A Compilation of Short Travel Stories

 

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Jack Balthazar: @burgmaorbust jblewi.wordpress.com 

Wednesday the 28th April 2016, myself and another cycle tourist called Daniel from Poland rolled up to the gates of a Buddhist monastery somewhere between Bagan and Mandalay in Myanmar. Covered in sweat, sun cream and dust from a long, hot and dry day in the saddle we sought the temples master and asked his permission to camp in the grounds. The answer was yes, its well known amongst the cycle touring community that monks in Myanmar are happy to put you up for a night in a country that forbids wild camping as well as staying with the locals. We were shown to the wash room and then sat down for a delicious dinner of rice, mango salad, sweetcorn and onion, dried fish and as much Burmese chai as we could handle. After chatting with the monks, mainly through pointing and gestures as our Burmese didn’t extend much beyond hello, thank you and that was delicious, it was time to get some sleep. I read a couple of chapters of my book and just drifted off when some torch light was shone towards my tent, I thought it was the monks off to bed too checking I was still there. Sadly not as I looked up into the gazing eyes of 4 policemen and one immigration officer. Someone had made a phone call to the police, in spite of our insistence that no calls where necessary, unlikely that it was a monk but maybe one of the villagers that turned up? Half naked and bleary eyed they questioned me through the mosquito proof haven that my tent inner provided, until I asked them to give me a minute to get some clothes on the questions didn’t stop. Who was I? Where was I going? Did I not know I couldn’t stay outside of official hotels? Eventually I got the message across and was allowed to get out of my tent, instantly I was told to pack my stuff, take my tent down and get ready to go to a hotel. Daniel had camped in a spot 100 or so metres away so the first I saw of him was when I was sat around the dinner table in the eating area while the officers poured over our passports and visas, each one taking photos of our documents. They demanded that we stay in a hotel, by now our experiences with the authorities this night and many previously had told us that they were extremely concerned about foreigners having any contact with the local population. We agreed to leave on the condition that they found a truck to take us to Mandalay 50 kilometres or so away where they wanted us to go and paid for the hotel as we had no money for one, something that the authorities had done for us before. In the end they gave up and agreed that we could stay, the conversation over the phone with who we assumed was the commander had gone on long enough for them. We will never know who contacted them or how they knew we were there but we were left in peace, on the condition that I slept somewhere else, apparently there were snakes about.

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Jordan Griffin: @jordangriffin

Hurricane Odile September 2014

It was the beginning of September of 2014 and I could not WAIT to leave my land locked home state head to the beautiful sandy beaches of Cabo San Lucas for an entire week.  No work, no winter coats, and no worries seven days.  Little did we know the escapades to follow.

We landed in Mexico on a Saturday afternoon. There were seven of us total.  There had been warning of a hurricane approaching, but after living in the Florida Keys for a while I was ignorant enough to think it could pass and turn into a tropical storm, has it had so many times before.  I had my cute new swim suit on and a pina colada in my hand in no time.  The next 24 hours were the beautiful vacation we were dreaming of, until the booze was cut off early evening and we were highly encouraged to go back to our rooms to take cover.  We believed the locals were overreacting and were so irritated they cut us off early.  But then we got to our room and began to feel the intensity of the storm.  We started to play cards and tried to ignore the loud wind whipping outside.  Until a large CRACK sounded behind us and sent the sliding glass door flying into the room.  Immediately we ran into the bathroom to take cover and were forced to stay there for the next 9 hours.  Never have I experienced a night such as this one.  The pressure from the storm made my head feel like it was going to explode.  The roof sounded as if it would rip off at any moment, which we found out later came close to happening.  We made it through the night, but what was coming was much more difficult than taking shelter in the storm.

Everything was ruined.  The beautiful resort that was filled with bright colors and rich culture was in pieces.  Every last room was flooded.  The decorations ripped from the walls and the outdoor furniture tossed around and in pieces.  I’ve never seen anything so devastating.  Mother Nature is not one to be reckoned with.

The next few days were a blur.  We had no way to get out of Mexico for the foreseeable future. The roads were wiped out from the storm as well as most planes that were at the airport.  The locals kept our spirit alive.  Somehow they were so much more positive than any of us, and they had no home to return to.  Their homes had been completely destroyed by the hurricane and yet they had smiles on their faces. We were stuck without running water for 3 days.  That was something I had never experienced before.  In the United States we get so consumed with our normal lives, we forget how lucky we are to have what we do.  Oh, what a luxury running water is.  I could not believe the difficulty I had without it.

Finally, the resort set up us a bus to get us the hell out of Cabo.  They took us a few hours north to a town called La Paz.  They told us that La Paz had barely been hit by the storm and that there were all sorts of hotels with running water and electricity.  How wrong they were! The bus full of 80 people from our resort in Cabo panicked.  There were no places that would take an entire bus filled with that many people.  The 7 of us decided to ditch the crowd and fend for ourselves.  As were wondering aimlessly around the city, dirty and tired from the previous days without a shower, we came across a quiet compound named Casa Buena.  We banged on the gates, and for what felt like an hour, no answer.  Finally, a tall, slender, dark skinned man opened the gate and spoke, I kid you not, “Hello, weary travelers, do you need a place to stay?”  This beautiful bearded man named Milton took all 7 of us into his home. We had a hot shower and a hot meal that night. I hope that I get the chance to go back to Casa Buena and tell him how thankful I truly was for him and his hospitality.

It was Milton that told us about the bus that made its way all the way from La Paz to Tijuana.  If we could make that, only a 24 hour drive until we were that much closer to American soil.  We caught that bus at 5 the next morning.  24 hours turned into 30, but we were moving in the right direction.  We made it to San Diego the same day we were supposed to be getting back from “vacation.”  I have never felt so far out of my comfort zone in my entire life.  But I came back a different person.   I am mindful of the amount of water I use.  I am thankful for my home.  I am grateful that I am able to afford food.  Traveling can give us a sense of defeat during hard times, but the experiences are life changing.  I would never want to relive Hurricane Odile, but I am different because of it, and for that I am grateful.

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Liz Flores: @lizitto lizfloresart.com/blog

Paris

Myself and four friends visited Paris in 2009 for the first time. Excitement was an understatement. After missing our Paris flight from Madrid and spending 24 hours in the Madrid airport (thanks Ryanair!) we arrived at our hostel. However after arriving at our Paris hostel we realized, maybe airport living wasn’t so bad? Our shared bathroom, was shared with about 20 other guests and it was not a pretty sight. We ended up taking turns helping each other wash our hair in the sink. We purchased baby wipes, and we might have stopped at the perfume aisle in a few stores for some free sprays. We thought the worst was behind us, until our new roommate showed up. Her first night with us she enjoyed some wine with folks from the hostel. Our next flight was early in the morning for Rome, so we were sleeping when she came in and stumbled into her top bunk. A few minutes later,her wine was dripping down onto my friends bed, and my friend was crawling into my bed. Rome could not come soon enough.

Defying Mt. Batur

It was 2am, and pitch black out. Everyone traveling with me was half asleep, with their hiking shoes on. We were in Bali, Indonesia and we were getting ready to hike the active volcano Mt. Batur to see the sunrise. Upon arriving at the base of the volcano we met our Balinese guides who began leading us up, up, way up in single file formation. While the trail started off sandy, it quickly turned rocky and steep. The higher we climbed the more concentration was needed to watch our footing on jagged rock. At one point, I turned to look at the rest of the group, and realized how high up we were. I could see a line of headlamps bobbing in the distance, starting from the parking lot. Fear shot through me as I came to the conclusion that one wrong move could mean a fatal tumble. My legs felt like noodles and for a second, I worried that I was going to be defeated by this volcano. That’s when I looked up and saw what I can only describe as a million flickering lights.  More stars than I have ever seen in Chicago, and I realized I had journeyed this far, I could go a little more. The view from the top was totally worth it.

Zack Soltes

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Quite honestly, I’ve never did any major traveling until only about a few years ago. For the majority of my 20’s, I held down a very regular job with very little time to go explore, except for the occasional few days, week or so of vacation a year. That said, with these restrictions, I always made it top priority to make these very short adventures as interesting and unique as possible. The goal is always an experience. Whether it’s a road trip down the Maine coast or spending the weekend in a dildo-themed house in Joshua Tree, it’s all about that result. Being a technician, I’ve always had a passion for bicycles. Riding, building, fixing, and customizing. All of it. Following a successful first bicycle tour from Vancouver BC to Portland, OR, I had been itching for another one for years. In the Summer of 2013, I needed to travel to Spokane, WA to be a part of two of my best friends’ wedding. This would be the perfect opportunity to spend a week riding my bicycle from Seattle to Spokane through the beautiful Washington State Forests and Cascade mountains. What could go wrong? Other than a simple route and a few researched sights along the way, I committed to this ill-planned adventure. I flew up to Seattle the week before the ceremony, where I assembled my bike in the baggage claim area of the Sea-Tac Airport. After spending the night with a friend, I set out for the open road that next morning albeit a medium sized hangover compliments of locally celebrated libation, Rainier Beer. After only an hour or so of riding, the scenery quickly morphs from a heavily populated metro to the beautifully densely forested Cascade Mountain Range. The air was crisp, the weather absolutely gorgeous. The incline wasn’t too step and luckily, I had gears on this bike setup unlike my previous trip. Slowly I moved towards the John Wayne Pioneer Trail which would lead me to my first planned sight, the Snoqualmie Tunnel, a former railroad tunnel converted for recreational use. While expecting a smooth rideable path, I found that my pre-trip “research” proved incorrect as the “pioneer trail” was exactly that: a pioneer trail. Riding this rocky dirt path on my thin, smooth road bike wheels for 20 or so miles through mountainous terrain proved very difficult and tiresome but totally worth it when I finally arrived at my destination. The tunnel cuts straight through the mountain for 2.3 miles. It is so long that when you are in the exact middle, the light on either end looks like tiny pinholes. In the middle, the temperature drops to near freezing and you can see your own breathe. Needless to say, I put on my earbuds and cranked the soundtrack to “The Shining” as I rode through. Upon exiting and returning back to a more solid route, I quickly found out that many of the scenic roads I had routed were now closed. Lucky for me, it’s legal to ride your bicycle on the side of the freeway in many parts of Washington State. Sketchy? Yes. Fast? Definitely. After sleeping like a baby that night in Cle Elum, WA, I set out again for the open road the following morning. After about an hour of riding, I stopped off for a quick pick me up at a local coffee shop. After telling the clerk about my trip, she quickly asked how I felt about riding in the middle of the desert in dead of summer. “Desert?”, I say. “Um, yeah, most of the middle of Washington state is a desert,” she replied in the friendliest manner without suggesting that I was a moron. Sure enough, only a short hour after this conversation, her warning rung true and the beautiful lush green landscape literally dried up. The sun blazed down on me as I slowly peddled next to sand, rocks, cacti and tumble weeds. Finally, after running out of water, I finally arrived to the Columbia River and my next obstacle: crossing it. The bridge across it has no shoulder and riding a bike on the roadway would be a literal death wish as cars zip by at 70 mph. Luckily, I did research this correctly and knew I would need to hitchhike from the nearby gas station. What I didn’t know is that people are extremely hesitant to let a sun-burnt, long bearded cyclist just hop inside their truck beds. That said, it probably took about an hour before I met my savior, Howard, a elderly retiree who was “taking a break from his wife”. Of course, after this pleasant encounter, my poor research would also quickly lead me in the wrong direction for an hour, for which I had to backtrack uphill, with an additional 4 flat tires in the course of 2 hours. And yes, I was still in the desert during those ordeals. Luckily, this desert did slowly transition into sprawling farmlands, which was peppered with what felt like an most incredible never ending sunset. When the sun faded away, I finally rolled into my stop in Moses Lake, where I spent the night at the parents of guy who I had just met the one night I spent in Seattle. Sometimes, getting drunk with some random people pays off. Goatheads! These are the insanely sharp, insanely small, needle like seedlings scattered all over the country roads that will instantly puncture a bicycle inner tube. I found out about these the hard way with those 4 flat tires the previous day. When I started off from Moses Lake, I stopped by a local bike store to re-stock on inner tubes in case I ran into more of these bastards. What I didn’t pick up was a new tire. The day was hot. Very hot. 95 degrees with no cloud coverage. In that area, the road was covered with some sort of tar that it made my bike feel like it was literally sticking to the ground. As I arduously peddled through the endlessly rolling farmlands, I noticed that my bike was hobbling. I pulled over and saw a huge bulge sticking out from my rear tire. Upon further inspection, I realized that it wasn’t the goat heads this time, but that my tire was literally splitting from it’s inner seams. I tried to fix it with everything I had in riding bags. Glue, camera tape, etc. You name it. I tried it, but with no luck. I was stuck. 20 miles to the nearest town in either direction in the middle of nowhere. Once again, I needed to hitchhike but I hadn’t seen a passing car for 15-20 minutes. So I started to walk, thumb out, of course. A few cars passed by me, but eventually one stopped an hour later. Today’s chariot was provided by Tim, a worker for the local Big Bend Electric Co-Op. He got me to my next intended stop, the small town of Ritzville. Instantly, I went on a hunt to find a new tire for my bike. I needed to finish this trip. It was only 60 more miles to Spokane. I searched high and low throughout Ritzville, but with no success. In the whole town, there wasn’t a single 700c sized tire, a fairly common size in the road bike world. I even stopped by the local “bike shop”, which resembled more a junk yard in a home’s front yard, ran by a shirtless gentleman named Frank and his tiny Pomeranian dog Scruffy. But no luck, the trip was officially over but I wasn’t totally screwed. Lucky for me, many people were driving across state to attend the wedding and I was able to the arrange a ride for the remainder. However, as I sat the local Ritzville bar that night, drinking a Keystone Light and eating a burger made by the owner’s son, I couldn’t help but think that the trip absolutely couldn’t have gone any better. I saw some incredible sights. Met some unique folk. And sure, I could packed more or planned better, but the result had far exceeded my expectation. I got the experience I always wanted…. in only 3 days.”

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Raphael Mouttet: @raphael_mouttet

A journey in Sarawak, Borneo

I could talk about a lot of adventures I experienced through my travels around the world. But I’d like to talk about the one that probably is the most special to me. Borneo. One of the world’s largest islands, bigger than the whole state of Texas. There are several reasons why I decided to go to Borneo; maybe the fact that there is one of the biggest and oldest primary forest with one of the most diverse ecosystem on planet earth; maybe because there still are native people living as nomads in the forest in peace with nature; maybe it’s because a friend of mine lost his life by fighting for the rights of those native people and for the protection of the forest. Anyway, this island hit my curiosity.

I decided to go to Sarawak in Borneo one day before I actually landed there. I admit I didn’t really plan it. The day before I was still having a fresh coconut in my hammock in Thailand, on the island of Koh Phangan. Fully unprepared but with Bear Grylls’ determination, I found myself 72 hours later in the middle of the jungle. The adventure started with the flight to get there. Indeed, I was in a small airplane propeller that took me in the direction of the jungle and I had no idea where I would land. I left without money, thinking naively that there will be an ATM at my arrival. When I asked the pilots about the ATM, they had a huge smile; actually, there was barely an airport at the final destination. Luckily, the plane made a stop in a small town where the pilots let me withdraw some cash. The plane waited on me. I think that if I would have left and got back to the airport as I did in another country, I probably would be charged for terrorism.

I landed in the middle of the lost world. Not that there were any dinosaurs, but because from here on, no cell phone reception, no internet network, no hospital… and I wasn’t even close to the native’s place. In the village near of where I landed were a few cars; I had to ask with a mix of both English and gesture language if someone would be kind enough to drive me hours through the jungle in order to join the next village from where I was supposed to take a boat to join the natives up river.

An older man accepted to drive me to the place. He took his rifle (that didn’t made me feel very secure, but fortunately afterwards he told me that he was a hunter) and we hit the road. A road through the jungle where the trucks of the logging companies were driving through. After a couple hours of driving, I arrived at the second village. Well, actually the village was made of three houses. Two young guys accepted to take me up river with a small boat. Before I left, I remember the driver telling me to be really careful because from now on, I was going to follow a dangerous path. Indeed, the deep primary forest has its threats: the dry season made the boat trip quite difficult, some animals you do not want to cross and the geopolitical tensions due to the fight between the logging companies supported by the government and the natives made this trip a little more dangerous than go visiting the Grand Canyon.

I quickly understood what the dry season meant. The river was low. I had to jump several times into the water to push the boat. I didn’t want to think what kind of creatures could live in this mysterious old river in the middle of Borneo. But I got out of it alive. In the end of the afternoon I reached the first village of the natives, the so called Penan. Most of the Penan were still living as nomads in harmony with the old forest about ten years ago. But most of them had to leave and settle down in small villages under the threat of the logging companies, the destruction of their habitat and the pollution of their environment. The first contact was surprisingly nice and welcoming. Of course they weren’t aware of my arrival. But very soon they organized a place where I could eat and sleep. The cooking was quite exotic. Except the rice they made grow, all the ingredients were coming from the forest. The meal was taken on a handmade wood carpet sitting on the floor and eating with the hands from the different plates. I made it. I reached one of the most primitive places in the world, disconnected of our modern civilisation, sharing a meal with the Penan.

But I wanted to see more. I asked in the village if someone would take me to the heart of the million years old primary forest. And the next day I left the village with two Penan. It took us about an hour by boat to reach the place from where we started to hike. Believe me, I was in a good physical shape; I just finished my military service and was used to walk a lot. But in this forest, the heat, the humidity, the slippery path through the jungle and the leaches biting me everywhere they could, made this trip quite tough! After a whole day of hiking through this thick forest, we finally stopped on a hill top. And the place was stunning. We could see the part of the primary forest still preserved from the logging. A forest with majestic merantis (typical tropical trees from south-east of Asia) raising high into the sky in the foreground of this picturesque tropical landscape. I can never forget the feeling of connection with nature.

Well, the sleepover was another story. At night, the forest awakes. You can hear the most strange and powerful noises you ever heard. At one point, I actually thought there was a fire alarm. And you are surrounded by the biggest insects you ever seen like the giant ants (about 3 cm long) crawling all over my stuff. Lay on suspended branches in this environment made my sleep a little agitated. It is probably the best and worst night of my life. But the magic of such a place is worth all the efforts and troubles.

Today, my stay in Borneo is still one of the strongest memories I have.

This journey was in honor of Bruno Manser, a great man and friend.

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Bryce Taylor

I was hiking alone. It was the evening of my first day in the New Jersey section of the Appalachian Trail. When I reached the campsite, I set my pack down and went farther down the trail in search of water. About eighty yards from the campsite, I heard a noise to my left—the rustling of an animal. A big animal, by the sound of it. Trees and bushes blocked it from view. Slowly, I began to back away. I turned around, still looking over my shoulder, and suddenly, twenty yards away, a full-grown black bear emerged on the trail. My heart raced. We looked at each other. After an intense moment, the bear bolted in the opposite direction. What if it had run toward me instead of away? I don’t know how I fell asleep that night, eighty yards from the encounter. — I had never hitchhiked before. It was Valentine’s Day. I needed a ride from the Appalachian Trail to a grocery store in Hiawassee, Georgia. Twenty-three cars passed by my pathetic thumb, and then a young guy named Josh pulled over. He’d never picked up a hitchhiker before. Not only did he take me to the grocery store, but he walked inside and bought me a big sandwich and chips and a drink. It was the best Valentine’s dinner I’ve ever had. — I needed a ride from the trail to Franklin, North Carolina, where I was planning to rest and resupply. I stood by the highway and stuck out my thumb and watched the cars pass by. After fifteen minutes, an old woman pulled over. She rolled down the window and said, “You’re not an axe murderer, are you?” “Um. No.” “Okay. My name’s Marlene.” “I’m Bryce.” “You can put your stuff on the back seat. Next to my boyfriend’s ashes.” I opened the door and saw a purple box—the ashes—and lifted my backpack over it as carefully and respectfully as possible. “My sister would kill me,” Marlene said, “if she knew I was picking up a hitchhiker. But sometimes in life you have to take a risk.” I sat in the front seat, and Marlene told me she was on her way to a casino to watch poker and sharpen her skills. She wanted to become a dealer. When we reached the exit for Franklin, she didn’t take it. Instead she pulled over and said, “This is as far as I can take you.” So I thanked her, grabbed my stuff, and walked the mile into town. — One Sunday morning—the first of Lent—I rushed through seven miles, hitchhiked to town, and carried my pack and trekking poles straight to an 11:30 Spanish-language Mass, my skin smeared with mud, my body odor radiating out to a large circumference of stink. I tried to isolate myself on a bench behind the pews, but the church was crowded, and latecomers had to sit by the muddy, foul-smelling gringo. I was self-conscious. Still, I took comfort in the Gospel reading, the story of Jesus fasting for forty days in the wilderness. Forty days, I reflected, without a bath. Of all who had gathered that morning, I almost certainly smelled the most like Jesus. — In March I night-hiked through a snowstorm. I was with Medicine Man, a former nurse headed to med school, and Little Debbie, a hiker neither small nor female. After an eighteen-mile day, we decided, insanely, at 6:30 p.m., to hike through the night and cross the Tennessee-Virginia border to reach Damascus by morning for a total of fifty miles. We had headlamps, but as the snow fell harder, the path grew more obscure. It didn’t help that the temperature dropped while a frigid wind picked up, nor that my shoe was rubbing the skin below my ankle raw. Medicine Man offered some tape, but the night was too cold to stop moving long enough to apply it. I stuffed a plastic grocery bag down my shoe—not an effective remedy, I can tell you—and we hurried on. By two in the morning we were exhausted and freezing. Medicine Man shivered wildly. We agreed to stop at a shelter eighteen miles shy of Damascus. I jumped into my sleeping bag, wolfed down a few Peanut M&Ms by way of dinner, and slept. — The rocks of Pennsylvania led into the bogs of New Jersey, the steep ledges of New York. In Garrison, New York, half a mile off trail, the Graymoor Spiritual Life Center welcomed hikers to stay in a small pavilion on the edge of a field. At the top of a hill stood a large retirement home for Franciscan Friars of the Atonement. I entered the building and found a library. When I stepped through the open doorway, an old man—presumably a friar—was playing the piano in a corner, his eyes fixed on the music. I walked to a table in the back, beside a window, and looked out at the rain. It was one of those elevated moments you hope nothing will spoil, a sudden thickening of time. Pale light poured through the windows. The friar seemed—I hoped he was—oblivious of me. His concert had the quality of a solitary ritual, a performance for himself and God. Perhaps I was intruding, but I stayed. What was it about this arrangement, this old man, that held me still? I couldn’t say. It occurred to me that the piano was the right instrument for a rainy day. The friar’s repertoire consisted of songs neither fancy nor dull, but melancholy, peaceful, with hints of longing and resignation. The music went on for hours.

 

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Anne Foss: @thetraveldarling http://www.thetraveldarling.com

One of the scariest moments I encountered was on a trip to Russia for an exchange program. I had always been fascinated by the Cold War and Russian history and devoured any book about the topic, so I jumped at the chance to study there. I was staying in a decrepit, Soviet-era dormitory in a city a few hours east of Moscow. It was a cold October evening, and my roommate and I went to sleep after a day of lectures in our tiny cinderblock room. In the middle of the night, I heard a woman’s voice speaking Russian in our room. I froze in my bed. There was no one there besides me and my roommate, Ashley. I stopped breathing for a few minutes to listen for the voice, and my brain jumped to every novel and spy movie I’d ever seen. At first, I thought I was dreaming, but then the Russian woman’s voice grew louder and louder. Ashley called out to me, “Did you hear that?” I was relieved it wasn’t just me. We didn’t understand what the woman was saying — there could have been a fire, or intruders, or worse — a post-Cold War invasion!! We peered out the window looking for signs, but we didn’t see a single soul. By that point, I was completely freaked out! Ashley and I scurried down the hallway in our pajamas using our non-existent Russian to ask the dorm mother, an octogenarian in a nightgown and slippers that the students affectionately called “the dragon lady,” what was happening. We made sign language and said the words for “woman” and “phone” in broken Russian because that’s all we knew, but she just stared at us with a blank expression through her coke-bottle glasses and continued to watch TV. By that point it was 2:00 am, we gave up our mission and retreated to our dorm room hoping that we weren’t about to get kidnapped by the army. We somehow made it back to sleep even with our adrenaline levels and imaginations running wild. The next morning we asked others if they heard the same voice. They had. Apparently our dorm was across the street from the fire station!

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Caroline Bernthal: @thebelleabroad http://www.thetraveldarling.com

We planned this amazing trip to Ireland with my in-laws for….November. Everyone was like “Ireland in November?!”. Yep, limited daylight and lots of rain. But we happened to be the luckiest Irish tourists ever because we had amazing weather! Clear skies, zero rain… I hardly wore a jacket the first few days! The climax of our trip was the Cliffs of Moher and I was so ready to see the incredible views. We woke up for the last day expecting the same beautiful weather but alas, we were in Ireland in November. Our bed and breakfast host suggested to not even go to the Cliffs…the weather was that bad. Of course, we had to at least try…and we walked right into the eye of hurricane Moher–wind and rain from literally every direction. I couldn’t see a foot in front of me! Our little group got separated (and soaked!) and when we found each other in the gift shop, everyone just starred at me! Not only was I soaked head to toe but apparently I had used an entire tube of mascara that morning because my whole face was black!

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Nastasia Wong: @dametraveler http://dametraveler.com

‘My first day in Chicago, September 4, 1983. I set foot in this city, and just walking down the street, it was like roots, like the motherland. I knew I belonged here.’ – Oprah Winfrey

8 years ago, I took a leap of faith and left everything I’ve ever known in Michigan to start a new life in the city of Chicago. At the age of 20, coming from a strict Middle Eastern family, this was no small feat. I was on my own financially, emotionally and mentally but pushed my way through Loyola University Chicago’s nursing school and successfully graduated and got married. I’ve traveled all over the world but whenever my plane lands in Chicago, my heart flutters and I’m reminded again and again of how much I love this city. It gave me the opportunities and life that I live today and I’ll forever be indebted.