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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.