it’s got great testimonials and it’s something to think about if you’re serious about getting more work. But they also have a great free how-to series on travel writing by editor David Miller that are just as valuable (e.g., “Why lists are killing travel writing!”)

What about you? Any techniques that have worked particularly well for you in getting your writing published? Any that haven’t? Share below!

1898658_422352317867302_473377379_o

It’s been almost two years, and I miss it every single day (VIDEO)

oosterschelde-337-b-kopie

Dutch TV has now aired four different video installments of the Oosterschelde’s round-the-world voyage of 2014, which I’ve been watching with awe and a little trepidation. I’ve seen most of the videos, so I figured it wouldn’t be that earth-shattering. But I was a delighted to see that a lot of this astonishing footage–of dolphin pods, of hauling lines in gales, of the beautiful sun-hardened faces of the crew–was new to me, too.

In particular, I recommend watching the last one. Not all of these people I met in person–my leg of the voyage unfortunately isn’t featured at all, because two months straight at sea proved too much for even the most intrepid documentarian. The focus here is on the shorter Antarctic  journeys and the Cape Horn voyage that took place before I boarded, as well as the trip from the Azores (where I got off) to Rotterdam. However you will see many of the crew members who were onboard my leg.

It’s also a chance for you to see some extremely familiar faces to me (without naming any names of course).

But I’m just going to say it–going back can be painful. The other day, the longing to go back was almost unbearable. Images flit through my brain: as if I were back sitting on the wooden deck box, the rain pattering on my face on midnight watch. Watching the sun rise out of the gray mist, the drowned world reformed anew each day.  Unfiltered sunlight on weathered rope. The flip of the tail of an Ascension blackfish. The drunken ecstasy of dancing in the middle of the world with people who, for that moment, at least, are beautiful, inside and out , and who think you are beautiful, too. I felt…blessed. And even though some of those good feelings eventually crumbled, as they always do, our community of pirates has dispersed and moved on, our connections broken or lost, their etchings remain on me, unerasable.

csm_oosterschelde-s-odyssee-boeg_c95997c8a3

What I’ve written on this blog and elsewhere has only scratched the surface of what it was really like. So few people get a chance to experience something that is so far removed from everday existence that it’s like almost literally traveling to another universe. I look around my house now and I have to pinch myself to remind me that it was actually real. How do you ever move on after that? How do you engage yourself in the normal rhythms of 21st century life? Honestly, I still haven’t quite figured it out. I’m not the same person as I was before that trip, and I don’t know if I ever will be.

This isn’t “an oh, wasn’t that a great trip.” It’s so far beyond that it scares me–the fact that it’s almost two years later and this longing is as powerful as ever. And the knowledge that I will never get that feeling back–and I may never do anything in my life that makes me feel that way again– sometimes scares me.  I can try to recreate it (I have tried to recreate it) but it would never be the same. I don’t want it to be the same.

All I can hope is that someday I’ll be able to do something again that will mean as much to me as this trip did, that I’ll be embraced by a group of people in the same way I was embraced by them. I had hopes that it would continue, that this could somehow be the new normal. But I was naive. But if it’s possible for anyone to simply run away to sea forever and never come back, I’ve yet to meet them. There are always obligations, always yokes, always links to land.

As 2015 comes to a close, I’m feeling reflective. The readers of this blog have helped me along the journey, and I am thankful for you, too! The chance to share my adventures with you is a true gift. I hope there are lot more adventures ahead of me, no matter what they may be, and I hope you’re along to experience them, too.

1898658_422352317867302_473377379_o

In the New Year, I have big plans for this blog. The number one question I get when I tell people about my adventures is, how? How did you sail on a tall ship? And how can I do it too?

In 2016, I hope to do a post, or series of posts, that answers that question.

And still I keep dreaming.

Check me out in The Huffington Post

 

DSCN1734

Or you could just see the whole country in miniature at Madurodam in The Hague.

Thanks to incredibly inspiring blogger Anamika Ohja, I’m featured in The Huffington Post travel section alongside other 24 other fearless female travel bloggers, talking about our favorite trips of 2015. Can you guess what mine was? (I’ll give you a minute!) The Hague, Netherlands. Reading about these girls and their journeys has definitely given me some inspiration for 2016, and I hope it gives you some, too!

The Gypsy Pirate Returns: Part 2 of my interview with Josje Leyten

josjesss

 

If you’ll recall last week, I posted the first part of my interview with Josje Leyten, the sailor who made a splash, literally, with her videos as a crew member aboard superstar sailboat SV Delos, and has now embarked upon a brave new journey as an artist and designer at Ramatree.

The response was amazing! Friends and fans from all over the globe stopped by to check out the interview, leave comments, and wish Josje good luck. Lucky we saved the best for last!

Now, here’s part 2, where we talk about the meaning of “gypsy pirate,” how she conquers fear, and what’s next for her.

Q: You call yourself a gypsy pirate, which I love. Why, and what does that mean to you?

A: Oh thank you! Well to be fair, I like to consider myself both of those things; part gypsy, part pirate. My sailing and nomadic journey have definitely shaped me into this being and I just feel so free and liberated when I am being a Gypsy Pirate. It doesn’t necessarily mean I wear 1000 layers of bohemian styled clothing and a ring on every finger, nor does it mean I live on an old wooden boat and drink rum straight from the bottle, although I do enjoy all of the above. To me, its more a feeling, it evokes a freeing sense of being and my inner heart calling. I’m big on following feelings, not so much thought, because thoughts can be destructive if you are not aware of them. Feelings are true and come from within. You can always feel if something is right, it’s your intuition and it always comes first. Learning how to listen to that is what I am trying to do, letting this feeling lead me through this forest path. So to me, being a Gypsy Pirate evokes this feeling of ME.

power3

 

Q: To me, being a pirate means having no fear–or at least not giving into it. What’s your biggest fear, and how do you conquer it, or work toward conquering it?

A: Hmmm, I think my biggest fear would be feeling ‘stuck’, not moving forward, or feeling ‘trapped’. I like the expression that there is never any grass growing under my feet. But at the same time, I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason, so whatever happens will happen, and it is meant to be. So in saying that, I can’t really be afraid of anything right?!  

Q: What’s next for you? What does the future hold for Ramatree?

A: I will be based here In New Zealand over the summer but next year brings a complete open book, which I am super excited about! I am finding the balance between setting my goals and dreams, yet also allowing myself to flow down the river. Truthfully, I have absolutely no idea what the future holds, which is both extremely frightening and extremely exhilarating! I love not knowing what’s around the corner, it makes life more exciting, more thrilling, more liberating. There are so many branches and directions I want Ramatree to grow in, but at the end of the day, I cannot force it one way or another. I must let nature and the Universe nourish and grow me the way nature intended. I am super fucking excited to see where and how far it will go though! I am seeking the light, as trees seek the light, I know I will grow up to where there are no limits.

golden

Q: Anything else you want readers to know about you and your work?

A: I think a sense of mystery is always a good ally to have on your side! I just love to create and tap into my artistic, open, flowing space where anything and everything is possible. I live for spontaneity, adventure, photography, visual media, freedom and one love! I’m open to collaborations, bookings, ideas, people, anything, so feel free to email me if reading this ignited something inside of you! Much love and light!

That’s it for the interview with Josje! What do you think? Leave a comment below.

I hope to bring you more interviews and features with inspirational and fearless sailors, artists, and dreamers , so watch this space!

 

meeeeee

Josje Leyten, Gypsy Pirate: An Interview

I have a boat-crush on S/V Delos. The photogenic crew of this 53-foot Amel Super Maramu has been island hopping around the Pacific since 2009, and recently crossed the Indian Ocean from Asia to Africa, where they’re now cruising the coast. Their videos are full of endless tropical sunsets, brisk winds, idyllic beaches, and frequent laughter. I know how intoxicating life onboard a boat can be, and the nonstop fun they seem to have is enough to make you want to double-click on the “Buy us a Beer” icon on the website repeatedly, hoping if you do it enough they’ll let you come onboard and stay for a year or two…

standinggrass-B

 

But to everyone’s surprise, just this year, Josje Leyten, Gypsy Pirate, lifelong sailor and Dutch Kiwi who joined up with Delos five years ago and became a regular face in the videos, made the announcement that, after the Indian Ocean journey, she was chucking it all and flying home from Madagascar to New Zealand to begin a landlubber’s life. So long, Delos! What could possibly prompt someone to give up paradise at sea?

Why art, of course. On a long passage over the Indian Ocean, Josje had a moment of clarity, as tends to happen when we lie on deck and look at the stars. Her new venture, Ramatree, embodies its name by including many branches, including photography, fashion design and jewelry. I had to see some of it: wow! She is seriously talented.

In her work, she incorporates vibrant oceanic colors, the textures of shells and driftwood, exotic cultures from her travels, and the hypnotic rhythms of waves:

And the bravery that she demonstrates by giving up her life at sea for an uncertain future truly embodies the pirate, no-quarter-given spirit I try to cultivate in my own life.

I had to find out more, so I asked Josje some questions, which she was kind enough to answer! Part 1 of her answers runs today:

Q: Does your time at sea influence your work, and if so how?

A: My whole tree of life has grown from inspiration that sailing across the oceans has given me. Wide-open spaces, time to think, to breathe, to reflect, to dream. Cultures to experience, different ways of being and living, absorbing vibes and experiencing different tribes have all been catalysts to planting this little seed that has formed my tree of life. I like my jewellery pieces unique, one off and handmade, from old treasures and hand picked collectibles.

The clothing I am designing is gypsy inspired from my nomadic wanders and sailing adventures. And I try to keep my creative writing as authentic and from the heart as possible, just the way nature intended. So yeah, I guess my time at sea has influenced me in huge ways, perhaps not necessarily so easy to explain, but in a more abstract way.

But mostly, the sea has taught me respect, authenticity and integrity. I want this inspiration to shine through my work and my being, because my time at sea has taught me that there is nothing you can pretend to be, the only thing you can do is be you and be real.

Q: What was one moment from your travels that influenced you most?

A: I guess it was sailing across the Indian Ocean this year and one specific place we visited, the Andaman Islands. It lies in the Bay of Bengal, half way between Thailand and mainland India; it is a chain of islands governed by India and it’s absolutely beautiful. The amazing fabrics, colour and styles blew me away over there. It was sort of where the whole thing started, I don’t know why but I just felt like I had to go and explore this creativity that was beginning to shine through. It was definitely the beginning of Ramatree.

Another huge influence was another creative soul, Frida, who joined Delos for the Indian Ocean crossing. She has an amazing gift of seeing people for their authentic self, of seeing the light, guiding them and allowing them to draw it out of themselves, and in turn, showing them their true potential. So she was a huge influence and inspiration for Ramatree as well.

Q: Which piece of art that you’ve made are you most proud of, and why?

A: Ohhh this is difficult, because the seed was only planted around 6 months ago, so my real life creations are limited, however my creations in my mind are big and ready to explode and radiate outwards! But I guess I’m most proud of visualizing and creating my figurative Tree of Life. I know its nothing I can show you, that you can touch, see or feel, but you can read about it, learn about it and understand it. I’m also extremely proud of my website which, with a little help, I built to share with the world. To be honest, I’m pretty proud of every creation I’ve made so far, whether its earrings, cuffs, necklaces, artwork, designs, or pieces of writing. I just love creating it all and for allowing myself to go through these transitions of life in order to do what I love, for that I am most proud

swing
Stay tuned for Part 2 of my interview with Josje, and post any comments below!

UPDATE: Part 2 of our interview has been posted!

I’m featured in Cosmopolitan this week

o-woman-looking-into-the-distance-facebook

One of the biggest challenges of being a die-hard pirate princess is that as a freelancer, it’s extremely difficult to sail and make a living. It’s a big reason why so many sailors are retired. (Although slowly, that’s changing!)

In any case, by the time I got home from my epic tall ship voyage, I’d had to give up all of my freelance gigs, not to mention my New York apartment. I needed some seed money to get on my feet again. The solution? Why, participating in a medical research study, of course! Today in Cosmo, I lay out the whole story.

Check it out and let me know what you think!

 

 

Join me on the #girlsquad! I’ve been named a Mogul Global Ambassador: and you can be, too!

32179191_2b9a8b86a9_z

I’ve joined the #girlsquad!

I’ve been named one of the first 100 Mogul Global Ambassadors. Mogul is a platform to connect women worldwide to trending content. Their goal with Mogul Courses is to educate 62 million girls worldwide on how to rock their careers, relationships, and every other aspect of their lives. Sound ambitious? It totally is.

Founder Tiffany Pham, who’s a social media rock star, was named one of Forbes’ 30 Under 30 and one of Elle’s 30 Women Under 30 Who Are Changing the World. The Mogul team of advisers include Jennifer 8. Lee, founder of Plympton and adviser to Upworthy, and Alexandra Wilson, founder of Gilt Groupe.

Basically, this is a team made up of the coolest women influencers, and you can join me in being part of it by clicking here, or on the button located conveniently on the sidebar. You get a chance to win swag for everyone you help sign up, and for a limited time they’re offering $500 off any course on Mogul (in other words, free!) I recommend the Travel course (duh!)

As if that weren’t enough, Mogul is partnering with the following folks to give away an all-expenses paid trip to JAMAICA? If you’re like me and live Up North, you’re already cranking up the thermostat and dreaming of equatorial waters, so why not enter? It includes a $1500 airfare credit, 4 nights at the Round Hill Resort in Montego Bay, a free Mogul Travel course, and six months of wine from Wine Awesomeness. You can enter by clicking here. See on the #girlsquad!

8191_0646d1f21ef71d45cc75a5a9f1315a92

4 ways spending Thanksgiving in Rome taught me how to travel

It was November of 2005, and I was spending my fall semester of my junior year studying at in Belfast, Northern Ireland, when four fellow students and I decided to be daring and have a continental adventure before we went home for Christmas. Ryanair direct to Fiumicino, here we come!72772880_89029e1777_z

It seemed clever and brave. But the truth was, I had never before visited a non-English speaking country. I had never spent a holiday abroad. I was still terrified of speaking Italian, and I carried my own personalized phrasebook with me–printed on paper–at the very top was “No parliamo italiano.” In other words, for the love of god, please don’t talk to me. Please don’t make me humiliate myself. Above all, I was terrified of doing something wrong.

 

  1. How to make friends–no, family!–out of anyone. The truth was, I didn’t know any of my traveling companions that well. One was a softspoken boy from Alabama who liked tacos; another was an angelic Catholic girl from eastern Pennsylvania who just wanted a souvenir rosary from the Vatican “‘Bring me something holy, Angela!” my mom said. ‘Just bring me something holy!’” Another was a tall, dark-skinned girl from Indiana I’d never even met. “I never thought I’d be traveling to Rome at age 19,” she gushed. I was skeptical.

These weren’t exactly the cool, glamorous traveling companions I’d dreamed of. They were as naive as I was, if not moreso. But as it turned out, they were right for me. We helped each other read maps, puzzle out signages and agree to skip the overpriced tour of the Colosseum. We listened to our shoes tap on the polished floors of ancient churches, and had our pictures taken with some guys dressed up in cheesy gladiator costumes. I was the best at languages, so when a woman asked about the book I was reading on the train, I spoke for all of us. No parliamo italiano, I said with an abashed grin. My friends thanked me. And I didn’t die.

 

  1. How to travel cheaply. Of course, as tourists, none of us had planned to eat anyplace except a restaurant. Certainly our parents never did while traveling. Except this was Thanksgiving, so if we wanted anything close to a traditional American turkey day, we quickly realized we’d have no choice but to –gulp–shop locally. I’d never been so terrified. What if I didn’t understand what something was? Would I have to ask?. For someone clinging to her sweaty phrasebook like a deflating raft, and with crippling shyness around people I didn’t know, this was genuinely terrifying.

Tiptoeing into the store, we didn’t find a big frozen Butterball–none of us knew how to cook it anyway, but we did find some turkey breasts at the deli, and my friend said she thought the Italians eat potatoes. (Gnocchi, right? Right?) And pasta was just as starchy as pumpkin and sweet potatoes, so that was a good stand-in. Cranberry was out of the question, and we didn’t have the first clue about how to make stuffing. All in all, we only had maybe one or two of the Thanksgiving trappings. My stomach started to sink. Homesickness was creeping in. But I stuck my chin out.

 

  1. How to feel at home anywhere. We were all ready to leave the store, when I turned around and realized my companions weren’t with me. Then I heard sweet little Angela’s voice behind me at the deli counter. She spoke clearly, loudly enough for the entire store to hear. “Formaggio?” Silence, for two, three seconds. Then the guy laughed and handed her a huge hunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano, and we skedaddled back to the hostel. Alive.

Back at our crowded hostel near Termini Station, we Americans took over the kitchen and whipped up our sad little turkey breasts–which, warmed up and coated with, what else, tomato sauce–didn’t look so sad anymore. We forgot the butter, so our potatoes weren’t exactly creamy, and the utensils seemed to date to Tiberius’ reign.  And of course we made pasta, because Italy! Angela and Cody, of course, insisted on holding hands and saying grace. The kitchen started to feel a little warmer; the city not so dark and foreign. These people–these strange, stupid American kids–started to look, well, nice.

 

  1. How to be thankful. We rejoined all 12 or so of the rest of our hostel companions–two backpacking Serbians, a group of English chavs, and that one Irish guy who shows up hammered at every hostel on Earth—-and instead of trying to dazzle each other by naming all the exotic locales to which we’d traveled, we played parlor games. And then we actually talked. To strangers. Who didn’t hate us, even though we’d appropriated the entire kitchen for the past three hours and probably didn’t clean it all that well. This seemed to be the biggest miracle at all.

Up till then, all I’d wanted was to get out of this alive. But that Thanksgiving, something changed. I was thankful. After all, not everybody gets to go to Rome at 19. Not everyone gets to travel at all. Not everyone has a family waiting for them across the ocean when they’re broke and weary and ready to go home for Christmas. Not everyone has that moment where they realize for the first time that this isn’t a fluke. That I didn’t have to be a terrified tourist. That I could be smart, That I could be brave, that I could be wise. That I could be a traveler.