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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Overwhelmed by Travel Culture

I belong to many travel groups on social media that, like anything, are sometimes inspirational, sometimes helpful and sometimes annoying. And often posts will appear by people who quit their job to travel the world and now hate it, or have gone on a long backpacking trip and want to go home or who are just otherwise burned out. Before I go any further I want to say that I don’t mean that we should give up on anything that becomes difficult or that things that are hard aren’t worth doing. Getting an education is hard but worth doing, work is hard but necessary even relationships can be work but we don’t give up on them. Even travel can fall into that category. When I first moved abroad I found the first few weeks very difficult but I wouldn’t be where I am in life or the person I am now without that trip and the subsequent ones. But when I see articles talking about how to deal with travel burn out I want to scream into the void. Because travel was and remains a luxury item. Even if you’re eating beans and rice (or a weird onion soup I tried to make one time when I was broke) you have the luxury of taking time off of work, the ability to afford travel to another country and the assurance that you can go home and resume your life. This isn’t a moral judgement. I’ve spent most of my twenties travelling and have enjoyed it greatly. But travelling is a product and I’m a consumer.Travel can be a valuable experience but it has no inherent goodness. You don’t become a better person just by travelling. Sure it can open your eyes and broaden your horizons if that’s what you want to happen and are already open minded but it doesn’t magically turn a bigoted person into a understanding and compassionate one. The adage that seems to be a sort of Millenial chant that we are and should be “buying experiences and not things” is used to explain why we should travel. But what is an experience and what is a thing? A flight is certainly a thing you’ve bought, as is a hotel or hostel and music festivals and luggage and clothes and miniature beauty products and so on. Inherent in this way of thinking is a judgement and one that is just plain wrong.

When I started travelling I liked and related to every post or story about choosing “freedom” instead of a house, car, family etc. I am still the same person, I’m not ready to settle down, I still don’t own or desire to own a car or house but now these same posts make me bristle. They make me bristle because I am not more free than the people who do have those things but a different kind of free (if any of us are free at all but this isn’t a philosophy blog so we’ll leave it at that) . Sure I could pack my suitcase this minute and go somewhere but financial stability, serious friendships (whatever anyone says, long term travel will strain or break friendships) those are another kind of freedom. And, even if they weren’t there’s another problem. The language around Millenials is that we are “choosing” to free ourselves from the burdens of a stable life, the “American dream” if you will that was sold to our parents. But if we are constantly bombarded with messages that say we should travel, we should spend all this money on experiences and even go into debt to pursue them, that then we will be truly free, we are just being told a different lie. And it’s insidious because the message is, if you don’t travel you are closed minded, you aren’t motivated enough, you just need to work harder and save more money and stop drinking that coffee on the way to work. The message is that you should travel even to places that are hostile towards you and yes, there are places that are more dangerous than others. And you know what that is? Convincing people to go into debt and to endanger their lives in the pursuit of something that is not a necessity? That’s consumerism my friends.

I don’t write this to poo-poo travel or those who travel. I write it because I am feeling exhausted. I’m exhausted by article after article criticising people who don’t travel. Exhausted by “don’t date a girl who travels” or “travelling solo is best”  and other posts that seem to think getting into a relationship or even making friends-God forbid- will ruin all your fun. I’m really tired of the particular safety concerns women, trans men and women, people of colour and others, face being brushed over with “oh well travelling alone is still the best way what can you do”. I’m tired of the idea that we should pursue travel at all costs, even when it’s damaging the communities we are travelling to. When we’d rather stay in an Airbnb that  is pricing people in Barcelona (and other cities) out of their homes than pay for a hotel. When people do volunteer projects that could actively harm the people it purports to help and we say “oh well they have good intentions”. I write this because I love to travel and hope to keep doing so. But I want to do it in such a way that people who don’t want to can say “no, this isn’t for me.  That we can have actual, honest conversations about travel that don’t get derailed by “but travelling is good we can never criticise it”. More importantly I want to do it in a way that doesn’t harm others, that’s sustainable and accessible to all.