Whew! What a year.

2016 was rough in terms of the global political climate (hello Brexit, Trump presidency, ISIS, and Aleppo) and celebrity deaths (RIP Harambe and literally every single one of my childhood heroes), but on a personal level, it was actually pretty okay.

Well not just okay; it was actually pretty amazing.

I turned 23 this year and was able to achieve the INSANE goal of paying off my student debt. It’s so crazy for me to be #DebtFreeAt23 when I FOR SURE thought I was going to be #DirtPoorAt24 and #BarelyAliveAt25. Paying off this debt opened up a whole new world for me, one which will allow me to travel more freely. I didn’t make it out of Murica this year, but I still had some crazy adventures.

Here’s my 2016 in review:

  • Visited Mount Rushmore in the DEAD of winter. 
bachelorette party without drinking

With my sister at Mount Rushmore.

My older sister and eternal travel buddy got married in May, so for her bachelorette party, I took her to see Mount Rushmore and the surrounding sites. Since my sister doesn’t drink, typical bachelorette destinations like NOLA or Vegas were out of the question, and a heavy “day activity” place was the perfect fit.

Quick tip: Mount Rushmore is the perfect place for a dry bachelorette party. 

No one else wanted to brave the cold.

We spent a long weekend giggling, freezing, and having a blast. Did I mention we basically had the place to ourselves? Yeah, that’s because normal people don’t go to South Dakota in the winter.

  • Crashed DC and chilled on the Speaker’s Balcony. 
Speaker's Balcony Photo Op

View from the Speaker’s Balcony on the Capitol.

It seems like all of my friends moved to DC after college, including my amazing roommate, so while my sister was on her honeymoon, I took a #TreatYoSelf trip so I wouldn’t feel left out. I was hosted by my amazing college roommate and her girlfriend, along with their charming puppy Roheryn.

As a museum junkie, DC quickly became one of my favorite cities, especially since I didn’t have to pay for most of them. I also stopped by the White House to have Brunch with Barack (not really).

White House Garden View

Up close and personal at the White House.

I also got a private tour of the Capitol from my best friend from high school, who works for a senator. She even took me on the Speaker’s Balcony which belonged to Paul Ryan at the time, so you know I had to keep my eyes open for him. I may not agree with some of his politics, but those baby blues though.

  • Went on a 12 hour road trip with my dad.

My sister and I have a running joke that whenever we try to talk to our father (affectionately referred to as #PappaKamm) he always manages to sneak “Well, you know it’s actually a physics problem” into the conversation and spend the next 10 minutes talking about concepts from the class I nearly failed in high school. So spending 12 hours (each way!) alone in the car with my dad as we drove from Houston to southern Missouri for our family reunion made me a little nervous.

What would we talk about?

Family Road Trip

Highlights of the daddy / daughter road trip.

I was nervous for nothing because as it turns out, traveling with my dad is great! His road trip style matches mine perfectly. We both only stop to eat/get gas/stretch when absolutely necessary and combine all three whenever we can.

We did visit University of Arkansas on the way up so I could call them Hogs, and then spent the rest of the weekend goofing off with our cousins, watching the Olympics, and seeing just how fast jet skis can actually go.

I would say the only downside of the trip was dad listening to Rush Limbaugh at full blast because he’s kind of deaf and me having to resist the urge to fling myself onto the interstate.

  • Found my inner Hufflepuff at Harry Potter World. 
Harry Potter Photo Op

Castles and cold drinks.

Pottermore sorted me into Slytherin, but I’m choosing not to live that truth and instead am settling into being a delightfully average Hufflepuff. I had been to Universal Studios once before in 2009, but Harry Potter World was just being built. The anguish of being able to SEE Hogwarts, without being allowed to go inside was too real.

So obviously I had to go back.

Lunch at Publix

A Florida landmark.

My great friend from college invited me to visit her hometown of Sarasota, Florida. Her dad flies for Southwest and graciously sent me a Buddy Pass, which was my first time flying standby. It wasn’t too bad and further cemented that Southwest is my favorite airline (this post isn’t sponsored, I just really love them).

My dog of 12 1/2 years actually died while I was away, so I am really grateful that the weekend was filled with so much laughter, “tanning,” and roller coasters.

  • Went on my first solo trip to Memphis.

There was a mix up with the Buddy Passes, so at the last minute, I booked a solo trip to Memphis in early November. I had flown and spent all day exploring alone, but I always had someone to come chat to at night.

Sun Studios Piano

“Playing” at Sun Studios.

But what kind of travel blogger would I be if I hadn’t traveled solo? So I went for it. And it was amazing!

Memphis has lots to do during the day (like Graceland and the National Civil Rights Museum) and a vibrant nightlife as well (hello, Beale Street). It was easy to get around with Uber and Lyft and I felt SO proud of myself for finally taking a solo trip.

Mississippi River View

The Mighty Mississippi

I did have kind of an awkward solo dinner at Gus’ Fried Chicken because I think my waiter felt bad for me, when he was really just making me even more uncomfortable. Like sir, can you please just leave me alone and let me read this ketchup bottle in peace kthanks.

  • I also may have booked way too many trips for 2017.

Now that I’m out of debt, my money goes straight to the bank ( well, okay, some of it goes to Uncle Sam and some goes to Fidelity because I’m out here trying to retire early, but you get what I mean.) Because of this, I’ve made the brave (stupid?) choice to travel travel traaaavel next year.

Here’s where I’m headed:

January:

Boston to surprise friends from college.

DC for the Inauguration and to see friends from college.

February:

Austin for my brother’s trooper graduation.

May:

Costa Rica with my best friend from high school.

South Hadley, Massachusetts for my Mount Holyoke Reunion.

September/October

Germany, Holland, Belgium, Czech Republic, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Liechtenstein, and Switzerland for my very own #EuroTrip.

Where are you headed in 2017? 

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2016 in review

 

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My mom lived in Memphis when MLK was murdered.

She was in Jr. High and still tears up when she talks about the palpable loss that permeated the city. The curfews. The division in the aftermath of such hatred. The tanks trailing the sanitation workers. The fear.

She tells me stories of being harassed for playing with black children and what it was like to live in such a divided world. Of course, spending large chunks of her childhood in the segregated south was different for my mother — a white woman. But if it was bad enough for cry when she talks about it 50 years later, what was it like for the black people on the receiving end of such hatred?

The National Civil Rights Museum has the answer.

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My Airbnb was literally around the corner from my mother’s childhood home. The journey to the site of the Lorraine Motel took less than 10 minutes.

The facade of the Lorraine has been wonderfully preserved and carefully resembles its appearance on April 4, 1968. Only Dr. King’s and one neighboring room remain, while the rest of the building has been expanded and transformed to guide visitors through the entire struggle for civil rights, from the transatlantic slave trade to Black Lives Matter.

I visited roughly a week after the 2016 presidential election. A campaign filled with divisive and hateful rhetoric that has left many Americans fearful for their rights and safety. I believe that the timing of my visit heavily influenced the somber mood and tangible sadness throughout the museum.

At the beginning of the exhibits, there is an informative gallery that lays the groundwork for the politics of the slave trade. It ends with the sobering words, “Due to slavery, America became one of the richest countries in the world.” From there, I followed a black elementary school class into a room depicting the inhumane treatment that Africans were forced to endure on their “passage” to America.

Those children asked the questions that only children can:

“What if he has to go to the bathroom?” wondered one, pointing towards the line of statues crammed into the ship’s underbelly.

“Where does he eat?”

“Why are there marks on him?”

“Where’s his mom?”

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The museum also doesn’t shy away from the fact that nearly every early president and other “great” Americans owned slaves and relied on the exploitation of black labor for their own wealth. Viewing the founding fathers as imperfect people who contributed to the freedom of some while remaining complacent in or actively contributing to atrocity might be difficult, but it’s necessary.

The National Civil Rights Museum forces white visitors to do this work.

Thank God.

The museum offers such an intricate look at the federal government’s broken promises during Reconstruction, the legalized horror of Jim Crow, and the continuing frustration of voter suppression, that I found myself taking pictures of display cards and wall mounts to save the information for later. I was also particularly horrified to see in unflinching detail the terror of the KKK’s reign over the south, a horror many black Americans are still living with today.

As I soaked in the Freedom Riders, Bloody Sunday, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and the Memphis Sanitation Strike, the tension in my stomach grew. Suddenly, I rounded a corner and there I was — in Dr. King’s room. The place he spent his last night on earth.

national-civil-rights-museum-4 I’ve been to the Grassy Knoll and the Ford’s Theater, but this was different. There were two middle-aged black women in front of me. They were crying. Not the kind where a small tear rolls down your cheek and you subtly brush it away, but the kind where your throat closes and your shoulders shake and your feel like your heart might crush itself.

They looked to be my mother’s age. They lived through what she did, but on the other side.

For white Americans my age, people who have never experienced structural racial discrimination, it can be so easy to write off the horrors showcased in the National Civil Rights Museum as an unfortunate chunk of our history, rather than something that is very much still happening today.

The KKK, those who upheld Jim Crow, the students who protested integration in public schools — these people were the peers of our grandparents, our parents. Whether or not our families actively participated, we are not removed from this legacy. I was very much aware of this while touring the museum. Never before had I been so aware of my whiteness. And I’m so glad I got called out on it.

Spending nearly four hours there gave me a deeper understanding of all the factors that play into institutionalized racism in 2016: the police brutality, housing discrimination, educational inequality, and a white America that can’t seem to let go of its perceived superiority.

national-civil-rights-museum-2 A small expert from this passage of Dr. King’s Letter from the Birmingham jail was on display in the museum. It has always, and will always, convict me. I invite you, my fellow “white moderates” to look around at 2016 America and take his words to heart:

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

As a white woman, a believer in Jesus Christ, and the descendent of a Confederate general, I have a moral responsibility to create an America different than the one that man fought to protect. I need to listen when it’s time to listen. March when it’s time to march. Vote when it’s time to vote. And pray without ceasing.

To plan your own visit to the National Civil Rights Museum, please click here.

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