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How Travel Has Helped Me To Be…. Me

You ever sit back and evaluate your life? I mean really sit and reflect on how far you’ve come? You remember that one thing that finally pushed you out of your comfort zone and sparked a change of pace for your growth? I can remember feeling like I needed something more out of the life I was living. I was merely existing, too scared to take a leap or give in to whatever crazy idea I had floating around in my head. Too scared of the possible outcomes of acting on something that I genuinely wanted to do. I placed limits on myself where there shouldn’t have been any.

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I went the majority of my life feeling like the person that I truly wanted to be wasn’t realistic. I couldn’t be adventurous with student loans. I couldn’t be inquisitive about exploring other parts of the world when I had a career to plan. I was responsible Latricia, who always made the most informed and logical decisions because I over analyzed everything. And then one day something happened. I stopped giving a f@$k. That one thing that pushed me out of my comfort zone? A plane ticket to Northern California. Travel is my thing. It keeps me sane and happy. Without it, I’m a grump.

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“I guess travel is so important to me because it gave me a voice I didn’t know I had.”

My path has not been easy ( I don’t think I know anyone who has had an easy path, honestly). But being able to travel has made it easier to balance, to center myself. I guess travel is so important to me because it gave me a voice I didn’t know I had. It made me more self aware. It made me less fearful. I gained a whole new outlook on life when I was in one of my darkest places. Meeting new people. Discovering new places. Immersing myself into a culture. Its all helped to shape me into the woman that I currently am. I’ve always been pretty self sufficient, but having to rely solely on myself and my ability to adapt to new things at a rapid pace in a completely foreign country has made me realize that I’m pretty f*$king fierce.

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I’ve learned that I enjoy my time alone more than anything else in this world. I stand firmer in my decisions to do things alone. And I’ve seen the fear of being alone slowly start to dissolve over the years since I ventured off onto my first solo trip. And yet on the contrary, travel has also turned me into somewhat of an extrovert. Me, the girl who would have instant anxiety attacks when walking through crowds of people in the student union on the way to class in college (social anxiety disorder is a bitch).

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Some may say that its not that deep. That life would go on without being able to take trips as freely as I want. And that is true. But man, would it suck (for me at least). Its like not being able to do the one thing that you’re passionate about. Life is all about finding your passions, exploring them and cultivating them. Life without passion is like sleep walking. I honestly am at a point now where I don’t know what I would do if I were not able to travel and explore. My ability to travel always come to mind when considering job offers. It comes into play when I plan out my yearly goals and when completing my personal budget.

“Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.”
– Miriam Beard

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There’s like this secret bond that I develop with every place I visit. For the duration of my trip, the destination knows my fears, my worries, my stressors and anything else that may cause me grief. I begin to get comfortable enough to where none of those things even matter anymore. All that matters is the moment with which I am in. This goes back to what I said earlier about being centered. I don’t have the usual distractions that Im used to at home and this new place requires all of my attention. And when its time to go back home, I take a little bit of each place with me. These little bits serve as reminders. Reminding me that I took a chance on life and chose to actually live it, full force.

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Cuba On My Mind: My Visit to Havana

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There’s always this child-like fascination with “forbidden” things. Why is it bad? Why can’t we go? Some of the questions I found myself asking about Cuba since 5th grade social studies. It’s been drilled into our heads that Cuba was a no- go zone. I used to always wonder why, aside from the politics behind it of course. It usually makes something that much more interesting when you tell people its taboo. Which is why I jumped at the chance of buying a ticket to Havana. I had been preparing for this the last few years or so, ever since it was announced that Obama was considering easing the limitations on visiting. I was ready for yet another adventure.The preparation for such a trip was more work than I had ever done for any other trip (more on that in a later post) but it was totally worth it.

Fresh Off the Plane

We landed in Havana around 2:00 pm on a Thursday. I was anxious and excited. I felt like I was finally granted access into a secret club. The anticipation was so built up, it was spilling over. I had read all the blogs and posts about the customs and immigrations process, so I had somewhat hyped myself up a bit. There was absolutely no need for worry as the entire process was seamless. I handed over all my documentation to the agent and after about 10 minutes, all was well.  The next stop was for currency. What a time suck! We were in line a good hour and some change. Annoying, yes. But I had also read that waiting for extended periods of time was the norm in Cuba, as everything moved at a much slower pace. This was the first instance where my privileged was checked, and rightfully so. I needed this dose of reality to get me prepared for the humbling that was underway.

Havana, the Tainted Beauty

Havana is gritty. I won’t sugar coat it because I feel it would do you a great disservice. Often times, this is either overlooked in a heavily romanticized depiction of what seems to be a unicorn. When the reality is it’s raw. Its unkempt. The fumes from the exhaust of the old classic cars knocks you square in the face. The stench from the trash along the streets can send you into a dizzy spell. But even still, Havana is unique in her abilities to still captivate your attention and hold your imagination hostage, flaws and all. If you allow her to.

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We were based in the neighborhood of Vedado. A few blocks from the Malecon. Quite the hipster neighborhood, by Cuban standards at least. You didn’t have to travel far across the city to appreciate the photogenic gems lying around every corner. And there were so many. So much beauty in what some would deem ugliness. So much scope for imagination.  But we did manage to  travel a considerable amount around the city as much as we could in the time allotted.

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Because wifi is so limited here, you have no choice but to make the most of your time offline. Havana forces you to be in the moment. There was no instant posting overtime I took a picture. I think this is what makes it easy to really experience Havana. And the people! The people make the trip! From our gracious host, to our cab drivers, we were surrounded by nice people. People eager to meet us and talk to us about our lives in America.They didn’t hold back on questions. The most common question?

“How do you feel about Trump? “ My answer to that is another post for another day.

But they were just legitimately curious. My little bit of Spanish made it somewhat easy to have an open dialogue ( and Google Translate, of course). Best of all is that I felt welcomed everywhere we went. Yes, Cuba has its problems. And should you decide to venture there, you will find that not all Cubans are excited that the Americans are coming. But they will politely let you know. But you can expect to be treated with respect anyway. Which is how it should be.

It was a delight to witness everyday interactions amongst the locals. I always take great joy in doing this everywhere I travel. Old men arguing over baseball, women in hair salons gossiping, children playing in the streets. Something about it seemed so peaceful. Perhaps it reminded me of the stories my grandma used to tell, and how I would sit and paint my own visuals. It reminded me of her stories of how things used to be within the black community. The togetherness and sense of real community. Walking off the beaten path into the neighborhoods of Havana made me feel as if I was experiencing the very things my grandmother used to talk about.

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There were also reminders of Fidel Castro everywhere we went as well.

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Once I became accustomed to being on Cuban time, I started to enjoy myself even more. I should also add that Havana is extremely safe. Is there poverty? Yes. But I promise you, you have no reason to be fearful. Always take precautions, of course. But let Havana wow you. You’ll be glad you did.

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I know you’re probably reading this and thinking ” so exactly what all did you have to do to make this trip happen?”. Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered. There’s such a wealth of information to tell you that it would simply make this post too long. I’ll give a detailed break down of all the processes (and paperwork) you will have in order to make the trip to Cuba. So stay tuned!

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I Left My Heart in Cartagena: Day 1

When In Doubt…Face Your Fear

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While everyone else would be eating turkey and sweet potato pie, I would be basking in the relentless humidity and endless aromas of arrepas and fresh mango. I chose to travel solo for my 30th for a specific reason. The last time that I remember my birthday falling on Thanksgiving day was when I was eight. It was also the last Thanksgiving I would spend with my mother. Thats a memory I have cherished throughout the last 22 years of my life. So I wanted 30 to be just as memorable.

Obligatory airport/boarding pass/passport photo.
Obligatory airport/boarding pass/passport photo.

If you’re like the thousands of others who binged watched Narcos (myself included), then you probably had this pre-conceived notion about Colombia. As someone who travels solo quite often, I found myself being nervous for the first time heading into Colombia. Which is odd because I booked the ticket without a second thought. Add to the fact that I was turning 30 and that came with its own insecurities. But it was the weeks leading up to the trip where my nerves started to set in. What was I all of a sudden nervous about?

Perhaps I too let all the bad press Colombia  had received shape my view of what Cartagena might be like. I sort of had buyer’s remorse for a second. Yes, me. The solo traveler down to explore where ever. Then I realized “well, you’ve bought the ticket already… no turning back now!” So I braced myself for impact. I thought of every possible scenario that could happen. I was prepared. What I didn’t prepare for was how much I would end up falling in love with this beautiful place.

A Bold Yet Simple Beauty

From the moment I stepped off the plane, the humidity swaddled me like a blanket. Being from SE Texas, I’m somewhat used to humidity, but Cartagena was definitely beyond my range of expertise. Arriving to my taxi straight off the plane (team carry-on!), we head straight for my hostel in the neighborhood of San Diego. I’m instantly captivated by the hustle and bustle of this quaint Caribbean city. The ocean to my right , with a vengeful line of taxis to my left. My high school Spanish hasn’t failed me miserably in the past, so I attempt to make small talk with the driver. He is not here for it. He is only there to do his job. Or maybe he’s just annoyed with traffic. Can’t knock that. A sea of horns are blowing around me as I assume we are caught in a lunch time rush. I also observe that there are no speed limits or yield signs in what looks to be a free for all type of traffic system.

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One of the many colorful streets of Cartagena

Fifteen minutes in and we reach the Walled City. Its stunning. The colorful buildings and walls are the first thing that jump out at me. The streets are busy and filled with people; mothers and daughters, street vendors, tourists. They all seem so relaxed with no immediate rush. I also see neighbors hanging out on the end of streets socializing . Every person I lock eyes with engages me with a smile. It was at that moment that I knew I was on to something good.

I receive the warmest welcome upon check-in at my hostel. I opted for a boutique hostel this go round because it was my birthday and not just any birthday. This was 30. I would need the peace of a private room after all the exploring I had planned to do.  The hostel was situated on a busy corner, so of course I could hear all the horns and cat calls throughout the day. But strangely, I didn’t mind that at all. Mainly because I was hardly ever in the room. I stayed long enough to wash the airport germs off of me and then I was off.

My quaint little room
My quaint little room
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View from my balcony

One Vibrant Soul

I couldn’t help but to realize how relaxed I had become upon arrival into the Walled City. All of those anxieties and fears I felt before instantly seemed to vanish. I wanted to take this place in and explore every crack and crevice that I could within my allotted time. San Diego, in all its vibrant colors and picturesque doors, was truly a sight to see. I walked down each narrow roadway in awe of the level of detail put into the color and architecture of each structure. And I wasn’t the only one. A few tourists like myself lined the sidewalks to capture the perfect photo of a myriad of doors with plentiful flowers hanging over them. This place was a photographer’s paradise! And me and my amateur self was happy to partake.

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People watching was also a joy. Watching how others interact with each other in another country is truly interesting to see. This city was definitely made for lovers. Love was all around. Young love holding hands, old love sharing an ice cream, a mother’s love making sure her kids stayed on the sidewalk and out of the street. Every corner I turned, I felt it. And it made me so happy that I was here, in this city, to experience it. And of course there were the street vendors. I can’t even knock their hustle. How they maintained to smile after tons of rejections in 85 degree weather with 100 percent humidity is beyond me.

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I settle on this Cuban restaurant with a 40’s theme. Get this, there’s a pool in the middle of the joint…Even better! Me and my mojito were happy to oblige. The vibe is relaxed, and its just what I needed after nearly a day of traveling (more on that in another post). Then I hear Terror Squad’s “Lean Back” followed by what appears to be rapping in Spanish. Its a young native shooting his shot with tourists nearby. They’re recording him with their cell phones. I think to myself “By any means necessary, huh?”. I chuckle at his direct and abrupt demeanor, yet I respect it at the same time. Who knows, he might be one YouTube view away from stardom.

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Cuba 1940’s

Did I mention the people here are so kind and generous? As I stated, my Spanish is not the best. But I found that if you were willing to try, the people were more than willing to help by correcting you in a forgiving way. I can’t tell you how many times I ran into American and British tourists who never even attempted. That annoys me just a smidgen, but thats also another post for another day.

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I leave the restaurant to do some more exploring. More picture taking. Then it hit me that I was officially in the 30 club. Man, oh man! I’ve already mentally prepared myself for the plunge in my metabolism. But all is still well. And all I could think about was how much I NEEDED to sleep. I had only been up a solid 24 hours. I got another quick bite and headed back to my hostel. Upon finding out that its my birthday, one of the hosts offered me a glass of wine and asked me to join him in an evening chat. I know I needed sleep but HOW could I say no to such a friendly gesture? We sat talking about random stuff. Laughs and lots of “no ways!”. Truly a treat. Another warm welcome and friendly face that made me not want to leave this place.  Not the scheming and crooked experience I had somehow talked myself into expecting. The patio area we were sitting in was open air so I could see the stars in the sky. It was the perfect ending to a long but awesome birthday. Cartagena’s plans to steal my heart were in full force. The more I relaxed, the easier it was for her to do so.

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My Summer of wanderLUST: Emerald Coast, Florida

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Aaaaaaah, the Sunshine State! Embarking on yet another road trip, this time I decided to get away for some Vitamin Sea. The last time I saw blue water was February in Tulum, so I was overdue for a a beach day.  I’ve been to Miami before and honestly, I wouldn’t be pressed if I never went there again. It just wasn’t my speed (no offense Miami goers).  So we set out for the Emerald Coast. Absolutely beautiful beaches that almost rival some of the most pristine Caribbean treasures.

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Typically, the trip is supposed to be about 7 hours, but thanks to Louisiana and its ongoing traffic, a 7 hour trip turned into 9 hours.  Anyone who makes the trek on I-10 from Texas going east will tell you that Louisiana is no picnic. The itinerary consisted of a stay in Pensacola and exploring the areas around town, plus an inevitable trip to Pensacola Beach. I have to say, people really do sleep on the beauty of Pensacola Beach. The sand was soft and fluffy and the water was  one of the calmest greenish- blues.

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You definitely want to get to the beach early though. We arrived around 8 am and there were a few families. By noon, it was completely crowded. We still had a blast anyway. I was tanned for the Gawds by the end of the day! I just couldn’t get over the beauty of the beaches, and it was only a 7 hour drive away. Talk about economical! This beach getaway was under $250 for me.  I split the lodging and fuel cost with a friend. And what vacation would be complete without trying the local cuisine?

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Grouper, Hush Puppies and Cheese Grits at Captain Joey’s, Pensacola, FL

As a native Texan, fried Catfish is usually the fish of choice. But apparently, Grouper is a “thing” in Florida. Undeniably fresh, this was hands down the freshest Grouper I’ve ever had!

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Shrimp and Bacon Macaroni and Cheese, Flounder’s Pensacola Beach, FL

My all time favorite dish from the entire trip was definitely at Flounder’s. This mac n’ cheese ushered me straight on to glory! Baked to perfection and oozing gooey, cheesy gloriousness! I had dreams about this stuff, seriously.

At some point, we wanted to see what else was out there, you know, check out some other beaches. So we made the drive to Destin. I can’t comment enough on how beautiful Destin’s beaches are.

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Destin Beach, FL

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Roman and I. Photo courtesy of my friend, @justassilem on IG
Roman and I. Photo courtesy of my friend, @justassilem on IG

No two beaches are alike, however. While both beaches were nice, the vibes were completely different. Both beaches were family friendly, but Destin definitely felt more high end.  Either way, I will definitely be back! And of course, road trips wouldn’t be any fun without random photoshoots in the middle of no where.

Loo-zy Anna pit stop.
Loo-zy Anna pit stop.

Did you guys do any road trips this summer? I’d love to hear about them!

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My Summer of wanderLUST: New Orleans

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I was determined to have a jam packed summer, full of road trips and lots of sun. I made it happen, and it was glorious. First up on the list was New Orleans. Because you can’t ever go wrong with NOLA. I spent a great deal away from Bourbon Street. I know thats usually the go to spot for out of towners, but seriously, there are SO many unique and cool things about New Orleans outside of Bourbon Street. However, making at least one appearance for a hand grenade is ok.

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Somewhere on Bourbon.

This trip, I visited Frenchman Street as well as the Garden District. I was blown away. In all my years of visiting this wonderful city, I never witnessed the beauty of these places.  The Frenchman Street Art Market was definitely on my list. So many cool things to see and buy from the local artists.

Out and about. Frenchman St Art Market
Out and about. Frenchman St Art Market

 

The Presbytere, New Orleans
The Presbytere Museum, Mardi Gras Exhibit

 

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At the entrance of The Presbytere

 

Audubon Park
Audubon Park

 

Just wandering through the park.
Just wandering through the park.

I know you’re wondering about it. And yes, the food was delicious! But I mean, its New Orleans, what did you expect?

Gumbo from Stanley in the French Quarter
Gumbo from Stanley in the French Quarter

 

A triple treat! Jambalaya, Crawfish Etouffe, Red Beans and Rice
A triple treat! Jambalaya, Crawfish Etouffe, Red Beans and Rice

One of the best things about driving through Louisiana on the way to New Orleans are the pit stops in between. Cracklins are a must!

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My mom’s side of the family resides in the Greater New Orleans area, so naturally, I spent a lot of time there growing up. But somehow, this trip was different. This trip stirred up a fire in me that I thought had died out. Life gets hard sometimes and trying to maintain your sense of imagination and creative spirit can be taxing on the mind in the midst of it all. This trip, I did a lot of self reflection. The long walk through beautiful Audubon Park leading up to the riverfront was freeing in its own right. As some of you may know, my mom died when I was eight. I couldn’t help but take in all the beauty around me while thinking “Man, my mom grew up here? In such a cool place?”. I feel like I was supposed to experience this New Orleans. I don’t really know much about her, but I feel like my sense of adventure comes from her. And in a way, I feel like I connected and shared this moment with her spiritually. This was the start of something good.

I’m Back!!

So much life has happened. Trips have been taken. Memories and new friends have been made as well as life decisions. I’ve had a lot of time to think, which can have its advantages and disadvantages. But most of all, I’ve gotten one step closer to figuring my life out, which I’m pretty sure I probably have a few more steps to go. I used to feel like getting closer to 30 meant that everything should start falling into place. But that’s the furthest from the truth. The over achieving, overly analytical thinker in me just will not let my mind rest until I’ve figured out a solution for a pressing problem. And the wear and tear is showing. So, at 1:31 am on a Friday night (well Saturday, Happy 4th!), I’m writing. I write to cope with overthinking. Maybe in the midst I’ll start to figure out those steps I mentioned earlier.

I know part of my purpose is to create. Exactly what I’m supposed to create, I haven’t quite figured out yet. And I’m starting to realize that that’s okay. Its so funny, on a recent road trip, I had my fortune told. The first thing she said to me was “You’re impatient and quite indecisive”. I had to chuckle, because she nailed it. My mind gets so frazzled trying to figure things out all the time that it often stresses me out. I just want to be perfect, really.  But don’t we all?

And at the center of all the chaos, I find my balance in travel. I find my inspiration to create from sharing my experiences. One thing I do know is that I’m a great story teller. I’ve always had a huge scope for imagination. Traveling allows me to let my imagination run free. So with that being said, I’ve got a few trips up my sleeve. And I plan to keep you posted on all the juicy details.

 

 

Exploring Your Backyard: Embracing Domestic Travel

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Calistoga, CA

I’ve often heard the many reasons why friends and family opt out of international travel. Costs are always a common factor, followed by time off from work and other obligations. In an earlier post, I mentioned how people don’t consider domestic travel as an option when making vacation plans. There are so many marvels waiting to be discovered with domestic travel! To date, I’ve been out of the country twice ( but that is soon to change!).  However, I’ve visited 16 states since I’ve been traveling. Its amazing the varying levels of cultural differences and experiences you can find in your own backyard. It begs the question, ” why do people write off domestic travel as if its not really traveling?”.

Driving through Arizona
Driving through Arizona

There’s this underlying perception of domestic travel as not really counting as travel.  Its almost as if people feel that international travel is real travel because you are paying that much more for a valid travel experience. Which is the furthest from the truth. I say this because, yes, while domestic travel can be cheaper than international travel at times, it can also cost just as much depending on where you go. A trip to Miami/Ft. Lauderdale cost around the same amount as my trip to Tulum. Costs aside, the experiences can be just as rich, no matter where you decide to explore. The varying cultures and ethnicities alone in Miami are enough to make it feel like you’re outside of the U.S. I got a kick out of just sitting on the beach people watching.

Beach walking in Ft. Lauderdale
Beach walking in Ft. Lauderdale

Some of my main reasons for embracing domestic travel include:

a) Quick weekend getaways- Turn that 3 day weekend into a fun filled, action packed exploration!

b) Inexpensive lodging and airfare (depending on where you go and the season).

c) No hassle with sifting through international customs and cultural differences (think language barriers and currency exchanges).

d) Unique landscapes across the country to explore- From mountains to beaches, skyscrapers to cozy main streets, we have it all!

French Quarters, New Orleans
French Quarters, New Orleans (photo credit to my bff Essence!)

There are so many “off-the-beaten path” type of destinations the U.S. has to offer, its almost overwhelming the amount of options. And the cool thing is, there is something to fit everyone’s personal interests. When people think of Texas, they usually think of flat lands with roaming herds of cows and cowboys. A lot of people are shocked to learn the multitude of terrains one may encounter within the entire state. There’s mountains to the west, plains and rolling hills to the north, miles of beaches along the southeastern coast to the south, and stunning hill country views and watering holes in the middle.  When I start planning for trips, I try to incorporate as many domestic trips as I can, because I want to learn and see my own backyard just as  much as I do international destinations.

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If you’re reading this and are one of the people I’m referring to, stop placing limits on yourself! Get out there and explore, even if it is your own backyard.

Random Ramblings: Spring Fling in the City

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As someone who considers themselves a country mouse, I admit that being in close proximity to the city is pretty convenient (without traffic, of course). I would definitely say that I’m more of an outskirts dweller. City life just ain’t for me.

But, then there’s those times where you enjoy venturing off into the big city and exploring. The adventurer in me likes that aspect. There are so many places to explore, depending on your interests. I’ve been in the Houston area for about a year now and last year was officially my first time ever going to the Houston Livestock and Rodeo Show. It’s kind of a big deal.

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This time of year is especially my favorite. Its the time of Spring festivals and crawfish boils (not just a Louisiana thing, mind you). The weather tends to cooperate more as well making for a nice day out on the town.

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So come on Spring, let’s get crackin’!