THE OTHER SIDE OF FEAR - ON BECOMING A SOLO TRAVELLER

Paris

I will love to say I have always enjoyed traveling solo and it came naturally to me, but the truth is that in the Fall of 2012, I found myself in the situation that demanded I step off the edge of the proverbial cliff to discover I could fly. I started planning a trip to Paris in the summer of 2012. I had spent the previous ten years in school or working to build a career, I never had a chance to consider travel. Things were starting to settle down that summer and I decided it was time to explore the world.

Paris

I reached out to a few friends in May and by the end of July, there were six of us scheduled to go on this incredible one week Europe adventure with four days in Paris and three days in London. It was going to be epic, six twenty-somethings with zero care in the world taking on Europe. We planned the trip for late October. Flights and hotels were cheaper and the crowds would have dissipated.   We were going to pull our funds and lodge in a hotel within walking distance of the Eiffel tower. I dusted off my passport, got the necessary travel documents, booked flights and made the hotel reservation. Now the wait, we had a countdown and weekly conference calls to plan the itinerary. We were doing fine until September, and then with each call, one more person has doubts they were going to make the trip. Eventually, by the first week of October --- It was down to just me and another friend living in the UK. I was distraught but at least I still had one travel buddy. A week before I was scheduled to fly to the United Kingdom - Birmingham by way of London;  the last remaining travel buddy had to drop out. I was the last person standing. What to do?

Paris

London and Birmingham - I could manage on my own, but Paris? I did not know anyone there and I did not speak the language. Five days before I was scheduled to depart - I was lamenting to my brother the woes of having to cancel the trip and how much money I was going to be losing on the flight and hotel when he said the words that forever changed me - " Why not go by yourself? " If he could see my face at that moment. I was terrified!

Paris

Without thinking, I started spilling out all the reasons I could not take a trip on my own - from the valid to the vain - I don't want to get lost, I don't speak the language, Is it safe, Who will take my pictures, etc." add to that 101 other excuses I belted out. My brother, full of wisdom, let me go through all my fears and then suggested I reach out to some friends of his who had recently returned from Paris. They will be great resources on where to stay and how to get around.

Paris

I scheduled the call and after a thirty-minute conversation, I thought "maybe I can do this". Now the research, I spent the next four days intensely researching what to do in Paris, typing up frequently used phrases on my notes app and creating a detailed (hour by hour) itinerary of my time in Paris. I flew into Birmingham via London to spend the weekend with my brother. Early Sunday morning, I boarded the Air France flight from Birmingham to Paris. Several times before the flight boarded, I thought about heading back to my brothers' apartment (but knowing him, he might have kicked me out just to make sure I took the trip). When my flight was called, I took the leap and boarded the flight to Paris.

Paris

Arriving in France early morning, I got through customs ok, I meticulously followed the step by step train directions I had written out before leaving Dallas. I made it to my hotel just fine. I started to think, I can do this. I was too early for check in, so the bellman held my luggage while I headed out to catch the tour ride to Versailles. Again, I found my way to the Eiffel tower train station ok. From there, I was supposed to walk about two miles to get to my pick up spot. Somewhere in the excitement of being in Paris and figuring out everything on my own, I did not pay attention to the turns and found myself lost with no GPS to map out my way (insert panic). I walked down every street using the Eiffel tower as a guide and twenty minutes later it I was further away from my destination. I could still see the Eiffel tower but I was nowhere close to where I needed to be. The panic attack started to set in and I broke down crying. With mascara running down my face - the thought hit me - I am in Paris. I have dreamt of this for years and I was not going to let a little setback like not having GPS get in the way. I retraced my steps to get back to the Eiffel tower. All the while looking out for a taxi - I could not find one till I got back to the Eiffel tower. I felt the tears starting to well up again and just then I saw a cab dropping off a family and immediately hailed the cab. 

Paris

Just my luck, he was out of service. But he must have seen my bewilderment because he decided to help me out.  He got me to the pickup spot and refused to take a fare for the ride (who said humanity was lost?). Thankfully, two other members of the party were late so I was not holding up the group.   We made it to Versailles ok and then my Versailles tour guide did not show and did not bother to inform me. Forty-five minutes of waiting, I called the guide who informed me he had mixed up the dates and will not be showing up. After what it took to get there, his little mix up was not going to ruin my trip. I decided to explore on my own and it was an incredible afternoon. 

Paris

I went on to spend four days in Paris on my own, I started out my days early and explored the city till late in the day. Once or twice I cried (ugly tears), I got lost a few times and figured it out by cobbling together my limited French vocabulary to ask locals for direction. I found courage to ask strangers to help with pictures. Those four days in Paris were the defining moments of my time as a solo traveler. It was in Paris I discovered I could travel alone and have an incredible time doing it. That was six years ago and I have not stopped solo traveling - It is still one of my favorite things to do. I discovered something about myself when I stepped past this particular fear. 

What lies on the other of your fear ?

Paris

LOOKING BACK ON 2017 AND SOME OF MY FAVORITE MOMENTS

It is hard to believe we are already five days into 2018.

2017-01-18 11.33.56.jpg

2017 was the year of stepping out of my comfort zone and moving the London was the biggest step I have taken in my adult life to date. The move has come with its share of challenges and three months in - there are still days of doubt about the right decision to move here. Add to that the insecurity of starting something new and you have the perfect recipe for more panic attacks than I have ever had combined. Although those moments were tiresome; I was reminded of my need for God. The scripture in the bible that says "give us this day, our daily bread" never meant more to me than in the last two months of 2017 because I had to daily seek God for strength; wisdom; and grace to get through the day. There were days I struggled to see any good in the year. However, a perfectly timed trip to the motherland forced me to take a break and get some perspective that confirmed without a doubt 2017, in spite of the challenges, was an incredible year.

Portland, Oregon

The year kicked off with a chance work opportunity in Portland and Sao Paulo. Both cities have been the bucket list for ages. Due to the work commitments, I did not have any time to explore. However, I needed to eat (three times a day) and food became the medium by which I explored both cities. The food in Portland and Sao Paulo was incredible and getting to got to work alongside some incredible folks was cherry on top, especially in Brazil. With that experience, I cannot wait to visit Sao Paulo on my own time and to explore the rich culture and history of the city.

2017-01-19 14.14.01.jpg
Sao Paulo

In May, I celebrated a birthday. It was not a milestone birthday, but this was very special for me. I had a special birthday photo shoot with the talented mozdeb behind the lens; celebrated the union of dear friends and at the end of the month, my friend "G" planned a birthday celebration dinner for me. Dinner and Karaoke with four friends - sounds simple, but it is one of my most cherished birthdays (to date) and memories of 2017.

2017-06-02 21.10.56.jpg

June was the month of travel - I spent the entire month out of town on work and personal trips, including seven days in Hawaii. Most of the time was spent on work but I scheduled two personal days to explore Honolulu. I have never experienced anything quite like Hawaii and I find myself constantly apologizing for ever uttering the words - "why will I fly eight hours to go to Hawaii; when I could easily be on another continent in the same amount of time?". I will hop on a flight to Hawaii on a moments notice. Hoping to visit again soon to explore other Islands.

Honolulu
2017-06-24 15.38.05.jpg

I finally made it to Disney in September. It only took thirty (plus) years and I was not disappointed. It really is the most wonderful and magical place in the world. The avatar ride at the Animal Kingdom was incredible and the fireworks display was unbelievable. I will return just for the fireworks show.

Disney
Disney

In October, I packed up my eleven years of living in Dallas to relocate to London. I still have mixed feelings about the move and there is not a week I don't question if I made the right decision. I am learning to navigate it one day at a time. In spite of the challenges and doubt, every time I walk to the station to head home. It is with a grateful heart that I get to do life in this city. 

The best part of the year also happened in October. The family added one more by way of marriage. I am thankful every day for my sister who has been a blessing in every way. With everything that has not gone right with the move to London, I am so glad to have her as a support system.

IMG_8530.jpg

I was blessed to wind down 2017 in the Company of some of my favorite people in the city that holds a piece of my heart. Nothing compares to ushering in a new year in Lagos (yet). I reconnected with family; explored new parts of the city. Lagos is home; home is where the heart is and being there made my heart whole. 

IMG_0860.JPG

Excited for what 2018 has in store. I have hopes and aspirations for the year and I spent the better part of this week crafting my goals for the year.   The rest of this month will be spent strategizing on how to get those goals to reality. Hoping all of the hard work behind the scenes is in the content on this space in 2018.

IMG_0691.jpg

LESSONS FROM THE LAST YEAR - THINGS I'VE LEARNED SINCE TURNING 30

There is a birthday tradition of looking back over the last year to highlight some lesson learned.  Thirty-two was an interesting year.  I felt like I was on cruise control the entire year. No significant highs or lows; just a steady pace and it made me very uncomfortable waiting for the next major thing (which did not happen). I embraced the steady pace and picked up some wisdom along the way. 

LIVE UNAPOLOGETICALLY. There is something the thirties age bracket that sets you free from caring about the irrelevant opinions. This year, I fully embraced the idea of living unapologetically and not needing to justify myself. Part of that came with a realization that as long as I apologize for or continuously justify my life and/or travels (as though it were something to be ashamed of), I devalue it and cannot expect anyone else to give value to it. I had a mental shift this year to focus on seeking justice, loving mercy and serving God with humility. As long as I am striving for and living that daily, I choose to live unapologetically.

SETTING BOUNDARIES. "Don't let their lack of planning, become your emergency." Those words started me down the part of setting boundaries.  Saying no to people in my life was unthinkable even when fulfilling their (mostly last minute) request put me under immense stress and pressure. The last year has been about standing up for my time; setting boundaries; keeping and communicating those boundaries. Whether I am making myself inaccessible at certain times of day or saying no (especially to last minute requests) within reason, my stress levels have been at an all time low. 

IMPORTANCE OF BEING HEALTHY. I spent the better part of a year in and out of doctor and specialist offices. Just when I thought it was over, I had about six months of high blood pressure stemming in part from not setting boundaries and a few unhealthy habits. As soon as I started feeling better it was time for major changes in diet and lifestyle. The goal was no longer weight loss; it was cultivating a healthy lifestyle. With that mindset shift, I find going to the gym less of a chore and learning to make healthy food choices (most of the time) is much easier.

IMPORTANCE OF MEANINGFUL COMMUNITY. Lately, I have been thinking of that old country song - "You find out who your friends are Somebody's gonna drop everything Run out and crank up their car Hit the gas get their fast Never stop to think 'what's in it for me?' or 'it's way too far.' They just show on up with their big old heart You find out who your friends are." One thing that creeps up on you in this stage of lie - the transitions (both good and bad). From starting a family; dealing with loss; divorce; becoming first time parents; caring for ailing parents/children and significant others. The quality (not the quantity) our relationships becomes what matters most. The right tribe is what sees us through the (difficult) transitions. A connection much deeper than the social media likes and follows. A tribe that celebrates the wins and sits with you in the losses. A tribe that shows up in the moments of transitions with no expectation of recognition. I am incredibly humbled by the kindness and love of the tribe I have found this past year.

IMPORTANCE OF SPENDING WISELY. After years of trying and loads of (failed) financial planning efforts, I decided this was the year to get my finances in order; get out of debt and save more.  I took practical steps to make it happen. No insane spreadsheets or weird financial planning; just good ole fashioned discipline; avoiding swiping the credit card unless the funds were available to pay off (immediately); and focusing on the needs, not the want. Those practical steps have gotten me a lot closer to my financial goals than anything else. 

FEELING DOWN IN BARCELONA AND IMPORTANCE OF BEING CONNECTED

Lately, there has been a sense of disconnect - things are going fine, but something is missing. It's not the first time I have felt that way and in times Iike this I find the issue is almost always tied to my time of meditation on the word of God and communication with God either via prayer or worship. The last time I felt the disconnect was last fall in Barcelona. See , the weeks leading up to European trip last fall was busy with deadlines, early mornings and late nights. My head was buried in all of it, I did not notice how the busyness had disconnected me from my anchor until I arrived in Barcelona on November 17th.  

Barcelona was not my first solo trip and it was not the most challenging part of the twenty-five day trip, but for some reasons I was not myself.  That morning, I checked out of my Paris hotel at 6:45 a.m for the hour commute to Paris Charles De Gaulle airport. My excitement to get to Barcelona was on overdrive.

Barcelona was a last minute addition to the Europe 2015 itinerary, but it was the one I looked forward to the most. I had a comfortable flight. Luggage was slightly delayed (but nothing extraordinary). I found the shuttle bus from the airport to city center easily. There was a mix up at my hotel when I arrived, but the tray of sweets and complimentary cava made up for the mix-up; so why was I coming unhinged.  My emotions were on a rollercoaster.

From anxiety to fear to discouragement to intimidation all in a matter of hours (sometimes minutes). Fear and anxiety gripped me so much, I could not leave my hotel room for hours. I just sat in a daze trying to snap out of it (whatever "it" was). I decided to call a voice of reason aka mom and shared my emotional rollercoaster with her. She encouraged me, we prayed, and she suggested spending some time praying and mediating on the word and getting some fresh air. I  took some of her advice and went for a walk through La Ramblas.

Surely strolling the streets of Barcelona and fresh air will get me back to center - it did not. The events that transpired the rest of the afternoon did nothing to improve my mood. Eventually , I gave up trying to get into the tourist mode in Barcelona and returned to my hotel room. 

I was in Barcelona living my dream, but I was unraveling. Why ? Then it occurred to me  - I was becoming unhinged because I was no longer connected to my anchor. What anchors you ? Who or what keeps you grounded ? My relationship with God is what keeps me anchored in the busyness, instability and uncertainty of the world around me. However, in the busyness leading up to the trip and my whirl wind tour of Europe, I did not realize that I was no longer connected to who anchors me. It had been several weeks since I had a proper interaction with God (something more than the quick prayers whispers as I dashed out in the morning or shut my eyes to sleep). It had been over a month since I had a true conversation with anyone - communications with family was limited to text and wasapp informing my mom I was departing a city or arriving, I was disconnected from what mattered most, I was off center. 

I arrived back at my hotel and did what I should be doing every day (maybe multiple times a day); I turned on my worship playlist and had a worship session on the bathroom floor of my Barcelona hotel. I worshipped, I cried, I prayed. I did not pray for anything in particular, I just told  God about the day and the emotional rollercoaster I was on and feeling like I was spiraling. In that moment, I was reminded of two scriptures.

a. 1 peter 5:7 - Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you (NIV); and

b. Matthew 11:28 - "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest (NIV)

So I did just as the scripture said, I cast my anxiety and spiraling emotions on him. I told him about my unwarranted fears. I did not ask for anything, I just had a conversation with God and as I did, I felt the weight lift and the anxiety discipiate and peace and joy flood my heart. A short while later, I skyped with mom and we chatted for about an hour. By the time I called it a night - the anxiety and fear was completely gone. The next day, I had one of the most incredible time exploring Barcelona and left Barcelona with some of my favorite memories from the trip. 

Last week,  I had moments of feeling disconnected and I knew exactly what was off and the cure. Without meaning to, I allowed everything that did not matter take my focus and time away from my anchor. As much as this post is unlikely for a travel blog, I hope if you have ever felt disconnected, you find some encouragement. It is important that we don't allow busyness and schedule overload to pull us from our source or what and who keeps us grounded. 

 

THE YEAR IN REVIEW // SOME OF MY FAVORITE 2015 MEMORIES

Can you believe it ? We are in the final hours of 2015. As though I blinked and here we are. I was not looking forward 2015. I entered 2015 just waiting on the other shoe to drop, but 2015 has been a pleasant surprise. My heart is filled with gratitude to God for how the year turned out and I feel incredibly lucky for all of the experiences, highs (and even the lows) that came with 2015. Here are some of my favorite moments and a few snapshot from an incredible year.  

Personal Moments I will never forget:

  • February 4th, 2015. I got the news that I passed the CPA exam. A seven year journey was finally over. I still tear up remembering that moment in Winslow, ME when I got the news. You have got to watch this video clip from Big Bang Theory - it adds an air of cool to my profession.
  • July 2015. New York, New York. This was not the first trip to New York - but this was the first one without the CPA exam weight looming over me. Plus some of my nearest and dearest live in NYC now and I had ten days of quality time with them. 
  • October 16th, 2015. It's official - I am going to Europe. Two years of planning and saving up is finally going to be a reality.
  • October 24th, 2015. Watching the sunrise in Miami. One of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. Add it to your bucket list. There is nothing like it.
  • November 11th, 2015. Arriving in Monaco and dining at Cafe Paris. I don't have the words to express how it feels to see a lifelong dream become a reality. I look calm in the photograph, but I was doing monster sized cart wheels on the inside.
  • November  19th, 2015. Arriving in Paris five days after the attacks. On the advice of friends and family, I initially cancelled plans to go to Paris, but while I was in Barcelona - I had a aha moment and I knew I needed to go to Paris that week, not just to catch a flight (as I did 2 days after the attack), but actually explore the city.  The trip was my version of Je Suis Paris. I spent two days in Paris and it rained most of the time I was there, but walking around that city and having a new appreciation for being there, I fell in love with Paris again.

Blogging Highlights:

  • Rebranding the blog. I let go of Rain Drops Roses for Portland | Grace. This is a much grown up version of the blog. It was a scary decision, but I am glad I took the leap. Portland | Grace has been a joy to write and curate every week. Also got blog logo and business cards - all the stuff grown up blogs are made of.
  • Launched the Portland | Grace Shop (and New York, New York Collection). Alongside the blog rebrand, I also launched the Portland | Grace shop and the New York, New York Collection. I am incredibly proud of the final product. The next collection is arriving in the new year.
  • Upped the Anti with the blog photography. Still have a long way to go and I am still learning lightroom and figuring out the photograph identity of the blog, however, the blog photos have come a long way from the early days.
  • Launched the Portland | Grace Facebook page along with the rebrand. You can follow here.
 Watching the Sunrise in Miami, FL

Watching the Sunrise in Miami, FL

 This moment at Cafe Paris in Monaco - Everything.

This moment at Cafe Paris in Monaco - Everything.

 Apertif at Cafe Beaugrenelle a few days after the Paris attacks - Je Suis Paris.

Apertif at Cafe Beaugrenelle a few days after the Paris attacks - Je Suis Paris.

Cheers to you 2015 - You were swell.

To 2016, let's be slightly spontaneous and shatter expectations ...