An incurable case of wanderlust
by Nicole Howard“Do me a favor… Stand up, walk to wherever the nearest window is, and just look outside. You may not know this, but there’s an entire planets-worth of summers, friends, sunsets, street lamps, songs, late nights, great films, and night skies waiting for you. Your life is as amazing as you want it to be, but first, you have to let it be that way.”
– Chad Sugg
My name is Nicole Juliet and I was both self-diagnosed and received a second and also a third opinion and discovered that I have an incurable disease…it is called Wanderlust. I was very fortunate to grow up with loving, supportive healthy parents, a big brother, a massive extended family and so many great friends over the course of my life. Perhaps Wanderlust is really just a genetic blessing as my father is also a closeted-Wanderer and would only hope I grow up to be just like him. As a child, my brother and I had the opportunity to travel as a family to developed and more recognizable destinations ranging from Vermont to Florida to the United Kingdom. We were both exposed to the bigger world beyond our suburban life in the northeastern part of the United States and exposed to different cultures, people and norms. After graduation from university, I had the once-in a-lifetime opportunity to travel solo with my father to Dubai where he was working and then to Prague, London and Florence. It was a trip I will remember forever and have constantly sought to relive moments where I feel more confident, adventurous, educated and enlightened to how complex yet fascinating the world is and hope to always simultaneously share it with someone.
Luckily growing up, I met my, still to this day, best friend, from childhood on the bus going to kindergarten. Her name is also Nicole. We are still close as ever, but couldn’t be more different than night and day. We always were a pair and skied as children, traveled together with each others’ families and were always looking for some fun and exploration. A few years ago, Nicole’s mother was diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Shortly before this news, Nicole also set a goal to climb the Seven Summits of the World. I was and still in awe of her goal and if you meet her, the first thing you don’t think of is that she is a hardcore mountaineer. Just picture a 5’2”, 200%, Italian jersey girl that is never without lipstick and won’t sit on anything without a good wipe with a napkin and a separate chair for her designer, Valentino bag. Over the years, Nicole and I have gallivanted off to California, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Florida and then expanded to bigger fish beyond North America including India, Nepal and Argentina. Although, the Seven Summits are not my personal goal, I find inspiration in her determination and sense of adventure and freedom every time I hear of her travels. She just successfully returned from Mount Vinson. Her mother passed away two years ago, my second mother and family I have known since my childhood. Life is precious and I don’t want to miss out on any opportunity to enrich my life, cherish and respect the people I love and also being able to continue to see the world. Nicole and I don’t always have an opportunity to travel together on every trip that we plan, but I always carry her with me. And she is usually my emergency contact and I, hers. After an experience that involved her father going to the airport to pick her up upon her return from Russia to discover that she was not there, resulted in her family reaching out to me and I was able to track her down and report that she was safe…had gotten a ride home from someone else and was already fast asleep in bed in her home. Going forward, we made a pact to always be in touch when we were on the road, no matter where in the world.
Presently, I am 35 and living on an island called Manhattan. I have a great career in the prestige cosmetics industry and work in a prime office building in midtown Manhattan yet live in a small, studio apartment. I have been so lucky to-date to have been on two planned Latin America for Less Tours. I love living in New York City with the dysfunction, hustle/bustle and noise, but appreciate the wide open space, peace, reality check with the rest of world beyond the city and fresh air once I am able to get out of town.
The first destination via LATAM for Less was to Peru in December of 2010. During the planning stage, I was in my final semester at business school and maintaining a full-time job and knew I wanted to celebrate my achievement by going to Peru and hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. I had this goal in mind for months and all it took was a Google search to find the tour company and have the itinerary come together seamlessly. I was determined, didn’t bother to wait to find friends to go with, but was doing this for “me”. I had a great friend from school join me at the last minute and was very thankful to share that with a close friend. It wasn’t a Seven Summit, but I was able to accomplish a personal goal and see the beautiful country of Peru. Everything from the flight from Lima to Cusco (delays!) to my pack falling apart the night before the start of the hike, the amazing food, the experience of the hike and to the breathtaking views when we reached the ruins – pictures don’t even do it justice. Hiking into Machu at sunset when the cloud cover was misting away was a moment I will remember forever, but it was not only the end goal, but the 4 day journey to cover the trail. It was challenging, but would gladly go back and do it a second time around.
Round two with Latin America for Less was very recent to plan for the winter holidays in 2012. I had a trip to Southeast Asia planned for many months and was returning to the states a week before Christmas. Also, with the Wanderlust disease panicked that I had to get back to reality once I was home from Asia. Returning to spend the holidays, alone seeing family but single, and dreading how to spend a week alone was feeling bleak even in New York City with many friends out of town. My friend suggested going to Costa Rica before I even departed for Asia. In a matter of seconds, I emailed Latin America for Less and it all came together in a month or so. Again, I originally planned to go on my own and departed very early on Christmas day. My family, well aware of my travel/disease was supportive and encouraging yet I remember my mother saying, “I don’t even know where you are off to these days and I don’t even know where Costa Rica is.” I took the two am drive to the airport courtesy of my father driving and prepared myself for departure chaos. Check-in and security were fairly smooth. Once the plane was boarded and the door was closed, an announcement was made. “Due to a security breach (sic. At 6am at Newark Airport), the airport is shutting down and we are not able to takeoff.” The panic set in…do I just get off the plane and stay home or do I just get stuck in Texas and miss my connecting flight. The woman behind me had a shorter connected to catch a flight to Belize, so I stuck it out and hoped for the best. Five minutes later, we were given plane clearance and we went. Arriving in Houston airport to catch my connecting flight, I felt like a contestant on the US TV Reality show, the Amazing Race. Families and individuals darted off the plane and booked it down the terminal to other flights going to Central America and Cabo. Luckily, I made the flight. Landing in Liberia was a huge exhale. After that Pura Vida hit my system. First stop was to Monteverde. I arrived and knew to expect a different itinerary than Peru. Not a multiple day hike, but day activities with all sorts of surprises that arose.
Costa Rica is pure paradise. I detest the generic, “sit on the beach” vacations and cheezy all-inclusive cruise offerings. I need to be out and doing and seeing it all. Monteverde is mountainous paradise with laid back, friendly locals and tourists then with a topping of adventure. I bird watched for the first time, zip lined and randomly went canyoning down waterfalls. A few days later, traveled to Tamarindo to surf, see the beautiful sunset over the Pacific Ocean, crocodile watch and celebrate New Year’s Eve by sending flying paper lanterns with fellow travelers that I met from the beach.
Now, well into 2013, I already have another plan in motion to head to Chile for two weeks. And Brazil is still calling me…the first place I will go is Latin America for Less. I can’t wait for more unforgettable trips and memories. Wanderlust is incurable, but I know just the remedies to keep it under control.