A Rosy New Year’s Day

Today is the first day of 2014 and I’m smelling roses. Both figuratively and literally.

For the past two decades I’ve spent this day more or less the same way. Probably my most continuous New Year’s Day tradition is watching the Rose Parade with my mom early in the morning, bemoaning that we’re stuck inside our home in snowy Michigan rather than outside in the beautiful California sunshine “ooo-ing” and “ahhh-ing” at the floats in person. We whine, complain and say, “next year, we’ll be there. Michigan State will play better. We’ll save more money. We’ll do this. We’ll do that. We’ll have all of those things we don’t have now.”

Well believe it or not, two decades later I’m at that Rose Parade – my first trip ever west of Chicago.

This trip is a big deal.

I don’t travel much. I don’t have a lot of cash. I don’t have a job. I don’t have a lot of things. But I am at the 100th Tournament of Roses – something that last year, although I may have resolved with my mom that we would go, I thought would be another unmet resolution.

Each year I reflect on what I want to change about my life – what’s left me restless or disappointed. I spend all of this energy focusing on how to improve the bad but I very rarely ever make it a reality. This year if my trip to the Rose Bowl will have taught me anything it’s that I’m better off focusing on the “making” part. Rather than reflecting, which I think us writers too often have a propensity to do, I’m going to take action this year.

I’m going to go out and get that job. I’m going to write that novel. I’m going to travel. I’m going to do all of these things rather than think about doing all of these things. And then I’m going to write about them.

Ashley HaglundAshley works in corporate, health care and non-profit communications. She loves starting new writing projects; is a media junkie; enjoys studying science, technology and patent law issues; and has a love/hate relationship with semi-colons. To see her face and be her internet friend, follow her on twitter.
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Why I Travel

In September, I was on eight planes (plus two trains and untold numbers of subway cards) and in seven cities. Even now that I’m back, I’m thinking about where I’m going next: how long will it take me to save up and what destination should I go to. I can’t stand still. I have the constant desire need to be in new places.

At the Bloemenmarkt in Amsterdam, the world's only floating flower market.

At the Bloemenmarkt in Amsterdam in September 2013, the world’s only floating flower market.

As a kid, my family moved all over the country. We barely stayed in one city or one home for more than three years. In the midst of all of that moving, we traveled a lot to visit my extended family, as we rarely lived in the same city let alone state. I was always excited for our next plane ride. We didn’t take many vacations without a family purpose, but it was exciting none the less.

Then came the dark times. From 2003 to 2009, the family only traveled once. I traveled by myself twice, both times to visit family. I vowed to myself that when I got to college I would make it my job to travel at least once a year to a new place. In the past seven years, I’ve been to eight countries and an untold number of cities. I’ve been to the American South and the Pacific Northwest. I have numerous Delta SkyMiles (and we’re pretty close on Twitter. They have excellent customer service). And yet, through all of that, I’m not even close to satiating my thirst for adventure.

In my travels, I’ve had a lot of truly meaningful experiences and met many wonderful people, some of which I still speak to today. One such person, Alexia, I met on New Years Eve (2011-2012) at my hostel in London, England. She was on a stopover from Australia to a study abroad for journalism in the Caribbean. I was just about halfway through with my post-grad “discover myself and discover Europe” trip. We instantly became friends and spent the night on New Years adventures, including watching the fireworks from the Millennium Bridge.

Ten months later, I was in New York. Hurricane Sandy was beginning to rumble and I was holed up in my Brooklyn apartment. I received a Facebook message from Alexia, asking to interview me for the Australian radio station she worked for about what the situation was like in the city. Who could have guessed that a girl I met and befriended halfway across the world would put my voice all over Australia.

I’ve definitely been lucky. In 2012, I won a trip to Krakow, Poland¬†to explore my family’s lost homeland alongside a chosen companion, my brother. It was his first trip abroad and my third in two years. We spent three full days all over the city, eating Polish foods, taking historical walking tours, and spending time in what used to be the Jewish Quarter. While the trip as a whole was meaningful, the most standout moment was sharing Shabbat dinner with the remaining Jews of Krakow at their JCC. When people speak about Poland, they talk about the Holocaust and the millions of Jews who died not only at the hands of the Nazis but at the hands of the Polish people. My grandfather and his family were survivors of the war, only for my great grandfather to be murdered by a Pole shortly after the war ended. This dinner was representative of a revival of Jewish culture and of our people’s survival.

As we were in Krakow, we felt it was necessary to not only see the city, but to see the place just one hour outside of it where so many of its residents (and all of European Jews) perished. This is the main gate at Auschwitz.

As we were in Krakow, we felt it was necessary to not only see the city, but to see the place where so many of its residents (and all of European Jews) perished. This is the main gate at Auschwitz, just an hour outside of Krakow.

Though we could not have gotten to the shtetl my family grew up in (all we know is that it borders the Ukraine, but no one knows the name or the exact location), we got to see one of the only Polish towns that was not demolished by the war. Most importantly, I got to share it with my brother. We never met our grandfather, as he died before we were born. Now, we feel closer to him and to his memory. Family stories and photographs are now supplemented by a deeper understanding of his roots through our travel.

There’s something magical about discovering new things. There’s the taste of a croissant in France versus one from a grocery store. There’s the feeling of being at the top of the Space Needle in Seattle, instead of just looking at pictures of Seattle on the Internet. Some of the magic is slightly dulled by fervent research and exposure to images. But visuals on a screen pale in comparison to completely surrounding yourself in a new environment. No amount of reading or Googling can quite compare to actually¬†being in a new place.

I’ve been back in NYC without plans to go places for the first time in six months, and I’m already restless. Time to plan the next adventure.

Alexandra WhiteAlexandra is a WordPress & front-end developer who builds awesome things. She loves craft beer, apple cider cookies, and traveling to new places (especially when the trip is free). You should follow her on twitter and maybe you can become internet friends. Or maybe even IRL friends.