Hitting the two year mark

A very tech-savy friend introduced me to TimeHop several years ago, and I was immediately enthralled. TimeHop acts as a time machine, sending you the updates you posted on the same day in years past.

Glued to whichever social media networks we’ve grown most fond of over the last decade, all of us — young and old — are consistently creating content, whether we realize it or not. Once our update is posted, commented on, and liked a few dozen times, several days pass and we move on to the next update, and then the next. Those posts seemingly cease to exist, especially in a world like Twitter, where some send hundreds of updates a day into the Twitosphere.

Being able to see what I posted a year ago, three years ago, even six years ago is fascinating. Now that I’m 25,  the years are no longer marked by semesters, summer breaks and finals weeks. Life has begun to fly by at a scary speed. I look at the calendar and am shocked that it’s already May, and I really swear that what happened in my life six months or a year ago had just occurred.

I love that TimeHop lets me appreciate the various mental and physical places I was in all those years prior. Some updates make me laugh, some make me cringe. Some make me shake my head and wonder what I was thinking. Others make me proud. It’s fun to look back and reflect, I feel like we live in a society and culture that’s always pushing forward to the next thing and the next, and we don’t take much time to look back.

So when my TimeHop app notified me today that it has officially been two years to the day that I put in my two weeks notice at TechTarget, I could barely believe it. In many ways, it feels like much more than just two years since I left Massachusetts. In other ways, I can’t fathom two whole years have come and gone.

I’ve done some amazing things over the past two years. I subleased an apartment and sold the majority of my physical belongings. I drove a massive UHaul to another state and rented my first storage unit. I said goodbye to a city that I called home for six years, and left dozens of daily friendships and replaced them with long distance ones.

I learned to speak another language. I traveled to six new countries, and spent weeks exploring each of them. I carried my life in a 55 liter backpack for three solid months, and successfully traveled solo for more time than I thought I could. I met people from all across the world of all ages, and connected with them on social media to expand my social circles to several new continents.

I moved back in with my parents, which is something I’m relatively sure I swore I would never do again. I fell in love (another thing I’d sworn off at that point in my life). I took my very first community college class… after I’d already received my Bachelors degree. And after months and months of wavering and indecision, I committed to staying in California, where I hadn’t lived in the better part of a decade. I reconnected with Los Angeles friends, and salvaged long time friends that we’re feeling destructive and unproductive. I reunited with east coast friends, in familiar cities and new states. I built new friendships, with women I feel so lucky to know.

And now, two years later, I’m finally feeling ready and willing to go back to a steady 9 to 5. I’m even ready to take on cubicle life again. Well, sort of.

Do I love being cooped up inside for eight hours a day? No, of course not. But do I miss content production, the creative process, writing about new subjects and constantly learning about new things? Absolutely. I miss having my hands in a content management system, I miss implementing SEO best practices. I miss interacting with my readers on social media, and pitching my blog posts.

And so it’s time. Two years later, to be back in the workforce. Of course just because I make that decision, doesn’t mean all is said and done. I’ve been and felt ready since the start of 2014, and have been job searching and applying since then. I thought I’d be through the process by now, but unfortunately, it’s rather grueling.

I’ve lost patience and motivation more than I’d like to admit, but what helped recently was writing a post for the Intent.com blog, which helps readers spell out their intents for the coming days, weeks and months. Whether a fitness and wellness, social or career goal, Intent is a place where you can type out what you plan to be doing so you can hold yourself accountable. I wrote a post on Keeping the Faith during a Job Search, which was a great way to both rant about the frustrations of writing endless job applications and remind myself that I will find an amazing job and the pieces will all fall into place eventually, and that losing patience is okay, but that it will still all work out.

When terror hits home

Dealing with December’s Newtown shootings was rough. I was out of the country, thousands of miles away from home and all of the people who were grappling with this unexplainable violence. I was traveling and having the time of my life, when all of a sudden 20 innocent children in a Connecticut town — just a few miles down the highway from where three of my closest friends grew up — snapped me back to reality. I didn’t admit it then, but it certainly affected my emotional state the last two weeks of my trip.

But I never wrote anything on my blog about what happened in Newtown. And there’s a reason for that.

In this day and age of social media, blogs, and more online news resources than one can even name, when violent, scary events make national news, an outpour of emotional commentary comes with that news. In some ways, it’s comforting. Other writers express the fears, pain, and anger that you too have welling inside of you, and in a time of distress, it makes you feel less alone.

But in other ways, especially as a recent Journalism School graduate, it’s exhausting, and frustrating, to feel like our news agencies, so visible to the rest of the world’s eyes, are pushing and prodding these poor people dealing with deaths and incomprehensible injuries. These innocent families, who have already suffered enough, don’t need to be in the spotlight of the US’s desperate-for-viewership-and-high-ratings news agencies. Nor do the innocent family members and acquaintances of the suspects themselves. Just because they have a crazy nephew or second cousin twice removed, or even just a son who went to high school prom with this man, doesn’t mean their privacy needs to be invaded as well.

I hesitate to add to the jumble of reports, reactions, and emotions already on the internet about last Monday’s events in Boston. That being said, these Boston bombings hit even closer to home than the events in Newtown.  I feel like I, at least partially, lived through the terror and exhaustion that Boston residents did last week, and I wanted to express the conflicted emotions I experienced over the last 7 days.

There are few things that really change your world more than knowing that the city you called home for 6 years was just attacked, and that not only are you 3,000 miles away from that city, but that you are helpless in doing anything to help your city, and your best friends who are still residents of that city, in their time of desperation.

Hearing the news about Boston rocked me to my core. I could barely function on Monday — I felt like a walking zombie, trying to process everything. Listening to NPR and watching the news was horrifying — clips of the bombs going off on a street where I used to walk every single day for more than five years was surreal. I couldn’t believe this was happening, to a city I call mine. It felt like a movie, not real life, because I wasn’t physically there to experience it.

But instead of feeling relief that I was across the country and safe in my own home, I felt guilty. It seems backwards, but I felt horrific that my friends were facing this without me, that I lay a tiny little sliver of claim to Boston and I wasn’t there.

But what’s important to understand, is that millions of people in the US have once called Boston home. It is a city comprised of more than 50 colleges and universities — hundreds of thousands of 18 year olds migrate to Boston every September to spend four or five (or in my case, six) years of their lives developing life-changing friendships and growing into young adults in this spectacular city filled with young people, yet compounded by an amazing history.

Don’t get me wrong, I have more than few complaints about Boston. For starters, the MBTA’s Green Line, the freezing cold, and the glamorous MassHoles (the not-so-nice nickname outsiders give Massachusetts natives) I found myself living amongst for many years. But Boston was my home. It was where I truly developed into who I am today. Where I discovered and established my independence. Where I worked my first journalism-related job. Where I was a reporter of all sorts. Where I still know the subway and the streets like the back of my hand. Where I graduated from Northeastern University, of which I am an incredibly proud alum. Where I have thousands of amazingly fond memories out and about in the city – some just a few feet or a few blocks from where those pressure bombs exploded.

I worked at the American Eagle on Newbury Street, just one block north of Boylston and one block west of Dartmouth Street, where the first bomb went off. I would take the 39 bus down Boylston Street to Copley station several times a week. I did research projects for school at the Boston Public Library, across the street. I walked through the Prudential Center hundreds of times. Some of my favorite bars: Pour House, Cactus Club, Lolita, and Towne, are all within a few blocks. When my parents came to Boston for graduation, they stayed at the Fairmount Hotel right on Copley Square.

I did some Facebook self-stalking and found a handful of pictures of me and my friends around Boston:

So how do you handle it when your home, what feels like a part of you, has been attacked? It struck me suddenly: this is what people all across the world, living in countries much less safe than ours, feel on a regular basis. Their safety is constantly at risk. Their hometowns are always potential targets.

Here in the US, we’re sheltered, and we’re more lucky than we can imagine. So when these acts of violence are aimed toward us and our country and all that it stands for (good and bad), it’s often hard to take a step back and realize these things happen in other countries too. But they happen on a much more regular basis, and in many cases, violence is caused by governments themselves. It doesn’t make what happened in Boston any easier or justify it by any means, but, for me at least, it does bring a little bit of perspective.

A friend who is several years older than I am unintentionally brought an interesting thought to me. In my anxiety, frustration, and emotion of last week, I was talking to him about how genuinely sad and broken these events made me feel, and even though I knew Boston didn’t mean as much to him as it did to me, I asked why he didn’t seem so broken down about it.

“It’s less shocking to me,” he had said. In his lifetime, nearly a decade longer than mine, he remembers more of the violent events of recent history: the Oklahoma City bombings, September 11th, of course, the Little Rock shooting, and the recent Newtown incident, to name just a few. It’s not that he wants these things to happen, but he almost can expect that they will. He isn’t a beat down, depressed, or otherwise numb guy, and because of that, I hated his answer. But once I gave myself time to digest what he’d said to me, and our conversation following his immediate reaction, it makes a lot of sense. As we get older, we become more realistic. Our childhood sense of trust and wonder and good disappears slowly as we see more and more violence and bad in the world. And as a result, these horrific tragedies affect us less and less. I like to think it’s not true, that at the age of 60 these types of tragedies will upset me just as much as they do now, but I guess I won’t know that for another 36 years.

On the flip side, I will say that it’s a comfort and a relief to see the positive coverage of the aftermath of these bombings. Hearing the stories of the heroes who helped saved lives, of the people who rushed towards the sites and not away from them, and of the positive actions of so many people across the country, whether groups of runners dedicating their milage to Boston, people rushing out to donate blood, or the Chicago Tribune sending pizza to the Boston Globe’s newsroom, has been a a huge uplift.


The ending love of our unbelievably long group iMessage last week

For several years during my time at Northeastern, I was a tour guide and eventually served as co-president of the volunteer tour guide program. I made dozens of amazing friendships through the group, many of which have lasted long past graduation. Five of us, who I call my “admissions girls,” all hang out and talk on a somewhat regular basis (as much as we can with one of us in LA and another in NYC). We have a group iMessage chat, and we probably sent a total of 2,000 text messages over the course of last week.

Other friends, too, who I’d walked through Copley with, gone to school with down the street, who were volunteering for the Marathon that day, or who had friends or girlfriends or relatives running the course that day. Reaching out to them in the fear and aftermath of the bombings was terrifying, but so grounding at the same time.

Of course it was confusing, and horrific, and heartbreaking to face all of these conflicting news reports. To watch our city get such overwhelming, somewhat negative, media attention.  But what a comfort, to have my girlfriends to complain and gush and freak out to. It made me realize that in all the chaos of the world, in all the unknown and violence, that what really matters in this world are the relationships we’ve forged, not the physical city streets where those friendships were solidified. I’d sat and drank dozens of 20 oz Pour House Blue Moons with these friends on the very street where the bombs had gone off. But it didn’t matter. What matters is that we have each other.

It’s a small world: From Bolivia to Montreal

Four and a half months ago, Thai An, Camille, and I met in Cochabamba, Bolivia under bizarre circumstances. The entire country was shut down for Census Day, and we weren’t allowed to leave our less-than-glamorous accommodations at Hotel Gloria for a solid 24 hours.

The situation was far from the dire: we had TVs, wifi, and had been able to go to the grocery store the day before to stock up on food. But still, when you’re backpackers traveling through a foreign country, it’s against your very nature to sit inside all day doing next to nothing.

Thai An, originally from Montreal, was working an internship in Sucre, and had been flown to Cochabamba for a conference that was eventually cancelled. Camille, who is from Paris, was in the middle of a one year, round-the-world backpacking trip. I was just past the midpoint of my 3 month trip, and still a gimp from recently tearing the ligament in my foot.

The three of us chatted, laughed and joked, watched TV, cut up fruit and made homemade guacamole in the common area of the hotel since there was no kitchen we could use. After spending hours together killing time online, lounging on not so comfortable couches, and getting to know each other, we’d said goodbye, and the next day I left at the crack of dawn for my epic journey to Toro Toro national park.

Thai An and I met up a few days later when I was in Sucre, and we’d all become Facebook friends, following each others travels after we’d parted ways. Two weeks ago, just before my 8 day trip to Montreal, I posted on Thai An’s wall, letting her know I’d be in Montreal and that we should grab drinks if she was around.

A few hours later, I had a notification that Camille had commented on my post as well. “I will be there too!!!!!!!” she’d written. What were the chances?

Turns out Camille was on the very last leg of her 13 months of travel, visiting old friends for a few days before making her way back to Paris. I was in the city where both my parents were born and raised for a mother-daughter vacation, to celebrate the Jewish holiday of Passover and spend time with extended family.

I could hardly believe it, but the following Thursday, the three of us, plus my Mom, were hugging hello at L’Avenue, a trendy brunch spot in Montreal’s Plateau neighborhood.

“It’s a small world” may be one of the oldest cliches in the book, but it has never rung truer. Five months ago, I never would have been able to guess that my I would be meeting two women I’d spent a few days with in Bolivia for to-die-for Eggs Benedict on Mont-Royal Avenue.

Holding on to memories

It’s hard to believe, but this weekend will mark two and a half months since I’ve been back from South America.

The excitement, the euphoric high of having traversed through five countries and begun to master another language, is starting to wear off, and the frustrations of every day life, and the real world, are creeping in.

I’m distracted and stressed out by all the dumb little stuff again — fender benders, shlepping to doctors appointments, running errands, filing my taxes, and the joys of spending my afternoons sitting in traffic, aggravated with LA drivers and knowing that gas is over $4.15 a gallon. It’s easy to forget that only three months ago I was jumping out of an airplane over Argentina, riding in a jeep across the Bolivian desert, and sipping amazing wine in Mendoza.

A few days ago, my gold Ray Band (no, that’s not a typo) aviators that I bought on the streets of Arequipa for $3 fell out of my hand onto the sidewalk, one of the lenses cracking half from the fall. I was oddly devastated. Not just because it’s nearly impossible for me to find sunglasses that flatter my face, but because of all the amazing things I saw through those lenses half a world away. I was suddenly overwhelmed with thoughts of all of the incredible people I interacted with, whether for 5 minutes or 5 days, whom I’d met in those sunglasses. Of course the memories didn’t break or get thrown out with my glasses, but it made me realize how easy it is to forget all of the little moments and interactions I cherished over the 3 months I was gone.

In an effort not to lose those moments (thanks Dad for genetically dooming me with your terrible memory), I wanted to think back on, and share, a few random memories from my travels.

– On one of the overnight bus rides I took through Bolivia, I ended up next to an older gentleman who found out I could speak some basic Spanish and so he began to talk (and talk, and talk) to me. I’d just hurt my foot, and had to cancel my trip to the rainforest because no flights were taking off, so was in no mood to converse, let alone in Spanish. But this man kept talking, kept pushing to ask questions about my life in the U.S., about what my parents do, about why living at home close to your family isn’t common in America. He told me all about his daughters, his family, his past working for the Bolivian military. I only understood about half of what he was saying, and even though internally, in that moment, I was less than thrilled to be talking and not getting some sleep, thinking back, his excitement to communicate with a foreigner and hear about my life was endearing, and I’m thankful for that conversation.

– I remember so vividly the Bolivian night sky on the second night of my Salar tour. It was the type of December night where no matter how many layers you had on, the cold sank directly into your bones, but I was so infatuated with the bright stars that I just stood outside our hostel straining my neck, in awe with the glittering galaxies in the distance. It had been years since I’d really spent time just looking at the night sky, and I’d missed that feeling.

– Down in Bariloche, I rented a car with three guys I’d met in my hostel, and we drove several hundred kilometers in a day through the area’s lake region. At one of our many stops, we walked off the road a ways and stumbled upon a serene river that looked eerily similar to Early Intake, a river surrounded by high rocks not far from the summer camp I went to. In that moment, I had a sudden, unexpected flood of childhood camp memories, and felt overcome by a truly cliche, warm and fuzzy feeling.

– My first home stay in Manta, Ecuador, was with a very sweet family whom I desperately wanted to communicate with, but since it was only my second week studying Spanish, my vocabulary was rather unimpressive. We couldn’t say a whole lot to each other, but they had two little dogs, Arnold and Bruno, so we bonded over feeding and playing with them instead.

– On vacation, my joy didn’t have to come from complex emotions or places – it often came from the most basic things. After hours of hiking and sweating and wearing the same clothes for days on end, I appreciated a simple hot shower, clean laundry, and a twin sized, bottom bunk bed more than anything. On afternoons where I could have been doing anything, sitting in the sun with my book and a glass bottle of Coca Cola was all I could have wanted. It’s easy to forget the simple joys – I miss those moments.


I’m an HCBN member!

My alma mater Her Campus has created a Bloggers Network, and I’ve officially been accepted! I am so proud and excited to have their badge on my site and to be partnering with them for the chance to write about any awesome travel-related events, products, and/or opportunities!

BloggerNetworkLogoFor those of you who haven’t heard of Her Campus yet, they are an amazing website written completely for, and by, young women in college. I wrote for the main, national site and I headed up the Northeastern University branch, which is a page hosted by Her Campus, but all of the content on that branch page is created by student staff writers at each university.

The site was founded by 3 Harvard alum — Stephanie, Windsor, and Annie — all incredible girls who I had the lucky opportunity to meet since our universities reside in the same city! I’m so excited that their site has seen such incredible success and taken off so much since they started it back in 2010. It truly is an incredible resource and writing opportunity for young college women!

Anyways, enough gushing, I just wanted to share the exciting news! Hope everyone has a fabulous weekend!

xo, Rachel

PS – I really do swear that I’ll have a life update, plus all my favorite photos from post-Macbook death, up soon. Sorting photos & getting everything organized now that I’m back in the States has just been quite the process!

Trek to Machu Picchu: Day 1

My jungle trek might have been one of the most physically challenging things I’ve ever done in my life: 40 kilometers of downhill mountain biking, rafting through Class 3 rapids, walking 26 kilometers up and down steep mountains… it was quite a challenge. That being said, my trek was also one of the most incredible experiences of my life.

I remember climbing into bed on my first night and looking at my watch, only to realize it had only been 14 hours since I’d left Cusco, but it somehow felt like days. I started the day with a 6:15 wake up call to take my last hot shower for four days — thank goodness there was hot water at my hostel that morning (another small thing you learn to seriously appreciate when you travel: a decent shower). I had to literally sit on my (er, Kate’s) bag to close it, I was taking so little with me on the trek. Two pairs of leggings, four pairs of underwear, a bathing suit, two sports bras, a long sleeve shirt, a short sleeve shirt, two tank tops, my fleece, a pair of sweats, face wash, toothbrush/paste, body wash, a small towel, my camera & charger, chapstick, and a flashlight. Damn good packing!

I was told there were only 6 of us on the trek, so when our 16-seater van ended up completely full, I was less than thrilled. We were taking a 3 hour drive up into the Andes to start our mountain biking, and there were 9 Israelis who were going to be joining our group for the first half of the first day. Unfortunately, they were being typical Israelis, screaming and shouting and blasting techno music… at 7:30 AM. The other 6 of us looked at each other with frustrated and exhausted faces, silently thankful they were only with us for those few hours.

As an American Jew, it’s often hard to hear the reaction to the myriad of Israelis traveling in groups down in South America. Stian, one of the Norweigans in my trek group, simply said “I hate those people” on our way to dinner on our first night, and though I was immediately hurt and frustrated, I completely understood why his impression of Israel and Israelis was so negative. The 9 Israelis in our van made no attempt to speak English or communicate with us — they spoke over the guides when they tried to explain things during our drive, and they didn’t take us into consideration whatsoever. Of course there are exceptions to all the stereotypes, and I of all people know that not all Israelis are like this — for instance the great guy, Alon, I met on my tour of the Cusco ruins. I think when people travel in groups, it’s just a different situation.

Regardless of their obnoxiousness, mountain biking was quite the experience: serene, slightly terrifying, but overall, a few of the most incredible hours of my life. After my not-so-impressive biking experience at the Estancia in Uruguay, I was more than a little nervous to hop on a mountain bike and cycle 40 km (almost 25 miles) down a massive mountain. Luckily, our guide, Juan Carlos, was great at explaining all the functions of our bikes, triple checking everything worked, and then loading us up with the right gear: helmets, gloves, full top “armor” jackets with spine protection, plus full knee/calf protectors. I looked pretty ridiculous, but I felt safe!

Once I did a few circles around the dirt lot where we were suiting up, I immediately felt more comfortable on my bike than I had in Uruguay, but the first mile or two were still a bit of a struggle. I was the last in the group, ended up breaking a lot, and took the curves very, very slowly. As I got more comfortable on my bike, I eased up a lot. There was a steep drop-off on one side of the road, but even the parts of the road with hairpin turns were wide and well paved, and I was able to ease into the ride and a higher speed relatively quickly.

There is nothing more beautiful than descending from 4500 meters (just over 13,000 feet) above sea level, surrounded by beautiful snow-capped peaks, into a temperate jungle, watching the vegetation become more and more green, feeling the air get warmer and warmer, the sun on your face and wind in your hair. It sounds so disgustingly cliche, and nearly impossible considering I was navigating a two-wheeled vehicle down a steep mountain road, but it was such a freeing, relaxing experience. Ironically, mountain biking was the part of the trek I was most nervous for, but it was by far my favorite official activity of the four days.

After biking we had pesto chicken, rice and tomatoes for lunch at a local restaurant (unexpectedly delicious!), awkwardly changed into our swimsuits in the backyard of our restaurant, then got picked up for rafting. The sun was slowly sinking in the sky, and I realized it was already past 3:30. We ended up sitting in the van in town for nearly half an hour waiting for people from another tour group to join us, so by the the time we drove down to the river and got our lifejackets on, it was close to 4:15.

Firstly, I was expecting wetsuits, and there were none. Instead, I stayed in my leggings and tank top over my bikini, in fear of being freezing cold. Secondly, I somehow ended up at the very front of the 8-person raft. Our guide began to explain the proper procedures for catching the rope if you are thrown overboard, and how to duck into the raft when he says “Get down!” instead of the typical “forward” or “backward” paddling instructions. My heart immediately started racing.

I’d like to say the first, gigantic, bone-chilling wave of ice cold river water was the most shocking, but that would be a lie. Every time I got drenched, which was at least a dozen times in the hour and a half we were on the water, was just as cold and just as terrible. I was shivering, annoyed and mostly terrified. But halfway through, as we floated down a rapid-free section of the river with our paddles in our laps, I just couldn’t help but laugh. Here I was complaining, yet if this were any other normal day, I’d be sitting in my cubicle, complaining about how cold I was — from the AC — and how frustrating the CMA was being that afternoon. Instead, I was river rafting through class 3 rapids in the middle of the Peruvian jungle. How could I possibly be miserable?

After that, I kept a firm grip on the rope at the edge of the raft and dug my feet firmly into the foot-holds, but I smiled, even when I got a mouthful of water. I wish I had a picture of myself when I got out of the raft (or any pictures from rafting — I left my camera with Juan Carlos to take to our hostel) — I literally looked like I had showered in my clothing, there wasn’t a single inch of my body that wasn’t soaked. We towel dried and attempted to soak up the last of the sun, then helped the guides reattach our rafts to the top of the vans before they drove us back to our hostel.

By the time we were back at our hostel it was pitch black and not very warm out, so I was happy to have warm sweats and a dry fleece to change into. Dinner at a local restaurant was delicious, and it was wonderful to crawl into a bed (not a sleeping bag) and pass out!

Sad to report I took very few pictures on the first day — the few I did take are uploaded to Picasa here