A Love Affair With A Forbidden City….(Pt. 1)

When you hear the name Kuwait, what exactly comes to mind? When you hear somebody talk about the Middle East what do you envision? For me, with one deployment under my belt and some of the most infuriating experiences over there my first time around, I’ll admit I was a bit skeptical. I had lived in Kuwait for about six months on a US Military base after coming out of Iraq. As frustrating as it was to live in the middle of nowhere, I tried to keep an open mind, that this was not the entire Country of Kuwait that I was experiencing.

Fast forward about five years, and here I am flying into Kuwait City. Everyone tried to warn me about the heat and the misery that would ensue while staying during the summer. I couldn’t help but laugh and reply to their comments in my head, “When you train in 60lbs. give or take of gear in the blazing heat, and live in a 50 man bay tent for six months, then come complain to me.” I took a deep breath and stepped off the plane for the first time. Immediately the familiar smells and gritty air texture of Kuwait flooded my senses. But something was different. This was a more calming familiarity flooding my senses, instead of a flood. Something felt different, and I could not quite put my finger on it.

As we made our way through customs, and gathered our bags to wait for the hotel shuttle, the first thing I noticed that was different was the heat. Of course flying in at an early hour would make for cooler heat, but it definitely beat flying in at noon during the middle of summer. It was cool and dry. A welcoming sign that the desert herself was in her winter months. I quite enjoyed the weather and began to observe as we waited under the overhang. The first thing I noticed were the men. Whether dressed in traditional Middle Eastern garb, or the foreigners who were in the country to work for their families, they all seemed calm, collected, and confident. In their own world, driven by their own purpose. They moved about with a non chalant demeanor that I had never really experienced before. In the South in the United States, everyone warned me it was a lot slower and a lot more laid back than city life back in Denver, but there was still that impression of American drive in the south. But here, it was leisurely, as if they had all the time in the world. My first thoughts were, “Well why wouldn’t they? They live in a really hot climate in the summer.” But I believe it had more to do with the culture. Things just weren’t in a rush to get done as fast as possible here. When I did notice the one or two women about at this hour, they were mostly foreigners for India or south east Asia. They were allowed to wear their traditional Saris and show their faces.

Again another stereotype blown out of the water for me. Kuwait is actually a very welcoming city to foreign women, as long as you respect their culture in terms of modesty. Saris had longer fabric to not show as much skin, and western wear consisted of long sleeves and skirts/pants to cover as much skin as possible. Of course in my culture brief during training, I knew as an employee representing my airline it was expected of me to dress as conservatively as possible, I just hadn’t considered that applying to everyone else as well. If anything I would at least have expected Kuwait to make women wear headscarves, but this was not the case at all.

Our bus had arrived to take us to the hotel. We loaded up the hotel shuttle with our bags, chose our seats and were on our merry way to the hotel. I looked outside the closed curtains on the bus and recognized the route. The last time I drove down this highway I was stuffed into a crowded bus full of soldiers with my assault pack “front loaded” (A military term meaning you wore your backpack forwards to help with the loading process) heading home. Again it was a familiar feeling settling over instead of an onslaught of memories and bad experiences. This entire visit to Kuwait, so far,just felt way to different from the last time I was here.

When we got to the hotel, my jaw dropped. Not only were the accommodations more then adequate, I pinched myself a little to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. This could not be our hotel. This had to be a mistake. Surely we had made the wrong turn somewhere. But no, this magnificent marvel of architecture that stood before me was our hotel. I had heard the rumors about the flight attendants who would get layovers here for over a week and would live like Kings and Queens. I had thought that was an exaggeration, honestly, to make it seem more glamorous to us first year flight attendants. No, their stories did not disappoint, they were completely correct.

Between the Hotel amenities and our convenient location to the city and the beach, its true, living like a Queen was an understatement compared to my last living quarters in Kuwait. But thats not what interested me. What interested me was the city. I was eager to get out and explore. I was eager to get out and experience a country I was forbidden to see. (And rightly so. The Army takes security very seriously and complete accountability of its personnel at all times in a foreign country is a must).

We had all signed up to go to the Souk (A Middle Eastern Market) at 1600 (4:00pm) the next day. They told me to get some rest and make sure I tried the breakfast in the morning. As I signed for my room key and took the elevator up to the floor I was assigned, I still couldn’t believe I was in this hotel. Imagine the shock I felt when I checked into my room for the first time. The king size bed, the softness of the sheets, the rain head shower. Heaven. The second my head hit the pillow, I was out like a light.

That next morning I decided to head down to breakfast. My first impressions of the breakfast buffet? Wow! Never in my life had I seen so much scrumptious looking food in one place. The succulent melon slices and fruits, next to the appropriately placed “World Tour of Cheeses” platter. The omelette buffet, literally, its own separate buffet within the buffet! I couldn’t even decide what I wanted to eat that morning so I tried a little bit of everything. The crispy, cool, crunch of the cucumbers. The heavy but mellow texture of the meatball sauce over rice they served that morning. I even requested a veggie and cheese omelette. (It wasn’t until later that I discovered I could also order smoked salmon to eat with my omelette, either on the side, or cooked into the omelette itself). After a hearty breakfast fit for a Queen, nay a freaking Goddess at this point, I decided to head upstairs for a little nap before my first trip into the city.

When I met everyone downstairs in Lobby at 1645L (thats 4:45pm) I was wearing long sleeves, jeans and my boots. I had also brought my trusty Nikon D3200 (who now at this point in my blog I will refer to as Nikolai. (Yes, I named my camera its that serious. Don’t judge me.)) with assorted lenses and a backpack. I was excited. I had never been to a souk, let alone any sort of Market or shopping center in the Middle East and I was excited to see what treasures, trinkets, and goodies this adventure would hold. I went to the hotel ATM and pulled out 10KD (about 33$ and some change based on the currency exchange rate). As we loaded up the bus, I started putting a lens on Nikolai hoping I would catch some good sights.

One of the first photos I snapped in Kuwait was of this tower by Al Shaheed park while on our way into the city. The architecture alone was enough to make me fall in love at this point. I knew right then and there I would explore every inch of this fascinating city. At this point I was so eager to explore and discover that I made a vow to myself. Every time I fly into Kuwait City, I have to explore something new. As we approached the souk, our driver let us out on the curb, and I snapped my first picture of the Souk.

As we ran around and toured the Souk, my lead (Head Flight Attendant on the Crew) instructed us on the different shops and sections, where we could buy custom jewelry, and where the best priced silk and cashmere scarfs are. They call her the scarf lady amongst the flight attendants. During this mini tour of the souk, I was able to capture many views of a magical forbidden destination. And thus began my love affair with a forbidden city. Thank you so much for reading. Part two coming soon.

Travel…The Spark I needed to Ignite my creativity

Imagine finding something that truly makes you happy and spending the rest of your life with it. Whether its a thing or an idea or even a somebody. Now imagine that went away for a number of years. How would you feel? How would you cope? How would your attitude change, Your whole demeanor? Would you feel like a piece of your soul was missing? For me it was my creativity. Creativity to me is something I was born with yes, but I’ve come to view it as my own personal rose garden. I must tend and nurture it, in order for it to bloom into this wonderful garden of mystery and wonder.

However for a time my creativity was stifled. I believe honestly at the tender young age of eighteen, a combination of being married young during the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis and joining the army against every screaming fiber in my soul, placed my creativity in a long lost Pandora’s box deep in the recesses of my mind. I believe from that point on I tried to build this sense fo self that everyone else needed me to be. Throw in a few traumatic events, and I had become a hardened carbon copy of my former self. No sense of life, no sense of direction or purpose; Just aimlessly wandering through my life, robotically logging in the motions of daily activity that required me to function. When I tell you I reached a dark place without my creativity, dark would be an understatement. More like the abysmal pitch black depths of a bottomless soul-crushing black hole, where “nothing” seemed imminent.

In bits and pieces I would grasp onto my creativity only to lose it again, like trying to light a cigarette during a windy day. I would taste the sweet release of pent up negative energy through expression only to lose it in the mundane of blind existence yet again. Until on that fateful day I answered an Indeed job posting.

It didn’t come back all at once, not at first. At first I had to survive the gladiator-style flight attendant training. And after that it was a matter of working a few flights in an entirely new industry (for me) that I had to get used to. And then there were the agonizing days where I just sat on reserve, not traveling anywhere. But I believe it was my trip to Poland last year that prompted me to wipe off the dust from my trusty Nikon D3200 camera and assorted lenses, and bring it one my trip with me.

I remember the first shutter click like it was yesterday. The finality of the click sounding as if the entire world had just slid into place and made sense. The sound of the lens zooming and refocusing in on my intended subject, the whining and whiring of the internal mechanisms as some sort of calming call to prayer. I had captured a turquoise green roof attached to some interesting Polish architecture.

But it was the gold and white Lion Crest I was attracted to. So I snapped another picture of that.

And then it was the white marbled lady statue holding a gold staff,

and then it was the Cathedral tower.

Pretty soon we had ended our day trip at a restaurant laughing, eating, and drinking to our hearts content. (Literally to our hearts content. Poland has yet to switch the euro and uses the Zloty. It was amazingly cheap there. I believe I only spent about 18$ that night for some goose stuffed dumplings and six beers). But during that entire time, my heart had skipped a beat, was racing, I was filled with a sense of excitement, had begun to develop different postures and angles for my captures; but in all honesty the most exhilarating experience, was the way the world began to change. It was as if a great filter had lifted and I finally began to see the world and all its beauty in color. Like someone had placed a mundane monochrome filter across my world titled mundane existence.

Since then my camera has gone with me on every trip. But its not just my love of photography that has been awoken since my traveling walkabout. I remember in December, after experiencing so much angst, anxiety, and lets be honest pure emotional agony for being so long without flying, that I picked a pen and an old stationary kit up, began to write, and on the spot came up with the letters project. For the last few days of December I can remember writing to myself and giving myself encouragement to make it to the new year, but then I took it one step further and said, “Why don’t I try to write myself a lesson every day for the next year, and then read them all at the end of the year. If I learned something great, If I didn’t oh well, guess those lessons will be repeated for next year.”

Between writing again and using photography to capture beautiful images of the world, I began to venture out even further by experimenting with photo editing apps and graphic art techniques. Everyday has been an adventure and an important lesson learned through creativity. Some times there are down days, especially when I’m not traveling, but the most important part is that I have found a creative outlet for my emotions, stress, and overall extra energy.

Whether I end up staying a flight attendant, head into the creative arts industry or head back into medicine I do not know. But what I do know and what I will Always hold onto, is my creativity and the ability to travel and gather inspiration. The World is too big not to explore. It is my belief that as an essence other than my human body, it is my duty to travel, experience, create, and share as much of my human existence/condition as possible before I move on. Thanks again for Reading. Until Next time. Stay Creative My friends!

A Sense of Community, A Sense of Belonging

Since I’ve begin my travels as a Flight Attendant, I’ve felt this overwhelming sense of family. Each individual who comes into the aviation industry has their own story, their own journey. I love how we can come together on an Airplane as a new crew and just become completely familiar with each other within minutes. We all bond through one job; first and foremost the safety of our passengers, and secondly our love of travel. Sometimes you’ll meet a couple of FA’s who miss home and are a little tired/exhausted of it all, but you can still see the sense of ease and excitement in their eyes, as we walk through customs, grab our bags, and head to our hotel in the country that we ended up in. We bond, we laugh, we cry, we drink, we get frustrated. Its this bond, this experience that I’ve experienced before to an extent, but never as electrifying as this.

Since my travels, I have never met a more like-minded set of individuals who don’t conform to any sort of standard construct or way of life. As the saying goes, “We are NOT carbon copies of each other.” We are from everywhere. Our world is our playground. Our journey’s are our own, but our paths cross in many ways. To be around such a plethora of diversity and energy has been a blessing to say the least. Its different when your a flight attendant. When your a soldier you have one mission, when your in the hospital the goal is to heal. But as a Flight Attendant, there is no goal, there is no mission. There is only the next destination (safely) and from there who knows.

We all travel for different reasons, mine being a spiritual walkabout of sorts, but to encounter a community of travelers such as this during my time as a flight attendant, I can honestly say the word community itself has been given new life. Community to me has always been a support network of individuals who help you get to where you need to go. But My definition has been flipped. Community now means a support network of individuals who help each other through anything. For example there was a time when I had just started out broke and didn’t really have any money for food, and a “Senior Mamma,” (A Senior Flight Attendant as we like to call them in the industry) invited to me to dinner, gave me some extra cash with no expectations to pay her back. She just remembered being where I was and wanted to pass on the kindness. Or another time when a flight attendant saw me struggling with some of my emotions and peers, and offered for me to come fly with him because he understood where I was coming from mentally.

I think the most important takeaway from my time as a flight attendant and traveling is that I finally feel like I belong. It always helps to be a part of a community who is supportive, but I think the most important key to really “feel” apart of a community is if you really feel like you belong and not feel like an outsider who has just stepped in for some time. Spiritually speaking this time of travel and finding a community where I belong has helped me understand humanity and myself on a whole other level. I look forward to experiencing more and diving more diversely into this subject as I continue my travels. Until next time, thank you for reading.

Is Travel A Spiritual Practice or an Activity?

Spiritual Practice as defined by Wikipedia is, “the regular or full-time performance of actions and activities undertaken for the purpose of inducing spiritual experiences and cultivating spiritual development.”  So in a nutshell, a spiritual practice helps one obtain some sort of enlightenment or realization about themselves and maintain an overall healthy wellbeing.  So how exactly is travel a spiritual practice?

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Well , from my experience I can tell you before every trip, I always clear my mind of negativity and leave all of my problems on the ground.  Something frustrating or Sad could be happening in my life at this very moment, but I always try to check my problems at the door before beginning a trip.  As J. Cole cleverly wailed in his song Ville Mentality, “You call it Runnin, I call it Escapin….” Sometimes with problems in life you just have to take a step back, and come back to the problem later.  Traveling gives me a chance to do that.  Besides, working close quarters with about 8-10 other people in an airplane is an interesting experience to say the least.  Not to mention your passengers have their own trials while being stuffed into a giant metal tube about to go soaring 35,000 ft. above ground.  So in a sense, practicing mindfulness and common curteousy/decency before every trip is a must for me.  Nobody enjoys a grouchy flight attendant projecting all of their problems onto other people.

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Another sort of ritual I perform before every trip, is making sure I have my tools of the trade (i .e. Passport, Badge, uniform, watch, etc.) as well as my own personal tools for my travels (i .e. Camera, Tripod, Journal, Stationary set, etc.). Again a practice of mindfulness when completeing these tasks is essential for clearing the mind, and kind of just helping me stay out of my head.  This task itself is not only performed before every trip, but essentially every time I check into a hotel, and when I check out of a hotel.  For me its sort of like Catholics every Sunday following certain prayers and customs before receiving the body and blood of Christ, I follow certain checklists to make sure I can go out and have a great adventure and learn what I can from the universe that day.

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I don’t have any sayings, mottos, or prayers before take off and landing, but I can tell you I try not to manifest a giant fiery explosion of the plane I am sitting on.  Manifestation, as I have been personally learning, is a powerful tool to help you live an abundant life (sort of like prayer) and I know from personal experience if you think too much about it, chances are it will happen.  Kind of like riding in your car down the highway and you find yourself thinking about a blown tire and then all of the sudden your tire blows.  You just try not to think about it and manifest that shit.

When it comes to layovers and rest, that is a time of personal reflection.  For those who don’t know, I have another project on the side called the Letters project.  Every day I write myself a letter in which I explain a lesson that I ‘ve learned or just give myself some daily encouragement to keep going at it in life.  Personal reflection during layovers/rest is my favorite.  It gives me a chance to really connect with myself and the universe and just sit with the lessons of the day.  It also gives me a chance to practice gratitude, as I am staying in some really nice hotels, courtesy of the company I work for.  Each hotel room is like my own personal temple to reflect, practice gratitude, and ponder the deep questions of life that plague me from time to time.

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Layover Adventures, as I like to call them, are also one of my personal favorites.  I have made it a habit to get out and explore the country and observe the culture where I am currently at.  Although service can mean different things to different people, to me, I am practicing my own service by contributing to the local economy, perhaps by purchasing a local souvineer, or trying the local cuisine.  Perhaps some day there will be an opportunity to serve overseas, like by teaching English or volunteering with the peace corps. and practicing yet another version of service, but for now I just do what I can while I’m out on the road.

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Courtesy and Respect are two values I hold dear and try to practice everytime I ‘m out on the road.  Observing local customs like not shaking males hands in the Middle East, or bowing to my Elders out of respect in Japan are some of the ways I try to adhere to and respect local customs.  Also learning a little bit of the language for every country I ‘ve been to has been a must for me.  So far Arabic has been the hardest to learn, but I still keep trying out of respect for such a beautiful,rich, and complex culture out in the Middle East

Practicing amends through respect and courteousy of a culture is another way I view Travel as a Spiritual Practice.  This stems from my own personal beliefs and experiences through deployment and my time in the Army, but I believe in distancing myself from certain mindsets and preconceived notions by getting to know the people and not the caricature of an enemy that was fed to me at one point in my life.  Due to a highly politicized enviornment at the moment that is all I will say on the issue and prefer to keep thoughts on this particular spiritual practice to myself.  I respect all views and opinions on this issue and have therefore decided to keep my thoughts on this to myself, so as not to provoke tensions on an otherwise peaceful blog.

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And finally there is just the moment of being in the moment while traveling.  Traveling has an amazing way of making you slow down and be.  It takes you out of your head, out of the past, out of the future, and into the present moment where you can just be.  Your aware of things like how your breathing, how your eating, how your sitting.  Aware of the sheets on your skin, or how the weather in that particular country feels on that particular day.  Perhaps your aware of your own dialect and how you sound compared to everybody else, how you walk with a purpose vs. walking with calm and leisure.  Thich Naht Hahn is one of my favorite Buddhist Authors, and I never quite understood what he meant about being in the present moment until I started traveling and immersed myself in unfamiliar settings.  I can tell you from my experiences, the present moment is definitely the place you want to be.  A sense of calm and purpose awaits us there, and slipping back into my head is always one of the most disappointing set backs on my spiritual journey.

All in All these are just some of the ways I practice my spirituality through travel, and how Travel itself has awoken within me a more guided practice towards my spiritual wellbeing.  I highly encourage you the next time you travel to at least immerse yourself in a deeper understanding of where your traveling to through your own beliefs whether your Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, etc.  and just take the time to truly appreciate the beauty and lessons this life and this world has to offer.

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From Healer to Healing….

My Journey began on a sunny afternoon in April 2017.  I was coming into my third month of unemployment after I had quit my ER Tech position and become disillusioned with all things healthcare related.  Its not that working in health care wasn’t a good job, to me it felt like just that anymore…a job.  Like so many other things I had become bored with in my life, my passion for medicine was fast becoming a mundane everyday grind.  The famous “Burnout” had crept in and seized my soul, paralyzing my every move.  So, naturally I quit, as a service to the patients I would of been working with at the time.

Fast forward two and half months later and here I sat on my computer clicking through Indeed job listings each more boring than the last.  Hostess? No. Bartender? Fun, but no.  Comcast Installer Technician? No.  Secretary? No.  EMT-Basic? No.  Medical Assistant? No.  Well, what about college? Boring.  The idea of term papers and grades and struggling through a major that might possibly be obsolete in todays job market had absolutely no appeal to me.  I had even interviewed to be a printing press operator, but had subconsciously sabotaged that interview by refusing to take out all nine of my piercings and dying my hair a decent color.  (If there is one thing I do miss about the night shift hospital life, is that they allowed you to express yourself.  Tattoos and piercings were not frowned upon.  Especially in the ER.).

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Suddenly, just as fast as a website page can refresh, there before me was a job listing for a Flight Attendant.  I paused.  Were my eyes deceiving me?  Everybody knows how hard it is to get into the Aviation Industry as a flight attendant, and for those who don’t know, well trust me its hard.  Its like trying to get an instagram celebrity you follow to like one of your comments on their photos.  Not extremely rare, but not extremely common eithier.  And continuing with the analogy, the bigger the celebrity (i.e. Airline you wish to work for) the harder it is for them to see your comment and like it (i.e. submit your resume, have it looked over, land an interview, and get the job).

I sat there for a moment allowing myself to dream of the glamorous lifestyle of an international flight attendant.  Hotels, Beaches, Living out of a suitcase, traveling the world.  Then I started weighing the cons.  I am not what you would call a feminate female.  So naturally the idea of wearing heavy faced make up and a dress with heels on top of that repulsed me.  Oh but wait!  Then I heard about the weight requirements and the sexism associated with being a flight attendant.  Oh and then of course there were the pilots.  Yes, pilots are awesome they fly planes get us to and from, but the whole sleeping around with stewardesses and basically choosing his next conquer as if he were at a buffet meal really made me want to throw in the towel.

After several deep breaths and calming my runaway train mind, I began researching the company I wanted to apply for.  After countless reviews, reading the company website, as well as other airline comparison, I decided Omni Air Interntional was the company I wanted to work for.  “Long days out on the road, up to 32 days,” one review said.  Yes!  Absolutely sign me up.  I want to be gone.  “Miscommunication between corporate and flight attendants out on the road,” said another.  Ok, thats like Platoon Sergeants and their platoons fighting with Battalion and Brigade all the time because they don’t see whats happening down on the grown.  I’ve played that game for six years, I can do it again.  I think the best part during my research was the lack of information on makeup, weight requirements and uniform policies that finally pushed me to sign up for a chance to Interview in Dallas and send in my Resume.

I waited.  Finally I recieved a call and an email that was officially inviting me to an Open House with Omni at a Hotel in Dallas.  I delved into my research.  What to wear, what they would ask, do they allow gauges, (after much hesitation and slight mourning, I took my gauges out) how should I act, should I mingle with other canadites, should I not mingle with other candidates.  On the day of the Open House, I decided to go with a White blazer, A black blouse and pants, with white shoes (because nothing says I stand out more then wearing mostly white before Labor Day) and had thouroughly prepped myself with my interview question answers and a thirty second speech about myself that almost sounded like I wasn’t a robot.

I can tell you that day was nerve wracking but also fun.  I met my future training buddies there, realized my loud healthy voice landed me a job, and even snuck in a drug test after the initial job offer.  Then it was on to training.  First starting out in this job, was litterally like a blur.  We newbies refused to breathe until we passed our IOEs (Initial Operating Experience) and were legit flight attendants.  But getting down to the meat and potatoes of a huge portion about why I started this blog, I didn’t realize I needed to heal until after my third or fourth flight.  I began struggling personally again, with motivation, lack of purpose, lack of will.  I realized something was still missing.

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Another realization/breakthrough was made on December 28th, 2017.  I had been sitting on reserve for about a month and stewing in my negative thoughts and depression, when I realized travel can be used as a spiritual healing tool for the soul.  Not only was I getting out and immersing myself in new cultures and different ideas, but it was teaching me a lot about myself.  It has been resparking my passions and helping me channel my creativity again.  When I actually stop to look deeper within myself, and without the usual distractions about me, I’ve been able to recognize some things about myself that years of therapy and gobs of medications probably weren’t going to tell me.

I don’t know what it is or why its such a crucial focal point in my journey, but Travel to me, and this Job has been a life saver.  And a catalyst for this blog.  Hopefully, my experiences, trials and tribulations, and overall rambleings can help those who are in need or just serve as entertainment for those who are reading this blog.  But if there is one thing I do know and have discovered on my journey, its that Travel can definitely be used as a spiritual practice.

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The Journey Begins…

Hello, and welcome to my blog.  Thanks for joining me on this fantastic journey as I travel the world (with the help of one of the most celebrated professions in the world) and discover who I am, where I’m going, the art of traveling as a flight attendant, and finally and perhaps the most important; a much needed application of self care and healing.  Enjoy!

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Let the Journey Begin….

*Disclimer* Please note that all opinions expressed in this blog are my own and are used to convey how I feel and express my own personal Journey with others.  Please feel free to do your own research and preparation, as well as seek guidance for any traveling and healing you may be doing on your own.

“We Travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.”  —Unknown