Tag Archives: travel

Breaking the rules in Aberdeen, Scotland

Ignorance is no excuse

One of the very few things I remember from my Business Law class is ‘ignorance of the law is no excuse,’ nor is it a valid defense.  However, in Aberdeen not only did I unknowingly break several laws, had I been caught, ignorance would have been my only defense.

Aberdeen is not quite the Scottish Highlands, but it is getting closer. Aberdeen is Scotland’s third largest city behind Edinburgh and Glasgow, and its location on the North Sea gives it an amazing coastline and busy shipping docks.

Nearly everything in the town is constructed with granite mined from the Rubinslaw Quarry. The quarry was active for nearly 300 years, but was closed in 1971. Now it’s a big giant hole in the ground filled with 40+ years of rainwater.

Sheriff’s court

History Nerd Alert #1:

Robert I, popularly known as Robert the Bruce, was King of Scots from 1306 until his death in 1329. Robert was one of the most famous warriors of his generation, eventually leading Scotland during the Wars of Scottish Independence against England.

Marischal College–now a civic building in Aberdeen

History Nerd Alert #2:

A mercat cross is the Scots name for the market cross found frequently in Scottish towns, cities and villages where historically the right to hold a regular market or fair was granted by the monarch, a bishop or a baron. It therefore served a secular purpose as a symbol of authority, and was an indication of a burgh’s relative prosperity. Historically, the term dates from the period before 1707 when Scotland was an autonomous kingdom, but it has been applied loosely to later structures built in the traditional architectural style of crosses or structures fulfilling the function of marking a settlement’s focal point. (Thank you Wikipedia)  Aberdeen’s cross was constructed from granite and was designed by local architect John Montgomery in 1686.

History Nerd Alert #3

The Gordon Highlanders was the name of a British Army Infantry Regiment. It was active from 1881 to 1994, and I always thought that Gordon Highlander was a single person in Scotland’s history.

They used to hold public executions in the spot across from Old Blackfriar’s pub. Nothing like a good public execution to stir up an appetite for fine Scotch and good grub.

St. Nicholas Church

Courtyard at St Nicholas

I’m not very good at following rules. It’s a badge of honour that I have not yet ever spent time in jail.  I certainly have done some things in my time that could have landed me there. In my wanderings out and about in Aberdeen, I have inadvertently broken the following Scottish laws today:  [I can only hope that I don’t end up at the roofless Scottish prison in Edinburgh]

  1. Took pictures in a shopping center
  2. Took a picture of a police car and perhaps a police man[person]
  3. Touched an old rusted propeller in a museum that had it labeled as something “too fragile to touch”
  4. Read an article in a magazine in a store without purchasing it
  5. Took pictures in a church
  6. Took pictures of Scottish people without their permission [ In my defense though, no one will be able to recognized the aforementioned Scottish people.]

Aberdeen–you are a beautiful, unexpected breath of fresh air.

Museums of Broken Relationships

2018 Michelle here:  This museum I found in Zagreb, Croatia is perhaps one of the more interesting museums I’ve ever been in [The Sex Museum in Naples is another].  While Zagreb is no uber charming city, this museum had me enthralled.  The end of a relationship is always a trying time for everyone involved even if it’s just a ‘whew, I dodged that bullet’ thought. But I’ve never thought of putting my relationship detritus in a museum for other to look at.  Let this be a reminder that atypical museums can be some of the more educational/informative/pleasurable.

 


A break-up is like a broken mirror:  it’s better to leave it alone than to hurt yourself picking up the pieces.

 

His name was Michael. Today is his birthday. I shouldn’t remember that, but I do. When we met he was 32, and I was 24. We met at work.  I loved his sense of humour and he loved my adventurous spirit.  We were friends first.  Nearly a year, before anything more than friendly happened.  But as is often the case between men and women, something did happen.  I practically dared him to kiss me, and when he did, it was as if time stood still. July 19, 2004…after lunch. The kiss lasted exactly 42 seconds.  I know because I had a digital atomic clock on the wall in my office.  The kiss touched every neuron in my body, and for the first time in my life, I felt alive.

I named him “Nobody” and he called me “Girl. ”  If people asked me who I was dating, and they did because people love to meddle in the affairs of others, I’d say “Nobody.” If people asked him who we was seeing, he’d say “Just some girl.”  It was our secret, and it was exciting.

We carried on our secret affair for 18 months –until I moved away…co-workers weren’t supposed to date. And even after moving to a different state, the thought of him was like a drug.  We were like addicts addicted to each other; couldn’t stay away, yet couldn’t get enough.

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The first step in recovering from an addiction is admitting that there is a problem, and oh boy, there was.  Michael was as strong as any drug I’d ever encountered, and willpower alone wasn’t enough to make me quit him.  Over time I came to rely on a power greater than myself and contact with Michael became more and more sparse.  Withdrawal is a painful master.  There was physical pain.  There was emotional pain. There were tears.

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There were no stuffed worms. No legs were broken in this break-up.


The last conversation I had with him was right before I left for Moscow.  He said “you always did want to go places.” and I said “I will always love you, but this will be the last time I tell you that.”  And I haven’t had contact with him since.  After returning from Moscow, I wanted to call him.  I wanted to tell him all the amazing adventures I had.  Instead, I got a cat.  I named her Lily. She was a sweet cat.

 

Lily helped me heal.

 

I still have a post card he gave me. And ticket stubs for various events. And a necklace. And various little notes.  What can I say, I’m a sentimental soul.

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I knew before I went to Zagreb that I wanted to go to the museum of broken relationships. I find it  fascinating to see what people keep as mementos from relationships.  Not every relationship ends on a sour note.  Some have other obstacles that time just could not overcome.  Some just aren’t meant to be.  Some exist solely to prepare you for the future.  Michael was not my first boyfriend, but he was my first love, and without that relationship, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

I’ve held on to the mementos of the relationship with Michael for 15 years, and karma, good energy, and such being what it is, it’s time to release that energy into the universe. Good bye Michael.


PS...I have a slight confession to make.  One time I was dating this guy.  His name was James. Now I knew that the relationship with James was never going to be long-term, but he was ummm, fun, and I had recently broken up with a cheating bastard I caught with another woman.  I made James brownies for his birthday.  I left them on the kitchen table with a ‘Happy Birthday’ note.  I came over the next day to find everything in the trash. I was pissed to say the least. Livid. Irate. Incensed. A seething cauldron of raging fumes; you get the idea. He was being such an ass. I went to the local World Market, bought a bottle of cheap $7 Il Bastardo wine, and switched it out for his fancy $200 bottle of French Bordeaux.  My friend and I drank the rich, velvet wine while sitting in her hot tub cursing all the shallow men in the world.  I still feel no shame in taking Il Bastardo’s prized bottle of red wine.

In retrospect, the Il Bastardo was still probably pretty good.  After all it comes from Tuscany and is a Sangiovese so probably still good. I really would have like to have smashed Il Bastardo over the bastard’s head, but I got my revenge in other ways that even though the statute of limitations has passed, I’ll still keep my mouth shut because some things are just better left unsaid [or in this case… things are better left un-typed].

at least no axes were ever involved in any of my break-ups

PPS…Names and dates have been changed to protect the innocent…Except Il Bastardo.

PPPS...If I dated women, I’d totally give every.single.one I ever broke up with this bar of chocolate.

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My one travel regret

I have made it a point in life to not regret the past. Sure there are things that I wish had not happened, but I also think that for better or worse, these life experiences have shaped me into the person that I am today. That being said, my one regret is that I didn’t study abroad when I was in college. It wasn’t as if I actively made the decision to not study abroad; my college, being a small (tiny even) liberal arts school did not have contracts in place with foreign universities.

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Studying Mayan art and architecture in Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras was most certainly interesting, but not all that practical

And also, let’s be honest. Even if they had had those agreements in place, most likely I would not have been able to afford it. It was all I could do to afford college to begin with. I worked full-time hours throughout my entire college career. Going abroad for a semester or a summer would have meant 3-4 months of no job and no income.  Putting that together with the added expense of being overseas and it just didn’t add up.

I did manage to travel while in college so it wasn’t as if I never left the country.  I turned a two week vacation into a three month tour of Northern England, Scotland, and Wales with a side of Ireland after my freshman year. While my friend were actually graduating college, I did an ‘independent study’ in Mexico AFTER I’d taken all my other classes needed to graduate thus delaying my official graduation for a year.

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I did make it to the town with the world’s longest name whilst wandering about Wales. Thankfully they just call it Llanfair.

I am quite certain that if I had studied abroad, my life would be 99.9% different than it is now–or maybe I would have arrived at the life I have now a lot sooner. I am quite certain that NOT studying abroad in college led me to take a ‘career break’ in 2010. And that ‘career break’ in 2010-11 led to me changing my career over the last 5 years. That career break also led to me choosing an elective where I got to spend time in both St Petersburg and Moscow (studying plants of all things) , Russia and Cardiff, Wales (studying the UK’s National Health System).  Both of those experiences, while amazing, was not the immersion experience I was looking for. And while travel nursing in the US is totally a thing; international travel nursing is not.

cardiff
At least I got to do a little exploring in and around Cardiff whilst working/studying at the Wales Hospital for Children.

All these experiences (and lack of experiences) has led me to the Peace Corps.  Peace Corps is not something I’d even heard of other than in passing until after I graduated college. But it is something that has been nagging at me, sometimes gently, sometimes with a bit more force over the last 15 years.

So maybe not studying abroad in my initial college experience was a good thing; after all, it has brought me to the Peace Corps where I’ll finally have that immersion experience I have been craving since I was 19 years old.

 

My one travel regret and what I’m doing about it

I have made it a point in life to not regret the past. Sure there are things that I wish had not happened, but I also think that for better or worse, these life experiences have shaped me into the person that I am today. That being said, my one regret is that I didn’t study abroad when I was in college. It wasn’t as if I actively made the decision to not study abroad; my college, being a small (tiny even) liberal arts school did not have contracts in place with foreign universities.

chichen itza
Studying Mayan art and architecture in Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras was most certainly interesting, but not all that practical

And also, let’s be honest. Even if they had had those agreements in place, most likely I would not have been able to afford it. It was all I could do to afford college to begin with. I worked full-time hours throughout my entire college career. Going abroad for a semester or a summer would have meant 3-4 months of no job and no income.  Putting that together with the added expense of being overseas and it just didn’t add up.

I did manage to travel while in college so it wasn’t as if I never left the country.  I turned a two week vacation into a three month tour of Northern England, Scotland, and Wales with a side of Ireland after my freshman year. While my friend were actually graduating college, I did an ‘independent study’ in Mexico AFTER I’d taken all my other classes needed to graduate thus delaying my official graduation for a year.

llanfair
I did make it to the town with the world’s longest name whilst wandering about Wales. Thankfully they just call it Llanfair.

I am quite certain that if I had studied abroad, my life would be 99.9% different than it is now–or maybe I would have arrived at the life I have now a lot sooner. I am quite certain that NOT studying abroad in college led me to take a ‘career break’ in 2010. And that ‘career break’ in 2010-11 led to me changing my career over the last 5 years. That career break also led to me choosing an elective where I got to spend time in both St Petersburg and Moscow (studying plants of all things) , Russia and Cardiff, Wales (studying the UK’s National Health System).  Both of those experiences, while amazing, was not the immersion experience I was looking for. And while travel nursing in the US is totally a thing; international travel nursing is not.

cardiff
At least I got to do a little exploring in and around Cardiff whilst working/studying at the Wales Hospital for Children.

All these experiences (and lack of experiences) has led me to the Peace Corps.  Peace Corps is not something I’d even heard of other than in passing until after I graduated college. But it is something that has been nagging at me, sometimes gently, sometimes with a bit more force over the last 15 years.

So maybe not studying abroad in my initial college experience was a good thing; after all, it has brought me to the Peace Corps where I’ll finally have that immersion experience I have been craving since I was 19 years old.

 

Remembering to remember

Today is Veterans Day in the USA.  In the UK it’s known as Armistice Day as it is the day that WWI ended–on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918 the guns fell silent. It is a day to remember our soldiers, from the Revolutionary War to the latest conflict.  Remembering the sacrifices these men and women made allow me to pursue the life I do.  I don’t have to fulfill traditional gender roles if I choose not to.  I can speak my mind because of free speech.  I have the right to own, carry, and use, if necessary, my .40 caliber handgun.

I’ve seen a lot in my travels but one of the more haunting rememberes was the Ceremic Poppy Installation at the Tower Bridge in London in 2014 (the 100th anniversary of the beginning of WWI).

tower bridge ceremic poppies 2

The poppies represent the blood spilt during the Great War, and when complete on 11/11 there will be 888,246 poppies in the moat surrounding the Tower Bridge.  I visited in October for the specifc reason of seeing the poppy installation.  And it was amzing.  It was moving.  To think that many young men lost their lives in a single conflict is incredible.  Humans are very visual people and to see this loss of life represented so visually was breathtaking.

tower bridge ceremic poppies 3
Freedom is never free and sometimes, we, in the USA forget that.  There hasn’t been a conflict on our soil in nearly 100 years. [OK, if you want to be technical, some of WWII happened  in American territories–Hawaii, Alaska, and Philippians].  If you haven’t seen up close and personal the devastation war causes, it’s hard to imagine its consequences.

So in an effort to remember to remember, I visited three Revolutionary War battlefields over the last few weeks.  Without the sacrifices these brave men [and a few even braver women], the USA would never have become the USA.

cowpens battlefield
Cowpens battlefield circa 1780

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A group of South Carolina militia along with a few army regulars under the command of Daniel Morgan beat the British at Cowpens. The victory kept the British from expanding westward.

Kings mountain

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They were doing some reenacting at King’s Mountain this weekend.

Ninety six cannon
A 3lb British cannon hanging out inside Star Fort at Ninety Six

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My feet, just slightly smaller than the average revolutionary war soldier. I wear a US women’s size 8 and at 5’9, I’m a few inches taller than the average Revolutionary War soldier.

Paris is a bitch

This
paris-nye-2012was my introduction to Paris. And to be honest, it was a bit much. Beautiful, but excessive. I’ll be the first admit that I came to Paris, not wanting to like Paris. I knew it is an expensive city and I didn’t need yet another expensive city to be crazy about [London, I’m talking to you]. I knew a lot about Paris before I came here. I knew that if I didn’t resist its charms, I would regret it later. Sort of like that extra bottle of wine at dinner.

If cities were people, Paris would be a supermodel. Super hot, but incredibly high maintenance. It’s unreasonably expensive if you want to take full advantage of what the city has to offer. Compare that to Krakow, Budapest, or Prague; they are just as amazing– just not as famous.

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Yes, Paris is beautiful. Gorgeous even. But still I think it’s overrated. But tourists seem completely infatuated with the city. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Eiffel Tower gets dry-humped a few times a day by overzealous tourists. [yes, I realize I am being crude]

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Perhaps if Paris had been my first adventure instead of London [although to be honest, it took me years to warm up to London], I’d have a different opinion. Or maybe one needs to visit Paris as a couple. Or in the spring. Or perhaps I just have a completely different idea of romance than most.

Admittedly, I am sure I missed out a lot by not knowing French or not having a background in art history or not being a culinary snob. But I can see the city  as a very livable city, if you are earning a local wage. The public transport system [I used it over the holiday weekend; it  was vomit-covered, but free] and bike-sharing system are among the best I’ve encountered.

paris vomit
Parisian Metro vomit–not quite the introduction that I was looking for

I can see the appeal of Paris as a vacation spot for tourists. Amazing art and architecture are everywhere so it’s like a massive orgy of tourism.

notre dame gargolye

And I guess therein lies the problem. I stopped being a tourist about 7 years ago. My ideal way to travel now is slow and easy… to feel a city as a local. I don’t always get to do that, but it’s what I would prefer.  And when you try to do that in Paris, you feel like a low-born serf. Cheap in Paris is still expensive.

In the two days I was there, I found people pretty helpful especially considering I can’t speak any French apart from “Bonjour, parlez-vous anglais?” and “s’il vous plait”. I mean strangers weren’t exactly inviting me home for glasses of wine, but I didn’t find them any more rude than say people in New York City. What I did see was rude tourists rambling on in English without any introduction. And if they weren’t understood, they would just speak louder. Parisians aren’t fucking deaf – they just don’t speak English.

a-bit-touristic

My favorite parts of the city were Pere LaChaise cemetery and Notre Dame cathedral. Maybe it says more about me that I preferred hanging out with the dead than engaging with shopkeepers, waiter, or merchants.

Pere LaChaise Cemetery Paris, France

Should you visit Paris? Sure, it’s definitely worth visiting. Especially if it’s your first time to Europe. Would I go back? Probably not, but I’d glad I checked it out.

If you’ve been to Paris, what did you think?  Would you go back? What am I missing?

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You’d think I’d learn

We all make mistakes… especially when doing something you’ve never done before, and traveling to a new place definitely fits in to that category. It seems as if I make at least 10 mistakes a day when I’m traveling. In that regard, I am just like everyone else [although I am not ashamed to admit my shortcomings], and when it comes to traveling, I make plenty of mistakes… usually the same ones or variations of the same theme.  You’d think I’d learn, but so far, I haven’t… it’s almost as if I am allergic to learning or something.

I’ve been on my own now for half of my life, and sneaking away to travel even earlier than that [Exhibit A–Alone in Atlanta as a 7th grader… Exhibit B… Baseball in Baltimore as a 14 year old], so you would think I’d learn a thing or two about this whole put stuff in a bag and go somewhere thing.  Yet, I am surprised as anyone…maybe more so because a reasonable person wouldn’t keep doing the same things over and over again… when things don’t go according to some ill defined plan.

Traveling is not easy… Things do not always work out like you think they should in your head… There are often hiccups, last minute change of plans, substitutions, and other clusterfucks that a lot of people never talk about. So with that in mind, let’s review the travel mistakes I keep making.


Mistake # 1  Not making reservations ahead of time.

I really [REALLY!] hate planning.  I also hate commitment, and to me, making reservations, is both planning AND making a commitment.  In my head, I’m screaming “Reservations cramp my style.  I want to be free.  I want to be spontaneous.  What if I change my mind?  What if something better comes along?”  In reality what happens is the flight I want is already booked.  There are no more hotel rooms to be had.  I have to keep changing hotels everyday because none of them had availability for the duration of my stay.  Or I have to scrap plans all together.  I really should get my ass in gear and make reservations more than 45 minutes before something starts.

Seeing fireworks at the Eiffel Tower on New Year’s Eve was awesome; arriving in Chamonix, France in the French Alps on January 2 without a place to stay and without a cellphone [see #4] during a snowstorm was not awesome.  Spending 400 Euros for the last remaining hotel room [#truestory] in town also was not awesome.

Mistake # 2  Packing the wrong things

I’m a pretty light packer as things go.  I have never had my bags go over the weight limit, and I’ve never had more than I could handle.  South America in general was a lot colder than I thought it would be… [altitude is a tricky beast]  I ended up wearing the same clothes for days… [I did change my underwear though] because they were they only warm clothes I had… I even slept in my fleece pullover a few times… In the end, I had to buy some things while I was on the road, and at least in the upper half on the continent 5’9″ women aren’t too common so fit was generally an issue.

You’d think that in those two bags, I’d have everything I need for a year in South America.  Nope, I had to go shopping in a mall in Quito for for jungle/cloud forest gear.  I had to buy a poncho for warmth in Peru [and used it in Bolivia].  Traditional Andean clothing does not come in tall… just so you know.  My flip flops fell apart in Chile.  I rented clothing for the Inca Trail.  I bought a warmer jacket [down in case you are wandering] for Patagonia, and by the time I hit Brazil, I was ‘accidentally’ leaving things behind.  Let’s not even talk about the time I showed up in a ski resort area without appropriate gear. I am ever hopeful that I will eventually happen on the right combination of clothing for the actual destination and the actual weather.

Just a few weekends ago, I went to the coast for a few days.  When I left it was 75F with highs in the mid 80s.  When I came back it was 48F.  I did not pack for 48F… Yes I knew was October, but it was 75 degrees at 8am.  I threw in my swimsuit, a pair of shorts, water sandals, 2 t-shirts, and one long sleeved shirt… Yes I probably should have thrown a sweatshirt and jeans or something in my bag, but my mind was singularly focused on being on the water and 80 degrees.  Friday and Saturday were awesome; Sunday I froze my ass off.

Mistake #3 Not letting anyone know my itinerary.

This all goes back to #1.  I don’t intentionally wander; I just change my mind.  I may intend to go one place, but hear something great about another so I just go… Or some place may be great, and I end up staying there longer than planned.  Or I meet fascinating people and want to hang with them.  All of these things have actually happened, and all have changed my original plans.  I’ve boarded a plane for Chicago on the spur of the moment.  I was in Serbia when I ‘should have been’ in Austria.  I was having such a good time in Peru that I got an apartment.  Chile wasn’t as awesome as I thought it would be so I dipped in and out, never staying in one place very long.  Venezuela nor French Guiana were never on my original itinerary, but I made allowances and ended up spending Euros in South America.

Although I should probably let people know if I am headed to an area where there are landmines.

Mistake # 4 Not using a smartphone when I travel.

I realize that a smartphone is so much more than a phone, but I’m terrified of forgetting to turn off the roaming or something and the racking up a $500 bill.  So on international trips, I turn the phone off completely.  I know I need to suck it up, move into the 21st century,  and just get an unlocked phone.  Life abroad would be SO.MUCH.EASIER. [2018 update. I now have a dual SIM unlocked android phone I use exclusively for travel.  Although free wi-fi is not universal, life is way easier with the smartphone]

Mistake#5 Not signing up for any loyalty program

Nothing. No travel rewards credit cards. No airline frequent flyer program. No getting triple points for every $ I spend. Nothing. I don’t know where to start. I have rarely fly the same airline twice, and 10,000 miles just  doesn’t get you very far.  If I had started way back when I could have at least gotten an upgrade by now.

Mistake 5.5 Booking things at the wrong times.

I am inherently a night owl. I am much more likely to stay up until 5am than get up at 5am. I know myself enough to know that there’s not a snowball’s chance in hell that I am going to be able sleep the night before anything is scheduled, and if I do, I’m likely to nod off 30 minutes before it’s time to get up and wake up in “oh shit!” mode… either I’m in a rush or I’ve missed it all together. I’m getting better at picking the right flights, buses, tours, ect, and I am fortunate enough to be able to sleep just about anywhere. As long as I can make it to the beginning point, I’m all right.

Mistake # 5.75  Not having insurance.

After getting severely dehydrated in the jungle… falling a breaking my arm in Mexcio… needing stitches in Belize, I have come to accept that I am inherently clumsy, and as I get older, I am less likely to bounce back from various injuries. Starting a couple of years ago, I never leave the country without travel insurance.  Since I’ve started buying travel insurance, I’ve yet to have an accident. Coincidence… I think not.  I’m never leaving home without it again.  See… all is not lost… I do learn… eventually.

Let’s get honest: traveling solo

Today is Valentine’s Day–a day where couples celebrate their love, or for the more cynical among us, a day capitalized on by card makers, candy purveyors, and jewelry hawkers. Despite any appearance I may give, I’ve been coupled up [and mostly happily coupled] every year since I was 19 years old.  My sole year as a singleton, I happened to spend in Italy–a placed designed for romance.  I survived asking for a table per uno when dining alone in Tuscany.  I was treated to a free tour and then some by an amazing vespa driver who decided no one should be alone in Rome, and no one should be alone on their birthday.  Never-mind I was meeting a group of people for a tour the very next day.  What happens in Italy, stays in Italy [you know, at least the non-travel parts].

Overall, I am a private person and just because I choose to be on the internet doesn’t mean my partner does.  I respect that.  My current partner hates airplane travel, and doesn’t really enjoy long car rides– the most distance we’ve traveled together is Florida [about 8 hours in the car together].  And you know what, that’s OK.  That means I have an automatic support system at home.  I have someone to feed the cats and check the mail.  I have someone who can contact banks and such if  I’m abroad.  Sure, we haven’t invented a way to literally ‘reach out and touch someone’ but with technology being what it is, I can video-chat, talk, text, or whatever anytime I’m gone.  And missing someone makes coming home so much sweeter.  And there’s always someone to pick me up at the airport. So, I am not a solo traveler.  Or at least not by choice.  Given the opportunity, I would rather share amazing sunsets or  discover interesting things or go on hikes with someone than do it alone.  But I’d rather do all these things alone than not do them at all.  And therein lies the quandary.

At the Olympic Stadium in Berlin

Long-term solo travel is still an uncommon practice in the United States [as compared to Europe, Australia, and New Zealand, but getting more popular every day] so when I announced my plans to travel around South America for a year plus my news was met with trepidation more than excitement.  Perhaps the main issue was that most of my friends, co-workers, and family had never heard of someone taking a year off and heading off without concrete plans.  Add in the media hype of danger at every turn outside the US borders and I can *somewhat* understand their concerns.

However, sixteen months after leaving, I returned, all in one piece, only having one real story of danger to report. I have since traveled even more extensively, to places where I don’t speak the language, and *somewhat* off the tourist trail. I have not found the media view of danger at every turn to in fact be a fact.  BUT in the early days of planning every time someone told me of ‘something’ happening ‘somewhere’ I wondered if I needed to be prepared for that–whatever ‘that’ may be [‘That’ ranged from the plague to kidnappings to earthquakes].  Eventually I said fuck-it-all, and just went with the fact that I’ve successfully gotten myself ‘un-lost’ on several occasions, have survived natural disasters, and have even managed to disentangle myself from unsavory characters while at home.

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So while safety was always the first thing someone brought up upon hearing my plans, the ‘solo’ aspect was immediately next as in ‘aren’t you afraid to go by yourself?‘ or ‘what if you get lonely?‘ or several other well-meaning but misguided questions. The truth of the matter is that as an only child who grew up in the country instead of a neighborhood full of other kids being by myself is the least of my concerns.

For me, it was always the opposite.  I am/ was worried other people would get on my nerves and I’d have no alone time.  I have since learned that as a solo traveler I can have as much or as little ‘alone’ time as I want, and it’s always easy to meet up with other travelers for activities, day trips, or whatevs.


At 19, I planned to go to England with my then-boyfriend.  I worked my entire freshman year of college to save up enough money for flights, train tickets, souvenirs, ect. A last minute change of plans on his part meant either go by myself  or not go at all.  And so I went.  By myself.  Which was the last thing in the world I wanted to do. I hate asking for directions, or talking to strangers.  I don’t trust easily. But I went anyway. And I had fun.  I learned to trust my judgement.  I learned not to be scared of everything and everyone.  I hung out in pubs in England.  I discovered the joys of hiking in Wales. I discovered Harry Potter in Scotland. Sure, I read some when I was out eating.  I didn’t eat a whole lot of dinners in restaurants.  I was 19!  I wouldn’t have felt comfortable eating in restaurants with someone.

sleepy kitty at the farm
At Muckross Farm in Ireland

What I did learn is that young, solo female travelers are pretty much on the lowest of the low of  in terms of travelers. Couples have safety in numbers, even groups of 2 or 3 females traveling together have it made compared to the single traveler, and male solo travelers — well, it’s just different for a solo man. And as I’ve gotten older, well, let’s just say I attract less attention than I used to– and I am more than OK with that. Of course I still get nervous if I get lost and followed by strangers; that’s just the evolutionary equivalent of being chased by saber toothed tigers.

Taking Risks

There is no one-size fits all rule. Life, and travel, is about constantly assessing a situation, making predictions, observations, and acting based on those assessments. I do this everyday at work. Seeing people, assessing the situation, making decisions based on those assessments. Traveling [and working in healthcare] has greatly increased my ability to size up a situation and a person and make an accurate judgment. In talking to people from all walks of life, all cultures, backgrounds, attitudes I have created a mental book of knowledge from which I pull when I encounter something new. If safety is the topic, then I have only increased my safety by traveling and added new experiences from which I can draw in uncertain situations.

So what have I learned

  1. Understand local cultural norms…. don’t expect them to conform to you.  I always try to learn a bit of the local language before I arrive– even if it’s just hello.
  2. Involve others in your safety…. let others [even if its just the hotel staff] know your plans.
  3. Stay aware….
  4. Stay sober…. being fucked-up greatly diminishes your situational awareness
  5. Know basic self-defense…. even if you never plan to use it
  6. Carry travel insurance… stuff can be replaced; you can’t
  7. Pay for your safety [even if that means a paying more for a cab or hotel versus the metro, u-bahn, subway…].

alexanderplatz christmas market
Enjoying local beverages should be fun; getting drunk while doing so should be verboten!

Which brings me to my final point– Anything can happen anywhere.

  • I have never been robbed while traveling. But I have had my wallet stolen and my car broken into in my driveway while I was  at home [upstairs] minding my own business.
  • On the other hand, I left my backpack in a taxi en route to the Cancun airport in 2002 and not only did someone return it to the airport lost & found, but everything was intact, including cash [$MEX and $USD] and credit cards.
  • I’ve never been physically hurt while traveling… I can’t say the same for life at home.
  • Other than a few cat-calls while in Mexico and Italy, I’ve never been sexually harassed while traveling.  Not so for life in the good ‘ole U S of A.

Above all, whenever you are out and about – at home or abroad – be aware of your surroundings and trust your instincts.  If something feels wrong, it probably is.

Beware of  bears

Modern Medicine, circa 1900

 

Eric Johnson, Eve Hewson, Clive Owen in ‘The Knick’/Image © Mary Cybulski/Cinemax

I admit to being a nerd…especially when it comes to medicine, or more accurately the history of medicine.  Medicine today is strangled, but this is not about that.  I have recently discovered the TV show The Knick.  As per usual, I am late to the party as season 2 finished up last fall and it is uncertain whether of not, despite it’s good reviews, it will return for a season 3.  For those who have been living under a rock (much like myself) or completing nursing school (much like myself), here’s a quick synopsis:  Medicine, or more precisely surgery, in 1900’s New York City at a hospital  called The Knickerbocker or The “Knick” was a dangerous proposition. (To be fair, surgery anywhere in 1900 was a dangerous proposition.)  The Knick’s chief surgeron is a fellow named John Thackery (very loosely based on Dr. William Halsted, who happens to be one of my medical heroes). Thackery has a very serious cocaine addiction (because in 1900 cocaine was a wonder drug and it’s addictive properties were not known at all) as well as revolutionary – if not mildly terrifying – ideas that turn patients into guinea pigs at a time when doctors were only slightly more knowledgeable about medicine than barbers.

credit

I travel a fair amount, and not just to the beach for R&R, and in my travels, I’ve been to Semmelweis’ lab in Budapest, and the Old Operating Theatre Museum in London (you should totally go by the way, especially if you like The Knick)

operating museum 2
The old operating theatre museum, London

you see, ust like the TV show.

Summary:  The Knick is awesome.  It’s bloody; it’s gruesome.  It’s realistic.  But there’s only two seasons, and I have binged watched it in a whopping two days.  I have had to turn to books to get my fix.  A few I’ve discovered so far:

Fever by Mary Beth Keane: The search for Typhoid Mary, who is responsible for a massive outbreak of typhoid fever, is a fascinating side-plot during the first season, and Keane writes a great fictionalized account of the actual Typhoid Mary.

Genius on the Edge: The Bizarre Double Life of Dr. William Stewart Halsted by Gerald Imber: The character of Dr. John Thackery is loosely based on Dr. William Stewart Halsted, and this biography is a fascinating examination of his personal and professional life.

Blood and Guts: A History of Surgery by Richard Hollingham: Though it covers a broader period than The Knick, having a sense of where these surgeons and their work sit in the larger history of medical history is helpful for context. And it does shed some serious light on surgery during the Victorian era.

Dr. Mutter’s Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine by Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz: Often described as the P.T. Barnum of the surgical theater, Dr. Mutter’s flamboyant approach to medicine is a great primer for appreciating Dr. Thackery’s methods

Straddling both worlds

Part I [The Travel Life]

When I was little, my fiercest desire was to be a National Geographic Photographer.  [Or a veterinarian] I was the elementary school kid reading National Geographic and being mesmerized by the stories and photographs on those pages.  I stalked my cat–hardly taking National Geographic-worthy images, but getting some really good shots of her.  I took my little camera everywhere and there were tons of pictures to prove it.

Fast forward 20 or so years… I still take a camera with me everywhere.  I still stalk my cat.  [not the same cat, obvs] I know that I will probably never be published in National Geographic, but that doesn’t stop me from traveling.  And taking pictures. And making up stories to go with the pictures.  The only [well, not the ONLYdifference between me and those National Geographic photographers–I don’t get paid to do what I love… not one little cent.  In fact, every trip I take, costs money… $100 for a weekend trip away to $1000 or more for a month away.  I could play golf or tennis or going out, but I choose traveling as my hobby of choice.  I absolutely loved my time in South America.  I would do it again in a heart beat.

Part II… [The ‘normal’ life]

I have a job that I love.  It is not travel related at all.  It is not location independent.  I rarely have weekends off.  I have to be where I have a license to practice [currently SC and NC].  I have to be where there are sick children.  I am in  graduate school to hopefully get to what is my dream job… As it is, the program will take me about 4 years or so to finish.  I have an address.  I have a car and a cat. And I like that.

Part III… [Straddling the line]

How do I make it work?  I work in a field where 3 days a week is considered full-time.  I choose to work on an as needed basis [I am almost always needed somewhere so there no fear there]  so that I can make my own schedule.  Do I get paid time off?  Nope.  Insurance paid partly by the company?  Nope.  Participation in the company’s retirement plan? Nope, again.  Do I get ‘guaranteed’ hours each week?  Nope, but neither do the full-timers [I may be the first to go, but not usually the only one].

So how do I make it work?

First, I buy insurance as if I were self-employed.  I have a catastrophic health plan with a Health Savings Account attached to it [Tax benefits#1].  I am generally a healthy person and don’t take any medications on a regular basis.  Second, I opened up an IRA on my own.  Non-profits generally don’t have the best plans anyway, and I don’t have to wait until I am vested should I want to leave. [Tax benefit #2].  Third, I work in different facilities.  This way, if one place slows down, I can usually pick up more time at the other place.  It’s a win-win situation. Fourth, I have a $100 a week deposited into a separate account.  This is my discretionary income.  I could use it to go shopping or out to eat or whatever; I choose to use it to travel.  $5200/year can go a long way. Fifth, I let my boss[es] know that traveling is a priority for me.  When I am home, I am available to work 95% of the time.  When I go away, I am not.  It’s that simple.

Thinking about what to do

Since starting this way of life in 2007, I have managed to take 16 months off to travel in South America, one month off to travel in New England and Quebec, Canada, another month to enjoy Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, Yosemite National Park, San Francisco, Seattle, and Mt. Rainier National Park, and another month to travel in Central/ Eastern Europe.

People constantly tell me how jealous they are of all my travels. They tell me how “lucky” I am. They say they wish they could travel like I do.

But you know what?

They absolutely can do it. They just choose not to.  For whatever reason. [Usually it’s a job, relationship, home, money, or some combination of these four things that holds people back]

A lot of travel blogs are written by professional nomads who are actively traveling. Or people who have been professional nomads at one point.  Many of them lack a home address, and can fit most of their worldly possessions into a [somewhat large] backpack. [I have one of those too] They flit from here to there to back again, and we ordinary people think –“wow, I wish I could do that”, or “this is so awesome that I will never be able to do that”, or “I  would do that if I didn’t have significant other/mortgage/car payments/ kids or whatever.”

We psyche ourselves out and buy into a lot of misconceptions about living a life full of travel. We begin to believe things like:

  • You must be rich to travel.
  • You must be single to travel.
  • You must be brave and outgoing to travel.
  • You must be free from responsibility to travel.
  • We convince ourselves that we can never be one of “those people” because we have a job and debt and a family and pets.

These misconceptions are just that — misconceptions. You can travel without being rich and single. [Although I am currently single, I am certainly not rich.  I traveled for nine months with a boyfriend at home] You can travel without being particularly adventurous [ I am not the most outgoing soul.  There are things that I will never do voluntarily such as jumping out of a plane or off a bridge with a rubber band on my ankles] And, most of all, you can travel without completely setting aside responsibility.  [Find a good pet sitter/house sitter.  Find a job that allows a modicum of flexibility.  Work two part-time jobs if necessary.]

There are ways to have a normal life and a traveler’s life…you just have to be more creative to make that happen than you do in either one.

I’m not going to lie and say it’s easy, though. Because it’s not. If you have a strict work schedule or a young family or a lot of debt to pay off, it may be challenging to live your “ordinary” life and still manage to fit in travel.

But just because something is challenging doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

Here are some tips for how to fit travel into your ordinary life:

  • Start saving now. It’s never too early to start saving for a trip. Even just setting aside $25 per week can go a long way quickly [$1300/year and you will probably never miss it]
  • Plan your dream vacation. Even if you won’t be able to take it right away, planning a vacation can keep you upbeat about traveling and give you something to look forward to. I really, really, really want to go to Spain, but I want to have the time to do it right.  The right time for Spain is not now, but it will happen… someday.
  • Make the most of vacation time and holidays. Americans get a raw deal in my opinion when it comes to vacation time. 2 weeks is a joke, and if it’s like most places I know, you can’t even do the two weeks consecutively. If your employer isn’t cool about letting you work overtime or giving you unpaid days off, you’ll have to get creative in order to make the most of the vacation time you have. You can stretch your 2 weeks much further if you plan travel around paid holidays, or if you can elect to work your holidays and save them up for later.
  • Don’t wait for someone to travel with. I would love to have a travel partner, but no one I know wants to travel the way I do.  They all have full-time jobs and/or small kids. Sometimes it’s hard enough just to be able to coordinate dinner with friends. But that doesn’t mean you should forego travel. It just means you may need to consider adding “solo travel” to your vocabulary.
  • Pick up new hobbies. I am a shutterbug.  Part of my reason for traveling is wanting to capture a fresh perspective on life.  And see some amazing scenery along the way. I have taught photography in Peru, public health in Brazil, and English in Mexico.  I have helped with sea turtle conservation in South Carolina and Uruguay and animal conservation in Ecuador and the  Galapagos Islands.  I have volunteered with big cats in Bolivia.  My goal is to volunteer my way around the world.
  • Take advantage of all opportunities. Right along with picking up new hobbies, be sure to take advantage of any travel opportunities that those hobbies might afford you. For example, I traveled a lot during college because I was on our the fencing team.  We weren’t great and didn’t get to compete internationally [like Notre Dame’s football game in Ireland this year–so jealous], but we did get to go to a lot of places in the USA that I would have never thought of visiting before… and it was [mostly] paid for by the school.

Most of all [and this one is important]

  • Don’t make excuses. Any excuse you can make about why you can’t/don’t travel can be overcome.  I’ve seen parents eschew traditional schools in favor of the education traveling gives.  I’ve seen professionals take jobs in other countries.  I’ve seen couples travel in a RV [or motorcycle] from Alaska to Argentina.  I’ve seen people start location independent businesses so they can be anywhere.  In the famous words of Nike–JUST DO IT.