I signed up for Groupon a little before Thanksgiving. I knew people who got really good deals on it so I went to check it out, & I was impressed. They had some really, really good deals on things. I bought several Christmas presents from them. Even more interesting to me than the “Groupon Goods” was that Groupon sold were tickets/admissions to real-life experiences in my area. I found some amazing things I never would have thought to look up, & at great prices!
I love Groupon. I still do. I think it’s a great tool for finding cool experiences you can have in your area or somewhere you’re traveling, & getting a great deal on those experiences. It’s got some pretty nice discounts on things you might want to buy yourself or someone else for a gift. I love that it makes me aware of things I might want to do & experiences I might want to have.
STOP EMAILING ME SO OFTEN.
I wouldn’t mind getting a Groupon newsletter. Getting deals sent to your inbox, making you aware of deals they have, & reminding me of Groupon’s existence are all very good things that I have no problem with.
But getting what seemed like 3+ emails EVERY SINGLE DAY from Groupon (or anyone) is just way too much noise. Even after Black Friday was done, they just wouldn’t stop emailing me. I get a lot of newsletters, & I don’t have time to read most of them. I don’t like being emailed constantly. I don’t like subscribing to a newsletter where as soon as an email arrives, it feels like a burden to read or something to frantically keep up with. If it starts feeling that way, there’s a 99% chance I’ll either delete all the emails as soon as they arrive or unsubscribe entirely.
There is a really easy solution to this. One that allows the brand to increase the amount I’ll spend with them, stop bothering me with emails, AND keep me as an email subscriber.
I had the same problem with Zulily a year or so ago. Zulily, the clothing-&-gift deal website, is kind of like Groupon — great deals, limited-time-offers, cool things to buy. But they also shared a penchant for sending me way too many emails. Minimum of once a day, there would be an email from Zulily. I started deleting the emails without even looking at them.
I was about to unsubscribe completely.
But Zulily had a nice little feature that I discovered on my way to unsubscribe.
You could choose how often Zulily emailed you. Once a day, once a week, or never. They also have a “Snooze” feature where you can keep your current settings but not receive any emails from them for 30 days.
Some email newsletters just piss you off because they send an obnoxious amount of emails & give you nothing in return. With those, you just want the emails to stop. With a newsletter like Zulily (or Groupon) that sends you good stuff but just emails too often, you’re willing to negotiate. You WANT to stay subscribed, you just don’t want constant emails.
I picked “Once a Week”, & Zulily has never annoyed me again. I have purchased way more stuff from them AFTER decreasing the frequency of emails than I would have if they kept emailing me every day, because then I would have unsubscribed completely & not thought about them very often.
When I started getting annoyed at how often Groupon emailed me, I clicked on the link at the bottom of the screen that said “change frequency of emails”. I thought, “Awesome, I can fix this like I did with Zulily!” I was excited & relieved. But to my disappointment, the only choices you had were to either unsubscribe completely, change the region the deals were for, or unsubscribe from individual types of newsletters, like Groupon Goods, Groupon Getaways, etc.
No option to change how many times PER WEEK I got an email. For any newsletter that sends out “daily deals”, I think this being able to opt out of just those & have control over the frequency of emails is essential.
With no other choice, I did what I had to do.
I unsubscribed from the Groupon newsletter.
I think a lot of brands are afraid that if you don’t get emails from them at least once a day that you’ll forget about them. If this is the reason these brands don’t offer an option to reduce how often you get an email, this doesn’t make any sense to me. Annoying me by constantly telling me about how many sales you have makes me LESS LIKELY to read ANY of the emails because I find it overwhelming, even if the content is good. I’m only going to spend my money when I WANT to spend my money.
I don’t like feeling like when a brand is pressuring me into impulse buying stuff I don’t want or need, rather than making meaningful purchases when I feel like it & developing a mutually respectful relationship with the brand.
If I unsubscribe, I have to manually go to the website & look for deals if I want to buy from them. I’m not going to do that, say, once a week, so I’d be seeing their stuff a bare minimum of 4X more if they gave me the option of only receiving an email weekly vs me unsubscribing altogether. Sure, I might miss some deals that I might have been interested in, but I’ll still buy way more stuff from the brand because I’ll still be subscribed to their newsletter.
Groupon, if you’re reading this, I will gladly re-subscribe to your newsletter once you offer an option to only be emailed weekly. I miss seeing what you have to offer!
Marketing should be more like a mutually-beneficial conversation & less like someone shoving an ad in your face. I know you’re better than that, & I think the payoff you’ll get from giving your customers more email options will be more than worth any effort you would put into implementing this.
I just read an article about how Kylie Jenner recently came out with a set of makeup brushes in her Silver Series line. If you haven’t heard yet, they cost $360 for a set of 16 synthetic brushes. Do you know a ton about makeup & understand the difference between different makeup brushes? Do you still believe that the brushes are a great price for what you’re getting? By all means, buy them then. I have nothing against the brush set, except that I personally think it should be less expensive.
The thing is, I want you to buy what’s going to make you GENUINELY HAPPY. Not just spend your money on something you think you’re supposed to want or like.
These brushes might be the perfect thing for you.
But this article is for the people who aren’t totally on board with buying the brush set but still feel like buying SOMETHING. The alternatives on this list are equally great alternatives for anything else you’re on the fence about buying. Especially if what you’re debating buying is something else that’s hyped, new, popular, & probably overpriced, especially for everyday people who don’t need pro-quality tools for whatever they do.
I want you to spend your money on things that are going to add real VALUE to your life, however you define that value. Because it’s not really the price that matters as much as whether the value you’ll personally get from buying something is equal to or higher than the price you’re going to pay for it. I just don’t want to feel pressured into buying something just because it’s “cool” or because a celebrity is involved with it.
So if you’re debating about whether to buy the brushes (or other expensive, popular item), here are 17 way better things you can use that money for that will give you back so much personal value in return for what you’ll spend on them.
If you still think Kylie Jenner’s new Silver Series brushes are a great price, they must be something you know will really add value to your life. Buy them & feel good about the fact that you realized they’re something you really want that you know will matter to you.
But if you’re now really hyped up & excited about how great putting that money towards your business would feel, or helping others, or upgrading something you use everyday, do that instead. You are the only one who can define “valuable” for yourself. The best thing is, you can divide the money up between multiple things on the list above if you want. There’s no reason you have to pick just one. Maybe you spend $100 adopting a cat from the shelter, & then you spend $100 on marketing your business & put the other $160 in your savings account. Whatever makes the most sense to you, go get those things.
Go pursue what’s going to add the maximum amount of value to your life.
DISCLAIMER:: I AM NOT A FINANCIAL ADVISER, so please talk to an actual financial adviser if you have any questions/concerns about anything on this list. Thank you!
Just one favor from you: hold me accountable.
I’m going to become a millionaire in 2018.
That’s my big goal for the upcoming year.
I don’t know how yet, but I have some exciting ideas. But the how is not the important thing just yet.
The important thing is that I’ve decided.
Declaring this goal publicly is equally important. Being publicly held accountable for ACHIEVING the goal you set is supposed to be really helpful. Public accountability makes things happen.
So I need your help, just one tiny favor from you:
HOLD ME ACCOUNTABLE.
That way if I wimp out & DON’T do this, I’ll know that other people were counting on me to hustle & make my goals happen. I’ll feel embarrassed that I didn’t do what I said I was going to do. I’ll be disappointed. I hate disappointing myself, but when it’s only you you’re answering to, it’s easy to say, “Well, I guess it just wasn’t the right time yet.” When really, you could have done it if you had a reason to.
By saying this to you, I’m making it so I HAVE to do this.
Not that I don’t have very compelling personal reasons “why” even without anyone knowing about this. I do know my “why”. My “why” is because being a millionaire would allow me to live my best life, provide for my family beyond their wildest dreams, help elevate & empower & promote other artists/writers/musicians/awesome people, & to do my part to take care of the world. They deserve me living my best life. I deserve me living my best life. I feel like achieving that level of success so I can do those things is my duty. Because I can’t lift up other people as much as I’d like to if I’m in the pit too.
I know I deserve to live my best life, because I’ve always, ever since I was a kid, known I was destined to. I’ve definitely had my dark times & doubts, but they never were able to kill that underlying thread, the message deeply entwined in who I am that one day, I AM going to make it big.
When things have been dark, that knowledge that I’m meant for something greater — the greatest happiness, the greatest success, recognition, wealth, & intentional & good-feeling fame — is what’s allowed me to rise back into the light. I have always been heading towards these things.
I hold myself accountable to a very high level. But even I sometimes wimp out & play small & think, “maybe I don’t deserve this”. Or I stop when I don’t know how to move forward & let myself get distracted by other things. Or I’m afraid of succeeding. Afraid I won’t like it once I get there. & then I don’t make it happen. I don’t try push enough. Then at the end of the year, I look back with some disappointment that I didn’t do what I TOLD MYSELF I was going to do.
& because I’m getting very tired of falling back on playing small, on not LETTING myself have the money & the success & the HAPPINESS that feel far away even though I know they’re totally within my reach, I’m trying something new this year.
That’s why I need your help.
I just read the amazing “ What Happens When You Take Full Responsibility For Your Life” article here on Medium from one of my favorite writers, Benjamin P. Hardy. The article is about taking radical responsibility for your life & actually COMMITTING to making your dreams happen. Unconditionally & unquestionably RESOLVING to achieve your goals. I highly recommend you read it if you want to make 2018 your best year EVER.
In his article, he challenged the reader to make a big decision & then make sure everyone else knows about your decision so they can hold you accountable. The reason it encourages success is because people like being seen as consistent with what others believe they are. You like seeing YOURSELF as being consistent with what you believe you are. This is one way you “burn your boats”.
This is why people who don’t believe they deserve something will go to great lengths to sabotage any sort of success. They can’t believe they deserve it, so they don’t let themselves have it. Even if having it would be way easier than resisting it.
This is also why people who believe in their own success will overcome even the most crushing of setbacks & achieve outstanding things. People can do miraculous things when they really believe they can do something.
People also don’t like letting other people down, because disappointing others & not living up to their expectations doesn’t feel good. Especially if they expect something great from you & if they genuinely want something for you which is in your actual best interest.
So, if I’m not a millionaire by the end of 2018, I’m going to feel disappointed because I didn’t do what I said I was going to do. I’m not going to feel like I was consistent with what was expected of me. With what I TOLD YOU I was going to do.
But I don’t think I’ll be disappointed. I believe this IS possible for me. Even if I can’t see exactly how yet. But I do have a lot of options, a lot of ways it could pan out.
Sure, it’s an ambitious goal. It’s by far my most ambitious yearly goal yet.
But I’m no stranger to making big goals. At the beginning of this year, I made some pretty big plans about traveling by myself for the first time, & they weren’t even very specific goals. ALSO, a lot of the goals I set at the beginning of the year were NOT things I actually expected I would accomplish this year. I made them with good intentions, but I also put them on there like, “Well, I hope this happens this year (but deep down inside it’s probably not going to)”.
& I still made them happen. Because somewhere along the line, I started genuinely believing they WERE possible.
That’s how 2017 ended up being the most freaking amazing year of my life. I went on an epic road trip around Florida by myself (my first trip away from home), traveled from Tampa to Houston to see Queen (one of my all-time favorite bands) in concert, saw a lot of my other favorite bands in concert, ran my first 5K, published numerous books, acted in a play, started investing in the stock market even though I knew nothing about it when I started, grew my online business, started a podcast, bought my absolute DREAM guitar (Fender Telecaster Thinline 72′ Series), & started my own weekly show on YouTube. I also really figured out what I wanted & who I wanted to be.
An amazing freaking year. & yet at the beginning of the year I assumed the year would be cool but also kind of lame, & that I wouldn’t really move forward much. That it would be just like every other year before it.
But I was wrong. I got out there & made shit happen.
& I learned who I want to become in 2018. What I want. Another piece of the map showing me the way to my best life. The best life that I am actively creating for myself.
It’s time I took radical responsibility for my life. It’s time I stopped playing small & pretending I can’t have or don’t deserve the things that make me light up.
So I’m sending my declaration out there loud & clear. I’m ready. Let’s make this happen.
By the end of 2018, I will be a millionaire. & it’s going to feel really good, in all aspects.
So, will you help me?
Will you hold me accountable?
& I’ll hold you accountable too. Let me know in the comments what you’re going to create for yourself in 2018.
We’ll watch those boats burn together. Then, with no more excuses stopping us from becoming our best selves, we’ll watch 2018 become the most amazing year of our lives yet.
Thank you so much for reading this! If you could click on the APPLAUSE button on the left, that would be fantastic! Hope you have a really great day.
Save $1. Exercise for one minute. The tiniest step in the right direction is better than doing nothing at all. When done consistently, it can move mountains.
Previously published by Thought Catalog at www.thoughtcatalog.com.
Much too often, perfect becomes the enemy of good. Perfection becomes more important than making progress in the first place. There have been so many times I’ve given up on something because I wasn’t able to do it as often, as devotedly, in the same capacity that I’d originally planned to.
But starting, even with the most seemingly insignificant action, is always better than not starting at all. The smallest action in the right direction, especially when doing it becomes a habit, is incredibly powerful.
Sometimes, it feels like if you can’t commit to exercising an hour a day, if you can’t save 10% of your income, if you can’t write 5,000 words a day, that you might as well not do anything at all. That you should wait until it’s a “better time”.
Don’t wait for the perfect time to do something. Don’t stop & start over because you messed up, or you don’t think you’re ready, or you don’t have the time, the money, the resources. It will never be a better time than it is RIGHT. NOW. No one cares if you cheated at your diet for one day, or if you only start out writing ten words a day in the novel that’s been inside you for a decade.
Walking for one minute is better than not exercising at all, if that’s all you can do for now.
Practicing playing guitar for two minutes is better than not playing it at all, if that’s all you have time to do.
Eating a tablespoon of canned vegetables along with your burger & fries is better than not eating any vegetables at all, if you’re working on eating healthier.
Flossing one tooth every day is better than not flossing at all, if you don’t have the time to floss all your teeth.
Throwing out one item you no longer need is better than not throwing out anything at all, if you know streamlining your belongings would make your life better.
Opening one window in your house is better than no windows at all, if you want to let fresh air in but only one window has a screen.
Reading one new word in that language you’ve always wanted to learn is better than not learning anything at all, if learning that language seems too challenging.
Writing one line of code is better than not working on your app at all, if you’re working on becoming a programmer & getting your app out there.
Posting something on your blog, at the “worst” time of day, is better than not posting at all if that’s the only thing & the only time you can post it.
Choosing just once today to respond differently is better than staying stuck in the same habits or emotions or beliefs, if you’re trying to reach that next level.
Writing ten words in your novel every day is better than not writing anything at all, if you’ve got a story burning inside you that you know the world needs to see.
Putting $1 in your savings account each week is better than not saving any money at all, if that’s all you have the ability to save right now.
Painting one brush stroke on the canvas is better than not painting anything at all, if you don’t know what to paint, or how to paint it.
Because everything you do eventually adds up. It eventually counts for something. At the end of the year, you will have written 3,650 words more than you’ve written right now. You will have saved $365 more than you have currently. You will have spent 6.08 more hours exercising than you would have otherwise.
Everything you do will compound. Everything you do will leverage every other thing you do. You might be worried that you’re taking the easy way out by only taking one step. But if that’s all you can do right now, your tiny action is as valuable as gold. You will find the time, the motivation, the resources, to get better at it if it’s important to you. You will get to where you’re heading.
What you do today to take a step further in the right direction is never a waste of time. You will be that much closer to living the type of life you want to live. The type that you deserve to live.
It’s kind of like the famous “Starfish Story”. You can’t throw all the starfish back into the water. But it will matter, invaluably, for the ones you do.
You can’t always make all the progress you wish you could make. You can’t always win every battle.
But it will matter, invaluably, for the ones you do.
Now, go out there & do something.
When you live authentically, loving yourself becomes a whole lot easier.
Previously published by Thought Catalog at www.thoughtcatalog.com.
Living an authentic life, or at least really trying to, is probably one of the most challenging things that I have done. To me, authenticity is living a life that makes you feel good about the person you are becoming.
It’s when you feel like it is both okay and beautiful to be the exact person that you genuinely are and always wanted to be, and when you get closer to a place of acceptance and love towards yourself.
To me, this isn’t a specific end result or level that you one day reach, but an ongoing process of continually reinventing yourself and making adjustments to your life to match your authentic self. In the process of figuring out who I want to be and working on becoming that, I’ve noticed some wonderful changes.
When you start fearlessly reinventing yourself, you will finally feel happier. When you start living authentically, happiness will start coming more naturally to you, and you’ll feel surprisingly good about the person you are. At first, living authentically can feel scary. You may feel guilt that you’re not living the life others think you should, or be afraid that no one will like or understand the new you.
Changing the way other people see you is probably one of the hardest parts of really becoming yourself, but it’s more than worth it. You might find yourself wanting to try new things that you didn’t have the confidence to do before, and life will probably start becoming a hell of a lot more fun.
For a good portion of my teenage years, I felt strongly dissatisfied and unhappy with my life. I couldn’t do anything that I wanted to do without being plagued by the fear that others wouldn’t like my choices, and even the smallest of frowns or negative comment would dissuade me from doing what I really wanted to do.
I felt like everyone’s expectations of who I was supposed to be were things that I had to listen to, no matter how much they conflicted with who I really was.
One day, I came to the realization that most of the things that made me feel overwhelmed were related to me trying to be what others wanted me to be. I also realized that living my life based on what other people wanted was fruitless and would never allow me to be satisfied or at peace with myself.
Immediately, I began making a list of things I needed to do to start feeling more like myself, the version of myself that I was yet to fully embrace. I worked on incorporating goals and changes into my life that felt good to me and matched up with the kind of person I was excited to start being while ruthlessly editing out the things that didn’t make me happy. When I look at my life since then, it feels predominately good, and a whole lot lighter and brighter than before. The best part is, it keeps getting better all the time, and I know that the more I work on becoming more myself, the better my life will feel.
When you live authentically, loving yourself becomes a whole lot easier.
Loving something encourages you to take better care of it, so the more you love yourself, the more you will value whatever self-care activities are important to you. You will look forward to the things you do that make you feel good. I strongly believe that living an authentic life is the best choice you can make for yourself, and the more expressive form of self-care there is. Whether self-care for you means making sure to drink a cup of hot tea every morning, eat better, spend time with your family, pets, or friends, wear an outfit that makes you feel amazing, go out to socialize more, spend time alone, work more, work less, or get enough sleep, you will become more intuitive about what self-care rituals work best when you start figuring out who you are.
Things will connect and come together in beautiful ways that you may never have expected, and you may find sudden clarity regarding situations or things that you previously felt divided about.
The biggest part of becoming your authentic self is being, owning, and loving the person that you are, regardless of how conventional or unconventional a person that may be.
Your confidence will soar when you start making choices that you really connect with. and this confidence will propel you to take the next steps in reinventing yourself. You’ll find that you aren’t so afraid of what others think of you, and when you start living with honesty, you will inspire others to do the same.
That is perhaps the best and more awe-inspiring part about truly being yourself of all — the fact that you will possess the electric power to empower others to take steps to become who they are. When you start to work on living an authentic life, you will realize how much beauty there is in the unique, amazing, one-of-a-kind person that you were born to be.
I just got back about three weeks ago from my first-ever vacation: an epic Florida road trip! It was the kind of vacation that changes you for the better, not only because of the things you see, but because of the unshakable confidence & determination you develop when you’re off on your own for the first time ever & you realize this: you can take care of yourself.
I conceived the idea of going on a road trip several months ago. Being free on the open road, making everywhere I went my home, the transformative effect of spending a week in total freedom were things I knew I needed to experience. Originally, I wanted to go on a road trip out West. Soon, I realized that I could spend more time exploring & less time driving, save money, & cover more ground by going on a road trip in Florida, where I live. This is especially logical, as I live in a suburb of Tampa (which is in Central Florida) & therefore, almost all of Florida is equally close to me. I decided that was a much better plan of action.
Over the next weeks, I obsessively planned my road trip. I read books about places I might go. I Googled “Best places to see in ——“. TripAdvisor was my most visited website. I made lists, narrowed them down, added to them, & narrowed them down some more. I planned what supplies I would need to bring, what food I would eat, how I would sleep. My dad & I built custom screen windows so we could turn my Smart Car into a miniature camper. I prepared in every way possible.
Finally, after what seemed like forever, the day I was leaving arrived. When I pulled out of the driveway early that Saturday morning, I was terrified. I was going on this road trip all by myself! I had never even been on vacation before with my family, much less alone. But going it alone though turned out to be the best possible thing for me.
One thing that scared me was the knowledge that I wouldn’t be the same person when I returned. When I looked in the mirror the day I left, I knew it was going to be the last time I saw myself before my road trip transformed me & played its part in my own personal evolution. I was equally scared that my road trip WOULDN’T change me, that perhaps I was too bitter & cynical & unhappy to be touched by the magic & by the freedom. I was afraid that it wouldn’t change me at all, & that I would return home as the same person I had been when I left.
But I was changed. I came back as a different person, a better person.
Here’s how my trip unfolded.
I left my house at about nine in the morning, & headed south to Myakka River State Park, near Sarasota. I hiked a really beautiful nature trail there. They also have THE BEST observation tower, called the Canopy Walk. The Canopy Walk is a 25-foot tall observation tower that connects with a 74-foot one via a suspended wood bridge. It was really fun to climb, & so beautiful to see over the top of the forest. Other highlights of the park? A pretty picnic area, a log cabin with picnic tables, a huge meadow of small yellow flowers, & a river filled with alligators basking in the sun.
Next, I drove to Sanibel Island. I wanted to go to the beach there, mostly so I could see their awesome lighthouse up close. You can’t go in the lighthouse but it is pretty to look at, & the beach is really nice. There were lots of nice shells, the sand was soft & clean, & the beach wasn’t too crowded. I went in the water & photographed pelicans. I drove around Sanibel Island a little bit too, & I love its cute, quaint small island atmosphere. The most adorable, tiny Chevron gas station ever is a prime example.
When I was done there, I continued heading south to Naples & I watched the sun set from the Naples Pier. I got to the end of the pier just in time, & wonderfully, there was an empty spot right in the corner of the pier closest to the sunset where I got to watch it from. It was one of the best sunsets I’ve seen.
I wanted to camp as much as possible on my trip & avoid hotels (because I wanted to camp, & also to save money), but as the Naples area isn’t the most campsite-themed place in the world, I opted for a hotel. I stayed in a VERY nice Comfort Inn in Naples, which I was very impressed by & absolutely loved.
It was Everglades day! The Everglades was one of the places I was most excited about seeing, just because it’s so big & so important to the natural world. On the way there, I went through Ochopee, which is home to the smallest post office in the US, & the Skunk Ape Research Center, where I bought some cool gifts.
When I arrived at the Everglades, I entered through the Shark Valley entrance, which is on the Northern side of the park. I rented a bicycle (which costs $9 an hour) & biked the 15-mile bike trail. I’ve never biked that far before, but I survived! Along the way I saw a TON of wild gators, herons, egrets, turtles, fish, & other swamp critters. I feel like it’s a good way to see a lot of the Everglades habitat in a relatively short period of time (the whole thing took me about 2.75 hours) – both the lushly-mangroved swamp area, as well as the drier grassland fields.
In the middle of the trail is the Shark Valley Observation Tower, which was epic. It’s a 45-foot tall observation tower that has a huge spiral ramp leading to the top. The view from up there was beautiful! Along the bike trail, I hiked two small trails that branched off the bike trail. One was the Otter Cave Hammock Trail, a marvelous narrow pathway through the trees. It has a little bridge & was beautiful. Along the trail, I saw a group of tiny baby alligators, all only about a foot long, & they were in the water only a few feet away from the trail! I also did the lush Bobcat Boardwalk Trail, which only took maybe 10 or 15 minutes to walk, but leads through beautiful trees. Before leaving the Shark Valley entrance, I went to the gift shop, where I purchased three beautiful enamel Everglades-themed pins for my collection.
I then went in the Ernest F. Coe entrance to get to the Flamingo campground & drove the 35 miles from that entrance to get to the Flamingo campground. It was after five in the afternoon by this time & I was afraid the park would be closed & I wouldn’t be able to camp there. Thankfully, it was open, & after a while of driving, I arrived at the campground.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t the most fun night of camping as there were tons of mosquitoes, no-see-ums, & biting flies. In fact, there were so many bugs there that the ranger booth was closed down for the season due to bugs & the ranger who cleaned the bathroom had to wear a mosquito net over his face. “A lot of bugs” means that biting flies constantly PELTED my car as I tried to put my campsite deposit in the box. Once it was dark out, I had to open my doors & put my screen windows in. This resulted in my car becoming FILLED with mosquitoes. By “FILLED”, I mean there were literally at least 70 of them in there. The high-pitched buzzing turned into a deafening roar. Despite a fresh application of 25% DEET Off, during the brief seconds I sat in my car after putting the windows in, they were still trying to bite me. I fled from my car & ran around in circles outside of it trying to keep the mosquitoes off me. That was probably the worst part of my whole vacation. My dad told me I had to go back in there & kill all the mosquitoes in my car, simply because I didn’t have a choice.
You don’t know horror until you’re forced to lock yourself in your tiny car with 70 hungry mosquitoes when you’re more than 35 miles deep into the woods & you have to sit in the car with all the mosquitoes until you’ve squished all of them & they are trying to bite you. It was only when I was done killing all the mosquitoes & realized how quiet it was that I became aware of how loud it had been when I started.
The campsite was pretty though, & very peaceful at night. Aside from the no-see-ums, which came in through my screen & bit me at least 60 times during the night.
I went to the Everglades Alligator Farm, which had really awesome alligator shows. I got to hold a baby alligator (which was so adorable!) & watch a huge group of alligators get fed! It was so cool. I love alligators. They had plenty of them, & I got to satisfy my desire to see gators. I also got to feed & pet emus (something I’ve always wanted to do) & Silkie Chickens. They were the best. One of my favorite animals there was their rescued owl. Anyone who knows me knows that owls are my ABSOLUTE FAVORITE.
While I was there, I went on an airboat ride in the Everglades, which was really cool. I’ve never ridden on an airboat before. The driver was cool & did some circles in the airboat so we’d all get splashed. I sat in the second row because the first row was full.
Next, I went to the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo. I’ve really wanted to go there ever since I was eight years old & learned about it on a video tape. That was back when I wanted to be a marine biologist. I wanted to go there because their mascot was a giant aquatic hermit crab. When I got there, I booked my snorkel tour & explored their visitor center, which has a HUGE fish tank. I also ate a miniature key lime pie.
It was so cool going on a snorkel tour of the coral reef! The snorkeling adventure guides take a group of people out to one of the park’s reefs on a boat & they teach you how to snorkel. They were nice & gave me a snorkel clip for free because I had no idea where mine was. Snorkeling was beautiful, & seeing a coral reef in real life was outstanding. Because it was a nice day, they were able to take us to visit the famous underwater Christ of the Abyss sculpture at the Dry Rocks reef.
While snorkeling, I saw tons of beautiful fish, like parrotfish and angel fish. It was amazing to see all the types of fish that I’d been so obsessed with as a kid in real life. The reef is the type of beautiful thing you’ve got to see in person to understand how amazing it is. I got freaked out when I suddenly saw a 4′ – 5′ long shark. It was probably only 20 – 25 feet away from me! This caused me to frantically swim back to the boat after informing the person snorkeling near me I’d seen a shark. On the way to the boat, I swallowed several not-so-tasty mouthfuls of saltwater.
When I got to the boat, I (surprisingly calmly) asked the snorkel tour guide if it was normal to see a shark in the reef & what kind of shark it probably was. He described a shark & asked me if that’s what it looked like, & I said yes. He told me it was a Caribbean Reef Shark, which almost never attack people. Him & the captain said it was awesome that I saw it because it’s not the kind of thing they see there every day. Needless to say, I stayed a lot closer to the boat after that!
That night, I camped at the John Pennekamp park, which was really nice with lots of amenities. They had a communal washer, dryer, miniature library, & sink to wash dishes in. The campsites are beautiful, with trees between each campsite. I had my own charcoal grill & my own picnic table. There were a lot less no-see-ums there & very few mosquitoes. I got bug spray with Picaridin at Walmart that morning instead of DEET, & it seemed to work better.
I went to Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters, which is an awesome marine park with lots of types of animals. They had a huge touch tank full of sting rays, some of which were almost three feet across, & I got to pet them to my heart’s content. They feel like wet mushrooms & are so adorable. They were my favorite animals there. While I was there, I got to feed parrotfish, barracudas, & a snapping turtle. I also got to feed tortoises vegetables, & they were so cute when they were earing.
I did two of the animal interactions that they offer – the Nursery Encounter & the Shark Encounter. For the Nursery Encounter, I got to touch, feed, & help train the baby stingrays, which was so cool. The Shark Encounter consisted of me getting to pet & feed a 4-foot-long nurse shark! They even rolled the shark over so I could pet his underside, & showed me how they trained the sharks to touch the target stick that had the symbol assigned to them on it. I never knew sharks could learn things like that, so it was awesome.
They also had a huge tank of big fish, turtles, and other fish. Wild (invasive) iguanas walked around their property, one of which was probably four feet long & orange. The staff at the park had named the big orange one Pumpkin. It was such a cool place.
Next, I went to Key West. In Key West, I went parasailing at Sebago Watersports, which was really cool! I was probably 150 feet or so up in the air, & it was beautiful to see the Keys from that high up. It was a little bit creepy being suspending by what was pretty much like a giant kite, but it was really quiet & peaceful up there. I’ve never done anything like that before, & I would definitely do it again.
The only thing I didn’t like about my trip to the Keys was when I went to the restaurant Blue Heaven. I’d heard from several sources that it had the best key lime pie & was an awesome place with cats & chickens roaming all around. I was disappointed by the fact that, despite its reputation, there were no cats or chickens roaming around the restaurant. More disappointing than that was the fact that when I walked inside to ask for a piece of key lime pie to go that I was charged $10 for ONE SLICE OF PIE, which I only paid for because I thought they were charging me the whole pie price & that they’d had to cut a whole pie to give me my slice. I thought “Maybe they don’t sell it by the slice.” Later, on Google Reviews I learned that is the normal pie price. The pie was good, but no better than the Key Lime pie you can buy from the Publix Bakery*.
In Key West, I walked around downtown Key West, mostly on Duval street. They’ve got the BEST Walgreens ever, & the outside of the Pegasus Hotel is beautiful. I visited Mile Marker 0 & took a selfie at the Southernmost Point of the United States. It was cool to be in such a geographic location. I went to the beach real quick, then left to go back to Key Largo. Hotels down there cost too much for my budget, & Key Largo is home to the Key Largo Kampground & Marina. I got to watch the sun set, neon warm bright orange over the ocean, as I drove across the Overseas highway. The Key Largo Kampground & Marina was really nice, with lots of amenities including badminton courts, a pool, boat docks, & a playground.
I went to the Miami Zoo! It was the best zoo I have ever been to. It’s 280 acres, which was amazing. It took about five hours to look at everything, & I loved every minute of it. The zoo is divided up into different geographical locations, like “Everglades“, “Asian Riverlife“, & “Amazon Rainforest“, & more. While I was there, I saw tons of awesome animals. I saw lions, elephants, rhinos, giraffes, parrots, tigers, hippos, koalas, dingoes, tapirs, lots of cool frogs & reptiles, monkeys, anteaters, flamingos, otters, eagles, & lots more. I had never got to see tapirs or anteaters before in real life, & they are some of my absolute favorite animals. They were awesome!
While I was there, I got to feed parakeets, cockateils, & rosellas in their aviary. I also got to feed a giraffe lettuce & feed a rhinoceros plants. It was so cool seeing those animals up close. The giraffe licked my face! They also had a huge, stunning aviary with plants, waterfalls, & tons of tropical birds that you got to walk among. It was really beautiful. I also got to pet baby goats at their petting zoo.
In Miami I also visited the Ancient Spanish Monastery, which was stunningly beautiful & had a profound sense of peace around it. I think it’s amazing how they can deconstruct a building, ship it across the ocean, & rebuild it again somewhere else. Inside the monastery, it almost felt like I had stepped back in time. It was amazing to stand there & imagine what the building was like a few hundred years ago, what the walls had seen & heard.
I headed north to Jensen Beach, which is by Port St. Lucie. It was a beautiful beach, & reminded me of the great beaches near Panama City in Northwestern Florida. I watched the sun set there & went in the ocean. The sand is a pretty dark-gray color, & they’ve got lifeguards, which is nice. After the sun set, I drove to Palm Bay & stayed in another Comfort Inn there. After two consecutive nights sleeping & living inside my tiny Smart Car, it was nice being in a hotel.
I visited the Fort Mantanzas park, which is free to get into & is filled with old, beautiful oak trees with branches stretching & curving out over the ground. Unfortunately, I was unable to see the monument because the ferry that leads to it isn’t running right now. The docks that lead to the ferry are considered unsafe due to damage they sustained in Hurricane Matthew last year. While I was there, I walked their boardwalk trail through the forest & got to watch four baby armadillos digging through the leaves to find bugs to eat. They were adorable, & it felt so special to be able to see something like that so close. They were only about a foot off the boardwalk, so I got to take really close pictures of them without them being worried about me. All of them were small enough they could have fit in the palm of my hand, & even the ranger said he’d never seen baby armadillos. Seeing the baby armadillos made up for not being able to see the fort. The armadillos were definitely one of the highlights of my vacation.
In St. Augustine, I visited the Castillo de San Marcos, a national monument & fort that was used by the Spanish, British, & later, the Americans. It was built in 1672. It was really cool to see something that was such a part of history, & to walk around inside it knowing that hundreds of years ago, other people had stood in the same place I was. Going places like that feels like you’re reaching your hand back out into the past & touching all the things that no longer are, & they are reaching forward & touching things they never could imagine would exist. I toured the fort it & learned a lot about forts, cannon balls, & how they defended Florida from their enemies. I thought it was really interesting that the fort belonged to three nationalities at different times, but was so sturdy it was never taken by force. Each time it changed hands, it did so by treaty. I also visited the old city gates, which it was also cool to think about how long ago they had been built.
I visited the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum, which was amazing. At the lighthouse, I climbed 219 steps to the top (140 feet up), & the view is AMAZING from the top. On a clear day, you can see for 25 miles! It was beautiful, & they said it’s the second-tallest lighthouse in Florida. I’ve never got to explore a lighthouse before, & that was one of the things I wanted to do on vacation. I also got to eat a really awesome piece of maple fudge that I bought at their gift shop. The fudge is made by the person who owns the lighthouse. I think it’s wonderful that they still light it up every night even though it no longer guides ships.
I went to the St. Augustine beach, which was nice except for there being a really strong current, something which prevented me from being in the water too much. That evening, I stayed in a really nice local Inn, called Jaybird’s Inn. It was a really nice place.
The last day of my trip, I had a really good omelet at Jaybird’s Restaurant, the restaurant that belongs to the hotel. My omelet had smoked salmon, ham, & tomatoes in it. They also gave me potatoes & toast along with it.
Then, I headed west & went to the Devil’s Millhopper Geological State Park in Gainesville, where you take their boardwalk trail 236 steps down into a giant, ancient sinkhole canyon. It was very beautiful. The path itself was beautiful, & there were tons of pretty trees, natural waterfalls, & mossy stones. The walls of the canyon were covered in ferns, like a miniature rain forest.
Later that day, I visited the Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida’s Gainesville campus. They had a special butterfly rain forest exhibit where you walk through a beautiful aviary filled with tropical butterflies, orchids of all colors, & lush green plants. The butterflies there were amazing. They had a huge number of stunning Blue Morpho butterflies, which were amazing to see in real life, as well as a variety of other beautiful species. They also had a really neat frog exhibit (Frogs! A Chorus of Colors) with different types of frogs you could look at, from colorful poison dart frogs to gigantic toads. It was really cool. They also had a bunch of cool exhibits about the early peoples & Native Americans in Northern Florida, replicas of prehistoric animal bones, like a mammoth, and neat old pottery that they found in Northern Florida.
Later that day, I came home. I arrived in late afternoon. My family stood on my driveway, waving. My dog jumped around & climbed into my car when I got there. I hugged everybody. It was great. I’d missed all of them so much.
As I unpacked & told my family all about my vacation, & as I got back into my normal routine, the memories I’d made became even better. I reflected upon everything that I’d learned, & what I walked away from my vacation with. I had walked away with numerous memories, ideas, & experiences fresh in my mind.
But what made learning all those things relevant & worth it was the knowledge that I am capable.
*Disclosure: I am employed by Publix, but I would still feel the same way about the pie even if I didn’t work there.
I was looking through my old diaries from when I was a very sad, very lonely teenager. It was 2013 & I was 18 years old. Back when I was always changing my name. Trying to find some type of identity for myself. I filled out multiple questionnaires that I wrote myself. About what I believed in. What I liked & didn’t like. I wrote little stories about the things I wished I was doing instead.
There was a lot of me talking about how sad I was. How much I wanted to move out. I felt like moving out was the only way I would be able to throw off the (self-imposed) chains that made me feel so heavy I couldn’t move. I wished so desperately that I had real friends. I was in a prison of my own making. Digging myself out of it wouldn’t be for another couple of years.
I realized I actually did a pretty lot of cool things back then. I forgot how many I had done. I didn’t have a car or know how to drive, so I couldn’t really go anywhere & do anything. But I still somehow found things to do. I read a huge number of books, watched numerous films, spent all my time working on the books, music, videos, etc.
All my projects could be my main priorities. I learned a lot by reading libraries worth of books & the entire Internet (or so it sometimes felt). Back when I was both very free, very chained, very lonely, & very empowered to choose & do whatever I wanted, within the bounds that were set. How much difference is there between freedom & loneliness, sometimes?
Sometime else though stood out the most. I felt an overwhelming sense of compassion for my younger self as I read what I’d written. Some of the hopes & fears that I had back then were the same ones I still had now. The fear that maybe I was really a lame person. The eternal question of who I really was. The eternal hope that I really was going to end up where I wanted to, eventually. Some of the fears & hopes that were very important to me back then look pale, & sometimes almost ridiculous, looking at them now. But I still felt immense love & admiration for me, four years ago, here & now in the future. We were still the same person, existing on different planes of time simultaneously.
In one of the notebooks, I found the letter I had written to my 10-year-old self. The letter was only one page, but summed it up pretty well. It was 18-year-old me telling 10-year-old me how much she loved her. How great sorrows & great joys were all on their way.
That no matter what happened, I shouldn’t be afraid. That I shouldn’t lose hope. Because this is 18-year-old me telling 10-year-old me that she survived everything that was yet to happen. It was powerful hope being showered back into the past, a golden light put in the hands of a frightened, lonely 10-year-old. A message from the future that she made it.
More importantly, it was 22-year-old me being able to look back on 18-year-old me (who was looking back at 10) & realize the same messages, the same love, the same hope applied equally to myself at 10 as it did at 18.
There are many things about that era that resonate with me now. The same hopes & fears. & I have been reminded how I felt them, loved them, feared them, wanted them, even back then. That if I could feel a sense of freedom even back then, that I could feel it again. I am both the same person I was in that time span, & an entirely different person, rolled into someone new who is everything & undefined, fluid, at the same time. I reach back through the folds of space & fill my hands & arms with all the things I want to incorporate & reuse. I had more wisdom back then than I thought I did.
18-year-old me expressed her love for 10-year-old me in the letter. If I could go back in my past, to me any point in time, I would tell her the same thing. She too has a lot of fears, sorrows, & joys ahead of her, more than she knows.
But I would still tell her this:
You are going to be okay.
You make it.
That’s what I want her to know, because she didn’t know it well enough back then. I want her to know I love her, & I always will.