It’s not about where you are…

If you know me, you know that I have a love for traveling. Not only do I enjoy it, but I think it’s so important for one to do. So much so that I was willing to make the effort to travel across the world on my own for five months. It’s what I work and save for and it’s money that I have never felt is wasted, but always worth it and well-spent. Traveling expands your mind and grows you as a person in the best kind of ways. You become less self-centered, increasingly accepting, more knowledgeable, and less directionally challenged. I’d encourage anyone to do it any chance they get. Don’t wait until you’re retired or until you hit the lottery because your health and your wealth are never promised (especially when playing in the lottery). It’s never too early or too late, but I do believe the best time to do it is when you are young. Summers during school and right after you graduate are perfect opportunities when you are still unattached from full time jobs or families and able to drop what you’re doing. It’s also a critical time in your life when you’re growing into yourself and building a foundation for the rest of your life.

In my last six months of travels I have had many people say something to me along the lines of, “Aren’t you supposed to be a broke college student just trying to survive? How are you able to go all these places?”. Well, the truth is that by no means am I rich, but I am strategic and resourceful. This summer I found a job/internship where I was working out West full time for two weeks at a time and had two weeks off at a time every month. I used the money I made in those two weeks working to travel to other states out West on my weeks off and then went back and did it again. I knew in the fall I wanted to live overseas for a chunk of time so after researching many options I decided to make profiles on a few Au Pair websites (nannying overseas), which lead me to where I am now. I am currently living with and working for a family in Melbourne, Australia where I make just enough money to spend on traveling and sightseeing while I’m here during my free time.

Living abroad can look glamorous to people at home when they are seeing your highlight reels on social media. However, what they’re not seeing is that life over here is just as real as it is back home. It has it’s ups and downs. I still have to wake up everyday and work and I’m still adjusting to not being a college student anymore, I’m just in a brand new place. Many people, including myself, would say the most difficult part of the transition from college to post-grad life is the change in or lack there of community. That goes for someone who moved half an hour away from their college town or someone who moved across the world from their college town. I fortunately came out of four years of having an incredible community of people around me at all times. They were all my age, doing almost exactly what I was doing every day. I knew how blessed I was then and I knew the difficulty that would come with the transition out of it, but knowing that did not necessarily prepare me for it or make it any easier.

During those four years in college I dreamt a lot about what post grad life would look like – where I wanted to live and travel and what I wanted to do. Being the adventureseeking dreamer I am, I couldn’t wait to get out of Georgia. I thought there were so many other better places in the world to live in and see. I thought that after college I probably wouldn’t live in the South East, much less Georgia. However, in my last six months of traveling God has taught me again and again that where I am located is never going to bring me joy and contentment. In fact, it has absolutely nothing to do with it.  Since living in Australia many people have told me that I am living the best life right now, but I truly believe that I was living my best life when I was living in community doing what I loved, with people I loved. Yes, traveling is valuable and exciting and you may prefer to live one place over another, but when it boils down to it where you are on the map has very little influence on your life contentment. Rather, what does is what you’re doing and who you’re with. If you think about it, that’s why the majority of people move anywhere new is to do something meaningful to them or to be closer to people who are meaningful to them.

There’s this cliché saying we’ve all heard before..

“It’s not about where you are, but who you’re with.”

It’s one of those quotes that belongs in a Hallmark card that kind of makes you want to gag. Well after traveling across the world on my own for two months now, I’ve found that the reason it’s so cliché is because it’s true.

This past December I went on a road trip around Arizona, Utah, and Nevada with a best friend and another person who quickly became a best friend during that trip. It was hands down the best trip I’ve ever been on, which is saying a lot. We had an absolute blast together and there was never one dull moment. Five months later while working out West for the summer, I just so happened to return to many of the places we had visited on that trip. However, this time I was on my own and in all honesty, it just wasn’t the same. In fact, it was a let down for me. At first I figured it was because I had already been to those places before, but I later realized that the trip we went on was only so amazing because of the two people I was with. Traveling and sharing those experiences together with people I loved was the most valuable part of that trip, not where we were regardless of how cool the places we visited were.

So here I am now, with another tab open looking for jobs in the South East and even Georgia, which is something I did not expect from myself. This is a living testament that you should always be open to life paths changing, expect God to change your desires, and be very careful when you use the word “never” because God has a great sense of humor.

To put everything I have previously stated simply, God is teaching me a lot about contentment along with the value of those around you. True joy can only come from him and contentment comes from pursuing the ultimate purpose of living. As long as I’m glorifying him with what I’m doing and I’m with the ones I love, I think I can live just about anywhere.

Coconuts & Daydreams

Hello from down under! Since having last posted, it has been a busy and exciting two weeks. Before leaving Sydney I went to the Blue Mountains National Park, which is a beautiful rainforest national preserve where mining formerly took place in the 1800s. I just so happened to arrive at the park at the same time as a primary school field trip with over 100 students who were extremely excited to be there. There were multiple modes of transportation I took at the park including a skyway that moved on a cable across a canyon, a railway going down a mountain that is known as the steepest train in the world, a cableway, and several walkways. I had the priviledge of going on the skyway with a class of screaming first graders, in which I made a lot of new friends who made moving in a glass box across a canyon that much more exciting.

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The day before I left Sydney I went to two churches including a Philippino/multiculatural church with our family friends who are missionaries here. I also visited Cronulla Beach and had fish and chips by the ocean where I learned that if you ask for a lemonade you will get a sprite and if you want ketchup you have to ask for tomato sauce because ketchup is an unknown word here.

The morning of September 18th I flew to the Sunshine Coast of Australia where I met my Au Pair family in the airport for the first time. We took a bus to their family owned apartment in Noosa where we are currently spending three weeks for their spring holiday vacation. We spend everyday walking around the Noosa National Park, playing on the beach, and dining out at night. It has clearly been a rough transition for me… We often do a walk up to “Hell’s Gates” in the national park in the morning, but it looks more like heaven’s gates to me. The walk begins just in front of our apartment and takes a little over an hour to walk there and back. We often see whales, pods of dolphins, koalas, and one time a giant snake high up in the trees. There are mountains, cliffs, and rocks surrounding the ocean along with tropical vegetation and beautiful birds always singing. If you know me, you know I’m in heaven.

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I am Au Pairing an 8 year old boy, an 11 year old boy, and a 13 year old girl. They have already began calling me “Laws” because Laurel seems to be a difficult name for the Aussies to say correctly. The 8 year old boy is extremely active so if his “mates” aren’t around I spend most of my day keeping him busy building sandcastles, burying him in the sand, throwing him into waves, playing games in the pool, or learning Aussie football from him. We often rent or “hire” as they say, a stand up paddle board or kayak or bring out their surf boards and do that together. Sometimes they hire something with their mates and try to fit 6 or 7 boys onto one kayak or paddle board, which is entertaining to watch.

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Outside of going to the beach and shops here we went to a food market with a lot of fresh, organic foods, a wakeboarding park/ water inflatable park, and a huge shopping market about half an hour away with a lot of eclectic and hand made products. Before going to the shopping market I was pretty much directed to get a straw brim hat by my Au Pair family because it is an essential here as the sun seems to be a lot more intense here than on our side of the world.

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Lastly, I have been trying to explain “The South” to them as we talk about the cultural differences between where we both live. This sounds simpler than it actually has been. I have promised to make them a southern meal one night, but I’m not quite sure what to make yet. Comment any southern meal suggestions you have for me to make!

All the best,

Laurel

Down Under

For the last six months my life has consisted of a lot of transitions. Emphasis on A LOT. One way my life has changed the most recently is geographically. In fact, I am almost positive that I have not remained in the same city for more than two weeks at a time since graduating. In May I graduated and left my favorite community of people and home for the last four years to spend my summer out west working for a wilderness therapy company with troubled teens.

I spent two weeks at a time out in the desert of the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument in Kanab, Utah hiking and living very primitively with teens from all over the nation who were struggling with anxiety, depression, trauma, family issues, suicidal thoughts or actions, and so on. It was quite the challenging summer, but it was extremely fruitful and full of growth and learning. My favorite blessing from the summer was getting an abundance of opportunities to witness to students and coworkers even though the company I was working for had no religious affiliations. I worked two weeks on and two weeks off at a time, so during my weeks off I would travel around to hike and sight see in other western states including Arizona, Nevada, Colorado, and California.

Now, as of 6 days ago, I am in Australia. I am spending 10 days in the Sydney area with family friends who are missionaries here. Next week I am meeting the family I will be Au Pairing (nannying) for in Noosa on the Sunshine Coast – a popular vacation destination. After a week there I will head back with the family to their home in Melbourne where I will spend the next four months.

As for my travels so far, I have thoroughly enjoyed my time here. Australia (especially in large cities) is extremely diverse, full of a variety of cultures. Every person I have met so far has been very kind and laid back. People have even gone out of their way to help me carry my suitcase up a flight of stairs or stop and give me directions with a smile on their face… and of course, I am enjoying their accent. Each day I have spent a minimum of three hours on the train in order to reach my destination of choice that day, but it has been well worth it and I already feel like a confident, well-versed local on the train system now.

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My first day sight seeing I saw Sydney’s “classics”. I walked around the Harbor, Sydney Bridge, Opera House, and Botanical gardens. I went to a street festival where I tried kangaroo and crocodile meat skewers. I really enjoyed the kangaroo and it is apparently a very lean, healthy meat for people to eat. As for the crocodile, it had an interesting texture and not much flavor, but it wasn’t bad.

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Afterwards, I hopped on a ferry to go to Manly Beach where I walked around and looked in surf shops, had coffee in a cafe, and sat on the beach watching locals play volleyball and surf. However,  I may have chosen the wrong day to go to Manly because two days later a live shark washed up on the shore of Manly Beach. On the way back from Manly, I decided I wanted to stand outside at the very front, bottom floor of the ferry to have a better view. This sounded like a great idea in my head until a giant wave hit the boat and came crashing onto the deck drenching me from head to toe in 60 degree weather. Once I recovered and got back to the harbor I got on a ferry to Luna Park, which is a carnival park with a great view of both the bridge and opera house. During the day Sydney was absolutely stunning, but it was almost just as beautiful at night with everything lit up.

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On Sunday I went to church in the morning with our family friends to a church they had helped plant in a new suburb. That night I went to an evening service at one of Hillsong’s locations, which was a very high energy, neat experience.

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The next day I went to the famous Bondi Beach. I walked along a lengthy sidewalk next to the blue waves crashing onto the rocks, taking in the dreamy views. Bondi had two pools right next to the ocean that people were swimming laps in as the waves crashed into it. I sat on the beach and ate lunch while watching people surf, walked along the shops, and bought some overpriced ice cream (everything is expensive here), but ice cream is always worth it.

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On Tuesday, I went to Featherdale Wildlife Park where I got to see almost every animal Australia has to offer. Although my favorites were obviously the kangaroos and koalas. The kangaroos were just roaming around the park and I got to feed and pet them – in which I think I did for a solid hour and a half. I also watched a baby kangaroo come in and out of it’s mother’s pouch and begin learning how to hop. It really doesn’t get much cuter than that.

 

 

It’s been a great start to a new adventure and I can’t wait to see what’s yet to come. If you’d like to keep up with what I’m doing here, I’ll be posting new blogs on here every week or two!

All the best,

Laurel

 

 

 

 

New

As I quickly approach my college graduation which is less than two months away, I get a bittersweet feeling.

Bitter because I know that my favorite chapter of my life thus far is coming to a close. Bitter because I will be leaving a community of people my heart has grown so fond of and who have played a significant role in making me who I am today. Bitter because I know once I leave I won’t be coming back again for an extended period of time.

However, there are so many more reasons it is sweet. It is sweet because this time of transition means something new. Something I haven’t experienced before. Unusually, I am a person who gets excited at the thought of change and who thrives in change. I love not knowing where I’ll be in a month or who I’ll be with. There is something extraordinarily freeing about this.

This May I will be making a road trip to Montana with a group of friends to camp at various national parks and take part in a wedding. June through August I will be working with Wingate Wilderness Therapy in Kanab, Utah for three months and going on two week backpacking trips with troubled teens to facilitate counseling. Come September I will be nannying overseas for a family either in Greece or Australia.

I transformed my old blog into a travel blog not only because I love traveling and writing, but also to share my thoughts and experiences with friends and family from afar. I’ll be posting my first travel blog next week after a cruise to the Bahamas!

Thanks for reading – The adventure begins!

xoxo Laurel

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wiped clean

This past summer, I had the privilege of going on three foreign mission trips to the countries of Honduras, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. While each trip held its own unique significance, the trip to Padre Ramos, Nicaragua challenged me most.

There is one particular memory that I will never forget, which seems to frequently replay in my mind whenever I think back to this trip. One afternoon after lunch when most of the children had eaten and gone home, I decided to take a nap in one of the hammocks while I could. I had done this more days than not on the trip and naps were often interrupted by small children; however, this time I woke up to two small boys tickling my face with paint brushes. They had found the face paint we brought along with us and thought this could keep them entertained for sometime. Ten or so minutes into this I realized that it was getting a little out of hand now that they ran out of space on my face to paint and were using my entire body as a canvas for their artwork. When it was all said and done and they became bored of painting me, (or possibly ran out of paint), the boys ran off onto something more entertaining and I stood up and began walking around with no intentions of cleaning myself off yet.

Before I could walk within a few yards, a 6 year old girl who had been watching grabbed my hand and pulled me off to the side. I had yet to meet this girl and I wasn’t sure what she wanted until she grabbed a hand wipe and walked me towards the nearest water spout. This little girl was quite possibly dirtier than me and the hand wipe she had in her hand was one we had given the children to clean themselves off. She then squatted down in the dirt and began washing me off from head to toe. She continued to do this for the next ten minutes or so, determined to clean every inch of me. Little did she know that this particular face paint wasn’t exactly as “washable” as it claimed to be. She scrubbed as hard as her tiny arms could, trying to get it all off. I told her that it was okay and it probably wouldn’t come off any time soon, but she continued to be persistent.

It was a simple gesture, but a surreal moment for me. It was as if time froze as I watched her selflessly scrub my body clean. I knew in that moment that I was making an encounter with God. I saw God face to face in that little girl, as I experienced an exact representation of what Christ has done and is still doing for me. As I continue to reflect on this scene, I can’t help but think of how this resembles the cross and the entire embodiment of God’s love for us. John 10:10 says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (NIV). Although the little boys had no intention of harming me, this memory reminds me that the world is full of evil, which tries to hurt us and make marks on us, even when we are unaware (or asleep in my case) and undeserving of these marks.

Many times we allow the world to make marks on us and sin to rule our lives instead of choosing to fight against it, just as I complacently allowed the young boys to cover my body in paint and was in no rush to clean it off. Because sin is all around us, it is easier to accept it and grow comfortable with it, rather than to learn to live without it. However, God wants better for us. He watches us choose ugly and unwanted actions and when we have no intentions of cleaning ourselves, He somehow grabs our attention, in order to lead us to a place where He can wash us clean, just like that little girl did for me. I am grateful to have personally experienced The Lord scrubbing away at my sin day after day and watching those marks fade in my life when I am intentionally spending time with Him. It has been painful and challenging, yet beautiful and rewarding.

Even if we give up on ourselves and think that the marks will never come off, He will continue to scrub and scrub away at us until we are completely clean and new – regardless of how long it takes or the sacrifices that have to be made.

God always puts us first, and He certainly doesn’t give up on us, no matter how dirty and comfortable we are with being that way.

“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols” (NIV). -Ezekial 36:25