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The Travel Bug

Hi, I’m Nicole! The travel bug bit me in Jersey—driving through the Safari at Great Adventure. The year was 1982 and I was seven years old. It was then I knew that I wanted to travel to Africa. During our drive on the designated path, we were up close with the wildlife. You were not allowed to open your car windows, and certainly not allowed to feed the animals. I remember a giraffe coming toward the car and putting its neck right into the passenger window (which of course was open). My Dad fed it a banana. He continued to do that throughout the drive with the monkeys, and any other animal brave enough to approach our 80’s sedan. Needless to say, my Mom was not happy, but I was a wide-eyed child in the back seat now with big plans.

Did You Say Africa?

As the years passed, I thought about traveling to Africa, but it seemed unattainable. We grew up very modestly in the Bronx and I thought that a safari was something only “rich people” did on vacation. Not only was it expensive, but it was on the other side of the world. I also did not have a single example in my life of someone who visited Africa, especially not a woman. How dare I dream that big…a little girl from the Bronx traveling alone to Africa??

Dynasty or Destiny?

But, I did have another dream that I thought was more attainable.  When I was a child, I didn’t play “house” with the other girls, I played “business.”  I set up my own desk and phone, with lots of paper and pens, to feel important.  I envisioned wearing a red power suit and carrying a briefcase—picture Krystle Carrington going into an office.  

Like most college grads, I joined corporate America. I was successful and made plenty of money for the things that were valuable to me at the time: designer shoes and bags, fancy cars, a custom-built home, etc. Tangible things were more important to me than experiences, and travel was not in the forefront of my mind. The business world was highly competitive and at times cutthroat; but, I had achieved the power suit and briefcase (with a 90’s update). Now here I was living the life of my little girl dreams. I had arrived; but, none of my material possessions could fill the void I felt. I was not my most authentic self. Africa seemed like a world away.

Not For Profit

Eventually, I transitioned into the nonprofit world. Although stressful in its own ways, I knew I was making an impact. Every day I was giving back, providing meaningful services for the communities we served, and even appreciating the little things. Although I was earning less, I was more true to myself—and that made me feel empowered. I was close to being my authentic self, but there was still something missing.

Just before my 40th birthday, I made a conscious decision to seek out my best life—one that nourished my soul. I needed to stop letting life happen to me, but rather live my life “on purpose.” An internal shift was taking place. The little girl who played business to the girl in the backseat of an 80’s sedan.

My first solo trip was domestic: Taos, New Mexico, a city known for art galleries, the historic Taos Pueblo, festivals, and skiing. It was during that first trip that I felt a serenity in my solitude, and that gave me the courage to book a two-week solo trip to Italy. Tears streamed down my cheeks as I drove through the hills of Tuscany. If I close my eyes I can feel the warmth of the sunshine, the brightness of the sunflowers, the slight breeze coming through the open car window, and the soft glow over the magical hills I’d only ever seen in books. I was crying tears of gratitude. My dream life began to manifest itself.

 

I continued my nonprofit career as an Executive Director and during those years I would save up vacation time and money. Thirty years after that New Jersey car ride, I finally made it to Tanzania where my dream of going on safari became a reality! From a custom-built safari vehicle, I watched elephants, zebras, giraffes, rhinos, cheetahs, and lions in their natural habitat. The Serengeti, an ecosystem of endless plains, provided an untouched scenic backdrop for the wildlife. My passion for travel grew and my soul led the way to continents and countries. Nothing in the world made me happier than exploring other countries, immersing myself in their culture, photographing the moments, and writing about my experiences. Through social media, I shared my experiences with friends, family, and colleagues; but, it was in my conversations with women that I encouraged them to travel independently with the intent to soul seek rather than sightsee.

I took a leap of faith. I resigned from my Executive Director career and gave myself the best gift ever: the summer off, time and space to reflect. Those months provided clarity. I needed to be my most authentic self and be fearless. As Brené Brown says, “step into the arena” and She Goes With Gratitude was born. Now this little girl from the Bronx has arrived—she’s left the backseat of that car in Jersey. She traveled to Africa by herself. She is being her most authentic self and doing what makes her heart sing. She’s encouraging other women to do the same. And she’s doing it all With Gratitude.

Barbara Ann Panzarella
Nicole set up an amazing, fun filled cruise to Bermuda. I’ve never been to Bermuda nor on a cruise, so when Nicole asked me,  because of who she is, and how she is not afraid to explore new places,  I said yes to the dress… oh wait no, I said yes to the cruise…. She made sure everyone was well taken care of from the first day to the last, she even indulged us in chocolate covered strawberries…YUM!  (Who doesn’t love those.) We explored Bermuda.. it was beautiful, funny and adventurous… Many , many laughs. Isn’t that the best part of exploring and soul searching, to do things you’ve never done before, to experience the freedom in yourself and to become a part of where you are.  It was a pleasure to be on that journey with Nicole, and to experience something new, to feel alive and feel love every minute.   When I returned I felt like my soul was rejuvenated. I want more.  I can’t wait for our next adventure together. We go with gratitude!!!! Barbara Ann Panzarella
Joseph D'Alesandro
I am an artist, a graphic artist. I was in desparate need of work. Nicole suggested I call Nick, her brother who also does what I do. It turned out I needed a digital portfolio that showcased my work on the web. I was not familiar with WordPress or web design at that time. Nicole would encourage me to put the best version of myself out there, even if it mean that I had to push myself. I learned to be a web developer, incorporating my design skills with a new skill set. Why not compliment one with the other? I was honored when she hired me to design corporate sites that she was directing, challenging myself to new heights; I wanted this woman's approval. She is that kind of motivator, the friend that makes me a better person, the best version of myself, because I want her to be proud of me. It is friends like her that make me grateful.
Helen Martinez
When I first met Nicole I was inspired by her spirit, tenacity and her sense of adventure. As a woman who has never traveled alone I thought this was an opportunity to speak with someone who had. I had Nicole set up an adventure! We picked Costa Rica, she knew I liked to be exhilarated,  so the outdoors and zip-lining became my focus. I always wanted to experience flight, this was the venue which afforded me the freedom to fly, all the while breathing in all the beauty of nature. She arranged all of the excursions, and my fantastic hotel stay. It was a marvelous experience, I actually got to know myself. I had a new sense of confidence meeting new people, even  sitting alone in a dining room and eating was amazing  I really enjoyed it, and,  the best part was,  I was able to plan the vacation in a timeline that was good for me. so I went on my adventure and it was absolutely marvelous. 
Lori Bub
In September 2018, being recently divorced & desperately needing a vacation, I contacted Nicole, whom Id met months prior, at a social engagement. As this was going to be my first solo vacation, I relied on her experiences, advice & assistance with putting together a vacation. Nicole suggested an upcoming Group Cruise in October 2018 to Bermuda & provided me with all the essential information/details regarding amenities, different room packages, shore excursions, specialty restaurants etc., so off I went ! Again, as this being my first time traveling alone, I was a bit concerned about the social aspect. Well….It was more than I ever expected. She had arranged dinner parties, both on the ship, as well as, on land in Bermuda, awesome shore excursions, water sports, sight seeing and shopping, all with the nicest bunch of strangers. The sweetest thing of all was a little personalized divorce party/get together with the travel group which included fine dining & dancing under the stars, like no one was watching. It was a perfectly balanced trip of relaxation, socializing & adventure and I cannot wait for my next Solo Vacation.
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