My bags are packed. I’m ready to go. Eight weeks worth of clothing and gear, all arranged into just one backpack and one suitcase. I cannot believe that this day has actually arrived. Twenty hours of travel between myself and the island of Fiji, specifically in the Mamanuca group of islands.

Let me rewind a little bit. Five years ago my life changed, I left my corporate job, started my own company, ended a 15 year relationship, and decided to start living life for me, and nobody else. I also made a promise to myself, in five years I will take a trip of a lifetime. I wanted to see where my grandfather stood during WWII. I wanted to add stamps to my passport because I couldn’t stand living with the regrets that I haven’t traveled. AND I wanted to start practicing photography again. These were the promises I made to myself. I wanted to live and experience life again, not allowing someone or something to dictate who I was or how I felt or what I should do. I wanted to grow and become a better person

So I opened a savings account, and every time I could, I put money into it towards this goal of travel. I ended all my magazine subscriptions, only drank Starbucks when traveling for work, or meeting with clients. I cut out everything and anything I could that would put money into that account. I was bound and determined to do this. But this… I wasn’t sure what this was yet, or where it would take me.

My grandfather and me.

My grandfather and I were always close, he was my compass. He was the person who grounded me, but also encouraged and supported the wandering soul I had. He was the person who first put a camera in my hand and said “what do you see.” I will never forget that moment or those words.

What do you see? I understood, even at the tender age of 5, that this is how I can tell my story, how I can show the world how I see it. Ultimately, my long-running idea of this trip, became my way of answering that all-important question this amazing man asked me so many years ago. What do you see? Due to that lifelong influence, I decided I would focus on the south pacific where he was stationed so I could see what he saw, stand on those same shores and take some of the photos he took.

So I started researching, and then researched some more. My original plan was take three months and travel. Start in Bali, on to Fiji, New Guinea, New Zealand, Australia and then ending in Hawaii before returning back to the mainland. But the reality was that I couldn’t take that much time away from my ever-growing company. So I refocused and realized my realistic time and monetary constraints. I settled on two months, starting in Fiji, going onto New Zealand, Australia and then spending the holidays with my family in Hawaii. I have my plan in place!

Now that I had a plan, I called my grandfather, and even though he was hard of hearing, we talked (or I should say I yelled, he talked, haha!) about my trip. I asked as many questions as I possibly could, and he wanted to make sure I was doing this for the right reasons, and that it was something I really wanted to do. I miss our weekly phone calls, I miss hearing him call me Mary (my mother because apparently we sound alike on the phone). I miss the crazy conversations that made no sense at all because he had no idea what I was saying; but overall I miss my friend. We talked from time to time about the trip in the days leading up to his passing. At this point, my family had no idea what I was planning, only my grandfather knew what I put into motion.

Fast forward to March 2015, my grandfather had just passed away.  I was so lost over this monumental loss in my life. I have to put this out there, I believe that our loved ones are always with us. I truly believe that they send us little messages when we need encouragements, I believe that we all have some sort of guardian angel. I don’t talk about religion, because I feel that it is a personal thing between you and your god. I do feel that we all have the rights to our beliefs, and that we don’t need an establishment to tell us how to pray or meditate or what to believe or not believe in.

So I turn to nature when I need it, that is my church. Two weeks after my grandfather passed away, I went for a long run (15 miles) just to clear my head and try and get back on track. My grandfather was with me the whole way. At the end of my run I just broke down, I was the crazy girl crying and panting on a trail in the middle of Great Falls National Park. In that moment, I saw a little cardinal about 10 feet away from me, and I could have sworn I heard my grandfather say “Go”. So I picked myself up, called my girlfriend Jennifer who is a travel agent, and said, “What do I have to do to make this dream a reality?” From that point on I could feel my grandfather with me, encouraging and helping me plan this amazing trip of a lifetime.

I hope you follow along as I take this incredible journey, if anything I can promise as many pretty pictures as I can take. This trip seems a little unreal still to me. Five years of saving and two years of planning, and I’m now walking down the terminal to board my first flight! Here we goooo!


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