The Fittest Hotel in Florida

Beach Boot Camp WSFL-TV Harbor Beach MarriottUnless you travel with a personal trainer, it can be incredibly hard and inconvenient to stick with your fitness routine while you’re on vacation. But that’s not the case if you vacation at the Marriott Harbor Beach Resort & Spa in sunny Fort Lauderdale. Not only will you find it exceedingly easy to stick to your routine, but there’s also an astronomically high chance that you’ll expand your exercise horizons. Here are ten ways to break a sweat at this beachfront resort that has a gift shop stocked with athletic apparel and a breakfast attendant who you may run into at boot camp.

Col Bob.jpg.jpg1. Make a Date with the “Health Colonel”
Although he could win a congeniality award, Colonel Bob doesn’t mess around. He’s spent 30 years in the Army, but these days he can be found —still sporting fatigues— on the resort’s beach where he leads boot camp classes for guests and Fort Lauderdale locals. The 16-acre resort is home to South Florida’s largest private beach, and Colonel Bob makes a point of covering as much ground as possible. He provides the props, the sand provides the resistance, and knowing that there’s plenty of delicious food nearby to indulge in is plenty of motivation to drop and give Bob forty.

2. Get Out Your Ace Game
Practice your serve or play a full set— but whatever you do, don’t forget about the resort’s Tennis Happy Hour on Fridays. Every Friday, a tennis pro is on site to provide pointers, and guests are invited to meet other players and arrange matches. In addition to match play, guests can also sign up for clinics and programs that are offered on the resort’s two hard courts and two clay courts. Table tennis is also available.

3. Try Not to Travel
Not many Marriott properties can brag about on-site basketball courts, but this property isn’t included in that group. Guests can go from laying by the pool to shooting hoops in less than two minutes. Play for bragging rights, or play for higher stakes— the loser can always buy dinner for the winner at Sea Level, which is also less than two minutes away and serves fresh cuisine in a casual, outdoor setting with ocean views.

4. Paddle Past the Break
Conveniently located on the hotel’s beach, the Aloha Watersports hut is managed by a fun ensemble that can put even the most wary beginners at ease. The warm water and challenging, but manageable waves make for an ideal place to transition from still-water SUP to SUP surfing. Although Aloha offers 30-minute rentals, the experience is so intoxicating that you’ll probably end up wanting to SUP all summer long.

5. Salute the Sun
Pack your own mat or borrow a purple one from the resort, but unless you want them to be jealous, don’t tell your friends that you’ll be doing down dog with views of the beach. The resort offers yoga classes inside their fitness studio and outside on a terrace, so guests can easily squeeze in their favorite poses without having to practice in their room or leave the property to locate a studio.

6. Don’t Cut Class
Forget about the channel guide and fast food menu because the fitness class schedule is probably the most important handout at this resort. The classes, most of which are held on the first floor in the resort’s fitness studio, include spinning, P90X, power walking, water aerobics and Zumba. After a strenuous workout, guests can walk down the hallway and melt their sore muscles in the spa’s steam room.

7. Work Out, Whenever
Hitting the weights or logging some cardio is less of a chore in the resort’s fitness center which is open 24/7 and features floor-to-ceiling windows and state-of-the-art equipment. The resort can also arrange for guests to meet with personal trainers for one-on-one workouts and personalized fitness assessments. For guests looking for a little guidance, there’s a large community board that is frequently updated with recommended reps and routines.

8. Suit Up
The hardest part about swimming at the resort is picking a pool. Guests can choose between the large outdoor lagoon and the private indoor pool located in the adjacent spa. If swimming laps isn’t your thing, the resort offers dive-in movies at dusk where you can tread water while watching a family-friendly flick. For those who prefer to practice their strokes in saltwater, the inviting ocean is just yards away.

9. Dig in the Sand
The resistance of sand makes a resistance band seem like child’s play, and for those looking to maximize their calorie burn, beach volleyball is the perfect sport. Every day, the resort sets up a net on their private beach where guests can sweat it out in a friendly (or fiercely competitive) pickup game.

10. Battle for Bragging Rights
Although the resort has three gift shops, the best souvenir comes from the resort’s recreation department. This talented team designs unique teambuilding challenges and fun competitions akin to what one might see on an episode of Survivor. Whether it’s won in Beach Olympics or the Build-a-Boat Race, the “I Won Bragging Rights at Harbor Beach.” t-shirt is sure to turn heads for years to come.


10 Reasons to Ride and Crash at George Hincapie’s Hotel


South of France or South Carolina?

Cyclists rejoice. There is a hotel on a hill that was designed with you in mind. Offering mind-blowing views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Hotel Domestique could easily appeal to any traveler. But, it’s the two-wheelers who have the most to gain from a stay at this French chateau found twenty miles north of Greenville, South Carolina.


Not my photo, and not George and his real life brother, Richard.


The 13-room inn opened last August and is the brainchild of the brothers Hincapie. Yes, as in the legend “Big George,” who along with his brother Rich, had the brilliant idea to turn a countryside hotel into a hub for hardcore cyclists, beginners, and all bikers in between.

Here are ten reasons why you’ll want to ride and crash at Hotel Domestique.

Bike-in, Bike-out: The first sign that this property is bike-in and bike-out is the bench and storage bin in the hotel’s front entryway. This thoughtful threshold allows cyclists to put on or remove their cycling shoes without having to lean against anything or click and clack across the lobby. Hundreds of miles of world class cycling meet the front door, so there’s no need to start the car or waste daylight getting from point A to point B in order to begin your ride. Depending on the weather and time of day, there are also mobile bike racks set up outside the front door or just inside where guests can store their bikes.


A $10,000 bike that sets the bar as high as George’s seat.

Bike Valet: Prior to arriving at Hotel Domestique, guests who book a room through the hotel’s website have the option of requesting a bike rental. Because there are a limited number of high-end carbon BMC road and mountain bikes in the hotel’s fleet, it’s best to reserve a bike in advance. Once at the hotel, the bikes and gear are waiting for the guests who can request them each morning by using the in-room iPad.


Don’t move – there’s a scorpion on your shoulder.

hincapie gear 2.jpg

Wondering if I’ll ever wear the arm warmers…

Competent Concierge: A friendly concierge who has an emergency stash of ibuprofen (in bulk) mans the front desk and is on hand to help with everything from printing out cue sheets to arranging for a helmet fitting. The concierge can also provide directions to the closest bike shop, which is in the nearby town of Traveler’s Rest, or the best place to get biking apparel, which would be at the Hincapie Sportswearheadquarters in Greenville.

Bike Mechanic & More: The only thing more useful than a bellhop is a bike mechanic, and Hotel Domestique has a very competent one named Jeremiah. Jeremiah manages the hotel’s bike shop, and he seems to always be on hand to help lower a seat or fix a flat tire. In addition to the bike shop, there is also bike storage that allows riders to rest assured.

Le Tour: For diehard Tour de France fans, Hotel Domestique is like heaven. Each of the 13 rooms are named for stages in the tour, and as a throwback, the room keys are actual keys—not cards. The name of the hotel itself comes from the position that George had on the U.S. team. As a domestique, George was responsible for riding ahead and blocking the wind so the team’s leader—Lance Armstrong—could be positioned to pull ahead in the final stretch.


Head shot? Yes please!

Big George: The elephant in the room is built more like a gazelle, and he goes by George. The record-holding 17-time Tour de France competitor retired from pro-cycling in 2012, but he has yet to hang up his helmet. In fact, he rides with hotel guests. For those that aren’t lucky enough to join George on his weekly group rides, there’s always the option of using the in-room iPads to check out “George’s Routes”—George’s personal recommendations on where to ride. Pleasant and approachable, George is just like the rest of the staff at Hotel Domestique, except none of them have their portraits hanging in the hotel.

Restaurant 17: The hotel’s on-site restaurant is a destination in itself. Aptly named for the number of times George competed in the Tour de France, Restaurant 17 features the finest foods prepared by a talented team led by Executive Chef Adam Cooke. Cooke rides between shifts but still manages to serve outstanding food that is locally sourced. The menu is carefully crafted, and changes with what is in season. True to the cycling-theme, the bar has a signature cocktail called the wheel sucker—the term used for a cyclist who trails the leader very closely before taking off at the home stretch.


Bonus points if you can identify everything on the plate.

The Little Things: Between meals, guests can refuel at the hotel’s snack stations which include a mini fridge stocked with drinks, alcohol, an espresso machine, and plenty of healthy snacks including fresh fruit, trail mix, biscotti, and Skratch Lab energy samples. Guests will also want to take advantage of the hotel’s yoga room where they can stretch or receive a massage. The yoga room even has a shower so day-trippers can freshen up before dining at Restaurant 17.

The Bigger Things: For guests that aren’t into cycling (yet), there’s always the option of getting a complimentary day pass to the country club just down the road. Hotel Domestique has a great relationship with The Cliffs—a private residential community—where guests can utilize a fitness center, spa, and tennis courts. The hotel also has a 25-meter pool and an inviting library where guests can relax while their companions ride.


Dan and I rode with L to R, George’s friend who was training for an Ironman, Chef Adam Cooke, and George.

Location, Location, Vacation: It was no random act of relocation that the Hincapies, New York natives, settled in upstate South Carolina. It was here, in the mild climate and foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, that George could train year round for the Tour de France. Rural roads stretch high and low across the scenic terrain, and the hotel’s strategic location provides guests with the same unparalleled routes favored by this former pro-cyclist.

First published by The Active Times


Gone Wolf Watching


Not 889F, but another of Yellowstone’s wolves. Photo credit: Becky Jackson

The rumor is she was shot. Fact or fiction, it’s clear that 889F is limping and dragging one leg. Yet, with only three good limbs, this lone wolf can still spook an entire herd of bison. Witnessing such interactions between wildlife is rare unless you find yourself in a place like Yellowstone National Park.

Visual representation of Yellowstone's wolves in 2004. Copyright © Jim Halfpenny, Ph.D.  Diann Thompson, B.S.N.

Visual representation of Yellowstone’s wolves in 2004. Copyright © Jim Halfpenny, Ph.D.
Diann Thompson, B.S.N.

If 889F was shot, it likely happened when she wandered outside of the park’s boundaries where she loses her federal protection. A highly efficient predator that doesn’t limit its food source to wildlife found within the park’s boundaries, the wolf is not always popular with local ranchers. In spite of, or perhaps because of this controversy, the wolf is one of the biggest attractions for Yellowstone. With only 80-100 wolves roaming within Yellowstone’s 3,500 square miles, even return visitors can go years without seeing so much as a track. For those determined to see the surprisingly mysterious ancestor of man’s best friend in its natural habitat, Nathan Varley, PhD is the man to meet.

Visual Representation of Yellowstone's Wolves--2004. Copyright © Jim Halfpenny, Ph.D.  Diann Thompson, B.S.N.

Nathan Varley is akin to the Wolf Whisperer.

Varley and his wife Linda Thurston own The Wild Side, LLC—a wolf watching excursion service that takes visitors into the wilds of Yellowstone in search of its most elusive, and often infamous, inhabitants. With parents who were park rangers and wildlife biologists, Varley is practically a product of the park and is one of few people who can brag about attending school inside Yellowstone. The small school Varley attended in Mammoth Hot Springs is now closed, but he recalls the time a bull elk got its antlers tangled in the swing set and mentions that there were plenty of days when recess took place indoors while the wildlife took over the playground. As a tour guide working in the area where he grew up, Varley shares stomping ground stories that are more entertaining and educational than much of what can be read in the material picked up at the visitor center. As a wildlife biologist who was involved with the initial reintroduction of wolves in 1995, Varley has firsthand and first-rate information about the eight wolf packs that live in Yellowstone.


Our private wolf watching bus; the closest we’ll come to renting a party bus.

Cold and dark are the conditions you want for beginning your Yellowstone wolf watch. Winter is the ideal time because the wolves stand out against the white snow. In addition, their prey is feeding at lower elevations—mostly along the river valleys near the roads. Seeing the sunrise also increases your chances of seeing these animals that are most active in the early morning hours. Although winter is prime time for wolf spotting, Varley and his team of local guides work year round to provide custom single or multi-day wolf excursions. Transportation is included, and a healthy array of high protein snacks and hot drinks are also provided. For humans and animals alike, food is not easy to find in Yellowstone, especially in winter when a blanket of snow can be just as bleak as beautiful. When asked how often wolves need to eat, Varley answers that while they need more food in the winter, it’s not uncommon for wolves to eat only once a week in the summer. With just one kill, an entire pack (Yellowstone’s packs range in size from two to sixteen wolves) can make do for days.

Photo from The Active Times.


It’s easier to spot the Park’s wolf enthusiasts than it is to spot the wolves.

In the 365 days of the year that America’s oldest national park is open, more than three million visitors pass through; yet, only a small fraction will be lucky enough to see a wolf. But luck is just one part of the equation. To exponentially increase the chances of seeing a wolf, insert a guide like Varley. Although there is very limited cell phone service in Yellowstone, Varley is well equipped with a precious piece of technology that most mere mortals don’t pack—a radio. This allows for constant communication with other elite wolf watchers including the select few that have the frequencies for the tracking collars that are on some of the wolves. Within this tight-knit community of wildlife biologists, photographers, and other wolf enthusiasts, information that most people aren’t privy to flows freely. On a recent excursion, this information resulted in five separate wolf sightings for a group who had hired Varley for the day. All were longtime residents of Montana and frequent visitors to Yellowstone; yet, many of them had never seen a wolf in the wild.

PicMonkey Collage

Snowshoeing in to see the last remaining exclosure pen. Humans were kept out and guards were stationed to make sure no one threw poisoned meat to the wolves.

Most of the legwork was done for them. In addition to doing the driving, Varley set up spotting scopes and packed seven pairs of snowshoes for a back-country trek to the last remaining acclimation pen which was used to hold the wolves when they were first brought to Yellowstone from Canada. Whereas wolves can cover upwards of thirty miles in one day, Varley lets his clients determine how much trail they want to blaze on their wolf excursion. Wolf watching can often be synonymous with wolf waiting, and in addition to perseverance for the excursion component, one needs patience for the exposure component. With temperatures dipping into the single digits, standing still at a spotting scope and waiting for a wolf to come into view can be surprisingly trying.  Still, a glimpse of one of the most revered residents of the wild and fabled characters of folklore is well worth the wait. For everyone from first timers to avid followers, there is something surreal about this species—Canis lupis—that sends a life-changing chill down the spine.

The Junction Butte Pack's 889F in April, 2013. Photo credit: Doug McLaughlin

The Junction Butte Pack’s 889F in April, 2013.

Whether or not she was shot, 889F still has a long, cold winter ahead. Humans rest on fate, but for wolves and the rest of the wildlife in Yellowstone, it’s all about survival of the fittest. Sure, the geysers like Old Faithful and the plentiful herds of elk and bison are neat, but it’s time spent attempting to track down the top of the food chain that is the most challenging and memorable part of a Yellowstone vacation. When in Rome, do as the Romans do, but when in Yellowstone, take a walk on the wild side. If you’re lucky, or smart enough to go with someone like Varley, there’s a very good chance you’ll see a wolf.

For more information about Nathan Varley and The Wild Side, LLC, visit For more information about Yellowstone National Park, visit

*This piece was first published in The Active Times


Secrets from a Blue Zone

It’s not easy to believe that a third world country the size of West Virginia is home to more centenarians than anywhere on earth. But that’s what Dan Buettner discovered nearly seven years ago while on assignment for National Geographic. Based on additional research, Buettner took a pen and a map and circled the five areas in the world where people live the longest. Because of the color of the pen he used, they are known as the “blue zones.” Regions of California, Greece, Italy, and Japan made the list, but none of these areas can compete with the biggest blue zone of all—Nicoya, Costa Rica.


Approaching the Nicoya Peninsula on the last ferry of the day from Puntarenas.

dona mara

Dona Mara, in orange, leads the ladies in a series of Hail Marys as we walk one morning in February.

Rosary beads in hand, Doña Mara walks four miles every morning in the Costa Rican countryside. Earlier this year I had the pleasure of joining Doña Mara and her lady friends for their morning exercise. While I struggled to keep up with these older women, I did manage to be within hearing distance when they said good morning to the farmer who sells them corn. An ancient grain, corn is a primary source of energy for Ticos—the term that Costa Ricans use to refer to themselves—and Doña Mara serves corn tortillas for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. She even opens her home and modest outdoor kitchen to travelers from all over the world. Doña Mara’s daughter Irene is co-owner of GreenSpot Travel and says that the activity of visiting her mother’s home to learn how to make a local staple is one of the most memorable experiences for her clients. At 56 years old, Doña  Mara is certainly not a centenarian and where she lives is 100 miles east of the Nicoya region, but after just one encounter with her, it’s obvious she belongs in a blue zone.

Doña Mara’s secrets for longevity: Faith, four-miles every morning (rain or shine), and of course, corn tortillas.


Chepito dancing at his 112th birthday. Photo courtesy of

Over twice the age of Doña Mara, José “Chepito” is still alive and giving the nuns at his retirement home in Costa Rica’s capital, San José, a run for their money. The 113-year-old is the world’s oldest living man (although the folks at Guinness World Records need more documentation to prove it), but he’s also known for being the first one on the dance floor. Despite his loss of sight and the doctor’s orders to take it easy, he insists on taking his daily walks, even if it means scaling gates. In two years, if and when Chepito turns 115, he will break the record for the oldest man in recorded history. That’s a record previously held by a man from Japan, also on the list of blue zones.

Chepito’s secrets for longevity: You’ll have to ask him yourself. According to the Costa Rica Star, he’s a friendly guy and can be bribed with fresh fruit.

Rafael Angel Brenes

Rafael surrounded by friends and family at his 99th birthday.

Rafael Angel Brenes will turn 100 years old this February. His neighbor, Evelyn Gallardo, the author of Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica Travel Guides, says that Rafael has never suffered from memory loss or broken a bone.  He’s never had cancer, diabetes, or even high blood pressure. He eats very little added salt and sugar, loves gardening, and always gets at least ten hours of sleep a night. Time is something that Gallardo, originally from the U.S., has noticed Ticos don’t lose sleep over. “Ticos live in the now. If it didn’t get done today, there’s always tomorrow. Living in Costa Rica is never having to say you’re sorry for being late,” says Gallardo.

Rafael’s secrets to longevity: A healthy diet and a habit of making sure that the TV is always turned off by 6 p.m.


Lucas and Muki, one of the three resident Great Danes at Chalet Nicholas.

Lucas Mongrillo is 54 years old. He cooked me breakfast when I was staying at Chalet Nicholas, my favorite bed and breakfast in Costa Rica. The reason for my inaugural trip to Costa Rica was to help deliver 550 bicycles to poor communities where transportation is lacking. Lucas and I immediately bonded over bikes. A mountain biking champion, Lucas has made many cross-country trips, which is hard to believe given Costa Rica’s terrain and infamous roads. Even with his collection of trophies, Lucas lives very simply. Where he comes from, extended families live in the same modest structures and they don’t have much in terms of material things. Shared bathrooms, dirt floors, and limited appliances are the norm. Coffee makers are unnecessary; coffee is made by pouring hot water through a sock filled with coffee grounds. Cathy, the owner of Chalet Nicholas, moved to Costa Rica from the U.S. and noticed long ago that Ticos take great pride in their families and in helping their neighbors. When he’s not making breakfast for guests at Chalet Nicholas, Lucas serves on the town council and is very involved in the local community. Although Lucas has many years to go until he reaches 100, I won’t be surprised if he cycles his way straight to centenarianship.

Lucas’ secrets to longevity: My guess is leading a simple, yet active life that involves giving back to the community I planned to chat with Lucas and learn more about his secrets via Skype, but he doesn’t own a computer—which is telling and could very well be a secret in itself.


Jose and I helping sort and distribute 550 bicycles to poor communities in rural Costa Rica.

Jose Araya was born in Costa Rica, attended high school in Alaska, and played soccer for Montana State University in Billings, which is where I first met him.  At 27 years old, Jose has a long way to go before he qualifies for a senior discount, much less a membership in the centenarian club, but his experience living in both Costa Rica and the U.S. is why I decided to reach out to him.  It was Jose who first took me to Nicoya, and he told me that he isn’t surprised that Ticos live noticeably longer lives. The first thing he credits is the country’s status as a developing nation. Cars are luxuries, not necessities. “In rural areas, people walk or bike. Period,” says Araya. He also credits a diet heavy in fresh fruits and vegetables. Franchises have a hard time entering the country, and as a result, fast food is not nearly as cheap as it is in the U.S. It’s far more affordable for families to buy food from the local feria del agricultor or in Enlgish, a farmer’s market. Araya also notes that healthcare is free, and because Costa Rica has no army, the government is able to invest more money in health and education.

Jose has no secrets to longevity, yet. But he will be the first to tell you that his people don’t sweat the small stuff.  Instead, they sweat by taking advantage of the tropical climate and being active outside year-round.


“Alto” means stop in Spanish. As in stop and smell the roses for a sweeter life.

Much can be learned by traveling to a blue zone, and because Ticos are so warm and welcoming, Costa Rica is a great place to start. If it’s a healthier lifestyle that you’re looking for, you can’t go wrong in a country where pura vida—meaning pure or plenty of life—is the official greeting. No “hellos”, no “byes,” and certainly no not saying anything. Ticos believe that everyone deserves pura vida, and if you travel to Costa Rica, that’s probably what you’ll find and remember most.



Note: This piece first appeared on The Active Times

Find Your Fuel

liquido magico

Fuel: a source of sustenance or incentive.

My mom once won the grand prize at a fundraiser. It was an all-expense paid trip to Las Vegas for two. She should have taken my dad. But she didn’t. She didn’t take anyone because she never took the trip. My mom didn’t want to go to the middle of a desert so she donated the trip back.


This is me being happy while snorkeling.

Like my mom, I am currently in the running for a free trip. (This is my entry for the Find Yours contest sponsored by Expedia and the National Film Festival for Talented Youth.) Unlike my mom, I get to pick where I want to go if I win. The options include Seattle, London, Paris, and even Australia–home to the Great Barrier Reef which I must see in order to die happy.

I like being happy. I like being content. And comfortable. And in the company of others who are like me. All things considered, I should pick Australia. It couldn’t be more “Katie.”

But I can’t. Instead, I must pick one of the last places on earth that I (much like my mother) want to go: the middle of a desert. As uncomfortable as my mom would be in the Mojave, I will be twenty times that in Morocco where I imagine the Sahara swallowing me whole before spitting me out as pink and defeated as bubblegum stuck on a busy sidewalk. But I know I have to pick Morocco because that is where I will have the best chance of finding what I am looking for, fuel.

2008. Now I know why I felt compelled to paint the desert.

2008. Now I know why I felt compelled to paint the desert.


A boy in Nicaragua runs out of fuel.

This isn’t the fuel that you pay almost $4 a gallon for at the gas station. I’m looking to find the sort of fuel that keeps your inner fire burning in times of discomfort and despair.  The kind of fuel that can only be found in distant reserves where it is the product of a foreign people who are the only ones able to ignite it. The grade of fuel that you pay for with sweat and sunburns and failed attempts to converse in different languages. I have burned this fuel, and always it has been in unfamiliar territory. In places where I am far from home. At times when I find myself humbled because things are not going my way and as badly as I wish I could be somewhere else, I must live in the moment.


A sign at the gym. I never WANT to go to the gym, but I always leave feeling glad I did.


Lost and alone on an island, I encountered this girl who made me forget all about my problems. #fuel


My fuel is in Morocco. It is in the country where I will enter as an afraid outsider and leave as a privileged insider. It is in the land where I will be drawn so far out of my comfort zone that I never want back in. The fuel I’m looking for belongs to the people that live there, and it is only in my interactions with them and their culture that I will find my fuel. My energy is in Morocco, and I thank Expedia and NFFTY for the opportunity to capture it on camera. Here’s what it would look like:

Photo courtesy of, but I can't wait to take my own photos!

Photo courtesy of, but I can’t wait to take my own photos!

A pale girl with freckles and large teeth closes her notebook which is blank except for a few words which are all crossed out. She folds up her tray table and leans over the sleeping man sitting in the window seat to stare out the window as the plane circles above Casablanca. Her already-big eyes get bigger when she sees the massive Hassan II Mosque rising directly out of the ocean below. Jump to later that day with a shot from the knees down. A group of bare feet fill the frame until the camera zooms in on a pair of feet lagging behind the crowd. The camera pans up to the girl from the plane who is nervously fingering a cross which hangs on her neck as she looks up at the overwhelming interior of the mosque. She lets go of the necklace charm as a hand comes into the frame. It belongs to a Moroccan woman wearing the traditional jelaba. She greets her by saying something in Arabic. Flashback. The girl is sitting on the plane absentmindedly staring at her Arabic phrasebook which seems to be as neglected as her notebook. The camera zooms in on greetings.

Peace be with you: Assalamu alaikum.

Back in the mosque. The girl hesitates and then, remembering as best she can, she says “salami.” The Moroccan woman laughs. The girl laughs. The Moroccan woman corrects her, “assalamu alaikum. The camera pans to the girl and zooms in to capture the forced movements of her mouth as she repeats it back to her. Except the camera then reveals that it isn’t a her. It’s a Moroccan man selling spices in a busy market.


Photo courtesy of Smithsonian Journeys.

The man is nearly hidden behind the heaps of colorful spices, and the girl has no idea what they are so she points to the nearest pile which is the color of sand.The camera zooms in on the spice as the market noises are replaced by the sound of wind. The camera zooms back out to reveal that the spice is no longer the spice, but the Sahara. The girl comes into view. Her skin has a little color and she looks a little less like the lost-looking girl from the mosque and a little more like a seasoned traveler. She is sitting outside of a tent with her now half-filled notebook resting on her lap. The camera zooms in on her pen.


The camera cuts to the face of a camel.

The final scene involves an infinite number of stars in the sky as night falls in the desert and the girl is eating dinner with a family of nomads. By the light of the fire, she sketches a drawing of her family to show the youngest Berber boy that she has a brother like him at home. She hands him the notebook and on the last blank page left in the notebook, he begins to draw…


For more information on the contest & to enter to Find Your _____, click here.




Party of One Perks!

Starsky had Hutch, Cheech had Chong, and Thelma had Louise. Who does Katie have? DIdley–as in Didley Squat. It’s true, I’m often traveling alone because if I were to actually believe I had a buddy named Didley Squat, the only trip I’d be taking would be to the loony bin. While I have had the pleasure of traveling with friends and family, I’d say that the majority of the traveling I’ve done was solo. Speaking of Solo, how lucky was Han to have Chewbacca? He would make the coolest companion. Or maybe not. Because would the folks at the Vatican let a creature that looks like a giant hairy dog into St. Peter’s Basilica?
Probably not.
So while I do spend a lot of time pining for a travel partner, there are certainly many benefits of traveling by yourself. Here are just a few of my favorites:
While I don't encourage "crashing" events or local gatherings, scoring one invite can be a lot easier than a plus one or more.

While I don’t encourage “crashing” events or local gatherings, scoring one invite can be a lot easier than a plus one or more.


Budging is Easier Sans Buddy.

That line to get into St. Peter’s Basilica can be hours long. rent a car . It’s much easier to cut the line if you’re by yourself. Just joking, you should wait your turn! The rest of the perks are more serious.




You Don’t Have to Feel Selfish. 

For getting the best bed or being first in the shower and using all the hot water. Granted, selfish people may be more prone to traveling alone, but I think it’s also a great idea for selfless people to travel alone so they realize just how nice a hot shower and firm mattress can feel after a long day of traveling.


Truth be told, there is no such thing as the “last seat” on a chicken bus in Central America. They don’t know the concept of full capacity.


You Can Take the Last One!

If there’s only one more ticket for an express train or one seat left in an otherwise sold-out concert, you never need to wait for the next one. I also run into this problem when shopping with my friends. If there’s only one size small left, who gets it?




You Can’t Really Complain.

Other than your waiter or the hotel concierge, who are you going to complain to? Exactly. So when my foot hurt when I was in Granada recently, I didn’t have to waste any breath talking about the pain.


If you don’t have a timer on your camera, you’re pretty much limited to the length of your arm for self-portraits.

All Photos are Flattering. 

When you travel alone, you have complete control over how, or even if, you are captured on camera. For example, I’m sensitive about pictures taken during the peak of my sunburn, but when I travel alone, I never have to worry about finding any unflattering photos of me posted on Facebook. Not that it’s a huge worry, but it’s nice to not have to check to see if I’ve been tagged looking jet-lagged.





Note: These are just a few of the perks of the party of one. There are many more! As Frank Sinatra would say, “I did it my way.”


And has Billy Joel would say, “I go to extremes.” See photo on the left!