Everyone Has Something I Don’t Have

I have a few rituals for when I get discouraged with myself. One is I buy or download a book that could be called pretentious so that I can casually drop into conversation that I am “just reading Ulysses”. Or I listen to new age podcasts. It’s not that I particularly agree with everything in them but I just love the idea that I can meditate my way to a better life. For the record, I do believe in meditation and some of the other parts of it, but I think there is room for doubt in any belief system. In any case you would think that after many new age podcasts and “build your self a life you don’t need a holiday from” affirmations that I wouldn’t experience jealousy. But you would be wrong! I am not, as previously disclosed, what you might call a positive person. In fact, I am the opposite. Where others my see the unknown as something beautiful to embrace I live in constant terror of what bad thing might befall me around the next corner. And I’m jealous, but I’m not just jealous of one thing (ie: other people’s travels).  No, I am jealous of everything even when I can rationalise why I don’t have or even want something. Someone has a cleaner? I am jealous of that even though the longest I’ve lived in one apartment at a time has been two years, the last two years in fact. A European friend gets to go on a long haul break and I am stuck doing city breaks? Of course that makes sense I’m from Canada and if I want to go home once a year than that costs as much as their long trips. Someone just has that pregnancy glow? I’m jealous of that too, even as a childless-by-choice woman. Earlier I was feeling down because “I hadn’t gone anywhere this year” and this despite a weeklong road trip around Ireland, a city break in Belfast, a music festival and a week in Prague. Does this all sound ridiculous? That’s because it is.

Now I would like to offer you a solution, but I don’t have one. The truth is that there are people who have things I don’t have. There are people who are better at not buying a take away on the weekend and have more money for bigger things they want.  There are people who pursued their careers and didn’t do the “free spirit” thing. There are people who come from wealthier backgrounds. Those are all true and being thankful for what I have (which I am) doesn’t magically make them untrue. Personally I don’t find that I can improve my mood by reminding myself of the things I have, because again, I can rationalise them all away. The fact is that I’ve always had an image in my mind of who I was and wanted to be. In my mind I was the world traveller who was always wearing floaty caftans and “just dropping by” before jetting off somewhere else. I never seemed to have a job but yet had stylish clothes and an extensive wine knowledge. I was well read and had heated arguments on the phone in another language. I could easily discuss current affairs around the world while also being able to casually drop some reason that someone should or shouldn’t do something based on their numerology. And friends. That’s who I am now. Well, more or less. I need a few caftans and my knowledge of wine is not so much extensive as it is “I have tried a lot of different bottles of wine to excess”. But even being the person I wanted to be doesn’t stop me from seeing what other people have and sometimes being envious. This is why I balk at the “build a life you don’t need a vacation from” nonsense.  You can build the exact life you want and still wonder what it would be like to have that other thing. There’s that cheesy saying about one door opening when the other door closes but the truth is that when we choose one door another one closes. Every choice we make excludes another choice, or excludes it for now.

So what to do about that human emotion of jealously? I think, as I’ve learnt from the many meditation podcasts I’ve listened too, the only thing to do is experience it and then let it go. To say to ourselves, “I feel jealous of that” and then to not shame ourselves. We try to make ourselves relentlessly happy and feel guilty when we aren’t, we already have so much we tell ourselves. In the travel community we say that if we just change our destination then we can be happy. That endless travel is the solution. But it’s not. Happiness is an elusive and ever-changing thing and trying to make ourselves happy doesn’t work. Next time we feel jealous let’s forgive ourselves for being human and then just keep doing our thing. Instead of trying to be relentlessly happy let’s relentlessly be ourselves.

 

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How To Have A Very European Autumn

From my extensive studies (ie: looking at instagram and pinterest all day) it seems that Autumn is a universally loved season.I’m not going to discuss the nuances of the pumpkin spice latte debate, although readers should know I fall heavily on the side of “go ahead and enjoy those overpriced seasonal drinks however I’m more of an eggnog latte type of woman”. I think I understand why everyone loves autumn, especially in the age of social media. Bear with me here. Summertime has always been about doing stuff whether that means backpacking trips, heading to the pool, backyard barbecues, camping, music festivals or any of the other things that we should be doing in the summer. And hey, those are good things but combine what with the constant barrage of the cool things our friends are doing on social media and  it can feel like a lot of pressure. Then autumn comes and we get back to routine, we make our homes cosy because we’ll be spending more time in them, boozy nights of dancing can be traded for a quiet drink in the pub beside the fire.  There’s a change of pace that means less pressure, it’s easier to say no to events when it’s rainy or snowy and cold. There’s a it more room to breathe. To focus on our loved ones, to take ourselves out of the race of being the coolest and best.

autumn 4

Canadian autumns are unlike anything else, the leaves turn a million beautiful colours and everything has that truly autumnal feeling (except we call it fall, but I’m tired of being made fun of for saying fall so ahah! I have the last laugh (ish)). But there’s something special about European autumns that I’ve come to love. It’s not as cold or as leafy but it’s peaceful . The cities take on an different beauty in the gloomy and overcast skies, Christmas markets pop up. In Valencia the streets are filled with people selling roast hazelnuts or corn on the cob. Even if it still feels strange to me to see Christmas decorations go up when there are still green leaves on the trees, there’s something I find enchanting about it.

belfast
Belfast 

If you’re planning a weekend (or longer) getaway in Europe  I prefer to wait until September or later. August in many European countries, especially in the Southern/Mediterranean European countries is a vacation month which means the cities are basically empty as most people go to the sea/their village/abroad. These places become very touristy which is good (I like being a tourist) but it also means that not as many places are open and you don’t get the same feel of the city, the hustle and bustle as it were.

autumn 3

Whether you’re going abroad or staying in your own country don’t put too much pressure on yourself to see all the sights, if it’s cold out, find a cosy corner and read a book or have a long lunch.  Have something to look forward to and plan. Head to an art gallery, museum, a talk or just simply go somewhere new. These things make me, for one,  feel more confident, like I have something to contribute to conversations, like I’ve learned something new and am better for it.  Find comfortable accommodation because you might not leave it and pack an extra large scarf and coat. You want to see the city after all but it’s just too rainy/snowy! C’est la vie! Download educational podcasts or audio books and then debate everyone with your newfound knowledge.  Cook a late lunch and curl up in front of an old movie. Call or text a friend or family member and spend the afternoon catching up. Consult your horoscope to see if you should go out or stay in this weekend and then invite friends over with the intention of going out but stay in instead. After all you have a frozen pizza and a bottle of wine. Sit on a bench or in a cafe and contemplate life. Wander in and out of shops with the purpose of buying loads but in the end only purchasing a bracelet. Go with the flow rather than trying to organise a trip that accomplishes everything at once.

I often say and have heard people say that you are more tired after a vacation than before and it makes perfect sense. We feel pressure to do as many things as possible and see everything, we want to be busy but autumn is the perfect time to put those notions aside and embrace friendship and family life, to not worry about being perfect and to see where life takes us.

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Go Ahead, Be a Tourist

If you’ve gone on 0 trips or 7000 you know that you don’t want to be a “tourist” you want to be a “traveller” and you want to seek out “authentic experiences” you want to see “the real ____________”. I’ve heard that everywhere I’ve lived and travelled too. “Dublin’s not really Ireland” or “Rome is a typical destination for a North American” (still don’t know what that means, it’s the capital and a historic city so probably lots of people go there not just North Americans??). I am here to say bullshit. Look the truth is, yes if you live somewhere for a while it will feel different then stopping by for a week or two, and the longer you live there the more your perspective will change. Yes if you learn the language you will have a deeper experience. These things are true. But if you’re travelling somewhere, even if you’re living there, stop looking for authentic experiences. You are having an authentic experience right now. Even if you eschew all the traditional tourist things, you’re still a tourist. At least that’s how I see it. In my years of trying to be an “authentic traveller”  I have yet to have someone come up to me and say “wow Stephanie, good job, you’re a traveller and not a tourist”. What’s more I’ve spent a lot of time trying to please other travellers and impress them with the tales of m authentic travels and you know what? That certain type of person is never happy because there’s always someone who’s been somewhere more “interesting” or done something more adventurous, or been too more countries or whatever the case may be. And you know what that’s true. Because whatever you do there will someone who has done something different.

eiffel tower (1)

Seeking so-called “authentic” experiences often means that one, particularly a Westerner, is attempting to be an arbitrator of another culture and what defines their culture. If  Spain, for instance, and I’m just using this as an example, decides to ban bull fighting or the running of the bulls in the near future it is not the job of  me, or anyone else to say that they should keep the tradition because it’s, well, a tradition. What’s more, what’s often described as the “real __________” is the countryside, the rural places that have remained more homogeneous (or have been seen to remain homogeneous, in reality these places are disappearing fast as well) . It implies that the more multi-cultural cities, the thriving multi-ethnic places don’t really represent a certain country. That things should stay a certain way or else lose their charm. It treats people and cultures as museum pieces that can be preserved for you and your entertainment. It doesn’t allow countries or communities to change as they see fit. Many times on my travels I’ve hear ” oh there’s a Starbucks/McDonalds/ other American corporation that can be used to describe everything that’s wrong with the world in every city” and that’s more or less true. I’m not here to say Starbucks or McDonalds are good or should be everywhere but I mean, I like Starbucks festive drinks and sometimes you just need a Big Mac but I digress. I would argue, and will readily admit if I’m wrong, that cultures are strong enough to survive a McDonalds popping up on the corner. I’m not here defending McDonalds and there are real conversations to be had about gentrification and the harm it does, just to say that maybe a lot of handwringing when we see someone from another country enjoying a 6 euro coffee is out of place. Look, I’m not immune. There was a little cafe in Valencia that was what I would describe as a typical Valencian old man bar/cafe. The kind where everything is kind of orange and brown, there’s probably a fan in the corner and a cigarette machine from the 18th century or so, they give you a coffee for a euro and they seem angry when they do it. If you’ve been to Spain you know what I’m talking about. Last time I went to Valencia it had turned into a brightly coloured, stylish looking place. I felt kind of sad. But guess what? I don’t live there anymore and I don’t own that business. If that makes them more money, or makes them happier or caters to tourists then hey, that’s their choice.

All of this is a long winded way to say, let’s get rid of this elusive idea of a “traveller” because who even knows what that means?When I’m travelling from now on I’m going to be a tourist.  So let’s embrace it (respectfully of course), enjoy the Eiffel Tower it’s iconic and pretty damn cool. See Big Ben or the many churches around Europe. Take some cheesy pictures, stop worrying what everyone thinks of you.  You have the privilege of being able to travel to a new place, enjoy it, without wondering if it’s good enough, real enough, true enough. Readers will know that I’m concerned with travelling ethically and that stands, I think we need to be informed about where we go and what we do when we’re there. But if you’ve done that then just enjoy yourself, do your trip your way and enjoy yourself. You get to travel!

Disagree? Let me know in the comments.

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It’s Okay To Be Sad About The London Terror Attacks

This week’s terror attacks in London were scary and sad. Four people died, leaving behind family members and friends and colleagues who now have a massive hole in their lives. For the rest of us it’s frightening to think that cities like London or Paris, European capitals with large police presences, cities many of us  have visited, could be dangerous. Now I’m not necessarily extolling large police presences or saying that as Western nations we are somehow blameless victims of the current political climate. Furthermore there are people being radicalised on all sides and that’s scary too. But this isn’t a post about that. If you spend a lot of time on social media, as I do, you know the cycle. First shock and outrage and then criticism for not being as outraged about the other injustices in the world and then pleas that we remember that most people are good. In the travel community it goes like this: everytime there’s a terrorist attack, or a backpacker is murdered or dies accidentally or some other tragedy occurs the travel community has barely uttered words of condolences to the family before they start extolling the virtues of backpacking and couchsurfing, of the beauty of whatever country the attack/accident took place in, of the virtues of travel in general and of course the pleas to everyone to “keep travelling”, “conquer your fears”, “don’t let the bad guys win” and blah blah blah and I’m here to say bullshit to all of that. First of all it’s a bit trite and a bit silly to tell people to not “let the terrorists win” by telling them they can still go on their  beach holiday/ 2 week Eurotrip. Secondly while anger, unity, and bravery are all valid and good emotional responses to such events sadness and fear are also valid and good. We can’t dwell in these emotions forever but experiencing them momentarily doesn’t make us weak or bad.  Thirdly it seems useless to me to pretend that there is no danger anywhere in the world  and we should live as if there wasn’t. Of course bad things can and do happen anywhere but, for example, is it  inherently more dangerous to stay with strangers from couchsurfing than a hotel with all the security that that entails? Of course. Does that mean that no one should ever stay with someone from Couchsurfing? Of course not. But can we really make a better, safer travel community without addressing actual issue? I would argue that we cannot . Lastly there is a kind of travel we do need to do but it isn’t one that necessarily involve a physical travel. Rather we need to seek out people and cultures that are different from ours, to learn about the struggles that, particularly marginalized people, face. We need to find ways to make the world safer and more equal for everyone.

Personally I don’t believe that travel has an intrinsic value, it can be good or bad, moral or amoral or meaningful or meaningless depending on how and why you do it . I intend to keep travelling myself. But let’s allow ourselves to feel sad and even scared by certain events, we owe that to survivors and victims of violence around the world. Let’s travel whether it’s to work or to a new country with the goal of learning something and meeting people that challenge us to be better, to be more loving, to be more understanding.

On Saturday night my boyfriend and I were exhausted and turned on the TV and were too lazy to find something to watch so we ended up watching Evan Almighty. Now this is as weird for me to write as it is for you to read but I found something useful in that film. Morgan Freeman’s God character tells Evan (Steve Carell) that he can change the world by doing small acts of kindness everyday. As simplified as it sounds I do believe we can change the world by being kind. Of course there is a time for more action and I’m not suggesting that violence can be solved by bringing someone coffee or something like that. But radical kindness, trying to see the other side of a story, a quest for truth and compassion, a dedication to doing good in all areas of our lives, fighting for justice and empowering people, I believe these things can change the world.

Me Before You-Book Review

picture of me before you in a review of the book

****Mild Spoilers Ahead****

The problem with Me Before You by Jojo Moyes is that what it intends to deliver and what it does deliver are two very different things.What it presents is a story about a young, working class woman who ends up in a job as a carer for a quadriplegic and they both end up learning more about themselves and what it means to live life fully. What it actually is is a story about a young working class woman who ends up in a job as a carer for a wealthy, vapid quadriplegic which allows her to live a life she would never have been able to before. The poor/average woman who finds a wealthy man who jets her around the world and buys her luxury clothing items which she had previously  mentioned in passing is a tale as old as time in the “chick-lit” genre. Those stories, though, don’t pretend to have a moral.

When Louisa Clark loses her job in a cafe she has to quickly secure another one to support her family, for which she is the sole earner. The job she finds is as a care giver for Will Traynor, a young and handsome quadriplegic with a bad attitude. Of course, she softens him up and when she learns that he wishes to end his life she attempts to change his mind by taking him on various adventures funded by his insanely wealthy parents. Okay. Even if we take out the extremely problematic idea that people are better off dead than handicapped this book still leaves us with a lot of problems. First of all the idea is that the characters change each other but this isn’t true. Will changes Louisa but absolutely refuses to learn anything from her. Secondly, there was a bit in the middle where I thought that the book was going to make an interesting statement about classism and ableism but then it…didn’t. Louisa is thrilled to be making £9 an hour which she uses to support her sister, nephew, parents and grandparents so when Will suggests she needs to live a fuller life it is actually mind boggling that we are supposed to nod in agreement with him. Certainly someone who is supporting their family and living in a council estate isn’t going to jet off on African safaris, attend classical music concerts, enjoy fancy restaurants every weekend or take up sky diving and yet we are supposed to accept Will’s criticism of Louisa for not “living fully”. Secondly, we are told of a traumatic bit of Louisa’s past that has hindered her from being more adventurous but instead of encouraging her to seek help, both Will and the book suggest she should just get over it. Those problems aside, the writing I found to be hit and miss. There were parts that I thought were genuinely good, excellent even. If this book had just been about the life of Louisa and her family I would give it five out of five and read all of it’s sequels. However, for no clear reason at all Will refers to Louisa as “Clark” like an old-timey business man and Louisa refers to Will by his full name. Some bits were filled with absolutely useless facts (Louisa uses hand sanitizer!) But the thing that really annoyed me was the fact that while most of the book is told from the perspective of  Louisa some chapters were from the perspective of other characters. This gimmick not only didn’t reveal new information but made the characters seem like completely different people altogether.

In conclusion: this book seemed like it wanted to teach us something, but that something seems to be that dying is better than being handicapped and poor people should feel bad for not “living more fully”.

A Weekend in Sligo

Good Morning!

We were road tripping around Ireland last weekend and spent two nights in Sligo where we ate, drank, relaxed and did a bit of shopping too. Saturday night we ate at A Casa Mia. Since I lived in Spain I feel like I am the foremost authority on tapas (haha!) and these were delicious. The service was lovely too.  Before we went for dinner we stopped at a proper old man pub, that I don’t even know the name of. Bf and I both love little hole-in-the-wall type places and this was the best of the best. Rickety old stools, old men drinking, an old fireplace, bottles and kegs stacked in the corners and, according to reports, excellent Guinness. On the way home we stopped at a small waterfall for a little walk and to eat some icecream and get take away coffees. It was freezing cold and the icecream man was wearing a jacket but we didn’t let that stop us. Also, take away coffee is one of my guiltiest pleasures. Whenever I get a coffee to go people always comment that it’s “so American” but I read the other day that Canada is the third largest consumer of coffee in the world so I’d say it’s more “Canadian”. Coffee is life! In any case, did anyone do anything exciting this weekend?

sligo-collage-2

sligo-collagesligo-2sligo-3picture of glencar waterfall in ireland

 

A Weekend In Banff

Hey friends! You know what I love doing? Planning holidays. I’m sure I’ve written about this before but one time I planned a dream ski-holiday for fun. I certainly have no intention of ever going skiing again (I went once when I was a teenager and spent the whole day on my face and dreaming of poutine). Right now I’m browsing Secret Escapes (has anyone used this site and if so please tell me how good it is) and looking for a quaint Irish town to visit for our birthdays which are in July. Did you know that it’s possible to spend 7 hours in a bus in Ireland? I thought that 7 hours would take you around the whole island several times.

Anyway, since travel is still a few weeks away I’m sharing some pictures from our trip to Banff last fall.

picture of Banff in a article about travelling to Banff

 

Brunos restaurant in Banff Canada

A non-outdoors-person’s guide to Banff, ie: My 5 Must Do’s in Banff

1.) Have a breakfast burrito at Bruno’s
2.) Pamper yourself with a visit to the spa or a couples massage at Banff Avenue Bliss
3.) Have dinner or drinks in Tooloulous.
4.)Wander the streets, take a walk by the river and pop into the shops. Buying things on holiday is always so much funner.
5.)Stuff your face with a Beaver Tail covered in Nutella or sugar and cinnamon (or, if you’re me, both)

Banff Collage

Where are you dreaming of? What’s your next trip?

xx