Why I’ll never be a travel blogger and other lessons from failure

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When I looked at my bank account this week I felt a pang of despair.

After successfully paying all my bills, my new car payment and stashing the amount Mint.com says I need to put away each month to meet my savings and travel fund goals, there wasn’t much leftover to have fun with.

It made me realize that the traveling and adventures I’ve had over the last year won’t be continuing on the same scale.

My story about putting all my financial resources into this blog and ending up with a broken down car was featured on The Financial Diet last week, one of my favorite websites for financial advice. While I was honored that my story gained traction, it was an embarrassing omission—but it was the truth.

I’ve done a lot of thinking over the last few weeks about what the hell I’m trying to do as a writer. And I know one thing:

I will never be a travel blogger.

Not because I tried and failed but because it doesn’t fall in line with the work I want to create in the long term. Being a travel blogger seemed like a viable option for someone like me with decent writing skills and a hunger to explore the world, but in some ways it feels like a shortcut that would veer me off the path of becoming a respected writer. At the end of the day I couldn’t figure out how to monetize my blog without subjecting readers to diluted content created by affiliate marketing, sponsorship campaigns and advertisers.

This new realization has me switching gears here at Parachute Journalist. My goal is to write first-person journalistic narratives from my own life experiences—and I want these stories to have a shelf live beyond the deluge of web content most of us passively scan through while multitasking with a hundred browser tabs open.

And if this doesn’t become the thing that supports me financially, I’m OK with that. Because for me, having a creative outlet to express myself is what keeps me sane and gives me purpose in this life.

In the midst of my new financial reality, I’m learning how to continue living an adventurous life closer to home. I’m spending more time on my bike—seeing local places in a new way and stumbling across the unexpected. These, I have learned are the moments I feel most alive and the core reason why I travel in the first place.

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These unexpected moments include encountering an abundant orange grove during a bike ride in Edgewater, Florida, with no one else in sight.  Or when I stumbled into the Cummer Art Museum in Jacksonville before a bike ride and found out the museum offers free admission on the first Saturday of each month.

It was at the Cummer Museum’s gardens where I discovered a 200-year-old oak tree that made me feel small and in awe of the beauty of things that flourish when given the time, space and nurturing they need to grow.

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Not one for Baroque art, I almost passed up the gallery’s permanent collection on my way out—but was drawn to a particular still life called “Vanitas,” by Jacques de Claeuw. This painting is over 300 years old but the lighting and details of a half covered globe, wilted flowers, hour glass and other objects are so realistic I wanted to reach out and grab them. The term “Vanitas” is Latin for emptiness and the objects all represent the brevity of life or the emptiness of frivolous concerns.

My favorite object, the half-covered globe, represents man’s inability to predict the future. This painting would later be looted by the Nazis from a Jewish art dealer who died while fleeing the Netherlands for his safety in 1940. The museum later purchased it from a New York art gallery in 1962 before the painting’s history was uncovered.

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The idea that a painting could have such a poignant impact more than 300 years after it was made, struck me and moved me to tears. Three centuries later, in a high-tech world so very different from the one that Claeuw lived in, this painting is still relevant and spoke to me in a profound way.

I couldn’t help but think, what will we create that will move museum goers to tears 300 years from now?

I don’t think I’ve ever had such a strong reaction to a painting, but it stuck with me. I spent the rest of the afternoon biking 30 miles on Jacksonville’s Baldwin Rail Trail, and thinking about all the things I want to create and promising myself that no matter how burdensome life gets, I’ll always make space in my life to discover new things.

[Date Night] A Ponce Inlet bike bar crawl

 

If you are going to attempt a bicycle bar crawl may I suggest bringing an adventure race organizer turned EMT along as your date?

I decided it would be fun to combine my two favorite things for this date: bicycles and beer. And yes there must be a bit of moderation involved in combining these activities but I can’t think of a better way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

Ponce Inlet, located just south of Daytona Beach, is such a gem and one of my favorite places in Florida. This quaint little town is home to Florida’s tallest lighthouse and it’s a perfect place for a bike crawl because it has wide, well manicured sidewalks, little car traffic and endless views of the inlet where the Halifax River meets the Atlantic ocean.

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And my date, Kevin, was up for the ride. Kevin, who lives in Oviedo and works as an EMT, has a great sense of humor and likes to go with the flow. But most importantly, he likes bikes. Get me on a bike and you are guaranteed to see me in my element, in which I become the happiest, most go lucky girl of all time.

We planned a five-mile loop to four of my favorite bars and started around 5 p.m.,

Here’s how date 4 went:

Jerry’s Pizzeria Tiki Bar and Grill

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I don’t usually think of Italian food when I go to a tiki bar but Jerry’s pairs these two worlds together nicely. Located across from the beach, this is one of my favorite places to hang out after a long day in the sun. Not only does it have a laid back and beautifully landscaped tiki bar, this bar draws a ton of locals who are easy to chat up.

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Jerry’s has two big wins: their garlic knots and happy hour. You can get half price drinks from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day. Kevin and I each got a Longhammer IPA for $2.50. The tiki bar has a great seating area with a fire pit and a stage. Acoustic musician True Adkins was playing while we were there and had a nice mellow, not-too-loud vibe.

Kevin and I talked about random things and I liked his humorous musings on life. I also liked hearing about what his job as an EMT entails.

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After we polished off an order of garlic knots, we hopped back on our bikes for round two at our next stop.

Hidden Treasure Rum Bar and Grill

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Hidden Treasure has been my go-to Ponce Inlet restaurant for years. This epic deck overlooking the inlet has an amazing view of the lighthouse and it’s common to see manatees as you sip drinks or eat.

Notable things about Hidden Treasure: there’s an actual boat you can dine in on the deck; huge trees have been preserved and jut out through the deck area; there’s no shortage of cute dogs dining with their owners.

It was here where Kevin and I unexpectedly ran into my friend Kelly and her boyfriend, Greg. We decided to join them at their table for an impromptu double date as we sipped locally brewed Ponce Inlet Blonde Ale. I love chance encounters and was impressed how well Kevin handled himself with my friends.

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The sun was starting to fade as we made our way back to our bikes. Before we left, we stood out on the dock and admired the view of mangroves, a solo waverunner and disappearing island.

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Inlet Harbor

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I could not have planned our arrival time to Inlet Harbor any better. Inlet Harbor sits on the west end of the inlet and provides an unobstructed view of the sun setting over the river. It’s hard to see an entire sunset on the east coast but we came very close here.

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Dozens of bystanders took photos and admired the setting sun as birds swooped through the sky in perfect formation. And it was so beautiful that I was legitimately geeking out. At one point Kevin asked me if I was on drugs.

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Here we shared an appetizer of chicken nachos and listened to the Soul/Funk/R&B band Then2Now, as a groom and bride danced on the dance floor. Inlet Harbor was packed but it’s so big that it’s easy to find a little corner of your own to see beautiful views. At night large tiki torches light up the bar area and there’s even a replica of a pirate’s boat that’s probably meant for kids but I hopped on board and pretended to steer it anyway.

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Racing’s North Turn

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By the time we headed to North Turn, it was dark and neither of us had lights on our bike. Anywhere else this would have been pretty dangerous but we had ample sidewalk space and saw few cars on our way back.

Racing’s North Turn is located where racecars used to race on a beach/road course before the NASCAR built the Daytona International Speedway. The restaurant pays homage to racing’s past with memorabilia and artifacts on the walls. It also has a huge outdoor deck area overlooking the beach.

A few months go the restaurant was nearly destroyed in a fire and it closed down for several months but now it’s back and booming with a renovated interior. The band Parallel was rocking and had the whole bar signing and dancing especially when they broke out with Johny Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues. And while we were definitely in the minority age demographic, Kevin and I had fun chatting up locals at the bar and signing along.

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I totally recommend any date that involves bicycles, beautiful views, good beer and interesting conversations. And Ponce Inlet proved to be the perfect place to bring all these elements together.

 

 

 

 

 

Coffee crawling with Orlando Bike Tours

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Until recently I had written Orlando off as a sprawling, congested city full of tourist traps and cookie-cutter houses, which is a real shame because several of the city’s neighborhoods are burgeoning with creativity, collaboration and talented residents and entrepreneurs.

So when I found out about Coffee Crawl, a tour of Orlando’s up and coming coffee shops via bicycles last Saturday I was eager to get a better perspective on central Florida’s largest city. The tour to four locally owned coffee shops was part of Orlando Bike Tour’s new initiative to promote the city’s culture, restaurants and wellness facilities and is the brain child of Sarah Peerani, an enthusiastic promoter of all things Orlando.

And perhaps what is most impressive about the tours is the way Peerani and her collaborators help residents plug into the city’s best offerings. For $25 riders could hook up with a neon green bike from Orlando Bike Share, a growing bike share program located through out the city.

I brought my own bike because the Bike Share bikes were sold out and made a mistake of drinking coffee at home before heading out for a day of caffeine-induced biking. But the second I arrived at Credo Coffee’s newest store on Rollins Street, I knew I had found my people.

If good people drink good beer then I’m pretty sure even better people ride bikes in pursuit of coffee. When you’re showing up to a group event by yourself in a city that is not your own, it can feel a bit awkward but this group of folks are so dang nice. And with tour guide Jimmy Sherfey, a coffee journalist (seriously most bad ass job title ever), we were about to get one hell of an education in the art of brewing.

So if you’re looking for a killer cup of coffee in Orlando check out the stops on our crawl:

Credo Coffee, 550 E. Rollins St.

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Credo’s recently opened second store is a modern oasis in the midst of medical buildings. But it’s not the sleek counters or black and white artwork that makes this a win, it’s Credo’s commitment to social enterprise. When you give a donation for a cup of coffee, you’re helping sustain coffee farmers in Guatemala and Nicaragua. Credo also partners with community organizations to provide afterschool programs, free community workshops, and vegetable gardens just to name a few. And they are really into bikes. On Saturday, March 28, Credo will host a bike rally and parade to promote diversity leaving at 9 a.m. from their flagship store at 706 W. Smith St. During the tour we sampled their roast brewed with an Aeropress, a handheld brewing device that delivers coffee that tastes like a cross between a French pressed cup and espresso.

Lineage, 3201 Corrine Drive

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Located in a hub of foodie activity, Lineage at East End Market is where you can absorb the art of coffee making. Owners Ryan Wilcox and Jarrett Johnson just got back from a coffee tour in Colombia and they take pride in crafting each cup they make. Starting out at the Audubon Park Farmer’s Market, the coffee shop is named as a reference to the origin of each cup. We sampled an Ethiopian Adado blend, brewed from a pour over, a Japanese-brewing style that involves pouring water over the grounds to extract the best flavors. And while the Lineage itself is a coffee bar, the outdoor patio at East End is covered in lush plants and flowers and overlooks a large community garden in front of the building. It’s perfect for sipping coffee over a good book.

Jimmy Sherfey (left) and Lineage co-owner Ryan Wilcox give us the coffee low down.

 

Blacksmith Brew Works

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Thinking outside the box, Ross and Brittany Smith have built a traveling brew bar that serves coffee on the go. On Saturday the husband and wife duo met us on Mills Street with their cold brew cart, which served iced Ethiopian coffee from a nitrogen-chilled keg. Ross’s love for coffee started when he began roasting his own beans in a popcorn popper and the couple pays 50 percent above fair market prices for the coffee they get from farmers. You can find them at the Thorton Park Farmer’s Market every Wednesday from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. or check the schedule on their website to find them at other events and venues.

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Propagation,1221 North Mills Street

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Don’t let Travis Reed’s wry smile intimidate you, he and his wife, Brittany, opened Propagation this month to make Orlando more beautiful. Propagation isn’t just a coffee shop, it’s also a furniture store with vintage and one-of-kind finds. Like the table you are sitting at? Well you can take it home because everything in the store is for sale. “We just wanted to make something really pretty for Orlando,” Travis told us during the tour. Propagation is named after the couple’s love for plants, and the dozens of little succulents that line the store’s shelves and counters are even for sale. The couple serves up Italian espresso from a golden Italian espresso machine. It’s clear that every detail in this place was carefully thought out and as a result they’ve created an atmosphere that revels in beauty.

 Want to get in on the next ride with Orlando Bike Tours? The next ride is in May and details will soon be released on their Facebook Page.

Photo by Richardo Williams
Photo by Ricardo Williams

 

Making peace with Daytona’s Bike Week

 

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If you want to be a biker chick, there’s two things you are going to need: a bad ass outfit and your own ride. I had the outfit but lacked the motorcycle as I set out to join half a million bikers who are in town for Daytona’s Bike Week.

Every March Daytona and its surrounding cities are inundated with motorcyclists who take over the streets and parade down the infamous Main Street. The event is a chrome carnival with eccentric characters, scantily clad women and some of the craziest custom-built bikes you’ve ever seen (like this one guy who drives a hamburger Harley).

And while I love a good time, let’s just say the bikers and I haven’t always been the best of friends. When I lived beach side, NyQuil and earplugs were the only way I could escape the chorus of roaring engines outside my window. And because of that I’ve spent the last few years taking vacations during Bike Week and Biketoberfest in the fall.

But this year I decided it was time to make peace with Bike Week. If I couldn’t beat them, I might as well join them. So what’s a girl without a hog to do? Rent a scooter of course.

While the prospect driving a motorcycle is a bit intimidating, a scooter seemed much more manageable and fashionable (Think Audrey Hepburn in “Roman Holiday”).

So that’s how I found myself trying not to hit a man named John in the parking lot of Daytona Scooters and More on Sunday afternoon. My friend Linda was an experienced scooter driver but I was a rookie. John had to give me a crash course in scooter driving, which involved me driving toward him and trying not to hit anything or fall over.

I’m pretty sure John is the greatest/scariest teacher ever because I am the least coordinated person I know and despite this he trusted me to drive off the lot.

John the scooter master, scaring/teaching, us about riding.

How to avoid death by scooter, according to John 

*Do not look at the thing you are trying not to hit. John points to a telephone pole nearby and instructs me not to look at it under any circumstance as I ride toward him. He also tells me not to look down. “Wherever you look is where you go,” he says.

*The emergency off switch is your best friend. If you get in a pickle, a big red button on the front of the handle bar will shut the engine off so you don’t go flying into a large object.

*If you turn too fast you’ll probably fall over so don’t do that.

I’m super nervous and a little shaky as we pull out of the parking lot so Linda and I head down a side street. And just like that it all clicks and I’m riding without over thinking every move.

And oh my gosh it’s so exhilarating.

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You know that feeling at the top of a roller coaster? That’s basically what it feels like to drive 35-miles an hour on a bike with an engine. It’s a mix of a tiny bit of fear and the rush of the wind and feeling the elements that surround you. I’ve always loved exploring places via bicycle because of the connection it gives me to the environment and a scooter is a lot like that but faster.

So I can only imagine what it feels to a ride a motorcycle at high speeds (perhaps should I add this to my bucket list?) And now I’m starting to get this whole Bike Week thing. It’s a place where everyone is united by the thrill of the ride and it’s an experience you get to share with thousands of people.

And even though we weren’t “one of them,” the bikers welcomed us into their world. As Linda and I entered the lane to turn into Main Street labeled “for motorcycles only,” everyone was really nice to us. If you are a girl on a scooter dressed up like a biker you are going to catch some attention.

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It’s safe to say that Linda and I were the only scooters in a sea of bikers riding down Main Street. Clearly our scooters weren’t going to impress the crowds and the paparazzi of cameras on the sidewalks but we did make some people laugh. I was actually laughing so hard I almost fell off my scooter.

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We got lots of compliments during our ride, most them too inappropriate to write but hey, it was flattery none the less. And when we took a break for lunch at the Ocean Deck, we got to front-row parking in the motorcycle lot. So there’s that.

If a scooter is a gateway drug, then I’m hooked. So who knows what will happen if I get on the back of a real motorcycle. And with six days of Bike Week left, just maybe I’ll get the chance.

Daytona Scooters and More, 720 E. International Speedway Boulevard, offers scooter rentals for $30 for two hours with $10 for each additional hour. Or you can rent a scooter for 24 hours for $75. You must have a valid driver’s lisence and pay a $100 deposit. Rentals are in high demand during Bike Week so get there early or call ahead, 386-255-4469