Napa Outfit: H&M Striped Skirt and Zara Leather Crop Top

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Two weeks before our around-the-world trip ended, Mr. Wonderful asked, “Besides friends and family, what are you most looking forward to about being home?”

I thought of sushi, ramen, and Whole Foods. I thought of my bed. All things I love.

“My closet,” I replied, with a smile. After living out of a suitcase for 6+ months, I looked forward to creating outfits again. There’s only so much you can do with a pair of hiking pants, two pairs of jeans, two sweaters, and a handful of tops.

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Transitioning Back to “The Real World”

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Just a few months ago I was sitting on this ledge in Bagan, Myanmar, catching my breath after scrambling up the steep steps of Buledi temple. I remember thinking how my round-the-world trip with Mr. Wonderful had just begun. There was so much to see. The days and months seemed to stretch out before us.

All too quickly we’re back to what people call “The Real World.”

I hate that phrase. As if traveling for six-plus months was some irresponsible fantasy, and all we did was drink piña coladas on the beach. As if the world we saw doesn’t carry any permanent significance. There were family and friends who thought we were making a grand mistake we would never be able to recover from.

During our trip we met a fellow traveler who shared his story. He told us how he had recently been offered a promotion that potentially could have made him a very wealthy man. He thought he wanted it. After all, he liked his job and his boss. But he ended up not only turning down the promotion, but quitting his job and preparing for a trip around the world.

It didn’t make sense. Make your millions and THEN travel. Right?

It was simple, he said. He wanted to learn more about himself, to find out what really got him excited in life. He figured that traveling for a year, visiting foreign countries, and meeting people from different backgrounds would help him get there.

That’s it, I thought. I was just never able to articulate it before. I had been content enough with my life and my work, going through the routine week after week, assuming one day I’d have kids and maybe a house, retire eventually and call it a life. That was what people expected of me. That was what I expected of me.

But then, Mr. Wonderful and I talked about this traveling thing. Are we doing this? Are we really going to give up our jobs and spend money to do this? The answer was, without a doubt, yes. I knew there was something out there. I couldn’t voice it, but it was calling me to find it.

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And I found it a hundred times over.

I found it at the church I attended in Jerusalem, bowing my head in awe that I was in the same city that Jesus had lived, breathed, and died.

I found it while crunching through a deep-fried fish in Bali, slurping up a bowl of pho soup in Hanoi, devouring a raj kachori in India, and eating multiple gastronomic courses at The Ledbury in London.

I found it in the kids running through the Langa township of Cape Town, dragging along their homemade toys made from discarded Coke cans, grinning at us, challenging us to find as much joy in the simple.

People ask how the trip was, how I feel now that I’m back. Though it’s hard to articulate, I think I feel more whole. The experiences I had and the people I met have made my daily life and understanding all the richer. I went to Whole Foods the other day and realized my long-time favorite yogurt is a style called Icelandic “skyr,” and I smiled, knowing I was just eating skyr, in Iceland, a few weeks ago.

But I’m also excited to be home. Excited to find the possibilities of the new me. Not that the new has replaced the old, but simply that I have found more of who I am.

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Live, travel, adventure, bless, and don’t be sorry. – Jack Kerouac

Backpacking in Raja Ampat

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It was Mr. Wonderful’s wish to visit the remote area of Raja Ampat in Indonesia for our round-the-world travel. Renowned for its pristine corals and abundant marine life, it’s a dream for many divers to make a trip out there.

Remote, however, always sounds better than it is. Our Indonesian friend booked the entire 5-day trip for us, and for $600 a person ($1000 for divers), it seemed like a good deal. That is, until we were greeted with huts that only had partial walls, ripped mosquito nets, and squat toilets. Taking a “shower” meant scooping water from a garbage can and pouring it on your head while mosquitoes flew about. As one person in our group said, “I don’t think I’ve ever been so uncomfortable in my life.”

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Luckily, our discomfort was rewarded with immense beauty. So many beaches claim to have white sand, but no, this was white sand. Powdery and soft, I felt as if I was walking on stretches of baking flour. The waters lapping the shore were swirls of deep blue and rich turquoise. As long as I didn’t think about the hut I had to return to at night, I could understand why previous travelers have deemed Raja Ampat “heaven on earth.”

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While Mr. Wonderful went diving, I snorkeled among manta rays, large clams and a plethora of colorful fish. Hundreds of blue tangs swirled by me as I played hide and seek with an angelfish among the coral. It was like visiting an aquarium, except I was no longer just a spectator but an interactive player. Sharks swam shyly by as my friends motioned excitedly towards a few wriggling barracudas. Without a doubt, the snorkeling was even better here than the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.

Yet the highlight was our group’s exclusive climb up the limestone cliffs in Wayag to partake in the glorious view of the islands below. It was a cloudy day, but the landscape was still breathtakingly spectacular. Knowing that not many people have been able to see this natural beauty made it all the more special.

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Would I recommend Raja Ampat? Yes. Bill Gates has reportedly made the trip out there three times already (in his private yacht, of course), if that means anything to you. However, for those who are not keen on roughing it, I would recommend splurging on this place (perhaps the only hotel in Raja Ampat with toilets).

If that’s too expensive, I would suggest waiting a few more years until the tourism industry picks up. I imagine that better accommodations will be more readily available in the near future. Just make sure to visit Raja Ampat before everyone else knows about it!

Why I Married Someone I Wasn’t Attracted To

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It wasn’t love at first sight.

Or the second. Or the third.

After maybe the twentieth time we hung out together (and 3.5 years later), Mr. Wonderful took an interest in me because I pretended to smoke a french fry at a group dinner with mutual friends (classy, I know).

By the time we went on our first “date,” I still wasn’t interested in him. To be fair, I thought we were going on a date as “friends.” If I had known better I would have declined altogether instead of leading the poor guy on.

But he persisted. And even though I was not attracted to him, I eventually decided to give the potential relationship a try. I let my brain win over my hormones. He was a good guy. My last boyfriend treated me badly. Why not?

This is where most people whom I have told this story to get confused. You mean you dated and then eventually married someone you didn’t feel any initial chemistry with? How does that work?

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The Best and Worst of Bali

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Years ago, a friend invited me to go to Bali with her. Her parents lived there, and she painted visions of tropical beaches, cheap massages and gourmet food for a fraction of the price. But getting to paradise cost more than my college student budget could afford at the time, so I never made it out to Bali. That is, until last week. [Read more...]

Traveling to Antarctica: A Wish Fulfilled

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I have officially stepped foot on all seven continents of the world.

As odd as it may sound, going to Antarctica had been on the top of my bucket list over the last decade. It started with my senior trip in high school, when I went on an Alaskan cruise with a group of friends instead of traveling to traditional teen destinations such as Hawaii or Mexico. For a California girl who hates the cold, I became oddly captivated by the remote, icy wilderness—untainted by people but a sanctuary for animals you would never be able to find anywhere else.

I wasn’t aware that going to Antarctica was a possibility until I was in college, after hearing a friend tell me about all the exotic places his parents would travel to, including Antarctica. I secretly added it to my list of “Things to Do Before I Die” which eventually became “Things to Do Before I Have Kids.”

Traveling to Antarctica isn’t cheap, especially if you actually want to step onto the continent. It’s not a journey that the typical cruise line makes, so Mr. Wonderful and I joined a company called Quark Expeditions, along with scientists, researchers, and other travel enthusiasts. It was a smallish ship of less than 200, with a surprisingly high number of passengers in their 20s and 30s, looking for an adventure and wanting to step foot on their seventh continent.

But what if Antarctica isn’t all that great, I wondered, as our ship set sail through the infamous Drake Passage. This was to be the biggest splurge of our Round-The-World trip and I was worried it would end up being a big waste of money. But as we made our first landing, and a little Gentoo penguin waddled towards me, Mr. Wonderful and I grinned at each other. This wasn’t just great. This was frickin’ awesome.

The wildlife on the trip was simply incredible. I loved that the animals were unafraid of us, as Petrels and various species of Albatross birds flew overhead, letting the wind carry them forward. Elephant seals drifted by as they slept on their personal icebergs. Orcas were spotted in the distance as immense humpback whales swam so close to the ship that I could count the bumps on its back.

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But the highlight for me, of course, were the penguins. I had expected to spot one or two, but instead we saw entire colonies of these adorable birds and witnessed their various life stages as individual stories unfolded before us. Mating, nesting, battling for rocks, death.

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On a whim, Mr. Wonderful and I joined a climbing group and learned how to use an ice axe to make our way along the ridge of a mountain. As we paused near the summit, breathless from exertion, we took in the surreal landscape that surrounded us. Miles of white ice stretched out before us in every direction. Icebergs rimmed with turquoise floated serenely below. The world seemed so peaceful, so quiet, except for the occasional avalanche from the mountain next to us. With our fellow passengers looking just a millimeter tall from our perch, I suddenly realized how very small we were in this remote place. And yet strangely, so complete.

Antarctica-iPhone-3What is the next destination you would love to travel to?

What Does “For Better Or For Worse” Really Mean? (Part Two)

Marriage…this story is a continuation from this post.

Two years after my battle with depression, we had a marriage crisis. I don’t know that any marriage is immune from having one. I do have friends who seem like they never fight, and agree with each other on just about everything. Perhaps they’re just really low-maintenance. Perhaps they’re hiding from the truth. In our case, we were living in denial. We had been brushing things away, thinking they were no big deal, when in fact we were sweeping it all into an enormous pile that became the elephant in the room.

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Highlights from Mercedes-Benz Panama Fashion Week

After attending my first Fashion Week, I have a lot of respect for the fashion press who sit through shows all day, work all night to go through their photos and notes, and then repeat it all the next day. Sifting through the 600+ pictures I took during the three-day event was exhausting (and there were entire shows where I didn’t bother taking any photos!), but I’m thrilled I had the privilege to be part of the excitement.

Below are some of my favorite highlights. Since pictures speak louder than words, I’ll let them do (most of) the talking. Enjoy!

PFW-2The ever chic jewelry designer Melina Typaldos dancing down the runway. I love Panamanians; they’re always ready for a good time!

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A glimpse of the front-row audience. [Read more...]

8 Funny Styles from Panama Fashion Week 2014

It’s not Fashion Week without some styles that are so strange, they’re hilarious. Not that I don’t appreciate creativity and artistry. There’s a reason runway shows are distinguished from ready-to-wear, because it allows designers to explore certain concepts that they wouldn’t be able to do otherwise. But I’m a firm believer that art needs to engage the audience, to provoke thinking, not befuddlement. If the viewer has no idea what the artist is trying to convey, then the dialogue is lost. If the emperor is naked, then someone needs to point it out.

Here are 8 styles that left me in confusion (perhaps you can lend some clarity?):

Chanel has the $12,500 grocery basket, and Anya Hindmarch has the cereal box clutch, so I guess it only makes sense we should sport nutrition facts on our wardrobe as well. [Read more...]

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