Are you traveling to escape?

Are you traveling to escape?

I used to think my traveling fell into a form of escapism, of running away from places and people that were small and constraining, places and people I perceived to be stunting a growth within me I didn’t even fully recognize I needed.

I was like a little bird repeatedly slamming itself into the walls of its cage, squawking and flapping furiously at every glimpse of sunlight, wind, and, God forbid, brother and sister birds that had made it out. I wanted out.

And I still want out. If I’m in a country for longer than a couple of months, I start to get trapped bird syndrome. I feel the impulse to learn a new language, cope with a new set of weird challenges, meet a whole new group of friends, take a new lover, and sleep under a new roof.

It’s not so much out that I want out, I realize, as I want in. I want the feeling of going into something again.

Like when I wade into a new body of water and it’s cold and my skin prickles and it takes awhile to muster up the courage to put my belly button, chest, neck, and finally entire head underwater. And then I emerge back onto the surface and my whole body is warm and acclimatized. No more painful chills, no more questioning if I was going to go for a swim at all.

Many people like the acclimatized feeling, but I like the feeling of wading in.

Just last week, I was in the midst of squawking for new shores when someone reminded me of the quote that goes something like, “You’re most yourself when you’re in the company of strangers.”

And I stopped banging my head against the cage for a minute. I thought, That’s it. That’s why I travel. Why so many of us travel. We say it’s because it makes us come alive and ignites our senses and challenges us and teaches us new things and lends a hell of a lot of perspective.

Yes, but.

I think it’s really because travel surrounds us with strangers, and strangers provide the freedom to be our most authentic selves. Back home, you have to act and react in response to certain expectations. But “out there,” you act and react however you feel in the moment. You run on gut instinct, and instinct, I believe, leads the way to our true nature.

The little voices, the little impulses, that’s who we really are. But we silence those voices and temper those impulses when there’s people we know watching, because we worry, what would they think? I rely on them for love and acceptance, so will they still love and accept me if I act differently?

Travel takes me away from everyone who loves and accepts me, and I know that going in. I get on a plane to South Korea and I’m headed seven time zones away from anyone who actually cares if I live or die.

I never knew why that was so exciting until I heard that quote — because I’m taking a break from the push and pull of relationships that have stakes, relationships that turn down the volume of my true, wild nature. I hop on a plane and I’m turning up the volume on the human interactions that allow me to fearlessly express more of who I really am.

I thought back to the times I stayed in a hostel in a tiny town in Brazil for just one night, and had the absolute time of my life, running around and talking to everyone, dancing on the bar at 2am, and having soul-baring exchanges on the beach before sunrise with strangers whose names I can’t remember and who I’ve never seen since.

I thought back to why freshman year of college was the best year of my life, why I felt so alive having moved 14 hours away from home to be one of 25,000 students on a campus where I didn’t know a single other soul. I was happy because I could finally be whoever I wanted to be, after 17 years of being who people already expected me to be. That complete freedom and anonymity brought me into my truest self.

I thought back to 14 months of travel through Southeast Asia, India, Nepal, and Europe, completely solo except for the short periods punctuated by the company of strangers who would slowly turn into new friends and travel with me for awhile. I always felt at such peace with these new companions because there were no ulterior motives, no need to act a certain way to “keep the peace” because we’re family and we’ve got a long life ahead, or because we shared the title of “best friend” and I wouldn’t want to tarnish our history.

I thought back to my favorite romances, all of which occurred when there was a definite termination point in sight. I acted and loved with abandon because I didn’t care if they liked me anymore. The fact that we were both moving in different directions was a given, so I didn’t to act a certain way to earn their approval or commitment. I was just me.

After hearing that quote, I began to realize that people who “know me well” only know one particular side of my personality, one predictable pattern of many possible variations that I fall into when I’m with them out of habit, out of the unconscious need to confirm who they think I am, to remain consistent, because erratic behavior is not conducive to the reliable relationships we need to “survive” out there. Showing a yet unseen shade of my personality that differs from the one they’ve already accepted and loved is dangerous and makes me self-conscious, so I don’t take the risk. I keep that little part of me tucked away.

And I know that I’m doing the same with the others I “know and love” — I’m unconsciously measuring them against who I’ve come to understand they are. If their behavior continues to match my understanding, we’re good, but if there’s a huge deviance, I’ll feel a form of distrust (you’re not who I thought you were).

Close, intimate relationships clearly have a place in my life and in yours, too, so of course I’m not saying to reject or replace them and I’m definitely not saying to never get close to anyone new. What I am saying is that these consistent relationships may actually be suppressing an important part of your being that only strangers can unleash, that only travel into a strange and lonely land can awaken and liberate.

I will always have my trapped bird itches, and I’m guessing you will, too. But I think it’s not because we want to escape from anything or anywhere or anyone, but because we need the feeling of going into something again, of wading into a new ocean, of moving into a glass house and being around people who can see our truest selves residing there. People around whom we can stop acting, stop conforming, stop unconsciously acclimatizing to. People and places that, for a time, provide a space for our wildest selves to journey.

This piece first appeared on Life Before 30 and is reposted here with permission from the author.

California and climate change

The drought is only a preview of what’s to come.

The current drought that has plagued California since late 2011, has been one of the worst the state has ever seen. According to verdicts gathered by the New York Times, scientists believe global warming caused the recent lack of natural water in the Golden State by 15 to 20 percent. Although the drought was inevitable due to natural climate patterns, it’s believed that climate change has amplified it.

Even harder to comprehend is the fact that as the world continues to warm up, future droughts will be much worse than the current one. The probability of droughts that are on the far end of the spectrum has roughly doubled during the past century.

Wildfires are becoming more intense and frequent.

Hotter temperatures plus a widespread drought is an ideal recipe for fast-moving wildfires throughout the state. It has been noted that California temperatures have been rising and are part of a warming trend throughout the country where warmer winters are becoming the norm, not the exception.

In 2016, 140, 000 acres were burnt by wildfires in Southern California alone. This is a staggering reality since it is almost four times the average amount of acreage that is predicted to burn in a five-year period for this region.

Bad air days are now a major problem.

California has strict air quality standards compared to the rest of the country, but much of the state is still plagued by air pollution. The American Lung Association (ALA) has stated in their 2014 State of the Air report, that six of the top seven regions with the highest ozone pollution are located within California. Los Angeles is the worst, followed by much of the Central Valley. With climate change, these conditions are likely to only get worse, since with warmer days comes more smog, and drier weather causes more dust to rise.

The spread of disease is on the rise.

One of the effects of increased dust in the air is that the spread of Valley Fever is gaining momentum. This potentially fatal disease is caused by inhaling microscopic spores of Coccidioides, a soil-dwelling fungus. Around 75 percent of those who are diagnosed with it live within Central California’s San Joaquin Valley.

In general, the number of reported cases in California is increasing, where more than 4,000 cases of Valley Fever were recorded in 2012. Most symptoms appear as flu-like and will get better on their own, but some cases are severe enough to affect other parts of your body like your central nervous system.

The current El Niño weather patterns are causing flooding and erosion.

Last winter, El Niño was predicted to bring record-breaking rains, and help reverse the drought that was plaguing California for years. Unfortunately, the rains were not above average, but the effects of El Niño did bring higher tidewaters that resulted in erosion and flooding. The ocean temperatures also rose due to increased greenhouse gasses, which in turn increased the sea levels, and caused flooding on land.

Scientists predict that in the next 50 years, these direct effects of El Niño will be the new norm during the years that the storm is expected to take place.

Native fish are going extinct.

California once was home to a flourishing fishing industry, but now sadly, non-native species outnumber the native ones. The decline is due largely to the fact that most of the fish are cold water ones — so these species’ are especially struggling because their streams and lakes are getting warmer because of climate change. It is predicted that out of the 121 native species, 82 percent will go extinct in the near future because of climate change.

But there’s hope and new climate change laws are in place.

Governor Jerry Brown has recently created a new campaign to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. Although California had ambitious goals already in place to decrease 1990 levels by 2020, this new plan makes regulation even more effective. This new campaign includes using renewable energy more, placing more electric cars on the road, curbing emissions from main industries, and improving energy efficiency.

That’s a great initiative, but we need to keep going. A good place to start is at the voting booth this November — only vote for the politicians who believe the facts. Climate change is real and only those who are devoted to addressing it should hold a public office.

This fall, London is calling

London in the fall is simply divine. Autumn oranges and reds dominate the city’s many parks, new shows premiere on London’s stages, and the cozy autumn weather is the year’s most pleasurable.

But this fall in particular is the time to be in London. The mega-city is experiencing its biggest cultural expansion in decades, and the excitement is palpable. The new Design Museum highlights London’s role in the international fashion and design movement — plus, it’s a stunning piece of architecture that stands on its own as a design attraction. The Tate Modern recently opened a trippy new wing that beefs up London’s already star-studded skyline. The Science Museum has also added intriguing new exhibit space.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg — let’s not forget all the awesome nightlife and entertainment London enjoys all year long. But you’ll have to watch the above film for a taste of that…or get yourself to London this fall.


London Autumn Season logo
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When people hear you’re from Alaska

1. “Oh, so you’re Eskimo?”

If by “Eskimo” you’re asking if I’m Inupiat, Yupik, Aleut, Eyak, Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian or another group under the “Alaska Native” umbrella then, no. I’m not. Being from Alaska isn’t the default qualification for being “Eskimo.” However, if by “Eskimo” you’re asking if one of the most extreme, awe-inspiring, and incredible places on earth, is where I call home, then fine, I’m Eskimo. Just bear in mind that your question does more to reveal your ignorance about indigenous peoples and respect for their heritage than it does my ethnicity or place of origin.

2. “Oooo…. cold?!”

Captain Obvious strikes again. Too polite to be snarky with an over-eager conversant, we instead go with a more subdued response, “Yes. In winter it can get very cold.” We also start pulling out our Fahrenheit to Celsius converter in anticipation of the question that inevitably comes next, “What’s the coldest it gets in Alaska in winter?” Thanks to the inquiring minds of non-Alaskans, we’ve all become amateur meteorologists and weather historians. For the record, the coldest recorded temperature in Alaska is -80 °F (-62.2 °C) on January 23, 1971 which happened near the Arctic Circle. And no, we don’t go outside when it’s that cold out. We may be crazy but, we’re not stupid.

3. “Is it winter all the time?”

There are two responses to this childlike question of blended innocence and cluelessness. The one we actually give, “No. No, it’s not. Summer is beautiful.” And the one we really wish were a socially acceptable version, “Is it winter all the time? Did you really just ask that? Wow! Did you study anything about geography in school? What do you think? Do you actually believe anyone lives in a place where it is winter 24/7/365?”

4. “You’re the first person from Alaska I’ve ever met!”

“Yes, I know.” Says every Alaskan practically every time. We realize this is a thrilling moment in your life. We, on the other hand, will roll our eyes, chalk up another mark on our ‘X times I’ve heard that’ list, and self-soothe twung nerves by reciting our collective mantra, “To the rest of the world, I am an exotic creature of myth, mystery, and legend. This is not bad. This is good. This is me and this is who I love to be. I am Alaskan. I am who I am.”

5. “What country is that in?”

If there is any Alaska query that makes an Alaskan bristle like a porcupine, it’s this. In 1959 we became the 49th member of the United States of America. Canada and Russia are our next door neighbors. We’re the largest state in the US and are quite happily a full 1/5 the size of the entire United States. We have more coastline than all of the other states put together. Taking things up a notch, our estimated tidal shoreline is well over 45,000 miles. Let that sink in for a moment. It so happens, approximately 90,000 square miles of the state are covered in water. We have 39 mountain ranges, about 80% of all volcanoes in the US and the largest tsunami in recorded history (1720 ft/524m) happened at Lituya Bay, Alaska in 1958. “What country is Alaska in?” Psh! Get with the program, people. You’re killing us.

6. “Do you miss it?”

While the outward response to this question will be a nostalgic smile, happy nod, and wistful “Yes….”, asking this is on par with asking if someone wants their scalding hot coffee served with or without a cup. Duh! Of course we miss it and we miss it bad. Thanks so much for poking a sore spot with a red hot poker and kicking off another brutal round of homesickness. Well played you non-Alaskan person, well played.

7. “Have you ever seen the northern lights?”

In a word, “Yes.” In several words, “We see them all the time. Not every day but often. Yes, they’re amazing. Yes, they’re beautiful. The best times to see them are when it’s cold and clear outside. Go to Fairbanks if you want to see them up close and personal.” Also, we’re so over answering this question. Seriously, over it.

8. “Have you ever seen a penguin?”

“Yes, at zoos. I also saw Happy Feet.” The perpetuation of the penguin problem forces us to moonlight as amateur biologists and wildlife advocates. We not only must know the correct answer but the supporting terminology. “Oh you mean, ‘Have I ever seen a wild penguin in Alaska?’ No, I haven’t. Penguins are not indigenous to Alaska. They are mostly found in the southern hemisphere. The closest living sea bird we have in Alaska is a puffin. To see a penguin in person, head south to the Galapagos, Australia, or Antarctica.”

9. “You let your kids play outside where there are bears?”

Yup. And you would too if your winters were nine months of near interminable snow, cold, and darkness. Can you imagine being confined inside a house for nine months with kids running up and down the stairs? Bears or no bears, every Alaskan parents’ worst nightmare is being locked inside with stir crazy progeny. We don’t just let them play outside, we force them out of the house and are occasionally so brazen as to lock the door behind them. Not only that but, we enjoy every second of the peace and quiet. Besides, them running around the neighborhood is eco-friendly bear deterrent. No bear in the state will stick around for that racket, trust us.

10. “North Pole, Alaska? This has got to be a fake ID! There’s no way it’s real.”

Google it.

11. “What’s the deal with the free money?”

The deal with the ‘free’ money is this: It’s the PFD (Permanent Fund Dividend). You have to be an Alaskan to get it. And by “Alaskan” we mean, living in the state of Alaska as a resident with intent to stay longterm. It’s not actually free. It comes from oil money and investments and it’s one of the many perks of living there.

12. “Aren’t there like, tons of hot guys living there? I read this thing once about the ration of men to women in Alaska…”

This all depends on perspective. Statistically speaking, in the US, Alaska has the highest ratio of men to women. Practically speaking, we have a quote for that, “The odds are good but the goods are odd.” Alaska isn’t a place for the faint of body or mind: it’s rough and harsh. Much of Alaska’s appeal is its untamable ruggedness and the personalities Alaska attracts (male and female) tend to reflect that.

13. “Ooo, I’ve always wanted to take a cruise up there! Is it beautiful?”

Taking an Alaskan ‘cruise’ is for a certain breed. It’s a tourist thing — something for those who want the experience of being in Alaska without actually having to get their hands or vehicles dirty. As for the beauty situation… Only a fool would dare ask. Even on a bad day, it’s impossible for Alaska to be anything but.