Jax’s Travel Experience:
Living in Alexandria, VA
The first time I lived away from home, it wasn’t in an apartment a few miles away, it was a statewide journey from Pittsburgh to Alexandria, VA The trip, a 260 mile drive, taking between 4 and 5 hours depending on traffic, became my normal.
The things I do for education.
The summer of 2015 was filled with firsts for me. My first car, my first apartment, my first time living in a different state. This was pretty much my first year on my own, and the year I also got engaged to my long-time boyfriend and high school sweetheart.
I moved to Alexandria to attend the George Washington University Graduate Program for Publishing I had applied to prior to my college graduation in the winter of 2014. This experience, moving away and living in a new state, knowing no one and being completely unfamiliar with the location, turned into a great adventure. I left Alexandria with fantastic memories, friends, and life-long lessons that one can only learn living away from home.
I spent months packing up all my things, and with one U-Haul, a few cars, and a ton of furniture donations, I left my humble abode and drove with my family down to the Metro D.C. area. We spent a day and a night moving all of my things into a cute one bedroom down the street from the Old Town neighborhood of Alexandria, and a ten minute bus ride down the street to the GWU Alexandria Education Center, where I would take my classes and meet smart and strong women who would become my forever friends.
The first thing I did for the first few weeks was explore. I didn’t travel too far from my apartment, but I was a few minutes bike ride away from the banks of the Potomac River. I was surrounded by people milling the cobblestone streets, visiting the restaurants and looking out over the water at the boats going by. As wonderful and fun as this sounds, I quickly came to know that I had moved right next to the most tourist-packed place in the city. (The only place more packed with tourists was across the bridge to D.C.)
Living a few states away may not seem like much of a cultural shock to some, but living in the Metro D.C. area and working in various places familiarized me with how much of a melting pot the area really is. I worked with such diverse individuals, from all walks of life, and from all over the world. Working in retail, I changed jobs several times before I settled in a store right next to my apartment complex where I met and made some of my very best friends while also learning a great deal from them.
Most, like me, were travelers, just settling here for a few years, but others had found their home here – loving the place and the people.
I had quickly become familiar with my routine of work and school, and immersed myself in my studies completely. I chose to take my courses in a face-to-face education center, and my classmates were all females. It was very empowering to see all these women, educated from different places, varying in age, but all working towards the same goal and empowering each other with each passing class.
My first day of classes, I met and befriended two girls to start a project: create a proverbial press. At the time I had no idea that the three of us would stick together through school, and become friends for life. Postcard Press was the beginning, and the more time we spent together, and worked together, the more our friendships grew personally and professionally.
This is one of the best things that came out of my first experience living away from home. Forging friendships and creating Postcard Press out of an idea written on paper our first day of class.
Despite focusing most of my time on my work – I also was able to focus my time on my personal writing. Now I can understand why writing retreats are so popular. Being in your own small space, alone, with absolutely no distractions is a great environment for creativity and personal growth. I may have written more in the two years I lived alone than I ever have before. I wrote collaboratively for the first time for a long time, took a position as a Poetry Editor for an online magazine based out of D.C. and had works published in two different publications (as any writer will know, is no small feat, even in two years.)
I also went out with my friends, got dinner at chain restaurants as well as places only the locals can recommend, and saw movies or simply took walks up and down King Street to people-watch. When my fiancee came to visit, we would take day trips, hiking in places like Great Falls or a simple trail down the street. We would go out and see ships in the harbor, and take advantage of hole-in-the-wall ice cream shops in nearby neighborhoods, I highly recommend The Dairy Godmother, for anyone visiting the area.
We went to a restaurant that became my favorite place to visit: Delia’s, and we also went into Old Town to see a live Edgar Allan Poe reading from an actor/impersonator in honor of Poe’s death day in October at the Old Town Lyceum. And once saw and toured El Galeon, a full replica of a Spanish ship on a chilly morning.
As my time wound down in Alexandria, I took a day-trip to D.C. with my family to see the monuments and enjoy the splendor of our nation’s capital. Although my time living away was great, there are a great many thing that I regret. First, I regret not coming out of my shell more and visiting D.C. I made plenty of excuses for myself not to jump on the Metro and go out with a friend to see the area and take in the art and culture, and I still wish I could have done more and became more comfortable with navigating the area. (The only time I visited with the Postcard Press girls, we went to Kramer’s Books and Afterwords Cafe in Dupont which is one of the coolest bookstores I’ve ever seen!)
I regret not taking more hiking adventures. There are so many places that are a 20-30 minute drive away to really appreciate the natural wonder of that geographical region. I regret not going to an Open-Mic, something I promised myself I would do before I moved back, but never got the courage up to attend and perform spoken word. I also regret not taking more pictures and videos. I find myself scouring my phone for photos to compile this post, while there were so many things that happened while I was living away, from a blizzard dropping 4 feet of snow in 2015 and leaving most of my apartment community housebound for five days, to a sweltering summer in 2016 where it was so hot it knocked the power out at 102 degrees.
Some of the things I’ll miss the most are the people. Those whom I worked with and went to school with, it was so tough to part ways when they had all become such a big part of my life, a time of transition and growth. I am glad I met them and I will not soon forget the memories I take with me.
I’ll miss having my own space, being independent, and answering to myself. I believe I became my most organized and efficient self during my time living away and going to school. I think everyone should take time to live in a different place, and live alone, at least for a time. I was able to learn about myself and grow in ways I would not have been able to if I wasn’t in solitude. It gave me a better perspective of my life and the individuals back home who have helped me forge my path and have supported me along the way.
I’ll miss Cava the most. I love you Cava, please migrate North soon.
What I am the most grateful for is living in a place, learning new things, and immersing myself in a different culture. It made me more aware of the mission of Postcard Press and how I want to encourage everyone to take an opportunity and live away and even abroad. It is the best way to learn about a new place.
Once thing I learned about living in Alexandria, despite it being a great opportunity and experience is – I’m not a city girl. I have lived in a city my whole life, and moving to an even bigger city made me realize that when I moved back, I wanted to be in a more quiet and serene place. Is that a writer thing to say? But now I’m living North of Pittsburgh surrounded by woods and I’m very happy having my own space, finally living with my soul mate, and knowing my family is a quick trip down the highway. I would love to keep traveling, but I believe for now I feel settled in my residence.
Fun Fact: the first job I wanted working in Alexandria was in Old Town as a Ghost Tour guide (which I never actually did and backed out, realizing that it wasn’t for me) and having the script made me learn a ton of historical and eerie facts about the haunted part of the cultural hub in Alexandria. It may be a tourist attraction, but I learned plenty about the history of the buildings as well as those who have visited and lived in the row houses that still stand today. Also, there is a great Apothecary Museum off King Street that is filled to the brim with great facts and interesting stories for those interested in the history of medicine.
All in all, living away from home is the experience of a lifetime, and I would recommend it to anyone who has a feeling of wanderlust. And for anyone who is unable to move, then travel as much as you can. There is a whole world out there to explore and learn from, so what are you waiting for?