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  • Roadtrip America

    I've been flying since I was 7 years old. My parents split when I was a baby, so going to see my Mom in the Chicago area meant that I had to take a plane to get there. Back then, flying was fun and exciting & I'd happily stare out the window at the world below me as I flew thousands of feet above. At some point, things changed. 

    In the Summer of 2000, my (then) fiance & I took a Pre-Wedding trip to Ireland & the UK to visit our friend who had just relocated to Dublin from Savannah. It was then that I first noticed the anxiety starting to creep in. I found myself anxious and worrying constantly about the flight overseas. I couldn't sleep at night.  By the next year, we were due to move to Europe. The Concorde had crashed just the year before (within a week of our return home from the UK) & September 11 had just happened a month before. When I got on the plane from Charleston to Atlanta, I had a full blown panic attack. So much so, that the neighbors in the seats around us came over to help calm me down. It wasn't pretty. 

    Over the years I've learned coping methods. With our lifestyle, not flying just isn't an option much of the time. I've gotten a lot better; however, if we ever hit turbulence, I go right back into panic mode. 

    As a way to reduce the stress levels related to traveling, my husband & I started roadtripping. It started out small - roadtripping to Charleston from Savannah - then quickly progressed. Soon, we were roadtripping around the coast of Florida. Next, we roadtripped the full length of I-5 - from Jacksonville, Florida, all the way back to his Mom's house in Los Angeles, California. Getting to experience the landscape change right before your eyes - and the culture, and the accents, even - was an exciting experience. Thus, a family tradition was born - and anytime we can roadtrip at all, that's exactly what we do. 

    Our roadtrips across the USA (and into Mexico) as of Summer 2013

    So, what can I tell you about roadtripping? Well - for one, it's not less expensive than flying, unless you're traveling with a large group. Gas is expensive - and roadtripping between Washington D.C. & Jacksonville alone costs between $200-$300 in gas (as of 2013) with a moderately fuel efficient automobile. You have to account for food, lodging and so much more. If you're looking to save money, a roadtrip is not the way to go. 

    Secondly, it's dirty. You get in and out of the car at reststops. Sometimes you have no choice but to use dirty restrooms. You end up stepping in filfth. You sit in the same spot for hours. Spills happen. You sweat. Of course, similar things happen at airports, but the traveling part is over so much quicker. You aren't sitting in dirt for 12+ hours a day. 

    3rd - the best roadtrips take time. If you're in a hurry, roadtripping is hardly worth it. One of our best roadtrips took well over a month to complete. The great roadtrip experience involves getting off of the Interstate and taking backgrounds - and sometimes? Getting lost.  If slowing down and taking your time isn't your thing, it's best to book a flight. If, however, you're looking to find adventure - and quite often - yourself - then the wide open road is waiting for you. 

  • International Travel: How to blend in overseas

    After we moved to Europe 13 years ago, one of our first trips was to Paris. I recall quietly walking around a shop, minding my own business, when a salesperson approached & greeted me in English, correctly identifying me as American. I hadn't spoken a single word, yet the sales person instantly had me pegged. I was shocked! 

    As it turns out, he was able to identify me by my sneakers and my style of dress. Apparently, I was dressed very American. After that, I made it my business to learn how to blend in.  I had gotten so good at it, that shortly after we moved to the NYC Metropolitan area from Europe, a German lady approached me speaking German, asking for help. She admitted that due to my dress & the way I'd learned to carry myself that she thought I was European. German, specifically. I suppose my German genes and very German features helped a bit with that, too. 

    Standing out can be a good thing, but it's not exactly something you want to do when you're overseas. Not only is it a security issue, putting you at risk of being targeted simply based on your nationality; but certain behaviors can come across poorly and/or obnoxious to your host nation. Just because something is acceptable in your native country, doesn't mean that it's acceptable in your host nation. 

    So...how do you blend in while traveling overseas? Easy. It just requires a little bit of thought and a lot of manners.

    1. Avoid obvious logos/name brands on your clothing. Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren, Gap, Old Navy, etc.  - these are all American brands worn predominately by Americans. That doesn't mean you can't wear clothing on your trip from these brands - it just means be discreet with the logos. 
    2. If you're going to Europe, find a good pair of walking shoes that are NOT sneakers. After the Paris incident, I learned that sneakers and jeans are typically a dead giveaway as to nationality. In particular, to American nationality. There are a lot of great companies out there that make comfortable walking shoes. Do your research and find a pair that isn't so obvious. Try starting here
    3. This is optional, but it goes a long way: Research local style of dress before your trip. A simple google search of your host country + "street style," - or even looking at media (newspapers, magazines) in your host country will help you know what to wear on your trip to blend in. It doesn't have to be expensive. Often times, you'll already have things in your closet that you can use. Be resourceful. 
    4. Don't speak loudly. When I go out, I try not to speak very much at all. If I need to speak, I talk very quietly to the person I'm speaking to. Just speaking in normal conversational tone (which, for many, is quite loud, actually) gives away your Nationality. From hearing you speak one sentence, someone can guess not only your native country, but in many cases, the region you are from. Keep it down. Talk quietly. Don't give anything away. In addition, speaking loudly in English while overseas is one of those things that will get you labeled as "An Ugly American." Which brings me to my next point:
    5. Learn the Native Language. I realize learning to speak fluently isn't always feasible; however, learning a few key phrases and local signs of respect can carry you a long way. "Please," "Thankyou," "Excuse Me," "I'm sorry"- these are all phrases anyone travelling oversease MUST know, no excuses. "Have a nice Day" is another one that will get you a long way. When approaching a local, I've found that quietly and politely saying the phrase "Excuse me, do you speak English, please?" in their native language before you begin speaking works very well. Just walking up and speaking English to someone in a foreign country is rude and offensive.  Often times, even if the person knows English, they will play dumb and pretend they don't know what you are saying. Be respectful. 
    6. Learn the local customs. Simple things that you're accustomed to in your own country are considered rude in others. For instance, in Korea, it's considered rude to tip. Conversely, in Germany, it's considered rude to leave a tip on the table. Knowing these little details can sometimes make or break your travel experience. 
    7. Be respectful of local traditions. Expect that things are going to be different from what you know and are used to. In fact, go into your experience expecting that everything will be different, a la Alice in Wonderland. Expect it - but more importantly - RESPECT IT. That way, when things are the same, you're pleasantly surprised and when they aren't, you aren't caught off guard. Expecting things to be the same as what you're accustomed to leads to "Ugly American" behavior. You really, really don't want to be an Ugly American. Respect the local culture and it's traditions. Do not EVER make fun of your host nation and it's culture. The only person who ends up looking bad in that situation is you. 
    8. If you are travelling to Asia, and you are not of Asian ancenstry, you can still blend in by using the above practices. While it might be obvious you aren't Asian, it won't be obvious which Country you're from. 

    This is not a complete list, but it's a great place to start. Putting even just these few steps into practice can make a huge difference in your experience travelling overseas. Bottom line: A little politeness goes a very long way. 

  • New work at DENY Designs

    New work at DENY Designs

    We had a crazy few years a while back where we moved from the New York City Metropolitan area to the Kansas City area back to the Washington DC area. All within the span of just a few years. We ended up roadtripping back and forth across the United States several times, and up and down both the East & West Coasts during this time -- simply due to the demands of our life (and the fact that our family is scattered to the 4 winds). Honestly, It felt a bit like a national game of hopscotch! I've been going through my archives this past week and pulling files that I felt needed to see the light of day. I can't tell you how happy I am to see these wonderful moments brought to life. More will be added as I search through these old drives. So many happy moments here & I can't wait to share them with you! 

    New work found not only on wall art, but also bedding, shower curtains, mirrors, clocks and various other home decor items right here:
    http://www.denydesigns.com/collections/artist/ar-catherine-mcdonald