Alternative Breaks taught me how to properly travel

5 Ways to Stay Critical When Traveling

Traveling to places far from home can teach you so much about the world and how to be constantly critical of it and your place in it.

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Los Angeles is not a glamorous place.

Nor is New York or Las Vegas a glitzy, party-lover's paradise.

In all the "must-see" tourist destinations in the United States, none are going to be purely eye-dazzling or spectacular, but rather always following a history and community silenced by popular media consumption... A rather prominent example of this is in New Orleans, Louisiana.

During my spring break, I had the opportunity to travel to New Orleans with eleven open-minded and proactive schoolmates. We were volunteers under the "Alternative Breaks" program, which sent out groups of students to areas facing a certain community condition, such as rural poverty, human trafficking, and food insecurity. In New Orleans, we were focused on "community rebuilding" after Hurricane Katrina. When I'd mention our purpose to friends and family, I would receive blank stares, followed by "Wasn't Katrina 14 years ago? What is there to do right now?" After a week of painting houses, installing fixtures, tending to gardens, and playing with kennel-bound dogs, there is still so much the community has to go through after a natural disaster. When visiting a rather large city, you should always be critical as to who, what, where and why somethings exist and others persist.

1. Visit a local museum and do some research.

Lower 9th War

Ashley Lanuza

We started our trip at the Lower Ninth Ward Living Museum, a small gallery narrating the past, present, and future of the "Lower Ninth Ward," a region of New Orleans struck by poverty, racial injustice, and the most damage from Katrina. The gallery discussed the hurricane, the role of levees that broke and flooded under-resourced areas, and the delayed and poor response to Katrina and the levee by officials in the federal, state, and city level. The trip was crucial in giving context to the two worlds we were stepping in: the world of notorious partying and drinking and the world of community and activism. As we walked around the French Quarter, for instance, where people drank like there was no tomorrow and there were endless streets full of clubs and bars, it struck me that these popular areas didn't face tremendous flooding during Katrina. It survived, however, at the expense of the Lower Ninth Ward, when authorities chose saving property over people.

Visiting a local museum gives context to the community in the area. Be critical of how some places are more resourced and well-allocated than others, and why that is. It gives a lot of magnitude to the places, especially the touristy ones, you plan on visiting. Whether that is a sense of appreciation or anger at why some decisions are made at the expense of human lives, providing context to the spaces you're entering intensifies and navigates your purpose for being there.

2. Ditch the rental car and hop on the street cars. 

Street Car

Ashley Lanuza

Our trip forgoed rental cars because our housing was located close to our volunteer locations, and it seems that a situation of chance was actually a learning opportunity. On foot, we saw abandoned homes with broken roofs, damaged windows, and markings counting the dead and alive, remnants from Hurricane Katrina. We also noted blank spaces between homes that indicated where a home used to be. Public transportation gave us the opportunity to understand the racial and class makeup of the regions we were in, and unfortunately, how the difference in riders' makeup and the area we were in were correlated. Using private cars, such as Lyft or Uber, allowed us to receive lists of food recommendations preferred by locals, and conversations about the area that pushed us to be more critical.

Private cars can only keep you in your bubble, but using local fare to get around can elevate your trip and continue to contextualize your purpose for being there.

3. Give back to the community. 

Youth Rebuilding New Orleans

Ashley Lanuza

Our main purpose in visiting New Orleans was to volunteer with local community organizations such as Youth Rebuilding New Orleans, Americorps' Rebuilding New Orleans, Grow Dat Youth Farm, and Animal Rescue New Orleans. Throughout the week, we physically labored to help these community-oriented organizations for a day or two. Giving to communities that were not our own just felt right after the injustices we had learned thus far. From this trip specifically, I felt in awe at the community's effort to rebuild without the direct help of the local government. The community truly stands with each other, despite all odds.

When volunteering, always keep in mind your position as a temporary, visiting volunteer. You may or may not be wanted in the space, and there are some experiences and challenges you'll never have to face when you're there for a day or a week. However, the privilege you're in to not have to deal with the community's reminders of destruction or trauma should inspire you to contribute something, even if you're not there for very long.

4. Share! Share! Share!

Words in NOLA

Ashley Lanuza

No one is a superhuman volunteer that can fix a community's problems and make it go away. Additionally, many of us don't have the resources to just start an organization to assist the community. However, especially in this digital age, we all have the power to share what we have learned. This Odyssey article is an example of sharing what I've seen and experienced. Social media posts, photos, blogs, and vlogs are another way to share experiences and information. More importantly, make sure that these bits of information highlight the community and the people (not yourself).

If you have the capability and platform to share these narratives, you have a responsibility to do so.

5. Imagine what you saw, but somewhere else.

Home with remnants of Katrina markings

Ashley Lanuza

New Orleans is located in the prosperous United States, and though that does not invalidate the damage and trauma that occurred, it gives context to the magnitude of natural disasters in developing countries. If a natural disaster hit a location as hard as it did in the United States, imagine how even more damaging and traumatizing it has hit under-resourced countries and their people. There's an idea for your next travel destination (done with adequate research)!

During my trip, I was surprised, frustrated, and in awe of all that I learned and felt from the experience. It was an alternative type of spring break for sure, but I wouldn't have wanted to spend it any other way.

Huge thank you to Alternative Breaks at UCLA, Youth Rebuilding New Orleans, Americorps' Rebuilding New Orleans, Grow Dat Youth Farm, Tulane University, and Animal Rescue New Orleans.

And a huge thank you to my NOLA group for being a source of light, laughter, and continuous learning throughout the week. I love Y'all, CGs.

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To The Girl Who Hasn't Been Herself Lately

Your spark return, and you will shine like you were meant to.
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Life gets tough. Life gets too much to handle sometimes, and those times make you stronger. However, right now, it seems like you have lost yourself.

It’s difficult when you catch yourself not being you. When you do something or act a certain way and just wonder, “what did I do to deserve this? Why is this happening? When will it get better?” The way you’re feeling is not so much that you’re unhappy, you just feel weird.

Your day will come. I promise you. This is just a phase.

The day you realize how much you have grown from this point in time will be your reward. It is so hard to see now, and I feel your pain.

Your light will return to you. Your pure bliss moments, they are seeking you. Your laughter where your tummy aches is in your reach.

Our moods change far too often for us as humans to understand why, but the encounters you make every day have this effect on us.

You must remember the pure happiness you experienced before your first heartbreak, before the first friend became someone you thought they weren’t, before you lost your innocence. That was a time of true joy as you had not a care in the world for the things that would harm you. Better yet, you didn’t have the option to experience them because you were just a child.

The world can be an ugly place, and your attitude towards life can change every day. One thing is for certain: you did not lose who you are internally. We all put on a face for the world. For the people who we try to impress. For the life we want to live. For the things we want to achieve.

Your definitive personality is still in the works. Believe it or not, it always will be. Times like this change us for the better even though we can’t see it.

Your happiness will return. You will be a better, stronger version of you. In fact, you will be the best version of you yet.

Once this phase is over, you will be okay. This I promise you.

Cover Image Credit: Megan Sutton

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9 Things To Do In Nashville If You Have No Idea What To Do

Trust me, I was just as lost as you are.

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Nashville is a great place packed full of lots of really cool smaller great places that all offer their own unique take on the city. If you're like me, though, and have a hard time ~planning ahead~, then this list is exactly what you need. I went around and got lost and tried all the coolest hidden gems in Nashville so you don't have to. Here are some of my faves.

1. Milk & Honey Nashville

Located in the Gulch, Milk & Honey is the coffee shop/cafe from my dreams. It's decorated perfectly for any cute insta story and y'all when I say their coffee is amazing I mean it. Try it. It's so worth it, and pretty easy to find, too! You can browse their menus here.

2. Frothy Monkey Coffee Shop

While we're on the topic of coffee shops, Frothy Monkey is a MUST try. Trust me, I've drunk A LOT of coffee in my lifetime, and theirs is up in the top 10 of the best. They have other good things too, but if you're a coffee person like me, this place is heaven, I promise. It's right off 12th Avenue and within walking distance of lots of other funky little shops.

3. Two Old Hippies

This is the coolest little shop you will ever go into. Tucked away in the Gulch, it's within walking distance of Milk & Honey, so stop by after you grab a coffee and browse. They have everything from handmade clothes to cool books to refrigerator magnets. This is one of my all time favorites and I know you'll love it too.

4. Baked on 8th

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I fell in love the second I saw the cute sign. Baked on 8th has a great atmosphere and even better little pastries, cookies, and cakes. Their cookies were so good it took every ounce of self-control I had to not go back and order 2 dozen. 12/10 would recommend if you're into Instagrammable locations and bomb sugar-filled desserts.

5. Burger Republic

I get it, you've gotta eat more than just cookies and coffee. As far as restaurants go, this place is home to the best burger I've ever eaten, plus the atmosphere is pretty laid back and great, and it's an awesome place to go and watch pretty much any sporting event happening anywhere relatively close to Nashville. Browse the menu so you can know exactly what to order before you even get there here.

6. Fido

In case you haven't noticed yet, I'm a HUGE fan of coffee shops and cafes. Fido was the most perfect little spot. It boasts about its gourmet coffee and great food, and rightfully so. It's also got the coolest funky vibe that makes you just want to sit and stay all day, and it's in a great location and decently close to Vanderbilt.

7. Go see some murals

Nashville is FULL of these bad boys. I know y'all have all seen the countless pictures of those people with big butterfly wings. Well, there's more and they're all around the city and on the side of pretty much every building. It's cliche, but tbh it's also kind of a must do while you're there.

8. Walk around Centennial Park and the Parthenon

This is a really nice place to visit if you're looking to spend a couple of hours away from the concrete of the city, and the Parthenon is a full-scale replica of the one in Greece.

9. Ride one of those little scooters around and explore

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I'm not gonna lie to y'all. I did not ride the scooters. They seem kind of dangerous and I know without a doubt that if I tried to get on one it would not end well for me, the scooter, or anyone within a 3-mile radius. With that being said, though, I did see a lot of people riding them and it looked pretty fun, plus it's a great way to see the city without walking too much. So if you just want to explore, hop on one of these bad boys and pray.

Nashville is a great city full of tons of tourist attractions and amazing musical history, but if you find yourself stuck with nothing to do for a couple of hours before your next walking tour, you're sure to find something on this list that you'll love. So, you're welcome.

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