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My Promise to My 27 Years Old Traveling Self

On April 28th, I turned 27. Last year, I started a tradition of traveling every year on my birthday. Being in unfamiliar places is by far my favorite thing. I feel more comfortable in unfamiliar places.

As I woke up in our tiny, San Francisco Airbnb apartment, I realized that it didn’t feel like my birthday. It seems as if each year, the actual day feels less and less like my birthday and more and more like just another day, but for some day on my birthday I do more of what I like.

I drank an Anchor Steam beer at 10 a.m.
I ate Ghirardelli chocolate for breakfast.
I bought a map to add to my growing map collection.
I wore my favorite dress, not because it looks good on me, but because I just like it.
I (over)shopped at Zara.
I took a million pictures and videos and met a bunch of really cool people.
And most importantly, I was traveling.

Then it hit me. If April 28 didn’t feel like my birthday anymore, just a normal day, why did I have to do these things only one day out of the year?

So I made a pledge to live every day of my 27th year of life doing things I love.

That means more raspberry chocolate chip ice cream, more creativity, more letter writing, more dancing, more beaches and palm trees, more blogging, more photography, more laughing, more steam beer, more dresses, more cats, more adventures, more loving my curves and myself, and most importantly more traveling.

Cheers to 27. And every day feeling like my birthday.

 

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Lessons From The Leather Man

The minute I arrived I Florence I felt a deep sense of love in my heart.  The beautiful city offered me beautiful views, fed my delicious mozzarella, presented me with wonderful art, and most importantly gave me the opportunity to open my wallet to purchase so many gorgeous items.

I knew nothing about leather before going to Florence, but I knew I was on a mission to buy some.  After shop hopping for an afternoon, I was directed to visit the Florence School of Leather or Scuola del Cuoio as the Italians call it.

The school reminded me of an episode of Project Runway.  Mannequins and designs lay everywhere.  Scraps of leather were being sewn together.  Needles and threads were meticulously moving in and out, in and out between colorful pieces of leather.

A room full of hundreds of colorful leather items, belts, purses, coin purses, luggage, keychains, and so much more greeted me as I walked through the doors.  I selected my items and took them to an old man named Vincent and a young Italian man in an apron standing behind a work bench.

Vincent neatly wrapped up my leather items and handed them to the young man.  I watched as the young man stamped my initials on my leather items.  AMP.  Anna Mary Pryatel.

It hit me.  Those initials were more than letters.  They were my identity.  They had to mean.  When people saw AMP I wanted them to think of the person, I was, kind, gentle, smart, ambitious, honest.

Vincent handed my items to me; all stamped up with AMP.  It was that day that I realized I learned a crucial lesson from the leather man, someone who didn’t even know he was teaching me a lesson.  Always try to be a better person of yourself.  Your mark, whether it’s stamped on a piece of leather or a license plate or somewhere else, is important.  It reveals your identity.

Remember always to be you and leave your mark on the world.

 

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An Unexpected German Lesson in Tipping

Tipping is always a topic of discussion while traveling abroad. In America, it’s common to tip 20%. In Italy, just a few extra Euros would bring me extra bread and a free half gallon of wine. In Prague, an extra koruna or two got you loads of gratitude and an after dinner shot for free at times. In Germany, I learned a very different lesson about tipping.

Late night Berlin celebrations led my friends and me to a feast at a bodega where we bought out the deli and wine aisle. We cheered to my friends’ recent Berlin marathon finish. Not only did he finish, but he beat his goal. Prost! Soon, cell phones were dead, and we had no way to get back to our Airbnb. My friend went inside the bodega and asked the cashier if he could plug in his phone. The man recited something in broken English and offered out his outlet. My friend took out some coins and replied “Danke. Here you go.”

The cashier motioned no with his hands. “I don’t accept tips here. I sell my products for the price they are marked. More money will not make me happy.”

“But you did something extra for me. So here’s a tip,” explained my friend.

The man motioned no again, and my friend placed the coin on the counter.

“Look at me,” demanded the cashier.

My friend looked at him.

“Being human isn’t extra,” replied the cashier and he passed the coin back to my friend.

How do you tip in Germany? You tip in kindness. Pay it forward.

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Berlin Hospitality Outside Our Apartment Walls: An Airbnb Experience in Berlin

As I stepped off of the plane at the Berlin airport, I quickly pulled out my passport, holding it like one of those characters from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory who won one fo those golden tickets The long-awaited stamp on my passport was about to happen. I had managed to have customs organize my Italian stamps so well back in the Spring, and I had found the perfect place for my Berlin stamp on page 3. I walked and walked and walked and soon realized; there would be no stamp in Berlin. Disappointed was an overstatement. Why was the stamp so important? Because it branded (no pun intended since I’m a brand strategist 🙂 ) me as a temporary resident of Berlin for the next four days. My blank page 3 looked disappointed as well.

After a long journey by train and foot, we arrived at our Airbnb in a cozy little neighborhood in Berlin, but our apartment was difficult to find due to lack of technology, sim cards, and a delayed schedule. We found our building and my boyfriend hunted to find the internet to get the key from our Airbnb host. I sat on the steps of the apartment, still upset that my passport would never tell the story of my travels to Berlin and overwhelmed by jetlag. I just wanted to get in the apartment, take a shower, and unpack.

I began to notice the neighborhood. It suddenly hit me that it was not an ordinary neighborhood. People set out their glass and plastic bottles outside the public garbage cans so those who were less fortunate could trade them in for money. Older kids rode their bikes slower, so their younger siblings didn’t have to ride home alone from school. People shouted from balconies “Hallo” and asked if they wanted a coffee from the shop down the street. Another tenant in the building even offered us her phone and let us in the lobby so we could take a break from the sun. Was I witnessing extreme amounts of kindness in this foreign city? It seemed so much different than anywhere I had visited.

Soon, our wonderful host Vilius arrived. He was a no-nonsense type of man and welcomed us as if we were his friends. He pulled out a map, telling us where to go and what to see. He warned us about the not so nice parts of town. The apartment was clean and modern. No complaints! I highly recommend staying at his place if you visit Berlin. He was patient and kind despite our late arrival and he even cracked a smile behind his stern, Germany personality. He seemed to fit right in with the other nice folks in the neighborhood.

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It hit me after a few days. It wasn’t the wonderful apartment or Vilius’ amazing hospitality that made our stay so wonderful. It was the apartment’s front steps and windows that overlooked the neighborhood. It was the people that lived outside the walls of our Airbnb. They helped us experience what it means to be a Berliner: kind. If it weren’t for Airbnb, we would have never experienced the people of Berlin the way we did. I gave Vilius’ apartment five stars, and his front porch ten stars. 🙂 I wish there were a “made me feel like a local” rating dimension for Airbnb.

Sometimes it’s not about the cleanliness of the apartment or how many beds it holds or if the WiFi is fact. Sometimes it’s about if your Airbnb apartment will introduce you to new people and make you feel like a true local. I soon realized I no longer needed a passport stamp to feel like a Berliner. I just needed to be kind to everyone around me. Thanks to Vilius’ Airbnb apartment, I learned what it means to be a Berliner.

Check out Vilus’ place here: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/88981?checkin=09%2F24%2F2015&checkout=09%2F28%2F2015&guests=3&s=XKpw

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Surviving a Flood: Why My Travel Items are my Most Prized Possessions

Last Saturday, I found myself in standing in a 500×500-foot puddle of water that had engulfed all my personal belongings. The night before, I witnessed a fast-moving stream of water pour into my tiny apartment through a giant hole in my wall due to my air conditioner caving in. In less than two minutes, the water began to rise, and it eventually reached 6 inches (maybe more). During my time of panic, I had to make quick decisions about what I could live with and without. It was in those two minutes that I found myself saving belongings from my travels. I shoved shoe boxes full of ticket stubs to the Uffizi and the statue of David, maps of Italy, Italian leather monogrammed with my initials, tour books from Charleston and Columbia, postcards from Rome, trinkets from Murano, Amelia Island, LA and Chicago and so many more items from my travels that had more meaning than just my “travel stuff” to higher grounds (my bed).

On Saturday morning, my entire bed told my travel stories, and I promised myself I’d put these stories in a scrapbook. These items were more than just things; they were stories. My green leather purse told the story of Lorenzo, an old Italian leather maker at the School of Leather in Florence, who taught me about Florence’s wonderful leather history. He carefully placed my initials on the purse and wrapped everything nicely in cloth bags with a personal note. He’s a character I’ll never forget! My 2-inch blue glass elephant from Murano reminded me of the colorful buildings on the Italian island and the glassblowers who took their craft so seriously and took hours to create one small animal figurine. The many coasters I’ve collected from my travels – The Bluebird Cafe in Nashville introduced me to the culture of struggling songwriters and the Lion statues that live outside the Chicago Museum of Art that my dad climbed one night while we walked around the city.

It was then that I realized one important item was missing – my passport. I frantically searched around the wet floor and suddenly found my “very important binder” full of drenched documents, all branded by the flood water. One item was completely dry and untorn, and that item was my passport. It sat so calmly in my Kate Spade passport cover as if it was shouting “I survived!”.

It was at that moment that I realized these were the only things I needed. Traveling is my life. Without a passport, a suitcase, and my travel accessories I’m not Annie. Yes, I lost my bed, my couch, shoes, clothes and thousands of dollars worth of stuff, including my apartment, but I didn’t lose my adventurous spirit. Next week I’ll be traveling to Berlin, Prague, and Munich and although my life in the States is very disorganized (I’ve been living in my boyfriend’s studio apartment with my cat and living out my car and a suitcase), there is no way I am going to miss another adventure. On to Europe!