What makes a home? Is it the place where you grow up? The home you live in now? Is it the city you went to college and subsequently discovered yourself? Perhaps you consider a certain person or people in your life you’re home. Maybe you’re lucky enough to consider everywhere a home, and you’re able to move about from place to place, feeling confident and happy as you are..
We’ll be in Edinburgh for three months. 13 weeks, 91 days, 2190 hours or 131400 minutes, depending on your fancy. That seems like a lot of time to be in once place when you’re ‘touring’ Europe. I don’t think the word touring really captures what this trip is all about for us, at least not the whole thing. Sure there will be times where we are moving from one place to the next every couple of days, but we are also staying in places for weeks (or months) at a time. I think this trip is more about being able to see different parts of the world, seeing how people live and discovering what really makes a home for the both of us.
I’m pretty excited to dive in to Edinburgh again, this time with Ryan. Part of my heart never left after I studied abroad here, and I’m hoping that he will fall in love with it as much as I did. I carry a little bit of Scotland with me wherever I go, and it will be nice if we can both bring it with us, bringing it to wherever home is at the moment.
There is a lot of tragedy and sadness in our world. I would be remiss to write a post about our time in Orlando, however brief, without taking a small moment to pause and reflect on what occurred there just days after we left. I don’t feel like I really have the words to write anything that could be more poignant and eloquent than what I’ve already read; the stories and posts on the news, Facebook and other social media are much better equipped to comment on everything that happened. I just want to acknowledge the shooting and urge anyone who stumbles upon this post to hug their loved ones and reach out to anyone in pain.
Our visit to the Orlando area was full of family, love and a lot of laughter. I want to share this, because there can never be too much of any of these things in the world.
If you had told me that one day I’d willingly step foot into a cemetery, I wouldn’t believe you. If you told me that I’d get rained out of the first visit and go back a second time, I would laugh in your face. If you told me it would be my favorite part of a trip to New Orleans, I’d probably just walk away in disbelief.
Let me explain myself a little bit. Growing up, I had a love-hate relationship with the idea of going to my grandparent’s house. I loved going there, since my Nan was such a good baker and my Pap was a superhero and their house was full of interesting treasures to explore. They had the creepiest basement, but if it was daytime you best believe I’d go down and see what I could find. But I hated it because across the alley from their house was a cemetery. Not just any cemetery, but the creepiest cemetery you could imagine (at least it felt that way to child-Susan). My Pap would tell us the best ghost stories that would scare me senseless, making it almost impossible to fall asleep at night.
I learned to hold my breath when passing a cemetery for fear that one of the deceased would steal my life. I never strayed from my parents side when we attended funerals because I was terrified of stepping on someone’s grave. Upon researching New Orleans and Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, I realized I recognized it from various movies and television shows. As I read more and more about it, I came to the conclusion that it was a place we needed to go. What was coming over me?
Since we’ve been back in Pennsylvania, I’ve dived right back into planning for Europe. We leave for Scotland in exactly two weeks, and I’m feeling a little overwhelmed, but mostly excited. We have our flight to Scotland booked, our three-month lodging ready to go, and I just booked our tickets out to Croatia in September. We have a few big ideas in the planning phase. But I still wake up some mornings fearing that I’m not doing enough and I need to do more.
What do you do to plan your travels? Are you a spontaneous traveller who goes where the wind blows? Can you just show up to a destination and find things to do? Are you able to have the best time without wasting too much time thinking about it? When we went to Ireland years and years ago, we tried to do just that. We decided where we wanted to go, but didn’t decide what we wanted to do while we were there. We ended up walking around aimlessly day one, crying and arguing through day two and finally planning the rest of the trip on day three.
Do you meticulously plan every day of your trip? Do you make your A and B lists, assess costs, make game plans? This trip across country that’s what I did. I researched for days all of the places we were stopping, creating lists of all the things that sounded fun. We took these giant lists and turned them into smaller, more manageable lists (or rather, our A list). It ended up working really well, but we still missed out on some things. I think when in the planning process I reached a point where I threw up my hands and stopped, so we missed out on things like Ghiradelli in San Francisco and Chapel of the Holy Cross in Sedona.
I’m trying to find a good balance between the two for this upcoming trip. I know if I try to plan every little detail I’ll go insane. If I don’t plan anything, I’ll feel like I’ve wasted some serious time, both before the trip and during the trip. I’m trying to do it in stages, but sometimes I find myself thinking about the end of the trip instead of what’s coming up immediately.
How do you go about planning? Do you have any tips or tricks? How do you ensure your sanity and a great trip? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Do you have an image that comes to mind when you think of New Orleans? I think of po’boys and gumbo, Mardi Gras and liquor. Brass bands flit across my imagination, as well as the pictures I remember seeing in the news after Hurricane Katrina. I had a vague idea of what to expect, but I also knew that in reality I knew nothing about the heart and spirit of New Orleans.
This was probably the first place where we really played tourist. In San Francisco, we were there during the week and spent a lot of time in coffee shops working. We were trying to blend in, which I think we did pretty successfully. In Mesa and Houston we were with friends who were locals so we got a free pass. But in New Orleans, we were by ourselves with three days to fill. We ended up taking a few tours while in town and spending the rest of the time walking around, being sure to take food breaks every few hours. This post will be heavy on the “we did this, then we did that”, I hope you don’t mind!
Some of the most relaxing moments on this trip have happened when we’ve stayed with friends. We have college friends in both Mesa and Houston and both cities made really great stopping points along the way. We were able to sit back and recharge our batteries and get some work done.
While we were in Houston, our friend offered to go with us to Austin. In our planning phase I had wanted to stop there, but I had to cut out some locations when our trip turned into a six week journey. So when the opportunity arose to spend the afternoon in Austin, we jumped on it! There are so many cool things to see and do in the city. With limited time, we chose to focus our attention on art, going to a sculpture garden and walking around town to find murals. I would LOVE to hear about any other suggestions for things to do in the city.
It’s 5AM. You’ve lost count of how many hours you’ve been on the road, you just know you left Mesa last night. After changing time zones somewhere east of El Paso everything got blurry. There are two different energy drinks running through your system, making you both tired yet strangely awake at the same time. There are very few cars on the road in west Texas at this time, just you and the few trucks that are also coming off an overnight trip.
You know you won’t make it to your destination until 4PM today. You can’t even comprehend how many hours left to go, you just know you have to keep going. San Antonio or bust.
We made it to Florida! We are officially on the home stretch of this trip, both in time and mileage. We’ll be back in Pennsylvania by next week! This week will be spent with family outside of Orlando, hanging out, relaxing and taking a trip to Universal Studios to see The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
But this isn’t about Florida. Today is about the Grand Canyon.
Before entering Death Valley National Park itself the landscape changes. Coming from Yosemite, we were lucky enough to drive through the Sierra Nevada Mountains with high, snow-capped mountain peaks and plenty of green vegetation. But that slowly gives way to multiple shades of browns and tans, drier air and cacti. There is just heat. But it’s beautiful.
Coming around a bend in the road you can see a valley in the distance. If you look closely enough, you can make out a road that stretches all the way across and into the next mountain range. Don’t get excited – this isn’t Death Valley, but rather Panamint Valley. There’s no sign of human life here, just blowing dust and another road that seems to head nowhere. You have to follow 190 even further over some mountains to reach Death Valley.
Have you ever stepped foot in a new place and realized, almost instantly, that you absolutely loved it there? That’s what happened to me in San Francisco this past week. We had spent the day driving through the Redwoods and I was exhausted, dead on my feet. But when we drove over the Golden Gate Bridge, I instantly woke up. It was like a shot of adrenaline!