Adventure + Ancestry: How Tracing My Geneaology Is Changing My Outlook On Travel

My first introduction to the concept of family ancestry came in the form of a social studies class project fourth grade. I'm sure many of you had similar experiences in elementary school! We were each asked to research our family lineage and create a poster and cook a recipe from one of our ascendents' countries for our "world's fair" feast. A fun concept, for sure! The idea of "being from" another country other than the United States toyed with my imagination. 

The project seemed like an easy task for me, considering that I knew my grandfather was a first generation Italian-American immigrant. I had heard many stories about my Pop-Pop being bilingual, working at the steel mill with so many other Italian immigrants, eating "cow-brain" and the seven fishes for Christmas. The choice seemed pretty obvious as to what recipe I should create! Granted, I had some knowledge that my mother's mother was probably German and so was my father's side. We all assumed that their last names "sounded" German, and we had no physical record or recollection of who was the first family member to immigrate to the US... so, at the time, no further questioning came about.

Ancestry was a big deal in my family. My aunts and uncles spoke of "the motherland," they often regarded our Italian heritage with a sense of pride and ownership, a feeling that I have held on to as well into my adult life. My family members would see different personality quirks and identify them as aligned with our Italian heritage. "You're so passionate and artistic... it must come from your mother's Italian side!" "Look at how expressive you are when you get excited. You're such an Italian at heart!" 

Adventure + Ancestry: How Tracing My Geneaology Is Changing My Outlook On Travel | ROAM + GOLIGHTLY
Adventure + Ancestry: How Tracing My Geneaology Is Changing My Outlook On Travel | ROAM + GOLIGHTLY
Adventure + Ancestry: How Tracing My Geneaology Is Changing My Outlook On Travel | ROAM + GOLIGHTLY

It's funny... talk about ancestry to an American and you'll be given a range of excited responses. "I'm three quarter Croatia, one sixteenth German and some kind of mix of Russian and Ukrainian!" Ask a European and they'll probably tell you that they're from whatever country they were born and raised in. Dig a little deeper, and they might tell you where else they're lineage comes from, but more often than not they'll add, "but I'm really just (insert whatever country they're living in)!"  And even after polling my friends on Instagram, many of them shared their own thoughts on ancestry not always encompassing culture, religion and race appropriately or with a holistic lens. It was such an interesting conversation! Hearing everyone's insight on ancestry blew my mind... and it also made me feel so fortunate to have a community of well-spoken, open minded and all-embracing group of friends on social media. 

Ancestry isn't viewed the same way around the world. But I will say, to a born and bred American citizen, the concept of genealogy has a certain romance to it. And as an American, our deep history lies in our immigration stories. The unkept chronicles of our pilgrimages to our country are one of the most curious and puzzling chapters of our families' history. We know that (most often) our history doesn't begin and end in America. In fact, the mystery of it all and the nostalgic relationship to old-world societies is an attractive puzzle for most of us. It's a romantic notion that our beginnings stem further than the location we're currently inhabiting. It's a riddle. It's sometimes a well-kept secret. It's a notion that we, as humans, are so much more than the passport cover we hold. It's a silly idea for most outsiders. "What do you mean you're Italian?! You've never even been to Italy. You're an American!" But it's undeniably intriguing to find a deep rooted kind of connection to the beautiful, wide, wild world. 


About a year ago, both my mother and father bought DNA kits from Ancestry.com. (This post is TOTALLY non-sponsored, by the way, I just wanted to share with you all the discoveries and thoughts I have regarding our DNA results!) Selfishly, I'll tell you, I bought one for my mom for Christmas and she basically started bawling when she realized what she was holding... I mean, she was beside herself with excitement. Definitely one of those moments where you know you NAILED a present! Anyway, the results were super enlightening. A lot of exclamations, disbelief and a ton of interesting stories from our older relatives in the family shortly followed. Soon after, my father took the same Ancestry DNA test. My dad has long been infatuated with his family history. However, he'd run into so many roadblocks along the way, leaving him stumped about who exactly immigrated to Maryland so many years ago. His deep research into his family lineage inspired me to write this post, actually!

Now. The results! From both my parents' DNA results, I've learned that I'm:

  • 49% Great Britain (wayyyyy more than I had originally thought!)

  • 23% Italian/Greece (yep!)

  • 7.5% Irish

  • 5% Middle Eastern (woahhh!)

  • 3.5% European East

  • 2.5% European West

  • 2.5% Iberian Peninsula

  • 2.5% European Jewish

  • And a smattering of others, including Finish and Scandinavian

Needless to say, MIND BLOWN! 

Adventure + Ancestry: How Tracing My Geneaology Is Changing My Outlook On Travel | ROAM + GOLIGHTLY

Since learning my ancestry results, I've had a completely different perspective about the various countries my lineage goes back to, almost like an invisible, nostalgic, romantic thread connecting me to countries my forefathers have traipsed through. Initially writing this statement has made me realize how much of a romantic I am for far off places. But, I truly believe it. I now feel a change in my perspective and emotional connection to countries I now know housed and mothered my ancestors. I begin to wonder about the mysterious folklore they believed, the lives they lead there, the food they cooked, the parts of society they felt excited to participate in. Have some my Scottish ancestors died in the Highlands fighting in the Jacobite wars? Did my coastal Middle Eastern ancestors trade with pirates and world travelers? What did their lives look like? What did they wear? What did they worry about? I get swept up in the romance of it all. 

There have been times were I've felt particularly PART of a country... almost like a piece of me belonged there. My time in the Scottish Highlands comes to mind. Trekking through the muck and the cold, bitter wind sweeping my hair into my face felt very right. I hadn't known the extent of my family ancestry when we visited, but the feeling was very deep and very visceral. Visiting candlelit churches in Rome, seeing the Vatican with my very eyes and taking a passagiata before a delicious meal felt like a homage to something greater than me, but one that I was a part of nonetheless. Now knowing that my family lineage extends to places like the Middle East, European West and more makes me long for experiences to connect with there. I wonder if part of me will feel and kinship with the coastal ports of Turkey or the side alleyways of old Monaco or Luxembourg? Maybe these feelings are just me projecting my deep sense of love and appreciation for family and culture, sure. Maybe these feelings are just windswept memories that I've amplified since learning my ancestry, sure. But to me, they feel real and they feel right. 

Adventure + Ancestry: How Tracing My Geneaology Is Changing My Outlook On Travel | ROAM + GOLIGHTLY
Adventure + Ancestry: How Tracing My Geneaology Is Changing My Outlook On Travel | ROAM + GOLIGHTLY
Adventure + Ancestry: How Tracing My Geneaology Is Changing My Outlook On Travel | ROAM + GOLIGHTLY

Ancestry might not mean a lot to everyone, but it sure feels close to my heart. I now look forward to learning more cultural traditions and histories of the countries my family belongs to more than ever. I celebrate the rich history my family has woven in its fabric. I hunger to explore and learn more about the intricacies of my family history so that I can honor the deep history my family extends from. 

Have you learned about your ancestry? How have your discoveries changed your perspective on travel?

My Favorite Worldly Flavors (& How I Use Them When I'm Dealing With Wanderlust)

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I’m an admitted foodie - it’s true. Luke and I are more than likely to make a bucket list of restaurants and dishes as we are to making one of galleries, tourist sites and historic monuments.

I could wax poetic about how important understanding a place’s rich history in culinary arts brings us closer to understanding its people, and although that is absolutely true, at the end of the day… good food speaks for itself. Good food brings people together, it opens dialogue, it makes life worth living.

So why wouldn’t a traveler pick up an intense love for a place’s traditional foods? It taps into our innate sensory memory - those fleeting moments of intense recollection. Worldly flavors do so much more for me than fulfilling a meal. They bring back an indescribable element of nostalgia. They make me feel closer to those far off places. They send me reeling into deep fits of appreciation and gratitude.

The truth is, guys, I use these worldly flavors most when I’m feeling an overwhelming sense of wanderlust. I feel most in touch with my memories of Italy when I’m cooking cacio e pepe and sipping wine. I feel closer to Japan when I’m slurping udon noodles and gyoza over a tasteless beer. These recollections come flooding back to me in the midst of savoring familiar flavors I’ve experienced on foreign lands. And even better, I feel more excited to explore unknown, unvisited places when I taste their dishes beforehand.

Today, I wanted to share some of my favorite worldly flavors I discovered at Whole Foods, who so lovingly attended to my *need* for multicultural goodness, thanks to their new Lancaster store. Since their opening in late summer, Luke and I have gone to the store an embarrassing amount to peruse their aisles and get our fill of deliciousness. So, I’m thrilled to share some of my favorite finds.

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First up, a taste of Italy through an amazing “aperitivo” spread. If you haven’t caught on already, going for an aperitivo before dinner is one of my absolute favorite memories of our summers in Rome. If you ask my opinion, if you’re eating dinner in Italy without an aperitivo beforehand, you’re doing it wrong! Also - while we’re at it - can we please make these a real thing here in the states?!

For our spread, I went for a classic chunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano (an Italian CLASSIC) fresh off the block, mixed with a delectable pairings of garlic marinated olives, parmesan and toasted crackers, and Mama’s Pesto (can’t recommend this stuff enough - it’s stupid good!). Is there anything more Italiano? I think not!

What I love about Whole Foods is its insane cheese selection. Luke and I could have spent hours in there! We easily washed down all of this Italian deliciousness while sipping on Blood Orange Soda - something we were obsessed with when we lived in Rome. I haven’t been able to find anything that comes close to the stuff we loved so much until this one!

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To add a more multicultural twist on an aperitivo, why not make it a bit more French by adding some soft and pungent blue cheese, fig jam and a crusty, delicious baguette from the bakery… maybe with some sweet butter cookies for good measure? I also just had to pick up some dried lavender while in the store too. Is there anything more French than the smell of lavender?

What I love about aperitivo is just how flexible it can be! Put out some pairings of cheeses, a spread, something crunchy, something fresh, something sweet - just GO FOR IT. And everyone’s happy!

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Next up - SWEETS. I’m a sucker for coffee and cookies. I’ve pretty much mastered the art of “tea time” as the Brits do it, except I prefer some dark roast coffee instead of a traditional pot of tea here at home. (Anyone who’s worried - don’t worry, I kept it traditional while we visited England this summer!)

For my multicultural twist on a mid-afternoon tea, I paired a smattering of classic cookies and biscotti, with an Amsterdam favorite, stroopwaffles, and a pour-over of Lancaster Coffee Roasters. Seriously the coziest spread! Get this girl some cookies, coffee and a good book and she’s square.

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While we’re on the sweet stuff - I picked up a few multicultural chocolate bars while shopping at Whole Foods! Check these babies out!
Mast Chocolate Bars in Almond Butter, right here from Pennsylvania, an Icelandic Milk Chocolate Bar, and a Guajillo Chili Chocolate Bar from Mexico. Just proof that all around the world, people celebrate the deliciousness of chocolate in their own beautiful ways. I’m just here spreading the good word… a relishing in their creations!

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While we giddily shopped Whole Foods aisles, I had to pick up some other worldly flavors I miss ever so much, like the matcha latte powder, some thick cut udon noodles straight from Japan (taking me back to Shinjuku’s Omoide Yokochō!) , as well as some other Asian treats like Whole Food’s Jalfrezi Curry Simmer Sauce (love this stuff) and Kalbi Sauce from Korea.

It’s amazing how much selection Whole Foods has. Any sort of multicultural dish could definitely be covered - a big perk here in Lancaster, where a lot of grocery stores lack those unique ingredients needed in traditional meals around the world!

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Using cooking as a tool to “deal” with my wanderlust while at home has served Luke and I well. We’re not only well fed, but also hellbent on developing our perfect recipes to make here at home (or at least until we can taste the real deal in person). We feel connected to our memories of those far off places and also filled with curiosity for those we taste often but have yet to step foot in.

A big thank you to Whole Foods for sponsoring this post. Feeling so grateful to have a store here in Lancaster to consistently shop at!

Have you ever used cooking as a means to “deal” with wanderlust? What are your favorite recipes and flavors?

Iceland: How Do You Explain What Is Magical?

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There is no more appropriate word, dear Iceland, to describe what you are than one. This one word has been over-used, overwrought... a cliche, even. But, Iceland, you are magic.

We landed in your desolate beauty in the seemingly tiniest little airport, windows open we saw glimpses of far off, bare mountains. The drive to our car was a feast for the eyes. Eerie, soft laden fog covering the ground, misty bypasses and a faint, faint shadow of larger, more ominous looking mountains in the distance. 

From the passenger seat of our red four-wheel drive hunk of metal, Route One, our circular path, felt like a taste of all of America's national parks rolled up into one without ever unbuckling my seat belt. You are perhaps my most challenging subject to write about, dear Iceland, because I cannot find the words to summarize all the allure, the mystery, the oddities, the challenges, the natural wonder you encompass. How can I describe what is magical? After a few hours, I was spell-bound by the great amount of beauty I had swallowed in such a short amount of time. My heart puttering like a toddler's experiment with a bass drum, questions and curiosities filling up every corner of my imagination, Stendhal Syndrome seemed more and more like a reality than a laughable diagnosis. Are humans supposed to take in this amount of striking nature?

Ice caps. Mars-esque landscapes. Stacked rocks to commemorate those who died in explosive lava's path. Circling, weaving paths, straddling two harsh landscapes, the harsh, Northern Atlantic on the right, a foreboding active volcano on the left. The dripping of vein-like streams stemming from your tallest tundras, emptying out in sporadic rushes into the wild, roaring ocean. Black sand beaches with foamy white wave caps kissing the top of your shoreline. Pebbled little rocks in grey, navy, sooty dark colors stuck in my boots. Barren, open segments of land, sprawling outward and outward until a minute shadow of far off mountain peaks dusted with the white, effervescent glow of what must be snow.

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Was I in Mordor? Or was I in heaven? Were the foggy highways leading me to the doomsday emptiness I imagined after the wake of a earthly catastrophe? Soot-covered, ashy, residual leftovers of an explosive accident? Or were they the gateways to the celestial skies overlooking the bluest ocean waters? Where are all the humans? Where are we? The contrasting beauty of all that you are, Iceland, is that you straddle echoes of death and destruction with the hope of renewal. Your most destructive volcanoes, wielding death and loss and power, settle into magical, frolicking, purple Lupine covered fields years later. Your towering mountains, active with the frightening idea of an oncoming explosion exist within the same league of wild horses, posing with windswept hair on the edge of the valley. How can a place balance fear and hope, death and renewal all at once? 

For once, Iceland, I was feeling my own tiny existence on the surface of a great, big earth. A small human, walking along the crust of a planet.

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Of course fairies are real in your lush, green valleys... why wouldn't they be? Why wouldn't they make their home here, in between babbling brooks of distant, fallen waterfalls and the mossy coverings underneath a rainbow's arch? For hours I would scan the surrounding land off of our path, looking for a white unicorn to appear out of the dense, low covering purple Lupine fields... because if there were a place for any folklore to inhabit, it must be here. To exist here must mean that the magical must be closer to reality. 

Iceland, I cannot summarize all that your magic is. I will not even try. I will not even attempt. But I will speak of your beauty. I will speak of the wonder you instilled upon me. I will insist that my friends explore your lands with a sense of appreciation, curiosity and childlike wonder. But most importantly, when I am in the midst of the harsh realities of life, when deadlines are impending, when bills are due and all the mysterious wonderings of my imagination seem thwarted by soul-crushing adult existence... I will scroll through my memory bank of our time together when I begin to doubt if magic is real. For you, Iceland, are nothing but that.

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I fall in love with places, do you?