Life along the Thames River: My first trip to London 

I had the privilege and opportunity to spend some time in England this week. It was my first solo trip to Europe and I was terrified at first. I had this irrational fear it would be like Taken 4: The return of Liam Neeson. Then I went and put my brave boots on and had a brilliant English adventure I will never forget. I am fortunate to have now done something so far outside of my comfort zone. It reinforces I am fully capable of empowering myself to live the life I desire.

Here are 25 tips, observations and lessons I can share now thanks to London:

1. Activate international data plan before day of arrival. Sprint made for a shitty and confusing first day. I could not make any calls or use the Internet (including Google maps — can you imagine?) to figure out things. The silver lining was I lived pre-Google old school and just asked people. Thank God it is an English speaking country and also people are friendly. I found out though many people who live in London have no clue where things are.

2. Fly Virgin Atlantic. The high level of customer experience I received in economy (coach for us regulars) was amazing. Just imagine first class. Truly Virgin was phenom from check-in to landing. I even had to tweet Sir Richard Branson and his staff about it. Thanks again Richie B for giving me life.

3. Mind the Gap between the train and the platform.

4. Heathrow Airport offers 4 FREE hours of wifi. There is no limit on devices. There is no catch. There is not even a password you need to type in. London’s hospitality is off the charts and this is a classic example in its purest form. Where I’m from, there is no such thing as free wifi in airports. Not even 15-30 minutes. Sad in comparison isn’t it?

5. The underground train is not all underground. Barreling through the deep, dark tunnels of London I was expecting this ho-hum florescent light experience. I was miracles only if I wanted to check a site on my phone. Every now and then though we burst through the darkness into the light and it was glorious. Keep some gum handy though while riding the Tube. The speed and pressure makes for intense eardrum plugging.

6. Press the open button to enter and exit DLR trains. The Docklands Light Railway is accessible by the underground Tube but operates differently. If you don’t want to look like a fool and you are the first one on or off the railcar, be sure to press the “Open” button otherwise you won’t be leaving. The doors do not automatically open on these trains so paying attention is key. I struggled to remember the first couple of times.

7. Tap your Oyster Card at the beginning AND end of your trip to be charged the correct amount. I kept forgetting to do so at the end because (mainly on DLR), there is no gate to exit through which serves as a reminder. For a while I thought maybe it operates on the honor system. You could potentially ride and never pay. Station attendants can request a ticket or Oyster card at any time though so not worth the risk. Later I also realized there are penalty charges involved. I think some fees for my forgetfulness ate up the pounds on my card pretty quickly.

8. London is more ethnically & culturally diverse than I expected. It was quite amazing. I saw blacks, whites, christians, muslims, asians, even Asian muslims cycling through life together. My AirBnB host was born in Bulgaria. My amazing airport Uber driver was born in Pakistan but had an English accent after 9 years of residence. I met a multitude of women from different nations at the Trailblazing Leadership conference. There were over 400 women in attendance from all over and I was the only American. It is always really lovely to see the globe represented any place I go.

9. People watching is universal good fun.

10. Google maps tells you what stop to get on and off at but never the direction to travel in. I never knew which side to stand on or which platform to be on. Every time I thought I knew…wrong lol. When in doubt, just ask.

11. Police can be approachable, friendly, helpful and harmless. Novel idea really. I could walk up to any of them and ask a question. They were literally always happy to help. I never had to feel intimidated though I still did a little bit but who can you really trust these days right? :\

12. Having staff at every train station to answer questions from tourists like myself is genius. I am convinced London is the most hospitable and accommodating city I have ever been to. If you look lost, they will ask how they can help you. They genuinely want to do their jobs well. Friendly doesn’t seem to have an expiration date.

13. Use the Thames River as home base. Almost every major viewing point in Central London is a short extension from the Thames. There is a gorgeous riverwalk and easy to find Tube underground lines or buses along the way.

14. The Underground Tube is mostly quiet. No one is asking for money, selling socks or yelling incoherent words & profanity on the platforms or trains. I enjoyed the change of pace.

15. Most of the men & women walking around in the city are in high-class business professional suits. I occasionally felt quite under-dressed. Some women were walking around in classic silhouette dresses with those cute hats we see for English weddings and such. Many men are in really fancy, nice suits. I saw one man with a top hat and coattails like I have only seen in movies. Where do these people work?

16. AirBnB makes traveling solo so much more enjoyable. My host was funny and cool. It reminded me of my days living with a host in Nicaragua. The level of quality care from a stranger really puts humanity in positive perspective.

17. Even when mean, Londoners sound nice. I went to the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace and there were people climbing on the gates so they could see better. The police kept saying, “Please don’t climb the gate. Thank You” and never got crass about it. They could have said, “Please don’t climb the palace gate or I’ll bash your effing head in. Thank you” in that English accent and it would have sounded just as pleasant I imagine.

18. The English accent makes regular sentences sound so full of drama. I enjoy listening to the English speak unless they have the Eliza Doolittle twang

19. Public transit elevators do not have to smell like urine or other abominable human waste.

20. The English love the F-word and I love hearing them say it. Consider it a guilty pleasure.

21. Don’t book an early flight on a Sunday morning. Don’t do it that is unless you’re ready to spend lots on an Uber or express train. I learned public transit doesn’t run as early on Sundays so I was almost stuck but Uber saved my life and got me to Heathrow in plenty of time.

22. Bring shoes that make sense to walk around the city in. A great way to see the city of London is by foot so stay smart and keep the shoes comfy so you can enjoy exploring.

23. The children naturally sound incredibly intelligent because of that English accent. Unless they sound like My Fair Lady. See number 18.

24. My English inspired vocab replacements are as follows: Brilliant! (over awesome), biscuit (over cookie), loo or toilet (over bathroom), rubbish (over trash), bloody, proper, surname (over last name), piss off (over leave me alone), queue (over line) and diversion (over reroute).

25. People are beautiful all around the globe. I was fortunate enough to spend time at a Trailblazing Leadership conference for 2 days with over 400 women. We had great, meaningful conversations about our goals, dreams and fears among other things. It was wonderful to be in a room full of women to both cheer and challenge other women along. I was fortunate enough to develop some good connections out of that. The Internet makes it almost effortless to keep connected with new friends around the world. The important thing is to make the effort. I learned from and shared personal stories with strangers that made us not so strange to each other any more. When we get to the core of things, we’re not so different — you and I. I love when I catch glimpses of the mountaintop Dr. King always spoke about.

I would definitely live there if given the opportunity. Regardless, I will for sure be back to visit. Thanks London for making me feel at home.

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The best, most challenging thing you will ever give up

I saw Billy Elliot the Musical last night so the soundtrack notes are still pretty fresh in my head. There were lots of plot points in the story line that do not relate to me. I have never been part of a coal miners strike or desired a career in boxing or ballet but the general “Be You” theme that resonates throughout the telling of Billy’s story was great. If you are unfamiliar with the story, Billy Elliot is a kid who decides he would rather join ballet over boxing. His dad, a hardcore coal miner challenged by workplace union issues, is VERY resistant at first until he realizes how dedicated his son is to this path.

The greatest life lesson Billy Elliot the Musical reinforced for me was the importance of individuality. They even had a song about it. That leads me to the best, most challenging thing you will ever give up…the comparison effect.

Stop comparing yourself to others. Sounds so easy right? Well if it were easy, everyone would do it. I know I would but I don’t always. I made a decision months ago to intentionally minimize the comparisons. I still have to coach myself occasionally that I am pretty damn great as I am. The only person I need to compete with is me. Not in a “I am never content or I’m my worst enemy” kind of way but instead to be steadily progressing myself.

You have to give yourself space to be yourself. Give up on being someone else or trying to be like them. Maybe it sounds ridiculous that this could be an issue but that is what it is.

Social media can be a comparison trap that way. Can’t it? Then I gained new perspective on it. I realized that social media is in many ways a chance to put out what we want the world to see. We control the narrative so people show the fab vacays, flawless selfies, best assets, expensive purchases and happy times (mostly). I found myself comparing myself to people I know but in many other cases, people I didn’t know well or didn’t know at all.

Balance of the internet and real world doesn’t always happen. Though not always the case, in many ways life online is like our own version of reality tv. What happens when you know people are watching? It would be crazy not to believe some things our tv housewives, survivors, bachelors and Kardashians have to say aren’t at least a little motivated by the public involvement of others. Which is why it is not fair for you and me to make the comparisons to them or the non-celebs in your life that you secretly admire. And jealousy is just a bizarre form of admiration.

Reminding yourself that ‘being you is okay’ is so important. A great way to maintain balance is to keep up with your friends, family and significant other relationships offline with the care that people use in posting online. Also actually be authentic online even if you just make happy posts. Be the same person on-screen and off.

My personal privacy policy has always been strict but that changes whenever I recognize people in my life who love who I am. They can handle that I am sometimes loud or sometimes quiet or usually sarcastic or an introvert and always a nerd.

I also began to invest more attention in learning who I am, how I am, how I like to communicate, what my love language is, what being a Sagittarius means for me, what my personality type is, what my weaknesses are, what my strengths are and many other things. I should not have to explain why I am the way I am but occasionally people do not understand my differences. I talk when I have something to say. I struggle with expressing myself out loud. I am internally really happy. I get extremely annoyed at rude people. Laughing is my favorite. I smile a lot but get mad sometimes too. I am a curious person that listens intently and questions a lot. Although I also do have bad days, I do not like overwhelmingly negative/dramatic people in my personal space. No shade. I just prefer sunshine over here.

We all get sick quick of the people who make it seem like everyday is a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. My mantras are… Give unto others only what you can afford to reap in karma. Be kind for everyone you meet is fighting a battle. Be better to the world than it is to you. Live out good energy and Give good vibes. All solid, tweetable tips to live by.

It takes 21 days to make something a habit. My challenge to you is…Don’t compare yourself to anyone for a week then take it from there for another 7 days. Then another 7 after that. If that means you take a break from your fave sources of online energy, so be it. If you do not know and believe in yourself, no one else is going to. Be you, not anyone else.

How do you practice your individuality?

The moment I knew I became my mother (and 6 habits I picked up as a result)

In college, I became incredibly self-aware. One day I woke up and I was sitting in a hustling, bustling cafeteria full of college students. The biggest difference between me and them was I was reading newspapers. Not online articles or 140-character headline tweets but full-length, hard copies of the Chicago Tribune & Wall Street Journal. I got a lot of funny looks when people asked if it was for a class and I replied, “No, I just enjoy knowing what is happening in the world.” In high school and college it can be easy to think the only world that is relevant is your day-to-day world. Those days I also began to enjoy watching the news and hosting lively discussions around current events. All of these were things I used to tease my parents about. “Mom, that’s stuff old people do.” But as a late teen, here I was falling into the trap of becoming an adult. I was my mom.

The silver lining was becoming my mom wasn’t a bad thing at all. Here are 6 other lessons and habits she taught me that I didn’t even resist learning.

1. Avoid touching anything in public restrooms.

Don’t sit on the seat. You can squat but don’t make contact. Don’t flush the handle with a bare hand. Use tissue or your foot. You just never know the extent of germs present in public restrooms but they are present. Who did what and where? It is enough to drive you crazy. Just follow this rule and don’t think about the germs. It even seems a engineering boardroom of mothers thought the same thing as most modern restrooms are full of hands-free amenities nowadays. You will stay healthier in the long run. Trust me.

2. Let people know where you are. 

It is an important safety precaution. I became the friend who tells everyone to let me know they made it home safely. Some friends respond “Okay mom” jokingly but I’m being serious.  We don’t play about safety in this house. Even though I pay attention to my surroundings, have trustworthy friends and avoid crazies, it does me no harm to send a quick text or make a quick call to say where I will be and with whom.

3. You are never too old to get put in your place by a good mama.

Even the viral video mom in Baltimore who went off after finding her teenage son on the streets throwing rocks at police is evidence (for better or worse). I will bet she did not care who was watching or how old he was. For me, I remember I got spanked one time when I was a kid for deliberately doing something I was specifically told not to do just hours earlier. I gave away all my birthday money for my friends to buy candy at school. I learned a valuable lesson that day in the form of — don’t test the waters when mom is being serious. I agree with her decision looking back on it but am glad those whooping days are long gone. I am good friends with my mom more and more as I get older as a result of her parenting skills. We know how to communicate with each other and get on the same page. Other than my sarcastic mouth, I do not get in trouble much anymore but my mom has no problem verbally reminding me even now, “Hey, don’t forget who’s the parent here.”

4. No matter how old you get, you will never stop being her baby so it is best not to fight it.

I spent a decent portion of my teenage years unsure of my mom’s intelligence. Mind you, she is incredibly intelligent but as a kid I didn’t always believe it. I thought I was the clear-cut genius and like Will Smith taught us, Parents just don’t understand. When I went to college and saw first-hand how others were raised and how we were often different in the way we saw, understood and participated in the world, I finally realized how smart my mom really was. Who knew!?

She taught me the foundation of loving people and treating them with respect my whole life. It always amazes me how many people in this world have NOT been taught that or learned it. The right mindset breeds maturity. I was fortunate enough to have a mom be strict enough to show me good standards and values so I would not learn the wrong ones. It also helped her trust me more than worry about me when I came to her with things like the news that I was moving to Central America for 4 months. I will forever be my mother’s daughter and I am grateful for that.

5. You are fully capable of doing things on your own.

At some point when I got older, mom said to my sisters and I, “You’re old enough to cook for yourselves, I’m done.” Ha, good thing for us, my dad loves to cook and so does one of my sisters. They make phenomenal dishes so I usually still let them do most of the work. Even though I did miss mom’s famous wonton meals, such a declaration taught me a lesson in independence. She encouraged me to live on my own before I would ever get married and live with someone else. What I have learned about independence from experiences on my own certainly informs the level of partnership I bring to my relationship. It reminds me there is strength in walking beside the man I love or walking alone occasionally because I also love myself.

6. Pay attention to her while she is here.

My grandmothers are both gone from this earth. I get really sad when I think about that sometimes. There are more questions I wanted to ask. More I wanted to learn from them. Earlier this year I was introduced to an app called StoryCorps. You can record and share the stories of those around you. You choose someone to interview, pick questions and record.

So just recently I interviewed my mom using this app and asked her questions about what she has learned in life, her goals, how life is different than she thought it would be. I got to learn a few new things about her and keep those lessons on a recording I can have forever. I told her this will be the first interview of many. It serves a few key purposes. I get to bond with her on a new level and get to capture her humor and wisdom just in case if she is not here when I am well past 100.

Though we still have many years to go, thanks mom for the lessons so far.

What has your mom taught you?