The Making Of Harry Potter: A Witch’s Tale

The REAL Hogwarts

Slytherin pride doesn’t start to describe my slight obsession with Harry Potter. I’ve been known to make people take the Pottermore test when I first meet them to find out whether we’re compatible, and I try to visit something new that’s focused on Harry Potter every time I come to London.

The funny thing is, I grew up conservatively so I actually wasn’t allowed to read/watch anything to do with Harry Potter. I really didn’t know a whole lot about it until I reached my twenties, and then the floodgates were released. But I’m not mad. In my family that just wasn’t a part of how we were raised, and we had lots of other experiences and books and movies that we watched that other families didn’t. The best thing about coming to love Harry Potter later in life is that I have a fresh passion for it. One that sometimes leaves me acting like the nine year old who just read The Sorcerer’s Stone for the first time.

Yesterday was one of such slightly obsessive days when I got to live out an absolute dream: walking on the set of the Harry Potter movies.

I was really excited that I bought a joint pass to the Warner Bros Studio because that meant I didn’t have to worry about bussing from/back to London/the studio. And let me tell you, it is not close. It’s about a 45 minute ride. As in, we watched an entire Harry Potter movie there and back on the bus. The great part of this, though, was that I paid about $100 for transportation to and from the location plus a five hour long experience. Not bad considering that Universal Studios in California is $150 and there are two rides and absolutely NO props or costumes.

The tour started out in the great hall of Harry Potter where you could find some of the most notable Harry Potter costumes, and a collection of house robes. It was pretty amazing to be standing there on the same cobblestones that the actors had filmed.

Of course, I had to celebrate my Hogwarts house (#SlytherinPride) during this whole process. I only wish that I had been able to bring my robes. Yes I have robes. But there’s no way that packing that beauty would have been worth the wrinkles. I did, however, bring my wand that I had custom made a few years back. It’s been with me to Universal CA, so I felt like it was necessary to continue the tradition by bringing it with me to London.

Looking back, I have a feeling I would’ve spent twice as long in the exhibits if I hadn’t been severely jet-lagged but I still had such a great time at all of the photo ops and learning about the process of filming. One of my favorite memories is standing in Dumbledore’s study. I had never noticed that all of the paintings on the walls in there are of the school’s faculty…with their eyes closed. It’s little details like this that really make the Harry Potter series, and the franchise as a whole, breathtaking.

Getting to step aboard the Hogwart’s Express was pretty amazing as well. I don’t know how they fit an entire train in the building, but let that be a bit of an indication of how huge this place was. If you ever plan a trip out here I would definitely say give yourself a solid 4 hours to explore. And also to shop. Honestly the store at this location was so incredibly huge and had merchandise I’ve never seen anywhere else. Of course I bought a little bit of swag…or a lot. You’ll never know because I’m the only one who sees my credit card statements. The point is, if you’re going to go somewhere magical…make sure you come back with something worth talking about.

10 Confessions From A Travel Blogger

If you hate planes this is the post for you. Or, rather, flying. I love planes. Travel in general is usually a bit of a whirlwind, but it can look a lot more glamourous that it actually is. So, to give you a peek behind the curtain I’ve decided to tell you ten of my most deadly secrets:

  1. I don’t like flying
    TBH I’m pretty indifferent when it comes to flying, but I definitely don’t like it. I’m terrified of planes crashing while I’m on them and turbulence scares the shit out of me (sorry for the swearing, mom). But you know…it’s a small price to pay when it comes to having experiences of a lifetime and I have to weigh my fear against my longing to see more of the world.
  2. I eat McDonalds and Starbucks when I travel
    Stop your little judgy-judge self. I definitely do like supporting small businesses but something I’ve noticed about those places is that hey often don’t have wi-fi and are cramped for space. Which if I’m trying to write makes life a little difficult. I also have a lot of food allergies and so sometimes I just want something predictable and easy to choose from. Fun fact: I’ve tried McDonalds in +10 countries and the menus are ALL different! 
  3. I actually really like most hostels
    I know at some point I’m supposed to outgrow hostels, but I really like being around other people who share my love of travel. That being said, I would NEVER stay in a hostel in the U.S. because the culture is completely different, but when I’m traveling around the globe they give me some great opportunities to meet new people and have new experiences. 
  4. Sometimes solo travel gets really lonely
    Even though I’m a class 5 introvert I still get really lonely sometimes when I’m traveling. Most of the time I’m great, and I definitely prefer to travel solo but there are definitely days that are rougher than others. Usually to fix this phase I plug into my Facebook group of girls who travel, try to schedule meetups with my friends or join a walking tour. 
  5. I walk miles and miles and miles
    Something that you don’t really get to see is just how much I walk when I’m traveling. I mean miles and miles and hours and hours. I’ve always loved walking, but I also love the gems that I can find when I’m walking around a city. That being said, I never walk alone late at night and try to stay in mostly populated areas so that I’m safe. 
  6. My favorite thing to do is go clothing shopping
    This is kind of the worst because I’m a backpacker which means that I have basically no room for clothes when I travel…and yet somehow I’m always buying clothes. Usually I’ll just choose a few amazing pieces because of space restrictions, but absolutely love walking through shops when I’m traveling.
  7. I love old churches
    Churches are my happy place. I was raised very religious, and while I don’t hold the exact belief system of religion that I was brought up with churches always bring me peace and anchor me. In Europe it’s also beautiful because these places of worship have been around for so many centuries and the craftmanship is just jaw-dropping. Not defending the history of the church, but there will always be a part of me deeply tied to it.
  8. I make a lot of dumb mistakes and have to laugh them off
    So this morning I tried to get on a train and could not for the life of me figure out how to put the ticket in the machine. No this is not my first time in the U.K. Yes, I have ridden public transportation here before. But for some reason when it came time to slide my ticket in, I went completely blank. The  lady standing in line behind me basically cheerleadered me on until I figured it out but it was a great example of one of those times that I do something really stupid and have to just laugh it off. When you’re traveling around to different cultures and countries this is going to probably happen a lot. One of the most useful travel tools you can develop is humor. 
  9. I have social anxiety
    Let me tell you what happens when I get around a group of people: my mind, body, and soul start shutting down. Throughout traveling I’ve been able to acknowledge this and develop some strategic ways to make traveling work for me even though I hate being around people…especially unfamiliar people. For instance, I’ve invested in noise canceling headphones. I take breaks throughout the day to go back to my hostel/Airbnb. Not optional, I force myself to take breaks. I bring books with me. I plan like nobody’s business so I don’t get overwhelmed when I leave my home base. There is no right way to travel. Customizing your experience so that it makes you happy is the only thing you need to worry about. 
  10. I go to bed really early, and wake up really early when I travel
    You might think that the party life is what traveling is all about, but unless I’m in Copenhagen, this is just not how I travel. Referencing back to my previous point, being around a ton of people is really exhausting for me, so waking up really early (like 6am or 7am) and taking a walk around a city can be a really refreshing way to start my day. In order to do this, though, I have to go to bed pret-ty early which means no late night partying for me…unless I’m in Copenhagen.
  11. BONUS: Jet lag is from the devil
    You may have heard of those people who jet-lag barely affects. I am not one of them. That’s why I’m finishing writing this post at 4am and why the hostel workers were like “Do you have to be up for a flight?” Nope. I’m just terrible at getting my body to cooperate. It usually takes me about three days to get over jet-lag so I usually don’t plan a whole lot of interactive activities during those days. Why? Because I’m not a saint when I’m tired. And now you know.

Review: Pimlico Fresh

I can’t stop thinking about this place, so I thought I would write a review on the restaurant I stumbled into yesterday. Now, mind you, I was famished and very jet-lagged when I came here so perhaps that’s why it seemed angelic… but also there are some legitimate bragging points. The toast, for instance. I am definitely a carb-ivore, so having European bread after choking down American for a year is always an interesting switch. Think of it as always drinking La Croix and never realizing there’s real fruit juice in the world. Yeah, I went there.

My one down talk on this place was that there were a lot of Americans there and usually I don’t recommend a place that’s built for tourists. But I don’t get the feel that was the story here. I think the main reason was because of the location (within a few minutes walk from Victoria station). Oh, and if you’re looking for some Instagram worthy food then this is the spot you’re gonna want to hit up.

 

Ordered: Scrambled eggs on toast, sausage, and English Breakfast tea

Where: 86 Wilton Rd London SW1V 1DE

Went: September 2018

Wifi: No

Reservation Needed: No

Website: None. Ha.

Tip: This spot is right by Victoria station and has bread and tea to die for. The seating is set up with big tables so don’t be afraid to sit down next to a stranger to eat your food.
See the source image

London: A Writer’s Paradise

The first time I came to London I hated it. Like really hated it. The busy backwards streets, the millions of people, the high prices…it was all too much for my little introvert mind. And don’t even get me started on the Tube. At the time, the thought of commuting underground absolutely terrified me.

A lot has changed in the last five years. I’ve visited London more and it has started to feel more like my city. I started to feel more comfortable wandering beyond the tourist spots early in the morning. I learned to look both ways when I cross a street…just in case. And obviously after living in Paris taking an underground metro is second nature to me, now. It’s comical, when I think back, that this year I decided that London was going to be where I spent my birthday. My birthday is a really important day of the year, and I’m pretty particular about how I spend it. I’ve been in London less than 24 hours and I already know I made the right decision…but it’s still laughable.

I bought this plane ticket back in March when a lot of things were uncertain for me. I didn’t know where I was going to live, work or what direction I was headed. I didn’t even have my cat, which is a tragedy to think about. When I saw the non-stop tickets from Seattle to London I knew I needed to jump on the opportunity, but I also knew that with such an unknown future I didn’t know if I’d even be able to get the time off from whatever job I was working six months down that road. So naturally I bought a ticket.

And now I’m sitting in a café in London. Different job, different living situation, different life. The lesson to learn here is that when you make travel a priority you might be surprised how the universe moves to make it happen.

There’s another reason I decided to take this trip, beyond the fact that it’s my birthday on Wednesday and that’s because I wanted to really dive into a writing state of mind. What better place than London? While I’m here my #1 priority is to immerse myself in writing. That could mean learning about writers, sitting here writing while I’m severely jet-lagged or meeting up with other writers while I’m here. Also just having more experiences to write about. I want it all. And I need it.

The last couple years have been pretty intense and amidst those times my writing has dropped off in a lot of ways, which is tragic since all I’ve ever wanted to do since I was a kid was to write. So here I am in one of the greatest cities in the world, soaking up as much knowledge as I can and typing away on my little blog. Let’s see what adventures we can have.

P.s. Tomorrow I’m going to Harry Potter Land…aka Warner Bros Studios London!

Three Crazy Trips I’m Planning For 2018

I’ve been pretty silent about my trips this year. I think it has to do with a little bit of burn-out surrounding the whole “travel blogger” thing. I started backpacking because I loved seeing the world and because I’m a writer who starts to lose their sanity if they aren’t writing every day—never to get attention. After traveling, and living abroad, I kind of hit a wall as far as what my motivation for travel was. Was it to get followers? Likes? Pad my portfolio?

There isn’t anything wrong with any of these things, but I needed to take a step back from the spotlight (if you will) and rediscover why I want to travel. The answer I came up with is that I want and need to travel for my own artistic inspiration and spiritual certainty.

As far as art goes, discovering the classic works of art has always been one of my number one goals with travel. I’m in love with the works of Van Gogh, Renoir, Gauguin and Monet. I also love seeing new illustrative styles and sculptures. As a writer, I’m also always looking to discover the literary backgrounds of the places I travel to. I’ve visited the hometowns of Shakespeare, Beatrix Potter, Ernest Hemingway, and Charles Dickens just to name a few. I hope to see more.

All that being said, I’ve thought long and hard about the three trips I’ll be taking this year. These are where I’ve decided. FUN FACT: None of them are on the list of “Must Visit Spots for Millenials in 2018”. I didn’t choose them because of anything like that. I picked them because they speak to my heart.

1. Quebec City, Canada

When I was nine years old I went on a road trip with my family that lasted about a month. During the road trip I had my ninth birthday and we crossed over into Quebec, Canada. For those of you who don’t know, Quebec is the French speaking portion of Canada and from the moment I heard people speaking I was in love. Obviously now I know that French-Canadian and French are very different, but as a kid I had no idea. The minute I got back to Seattle I asked my mom to enroll me in French lessons, and I’ve been studying the language ever since. I absolutely adore it. Rather than Montreal, where I went last time, I’ve decided to stay in Quebec City. I’m super excited for this adventure, and for being able to see the Chatêau Frontenac! Cities with castles are just better.

2. London, England/Paris, France

For my birthday this year I’m planning on returning to the UK. The focus of this trip will probably be literary, since I’ve seen a lot of the main attractions. I may also try to stay in a beautiful spot by the water for my birthday. This trip will likely extend to Paris, as well, since I’ve always wanted to take the train across the channel and it’s been on my bucket list.

I think one of my favorite things about revisiting spots is that you get familiar with the cities and therefore you’re willing to take more risks. You feel comfortable enough to go into random pubs on the street, or to wander off the map a little. Funny enough, I really didn’t like London the first time I went…or really even the second time. But now that I’ve been there a few times it’s starting to grow on me.

3. Arcata, California

This is my least planned out trip because it will probably fall late in the year, but I’m planning on visiting some family in northern California, and exploring the Redwood Forest! I’ve wanted to head down there for a while, but I just haven’t been able to make it for various reasons. I’m super excited to go spend some time enjoying nature and seeing one of the natural wonders of the world.

BONUS: I’m also probably going to be taking a weekend trip to Vancouver, BC but stay tuned for more details!

Women’s History Month Highlight: R. Riveter Handbags

Let’s talk about some beautiful little bags. Most of you are probably aware that I’m a brand ambassador for R. Riveter bags, but one of the coolest things about this ambassador program is that this brand is the real deal. Since this month is National Women’s History Month I’ve decided to go a little more in-depth to tell you guys about the brand I’m so in love with. Don’t worry, this won’t feel like homework.

I personally own two bags from R.Riveter, The Otto and The Hobby. Now, other than these names just sounding cool they’re actually the names of two pretty incredible women who R. Riveter wanted to honor with their production.

Elinor Otto was one of the original Rosie the Riveters, and was actually the last surviving of the women who built America during WWII. In 1942 Otto joined a California aircraft manufacturer in order to take care of her young son. She made 65 cents per hour.”I’m a working person, I guess. I like to work. I like to be around people that work. I like to get up, get out of the house, get something accomplished during the day.”

Oveta Culp Hobby was the first secretary of the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare, first director of the Women’s Army Corps, and a chairperson of the board of the Houston Post. In other words…she kept busy. Something I love about Oveta is that she’s a go-getter. She didn’t have a formal education, but still became a journalist when she was 26 years old. During WWII she was the first woman to ever be awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for her efforts during the war. She went on to be an editor and politician and publisher. As a fellow writer, I admire Oveta as a pretty outstanding example of what one woman can do when she sets her mind to it.

Both of these women are such amazing examples of tenacity, but I also want to acknowledge the women who are hard at work making the gorgeous R.Riveter bags. One of the awesome things about these bags is that each piece is stamped by the woman who created and/or assembled it. Here’s who made my Hobby:

RR079: Amanda R. (Who you can find out more about by clicking HERE)

RR024: Jocelyn (Who you can find out more about by clicking HERE)

RR053: Danie H. (Who you can find out more about by clicking HERE)

These are just three of the strong, beautiful, independent women who assembled my bag, and I love that I’m able to find each of them on the R. Riveter site. That’s pretty incredible. I’m so happy to be part of the R. Riveter community, and to be working to provide stable income for military spouses throughout the U.S. Like the site says, it really isn’t about the bags at all. It’s about empowering women, and the people behind each and every bag that is sold.

If you would like to purchase a bag from R. Riveter, you can use the code RREMILEEM for 15% off your purchase. Because I love you.

Tea Talk 9: Chelsea Elzinga | English Teacher (Luxembourg)

Chelsea and I met in college, and honestly from the start I knew she was one of the coolest people I’d ever meet in my life. This girl is the definition of driven, passionate about life, and has a healthy sprinkle of Beyoncé swag. We both loved French culture, and years after college actually ended up living in France at the same time, which was such a beautifully weird coincidence! Now she resides in Luxembourg where she’s teaching English, as one does. I’m so excited to introduce this powerhouse woman to you all—here’s Chelsea!

What started your passion for traveling?

My passion for traveling has always been about moving beyond the limits of my comfort zone. It is an activity (or lifestyle, I suppose) closely tied to my love of language. For my first trip abroad, I went to France by myself at the age of eighteen. Living with a French exchange family was difficult even after five years of French classes because I often felt awkward when I couldn’t express myself. My happiest moments were when I got to explore alone. That was an important first-time travel experience and invaluable life lesson. Although I was a little pre-occupied by my linguistic insecurity at the time, it ended up transforming my confidence, pushing me to pursue French that fall at university, and has impacted every step of my journey since.


What’s one travel tip you think the world should know?

Make language learning part of your travel preparation and/or itinerary. While your ego may shrink with every butchered pronunciation that struggles out of your mouth, the synapses in your brain are beginning to form new paths of understanding. You become stronger! You don’t (and likely won’t) master another language for one trip, but knowing numbers, how to ask where the bathroom is, and basic phrases will serve you immensely while you travel.

On a recent day-trip in Germany, I was able to just barely communicate with the waiter after a few weeks of my beginner’s German class. It was my first time using German outside the classroom, and it was completely imperfect. Nevertheless, it’s a moment I feel really proud of thinking back on!

What’s your favorite cultural habit you’ve picked up (ex. food dishes, lifestyle changes etc.)

Owning next to nothing. Hah! I can fit most of my possessions (save for about five massive boxes of books packed in my parent’s storage –sorry mom and dad!) into three suitcases. It can be scary to not have a stockpile of goods at your disposal but it is also freeing.

What would you suggest for other women who are thinking about traveling?

Pick your destination carefully – not just because it looks good on Instagram or somebody else wants to go there. Foster your interest in a travel location via passion-driven routes such as literature or travel writing, or perhaps through cuisine or film. It will make your trip especially meaningful if you’ve put a little sweat into learning to appreciate and contextualize the place before you’ve arrived.

The other side of this argument is that there’s something special about just showing up somewhere with no clue as to what you’re going to encounter! Having done it both ways, I’ve always been more surprised and delighted by a place after having invested in some pre-departure research, however.


What’s one failure that you learned a lot from, when it comes to travel?

Learning how to rearrange my goals when traveling in a group versus solo-traveling. Sometimes the right group of people is magical and emphasizes everything about the trip without effort. Other times, the group encumbers each step of the journey. I’m still learning how to be more flexible when it comes to ‘getting the most’ out of a destination when traveling in groups. Maybe it means we’ll go to a crappy pub for the sake of accommodating eight people. Chances are, it’ll still be fun.

What’s one fear that you overcame, while traveling?

My fears around travel are usually related to social anxieties: Will anybody want to hang out with me? Will I be lonely? These are the same fears I’ve had since first-grade. Traveling alone has nurtured my sense of self. The people I’ve been fortunate to meet while traveling and living abroad have each impacted me and I’ve been surprised at how welcoming people are. Now, I’m much less concerned with maintaining a tight, insular social group where I feel understood, and instead I seek to meet a wide variety of people and hope to understand more about them. Inevitably, friendships form.

What is your favorite way to travel (ex. plane, train, automobile?) and why?

Whichever is the most convenient! In Europe, the train is often the simplest way to travel with much less hassle involved in comparison to airport travel. Planes have always felt a bit violent to me: they hurtle you so nightmarishly through the air and confuse your sense of being in the world! Plus, they’re just scary and I could fall out of the sky. (J) A calm, quiet train ride allows you to watch each mile of landscape as it goes by from your window. No turbulence, and no take-off or landing. Of course, trains can be a bit too slow if you’re trying to get from Rome to Paris, for example…

What is one piece of advice that you wish you could give your past self?

Take fewer pictures. (This is advice for my current self as well.) My automatic reaction is to grab for my phone before I even allow a moment to sink in. What am I even going to do with all of those pictures anyway??? One challenge I have for myself is to go on a trip and take, like, seven photos per day! I’d imagine the experience would be different if I wasn’t always preoccupied with getting a great shot.

What is one place at the top of your bucket list that you’d like to visit?

I don’t have a bucket list! But, if I had to choose one place to visit say, tomorrow, I’d get on a plane and go to Dakar, Senegal. Because, in this scenario, I have a) decided that it would be a free plane ticket and b) I’m interested in doing something close but not too far from my Francophone tendencies. As a French lit student, I’ve read a lot by authors from Senegal and would love to visit and learn more about this West African country.


Let’s talk about your current trip! What was your inspiration for your adventure?

I’m living in Luxembourg this year as an English teaching assistant through the Fulbright program. I applied to the program in Luxembourg because it’s aligned with many of my own ideologies: encouraging cultural exchange, fostering international relations at the individual level, and providing language education. Next year, I’ll start my PhD in French literature and I wanted to take a pause beforehand to improve my French skills and to also recharge after finishing my Masters.

I chose Luxembourg because I wanted to think beyond the French hexagon and to expand my language skills. Luxembourg has three official languages: French, German, and Luxembourgish, so I have opportunities to learn here that I don’t anywhere else. Luxembourg’s location between France, Belgium, and Germany make it a fascinating place to be linguistically, but also culturally and historically.

The intimate yet international characteristics to this country make it truly unique. For example, this morning on my way to teach at a high school in the Luxembourgish countryside, I accidentally got on the wrong train and went to Belgium. I still made it back for the last few minutes of class. It’s both embarrassing and hilarious that this was even possible.

After my morning in Belgium, I told the story to my English class of fifteen-year-old Luxembourgish students. Although an hour beforehand I had been completely frustrated and upset, the mishap ended with everyone laughing at my groggy-morning commuter fail. Only in Luxembourg are borders so permeable and morning commutes so transnational.

What has been the best/toughest part of your current trip?

Best: Integrating in Luxembourg has been surprisingly easy! It’s an extremely international and multilingual place. I live around a university campus so there are plenty of welcoming people and activities to take part in. I have truly enjoyed meeting people from Luxembourg and from all corners of the world while living here as an English teacher.

Toughest: Being away from people I love. This year is particularly full of “life events” for friends and family back home. The longer I live away from home, the more I realize that I don’t always want to be this far.

 

What’s one thing you’ve learned from your current trip?

The real meaning of “staying positive.” At some level, it is a mental discipline that I must constantly remind myself of during tiring commutes that test my patience or when grey skies just won’t seem to clear away. If I can mentally remain positive, it completely improves the emotional and physical aspects of my life and—this is something I’m just realizing now—it will improve the lives of others around me. Nobody benefits from one more whiny expat stuck on making references to life back home where food is readily available for purchase at any hour of the day. “Living the dream” does not mean each day is dreamy. However, the more I keep myself from getting negative, the more I am able to appreciate everything about the experience.


What’s one thing you’ve learned about yourself from this trip?

I’m more adaptable to new situations and environments than I had realized, but I’m also not as independent as I thought. I need encouragement and community with other people to really succeed and enjoy life abroad. I feel blessed to have people from different areas of my life supporting me. I still don’t quite fully grasp how much I rely on the support and encouragement of others, but I’ve been learning that I’d rather ask for help and be vulnerable with people (e.g. Today, I’m worried about x, y, and z and I need to just cry on the phone) than to try and grit my teeth and go it alone.

 

Anything else you’d like to add?

Ultimately, the reason I travel isn’t because I want to have fun or even escape from day to day life. Traveling sharpens and refines my perspective on everyday life, while it also poses many financial, emotional, and mental challenges. I know it is a privilege to travel but it can also be a sacrifice. In the end, I believe travel is an investment. Traveling is an investment that returns ten-fold what you put into it. You’ll benefit personally, but also become a better global-citizen. I think the world needs more purposeful travelers who are willing to do things outside of their comfort zones. In an increasingly fearful climate, thoughtful travelers can become mini-ambassadors of resistance, hope, and cross-cultural understanding.

Tea Talk is a monthly series featuring extraordinary women who travel around the world! If you know someone who should be featured, or would like to be featured yourself, shoot me an email at morehouseemilee@gmail.com or post a message on this blog post! Join me again in December for the next feature! 

 

Tea Talk 8: Jane Streicher | English Teacher (Seoul, Korea)

Jane and I have known each other pretty much our whole lives, and I love that we both have a passion for traveling. Something I’ve written about before is how homeschooling opens up your mind to being able to do things like live in other cultures, or travel the world, because it encourages that sense of constant curiosity. Jane and I both had that as kids, growing up, and I love seeing her adventures as she lives and works in Korea. I’m so honored to have such amazing women surrounding my life, and being able to share their stories with you all! Without further adieu, here’s Jane:

1. What started your passion for traveling?

I grew up going on family road trips every summer including camping for a week a few hours away on the coast or cross country trips to visit relatives in the midwest. Because of these trips, I learned to love going places and experiencing new things from a young age.

2. What’s one travel tip you think the world should know?

Stay with locals. One of my favorite things to do is to find an Airbnb or hostel run by locals and get their advice on where to go and what to eat. They will usually have secret spots that I could have never found without their insight.

3. What’s your favorite cultural habit you’ve picked up (ex. food dishes, lifestyle changes etc.)

One simple thing I do subconsciously now after living in Asia for four years, is taking my shoes off whenever I am inside a home. I remember in high school and college, I would wear boots inside all day long but now I feel so unsettled if I have my shoes on for more than a few minutes.

Another thing I have learned to appreciate is gift giving. It’s a simple way to show someone you care about them or respect them after taking a trip or visiting their home. Obviously this is done in the US too but I never truly saw its purpose until living in Asia.

4. What would you suggest for other women who are thinking about traveling?

Don’t over think things. Be open and flexible to what can happen. Make plans and be smart but also have an open mind so if/when things go wrong you can still have fun and enjoy yourself.

5. What’s one failure that you learned a lot from, when it comes to travel?

Always check times (especially if its military time). When I was leaving Vietnam last winter, I accidentally missed my flight completely by 12 hours because I thought my flight was in the afternoon when it was actually late at night. Luckily I could buy another flight for $100 but I now make sure to triple check all times.

6. What’s one fear that you overcame, while traveling?

Being alone. When I first moved to Vietnam in 2013, I preferred doing things with other people and felt a little bit intimidated going places alone. Over the years I was there, I learned to navigate going out alone and now I love going to coffee shops alone to read or work. My introverted side as defiantly become much more dominate as I have traveled and lived abroad.

Accepting help. As an American, I think it’s ingrained in me to want to do things without help from other people. Living in Vietnam and South Korea, there have been countless times when I have had to rely on my friends from those places to help me get simple things done like going to the doctor or fixing a flat tire on my motorbike.

7. What is your favorite way to travel (ex. plane, train, automobile?) and why?

Plane. There is always such an excitement I feel when taking a flight. I love the whole process and especially enjoy the meals (?! I know most people think they are gross.)

8. What is one piece of advice that you wish you could give your past self?

Money will come and go. So much of the time when traveling and living abroad, money can be a huge worry. I am still learning how to be smart about it but as an expat I think I have to expect times when money is tighter.

9. What is one place at the top of your bucket list that you’d like to visit?

Japan! I am hoping to take a trip to see the cherry blossoms there next spring.

10. Let’s talk about your current adventure! What was your inspiration?

I was really curious about South Korean culture and learning the language. I had met lots of Koreans in Vietnam and decided it was time for a new challenge. Instead of wondering what life was like there, I wanted to experience it first hand.

11. What has been the best/toughest part?

One of the best parts is my job teaching English to kindergarteners and elementary students. I spend most of my work day with four and five year olds and they are so precious and curious. They make it fun to come to work!

I have also been loving all the food and places to discover here. There are so many tasty things to try and new coffee shops to go to! A tough thing is starting over and everything that comes with it – making new friends, learning a new language and new city.

12. What’s one thing you’ve learned?

Being uncomfortable is okay, especially when going through change.

I came to Seoul after living in Vietnam for three years. I loved my time in Da Nang and by the time I left last winter, I had a comfortable life with so many special friends and connections. I knew the city so well and everything was fairly easy and simple.

One of the main reasons I wanted to come to Seoul of all the cities in South Korea was because it scared me a little bit. It sounded so big and intimidating and I loved that idea. I wanted a new challenge of living in a highly developed city and learning a new language but what that meant didn’t fully sink in until I got here.

The last six months have been exciting and fun but also awkward and challenging. I have been able to study Korean with two amazing teachers and have also made friends and have a good job. But there have also been days where things aren’t perfect and feel uncomfortable.

13. What’s one thing you’ve learned about yourself from this trip?

I truly love to learn. I have always know this but over the last few years, it’s really hit me that I am a life long learner. In Vietnam, I was a part of a Christmas choir and also took a dance class. I had never done those things well but decided if I was interested I could do it.

14. Anything else you’d like to add?!

The experience of traveling and doing new things is always worth it, even if you have to budget or rearrange things!

Tea Talk is a monthly series featuring extraordinary women who travel around the world! If you know someone who should be featured, or would like to be featured yourself, shoot me an email at morehouseemilee@gmail.com or post a message on this blog post! Join me again in November for the next feature! 

When Your Life Doesn’t Look Like It “Should”

I have 112 unpublished blog drafts. That means 112 times I started writing, got frustrated and stopped. Yet, I am still a blogger.

I’ve been thinking a lot about failure, lately. A friend and I were talking about how in college you’re asked 101 times,”What’s your five year plan?” But after college? Nah. Nobody asks me that anymore. Life a decade after college is something halfway between eye-rolls that I don’t have 2.5 children and people gasp-asking how I do everything I do (Hint: I don’t have 2.5 children).

My life is couture, I’ll admit. It’s custom cut to fit me.

And as I sit here drinking copious amounts of tea, I’ve been thinking about how I’ve made my life what it is—the decisions that brought me to where I am. Once upon a time I was offered the white picket fence life, but instead I chose to travel.

And here’s a little insight into why:

 

Because doing what you’re “supposed” to do, just to keep up with societally imposed schedules (based off of age/ gender etc.) does not guarantee you any more success or happiness than waiting to be personally ready.

 

Live your life on your time. When you’re ready to travel, travel. When you’re ready to get married, get married. When you’re ready to adopt a dog, adopt a dog. But please please don’t do these things to make your life look “right.”

My life right now is nothing like what I thought it would be. In fact, according to my child self, I’ve failed spectacularly (still not the lead singer of a band). But, you know what?

That’s okay.

My little under-developed freshman SPU self wouldn’t have even been able to imagine the wild adventures I’d go on. She wouldn’t have had a clue how many amazing people I’d meet, or how many bucket list items I’d check off. She wouldn’t know that I’d be able to build a life where I did what I loved…and got paid to do it.

Easy isn’t the answer.

Amidst the stress and crazy, I really really love my life, and I’m really f*cking happy (sorry, mom). I’m starting a new career at a beautifully brilliant company where I get to help women all over the world. I live in a beautiful 1928 vintage house, full of strong independent women, in one of the most beautiful cities. I get to geek out over things as much as I damn well please, and I write for a living. Let me repeat that so my child self can hear it back through the sound waves of time: “YOU GROW UP TO BE A PAID WRITER!”

Life doesn’t look like it “should,” but I’m okay with that. It’s not about predicting outcomes five years down the road. It’s about taking what life throws at you and creating beauty out of it. That’s what makes life this messy and magnificent thing.
Obviously there are times when things get absolutely frustrating. Curve balls get thrown. But being frustrated doesn’t mean you give up on building the life you want. It might mean you walk away from things for a bit, but it does not mean you stop.

 

I like to think about it this way: Growing up I always thought I was going to reach adulthood and be handed this telescope with which I could see my future. It would be clear, and entirely in focus. But, in fact, it’s so much more beautifully intricate than that.
My life is a kaleidoscope. There are shapes and colors and weird little speckle things that I haven’t even discovered, yet. Yes, my past plans for the future failed spectacularly, but they were replaced by experiences I literally could not have dreamed for myself. And that’s beautiful.

A group of friends used to say, “Yesterday’s ceiling is todays floor.” And I honestly believe that. The best is yet to come.

Now pardon me as I go buy tickets to a zombie ball. 

 

U.S. Cities You Should Definitely Visit | Bernalillo, New Mexico

Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post that contains affiliate links to hotelplanner.com. I received compensation in exchange for writing this blog post, although all opinions are my own. 

Usually I’m not a fan of heat. There’s a reason I’ve been to 42 states, leaving the eight states with some of the highest temperatures in the nation for last. Since it’s my goal to go to all 50 states, I’ll admit that I’ve been scoping some spots to see while I’m there. During this series I’ve talked about Richmond, Virginia and today, for that Southwest vibe, I’m highlighting the little town of Southwestern spice: Bernalillo, New Mexico, which is located just outside of Albuquerque.

History

Kiva Painting. Image via Wikimedia via Unknown

This little part of New Mexico has a history that dates back 1,000 years. It’s known as the historical center of the state of New Mexico, possibly because most of this state is a desert, so there isn’t much competition. Over the years, the town has hosted archeological digs that produced kiva murals, some which are considered to be the best examples of Pre-Columbian art ever to be found in North America.

During the 16th century, conquistadors scoured what is now New Mexico for the Seven Cities of Gold, which straight up sounds like something from “Indiana Jones.” The Coronado Monument commemorates the journey of Francisco Vázquez de Coronado, who camped near Bernalillo during his expedition to find the golden cities. The good news is that he made some great maps during his trip. The bad is that he was almost killed for failing to bring back gold. Oops.

Cool Things to Do

Since it’s a small town, you might not think that Bernalillo has a whole lot to offer. However, you might be surprised at how many quirky tricks it has up its sleeve. Try out the following fun stops when you’re in town.

Ghost Stories

I’m the type of person who can’t handle visiting any kind of scary place. But I do love myths, legends, and scary stories, as long as they’re told with the lights turned on. Bernalillo has quite a list of scary stories, most focused on the Santa Ana Star Casino. The workers there have claimed everything from hearing children laugh to feeling a presence in the room with them. Rumor has it that there was once a graveyard located where the casino is now standing. For a comprehensive list of haunted locations in this area, you can check out hauntedplaces.org.

Commune With Nature

Seattleites love nature more than life, so Bernalillo is a great spot for us to venture. Since Bernalillo is about 15 minutes outside of Albuquerque, it’s far enough away from the city that you can easily access the Rio Grande and the surrounding mountain ranges.

Accommodations

If you’re looking for a place to stay in Bernalillo, try finding a rustic place to stay. If you’re more in the hotel mood, pop over to HotelPlanner Bernalillo to find amazing spots for cheaper than you might think.

Wherever you choose to stay, hopefully I’ll see you out amongst the cacti. I’ll be the one hugging an ice block.