It’s Okay To Be Sad

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 in an Airbnb or with a couchsurfer than a hotel with all the security that that entails? Of course. Does that mean that no one should ever stay in an Airbnb? Of course not. But can we really make a better, safer travel community without addressing actual issues. 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.

10 Things I Always Pack

Are you going somewhere warm this winter? I’m not, sadly. I’ve never been much of a snow bird, although we all know I enjoy the sun. Anyway, when I travel I generally pack everything I own. I love my clothes and that’s no joke. I also have my “look”. However I know that it is generally not looked upon favorably to bring everything you own so these are my ten picks for that effortless style that always seems to be evading me.

picture of travel items in a post about travel

1.) Maxi skirt
I love my maxi skirt because with sneaky leggings underneath it’s quite warm but without it’s cool enough even for hot Spain. With a floaty top and accessories I’ve worn it on nights out and with a simple top and sunglasses it’s good for sightseeing. Basically I’d wear it anywhere.

2.) Black flats
I love high heels. I have a lot and they cost more than I reasonably should have spent on them given how much I wear them. However in most European cities heels for a night out area no-no. European fashion generally means trying to look like you don’t really care and are too busy living your life to care about fashion. Of course you do care

3.) Extra moisturizer
Someone once said to me that it doesn’t matter if you spend five minutes on a plane or seven hours you feel like you need a shower afterwards. Truer words were never spoken. Likewise if you have dry skin (even if you don’t, to be honest) the recycled air and the general stress of travelling means dehydrated skin. I load up my bag with moisturizers and soothing lip cremes.

4.) A big scarf
An unexpected cold night? Want to look  chic and French? Need an extra blanket? Something to sit on at the beach?  A scarf is so versatile, you can wear it on the plane so it doesn’t take up any room and it is good for any country.

5.)Small candle
A small candle can make any hostel, hotel room or new apartment feel like home. Enough said.

6.)Simple dress
Like the scarf a simple dress is a multitasking wonder. Over a bikini for the beach.  Add accessories and it’s good for that bar crawl or night out. Add gladiator sandals or flats and it’s good for a city day. If you go out for a “coffee” and end up in  a nightclub at 5am the next morning (a thing that has certainly never happened to me) you will still look chic.

7.)Perfume samples
I love perfume samples and always try to get them from anywhere, the department store, Sephora, you name it. I like variety (in perfumes, that is) so I can bring a lot of scents  with me and they can go in the carry on.

8.)Basic black t-shirt
I guess versatility is the name of the game here. I like a black shirt because it can, like basically everything else I’ve listed, can go anywhere. Maybe not the beach but certainly anywhere elsed.

9.)A book
You never know when the day will come when it’s too cold to leave your hostel/hotel or you want some much needed down time. And when you’re done you can find a bar or hostel that has a book swap and discover something new to read. Definitely don’t bring more than one though because your suitcase will be heavy enough with all your outfits. Unless you have mastered this capsule wardrobe business in which case pack all the books you want.

10.)Something floaty
My look is a bit boho but I really recommend a floaty cardigan or long vest. You can wear them with almost anything and they can spruce up a plain outfit. Also good for when you want to pretend you are a wealthy recluse/1920’s former starlet/Game of Thrones character.

A Pre-Holiday Reading List

black-and-white-christmas-starThe holidays are very important for my family and I and I always look forward to them. Getting dressed up, setting the table, eating dinner together and opening my stocking Christmas morning are some of my favourite things. But whatever holiday you celebrate-or don’t- most of us have a few days off and so I’ve compiled a reading list to get us through the holidays and into the new year.

One of the most important things I’ve learned this year is that sometimes it’s important to take a break from political discussions and especially that I as a white person need to understand that other people don’t always need to talk about the big issues. Even more importantly I’ve learned that the ultimate goal of any activism is to bring people (of course I mean people that can be changed not hate groups) into the fold not to alienate them.

In Let Us Love The Hell Out Of This World Chris Crass writes something I found very helpful. He writes:

And this practice isn’t just about being more kind and loving towards each other.  It’s a practice of moving us from a place of primarily seeing shortcomings and feeling defeated, towards seeing possibilities to become the organizations, communities, activists, leaders, and campaigns we need, in order to win.  It’s a practice of being able to see and name steps that people and groups are taking to move us towards our goals, and affirming the work making that happen.  It’s a practice of bringing people along rather then shutting them down and it helps prepare us to not just be protesters of the injustices of existing society, but to be co-creators of the society we are working towards.

On a lighter note look to  The Fresh Exchange-Setting The Table for some beautiful and simple table decor ideas. Or if you’re a Francophile this article will help you bring out your inner Parisian.  11 Secrets The French Know About Holiday Entertaining That You Don’t (from My Domaine) And if you want some astrological advice to help you navigate this week the Astro Twins have you covered. Astro Twins Weekly Horoscope

If you’re a knitter like me, might I suggest the seed stitch? It’s so easy you can do it while binging the Gilmore Girls. A seed stitch scarf looks good one everyone and is perfect for wearing untied (apparently the must wear style for this winter) or bundled up if you live in  colder climate. How To Knit Seed Stitch-Craftsy

I’m a longtime Star Wars fan and can’t wait to see Rogue One. However, I agree with this Vulture piece when it says that Star Wars is not appropriate  as a political metaphor.

Therein lies the special danger of seeing politics through Star Wars. The series is a manifesto for anti-incumbent fury, screaming that the good people never have enough power and the bad people always have too much. When you see yourself as definitionally outgunned, purity of conviction starts to seem like your most valuable weapon — hardly the healthiest way to be a citizen.

Vulture-Be Wary of Star Wars’ Politics of Violence

In case you missed it, this Teen Vogue piece is some of the most insightful and helpful commentary yet.  Teen Vogue-Donald Trump is Gaslighting America

I’m at home in Canada for Christmas and it is a winter wonderland here. Beautiful though it may be these minus 40 degree temperatures have me dreaming of the Mediterranean. This blog post is full of beautiful pictures of Positano, Italy to inspire your next trip or take your mind to far off places. 22 Things To Do In Positano-We Are Travel Girls

I’m no fan of the “if you skip your morning coffee you’ll be a millionare” line of thinking towards money, which does appear from time to time on Young Adult Money. That said, paying off debt, giving more to charity and buying ethically are on my to do list for 2017 and this list has some helpful tips.Young Adult Money-100 Goals To Focus On For A Successful Year

Last but not least, the end of the year is a time for reflection so as 2016 draws to a close let’s remember the good things, the way we’ve changed and think about how we can do better personally and globally for 2017. Gala Darling-10 Questions To Ask Yourself To End 2016 Feeling Positive And Powerful

Let’s go into the holidays and the new year with love and compassion for ourselves and for others.

We Need To Travel Better-Part 2

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This is second in a series, the first part can be found HERE.

Full disclosure: when I started travelling I did feel that I was better for travelling than for buying my make up at Sephora or buying, I don’t know, Lululemons . However as the years and trips have gone by my perspective has changed. I’ve written about community before and that is ultimately the thing that changed my mind. I realised that wherever I-or anyone-goes they try to make a community. That’s why hostel bars are overflowing and tour groups are popular. Why expats band together and Irish bars can be found in every country you go to. Community is the most important thing we can do as humans and that is ultimately why travelling is not better than staying home.

In my previous post I mentioned the idea that anyone can save for travel. Now, saving 600 euros (or whatever amount) for vacation might be doable for those of us in the middle class in the “Western World” but for instance, in Romania the minimum wage is 200 euros/month to say nothing of those who live on less than that globally. I find it hard to imagine someone with that income being able to afford to save enough money to go on a trip, even a budget one, to say nothing of the ability to afford/ask for time off work. Imagine you have your eye on a designer bag (I know I’ve used this example  a lot, what can I say, I’d love a designer handbag) but you make an average wage. A celebrity whooshes in and tells you “well I can afford it! Just save up!” It’s ridiculous, it could take someone years (depending on your wage/the bag) and then what? Someone will be telling you that there’s a new “it-bag” that you must purchase the next year. Telling those in poverty or even those on an average wage to just “save up” is just as ridiculous and we have to stop it.

The point of critiquing travel rhetoric is not to say “never travel” but rather to recognise travel as a privilege and not a necessity. The problem I believe lies in our ideas of consumerism. I think most of us recognise when we buy clothes or a new watch or what have you that we are participating in consumerism but when we buy festival tickets or book a hostel we think we are above that. We’ve all been berated with the idea that we should spend money on experiences and not things. But what’s an experience and what’s a thing? These things aren’t as easily separated as it might appear. One might argue that a trip is not a thing, but it is still something you’ve purchased, it’s a luxury. Likewise just as a trip is an experience so is sitting on your couch (which is a thing!) with your friends and having a bottle of wine. Ultimately I do not think travel is bad, but I do think we need to recognise ourselves as consumers and moderate ourselves accordingly. On that note I want to add that mass travel can/is having a negative effect on the earth in numerous ways. There’s the environmental damage, but there’s also damage to communities. Illegal hotels, for example, are causing housing costs to rise in many places and cities like Barcelona have taken measures to deal with masses of tourists that damage the city and drive locals out of their communities. Even though it seems as though I am criticising travel I am not. I think the movement of people, overall is something good. However, I think we need to consider heading to places off the beaten track, to doing more research and generally considering where we stay and what we do while we are abroad.

What do you think? How can we travel better? Let us know in the comments!

 

We Need To Travel Better-Part 1

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The other day I wrote the following on Facebook:

 When we talk about buying a designer handbag or getting a manicure or going out to eat our attitude is that it’s fine if you can afford it but it’s not something vital. However, that’s not the attitude we have taken towards travel in recent years. We’ve convinced ourselves that travelling is somehow so morally superior that we should work ourselves to the ground to afford it, go into debt to afford it and judgmentally tell everyone we know that if they aren’t forgoing their morning Starbucks  in order to save up for their next trip then they are somehow morally bankrupt, that they should feel bad for not travelling more and that they will never be open minded or enlightened. Travelling is fine, just like getting a manicure is fine but let’s not forget that both of those things are consumer goods and it’s a success of capitalism that it has convinced us that channelling all of our money into one of those things makes us righteous.

It was the beginning of something I wanted to write more about. People travel more now than ever and a lot of travel talk is surrounded by attitudes that I think are dangerous. When people talk about travel it tends to have an undertone of “travel is always good no matter what”. A friend of mine shared what I wrote and there were two comments that stuck out to me. The first was an anecdotal “but travelling made me and someone I know a better person” and the second (which I will address in a follow up post) was: “well you don’t have to spend a lot to travel. I travelled around Europe for 3 weeks on 600 euros”. There are many criticisms one could make of travel but I am going to address these two here. First the idea that travel is the best (only?) way to be open minded and second the idea that travel isn’t consumerism.

I started talking about this HERE. The justification for thinking you’re better for travelling more is the idea that it’s making you a better, more rounded person and therefore is unequivocally good. But does travelling make you a more open minded person? I am going to tentatively argue “no”. Long before I started travelling I read books and news articles about other countries, I read everything I could find on any topic, I joined internet forums and talked to people I would never have met at home.I wanted to travel, of course, but I was already open minded. I’ve met a lot of open minded people while travelling but while travelling might have made them better they were already good people. Travel only makes you a better, more rounded person if it was already your intention to become that person. I can’t say definitively that no one who was closed minded has never been challenged by going abroad but I don’t think it happens often enough to warrant the guilting of people who choose to or who are forced to stay home. Furthermore there are ethical issues involved with tourism that should not be overlooked in the interest of bettering oneself. We all know that volunteering abroad or visiting animal parks might be doing more harm than good but the sentiments that “at least I learned something” or “there’s just too much research to do” are still around. Good intentions are good but the information about ethical travel is out there and we shouldn’t be lazy in researching it thoroughly. Learning something from others when they might be harmed by that is of no good to anyone and we shouldn’t be settling for it.

Since I am no expert, I’ve included the following links about ethical travel and other travel issues.

Tourism in Barcelona-The Economist

Why Airbnb Is Terrible-Cracked

Your Obsession With Travel Sure Feels Classist To Me-Ravishly

Experiences Over Stuff Is A Tired-and Sexist-Idea-Slate

Tourism Concern-Action For Tourism

Do you agree? Disagree?

3 Myths About Teaching English Abroad

3 My

Jobs anyone can do abroad!  I see that enticing title everywhere and the first item on every list is teaching English. All you need is  a TEFL course you can find online and you’re set. I have recently started looking for some private students again as I miss teaching. All that got me thinking that there are certain things to consider before you embark on your English teaching adventure. Note that these myths are based on my own experiences and things I’ve heard from other English teachers. If you think I’m wrong, have experience or heard something different or just totally disagree let me know in the comments.

Myth Number 1: Teaching Is Easy
Teachers go through extensive training and teaching practice meanwhile most TEFL Courses require you to do 6 hours of observed teaching. So while you might not be a “real” teacher you need some awesome classroom management skills which you may or may not have ( I do not have, so I now stick to one on one classes which make me so happy). In many countries (Spain at least) you also get the pleasure of teaching children and teenagers on their lunch break or after school–times when you can imagine how much they want to be in school. That’s not to say that anyone can’t become a good teacher, but for those that are planning a gap year or similar it simply means that teaching is actually quite hard.

Myth Number 2: It’s An Opportunity To Travel And Learn A Language
Secondly, being an English teacher (or any teacher) is exhausting and being an English teacher means you occupy a weird space in foreign countries. You live there but are not fully integrated, in most cases. You’re naturally friends with people who do the same work as you, that is, other English Teachers.  That said, I know people that did learn Spanish but it wasn’t a thing that just happened, it took a lot of work on their part. And even though you get ample time off, the wages don’t necessarily mean you can jet off every weekend (in Europe anyway, I have heard different stories about Asian countries). Still you get to live in another country and that is a rewarding experience in itself and if that’s what you’re after, go for it.

Myth Number 3:You Can Teach Anywhere
Thirdly,  I find that there is a lot of misinformation about where you can teach. When I did my TEFL course in Spain there were a few illegal American’s there (some have since become legal) who suggested that it was both fine and easy to live there illegally. Well here’s the thing. It is certainly possible and quite easy to live in Spain illegally in the practical sense…if you’re white and North American. That’s where the problem lies. With countries like Canada and America becoming harder and harder to emigrate to it seems pretty arrogant to me to recommend that we go abroad illegally for fun. But even if you can live there without getting deported it’s still not an easy life. Spain has a growing black market economy anyway which means even many European workers are being given bad contracts, paid under the table or denied benefits. Working without papers means if you don’t get paid (surprisingly common), get a sudden wage cut, don’t get end of year benefits  and so on you can’t do anything about it and employers know this. There are thousands of English teachers in Spain, the majority of which have an EU passport so there’s no job security, no continuity from year to year for students and absolutely no reason for an employer to go through the hassle of sponsoring you. There is also some extremely, at least in my opinion, backward thinking about who makes a good teacher. Some schools want only “native speakers” others some want you to have a certain accent. All of this is extremely unfair as English is a global language with millions of speakers and, as such, many different accents. Never mind the fact that sometimes non-native speakers make better teachers because they have a better understanding of the grammar as they learned it the same way their students will.

So should you teach English abroad?  I don’t regret my year teaching abroad as I learned a lot and made good friends. Honestly, I only have good memories of living abroad. Of course there were hard times too but overall it was a good experience.  I don’t recommend teaching or living abroad illegally but there are plenty of countries that offer visas and loads of information on the internet to help you out. I however, don’t suggest that you teach English abroad just for fun. You have an impact on people’s lives and with various abuses happening in English schools we should consider where we are working and what culture (education culture, that is) we are contributing too. If you have no interest in language, in people or in learning something new, please find another way to travel. But if you are sincerely interested it’s worth a try.

xx

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?

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