Category Archives: World Travel Smarts

Traveling is not all rainbows and puppy dogs, it takes preparation and knowledge. Then the fun is so much more stress free!

Travel Playlist

I often get my music taste from people whom I surround myself with. My cousin Patrick formed my early love of Reggae and “hippie” music, then my high school friends were all into classic rock and piano men like Ben Folds, Rufus Wainwright, and Billy Joel. My mother raised me on U2, James Taylor, and Carole King. So I am big on classics. I respect music. There are a lot of people out there who know a heck of a lot more than I do about it and who are like my cousin and willing to spend thousands on concerts in one summer. I love concerts, but if I have to choose-I really like slipping my headphones on and walking around downtown Chicago or through the Art Institute of Chicago with my favorite bands instead. I had this friend out in San Diego who I wanted to spend time with before I left for my big RTW trip. She is a big music buff. All about jam bands and indie artists. I do not own a car, therefore I do not listen to the radio and so she was the one to introduce me to One Republic’s song “Good Life.” I’ve heard that the radio has over played this to no end, but in case you have not heard it…I suggest it. It is an altogether feel good song. Lucky for me, she introduced it to me right before this amazing adventure I was about to journey through all by my lonesome.

In this song, they paint these beautiful places all over the world starting with: London. Ah London! It is actually a really great song not just in general but for traveling too. The whistling in the background, along with this beat that makes you just jittery down through your knees and toes, until finally you do get up, and you begin to move or just start walking because you HAVE  to. You just need out. You need to go. The anxiety has built and built and it is time. All the worries just completely melt away with this song. How frustrated I am at work or my career. The questions that are constantly cycling through my brain of: “Where am I going?” “What am I doing with myself?” “When can I travel next?” I listen to Ryan Tedder reminding me that:

“Please tell me what there is to complain about. When youre happy like a fool let it take you over. When everything is off you gotta take it in”

DSC_1618Every shitty thing happening right now, it really does not matter in the end. This song in fact forces me to feel the way I do when I am on my own traveling somewhere in this vast world of ours. This confidence that is indestructible. I am indestructible.  The world is here for me. Asking me to please soak up every place, every piece of history, every social phenomenon or catastrophe. It is so important for me to obtain every single molecule of information my brain can hold. One evening my British friend Martin was talking with me and another friend of his over a beer in Sydney right after we met sometime. As we were talking mostly the basics (where you from, where you been, where you want to go), he suddenly asks me to give him some music of mine. Now like I had said before, I am not too bold or confident in my personal music library. I suggested a couple things to him, but poked back asking why he requested that. He looked me right in the eye (which is a quality I am overly fond of in people) and presented this idea to me of picking up different music from places that you travel to. Sooner or later you have formed this nice diverse playlist that becomes your sound track for the trip. So now when you are not on a journey somewhere, and stuck in dreary old Cambridge England (like he says-not me), you can listen to these songs and your mind is automatically brought back to a certain place or places. Your senses are triggered and you feel the same when you did then. Like when we were sitting there drinking the beer in that hot Sydney hostel bar. To this day, every time I hear the song “Good Life,” my senses awaken and are brought out of their deep slumber in the world of the past, and I am brought back to how I felt riding trains through Australia, or sitting on the beach, visiting mosques in Malaysia or having a beer with Martin. And every time…it makes me smile. Martin is writing a book right now, and I hope this small story has enlightened you to how brilliant this fellow is. His book is about travelers and backpackers and is called “More Than Footprints,” which explores the idea of what us travelers really take or really leave behind, like a footprint.  Check him out:

I need these little reminders of the person I am while I am limitless in the world. I know you are sitting there thinking, “Shannon, why do you feel you are limited? You don’t have to be if you chose not to” But my friendly reader (if you are out there)…I am limited. We all are. We are limited by bus schedules and by costs of a coffee. We are limited by our supervisors and paychecks. We are limited by our governments and by the visas that are necessary to leave or enter a place. Once I have entered onto a plane, I feel my entire body just sink. My shoulders are finally relaxed. On that plane, no one can tell me what I do and do not have to do (unless it is for safety purposes). On that plane, I can choose to drink a cocktail or perhaps take a nap. I am not scheduled to be anywhere. I am on my own time and going somewhere that I want to go to. I have the unknown ahead of me instead of the monotony of everyday life. Everything will be new and never done before. I cannot prevent what is to happen and I do not have to worry about the result of it, because I cannot change it. Liberation!

Hmmm…..76 days until Japan.




Hostel Phobia

About seven months ago, Wayne had woken up one morning and was a little bit troubled with me. He immediately explained that he had had a dream that seemed so real that he couldn’t help but be mad at me for what “dream me” had done. Of course I burst out laughing at the ridiculousness of this idea. Wayne smiled and continued to describe his dream which had taken place at a hostel. Now, he has never been to a hostel and claims that he never will. This dream also occurred after we had watched Hostel 2 or 3 or 8 or whichever it was, so you know if has to be good. I won’t go details about the whole dream because it is unnecessary but the gist is that I left him. Physically and emotionally. I deserted him for all the other people who were staying with us in the same room of our hostel and became a raging witch. Hostels offer up this idea to people of being untrustworthy and deceitful. Wayne’s discomfort and concerns about hostels does not purely come from watching stupid gore movies that are just for the “gasp value.” His concern is completely valid about the security and safety of staying in one room with about five or more other strangers. A lot could happen. Once, Elise and I stayed in a room with seven bunk beds smooched up right next to one another to allow fourteen people to stay in a room that truly should have just had 4 bunk beds in it. This was Paris. But there are ways to stay safe and sleep well and have a really awesome time at a hostel and to push away that initial discomfort.

First. Not all hostels have a million bunk beds in them. Some hostels have the option to stay in a one or two bed room. If you truly are uncomfortable and will not be getting a good nights sleep if you are with others in the same room, by all means, pay the extra. But sometimes it is worth it to stay in the room with a couple other people like you.  On January 26th of 2011, I arrived off a twelve hour flight into Sydney Australia. I took a shuttle straight to my hostel and was in the lobby signing in. As I was looking at the collage of the pamphlets and brochures that hostels offer the weary traveler, this really cute brunette girl from New York by the name of Shira, strolls right up to me. She is in my same room.  We start talking about where we are from and how long we are there and next thing I know she is inviting me to go with a few other friends that she had also met at the hostel,  to go with them to Manly Beach. It was completely not my plan for the day and it was screwing up my entire itinerary, but if there’s one thing I have learned through traveling in hostels it is to try and say yes to as many opportunities as you can. And it was the best first day in Australia I could have possibly asked for.

Hostels are amazing to meet people or find places to go or share stories and travels and advice. There is a comradery that comes with hostels. We are all traveling from other countries. We are all putting the same trust in one another to not steal or be dishonest. I know that this is all about sinking your every bit of trust into the goodness of mankind, but you know what? Some of us need to do that every once in a while. Besides, what do you have in that suitcase of yours that is so damn valuable? Why so much distrust now? You should be clenching the bag around your neck with your money and passport but other than that, why be so protective? Do you have a diamond stashed away in your suitcase? A valued painting? Or maybe some really stinky socks and old underwear? Yeah that’s what I thought. Relax just a little. You’re traveling the world. When I was in Paris falling asleep in the bunk bed that was squished right up  to the next one (ok and I am not exaggerating  in the slightest but right next to me was a large Italian man who slept in a bright speedo looking thing…I just had to laugh there was nothing else I could do) I was gripping my camera in my arms. I always sleep with my camera and my passport holder around my neck or arms. But I was fine. I wouldn’t have had it any other way, because this particular hostel was my single best hostel experience I may ever have.

Elise and I had arrived into Paris fairly late and our hostel was located all the way in Montmartre, which when you are in the center of Paris late at night off the bus and do not speak French, Montmartre seems quite far away. Anyway, we check into our hostel and we cross through this courtyard full of people. We put our stuff down and go back to the courtyard to possibly talk to some people before going to sleep. They end up being a group of Barcelonians, a few Serbians, a Canadian, and an American. They are drinking bottles of wine out of the bottle and when we start to talk to them, they each throw us our own bottle. Suddenly a guitar has appeared out of the darkness and we are all singing the famous American song “Stand By Me.” No one speaks Serbian and a couple of us speak Spanish and almost no one speaks perfect English and yet they have become instant friends. The night rode on and so were through about twelve bottles of wine.  It was now that we become aware that it is one o’clock in the morning and Elise and I begin to say goodnight because it seems as if everyone is winding down until the next day festivities. We are mistaken. So mistaken. We have come to find out that this is just the beginning of the night (Of course for the Barcelona crowd) and the next stop is an Irish pub down the street from the Moulin Rouge. We are each thrown another bottle of wine from this mysterious infinite wine bottle box. We drank wine through the streets of Paris, this crowd of us, and I learned how creepy the phrase “Bon sua” can be. We danced and laughed and drank wine until nearly four. And we still got up the next morning to explore the beauty of Paris. Elise and I still talk about this night to this day.


Friend Memory

I was never the best in school. Even when I was little. The only thing I remember being really great at was spelling. A+ every test. My mother was amazed. She would never believe me when I would tell her that I had already studied the words within…maybe…two minutes. I just have one of those memories that things stick in. This was probably why I enjoyed being an actor so much. Lines and blocking (where I was supposed to go on the stage at certain points) were no sweat. I just lost that main spark of “becoming the character” onstage. I lost my ability to “pretend” more or less. I think I have been tainted by so much reality and so much real life in different cultures that it has become quite difficult for me to allow myself to be overcome by a character. I love acting. I love theatre. But I cannot seem to get past that one step into diving into a character…this other person. I haven’t acted in about three years now. Strange.

Now that I am thinking about it, my memory is probably my greatest obstacle when it comes to this Wanderlust disease. I find that I am restless when I have all these memories flooding my head. They just come out of nowhere, without any type of warning. I mean literally, I am walking down the street and bam! I am in Munich. Or I am taking a shower and bam! I am suddenly in Lourdes. My mind just takes off. And it’s not like I am condoning this behavior. No. I am just minding my own business and suddenly there it is. Like a cruel joke. Taunting me and teasing. Saying, “Remember this? Remember how exciting this was? Or remember how beautiful that is? Wouldn’t you rather be here right now rather than at work?” OF COURSE I WOULD! Who in their right mind would say “You know what? I would rather be at my work right now rather than the lily pad garden of Monet’s in Giverny.” Um.  No one. My memories are so vivid. I know exactly how something smelled, tasted, felt….It’s my greatest enemy and at the same time my greatest friend.

Here.  I’ll explain my confusion a little better. The other day I was at work. Currently, I am a server at an Irish Pub in Chicago. (Yes the owner is from Ireland and yes he hires a lot of Irish employees and no we do not serve corned beef) It’s not that I hate being a server. It’s really not that big of a deal, because sometimes you meet some extraordinarily great people that you normally would not have. Once you know what you are doing, it’s somewhat gratifying because you are able to have tiny accomplishments throughout your day. But on this particular day I was not having any of those moments and I was not meeting any of those people. In fact, I could feel the tears behind my eyes all day. I was in one of those states where  I felt like I was hit by one of the cars passing by and had to pretend that everything was fine, because who wants to be served by a person that distraught. So here I am, standing in the corner and putting in someone’s order into the system and BAM! My dear friend, my memory, comes out of the darkness. “Please don’t cry. Things will get better. Remember this and how happy you were?” she says. And while I am standing there in my disgusting tie and apron, I am suddenly surrounded by warm air and the smell of flowers everywhere. Fresh cut warm grass is poking at my toes over my flip-flops, the sun is enveloping every piece of me, and an echoing song that could make you cry for no apparent reason is playing. It is in Italian and from the opera “Carmen.”

While I was in Sydney on my “Around the World trip of 2011,” I met an incredibly smart and sweet guy from Britain. Martin. We were nearly immediate friends (mostly because he had Cadbury chocolate when I met him, which is chocolate from heaven itself) and decided to spend the rest of our time in Sydney checking out the sights and beaches together since we were both traveling alone. On this particular day we were strolling through the Sydney botanical garden, which takes up nearly a third of Sydney. This garden is stupidly beautiful. They have these magnificent trees that seem to rise so high that they tickle the clouds, and then some delicate droopy ones that fly in the wind like a great bird, there are thousands of different types of birds all around you, bats are carelessly swooping through the air, and millions and millions of colors on all the breath-taking flowers. It is the type of place out of a fairy tale, and you have to keep reminding yourself that this is real and exists in our world. While we are taking in all of this and having an in depth conversation (probably something about rule of the monarchy versus the confused American government or what people of India go through in their daily life), we suddenly get this whisper of opera coming through the wind. Martin looks at me with his big grin and insists that we have to find it. I am not joking when I say that the garden is nearly a third of Sydney. This thing is massive. Oh! And it is also somewhat of a maze. The paths are all winding so that people can enjoy all the different flowers and sights by just walking down the path. So here we are searching down this mysterious music, jumping off the path, running up to garden walls, and then hitting a highway that needs to be crossed. We are like hound dogs sniffing down our hunt until finally we’ve caught it. We cross in front of the Sydney Art Museum and there is a huge field that is opening up in front of us and at the end is a stage. There is a full orchestra, full cast of “Carmen,” and about 3 people sitting on the grass listening. It was the rehearsal for that night’s performance in the park from the Sydney opera house. This. Is. Fantastic. Music is fluttering through the air so that you could almost taste it. We find our nice little patch of grass and take a seat. I felt like they were playing just for us. It was unbelievable. Martin had a friend in town that day and texted him to pick up some beautiful Australian wine. His friend ended up bringing three bottles of wine for each of us. And there we sat. Under the Australian sun, under the sweet operatic notes, surrounded by pure natural beauty of the botanical gardens. We sat there without anything else going through our minds except for how happy this was. How innocently wonderful and perfect this moment was. I looked up at the skyscraper hugging the entirety of the park. It reminded me of Chicago, but at the same time was completely different. I was content and it was flawless.

Of course now that the memory is over, I am calmer and happier, but also aching for more and then that aching turns into restlessness and wishing to go back or to another Australian city I haven’t been to. To have another perfect moment. You see? My greatest enemy and my greatest friend….

In the Botanical Gardens. Isnt it beautiful??