Entries in travel (20)


Summer 2016: My Review

This post marks an attempt at something new on this blog, something more diary-style, though necessarily selective in its details.

We’ll see whether I keep it up. This may turn into a one-of-a-kind. Yet in case it becomes a regular feature, I’ve decided to craft it as a season in review, and to cover June through August.

Here goes:

Work, Work, WorkWorkWork

The FrogDog team's two wins at the IABC Bronze Quill Awards. June 2016.

Let’s get the professional matters out of the way first, as they probably have less interest for the most of you and, out of necessity, I can only and always keep relatively mum on specifics in this life facet.

In June, my FrogDog strategy team and I won two Bronze Quill Awards from the Houston IABC for our work helping a client redirect its marketing strategy and message through primary research and analysis.

Otherwise, the summer brought a number of evolutions to FrogDog:

  • We worked on setting an aggressive road map for the rest of 2016, for one.
  • For two, we started assessing our strategy for the year ahead.
  • And third, we had some staff changes: In addition to bringing on board an amazing new FrogDogger I’ve tried to team with for a couple years at least—a big win!—one of our staff transitioned out due to her husband’s transfer back to Australia and another left as planned a full-time MBA program at The University of Chicago. A couple other teammates moved on to other roles. We miss them!

Ahead for fall: Our end-of-year plan and our strategy work will kick into action, which excites me. Also, we’ve applied for the next award up from the one we won in June—the regional Silver Quill—for which the IABC will announce nominees in late September or early October.


For one reason or another, spending time with friends became a big focus of this summer. No huge doings: Just getting together over food, drink, fireworks, parties and celebrations, porch sitting, and even pedicures.

In most cases, these friends and I live near enough in Houston to see each other more often than we do—and shame on us that we don’t—yet a few of the occasions brought in friends from as near as Corpus Christi and as far as Guelph, Canada.

Life feels better on all levels with close friends to share it. Not long ago, I took my friendships for granted. Not so much in recent years, in which nurturing my friendships has taken priority.


The gardens across the street from The French Laundry. July 2016.

In July, my mother and her husband, my brother and his wife and two young children, and I met up in Calistoga, California, for a long weekend of family time.

Nonstop time, actually, as the swimsuit and extra books I brought for relaxing and reading by the pool went untouched: We visited a couple wineries, saw some of the Redwoods, feasted at The French Laundry, ate at other fabulous restaurants (frankly, I munched my way through Napa Valley), and had a photographer come along to take varieties of posed and candid family photos.

After that, I needed a vacation from the vacation. (Didn’t happen.)

In August, a cousin threw a housewarming party that brought together members of the family I rarely get to see though with whom I grew up.

We didn’t have nearly enough time together as I’d have liked; it feels melancholy, a bit, to spend so little time with people you saw weekly as a kid. Though distance makes it a challenge, I call for more such gatherings in the future. (Too bad I don’t have a backyard pool to lure people!)


I’ll say here that dating this summer has held some interesting surprises. And I will leave it at that.

When I have more distance through which to distill the lessons learned, I might. Stay tuned.


My blindingly, awesomely vibrant new Adidas boxing shoes. August 2016.

Can’t say much changed in the fitness arena—I still ran four to six miles four or so times per week and boxed on the nonrunning days—except that the importance of exercise increased with my eating. Even when not with friends or on travel, I managed to feast on everything terrible I could find, from cookies to chips to crackers to cake to… You name it.

This fall, I’ll need to keep my mouth shut in addition to keeping the body moving to atone for my sins.

Thankfully, I now have a pair of super-sweet Adidas boxing shoes that help. (Think I’ll blind ‘em?) And watching Claressa Shields, Heather Hardy, and Shelly Vincent fight on the national and international stages gives me motivation, as does a 10k with a good friend coming up on Thanksgiving morning. (Love when I can mix two loves at once: Friends and fitness!)

World Events

I can’t hark back to a golden era—a time during which truth and beauty and light infused the majority of this planet. Yet this summer, the world looked sad and dark, indeed.

I have so much more to say—and have written so much already on some of this summer’s predominant tragic themes—but I’ll hold the additional words for some other, future post.

Tell me about your summer.


Things I Learned in the Grand Canyon

Self portrait with blue rock. Grand Canyon, Arizona. April 24, 2016.

Either at the very bottom of the Grand Canyon or somewhere near the nadir, I realized that I find hiking boring.

This shocked me. For years, I’ve believed that I like hiking. And frankly, it seems like I should like hiking. I like spending time outside. I like exercising. I like physical challenges. I like to push my limits.

So… Leslie likes hiking. Right?

In this I-like-hiking conviction, I’ve mused about great hiking locales and have even planned and taken hiking trips. I’ve hiked with a close friend in Glacier National Park over a long weekend. I’ve hiked numerous sections of the Lincoln National Forest in New Mexico, near where my father has a house in Alto. I’ve hiked here and there over the course of many years.

And recently, I had a friend talk me into—without trouble, mind you, because until halfway through this trip I believed I liked hiking—a day hike down into the Grand Canyon, an overnight in bunks near the Colorado River in a camp called Phantom Ranch, and a subsequent day hike back to the rim.

Aside: If you like hiking enough to go without sleep for forty-eight hours, I’d recommend this particular Grand Canyon experience. As for me, I consider the learning that I don’t like hiking my valuable takeaway from the trip.

Along the trail, my friend called out the names of plants and birds. He commented on the weather patterns, geological changes in the cliffs, and the chemical makeup of rocks (lots of different types of metals, of course). We stopped to marvel at vistas along the way. (Without question, the Canyon is far more beautiful looking up from the inside than you could ever imagine when looking down from above.)

We had a lot of hiking time.

We had two entire days and one sleepless night to contemplate life and the experience of hiking.

And during these contemplative hours, I realized that I don’t care what humans call rocks or geologic formations or plants or birds or most wildlife.

Further, I realized that the other people we encountered interested me a heck of a lot more overall and in general than the rocks and geologic formations and plants and birds and other wildlife.

We met a couple from Orange County who seemed about as out of place as I felt and who wondered over dinner at the bottom of the Canyon how long it would take it get out of there—equally as ready as me to have it over and done. We met a couple celebrating the husband’s sixtieth birthday by hiking all over the Canyon for a long weekend. We passed a quantity of French speakers and a few people speaking Chinese.

I talked for quite some time with the Orange Country couple. As for the foreigners we passed, I wanted to know why they had come to the Grand Canyon. I don’t know what compels Americans to do it, other than a sense of patriotism and appreciation for the natural wonders in our immediate midst. So what does the Grand Canyon signify for people who’ve originated elsewhere?

To me, signs of life mean signs of human life.

Yep, as I trudged around the Canyon, I realized that I really like observing people-animals. And seeing what they’ve built and done.

When I scanned my hiking memories to test this hypothesis, the people with whom I traveled and the human life we encountered stuck out the most—not vistas, flora, or fauna.

In the Lincoln National Forest, I got lost in the rain with my boyfriend and the hiking stick he found and we held petty arguments due to ongoing relationship tension and stress over whether we’d ever find our way back to civilization. On that same hike, we saw a high-in-the-sky aerie for a park ranger and got to look out her windows and talk about her life.

In Glacier National Park, a nearby bear forced a good friend and me to talk loudly while quickly hiking down the trail when neither of us felt quite like chatting, given disagreements caused by the friction of travel and the difficult places we’d found ourselves in our lives. On a jaunt later that same weekend, I remember finding our way into a hippie commune and getting a glimpse of alternate lives lived in the wilderness of Montana.

And although I like the outdoors, I like the outdoors in civilization most of all. Watching the runners on the Grand Canyon trails, it dawned on me that I don’t particularly like to run in parks. I don’t even enjoy the paved trails in dedicated urban exercise areas. I prefer to run on city streets.

So I faced it: I like the great outdoors. In the city.

I may rank as a confirmed introvert, yet I haven’t a misanthropic constitution. I find people fascinating. (I just don’t want to interact with all of them.)

After all, I majored in history. More specifically, I majored in intellectual history. If history tells the tales of people, intellectual history tells the tales of how people have thought over time and from whence their ideas sprung. And my favorite classes, other than history? Psychology. Anthropology. The people subjects.

Case closed.

Tell me about your last epiphany.


Does Travel Change You?

A stretch of private beach at sunset. Florblanca, Santa Teresa, Costa Rica. December 9 2014.

I have bad news: You’re not Aeneas or Odysseus.

In fact, muse on the entire genre of the epic novel or poem. Do any of the tales you can recall parallel any travel experiences you’ve had?


Journeys can change us, but journeys can take place anywhere, even at home, and require internal work more than external experiences. A journey can happen while on the couch, chewing through a book. (Perhaps even while reading The Aeneid or The Odyssey).

The vast majority of travelers take vacations. We want easy ways to escape the daily norm for a long weekend, a week, or maybe even a couple weeks.

Unlike Aeneas and Odysseus, we don’t quest. We don’t go places to change the world or even ourselves.

Instead, we go to theme parks, which curate our fun. We stay at resorts, which cater to our every desire, or we stay in hotels and hostels, which may serve only basic needs but which most certainly do not provide deep experiences of lives lived in different places. We go on guided tours, which show us historic sites and take us on adventurous treks that don’t mirror the daily life of the locals and remove all the guesswork and risk of traveling in unknown areas. We participate in sports that can only happen in certain places at certain times, like surfing, golfing, or skiing.

We have fun, take breaks, recharge.

And I see nothing wrong with that.

After all, we can’t expect travel without any goals beyond rejuvenation to change us. We can’t truly live like the locals if we only stay away from home for a week or two. We don’t accomplish something monumental within ourselves or within a new environment when we ride in taxis and tour buses and eat at restaurants.

And as for life-changing incidents that do happen while on vacation—whether negative or positive—many could have happened at home. Chance alone caused them to happen while on travel.

I have incredible moments from trips caught in the aspic of memory. I caved with a friend to see a Mayan ritual-sacrifice site in Belize. In a bakery in Madrid, I found a fantastic chocolate-dipped pastry that I munched in tiny bites as I meandered the winter streets alone. I tried every tiramisu I encountered in Florence to find the best version. I met one of my closest friends on the way to spending a summer in Russia; she and I later traveled Route 66 in a rented moving truck and even later visited Glacier National Park.

Yet I haven’t grown into someone different through traveling. (Living abroad was another matter.) Travel hasn’t significantly altered my worldview or the fundamentals of how I live my life in the ways that formal and informal education and everyday experiences accumulated over time have changed me. (Discovering a love for strained yogurt drizzled with honey while on vacation in the Greek Isles doesn’t count.)

Journeys—intellectual more than physical—have changed me. Travel has not.

Do you believe travel changes you?

P.S.—This is the second post in a monthly series for which a set group of bloggers post on the same topic on the same day. For other takes on whether travel changes you, check the following writers:


Travel Souvenirs: What Do You Collect?

Caught in an experience, I forget to take pictures—so no one can possibly expect me to remember to purchase a vacation souvenir. Sure, I spend money while traveling, but on food and adventures, not on tchotchkes.

I rarely even notice the tchotchkes.

I might collect a t-shirt, but only rarely, and only if it has a modicum of style and evokes a particular experience from the trip—not if it just has the location name on a plain field. But even if it meets both requirements, I probably won’t buy a t-shirt. I don’t have much occasion to wear branded t-shirts, even featuring things I really love.

The t-shirt I bought in 2012 from a couple conducting yoga classes on a roof in Caye Caulker, Belize. August 16, 2014.

However, when I do think to collect something by which to remember an experience—and, usually, a display has to prompt me—I buy a mug. In fact, without consciously considering it, I’ve accumulated quite a few mugs from my adventures over the years. Some of my mugs don’t even have vacation or travel connections: I have a mug from a half-marathon I ran with a friend, for example. Another couple mugs have my alma mater’s logo and seal stamped on them.

After all, I drink a lot of tea. I use mugs daily. And these memento mugs pack a lot of memories. When I select them from the cabinet and sip from them throughout the morning or afternoon, I remember what brought them into my life.

Mugs I've collected during my travel, from Glacier National Park to Route 66 to Indiana. August 16, 2014.

I have a travel mug that reminds me of a trip to Glacier National Park after a really difficult spring. It reminds me of my emotions at that time in my life, the hikes and animals and snow and hippie outposts on the trip, and the vacation’s travel dynamic between a long-time travel buddy and me.

Another mug reminds me of a Route 66 road trip taken with the same travel buddy; we stopped at Lucille’s along the way—a gas station and convenience store from the road’s heyday—when Lucille still lived. She invited us in, chatted with us a bit, and signed our souvenir mugs. Her signature didn’t last, but the mug did. It prompts nostalgia for a time when I experienced the vestiges of a disappearing America with a truly good friend at pivotal times in our lives.

Yet another mug, on which the printing has mostly worn away, marks my trip to Indianapolis to bury my mother’s mother. I didn’t know when I’d return—yet I knew that when I did come back, I’d no longer visit as a granddaughter in a family home. Instead, I’d return as a tourist. To mark the transition, I bought this mug in the airport, waiting for my flight back to Houston.

What mug will I acquire next?

What do you collect when you travel?


Places Lost

Someone made me think of London recently, which brought vividly to mind the way the city looked, the streets I walked, the house I fixed up, my neighborhood grocery, the public transit routes I frequented, the lessons learned, the people I knew, and the times we shared.

I talked about life there as though I’d just moved away, though I left in the late fall of 2001 and haven’t visited since I flew out of Gatwick to Houston for the last time.

What would it feel like, to see it again?

It won’t look the same. I don’t even wonder what London looks like now or what about it has changed—these factors matter less than the basic fact that it has, indeed, changed.

Revisiting a place only to discover that it no longer exists jars me. Sure, Baltimore exists. But my Baltimore—the city I lived in for undergraduate school and even the campus on which I spent so much time—has gradually disappeared, eroded by new businesses, buildings, streets, signs, events, culture, ethos.

Such should happen. Living cities change, they renew. Yet this evolution means that the Baltimore that existed when I lived there doesn't pulse today.

I don’t know Baltimore.

Every time I revisit the formerly frequented places that live so vibrantly in my mind, my craving for what I’ll never again experience socks me in the chest like a breath-clearing jab to the diaphragm. The nostalgia, always there at a low level for anything gone, surges like the swelling ache of glimpsing the love who got away or finding a ticket stub from an event attended with a lost friend in a jacket pocket.

Would revisiting every place in which I’ve spent enough time initiate the same grief? Certainly, the magical places I've listed would. As would the places that catch my heart. Yet London didn’t make either list—and it would definitely stun me to return.

What places, when revisited, crush you with nostalgia?