A Love Story About Spain

What do you know about Spain? Before I went there, I knew nothing. I never thought Spanish people ate a lot of burritos or other Mexican stereotypes that many people I knew as a teenager and young adult rigorously applied to Spain. Still, I wasn’t well informed. Where Spain is on the map was only a blank space waiting to be filled in my mind. The only European geography we learned in school was memorising the names of the countries in German class and I still think of Austria as Österreich. Otherwise the extent of our European history revolves around immigration to Canada and the World Wars. Which by the way fit very nicely into our narrative of Canada being  a wonderful free cultural  mosaic, a sort of patriotism that makes little sense when First Nations people face daily prejudice and inequality and, like in other countries, Canadians are becoming increasingly hostile towards immigrants. But I digress, as Canada never had a large wave of Spanish immigrants and they were not a major player in the World Wars we learned nothing about Spain. While I can fault the school system for a number of things, this isn’t one of them. It’s not feasible to learn extensively the history of every country in the world and it would be a bit European Centric to demand we learn about Spain in lieu of any other country.

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So when I travelled to Spain the first time I found the blank space where “spanien” was filled with colour and life. With palm trees and that certain glow in the sky. With tiny bars with metal tables where you can eat the best toast with tomatoes, olive oil and salt. With arguing with waiters. With long beach days with the usual variety of people. A scholarly looking woman with just a towel and a book, fellow tourists liberated  and sunbathing topless.  Families that always come with nearly a houseful of stuff. People selling bottles of water and corn cobs cooked over coals. At sunset, older couples hauling out their card tables to sit on the promenade and us wondering how they got them there. Teenagers hanging out.  One of the differences between European and Canadian life is the presence of children and teenagers in every day life. My husband pointed this out to me a while ago, saying when he went to Canada he wondered where all the teenagers were and it’s true. I was a teenager in Canada and even I can’t answer that, I don’t know where we went. But in all the European countries I’ve visited children and teenagers are a part of every day life, in the pub or hanging out in clusters doing, well, normal people things. In Spain, much to the befuddlement of myself and all my other foreign colleagues, teenagers are allowed to sleep over at their boyfriend or girlfriends house at young ages.  For better or for worse they are treated as adults much younger than, say, we were in Canada.  But what I love most is the rhythm of life. The sense that everyone is doing everything at the same time. That there is a correct time to eat and that any food not consumed at the ordained time will be rejected by the body. There is a time to go to the nightclub or bar and a time to shop in the sales and a time to go the beach and a time to eat rice (not in the evening). And that even with these rules life has a certain easy flow, that unless you have a set  dinner at 10:00, the day or night could take you anywhere. Of course someone might say that that lifestyle is stifling and I wouldn’t disagree because it’s not my place , but for me, someone living there, who had friends but no family it was infinitely freeing.

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Malaga four.JPGBut whatever my perception or non-perception of Spain was, here in Europe there is a very clear image of Spain as a place where people retire who never learn Spanish and even say “hola” in that strange stilted way of English speakers. Or where hoards of young English speaking men and women on stag and hen parties get obscenely drunk and then plunge headfirst from their balconies, occasionally killing themselves. So when my husband and I went to Malaga in January, that combination of images was mingling in my mind. But as we strolled the streets and walked along the blustery wintery beach, the massive waves crashing against each other, I remembered all the things about Spain that intrigued me and the affection I have for the country.  We ate a paella on the beach in the afternoon, and sat outside chatting and drinking beer, husband becoming ever more worried about the quantity of tapas we were being brought and the financial situation of the establishment if it could afford such tapas for free. We got up early on Sunday to walk the streets and found them empty as ever you do in Spain, later watching them fill up with families and couples, wandering in and out of shops or sitting down for a snack. We wandered into a bar where a drunken Irish woman came over and asked if we were on a tinder date. When we said we were married she looked unnecessarily embarrassed and fell off her seat. That has nothing to do with Spain it was just a funny story. Or maybe it does have something to do with Spain, I have been asked a few strange things by English speakers in bars in Spain. Hmm.

When I was in high school I didn’t particularly enjoy poetry, Shakespeare or a lot of other works that we studied. However, when I went to University, I discovered something. The fact was that we weren’t given a particularly nuanced understanding of poetry movements or the history and context of a lot of works. Again this isn’t necessarily a fault of the school system, in general teachers have prescribed works that they have to get through in the year and so on. But when I took a Shakespeare class in University the first module discussed critiquing his works and that indeed some of them were imperfect and even sexist. I realised that understanding and being able to dislike or criticise something was critical to liking, even loving something.  When I began to learn Spanish, I went all in. I spent hours a week listening to Spanish music, watching Spanish films and soap operas, and then I moved there. Through learning and experiencing I developed an affection for Spain. Of course, I don’t know all there is to know about Spain but  I’m happy to keep learning.




Dublin Whiskey Tour Review

Back in ye olden days of 2010 I was travelling in Spain, as I do, and everyone was drinking gin and tonics , there were gin bars and all manner of fancy gin accoutrements. I know from our lofty position of 2018 we laugh at my naiveté, “of course, gin is a tress cool drink, the epitome of hip and gin bars are A THING”. This however was not the case back then, a bit strange to call 2010 back then especially when I still think 2001 was last year but anyway. When I went back home I was the only one, generally, on nights out who would order a gin and tonic and when I started dating my husband he made some comment about it being an old man’s drink. Little did we know! Gin was the next big thing and it’s so big that it’s almost not a thing anymore. How passé!

In any case, these drinks that only a few years ago were dated and stodgy are having something of a revival.  Sometimes I find that, or perhaps it is one of those things where you think you perceive something because you’re an outsider, Ireland still has more entrenched gender roles than perhaps other European countries or even Canada. Of course, I’m not sure who-drinks-what-kind-of-drink sexism is our most pressing issue of the day but here we are. When I first started drinking I often drank rye (Canadian whiskey) and I wasn’t the lone woman drinking it either, women I know drink and are knowledgeable about beer, stout and other traditional “manly drinks”. Of course I am not saying that Canada is a paragon of equality and virtue, we have those kind of sexist and frankly confusing standards of drinks too. One time a man in the restaurant I worked at wanted me to send a “girly drink” to another man in an opposing sports team’s jersey (it was a Smirnoff Ice which I don’t think is so much a girly drink as a “I’m 18 and haven’t suffered enough of adult life to make hard liquor taste good” drink). Sadly as a person relying on tips I could not say what I wanted to which was “what is your life like that this is so funny to you that you asked me to do it twice and ALSO THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH BEING GIRLY” Anyway, I have digressed quite a bit here. Our guide told us that because she was a woman people sometimes assumed she didn’t know anything about whiskey but that things we rapidly changing and, beyond these drinks making a comeback, people were more willing to branch  out into the unknown territory of ordering drinks not traditionally associated with their gender!


Joking aside, the Whiskey tour was a very enjoyable  and informative evening. You know the feeling when you come out of an art gallery, museum, the ballet or something like that?  You feel that you’ve learned something and are better for it? That’s how we felt leaving the whiskey tour, and also frankly a little bit buzzed because the shots weren’t that small. Our guide was lovely and we learned a lot about the history of whiskey, the production of whiskey, many other things about whiskey. That’s all I’m saying because I think everyone should do the tour! And of course there was the tasting. The basic tour consists of five different kinds of whiskey in three different bars and there are other options that including food pairings. Honestly I think we will be doing the food pairings one in the near future. There’s cheese. I mean. I imagine there’s cheese. It wasn’t like being on an airplane, they didn’t make us walk by the people on the higher end tours sampling their cheese with dignity while we made our way to the peasant section where some underpaid flight attendant hopes that you don’t wake up so they don’t have to offer you a drink.

Dublin is a touristy city and that’s okay! Temple Bar is a lovely area, for example even if famous for the hourly increase in the price of drink. The Guinness storehouse is interesting and the view from the top is stunning. The point is that Dublin is a great city to be a tourist in. The Dublin Whiskey tour does go into Temple Bar but it also takes you to quieter, local pubs and so strikes that balance of touristy, but not-too-too-touristy. Doing a tour of any kind, even an increasingly trendy food or drink tour (or as I like to think of them, grown up pub crawls) can feel… well cheesy. Every tourist or expat dreams of blending in and looking stylish while doing it.  Of gracefully giving the correct number and order of air kisses (to be clear that number in Ireland is “0”) and saying “oh I know a place just around the corner here”. But tours are great! They’re interesting, they’re fun and the hosts are, understandably passionate about their topic, whatever it may be.  We had a really  lovely time on this particular tour and can imagine us going back sometime soon for the fancier tour! If you’re looking for something to do in Dublin that’s a little bit different and very fun, I definitely recommend Dublin Whiskey Tours. Bottoms up!





A Woman Travelling: Reflecting on 10 Years of Travels

On Safety

In Bill Bryson’s “A Walk in The Woods” Bryson writes about an incident that occurred while he was hiking the Appalachian trail, albeit in a different part of the trail. Two women were brutally murdered and the murderer never found. This incident is told briefly and without much consequence, that is, it doesn’t stop Bryson from hiking the trail and so doesn’t effect the story much. But for me, a reader and a woman who likes travel it did have an effect. It reminded me that for women travelling and travelling alone are still rebellious acts. It reminded me that so often when women tread in spaces that have been traditionally occupied by men there is danger and fear. It reminded me that explaining this fear is still a job, an exhausting, draining job, that often to falls to women. It reminded me that my good navigation skills, even in strange cities, isn’t a natural skill but a consequence of having travelled alone and paying attention to where I am at all times. It reminded me of the way we are often  blind to situations that don’t affect us directly and as such there are probably a multitude of issues that I, a white woman, don’t personally see and need to learn about. And it made me angry that women’s safety is so often treated this way, as an oh-well-what-can-you-do, and something that shouldn’t discourage women from travelling or even taking precautions. As a feminist, I would like to live in a world where women are always safe, but this isn’t, notably, the world we live in.  Telling women that sure, they should travel any and everywhere and throw caution to the wind seems callous at worst, and thoughtless at best.

On Being Alone
Back when I was 21 after my first trip abroad (and alone) I remember someone saying to me that they could never eat alone in a restaurant. Of course at that time I fancied myself an extremely worldly and independent woman (having both lived abroad AND gone to the cinema by myself) and looked at this comment with contempt. But it’s hard to deny, for me at lest, that in the last ten years the attitude towards women travelling alone , or in general doing things alone, has changed a lot. Many young women from my home town are travelling alone now, and my social media is flooded with advertisements for groups with titles like ‘Solo Women Travelling’ and so on. Also a lot of mentions of “girl tribes” which, if I’m honest makes me highly uncomfortable. When I see fellow women doing things  alone it makes me happy, it makes me proud. But there’s a commercialisation of women travelling that honestly doesn’t sit right with me. We know that women have a lot of buying power and these trips that promise round the world adventures, courses that suggest that you will make a massive income while lying on the beach and sipping from a coconut, and wellness retreats that promise you that through the right meditations and essential oils your life will be fixed, seem less like women’s empowerment to me and more like plain old capitalism. As I’ve written before, travelling is great and can certainly help and empower us but we have to be careful how we frame it.  And if I’m honest, why does it have to be empowering? What is wrong with women doing something we want just because we want to? Because it’s fun? Because we can? It seems in this day and age we are all crushed under the weight of having to constantly be bettering ourselves. Our hobbies should become jobs and our spare time filled with informative podcasts and TED Talks, if we’re not making money we feel guilty. But there’s nothing wrong with doing something because we want to and this is especially true for women whose enjoyment of leisure time so often gets labelled as selfish.

On Being The Only One

Often, over the last two years I’ve wondered why I found this move to Ireland more difficult and more frustrating than when I lived here before or when I lived in any of the other cities I’ve lived in over the years. And it occurred to me the other day that it is because I’m relatively alone. That is, I’m the only non-Irish person I know. In other places I’ve lived I’ve always had the barrier of expats around me, people with whom you can laugh at your cultural foibles, wonder at the things that annoy you and praise the things you love. Whatever the case may be you’re on equal footing. Everything is as new and different to you as it is to everyone else. Without that, I’ve felt lost at times.

Of course I am writing this as a white and English speaking person who has moved to a largely white and English speaking area so I don’t wish to conflate my experiences with that of people who might be visible minorities or experience racism or prejudice.

On Social Media
When it comes to social media, particularly Pinterest and Instagram I often find myself torn. On the one hand I know and can feel the way that they contribute to personal and community stress. When it comes to travel it’s not enough anymore to go somewhere interesting and have a fun or interesting time. It has to be done while perfectly dressed and shot with a high quality camera and edited to perfection and posted with a thoughtful and engaging, but not-to-obviously-looking-for-followers and then. THEN if it’s a moody shot of a mountain or something it will be praised as art but if it’s you on that mountain then it’s more vain, self obsessed unrealistic-expectation-setting trash. Social media is fickle and difficult, just when someone thinks they’ve figured out the algorithm, it changes. It puts pressure on us to act like every moment is perfect. But I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know there.

On the flipside I think that a lot of the derision towards Instagram and Pinterest has a sexist undertone. People use Instagram to showcase their beautiful homes and skilfully and artistically applied make up, their DIY craft projects and other things that traditionally have been feminine pursuits. Pursuits that are so often labelled as shallow.

Sometimes I miss the days of travelling without Instagram. It didn’t matter if my outfits weren’t perfect always (okay, hardly ever) and I didn’t feel that I had anything to lose or to prove. Still I enjoy an artfully arranged and taken Instagram shot. I suppose the necessary thing as in everything is to find balance, to keep learning and to worry less what people think, a not simple task in itself.







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.


Wandering The Streets of Prague

One of my greatest annoyances about life in Europe is that if you ever try to make a generalisation about Europe even one that is positive, you will  be met with cries of ” but Europe is a huge place and all the countries are so diverse and cultured” as if that is not true for every continent and even country. Once I got into an online debate with someone about racism in Europe. I made it clear that I had travelled and lived in different European countries and witnessed racism in all of them. I wasn’t saying all Europeans are racist just that there are racist people everywhere. The reply I got was “but Europe is very diverse”.  Since no one has ever changed their mind about anything on the internet that is where I gave up. But I digress. The point is that even though that is my pet peeve it’s true that European countries vary drastically from each other, which is why I was excited to visit a new country, the Czech Republic, specifically Prague.

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We landed on a rainy Wednesday afternoon and after a taxi ride where I envisioned us in the next instalment of Taken (this happens in every taxi I take, I’m not singling out our very lovely taxi driver) we arrived at our hotel BoHo Prague, a small boutique hotel. If you’re staying in Prague, especially for first timers like us, I would highly recommend it. It was so comfortable and, perhaps better, it was right in the centre of the old town so it was perfect for getting to all the tourist spots, which we did all of.  Our first afternoon we drank a Radler and got a delicious sandwich from a street vendor before falling asleep with the intention (not really) of getting back up. However, the next day we awoke refreshed and ready to go to Prague castle.  The castle is one of the most expansive castles in Europe and as such it was fairly busy, but the views and architecture were impressive. After walking down we headed to the beer garden to enjoy some famous Czech beer and also another famous tourist tradition of charging you for random things. Again, not singling out Prague this happens in every tourist place but c’est la vie! We were touristing and enjoying it.

The next day we went to the Communism Museum after I made a pit stop at the capitalist museum, ie: the shopping mall, ie: mainly Sephora.  A few weeks ago I was talking with one of my husbands friends about privacy, something that I believe my generation needs to be worried about even though personally I find it hard to do the necessary work to protect my privacy. Walking through the communism museum reinforced my view that we need to be concerned about privacy as it is essential to democracy. Here were terrible stories of what happens when privacy  is taken away, and it is a recent part of history as well. That had a big impact on me and I left thinking about how forgetful we are as a human race. The museum is well presented, it feels increasingly claustrophobic as you go through it and the writing is excellent, as are the photos and displays.

Later we went for some traditional Czech food. Full disclosure, we went to one of those touristy places that was off of a  main square BUT the food was delicious.  I had the wild boar goulash and my husband had a platter of sorts which was a variety of meats, a lot of meat…so much meat. Where was I? After dinner we rolled home, very full. I would also like to add that sometimes those touristy places aren’t the horrible clichés we think they are. For example, in Valencia there are lots of paella restaurants on the beach, which obviously lend themselves to tourists but mixed in with the over-priced cocktail bars and a place where once my patatas bravas were totally covered in shrimp hairs, are the good restaurants where local families go to eat their Sunday paella. Anyway I can’t guarantee the place we ate wasn’t a shrimp-hair-on-potatoes kind of place but our food was good.

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Revived from our food coma we went on the boat tour the next morning. It was bright and crisp and the views from the river were spectacular. Later we went to a quiet Irish bar to watch football. I mean, I think we know it wasn’t me watching the football. But I enjoyed a few drinks and a lot of chicken wings. Many European cities (that I’ve been to) have these types of places, the atmosphere of an Irish pub but that has American football one night and soccer the next, that has pub quizzes and American style food but done well. And usually there’s a blend of locals, expats and tourists and I find these places charming.

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prague river view


For our last day, we headed to the Café Louvre, a café famous for entertaining famous guests like Einstein and being a big part of café society. I am intrigued by the Lost Generation and A Moveable Feast is a book that I enjoyed immensely despite reminding myself frequently of what a, let’s say, not-good, person Ernest Hemingway was. Anyway, my point is, sitting in the café Louvre drinking a café au lait and eating my brunch with other tourists and locals, someone writing, what I imagined to be their travel memoirs, well, it felt cool and it reminded me of A Moveable Feast.   For brunch I had smoked salmon on pancakes (for fellow North Americans, they weren’t exactly pancakes but fluffy, savoury delights) with sour cream and it was delicious. Apparently there can be long waits on the weekends but we got in easily on a Sunday morning.

cafe louvre prague

This was our first time in Prague and it was a truly lovely time. I always think you need to go somewhere twice. The first time to be a tourist and the second to, well, do the non-touristy things. Which means, Prague, we’ll be back.




Let’s Talk About Saving Money For Travel

A quick browse of the blogs I read, pinterest and instagram tells me all the ways I can make money. They range from the glamourous (start a “side hustle”, manifest more money just by thinking about it, positive affirmations) to the downright torturous (make pack lunches  for the rest of your life and never enjoy any of the finer things in life like take out or a can of coke from the refrigerator section of the shop or Netflix). I would be lying if I said I don’t fall into the temptation of trying these various things. Sometimes I put on my finest silk robe, light some candles and swan around the house reciting my horoscope and telling my husband we need to manifest 500 Euros. He asks me  why I don’t aim a bit higher but I think that we should be reasonable in our requests to the Universe or God. I mean, really. Other times I am scrooge, chronicling every cent and feeling guilty for having 2 pints instead of one or taking a taxi when we could have walked. I get it. Here we are with housing prices becoming nearly unreachable and there is the ever present threat of a robot taking our job. Many people my age are going back to school for a second or third time. The world seems on the brink of calamity and social media makes us feel constantly inferior. If we sort out our finances, it seems, maybe we can have a perfect apartment and travel constantly and in general escape that existential dread (too far? Maybe).

So I wanted to write this because I want to share what my finances are like after 10 years of travelling every year for long periods of time and living abroad. I’m not here to tell you to skip your take away coffee, or to live like your poor, or to just GET YOUR PRIORPTIES STRAIGHT because, pardon my French, I think that’s all horseshit. You won’t get rich by skipping your coffee and travel isn’t a priority for everyone. Furthermore telling people to punish themselves for not being rich by not ever having any small luxuries is cruel and judgmental. I’m not here to tell you how you can travel Europe for 7 years with $500 because a.) how? and b.) this sounds terrible to me.I used to feel frustrated when people would tell me I was lucky to travel because it didn’t seem like luck to me, I worked hard to get everything I have. But in another sense I am lucky, lucky to have a stable financial background, to have been able to live at home and find good jobs and to have been born when and where I was. So the goal of this isn’t to tell anyone to save for travel or how to do it. I find that finances and travel aren’t often talked about in a honest way and I wanted to do that.

First of all the negatives. I have debt and have been working hard to get it paid off, it’s not easy. Second of all, because I wanted to travel I did a lot of my degree online so I could work more and while I don’t say I regret it there are certain aspects I now see the negatives too. Had I done my degree in a class room I could have met other people in my field, made friends, networked and  probably seen a more clear career path.  I have borrowed money from my parents (which I paid back years ago). I have lived in some not great places and eaten a lot of rice and beans (the metaphorical rice and beans).  I once stayed in a fifty person dorm.

When it comes to saving money, I worked in restaurants and always made good tips which I saved. I made a chart and tracked everything I spent and made. I bought conditioner in Dollarama (oh, how I miss you Dollarama. Not the conditioner, that was rubbish and I only did that once) and have always used mainly drugstore make up. I lived at home for little or no rent, got a lift or a taxi to work ( I don’t drive so a car would be a bit of a strange investment). I picked up every shift I could and went to work even when I was sick. Ultimately, for me travel was the thing I wanted most so I worked to get it. There’s no secret to saving money for travel, except for just doing it and for the average person that means giving up other things. That’s it. It’s also important to remember that not every can afford to, or even wants to travel and we should stop telling them “but I travelled all of  Norway with 25 cents!”. Let’s just stop that nonsense. I would also like to add that I travelled for 1-5 months at a time, not including the nearly two years in Spain and two here in Ireland. Yes, that’s a long time to travel and I enjoyed it, I’m not going to dispute that! But it also means that for 11 to 7 months I was at home working and that’s a long time to not have new clothes or a seasonal beverage, still those are things that can be done without. What shouldn’t be done without is nights out with friends, after work drinks and functions with family and friends. Whether you’re at home or abroad human connection requires money and time and those things shouldn’t be sacrificed for a trip.

Lastly, this year I turned the much maligned thirty. And when you turn thirty, at least for me, things start happening to you. By things I mean that I now prefer designer make up, and the thought of staying in a hostel makes me want to run screaming in the other direction. I spend more money on things for my house. I want to eat good food and when I travel I want to eat the local food not hide out in the hostel eating the free dinners. I am not at all criticising those things, I had a good time doing them all through my twenties but priorities change and that’s okay. That is to say, I better up my manifestation goals. Maybe 550 euro?

For many Christmas pictures and pictures of our trip to Prague check on my Instagram @stephanierosetravels



Why I Won’t Volunteer Abroad Again

A few years ago I wanted to gain some experience as an TEFL/ESL teacher and was looking for a volunteer project in Europe. I found what was ostensibly an English teaching job and applied for it. I researched it to the best of my ability even emailing companies that monitor volunteer organisations. I was wary back then of volunteering abroad, as it always seemed like a way for people to raise money for what ended up being a holiday for them. What’s more it seemed to treat the suffering of others as something they could use to make themselves better. But, I thought, young people around the world need to learn English, however unfair it may be and I was a qualified English teacher. Well, the project was a farce. It wasn’t an English teaching job at all, it was working in a care home for a group of girls who’s parents weren’t able to take care of them, or that was the claim. In an English teaching classroom, the teacher doesn’t always speak the language of the students and there are teaching methods that work around this obstacle. However, I wasn’t in a classroom and I didn’t speak the language. There were no clear instructions about what I was supposed to do and I had never been in such a situation before. I tried to communicate as best I could and attempted some English teaching games but I’m afraid I was wholly useless to them. The volunteer co-ordinator seemed entirely uninterested in helping the girls in any meaningful way. One of the other women who was on the same project as  me, but in a different town mentioned that someone had left her project because of the racism that they had experienced. For a project to not warn a person that they might experience racism in a rural town seems irresponsible and cruel. Since then I’ve read quite a bit about the ways that voluntourism harms people and communities. Few organisations have any kind of rigorous checks on people which means anyone can sign up for a project that works with vulnerable people. In some countries orphanages that attract volunteers are actively harming the communities by  encouraging trafficking and abuse. J.K. Rowling wrote about this recently and explains it far better than I can.

Like those that (wrongly, I believe) buy a sandwich for a homeless person rather than giving them money we feel that if we volunteer we are doing the morally superior thing. We aren’t giving money away for someone to use foolishly, we feel. But the reality is that reputable charities, NGO’s and other organisations that help people do need money. They need well paid and supported staff, they have bills to pay just like the rest of us. It offends us to think that we are paying someone else’s salary instead of helping people. But in fact, we are helping people when we donate to good charities. Of course there have been instances where charities misused funds and it is important that we don’t give to those organisations but in order for a charity to function properly it needs funding.

Worse is when we go to volunteer for an experience. Now I truly believe that most people who volunteer do so out of the goodness of their heart, they mean well and want to help. But the suffering of others shouldn’t be something we gawk at or use to better ourselves or our resumes/CV’s. It shouldn’t be something we pop into for a week or month. If there’s an issue we feel truly passionate about we should educate ourselves and commit to it as a career. If that’s not feasible to find out how to truly help, which governments and policies will positively effect other countries, where to donate money and how to educate ourselves and others on the issues. It may sound counterintuitive but sometimes the best thing we can do when we want to travel and improve the world is donate to a reputable charity and then just take a vacation in said country. Personally I’m of the mind that if we truly help people it doesn’t matter why we do it. If we donate generously and that helps people then it doesn’t matter if some part of us wanted to feel better about ourselves or we did it from some ideologically pure reason. We are fallible humans and we have a multitude of emotions and reasons for doing anything, some of those less good than others. That said, I do think we need to accept that sometimes doing good is boring. Doing something profound and impactful isn’t instagrammable or exciting. Most of the time it’s quiet and hard and ongoing. We should seek to become involved in our own communities, with organisations that are respectful and well researched. We need to commit to doing good all the time, even when it isn’t exciting or glamorous. And most importantly we need to view those in need as complete human beings who are no different from ourselves. If we don’t want a raggedy old t-shirt why would someone else? We wouldn’t appreciate if our bosses said “I don’t know what you’ll do with the money that I pay you so I’ll buy your groceries instead” would we?

After my experience I can say Romania is one of the most unique and beautiful countries I’ve ever been to and I would encourage anyone to visit it, as a tourist. I personally won’t volunteer abroad again. I’m not an expert and I can only talk about what I’ve read and experienced so I can’t say 100% that there are no good volunteer opportunities and that there is never a place for it. But I do believe that we are better off volunteering (long term, ideally) and helping in our own communities and donating  and supporting organisations that are qualified to do the work. Sending unqualified people to do work that requires qualified people isn’t helpful and short term volunteering can do more harm then good. We need to think carefully about the way our actions impact the world.

Some useful articles:
Slate-Charities need your money, not your random old food
The Guardian-Which would you rather have, time or money
The Guardian-Before you pay to volunteer abroad, think of the harm you might do