Category Archives: Travel

Solitude is happiness for one who is content

Solitude is happiness for one who is content, who has heard the Dhamma and clearly sees. ~ Buddha (Udana 10)

Kaivalya Upanishad

In Eat Pray Love, Elizabeth Gilbert mentions that some people have neurotic, intuitive, introverted, control freak, anxious tendencies.  They are unable to turn off the chatter in their minds.  Some of us intellectualize our emotions and seek answers to certain questions through scholarly endeavors instead of prayer.  There is an internal tug of war between faith and fact and we are restless well into adulthood.  I began studying psychology, religion, philosophy and spirituality as a Freshman in high school.  I had questions just like Elizabeth Gilbert, just like many of you.  I found endless answers to my questions in those texts. But I still couldn’t seem to answer two: Who am I? Why am I in so much pain?

The Upanishads (followed closely by The Gospel of Thomas), is my favorite spiritual text.  For those of you who are not familiar with it, Upanishad means mystic or inner teachings. I have read it many times.  Still to this day it stirs up confusion, anger, sadness and joy.  But of all the texts I’ve read, it spoke to me more than any other.  It told me awhile ago that I must know myself by being alone with myself completely. Of course, it didn’t tell me a damn thing. I was telling myself to experience pure solitude.

Reading major (and minor) texts does not an Enlightened One make.  First comes knowledge and awareness. We must discover the Self before we can destroy the Ego and become Enlightened, as Carl Jung brilliantly articulates in all of his work.  But Awareness is meaningless without Action, as we learn from Jesus and Buddha.  I took Action in 2008 when I quit my job, moved to Virginia, started grad school, went to therapy, chose three years of celibacy, practiced yoga, changed my diet, etc.  Most importantly, I took Action when I forgave myself and others for the past so I could let go and move forward.  Forgiveness is Love.  This has not been an easy process and it will continue (I hope) until I die.  Freeing oneself from the Ego is probably the most difficult of all human experiences and I can only hope I will be free of even 1/1000th of mine in this lifetime.  If it were easy, we would all be Enlightened.

Kaivalya is a minor Upanishad.   Kaivalya means Aloneness.  The text teaches individuals in their last stage of life how to become liberated by renouncing a life driven by desire and by realizing they are Brahman.  Before I started grad school, I often confused happiness with pleasure.  I often sought out sources of pleasure from the external world to make myself feel happy because I was so so very unhappy and lost.  I was also unable to meditate. I was unable to be still and could not turn off the chatter I mentioned earlier.  For me the chatter was very negative and it usually involved a self-depleting, fearful, self-deprecating internal dialogue.  I was not good enough.  I did not deserve to be happy. Something was wrong with me.

Then I started grad school.  And everything changed.

I was truly alone with myself for the first time.  It was a horrible, ugly, painful, terrifying experience and yet beautiful and liberating.  After the emotional and physical withdrawal from my past life, I formed new patterns of behavior and my brain formed a new cognitive blueprint.  I was happy.  Happy.  Content.  I pushed that contentment out in the world, into my relationships, into my heart, into my work, into everything.  And it has flooded back to me in a way I never could have imagined. It has come back to me in such an amazing way that the girl I once was would have rejected it outright.  She would not have accepted it.  I am now a woman who not only accepts amazing gifts from the Universe, but knows she deserves them.  And I don’t mean I deserve happiness more than anyone else or that my reason for doing certain things is to get something in return.  I mean everyone in the Universe deserves happiness and contentment.  To be happy here or there or anywhere or with this or with that or with whomever, one must confront the Self and be content with his or her own mind, body and soul. I had to find happiness in Me to find happiness outside of this body in which I live.

All of this has little to do with the point of this post.  This post is about a moment of solitude this week that filled my soul to the brim will stillness and pure bliss.  This post is about Kaivalya.  It is about blissful solitude in Glasgow.

Blissful solitude in Glasgow

See, I have this amazing job.  I was in Scotland last week for a series of meetings and a conference in which scientists, engineers, naval architects, grad students and other Human Factors researchers from 20 countries meet to discuss human performance issues at sea.  On Wednesday, I took a break from conference sessions discussing updated physiological models of motion sickness on high speed craft.  I decided I needed to be alone. I had only been alone to sleep in my hotel room since Sunday and it was getting to me. I walked from Strathclyde University to Glasgow Cathedral.

After walking through the cathedral, I felt particularly emotional as I often do in old places of worship.  My mom has always teased me about this because I am not religious and do not believe in God in the Christian sense of the word.  Glasgow Cathedral (or High Kirk of Glasgow, St. Kentigern’s, or St. Mungo’s Cathedral) was constructed in sections between the 11th and 15th century.  It is one of the oldest Celtic churches in Scotland to survive the Reformation.  Across the highway you can see the Necropolis (see below).  I love cemeteries, so I thought I’d pop over for a few minutes.

That few minutes turned into a few hours.  I walked and climbed my way around the park before I sat down and started weeping.  This is what I could see:

I sat still for an hour, accepting that this is my life.  I sat still, thankful for the bliss I am able to feel in solitude.  I was thankful for these last few years in which I have been alone with myself and faced some of the most challenging times of life up to this point with grace and strength.  There was no chatter.  I had nothing negative to say about myself.  I deserve this moment.  My heart and mind were as still as my body.  And I could say with full knowledge and faith that my Heaven was on Earth in that moment.  My Heaven is always with me, in my mind, in my heart, in every moment.  Happiness will always be with me because I can be alone with myself.


Let your love flow outward through the Universe,
To its height, its depth, its broad extent,
A limitless love, without hatred or enmity.
Then as you stand or walk,
Sit or lie down,
As long as you are awake,
Strive for this with a one-pointed mind;
Your life will bring heaven to earth.
– Sutta Nipata ~


All photos taken by me: June 15-16, 2010

Please excuse me while I take a vacation (and freak out about my thesis and then leave the country for a bit)

The next ten days are going to be a WHIRLWIND.

Why are the next ten days going to be a whirlwind, you ask?

I am taking a vacation to rejuvenate from another crazy semester so I can PWN my thesis in July and August.  I ended up with a nice tax refund this year, have a nice chunk of vacation pay built up at work and didn’t eat out ever so I could afford this trip.  Then I got into a PhD program.

I knew my grandmother would have wanted me to do something fabulous for myself to celebrate.  She died last July after a difficult battle with Multiple Myeloma. I spent most of last summer as her care taker.  On one of her more difficult days, she told me (among other things) that I needed to live my life and stop waiting around for life to happen. She said I had to start saying No to others and saying Yes to myself.  I took her up on that advice.  In August 2009 I said No by setting boundaries with a certain family member and a graduate advisor.  And this semester I said Yes when I planned a ten-day vacation.*  The best part of this vacation is that I will spend every second with new friends and old friends.


May 20 – 23rd: Vegas

I am attending Bloggers in Sin City.   Tackle hugs, bar crawls, Cirque du Soleil, Elvis drive thru chapel weddings… with all of these lovely people… Need I say more?  I started blogging in January after a long hiatus. I have been so moved by the friendships I’ve made in such a short time.  I cannot express how fortunate I am to have people like you in my life.  You all make me want to me be a better person.

{Where we’re staying for BiSC – via Declan McCullagh}

May 23rd – 27th: Denver/Boulder

I spent New Year’s with Doniree and will see her again in Vegas. Then I get to chill with her more! Also, I CANNOT WAIT to meet Ashley and Cali in person.  Must refrain from screaming out loud when I meet them… for… real.  I have the most ridiculous girl crushes on them.

{Beautiful photo of Colorado – via Cali Harris}

May 27th – May 31st: Boston area

I am spending time with some wonderful people in Boston. I will see Elizabeth and her Geek!  I adore the idea of relaxing and taking some pictures with her. I hope I can cuddle with those adorable puppies, too!  I will hopefully get some work done while I drink coffee with my Trance-loving, law student friend, Taylor. I am looking forward to relaxing with his lovely wife, Anne.  Geez I can’t wait to drink his coffee and eat her scrumptious food.  Swoon.  I will also catch up with some non-blogger friends!

{beautiful picture of Boston – via Anne Black}


I’ll only be sitting still for a few days in June before I go to DC and Glasgow for work. More summer travel?!  Oh yeah.

June 4 – 7: NorVa & DC

Originally I was going to DC this week for work and play.  The training I was supposed to attend at the Navy Yard was cancelled, so now I’m just going to play.  I’m going to see one of my favorite bands, The National.  I’m going to house sit for one of my most favorite couples in the Universe.  And I plan to visit with some fabulous DC bloggers.  (I hope everyone voted for June 4th for Happy Hour.)

{photo taken by moi in 2008}

June 13 – 23: Glasgow & Southampton

I have to collect, transcribe, code and analyze video game voice chat communication data from 70 teams by mid-July?  I have to defend my thesis by mid-August?  I have to have copies of my FINAL thesis in the Dean’s office by August 20th? I have to move on August 1st?  I have a full time job?  Who freaking cares? I’m going to Scotland to have an affair with a hot Scotsman and to attend a Human Performance at Sea conference.  And then we’re going to take a day trip over to Southampton for a conference I am not at liberty to discuss with the public. For free. Because I have the best job in the entire Universe. No, really.  I do.  There is no job that could be more perfect for me or about which I could be more passionate at this point in my life.

{University of Strathclyde, conference location}


So really…

The next five weeks are going to be awesome and busy and fabulous and stressful.  A whirlwind.


*I seriously considered canceling this vacation when I was having a mini-major freakout at work Tuesday over everything I have to complete by mid-August.  Why did I decide to take a ten day vacation knowing I would be working full time, moving into a new place, having to completely change my budget so I can live on like $5 a month AND collecting thesis data under extreme time pressure so I can defend my thesis in July and graduate in August? Because I’m fracking nuts. I also had no idea this UK trip was going to happen for sure until the last few weeks. I must have anticipated that I would need a vacation around this time.  And I do. SO deserve a vacation.  I will need to edit and submit my HFES annual conference paper, work on thesis edits, make Power Points for a Human Factors seminar I’m teaching the day after I get back, and pray that our lab assistant is collecting data properly while I’m away.

Photo credits: Inspired Verses, Declan McCullagh, Cali Harris, Anne Black, Myself, University Fairs

He who would travel happily must travel light

scene from Up in the Air

“He who would travel happily must travel light.” – Antoine de St. Exupery


I have been a traveler since I was a newborn. Traveling has always been part of my life.  Because my family was spread out over the country*, we often traveled during the holidays to see different family members.  We always took family vacations and road trips for long weekends. In high school and college, I did not need much of an excuse to drive two to five hours to a neighboring city for a weekend or even a night.  Now that I am in graduate school (and an adult), I don’t have as much “free time” or “fun money” as I did in college.  I still travel often, but now I have to budget my time and money.

Lindsey shared a great article from The Everyday Minimalist: 10 Days in a Carry-On.  I loved the article because I identified with the flight attendant’s packing habits.  Over the years, I learned how to pack light and how to pinch pennies while on long** vacation. In the last two years, I have rarely checked a bag at an airport.  I have honed my light packing skills and figured out ways to cut back on spending money while traveling.  I am about to go on a ten day vacation to three different states.  I’m going on a graduate student’s budget with only a carry-on and a messenger bag. Did I mention I’m going to Scotland for six days with only a backpack?

Here are some things I do to pack light, save money and enjoy an extended vacation. There are countless websites outlining the what, where, how and why of packing light for leisure and business travel.  I understand this is all common sense, but sometimes it’s nice to hear again from someone you know.

My twelve tips for a lighter, cheaper & happier vacation

  1. All you need is a carry-on and a messenger bag or laptop bag. If you check a bag, you will probably end up spending $20 each way to check that bag.  Why not save that $40, a wait at baggage claim and the potential stress of a lost bag?  Carry-on instead.  Put your purse in your messenger bag.  If it doesn’t fit, find one that does. Make it work.
  2. I know it may be hard to believe, but you really do not need ALL of your toiletries. Ladies, you don’t need to bring ALL of your makeup with you on vacation.  Downsize.  Buy travel containers. Buy travel sizes of your skin care and hair care and refill them.  Bring only what you need.  Use an Intuition razor for travel so you don’t have to bring shave gel.  Make it work.
  3. Wear the same thing multiple days. You really do not need to bring a different outfit for every day.  Pick two pairs of shoes (one dressy and one comfortable for walking) and plan outfits around those shoes. There is no need to bring a suitcase full of shoes.  You will still look fabulous. If you are weird about wearing a shirt or dress or jeans two days in a row, bring a little bag of detergent and hand wash your clothes in a bathtub in a hotel.  Hotels have irons for a reason.  If you stay with friends, I bet they will let you use their washer and drier if you ask really nicely.
  4. But what about my HAIR?! I have wavy hair that requires blow drying and flat ironing.  I bring my flat-iron and hair dryer and put them in my messenger bag with my laptop.  I make it work because I prioritize. I find room for some things by not packing other things.  Figure out what you consider an essential travel item and sacrifice bringing something else.
  5. Sign up for frequent flier miles with some major airlines. Don’t wait until you get that dream job.  Sign up now because you might be surprised how many flights you will take in any given year for work and leisure.  I fly US Airways, Delta and Southwest depending on my destination.  Because I signed up for frequent flyer miles in college, I’ve already been able to use miles to pay for flights.
  6. Be flexible with your flight schedule. Thursday night to Monday morning round trip flights are often substantially cheaper than peak flight times.
  7. When you can, stay with friends and family. This is a self-explanatory money saver.  Sacrificing a little privacy and control can go a long way when you are on a budget, but always remember to be a low maintenance house guest.
  8. If you have to stay in a hotel, stick to one or two brands. Sign up for those brands’ rewards programs so you accumulate points.  It may be a better deal to stay a cheap motel if you are alone on vacation, but often a name brand hotel comes with amenities that a motel does not offer (including but not limited to your personal safety). If multiple people can stay in a room, I highly recommend staying in a name brand hotel.  I stay with Hilton properties if I can help it. I worked for Hilton for two years and am now partial to the brand.  My preferred Hilton property is Embassy Suites for three reasons:  1) Free happy hour (drinks and food; 2) Free cook to order breakfast; 3) Suites equal a pull out sofa for extra guests.
  9. When you arrive at your destination, make a trip to a grocery store, a drug store and/or a liquor store. If you are visiting a big city or tourist trap, there will be one on every corner.  Buy a case of water bottles.  Buy some snacks.  You can keep snacks and water in your bag with you at all times so you don’t have to spend $2 on water every time you are thirsty.  You will be less likely to spend money on junk food that will make you feel lethargic. If you know you will go out drinking after Happy Hour is over, a $10 of pregame wine will go a long way.  You will not have to spend $10 for a glass of wine later.
  10. If you’re really up for being as neurotic as I am, pack your own snacks. For long trips, I always pack oatmeal, power bars, whey protein and hot tea bags.  I can’t tell you how much money I’ve saved on vacation by bringing these items.  I have some dietary restrictions.  One of the worst things that can happen on vacation is to be hungry without anything to eat.
  11. Create a budget.  Stick to your budget. Duh, right?  Sadly, a lot of people don’t plan out their vacation before they go and they end up spending more than they anticipated.  Calculate the maximum you are willing to spend and stick with it.  Include things like lattes, souvenirs, alcohol and local transportation.  If you know you cannot stick to a budget, withdraw cash.  I know, “cash is so 1997,” but some of us cannot spend $200 a day while on vacation.  If you are one of us, use cash so you stick to your budget.
  12. Bring a bag of disinfecting wipes. I worked in a hotel for two years.  Housekeeping has fifteen minutes to clean your room before you arrive.  Your room is not clean.  Trust me.  People get sick on vacation because of other people’s germs.  If you get sick while on vacation, it is waste of your time and money.  If you get sick after vacation, you will have to take sick leave from work or will be unproductive.  Your vacation ends up costing you twice what it should when you get sick.  As soon as you check in to your hotel, wipe down everything in the room.  I’m talking the phone, the remote, the clock, the sink… everything.  When you are on a plane and in an airport, use hand sanitizer and wash your hands with hot water.  Being neurotic by taking your vitamins and keeping your hands clean will go a long way in making your vacation worthwhile.


How do you stick to your budget on vacation?  Do you pack light or carry your house with you on vacation?  How do you avoid getting sick after vacation?


*I was an Army brat.  We moved every few years until I was in high school.  We traveled out of necessity if we wanted to see family.  Once I started college, I took road trips constantly to visit friends and family in other cities. My family also instilled in me a love of travel for leisure. We took short trips out of town all the time to go camping, shopping, sight seeing, etc.  I don’t really have roots like many of my friends. I have wings instead.

**This post does not apply to road trips.  Packing for a road trip is much easier than packing for a vacation that requires air travel.