MY VENTURES

 

U.S. Farewell Tour

The past week has been filled with packing for France and confused emotions. While I am thrilled to finally be embarking on this new chapter, it felt like it was never going to come at some points. This dream felt so nebulous, and that it was going to be postponed indefinitely due to the pandemic. So now that I am writing this post schedule to be online by the time I arrive in France, it's difficult to identify this feeling where I have not been this excited for a new adventure in four years but also not knowing when I will be able to see family and friends again due to the pandemic. Maybe I would feel differently if there was no pandemic and this didn't feel so final. But because of this finality feeling, having a bit of a farewell tour and seeing almost all of the people I value most was the goodbye I needed.


When dreaming of going to grad school, my plan was to travel the world for 6 months before school started if I was accepted. Obviously, that did not happen due to COVID. I walked in circles in my parents' suburban neighborhood every day to get 10,000 steps in until I could escape the 5 mile radius of our town. Then, I embarked on a modified personal farewell tour of the U.S. and seeing friends I potentially won't see for years. Keep in mind, we took all precautions we could and cases were subsiding in most areas at the time. I debated even writing this post given how the situation has worsened since October. Please be safe if you are traveling and mindful of what to do to protect others! Not everyone has had the luxury to be able to escape for a little while, but I am thankful I did so I could have a modified goodbye with the people I care about. My goodbye tour started in Texas, took me to Utah, and finished in the Northeast before coming back to Texas to quarantine and pack prior to leaving. First up, Texas!


Austin


Since graduating from UT in 2016, I had not been able to go back to Austin except for 12 hours for a recruiting trip. One of my best friends from New York, Maggie, who was also back living with her parents due to COVID, was able to come spend two weeks in Texas during August. Given we both had been with people nonstop for 5 months, we each needed our alone time before meeting up with each other. I am a big fan of the philosophy that you can be actively social but need to recharge by yourself once in a while, and find travel friends who need the same! Maggie went to a wellness spa in Austin, and I went to a TPC golf course in San Antonio that I had always wanted to play. Even one night alone was a luxury at this point - I missed being in a hotel room, ordering room service, and being waited on. I'll be honest, I like being a little bougie once in a while and could honestly live in a hotel. Enjoying a massage at the spa, pool time at an adult pool with a maximum capacity of 5 people, none of whom were in a 6 foot radius, and finally having dinner outside at a restaurant for the first time in 5 months was a much needed break from my new reality. While playing golf the next day, I was able to play solo and played two balls: one for my poppy and one for me. Growing up, my poppy would take my older brother and me to the golf course every Saturday. At first, he had to bribe us with Chick-Fil-A for lunch to entice us to play, but I truly grew to love the sport and the time it afforded us to spend together. Even now when playing, I hear his voice when deciding which club to use (I would always think I was right when I was always wrong about which one to use) or how high or low to set the tee given the wind conditions ("tee it low, watch it go; tee it high watch it fly"). The ball I played for poppy was based on all the decisions I thought he would make, and sure enough, I shaved off 10 strokes with that second ball.


After golfing, I drove up to Austin to meet up with Maggie. She was the first friend I had been able to see in five months, and wow, I missed having social interactions in person with people my own age that weren't related to me. Austin had changed so much in the four years I had been gone that I couldn't even drive without Google Maps half the time! I know everyone says this about their college town, but it really changed. It changed so much that when I was accidentally double-charged for coffee and it totaled $10 I wasn't even surprised - I just assumed it was now the same cost of living as New York. On a serious note, seeing this change play out makes you realize that what you're missing isn't necessarily there - the late-night sixth street debacles, tailgating starting at 10 am for a 7 pm kickoff, the inside jokes with friends who are now spread out all across the country. Austin is still an amazing city, but not as amazing without my best friends from college. On the other hand, I got to experience this new version of Austin with one of the people I first became friends with in New York, and due to the amount of people that move to Austin on a daily basis, I was able to reconnect with Dylan, my next door neighbor growing up for 15 years. Something I've learned is it that time doesn't dictate strength of friendships - it doesn't matter how long you've known someone for them to be a good friend and just because you may have fallen out of touch doesn't mean you're still not good friends. Maggie and I met up with Dylan, and it was like no time had passed. Hang onto friends like that.

Dylan: one of best guys to come out of Argyle, TX!

Even though we were not able to relive my college glory days during this time, we were still able to indulge in most everything that Austin has to offer. You can get $2 breakfast tacos, paddleboard on Lady Bird Lake, and stroll down South Congress along with the horse cops, even if a hotel replaced the food trucks and DTC brands took over the previously unique, independent stores. Do I sound like a disgruntled parent talking about the "good 'ole days" yet? But seriously, Austin is amazing. You can have the best of both worlds through exploring nature by going on the lake, hiking, or going to swimming holes, while also having access to the best tacos, queso, and new restaurants. If it is a regular football season, going to a UT football game is a must and make sure you wear the beautiful burnt orange.


The best part of Austin (now that live music is not around) is the food. Maggie and I were not able to go to every place on our list, because we were mindful of dining outside at almost all times and COVID restrictions. It is impossible to put all of these recommendation in one spot, and while some may say these are overrated, that's just another way of admitting how good they are but pretending you're hipster enough to not care.


Top 5 Austin Restaurant Picks

  1. Juan in a Million - the biggest breakfast tacos you will ever see and a great hangover cure. Very famous but for very good reason.

  2. Trudy's - this 3 location brand is well known for their Mexican Martinis and cut you off after two of them due to their strength. The food leaves a bit to be desire, but Mex Mart Monday was one of my favorite college traditions. If you have a designated driver and trust your abilities, there's a Trudy's Challenge where you get 2 Mexican Martinis at each of the 3 locations. Personally, I have only known one person to successfully complete it! And he immediately regretted getting over the finish line...

  3. Torchy's - damn good queso and the best you'll have (anyone who tells you Kerbey Lane is better is delusional). Yes, it turned into a chain, but that just means more queso for everyone.

  4. Salt Lick - bbq that is a bit of a drive but very, very worth it, even if it is in all the guidebooks. While Franklin's is famous, I stood in line 3 times in college and never got a bite. If you want to wait in a line, go to La Barbecue's food truck in East Austin.

  5. Loro - this was a new restaurant created by the same chefs of a famous sushi restaurant, Uchi, and the pitmaster from Franklin's bbq. The Asian fusion is not to be missed and the cocktails are very instragrammable.

Bonus: If you really want the college experience, get $1 breakfast tacos from the Taco Shack by the gas station in West Campus. Yes, you read that correctly, and I stand by what I said.


When New York friends meet TX bbq and drinks!

Marfa


Marfa, TX is a famous art hotspot in the middle of nowhere that Fab Fit Fun promoters have been flocking to for a decade. Given the proximity to Big Bend, Maggie and I spent one day hiking and the next day exploring the town, with art on every corner. Neither Maggie nor I are big campers, but there was a "glamping" option that we decided to try at El Cosmico. The campground has space for people to bring their own tents, tents set up with real beds, and even campers with a kitchen and A/C. We chose the second option, which was a pretty decent setup:



However, I quickly learned I don't appreciate camping or glamping as two women alone in a small town in a tent that doesn't have a lock. I couldn't sleep well, because I felt unsafe even though there was no evidence I should feel that way in this small town. Men may not understand this feeling, but I'm sure most women will - we've been in scary situations before or seen them so we're on higher alert than we should have to be when alone or in a small group. Aside from not sleeping well, Marfa was a cute town. Even though we are not aspiring influencers, we enjoyed the instagrammable scenery, getting the classic Prada Marfa shop photo, and exploring the cute little shops, while stopping to take cocktail breaks at each of the four restaurants that were open. Marfa was a necessary relaxation break from the massive amount of screen time my eyes had seen over the past 6 months, and provided much needed knowledge for future trips: even if you can hike 15 miles in tennis shoes, you shouldn't; and I am no way a camper - I need a glamping lifestyle that includes A/C.



Utah


As already mentioned, I am not a camper, but I am a hiker! One of our friends, Taylor, organized a group trip to Utah for two weeks to hike and enjoy a change of scenery. We all quarantined ahead of time and discussed COVID precautions we were taking to ensure we were on the same page. We stayed in a nice golf community in Washington, Utah that had a few too many screaming children for our tastes but had plenty of space, a backyard for zoom workouts, and a pool. There were six of us in the house, and dare I say, it felt like we were almost back to "normal". It felt like I was with good roommates again, cooking together, drinking wine by the fire, and playing drinking games. When not attempting to grill or figuring out how to buy liquor in Utah, we hiked in Zion National Park, learned how to slide down sand dunes, and rode mules in the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. My favorite hike was Angel's Landing where you need to hold onto a chain for the last half mile or so to avoid falling off the edge of the cliff. The risk-seeker in me lives for this type of adventure.



While not the world travels I was anticipating to have during this time, I was thankful for a vacation I honestly would not have planned if we were in non-COVID times. I have always gone on vacation outside of the U.S. for my one vacation a year, so it was nice to explore the country I was finally leaving. My birthday also occurred during this vacation, and it is difficult to describe how grateful I was to actually be able to actually have a small celebration this year. We were not able to celebrate my acceptance to INSEAD, not able to celebrate most people's birthdays, and not able to celebrate engagements. So being able to be surrounded by friends who went out of their way to make sure I had a wonderful day was so sweet that I think my birthday curse has been lifted.


Northeast


From Utah, I took a COVID test to travel to the Northeast. Before even moving to New York, my ex and I wanted to take a classic Northeast road trip in the fall. Now, no one was able to join me, but that did not stop me from crossing one more item off my bucket list. This was not the first time I traveled solo, and it will not be the last. For anyone that has not traveled solo, you are missing out on experiences you simply cannot get when traveling with other people. During this time, traveling solo was not as wonderful as it usually is - you are not allowed to eat at the bar and strike up conversations with strangers who can change your perspectives on life or gain lifelong friends over drinks. This time, traveling solo was a bit lonely in comparison, but it was also nice to have a few days to myself between being with friends for a few weeks. As expected, the fall foliage was gorgeous, the Maine lobster was so good that I ate it at every meal, and the Ben & Jerry's factory made me feel like a kid in a candy shop. Ice cream is my favorite dessert, maybe even food, and I drove 4 hours out of the way to finally see the factory.

One place that surprised me on this trip was Boston. I hadn't been to Boston since I attended a nerd camp in middle school and didn't remember much of it, but due to the helpful advice from a future INSEAD classmate, I was able to hit the main spots in two days. The food was amazing, the cobble stone streets were beautiful, and of course, there was history everywhere. I re-walked the Freedom Trail, but I was a bit disappointed by the lack of representation on the trail. Paul Revere gets his whole house and his wife only got a measly, honorary bench? Who do you think stayed home and took care of the family while he was off riding his horse? There was also only one woman statue that was a tribute to a Quaker woman who was executed for her faith. I wonder how many people have walked by that statue and still treated other people poorly because of what or who they believed in. The Freedom Trail provided a much needed history refresher, but it also made me realize that I either never noticed the lack of representation before or never questioned the information absorbed from history books and classes. While a necessary tour of Boston, also realize how many people are still fighting to be treated as equals.


And finally, my lovely NYC


When I left New York in March, I did not expect the next time I came back to be for two days to pack up my apartment. During those two days, I did not get the chance to explore my city again or see any friends. But this time, I was in New York for two weeks and seeing the city skyline come into view gave me the same feeling of anticipation and invigoration it did the day I first moved to New York. Now that I was funemployed, I had time to make reservations at restaurants I never could previously and have all day to spend in museums. I began curating my restaurant list months in advance, with an Excel table indicating if the restaurant was opened yet, taking reservations, and how far in advance they took reservations (feel free to use: LINK). I was not going to miss a meal while in New York! And luckily, I always had a friend to enjoy dinner with. Maggie temporarily moved out of the city in August when her lease ended, so she joined me for these two weeks in the city. We started off these two weeks with a "kickoff to bon voyage" small party with the COVID-friendly size of 10 people, all on an outdoor rooftop. This was the first time I saw many of my best friends since March, and I was so grateful to be able to see them again. Being able to laugh, dance, and celebrate felt so simple before COVID, but now it felt luxurious and like I was the luckiest person to find a way to be with the people I love.



While everyone else worked during the day, I went to an outdoor workout class where I could cycle on a rooftop with my favorite former Flywheel instructor, view new exhibits in the Met, Guggenheim, and MOMA, and explore nooks and crannies of Central Park I had never been to. There was a walkable art exhibit in every borough of the city that highlighted different artists from around the world, all with a different view. People asked me if the city had changed since I left, and honestly, it did. For the most part, New York was still New York, but there were sadly more homeless people, curfews at midnight which no longer allowed for nights where you stay out until sunrise, and a third of the people I knew in the city still lived there. While it was still amazing to come back to the city and feel like I could give a proper goodbye to my first dream, living in New York, it was bittersweet. Going back to the city made me realize this was the time for me to leave - I could feel that was the city was gently nudging me to start my next dream. Until you live in New York, you can't understand how you can feel a city. It challenges you, inspires you, and forces you to learn your own voice and follow your own path. For right now, my path is leading me to Paris.


Au Revoir


While I was not able to see my best friends on the west coast during this tour, I am beyond thankful I was able to see my best people on the east coast. Originally, I was going to come back to Texas for two weeks to quarantine and pack before moving to France. Due to lockdown restrictions, my departure was postponed two weeks to today. This past week has been more emotional and trying than I thought it would be, a bit bittersweet as I say goodbye to my family (especially my niece, Riley) and plan for all the exciting things to come. Plus, the paperwork to handle right now with the additional measures due to COVID is insane. Pro tip: remember when holidays are so that you remember there's no shipping or guaranteed time, and make sure your results show the time you checked in so you don't have to jump through hoops at the gate to get on a flight. I thought I was prepared, but it would be nice if airlines posted all information they require on test printouts to avoid last-minute speeding to a doctor's office for additional proof. This last-minute stress has been alleviated a bit by mom coming to the rescue. Aside from this last-minute nerve-wracking experience, I've even cried a few times this week to my own surprise. My mom gave me a surprise gift with a heartfelt card, engraved bracelet, and a kickstart to my Euros collection. While being home for so long has been difficult at times, I will miss being able to watch cheesy movies, drink margaritas, and figure out if there is any decent sushi in Texas. However, now I get to meet new friends, explore continents, and eat almond croissants until my jeans won't fit.



Four bags really isn't that much to move continents

P.S. Want to see more photos of this trip? Shameless plug to check out my instagram @valevans_

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