The Difference Between Travel & Vacation

IMG_9444“Do you know what one of the greatest things is about coming back from a trip like that?” I asked Sophie on our drive to go back-to-school shopping at Target, “It’s that being back home makes you realize how everything is just so…”

“Easy!” She interrupted, finishing my sentence.

Yes! A couple days earlier we had arrived home from three and a half weeks backpacking around Europe and there we were sitting in our air conditioned car on our way to a store that had anything and everything we could ever want, with displays and signage in a language we could read.

It was one of the unexpected lessons that my girls got to learn from this trip… appreciating home and all its comforts. Making our way, mostly by train, through five countries in the peak of a summer heatwave was not like any other vacation my daughters had ever experienced. It was hot and humid, uncomfortable and unpredictable. It wasn’t Disneyland or a cruise down the coast of Mexico (which was an incredible trip they got to experience earlier this year). It wasn’t even like camping. It was way more adventurous!

One of the things I found myself repeating to the girls over an over again, every time they complained that their backpacks were heavy, that the city streets smelled of trash and urine, when they were annoyed that they couldn’t understand what I was saying in Italian or French, that they were tired of walking all day and then having to run to catch a train was “you have to realize there is a difference between vacation and travel.”

At the time, I didn’t exactly know what I meant by that, but it is clear to me now.

VACATION IS…

Vacation is relaxing and having fun. It’s about a week-long getaway, where ideally you have no stress and easy access to all of life’s comforts: yummy food and drinks (unlimited amounts of them if you are at an all-inclusive resort or on a cruise), air conditioning, comfy beds, and lots of opportunities for fun whether it be a beach and snorkeling, or a theme park followed by a dip in the pool.

I feel the need to take a moment and note that if you’re vacationing with young children, you might have fun but you’re likely not going to be able to relax. According to other bloggers out there this defines the difference between a vacation and a trip. Since that has already been covered (here’s a fun article on HuffPost) and since my kids, at the ages of 7 and 10, no longer fall in the ‘traveling-with-young-children’ category (yay!), I am more interested in tackling the definition of travel.

TRAVEL IS…

• Travel is having cultural experiences: tasting new foods; hearing and speaking different languages; seeing ever-changing, and at times, breath-taking landscapes and amazing architecture; learning about art, history, religion. Being open to how other people live. Lucy has decided she wants to learn Italian, move to Italy and eat lasagna and gelato for every meal. I’m in!

• Travel is being in the present moment, being spontaneous and curious, losing track of what day it is, being open to serendipity and the kindness of strangers… living the true wander and wonder way of life.

• Travel is being hyper focused on taking care of your basic needs: eating, finding a place to sleep and knowing how to say “Where is the bathroom?” in five different languages. Sophie would argue it is equally important to know how to to say “Can I pet your dog?” in all these languages too… early in the trip, she downloaded Google Translate to my phone for this specific purpose.

• Travel is learning who you are and when you’re traveling with family, learning who they are. Scott and I discovered that we have complete opposite ways of exploring new cities. He wants to know and wants to go. He wants to learn the history of a place and he walks with a destination in mind. I, on the other hand, like to wander and wonder (duh, no surprise there)… I like to move slowly and pay attention to the details along the way and generally I let my feet take me where they want to go without any specific destination. I always have a map so I know where I am but I leave myself open to finding secret corners and magical moments. Let it be known that I do have a mission when I’m on these walkabouts – capturing amazing photographs. Traveling, to me, is also about storytelling and my favorite way to do that is through my photography.

We quickly learned that the girls were most interested in souvenir shopping and trying every possible gelato flavor.

• Travel is about gaining new perspectives, whether it be opening your mind to how other people live or coming back home and having a sudden appreciation for the things you used to take for granted.

• Travel is work. It is not easy. And it’s important to take a break!

One of the big lessons I learned from this trip is that you need to sprinkle in a little vacation when you’re traveling… especially when you’re traveling with kids! They desperately needed the time on the beach, fun in the pool and time spent with other kids.

I know our family learned a lot from this trip especially the girls who had never really ‘traveled’ before, but if I’m being completely honest, if I were going to do the same trip all over again, I’d add a little more vacation into our travel.

100Days100Maps : Looking Back

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Why Make 100 World Maps in 100 Days?

• Fear of procrastination/laziness – knowing I need accountability to get things done. (Ala Gretchen Rubin’s 4 tendencies – I am an obliger) and I knew social media could help me with this.

• Fear that freelance opportunities and Athena Project volunteer work would take precedence over making my maps – that’s not why I quit my job. I quit my job to be an artist and I was afraid it would end up on the bottom of my priority list.

• For years my mind was overflowing with map ideas but I just didn’t have the time, suddenly I did and I wanted to hurry up and get those ideas out… to make room for others, maybe better ones.

• I wanted to LET GO. My maps in the past took so much time and were detailed and precise. That was great but I wanted this adventure to allow me to let loose, let go, get messy, experiment.

What I Learned

• It felt really good to produce so much even if I didn’t love every one

• I learned that people have different tastes – some of the maps that I liked least were the ones that others liked most. I always enjoyed the process of making my maps so it’s good to accept that the final product doesn’t really matter – someone might love it. Just do the work and enjoy the process. There is a higher power at work here. It isn’t just about me and my preferences. The artist as a vessel (I’ll have to explore this in a future blog). Once the art is made, it isn’t mine anymore. I make art for others.

• I learned that my favorite maps to make are those that use organic materials. Their shapes generally lend themselves to the shapes of the continents (like flowers, leaves, sticks, rocks and food items). And it made me feel earthy, connected. That’s hard to describe but I loved the feeling. I was channeling my inner Andy Goldsworthy (if you don’t know of him, look him up – what he creates with nature is incredible).

• I was also surprised at how much I enjoyed sitting at the computer and doing digital maps. I never did them before because I spent so many hours in front of the computer when I was working as a web/graphic designer and when I got home I just wanted to use my hands. Now, I was happy to have an excuse to sit and use the software I know so well, with which I feel I can make magic happen.

• I still feel like I have to explore paint. I did some nice watercolors but I have much more to do when it comes to paint. I thought I would paint more but I have a block, a fear… I’m scared it’s going to be bad. I hope now that I will purchase a few canvases and I will paint and no one says I have to show it to anyone. Just keep working it until I feel happy with it. Maybe add in bits of pieces of collage – call it mixed media instead of just paint. That seems more up my alley.

• I did feel good when I made a map that had more of an activist message. Like finding the message that I purposefully don’t add political boundaries in my maps because it’s important to me that I get across that we are humans sharing this planet with cultural differences but a common tie as humans (gotta work on that messaging). Also the rice map about world hunger or the handprint map about peace. There’s an activist in me and since I don’t feel comfortable talking politics, I really could use my art to make statements. I should explore that more. I think I’m stopping myself because of my rebelling against the intellectualism I experienced in college which just annoyed me. But the truth is, last years elections were what motivated me to get my art out there. I felt the world needed my art, not just for the beauty but there are deeper messages there and it’s not just about the fact that travel is fun. It’s about what we learn through travel – to be open-minded, accepting of other cultures, to connect and to be present.

• I will never be at a loss of ideas. I still feel like I have so many more and not enough time. That is a good thing.

• I am eager to spend more time on one map now that I am not doing them daily. I’m excited to focus on quality rather than quantity. Next I want to work on 10-15 maps that I would be happy to hang in my house and that in a year or two I hang as a solo art show.

First Real Adventures for my Traveling Feet

The girls and I (and my feet – they are like a new character in life) traveled to the Bay Area, California for Spring Break. We visited my close friends from college, Megan and Michael, and their three kids Maya, Walter and Alex.

Our days were filled with fun activities and adventures: beach play by the harbor in Sausalito; a ferry ride past Alcatraz from Sausalito to San Francisco; a visit to the sea lions at Pier 39 and later to the Marine Mammal Center; a walk through Muir woods (Lucy puked on the way from the windy roads); multiple drives over the Golden Gate Bridge; getting creative in Maya’s homeschool art class; and a mini road trip down the coast to the beach and boardwalk of Santa Cruz.

Megan and all five kids were patient with me as I stopped to take photos of my feet whenever there was a idyllic backdrop. My ultimate goal was to get a perfect shot in front of the Golden Gate Bridge because the final product of this art project really is a series of photos in front of iconic locations around the world. But there were lots of other fun opportunities to take photos of my feet. In Muir Woods, I lied down on the ground in order to get the perspective of the tall Red Woods. A woman with a stroller commented as she walked by.

“Cool idea. Wander and wonder, hmm,” she read my feet while I pointed them up towards the sky.

“Thanks, yeah, it’s an art project,” I said, looking up at her from the ground.

“She makes world maps,” Sophie added, “wanderandwonder.org.”

And we all laughed, because it’s obvious the girls already have a love hate relationship with this foot thing. Actually, I think Lucy could care less at this point. She’s 6 and has other things to think about. But Sophie, who’s 9, rolls her eyes and acts annoyed whenever I sit down and take off my shoes but then out of nowhere, totally unprompted here she is promoting what I’m doing with pride to a random stranger.

It will be interesting to see how I get my family on board with this project as we continue traveling. I know Scott is not thrilled with the idea. I know I’m crazy and it may seem ridiculous to others. I know it’s silly. But it’s really fun! And I happen to enjoy the fact that I don’t take myself too seriously. And honestly, I love having an excuse to take off my shoes everywhere I go. Other friends have been supportive and encouraging – our friends Mike and Lori encouraged me to take off my ski boots at the top of a mountain peak at Copper Mountain; Megan offered to stop the minivan whenever I wanted while driving through San Francisco and helped me look for the best views of the bridge. I’m so grateful when people are accepting of my crazy ideas. Artists need that kind of support because the fact is we are constantly battling self-doubt and it makes it twice as difficult to do the thing we want to do when our loved ones aren’t supportive. I guess I should have a heart-to-heart with my family before we travel the world. I understand my girls needing to rebel against everything I do, but it would be nice if I could get acceptance from my husband.

With or without support, this project is happening and I am excited.

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Middle-aged Moms getting Tats

My tattoo is done. Jackie and I met up at Ritual Tattoo in Denver. We both had appointments with the same artist, Jake, who was covered in tattoos all the way up his neck and onto the temples and sides of his face. He had a buzzed haircut, a big beard, bright blue eyes, shriveled and droopy earlobes from the gauges that weren’t currently in place, a gold-rimmed tooth and a nose ring or two. He was kind, meticulous, a self proclaimed germaphobe and not a big fan of feet. I apologized and mentioned that I had just come from getting a pedicure.

Jackie went first. She got a variation of the Om symbol on her forearm, which she insisted read ‘breathe’ in Tibetan script. It was in memory of her mom who died of a pulmonary issue in 2015. I took photos while she got hers done. She was silent and focused with the occasional leg move, scrunched brow or request to pause, I could tell the pain was hard for her to handle. It made me more nervous than I already was. Hers was done pretty quickly – about 15 minutes and it looked great.

When my turn came I decided I would do a guided meditation while he was working on my feet. I sat up while he did the little traced imprint to make sure we got the positioning of the words right. We had to do it three times until we both agreed it was perfect. Then I lied down on the massage table with my knees bent and my feet flat, I put in my ear buds and started the 29 minute meditation titled ‘Rise of the Phoenix’ by Dakota Earth Cloud Walker. I felt the pain, I did, like someone was inserting a scalpel into my skin and making a shallow incision – but I kept returning my attention to the woman’s guiding words in the mediation, the drums beating, the rhythmic breathing in the background, the imaginary world in my head, her instructions to enter the underground world through a portal at the base of a tree, to go down and meet my spirit guide. My attention would then be pulled back to my feet where I became aware of the pain again, but I quickly directed thoughts back to her voice – where I was led to a circular fire burning large, where I walked in the directions of a compass – East, South, West, North, I thought of the existing tattoo on my pinky toe and back to the pain, and then back to the center of the fire. I was surrounded by my spirit guides, this time a pack of wolves, circling and howling, there to support me. Left foot done – wander.

He had me turn around so the LED lamp could shine on my right foot. I closed my eyes and returned to the fire. Her words instructed me to find something I wanted to let go of, something that I was holding on to that was not serving me in this life. Let it go, let it go, let it go, she had me chanting silently. The idea of body issues popped into my head. I chose to let go of my ties to this earthly body. I reminded myself that I am more than this body, this vessel that happens to be experiencing extreme pain right now. I am more than this body that society constantly makes me feel isn’t good enough. Let go of body issues, remember that I am more than that… this body will turn to ashes some day not too long from now. That’s why I feel okay with this tattoo and why I understand the desire for others to cover themselves in art as a form of expression. We are more than these bodies that we inhabit. That’s what I let go of in the fire. Then I transformed into a phoenix with wings expanded, a large bird prepared to take flight, free.

I opened my eyes and looked at Jake knowing he was getting close to being done with the second tattoo – wonder. “Are you cool with me finishing my meditation even if you’re done. It shouldn’t be too long.”

“Sure. We can just let it bleed for a while.”

I had six minutes left of the meditation so I lay back down, back into my underworld… the drumming slowed. I was led back up to the upper world, back into the studio, I heard the voices of men discussing which tattoo they wanted. The pain was gone. Completely. I felt elated.

Jake did an amazing job even getting the distressed negative space in the typeface. The tattoo was exactly how I pictured it for 9 months. I love it.

Tattoo, Travel and Photography – on my way to a lifelong art project

It has been about 9 months since I came up with this idea. I can’t remember how it came about but I do remember thinking it would be fun. I also remember thinking, getting a tattoo is kind of permanent and it might be a good idea to sit on it, think about, decide if this is something I really want to do. Someone decided having a life growing inside of you should take about nine months, so my guess is that’s a good amount of time to allow an art project to simmer. And now, it’s time to give birth! Yay, tattoo appointment is this Sunday!

Here’s the tattoo turned art project idea. Best described in photos – see below. I am going to get my wander + wonder logo tattooed on my feet. Then while I spend the next 40 or 50 years traveling around the world, I’m going to take my shoes off everywhere I go and take a picture. As a tourist, you’re going to take photos. It’s just part of your job, but sometimes while you’re doing that, you forget to sit, look deeply, observe with awe the wonder before you. I’m guilty of that. For sure. Not any more. Now, I will be forced to literally sit, get down on the earth, stop and take it all in. Hmm, just had a thought, it’s offensive in some countries to point the bottom of your feet at people – I hope that’s not the case with scenery and sculptures. Oh well, sometimes offending people for your art is inevitable.

Here are some practice photos I did in Photoshop – my feet in Mexico and in the mountains.

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Here are some sketches of future photo compositions. Thanks to the sketchers on the internet from whom I borrowed their work. None of the artwork below is mine.feet_great-wallfeet_pyramidsfeet_statue-of-libertyfeet_taj-mahal

As an aside. I do already have one tattoo that I got on my pinky toe when I was seventeen. It’s a compass/north star which was supposed to represent direction (and travel) as I fledged the nest and flew out into the world.

I love how now, it will act as sort of an asterisk for the words wander + wonder and how together they speak to the way I want to live my life. I want to constantly be wandering, traveling, exploring, and wondering with infinite curiosity about the world, but I also want do so with a sense of direction. Sometimes I find it in myself, other times I am looking for guidance from a higher source — usually that higher source is speaking through me, I just have to be listening. It’s funny how I write as if this all some kind of desire, because really it’s not how I wish to live my life, it actually IS how I live my life. That is something to be proud of. Maybe the permanence of a tattoo will remind me of that.

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“Maybe someday you’ll go there.”

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As mentioned in my last post, I came to Taos, New Mexico with the hopes of making art and being creative. My sister, Emilie is 7 months pregnant and has a 19 month old toddler, Lyla. Back home she’s working on Lyla’s new big girl room so that she can get her nursery ready for their new baby boy arriving in June. I asked her if she would like a world map for Lyla’s new room and knowing the feminine and delicate theme of the room, I suggested one of my quilt maps on wood. I make these maps with little squares of scrapbook paper that match the color of the room. The paper fills the continents and then I glue them on to light wood which gives a nice rustic look and the grain of the wood is like ripples in the oceans. I paint the whole thing with Modge Podge and then having it framed, exposed without glass, is the finishing touch.

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Emilie took it upon herself to go buy the perfect paper and patterns that she loved and brought them on our trip. I brought the sheet of paper with the world map traced on it. The dining table at our rental place, made from a reclaimed barn door, was the perfect place to get working. It was reminiscent of my work area at home. Sunlight shines in from the floor to ceiling windows behind me and I can see expansive views of the surrounding mountains. I love that I can feel inspired in a place so far from home. When I get back home I’ll work with the wood and deliver the art to Emilie so she can pick the perfect frame to go with the room’s decor.

I’m so happy I get to make art for my niece. She’s too young to appreciate it now but as she grows up, I imagine her mom and dad pointing to places on the map and saying “maybe someday you’ll go there.” See, part of my secret plan with these maps is to subliminally foster future world travelers. Shhh, don’t tell anyone.

Finding inspiration in Taos, New Mexico

I’m enjoying this spring break with my kids, my sister and her daughter in New Mexico. I came here without much of an agenda, other then the knowledge that this place inspires artists and is surrounded by beautiful nature and so I loved the idea of being creative while I’m here. In the past couple days I’ve found the time to redesign my Wander + Wonder World Maps website (www.wanderandwonder.org), edit a little video of me in my art studio working on a map as the seasons change, started a new Instagram account specific to my art, took a bunch of photos and started this new blog! Not to mention, exploring Taos, Santa Fe and spending quality time with family.

Enjoy some photos of the area:

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You can view the entire album of photos of this trip on my Flickr account.

And that little video I put together: