Come visit me over at En Route Traveler today…

Have you checked out En Route Traveler yet? It is an online resource that inspires and educates the independent traveler on how to prepare for a journey, discover affordable planning and travel options and best of all, guides the traveler on how to experience a place’s culture and environment in an authentic and responsible way. It is a fabulous resource with very informational articles and beautiful photos!

So when they asked me to guest blog about my experience climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, I was thrilled and jumped at the opportunity! So, I’m excited to be guest blogging with not one but two(!) posts over at En Route Traveler today sharing 24 Insider Tips for Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro and my Complete Packing List for Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.

Be sure to check it out! Hope you enjoy it as much as I do. 

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One Year Ago Today…

One year ago today…

I arrived in Tanzania, Africa for what was the greatest adventure of my life – a month of volunteering & teaching in the community, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, going on Safaris, and visiting Zanzibar. All of it completely changed my life. I’m in disbelief that it has been a year already. I miss Moshi and my experience EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. I don’t think a day goes by that I haven’t thought about it in some capacity.

I’m so grateful for that experience.

I can’t believe all that has happened, come and gone in the past year and all that I’ve learned and discovered both about myself and others along the way. Nzuri sana.  It’s funny, I always catch myself first, but my instinct is still to say “Asante Sana” instead of “Thank you.”

In that month, I learned so much about myself, what it means to be a community, how privileged americans are and how much we take for granted. I learned so much about gratitude and appreciating what we have; that being wealthy has everything to do with how grateful and happy you are and nothing to do with how much money you have.  I learned to follow my heart; to express love and gratitude and to live passionately. I learned there is so much more to life than just the items we own or the cars we drive or the life we live. I realized how important it is to experience other cultures and to leave your first world expectations at home when you travel to a third world country.

Time and how we perceive it is an odd thing. I reflect and think about all that has happened in the past year since I first arrived in my host city and I am silenced.

When put in perspective that I’ve already lived in DC for 7.5 months, one year ago feels simultaneously both light years away and just few months ago.  It’s a teeter-totter of emotions and memories. It seems like it never happened; it seems like 6 months; it seems like decades ago and it seems like a year.

So much has happened since I landed in Tanzania. I look back on the impact the children had on me, and vice versa; the fact that I no longer have to dream about someday fulfilling a lifelong dream of volunteering and going on African Safari’s is exhilarating and saddening.  It’s crazy that I actually held residence in Africa. Not at a hotel, but a place I called home for a month. It’s hard to fathom that I climbed the largest freestanding mountain in the world and lived to tell the tale. I think about that accomplishment and it still blows my mind that I DID THAT.  At this point it feels like it is a figment of my imagination, just a dream I conjured up in my head, and I have to look at photos for proof I didn’t make it up. I am still in awe and incredibly proud of myself that I actually did it let alone successfully made it to the summit no less. I accomplished 7 things on my life list.

In the past year since returning, I flew 22 hours alone, my sister got married, I was unemployed for a while, I moved across country on a gut feeling and then I got a new job soon thereafter; one that I love because I know I get to impact lives everyday. I made a new home in that new city and made new friends. I’ve accomplished  2 more things on my life list.  I ran my first 5K. I played league sports and started my own Ladies Only fantasy NFL leagues with friends. I have spent an ENTIRE year eating only meat that was GMO/anti-biotic free.

Man, a lot has happened – and that’s just the start of it all.

From the moment I boarded the plane wondering what this adventure was going to be like – until now – the adventures haven’t stopped. When I woke up a year ago today, I never would have predicted just where my life would be today – all because of that one decision to go to Africa.

I miss Moshi and my students every day. This adventure and experience has become a part of who I am and I am proud of the person I have become. I am strong and brave; I am bold and adventurous. I have learned to be true to myself, to follow my gut and to surround myself with people who make me a better person. I am more positive and grateful. I know that I can accomplish big things; I know I can push myself; I can climb mountains and continually challenge myself. I’ve learned to honor who I am and to do what makes me happy.  I’ve grown more into the person I want to be. Asante Sana.

You can’t predict what the future holds but you do have to have faith that you are going in the right direction. Time is a funny thing. It never stops. And as we get older, it only goes faster. It blurs together and weeks become months and months become years. I still can’t believe an entire year has gone by.

What started as the greatest adventure of my life has evolved into my life being a giant adventure now. I am grateful for my experience and thankful I had the courage to follow my dreams and make it happen. I look forward experiencing (what is now) the upcoming year and reflecting on all that I will have done. Maybe a year from now I’ll be in a different city? Engaged? Single? Maybe I’ll be an Aunt? At a new job? Whatever will be this time next year, I look forward to all the adventures that lie ahead.

Hakuna Matata.

faces

summit

The Best Klout Perk: Being VIP at an NFL game

You know how you have those weekends that blur into a foggy memory and you look back and wonder what in the world you did? This past weekend was not one of those occasions. It is one that I will remember and smile about for the rest of my life.

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I’m one of those girls who can be a girlie-girl and get my nails done or hang with the guys and watch NFL on Sundays. I like sports. A lot. This year I started a March Madness league and NFL Fantasy Ladies ONLY league.  I like watching them on TV and going to games live. I have my teams from all sports (Go Blackhawks, White Sox, Bears) that I root for. Seeing games live is exhilarating and fun and the energy is fantastic (when the team is doing well, at least) but I’ll admit, I usually prefer NFL games on TV. Growing up in Chicago, I was not about to sit outside in the frigid cold and get frostbite when I could sit comfortably on my couch in my cozy house. I admit I prefer the replays and commentary from TV commentators but given the opportunity to go to a game, I just can’t refuse.

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Klout perks have been sucking lately. If you are unfamiliar with Klout, it is  the Standard for Influence. If Klout thinks you are influential, it assigns you a score and rewards you with perks based on said score. The perks I’ve gotten lately have all been useless. For example, the last 5 I got were all for McDonalds and one for Norton Antivirus. Being that I eat mostly healthy and as unprocessed as possible, that didn’t work so much for me. However, on Thursday I got a perk thanks to Women of Washington (Washington Redskins Women’s Club) that invited me and a friend to go to a preseason Redskins vs Buffalo Bills game as free VIP. That alone was awesome but what ensued was more than I could have dreamed.

Being last minute, I asked around and not only were people already busy but apparently there aren’t many Skins fans in DC Proper (too many transient people, I guess). I ran to Target to get a shirt; they had the most pathetic selection so I tried a local sports store. I couldn’t go to this event without sporting team support! There was no doubt in my mind that I was going to make this happen, even if I had to go alone.

It wasn’t until Thursday that I got the invite and then on Friday, the day before the game, that I found out I was going to get to go ON the field for player introductions! Because it was a WOW event, my date who came with me had to wait for me back in the seats. I felt bad for a hot second but this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I wasn’t going to miss it. I talk to everyone so I had made a friend while we waited. They brought us down onto the field and we stood alongside the cheerleaders to form the tunnel for the player introductions. It was absolutely wild and epic and totally thrilling to be on the field. Words can’t describe how exciting the whole thing was. Afterwards, we were quickly rushed off the field and ushered to our seats after the introductions were complete

I thought our seats were inside in the standing room only nose-bleed section. Turns out, not only did we have Exclusive Club Level access, we were seated 3rd row in the Dream Seats – the seats before the stands begin along the 20 yard line on the visitor side. Sitting so close to the game is the only way to go. I’m officially spoiled now. It was a beautiful hot day, the Redskins won and all of this was free. I am still in shock and overly excited that I got to experience this.

Everything exceeded any expectations I had when I claimed this perk from Klout.  This was my first Redskins NFL game and pretty sure that no other game will compare from here on out. Surely no perk will top this and I joked with my date that he’s screwed. How do you top this for a second date idea? I’ll let the photos do the rest of the talking:

Women of Washington Redskins on the field

Thanks to Klout and Women of Washington for an experience of a lifetime. It was so much fun and absolutely something I will remember and cherish for the rest of my life.

welcome field run from Caryn Levy on Vimeo.

Change of Times – The Day the Clock Stopped.

Do you have something, an item or chotchky, that you have held onto through the years for no good reason other than because it held some nostalgic link to your past? For some unexplained reason you just couldn’t get yourself to throw it out?

My nostalgic item from college was a clock. A stupid black and white, cheap, whopping TEN dollar wall clock from Target. I bought it the fall semester of my sophomore year when I had just moved into my sorority for the first time. I lived with 3 other girls and when we were decorating our room, I bought this little cheap clock to hang on our wall. It hung above us all, above our couch in a spot where we all could see it. At the end of the semester, I moved down the hall and it came with me. Every time I moved, in college and even in Chicago, it came with me. The Clock found a spot on a bedroom or bathroom wall in every apartment I’ve had ever since. It became a staple of my room. While a lot of stuff got tossed when I moved to DC, I was sure it made the trip with me when I shipped my stuff. I didn’t know what it was about The Clock, but it made me comfortable knowing it was there. The place never felt like home until it was hanging on the wall. As the years passed, I changed but The Clock stayed a constant in my life.

It was a good cheap little clock; I rarely ever had to change the battery on it, maybe max two or three times in 9 years. That’s magical in clock lives. When I arrived in DC, it was one of the first things I unpacked. I immediately hung it on the bathroom wall and felt comforted. I noticed that afternoon that The Clock had stopped. So, naturally, I replaced the battery. It worked for about 15 minutes and then stopped again. So I bought a brand new pack of batteries and tried again. It not only stopped working, it killed the brand new batteries. This repeated 3 or 4 times before I finally gave in and said my goodbye. It wasn’t the batteries, The Clock had had enough. I paused and had a bit of a hesitation when I put it in the trash but knew it was for the best.

When I first bought The Clock in 2004, it was symbolic of the times changing. I was no longer a silly naïve young Freshman at Indiana University. I knew the campus, I was older, wiser and now I was a sorority girl living in a sorority house. I was on the verge of a lot of change and had a lot of adventures and growth ahead of me. 

Looking back, it is goofy that I had an attachment to a clock. But when I stop to think about it – it is quite symbolic of my life. It was with me for almost 9 years. It was there with me through all my college experiences. It was like a fly on my wall that witnessed many firsts and tears, tons of late night girl chats, silly sorority girl fights, hours of long studying, boy crushes, and while I didn’t realize it at the time, it likely was with me from the very first time I ever met The Ex, 3 years before we ever dated. It was with me through our entire relationship and as I lived out The Year of Caryn, looking to rediscover and find myself, it was there.

I moved to DC because I felt in my heart that I needed a fresh start. I wanted to put the past behind me and start a new. I knew it was time for a new chapter in my life to begin, time for new adventures and for change. While the clock used to be a constant in my life, I’ve learned that the only thing that is constant, is change.

It’s funny – it wasn’t just a silly cheap little clock, after all. It represented almost an entire decade of my life. There was no logical explanation as to why this move was any different from the many that came before, or why The Clock was hell-bent on killing every new battery I tried. The only thing that was different was me. I had changed. I am not the same girl who bought it 9 years ago nor am I even the same woman I was when I said goodbye to The Ex. The fact that the day The Clock stopped was the very day I moved in to my new apartment, in a new city; the day I was starting over with new adventures and a new beginning, is just too wild to be a coincidence. Moving here, I told the Universe I was ready to put all that had happened in Clock Decade behind me in order to embark on this new path. Just like that part of my life, The Clock is just a nostalgic memory now. I had to say goodbye to it, move on, start fresh and buy a new clock to go on the wall. Change of times, indeed.

dali melting clock

Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end

After talking about it since May of last year, it has finally happened.

Ok. So that is a lie. I’ve actually been telling people that I wanted to live somewhere other than Chicago ever since I returned from living abroad in ’06. I used to joke that I’d live in Austin or Boston because well, it rhymed and I am corny like that, and also because I heard they were fun cities to live in. I love Chicago, it is such a wonderful, beautiful and friendly city. It is my home. I grew up there. A part of me will always belong in Chicago. I don’t think I’ll ever fully leave; it is likely that I’ll be back someday. But I’ve always felt this strong draw to get out, to experience living elsewhere and to challenge myself to live outside of my comfort zone. I need a change. I love growing and experiencing new things and staying in one place my whole life limits that.

So last year when everything changed and I started to reevaluate my life, I recognized that I wasn’t truly being the most authentic version of myself. While I am extremely grateful for my friends in Chicago who have come into my life recently, I still felt something was missing. I realized I was a dreamer and a talker but not really doing anything about said dreams. As part of The Year of CarynI immediately began to take action towards putting my plans in motion for figuring out what I needed to do to make myself truly happy. 2012 was the start of doing things now and just because it is 2013, a new year, that doesn’t mean the momentum from 2012 has to stop.

After I visited DC for the second time last year, a friend said, “You should just move here” and with that it hit me that there is no better time than now to fulfill that dream. This is the perfect time in my life to pick up and move to a new city. I don’t have a boyfriend or a husband or any children, and I don’t even have a full-time job for that matter right now. If there was ever a time to have a new beginning, this was it.

People ask why DC? The truth is I have friends here so that made the decision easier, but it was honestly just a gut feeling. So far my gut hasn’t steered me wrong and has led me to great adventures and tremendous growth. When I visited over New Years, I almost signed with two other apartments, but for reasons here and there I had reservations. I nearly gave up but then on whim I skyped with these two girls and that was it. Again, in my gut I instantly knew they were the right choice. I quickly signed the lease and had 13 days to sell all my furniture, sublet my apartment and pack everything up. The last two weeks have been a complete whirlwind. People say moving is super stressful but because I know in my heart that this is where I’m supposed to be now, I was calm and not stressed.

Turns out my life fit into only 16 boxes. What wasn’t sold or donated (which was an embarrassingly large amount of clothing and chotchkes) was brought back to my parent’s place. I decided to ship everything instead of renting a truck and driving it out myself. They came and got my boxes and it felt like you move for free without the hassle of the heavy lifting or the stress of driving it out there yourself. Plus, it was all trackable and insured.

boxes

My apartment was perfect; I’ll miss living on my own in such an affordable spacious place. Closing the door to my apartment was harder than I expected. It was truly symbolic of that chapter in my life coming to an end. I had managed to collect gift certificates to various local places and enough booze to last me a lifetime so it gave me great pleasure to share it with friends instead of throwing it out (once opened, you can’t ship it). I am grateful that I got to say goodbye to so many friends over dinner while also spending two days with my parents before leaving town.

Fast forward to Friday, February 1st. Timing couldn’t have worked out any better, even if I tried. I was able to hug and say goodbye to my parents at the airport gate because their flight (they left for a cruise the same day) was to leave only 10 minutes after mine. I was reminded just how much more personal and emotional it is to say goodbye at the gate like we commonly used to do pre-9/11, rather than being rushed away by curbside security. Looking after them as they walked toward their gate was very emotional. I was excited about this new adventure but saying goodbye not knowing when I will see my parents, my puppy, and friends again was difficult. It was horribly bittersweet. When I studied abroad or went to Tanzania, there was always a known return date in the near future. I know that I am only a 90-minute flight, a call or even FaceTime away, but this time I have no idea when or if I’ll return to Chicago. I’ve never lived (permanently) away from Chicago and am used to going home when I want. It will be hard to not be able to go home for the weekend on a whim, at least without having to buy a plane ticket first. I am blessed to have such a close, loving and supportive relationship with my parents and that makes it harder than all other goodbyes.

Whenever I go away for a big trip like studying abroad in Italy, volunteering in Africa, or even going away to over night camp as a kid, my mom always wrote a letter for me to read on the plane and this was no exception. After our hugs and tears and goodbyes at the gate, they sat on their plane and I on mine, at the same airport, texting in a group chat. It was utterly adorable and made me smile through my tears. I was totally that crazy girl on the plane with tears streaming down her face for no apparent reason.

As I was walking off the plane, feeling oddly stuck between two worlds, my new apartment building called to tell me all 16 of my packages had arrived a day early. It seemed to snap things back to reality and things were already off to a good start. I immediately began unpacking and making this place my new home.

I know that I am just beginning my new adventure and that I chose and needed this change in my life. Everything in the past year has led up to this. Although my family is extremely important to me and I will miss them tremendously, I am excited to begin this new journey and to be closer to so many wonderful friends.

I am proud of myself for taking an active role in making my dreams a reality. I am proud that I didn’t procrastinate this move. I know this is only the beginning and that it isn’t going to be easy at first. There will be a lot of adjustments and change and it will come with a large amount of challenges, struggles and compromises. I will need to be patient and open to new experiences. The thing about change is that it forces you outside of your comfort zone and disguises itself as something painful and uncomfortable. But once you accept it, you forget you were ever worried in the first place. It becomes the norm. You just have to trust the change.

As I was saying my goodbyes, I couldn’t help but get the lyrics to Semisonic’s Closing Time stuck in my head, “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.This is my new beginning. Now it is time for me to embrace the change and challenges that may come and just enjoy this new adventure.

After talking about it for so many years, it has finally happened.

Source: gitamba.com via Caryn on Pinterest

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.*This post was supported by UMoveFree. All comments are my own.*