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I quit my dream job

For my first several years of competitive figure skating, I only used Disney music for my programs. At first, it was because it was age-appropriate, theatrical, and recognizable for the judges and the audience.

Young, beginner-level skaters are hard to rank. Judges distinguish their single jumps and scratch spins by noticing which skaters are looking at their feet and which ones are smiling, exercising musicality, and engaging the crowd. So, by skating to music from movies I loved, I learned how to skate as a character and how to perform. Before I advanced to double jumps, I’d always place on the podium. Therefore, Disney music became my lucky charm, and I purposely didn’t choose any other music until I was a teenager.

Then skating became stressful. My falls were harder and freestyle events became more technical. I still did well in certain events, but it became more apparent when my competitors were skating most days a week and I was barely juggling musical theater, other sports, and after-school clubs on top of my schoolwork.

I found my niche in the showcase, artistic, and interpretive events, where I wasn’t judged on the most difficult jump I landed but rather how I used my skills to perform a number. I always dreamed of being on stage, and skating was my foundation for that.

I auditioned for Disney on Ice in my last year at my university. I had met two coaches at Carleton University who had either retired from or were currently performing with the show, and they inspired me to send an audition video. Because of my inconsistent jumps, I doubted the show would accept me, but within two hours of sending my video I received an email back inviting me to come in for a live audition.

I still remember my live audition more vividly than I remember the shows where I performed for tens of thousands of people. I remember the pride I felt landing all my jumps. I remember my heart swelling as I performed my signature move, the spiral. And I still cringe remembering how I decided to add vocal “ooh ooh, ahh ahhs” to my character interpretation when they asked me to skate like a monkey would skate. Four months later, I was in Mexico City rehearsing with Disney on Ice.

This is the profession I was meant to have. And these past six years as a show girl have been everything I dreamed they would be and more. So why am I leaving it?

I’ve been lucky enough to accomplish a goal I’ve had since I watched Michelle Kwan skating to Disney specials on TV in the 90s. When I watched Disney on Ice on YouTube, I yearned to even be in the ensemble, but I dared to hope I could play a character. There was one commercial that featured a character running and waving to the roar of the audience, and I wished I could do that. As fate would have it, I played that exact character for five of my six years with the show.

Just being on the show was my first goal. When I was hired, playing a character was my next goal. I’ve played two dozen step-out or principal characters plus a variety of characters without dialogue. And then my goals were to challenge myself to leading roles, which I eventually achieved as well.

I would’ve been content with just doing the ice show, but Disney on Ice had the added perk of traveling the world. Initially, I wanted to see Europe, and I did a tour there. Then I wanted to visit Japan, and I spent a year in Asia. I’ve worked on five continents and visited three dozen countries, and though I want to keep traveling, I’m at the point where I want a real home to come back to.

I was thrilled that I could interview with television, print, radio, and new media, although I was advertising the show on the other side of the microphone than I was when I was a journalist. I advanced into leadership positions within the company, too, and I loved mentoring new hires who were as wide-eyed and eager as I was when I joined.

With all of these incredible opportunities, I realized that I couldn’t make any more goals. I had already achieved everything I wanted and more, so I thought that when I peaked I would be happy.

But I knew I couldn’t settle on what I had already achieved. We only grow when we keep reaching for new goals, and with nothing left to overcome I wasn’t the best person I could be. I found pettier elements to criticize and couldn’t find the same joy I used to have when I was still exploring my potential. My focus redirected outside of my job and I began to long for the adventures that come from getting off the road.

When I was in university, constantly blinking off a lack of sleep and scrambling to finish all of my assignments on time, I questioned whether I studying the right field. It was when I had two hours left until deadline — and a page and a half to write with no ideas –that I would open YouTube and re-watch a Disney on Ice commercial, dreaming of a life with little stress and pure confidence in what I was doing. Nowadays, I open YouTube and watch people younger than me moving to big cities, taking risks I didn’t take, and living lives even more exciting than mine.

I love performing. I always will. I hope to do it more in the future. But it’s time for me to discover what else I can do. If living on the road and working from contract to break work contract have taught me anything, it’s that I don’t need concrete plans to be successful. I’m moving to New York City, a city I’ve always admired but I felt too overwhelmed to truly commit to it. I’m using the bachelor’s degree for which I fought so hard and seeing where it takes me. Working in live entertainment taught me not to rely on Plan A and to invent Plan B, C, and D without wasting time doubting myself.

The little skater who refused to skate to anything other than Disney music once dreamed of being in the Olympics. That never happened. However, I used “Under the Sea” from The Little Mermaid as my first competitive showcase music. 16 years later, I performed “Under the Sea” in a lead role professionally for thousands of people in central and South America. Following my passions allowed me to travel to places I thought I’d never see.

I’ll always be grateful that I achieved my dream job. Now, I’ve learned that you can have more than one dream job.

Our network of cast, crew, and staff with Disney on Ice is so globally interconnected that when we retire, we always say, “It’s never ‘goodbye;’ it’s ‘see you down the road.'” I’m ready to see where that road takes me now.

And as Walt Disney would say: “I only hope that we never lose sight of one thing — that it was all started by a mouse.” Let’s see where this Disney alum goes now.

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Posted by on September 1, 2018 in Blog

 

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The Official Rules of Airplane Etiquette

Let’s start with this: airport travel brings out the worst in people. Put groups of strangers in unorganized lines, test their patience with flight delays and missing baggage, embarrass them with sometimes invasive security screenings, and deprive them of sleep, exercise, and proper nutrition, and people will be crankier and act more entitled than they would normally.

Navigating airports, customs, and baggage claims is stressful enough, so I like to treat my time on the actual airplane as a time to relax. This can be difficult when you’ve sacrificed your personal bubble to be elbow-to-elbow with strangers. Therefore, I’ve compiled the unwritten list of conduct for when our patience is stretched thin. Some of these rules are common sense, but for some rules I’ve taken the liberty of settling debates. Here are the newly official rules of airplane etiquette from a very frequent flyer.

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Because settling the debate of armrest entitlement makes air travel better.

DO:

  • Anticipate what you’ll need and keep it by your seat. Avoid climbing over the person in the aisle seat to keep selecting a different book or to get more snacks from the overhead compartment.
  • Come prepared. Bring entertainment for you and any young passengers you’re watching. And then bring more than you think you need. If you get motion sickness while reading the book you brought, pull out your headphones and listen to the podcasts you downloaded. If you’re not interested in the in-flight movie, start a knitting project. Nobody likes a Nosy Nancy who is trying to read your book over your shoulder because she can’t sleep. And while chatting with strangers may be your favorite way to pass the time, understand that not everybody is on the same sleep schedule as you and may be depending on this flight for 40 winks.
  • Stay in your own seat as best as you can. Don’t prop your feet on a nearby armrest. One time I was guilty of resting the pillow on the wall of a window seat, and when I nodded off the pillow would slide into the seat in front of me. I kept waking up to my own pillow flying over the seat into my face.
  • Let the person in the middle seat have both armrests. I don’t care how comfortable your second arm needs to be. If you’re not in the middle seat, you can lean into the window or into the aisle (within reason). The middle seat traveler has nothing but strangers leaning into him on both sides. Give him that one perk.
  • Plan your bathroom/leg-stretching breaks as best as you can. Obviously, you can’t help how your body behaves sometimes, especially with factors like nausea and unsettling airplane food. But if you can hold it, wait until all the meal trays have been collected so you’re not stuck behind the cart. That way, the person in the aisle seat isn’t waiting too long for you to come back. And only wake up the aisle seat traveler if you absolutely must go. (Personally, I’ve masted the art of Ninja Armrest Hopping, where I parkour across the armrests of sleeping travelers to land in the aisle without disturbing their naps.)

DON’T:

  • Bring stinky, hot food that everyone else has to smell onto the airplane. And if you ate some stinky food during your layover, it couldn’t hurt to bring a pack of gum or a toothbrush.
  • Hog the overhead space. Just one of your bags should be up there. If the flight is full, your winter coat can stay with your seat instead of taking valuable space away from baggage.
  • Accept your neighbor’s meal or drinks if they’re sleeping. It’s a kind gesture, especially for long flights with limited meal times, but there’s nowhere to store the tray if your neighbor wants to sleep. I made the unfortunate mistake of placing a dinner tray under my seat so I could go back to sleep only to wake up with ankles covered in mashed potatoes. Just let your neighbor know that the food came by already when he wakes up, and if he’s hungry, he can press the button to call for a flight attendant.
  • Take your shoes off. If your feet swell, loosen your shoelaces or invest in compression socks.
  • Tilt your seat back. Trust me, the increase in comfort for you is negligible, whereas the inconvenience for the person behind you increases noticeably. If you absolutely need that 110-degree angle, be mindful if the person behind you has a child or pet on their lap. Pop it back into its original position during meal times so the tray isn’t digging into that person’s ribs. And for the love of travel day gods, at least stay consistent. Don’t change your position every few minutes or bounce it around.
  • Exit before anyone seated in front of you. I don’t care if your connecting flight has already started boarding; you don’t know what everyone else’s flight itinerary is like. Don’t muscle your way to the front of the line. And if you know you need to fumble with an overhead bag, offer to let the person in the aisle next to you leave first.
 
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Posted by on November 29, 2017 in Blog

 

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The ultimate guide to surviving long flight days

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Seeing my tour friends post about their international flights on Facebook gives me a bite from the travel bug.

 

On one of my many travel days, I was finding my seat on a plane for a connecting flight. A man sheepishly asked me if I minded giving up my aisle seat for a middle seat so that he could sit next to his wife.

I told him, “Sure, no problem. This is a short flight anyway.”

The man on the other side of me sputtered, “Short flight?! It’s four hours!”

I guess my perspective had shifted because I had just come from a 14-hour flight, two hours of standing in customs and luggage recheck lines, and a connecting flight before that. And I still had another flight scheduled after that one.

Traveling to other countries is a wonderful gift for which I’m grateful. However, the length of intercontinental flights can be overwhelming. Once you consider the uncomfortable proximity of strangers, sitting in an airplane seat for 14 hours becomes much more unsettling than sitting on your couch for the same amount of time binging on Netflix.

To alleviate some of the stress, I’ve assembled the ultimate guide to surviving especially long flights.

THE DAY BEFORE:

Sort out your carry-ons CAREFULLY. This depends on how you need to distribute your luggage weight between your checked bags and your carry-ons, but the less you have to lug around on long travel days, the easier your life will be.

Also, look out for anything that might flag scanners at the airport. Besides the banned items, agents have searched my backpack because of a purse within my backpack, a tangled mess of charging cables, a coin purse, batteries, and aggressive-looking keychains. And once the person searching your carry-on gets to the bottom of the last pocket, they rarely place everything back neatly.

The most notable exception was in Japan, when the security agent asked me permission to remove every item from my backpack, one at a time. Then he asked me if it was okay to place item back in. While I appreciated how thoroughly polite he was, it was a tedious process during a limited layover time.

Pick your favorite outfit for travel day. Waiting in hours of lines and not lying down for a day or more can make people feel less than their best. At least it’ll help if you’re in

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It couldn’t hurt to bring an extra sweater if the airport is chilly.

an outfit that makes you look good. And be sure to find an outfit that allows for bloating, feet swelling, and seat belts digging into your waist.

Oh, and wear socks. Nobody wants a barefoot passenger traipsing through the security line.

Pack a small change of clothes and toiletries. I stick with a fresh pair of underwear, socks, a toothbrush, travel-sized toothpaste, a hairbrush and some deodorant. Then, I duck into a bathroom before standing in a long line or waiting for my transportation from the airport to the hotel. Taking time to freshen up reduces my crankiness.

Get a good night’s sleep . . . or don’t. For most passengers, sleeping on a plane is difficult. Your neck is strained even with an airplane pillow, you can’t curl up, and you have to sleep semi-vertically. Cutting back on sleep the night before might help you pass out on a long plane ride. For me, since I can rarely sleep at all on planes, I’d rather have one last full night of sleep before acknowledging I’m not going to sleep the next day. Plus, standing in long immigration and security lines while groggy can lead to accidentally leaving a suitcase behind or heading to the wrong terminal.

THE MORNING OF:

Charge all of your appliances. I recommend investing in a battery-powered charger for your appliances, too.

Download your entertainment to your devices. Most airplanes have dozens of movies and television shows available on the back of the seat in front of you on international flights. Still, I recommend non-visual entertainment when your eyes are tired of the strain. Podcasts, music, and audiobooks are great for resting your eyes.

Shower. This isn’t meant to condescend to your hygiene; what I mean is to shower as close to your departure time as possible. I normally prefer to shower at night, but when it may be 36 hours before I see a private bathroom again, you can bet I’ll be showering within an hour of when I leave for the airport.

Bring an empty water bottle. In most North American airports, you can refill it once you get past security and save yourself $4. If you’re in a country that doesn’t have a water fountain in the airport, you can at least ask a flight attendant for two cups of water on the plane to fill it so you don’t dehydrate on the long plane ride.

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This plane’s oxygen masks accidentally fell out during boarding and caused an hour delay on my flight. Just be patient!

AT THE AIRPORT:

Give yourself plenty of time to get there. Yes, I know, you want to spend as little time as possible at your home airport, but you have to allow for traffic and long security lines. You never know if delays, a power outage, or some other emergency has caused backup at your first airport.

Take anti-motion sickness precautions. Not everyone is as cursed with motion sickness as I am, but in case you do run into awful turbulence, come prepared. I take motion sickness pills, but it’s important to note those take a full hour to be effective, so I plan accordingly. I also stock up on everything with ginger, which is a natural anti-nausea spice — ginger drops, ginger chews, candied ginger, ginger tea bags, and ginger ale once I’m on the plane. It’s better to prepare for motion sickness before you hit turbulence than to experience nausea and wait for these remedies to kick in.

Download your airline’s app. I have found the airline’s apps to usually be the first with flight updates, before the monitors at the airport or the email notifications. Also, when you’re flying internationally, research your airline’s alliance and ask if you can transfer your frequent flyer miles to your domestic airline.

Hold back the sass. There’s something about airports that brings out the worst in people. Flight delays cause people to snap at employees at the check-in desk; power-tripping TSA agents condescend to passengers in the security line; passengers elbow each other and merge to the front of the line to board the plane like it’s the Hunger Games and roll their eyes if they lose.

You have your ticket, so you will have a seat. You gave yourself time to get through the airport. If you miss your connection, you can reschedule to a different flight and get home eventually. Just relax and don’t feed into the competitive energy in airports. I find that when employees are snippy with me, it’s because they’ve already spent four hours straight dealing with other snippy passengers. Once I relax and treat travel day as a low-stress situation, the effect is contagious.

And finally, enjoy! Look at long travel days as opportunities, not a chore. A long plane ride is a chance to catch up on all the Academy Award nominations from that year or read that book you’ve been meaning to finish. Killing time at a layover means I indulge in an expensive coffee treat that I don’t normally buy anymore. And waiting in line at immigration or baggage claim is usually no worse than 30 minutes of your time, which can be spent people-watching passengers from different cultures.

 
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Posted by on June 28, 2017 in Blog, travel

 

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7 ways living on the road has changed me

Maldives

Traveling can be hard work, but moments like this in the Maldives are worth it.

 

In just over a week, I’ll mark my five-year anniversary since I wrote this post journaling the start of my ice show career. That’s five years that I’ve been living out of two 50-pound suitcases (or less), working across five different continents and 43 US states. Now, I barely resemble the person I was when I graduated university. Most of my personal growth has come from traveling, performing in live shows, living with a tour family, and simple aging into my late 20s.

Yet I can’t ignore the ways in which living on the road makes me different from my friends who have settled down. And hopefully, any roadie or fellow performer who reads this list can relate.

1) There’s no such thing as “home.” Before my parents moved about two years ago, going back to the house where I grew up felt like visiting a museum of a life I used to live. Then when my parents moved, I realized I was living in a home that they’ve built

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Home is where . . . the sangria is (like in Spain, pictured here).

without me, not a place where I can nestle in. Whenever I get off the road and find my new place is where I’ll find my “home.”

But can a place really feel like “home” if my tour family isn’t there to share it with me?

2) I barely have any souvenirs that aren’t photographs. With a weight limit of 100 pounds for 8 months (or more!) at a time, I just can’t afford the space for a Starbucks or Hard Rock mug from every city I visit. Plus, once I bring it to my parents’ place, I don’t want to live under the clutter of all of those souvenirs. For a while I tried to collect keychains from places that influenced me, but they’re much less durable than I thought and I now travel the fragments in the pockets of my backpack.

3) I have no idea how to do a cosmetic “day look” anymore. There’s my “travel day” look, which is some moisturizer, glasses so I can squeeze in a 10-minute nap here and there, and French braids so I can rest my hair against a headrest and so I can hide the drool that seeps in when my head droops at a 45-degree angle.

As a show girl, I have a “neutral” makeup look, which I create with this train of thought: “Well, minimum I need two layers of foundation. Then just a dab of mascara, which of course needs some thick eyeliner underneath. No, a bit more than that — gotta make up for all the natural lashes I’ve ripped out wearing fake eyelashes during shows. Maybe just a bit of bronzer all over my face and neck just so I look well-rested. And of course I can’t go out without contouring my cheeks. Same goes for filling in my eyebrows. May as well add in a smidge of blush and eyeshadow. Does ‘ruby red’ look like I’m not wearing any lipstick at all?”

On the other hand, when it comes to my hair, most people are used to seeing me with a sweaty ponytail fresh from a wig cap, so a freshly shampooed look is fancy on me.

4) I don’t eat at restaurants on special occasions anymore. I used to consider going to Olive Garden on my birthday was a treat, or that ordering pizza meant I was having a significant party. Since I don’t have a kitchen on the road, most of my meals during the week are at restaurants, be they Subway, a cafe, or a local sit-down restaurant. Now when I want to celebrate my birthday, anniversaries, or family get-togethers, I prefer

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Sometimes donuts, like these from Portland’s Voodoo Doughnut, are my breakfast.

home-cooked meals or potlucks if they’re available.

(Since I do eat at so many restaurants, I’ve been sharing my experiences by reviewing restaurants across North America. You can check out some of my reviews at tourbites.wordpress.com.)

5) My fashion choices are repetitive. I was never fashion-forward, but before I joined tour I could put together 20 different T-shirt-and-jeans combinations before doing a load of laundry. Now, I rely on six different shirts that I like the best and only a handful of skirts or dresses. There’s not much variety in my wardrobe, and even when I visit home I keep most of my clothes tucked away or else I donate them.

6) I’m addicted to candles. Keeping one scent that I enjoy everywhere I go helps me create a familiar space. I have air fresheners and sprays that create artificial scents for each season, but my favorite method is traveling one extra large candle that I can slowly burn every city. That way, I know that when I smell “pink sands,” I’m smelling whatever I can call home that week.

7) I’m more outgoing. Before tour, “going out” was a whole ordeal for which I had to mentally and physically prepare myself. On tour, we’ll come back from work at 9:30 pm and we’ll have to race to make it to a restaurant or a bar before it closes its kitchen so we can have dinner. That means little to no time to have a shower, and certainly no time to wash and style my hair. Well, I’m already at a bar, may as well have a drink with my meal. And a dozen of my coworkers are here at the bar too because this is the only place to eat within walking distance. Just like that, I’ve “gone out.” Even if I wanted to stay in that night, hearing everyone bouncing around hotel rooms like a college dorm keeps me awake until 1 am anyway, so I may as well join them.

There’s nothing wrong with being a homebody or embracing introversion. Once I hang up my skates, I’ll probably do both. Yet my life on the road is a lifestyle that makes the years fly by, and adapting to it is the only way I’ve survived most of my 20s with this job.

 
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Posted by on May 24, 2017 in Blog, travel

 

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How to live out of a suitcase

My backpack on travel day is overstuffed. Most of the time, this isn’t an issue during security screenings because I’m careful about the items I cram in there.

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All of my belongings for 2/3 of a year.

One time, a TSA officer smirked and said, “Gee, you must be new to traveling” with as much condescension as he could drip onto me.

I wanted to sass back and say, “Actually, I’ve been to dozens of countries in the past two years alone.” Instead, I swallowed and pointedly said, “No, I’m not.”

Judgmental passengers might say that an overstuffed backpack suggests a lack of organization. What they don’t know is that for someone who won’t see home for eight months at a time, I actually pack quite light. The last time they moved apartments probably consisted of a truck full of boxes. The last time I moved residences was last week and I only have two suitcases and one backpack to make that happen.

So how do I make that happen? I’ve compiled what I’ve learned since I’ve traded furniture for suitcases. I have a few cheats, as you’ll see, but I’ll mostly stick to travel tips I’ve learned for myself or from my traveling colleagues.

Only pack for 10 days

Packing for an eight-month tour can seem daunting. However, I soon realized that packing for a month-long contract and a full year are basically the same. Toiletries, dishes, shoes — these are all items that I’ll reuse daily for months. What does change is the clothing I wear each day. I know that I do laundry once a week, so I really don’t need to pack eight months of outfits. Instead, I need to pack for one week of clothes, plus a few days in case I don’t make it to a washing machine that week.

Tourists who only have a two-week vacation probably don’t want to spend time searching for a laundromat when they can be sightseeing. But for people who live on the road all year, frequent laundry days are the way to go. The money you’d spend at a laundromat — if you don’t have any complimentary washers and dryers in a hotel or Airbnb — is significantly less than what you’d pay than if you had weekly overweight fees at an airport.

For a year-long contract, I know I need to pack for multiple seasons. But instead of 10 separate sweaters, I know I can wear a sweater over my springtime T-shirt and wear that sweater more than once. As for shoes, I pack four pairs: running shoes, walkable daily shoes, flip-flops, and nude or black high heels that go with everything. (For winter, I’ll throw in boots, as well.)

If you don’t want to sacrifice your unique fashion identity, you do have other choices. I like to utilize light accessories like scarves to bring variety to my outfit. Depending on your budget, you can also shop throughout the tour and mail other items back home. However, if you still depend on clothing variety, you can prioritize clothing in your suitcase by using my other tips.

Distribute and redistribute 

While it would make sense to keep all of the same category in each bag, it’s better to organize your luggage to balance your weight. For example, many of my coworkers put all of their clothes in one bag and toiletries, dishes, and miscellaneous other items in the other. However, my shoes, jeans, and sweatshirts are some of my heaviest items, so I’ll rearrange those items into my smaller suitcase to ensure that my larger one doesn’t became too heavy. On some tours, I’ve traveled with only one suitcase and one carry-on. In that case, I’ll put all of my shoes and dishes (except knives) in my carry-on so that I don’t hit the 50-pound maximum in my large suitcase.

Nobody wants to be caught behind that person in the airport who has to rearrange their luggage at the check-in counter at the airport because they weighed their suitcase at 60 pounds. To avoid that, I used to travel a luggage scale; now, I can determine if a bag is close to 50 simply by lifting it with one arm and judging how it feels. However, I still place my heaviest items at the top of my suitcase and place a rolled-up tote bag in my carry-on backpack. If my suitcase is too heavy, I know that I can quickly take out my heaviest item from the top and use the tote bag as my second personal item on an airplane.

Research what’s available to purchase

You don’t need to be fully stocked at the beginning of the year. I don’t need to have my yearly toothpaste supply available before the tour starts; I know I can buy that anywhere. This year, I also needed a new winter coat, but I knew that buying one before leaving from Myrtle Beach would be unnecessary. Instead, I waited until November to buy from the northeast so that I wouldn’t have to travel it during the summer and autumn months.

But sometimes, you do need to come prepared. When I was in Europe, I ran out of dental floss. That’s easy enough to find in a drugstore back home, so I figured it wouldn’t be difficult. Unfortunately, I was in a country where English wasn’t the primary language, and when I spent several minutes searching the shelves in vain, I tried to ask a store employee for help. This is when I learned that the pantomime for dental floss is not universal. I gestured by making two fists at an angle near my slack-jawed mouth and waving them in unison, pretending that I was sliding a string of floss near my front teeth. This was met with a baffled expression and awkward laughter. I never did find floss the rest of that tour.

The takeaway for that story is that for any toiletry that is difficult to describe or apparently rare, I’ll bring extra. And if you have a favorite brand of deodorant, it’s worth bringing. But if you can research if your travel destinations carry decent shampoos ahead of time, you don’t need to travel a whole drugstore in one suitcase.

Anticipate complimentary items

I haven’t bought toilet paper in years. Could you picture how much space that would take in my suitcase? I’m simply accustomed to harder toilet paper. I couldn’t imagine switching to a softer variety now.

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Complimentary soap, lotion, and cups make my packing list lighter.

Again, everyone’s priorities are different. I could cut out some weight if I used shampoo and conditioner from hotels, but I prefer traveling my own to maintain my long hair. But depending on  where you’re staying while you’re living out of a suitcase, your accommodations will likely provide towels, bedding, and soap. That cuts out several items from your packing list. And if you stay at a hotel with a breakfast and/or manager’s reception, you’ll cut back on your food budget, as well.

Be selective with your souvenirs

Two-foot metallic replicas of Big Ben and the Eiffel Tower may look pretty on your mantel back home, but they’re not doing your suitcase any favors for the rest of the year. I learned early that not every place I visit needs a large souvenir. For me, photos are much more memorable.

Some of my coworkers purchased Starbucks tumblers or Hard Rock mugs from every country. Soon enough, they had to slow down their collections by only purchasing those souvenirs in major cities or countries that they really enjoyed.

Personally, I prefer a keychain or magnet collection. Every store at a tourist trap sells them, so they’re not hard to find, and traveling 20 keychains in my backpack is going to be an easier time than the 20 tumblers lining a suitcase.

Buy only as much food as you need

At the start of tour each year, we jump into 12-hour rehearsal days. There’s rarely any time for proper grocery shopping. So, I come to tour with enough granola bars and cans of tuna to sustain me for a couple days before I have a break. But after that, I’m careful with the amount of food that I travel.

If I have a mini-fridge in the hotel for the week, I buy enough food for a week. I usually split my food with my roommate, and sometimes we split larger meals four ways with our friends so that we don’t waste anything. If I know we’ll travel in a bus for a few weeks, I’ll travel a tote bag of spices. If it’s a flight day, we throw our spices in a trunk that travels with our show equipment.

However, if there isn’t a fridge available, we simply eat out most of the time. This is expensive, but it’s a budget tradeoff. What I’m not paying in Internet and cable packages, gas, or rent by living on the road goes toward my hefty food budget. But I try to cut back on food waste by being mindful of exactly how much I eat in a week and sticking to that plan.

Make room for homemaking items

Most of my tips recommend ways to cut down the weight of your suitcase. However, in order to actually live out of a suitcase, it’s important to find ways to improve your quality of life.

Candles and scents give your room a personal touch. If I can’t be home for the holidays, it’s nice to at least smell pine trees and Christmas cookies in my hotel. And if it’s summer back home but I’m in a climate with winter, a beach scent brightens my mood.

And while I live in hotel rooms, I can visually trick myself to think it’s my own space. A pillowcase in my favorite color brightens my bed and makes the pillow feel like it’s my own, even though it’s not. In any case, whenever I have my own place, I will never decorate the beds and walls in off-white. I have stayed in too many hotels for that to happen.

Tiny homes may be trendy now, but backpacking and living out of a suitcase are the original mobile home. You can make a lifestyle out of traveling without the bare minimum of backpacking. By prioritizing what I use on tour and making sure I bring items that make it feel like home, I’ve comfortably lived out of a suitcase for several years.

 
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Posted by on March 28, 2017 in Blog, travel

 

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How to live without language

I’m really good at the Chicken Dance.

This is a variation of the “I don’t wanna be a chicken, I don’t wanna be a duck” fad dance that kids learn in school when the Macarena is too complicated for them.

For me, the Chicken Dance takes place in restaurants when I’m overseas. When the menu is written in a language I don’t understand, or if I’m in a country where I’m unfamiliar with popular cuisine, I resort to the Chicken Dance. But instead of the aforementioned lyrics, my song usually goes, “Do you have chicken? Chick-en? Like this?” And, if the poor waiter still can’t help me, then I shamelessly tuck my hands into my armpits and flap my elbows.

Luckily, I’ll usually eat chicken no matter how it’s served, so it’s my go-to in foreign

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General Tso’s chicken in Beijing, China — pretty different to how I know it in the States.

restaurants. That’s why “chicken” is one of the first words I learn in a new language, right after “hello,” “thank you,” and “bathroom.” Now, if I could come up with a recognizable Pizza Dance, I’d always be happy with my meal.

Conversely, my “not spicy” gesture had a much lower success rate in Asia than my Chicken Dance. This gesture — in which I shook my head and fanned my tongue — may have been lost in translation, or it may be because their interpretation of “mild” spice is equivalent to my “medium to hot.”

I know that traveling internationally for the past five years has been an enormous privilege. But in addition to that, it has made me realize just how much privilege I have had growing up in a country where I speak the most popular language and look like the majority of people.

Living and working in countries where I don’t fit in is a wake-up call. I would sometimes be in areas where I would be the only one on the street with fair skin and blue eyes. Most locals would be accommodating to me. Store clerks, waiters, security guards, even pedestrians have helped me if I looked lost or like I didn’t know how to say what I needed. If they couldn’t use a translator on their phone, they’d point to helpful suggestions or call someone who might know five English words for me. And if they still couldn’t help me, their eyes seemed genuinely apologetic.

I’ve also had experiences that weren’t as helpful. Without speaking a word of the local language besides “hello,” I’ve attempted to ask where my hotel is or how I can buy sunscreen and the local would become visibly frustrated. One older woman in Brazil became aggressively agitated at me when I tried to explain to her in English that I didn’t speak Portuguese. After a while I deduced she was asking me to open the door for her, but even after I did so she continued ranting despite my clear inability to understand it.

I certainly don’t blame them. Here I am, a foreigner entering a country without respectfully learning the language, and expecting services without being able to communicate what they are.

I can’t help this situation. Because I travel to most of these places for work, I don’t have time to study more phrases or learn more of their manners. This is especially difficult for places where I spend as little as four days before it’s on to the next country.

Yet if I can’t change the circumstances, I can do more to be a better communicator.

Having a conversation in different languages is an effective exercise in body language. If I want to say “gracias” or “arigatou gozaimasu” or “merci,” it’s more effective if I smile to show my appreciation. And when I make a request, I realize now how important it is to make eye contact when I can’t address the person granting my request.

These seem like basic ideas, but I needed to strip away the crutch of language to recognize how little I employed them. This also made me realize why people I know unintentionally seem disingenuous.

That said, not being able to fully communicate is tiring. Sometimes I work on a different continent for months at a time and the only linguistic conversations I have are backstage with my coworkers. How can I truly enjoy meeting locals from overseas if I can’t ask them to share their stories?

Being a foreigner is a humbling experience. Still, it does get easier. Learning how to address people with a smile is important. And if I enter a building, I open a door for others or offer to help carry their purchases; being a kinder person establishes a more positive connection with everyone around me, even when I don’t need a service back from them.

Finally, while the gesticulations make for great filler in a conversation, they don’t need to be as extreme as my Chicken Dance. But resorting to a goofy way to place my order usually cracks a smile on the server’s face, which shows that I’m non-threatening and am grateful for their patience.

So when the Pizza Dance becomes the next dance craze, you’ll have me to thank for that.

 
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Posted by on January 4, 2017 in Blog, travel

 

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Highlights from Argentina and Chile

Call me clichéd, but Paris is one of my favorite cities. I love its preservation of Parisian history, but I like its cultural edge in a contemporary world even more.

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The Casa Rosada Presidential Palace is one of the most iconic buildings in Buenos Aires.

When I arrived in Buenos Aires, Argentina, I was floored to see how much BA’s art and culture reminded me of Paris. It was only after I excitedly told my friends about the similarity between the two cities that I learned BA’s nickname is “the Paris of South America.”

Okay, so I wasn’t the first to make that comparison. Maybe my travel thoughts are clichéd.

REMARKABLE ARCHITECTURE

People compare the Argentinian capital to Paris because of the cutting-edge fashion, the cafés lining every street corner, and the architectural similarities. There’s an obvious aesthetic parallel here; many of the buildings were influenced by 18th-century European styles. But just as Parisian architecture represents diverse styles from the Middle Ages to the 21st century, Buenos Aires is also eclectic. In fact, the same building may have art deco, art nouveau, and neoclassical styles incorporated into it.

I’m only a casual fan of design, but even a layman like me felt swept away by the architectural majesty on every street corner.

One of my favorite artistic destinations was more beautiful on the inside. El Ateneo Grand Splendid is a bookstore that was converted from a theater. Stepping onto the balcony and looking down at the levels of bookshelves, I felt like Belle from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. The only disappointment was that I couldn’t find any books in English to buy for myself.

A less sophisticated construction in Buenos Aires — yet equally compelling artistically — is La Boca neighborhood. Here, splashy primary colors consume the humble infrastructure. Not one building was uniform in color; red, canary yellow, pastel blue, and

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La Boca was a hodgepodge of splash colors and bohemian murals.

sea foam green paint alternated between the walls, with no discernible pattern. On walls, artists painted caricatures of people such as a pot-bellied man offering a leggy, big-bosomed woman a flower.

At first, La Boca felt like a lively celebration of bohemian art. After a few hours, though, the festivity eventually slowed. The tackiness shouting from every overpriced souvenir magnet sold in the shops began to wear on me. Even so, the unabashed gaiety of bright colors and cartoon paintings is a welcome respite from the polished cosmopolitan buildings downtown.

But the most breathtaking sights in Buenos Aires for me were in La Recoleta cemetery. This cemetery hosts above-ground tombs for wealthy and notable Argentinians, such as former presidents and cultural icons. I walked through rows of mausoleums and saw baroque, neo-gothic, and art nouveau structures. The experience was more immersive than the cemeteries that I know with tombstones and below-ground graves, and it felt surreal.

The most famous tomb was Eva Perón’s. Though the grave is unspectacular compared to many of the others in La Recoleta, it’s by far the most visited one. Evita was a champion of the little man in Argentina during the mid-20th century. Though she passed away at age 33 of cancer, her legacy is still present in the culture. Everything I saw in Argentina — from enormous murals downtown, to a live tango show, to our walking tour guide — paid homage to the icon. Though I was only in Argentina for a month, I felt honored to have visited her tomb, as well.

Most of the time on tour, I only have about a week to spend in a city. This time, I was lucky enough to spend three weeks in Buenos Aires. In that time, BA easily became one of my top ten favorite cities in the world. I was spellbound by the way Buenos Aires embraced its 18th- and 19th-century European influences while savoring lively, modern-day Latin American culture. Even though I spent most of this blog post gushing about the architecture, the cafes, live music, and dancing made Buenos Aires a romantic experience for me.

CHILEAN MEMORIES

After a tough 3-week work schedule in BA, I had ten days off before starting work again in Santiago, Chile. I split that week and a half break between a few days revisiting a few of my favorite parts of BA and exploring new sites in Santiago.

I was happy to find the Chilean capital was equally as engrossing as Buenos Aires. Although there was less of a hodgepodge of cultural elements, Santiago has plenty of historical monuments and museums presented in clean, neoclassical buildings downtown. At one point, I hit four museums in one day by simply walking around downtown for several hours.

The most poignant museum for me was the Museum of Memory and Human Rights. This human rights museum explored the dictatorial coup in the 1970s that displaced thousands of victims. Though I barely knew anything about Augusto Pinochet’s military regime, the museum provided enough context for me to delve into the stories of the victims.

A museum like this struggles because finding concrete objects from a period when the regime kept their activity secret is hard. However, the objects that the curators could recover — such as museums from orphaned children, torture devices used by the regime, and small trinkets that prisoners kept for themselves — were enough to evoke a response from me. I hadn’t been that emotionally invested in a museum since the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum about the atomic bombing in World War II.

Outside of the museums, I found the natural beauty in Santiago exciting. In the center of Santiago I hiked up the Santa Lucía Hill.  Its history is fascinating; originally it was used as a fort and an ammunition depot before it was transformed into an elaborate park with

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The Santa Lucía Hill was an escalating park overlooking Santiago, Chile.

fountains and statues during the 19th century.

The layout of the hill kept surprising me. Because of the ascending walkways, I would stop at a monument and think it was the main area. Just a bit more hiking, though, and I’d find a different open area of fountains and statues, where young couples competed for available love-seat benches in what must have been the make-out point of the city. Eventually, I reached the top of the hill, where an all-encompassing view of Santiago brought dozens of tourists elbow-to-elbow for a chance to recreate an iconic photo. And really, what great city doesn’t have a wonderful lookout point?

As beautiful as the hiking in Santa Lucía was, though, my favorite part of Chile was skiing in the Andes mountains. I’m from upstate New York, so I’ve grown up skiing. I’m used to skiing on hardened, icy snow with trees bordering all of the trails, so I can’t see much from the top of the mountain. At the Valle Nevado ski resort in Santiago, though, everything was different. The snow was a soft, fluffy powder, so I was amazed at how responsive my skis’ edges were cutting into the mountain. And more surprisingly to me, there were barely any trees. The unblocked views I had while skiing down the mountain made the experience feel surreal, as if I was floating on a cloud next to the cliffs.

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My trip to Valle Nevado in the Andes mountains was perhaps my favorite skiing experience ever.

FINAL THOUGHTS FROM SOUTH AMERICA

Before I had a chance to travel with my job, I hadn’t put too much thought into visiting South America. Like I admitted before, some of my travel opinions are tied up in clichés; I was more interested in western Europe and Asia tours because they had more famous cities.

However, I met coworkers who would fawn over South America and cited it as their favorite tour. I’m now lucky enough to have traveled to Argentina, Chile, and Brazil. (For my highlights from Brazil, check out this blog post.)

I found some of the most impressive natural wonder in South America, including Iguazu Falls and the Andes mountains. And I was blown away by the cultural spirits of these countries, from the splashy neighborhood of La Boca and the sophistication of the Recoleta district in Buenos Aires to the bohemian feel of Brazil.

Sometimes, the cities I find on tour aren’t what I expect — and sometimes, I don’t have any expectations. But most of my time in South America surpassed my expectations because these cities were so multifaceted and exciting.

 
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Posted by on November 9, 2016 in Blog, travel

 

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