If a Millennial travels and doesn’t Instagram it, did it really happen?

No, really. We’ve all heard someone say “pics or it didn’t happen” about something. In this age where we carry cameras in our pockets, travel has become a key target, especially among millennials.

I try to take photos whilst traveling to remind myself of the places I saw and the people I met. When I look at the pictures months or years later they really help jog my memory and bring back stories that would have otherwise been buried. I like turning the pages of printed photo albums and remembering that those moments were real.

That said, I’ve tried to take fewer pictures as I’ve explored more. The ocean may not look exactly the same everywhere, but it’s blue and made of water. I don’t need to take 25 shots of the ocean every time I see it. If the weather is particularly unusual or the landscape surrounding the ocean is unique, yes, definitely. Even better if the photo includes people (either people I’ve just met or those I’m traveling with) as that’s when the pictures truly stop time forever: seeing a day, a moment, a person exactly as it was.

With social media, we now see everyone’s photos all the time. Moments don’t stop. They just keep piling up. People are booking vacations just to get a photograph of a particular location because they saw it on Instagram. While it’s great people are exploring more of this beautiful world, it’s not great when travelers aren’t earth-conscious or respectful of others. Ecosystems are suffering from an influx of human activity which they cannot handle. Economies are booming from tourism and yet the residents are still living without basic necessities. All this, just to get a better Instagram photo than someone else?

I’m not saying we shouldn’t travel. But maybe we should put some thought into our goals and reasons for traveling. Posting a cool pic on social media isn’t really well-thought-out criteria for selecting a travel destination (nor the best use of one’s time, in my personal opinion).  What matters to do? Do you have a list somewhere of things you’d like to accomplish and places you’d like to see? Focus on that. Take pictures and don’t worry about posting them on social media. Stop following people whose posts “give you wanderlust” and choose your own adventure. Seriously, unsubscribe. We’re pummeled with messages about the next coolest destination and the most beautiful locations. Let it go. Those do not have to be your adventures.

It is entirely possible to travel to really awesome places without taking the whole world with you in your pocket. You may find you’re able to enjoy it more because you’re more focused on the moment than the perfect filter for the frame. Don’t travel somewhere because everybody else is. Travel if you want to, where you want to, when you want to. Your adventures are real, whether posted on social media or not. Share your life and adventures with people in real life instead of “sharing” with a screen. I guarantee your grandma will love looking at a photo album and hearing your stories and she won’t care whether it’s the most beautiful picture of the Pacific Ocean she’s ever seen. She cares that you enjoyed yourself and your life is richer because you went somewhere new.

Try traveling and not posting all your pictures. You’ll like it, I promise.

No more newsletters

I’ve mentioned my daily email digests a few times before. They’re how I discovered the Saugerties Lighthouse and Isla Mujeres.

They’ve also inspired a super-long list of places that might be nice to go to, but were never on my personal list for any particular reason. Instead, they fueled a wanderlust I didn’t really have. It’s true, I still want to experience everything on this planet, but do I need to experience the same things as everyone else? If someone else already went and showed me the photos, I can go somewhere different. Just because another person went there and said it was life-changing doesn’t mean it’ll be the same for me.

It’s important to carve our own paths in this wide world. It’s important to seek out experiences that speak to us as individuals, not just following a list of ideas from a trusted travel site. It’s important to be true to ourselves without letting fear of missing out drive us to a new experience that doesn’t change our lives.

I’ve unsubscribed to these travel newsletters. I know where to find the sites, should I need a recommendation for a location to which I’ve traveled, but I don’t want a website to tell me where to go next. I want my inner voice to tell me.

Photo album ordered

I stayed up far too late last night deciding which photos would make it into my nice pretty new hardcover printed photo album from Shutterfly. Then I decided to change which photos I was including today, so I’ve spent another few hours deconstructing and rearranging.

Luckily for me, it’s all behind me now. WOOHOO!! I’ve actually ordered a photo album! It includes photos going back about a decade or so…featuring bad haircuts, old friends with poor facial hair choices, way too many late nights, and some big adventures. It’s a small book, so it’s not like the images will be huge, but it’ll be cool to have a tangible album of photos.

I realized going through them I’ve not shared the photos from my adventures abroad with Travis. Sure, he’s seen some here and there, but we’ve never sat down and gone through the digital albums whilst telling stories. Now that I’ve pared the albums down to more manageable selections, I think it’s time we did just that.

Wander Lost

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about why we travel. I love the thrill of getting on a plane and heading off to some faraway place as much as anyone else, but seeing three VERY DIFFERENT friends post the EXACT SAME photo of the EXACT SAME SPOT in Iceland within the past six months has me wondering: what do we get out of traveling now? If you’ve already seen the photo on Instagram and you followed your friend’s Facebook Live tour while they were there, why do YOU  need to go see it too? Are we really traveling more than generations before us did? I think the media wants us to believe that, and I’m not necessarily saying I disagree, because travel is absolutely easier now than ever before, but it’s also very, VERY different. A century ago, authentic travel might have involved a rickety wooden train somewhere in Europe, or a khaki outfit in the African bush, or a very long boat ride to Australia. Your experiences would live within you, probably in your journal, and perhaps only if you were quite fortunate, in photographs. Your friends couldn’t easily click a button and have the same experience two weeks later, as long as their bank accounts approved.

So why do we do it? We say we’re seeking “authentic” experiences, but those are so few and far between now. Is it REALLY authentic if you’re taking the SAME photo as every other visitor? What was this area like before travelers decided it was a worthy destination? Can the environment support the amount of human traffic now passing through?

These are very real questions. There’s a village in Norway that’s become an Instagram destination that can’t handle how many tourists have recently swarmed in. National parks are full of people who drive in (or drive to the top of the mountain), take the same quick snap of the same spot everyone else does, and hop back in the car – or worse, people who’ve never hiked want to get a picture so badly, they head into the wilderness wildly underprepared. I can’t tell you how many people we encountered last weekend who were lost in Harriman State Park, hiking without food, water, shelter, compass, nor any directional sense whatsoever. We aimed them in the right directions, but the sun was setting fast and they had miles to go. Even extremely remote areas like the Colombian Amazon are becoming top destinations.

And yet, as this happens, we know less and less about the world immediately surrounding us. I’ve lived in my condo for nearly a year and just last month, finally saw the inside of my downstair’s neighbor’s place, when he sheepishly asked if I had jumper cables. I don’t event know his last name. In another country I might be able to ignore a fussy baby at a restaurant because I’m preoccupied with an unfamiliar view outside the window, but at home, I would likely be very frustrated a child was interrupting my nice meal. I can meet people once or twice, befriend them on Facebook, and then not even say hello next time we’re in a group setting together.

What is going on? We go on these epic adventures that, if we’re speaking plainly, really aren’t that epic compared to the travels of generations past. We’re going farther faster, but I’m pretty sure American pioneers are 100% more badass than ANY of us catching a plane in yoga pants these days. And then we come home, and go back to work, and complain about our daily life, and how we wish we could travel all the time, and we’re back in our ruts. We’re more hypermobile than ever before, and that’s not a good thing. Our health is suffering as we sit in front of screens and earn our vacations by straining our eyes and flattening our backsides. We get “inspired” to visit certain destinations because someone else went there first. How about we just spin the globe and go where our fingers land? No, that would be too difficult/too time-consuming/not interesting (or Insta-worthy) enough. So what are we getting from traveling?

Lots more on this topic to come.

Why do you travel?

Mexi-Go

I finished the glass of whisky and clicked over to Google Flights. I knew if I didn’t buy the tickets now, I wasn’t going to do it. I didn’t ask for the time off but I had earned it last year, and I was taking it whether it was approved or not. New York to Cancun, read my confirmation. 1 passenger.

Thus began my birthday trip for my 31st. I didn’t have enough vacation time (nor enough room in my budget) to head to Europe, and I’d read a little bit in one of my travel digests about some small island off the coast of Cancun called Isla Mujeres. Why not? The price was right – I’d be flying home the day before my actual birthday, but if I counted Arizona as my 30th birthday trip two weeks post, this counted too. I looked up where to stay and found an inexpensive studio apartment with a fridge and microwave right on the beach at Maravilla Caribe (MVC). You couldn’t book online but I sent an email and placed my deposit via Paypal. I could have booked a hotel but I wanted to stay off the beaten path. I also could have tried a hostel – which I still have yet to do – but I didn’t want to indulge in the typical “spring break in Mexico” party scene. I wanted to enjoy my peace and quiet for a few days.

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I also researched how to get around. There was a ferry from Cancun but I’d need to get to the ferry terminal. I could take a cab but they didn’t run from the airport. I could reserve a shuttle but they were more than I wanted to pay. I settled on the most economical – and perhaps sketchiest – option: I would take the bus from the airport. I saved the notes in my phone so I wouldn’t forget.

Arriving in Cancun I was surrounded by typical tourists. I once read less than 25% of the American population holds a passport and something like less than 10% actually use it, so when we meet fellow Americans abroad, we should effectively high-five them at their ability to have made it out of the country at all. I have perhaps a more elitist view, and I wasn’t here to party. I kept my shades on as much as possible to hide my light eyes and spoke no English. I got my bus ticket and went outside in the heat to wait.

I realized I’d forgotten my phone charger cable. I had the charger itself, but not the cable. I travel without a handbag and had forgot to put it in my backpack. Already on the way to Isla Mujeres, I was flashing back to the Amazon: if this “sleepy” island was anything like the remote villages in Colombia, I was screwed. I immediately emailed my hosts at MVC to see if they knew of anywhere on the island I could purchase a cable. Then I boarded the bus and watched a poorly-dubbed American film until we stopped at the taxi stand. The bus had wifi and I was able to link in. Ronda had emailed me back already that she’d put out an APB out on Facebook and had a local tell her there was a store on the island similar to a Walmart that would have the cables. Relieved, I put my phone away and found a taxi. The taxis in Cancun weren’t in as rough shape as the taxis in Brazil and Colombia, but I was still feeling the jungle vibe.

Studies show the human brain remembers every experience it has – that is, everything you’ve experienced in your life leaves an impression in your brain, whether or not you remember, and whether or not you’re able to recall. Studies also show your brain fills in the gaps, and – perhaps most interesting of all – your brain compares all subsequent experiences to a prototype. The first time you experience something real, everything else will relate back to it. For me, my first major trip outside the country was to the Amazon, so even unrelated travel with few similar qualities was recalling that experience. The similarities? I was alone, I was speaking only Spanish, I was surrounded by native culture (once I got on the island), I was eating unusual food, it was hot and humid, I did some traveling by boat. Differences: different country, different accents, different living arrangements, different premise for the trip, different tourists, different economy, different food, different activities….the list goes on. And yet my brain was making me homesick for the Amazon.

The ferry dropped me at the port in Isla Mujeres in the heat of late afternoon. I slung my pack over my shoulder and walked down the sidewalk to my right, south, toward MVC. If I’d done my research properly, I would cross over to the eastern side of the island and come to the house in about two miles. There was construction on the road and once I got past the piers and shops, it got quiet quickly. I wasn’t sure I was headed in the right direction but I kept going. There were only two roads leading North to South, around an airport and some natural lakes, and I knew I needed to be near the ocean side, so I had to be going the right way. The house was a bright turquoise – I couldn’t miss it.
IMG_2037 And I didn’t. Just past some construction and around some palm trees, I sawthe turquoise house on my left, the soccer dome to my right. I walked in and went upstairs as instructed to meet Ronda and Bruce. They let me into my apartment and then invited me into theirs to chat. I’d had a long day – why not get to know my hosts? We wound our way past their hammocks (“We sleep in them all the time – they’re so much more comfortable! I’m glad you like hammocks too!”), picked up beers in the fridge, and sat on their ocean-facing balcony to shoot the shit for a couple hours while the sun descended.

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Ronda and Bruce were from Texas – oddly enough, where Graham had just moved, and why I’d had that whisky the night I bought the tickets. They’d moved to Isla because they loved the slower pace of life, the sense of community, the paradise-like weather, and the beach. They’d come here on vacation, decided to move, and waited for the house to be built once they got the land. I asked why they didn’t list the apartments on more places and Ronda said she liked to keep things simple. She maintains a community blog – hence why she had local connections to help me with my iPhone cable – and enjoys getting to know the islanders. They were such accommodating hosts, I truly can’t recommend a stay with them earnestly enough. They knew I brought my hammock and told me nobody would be in the apartment below me after that first night, so I was welcome to hang out in that porch area for the rest of my stay. They gave me recommendations on places to eat and visit, and – only after it was dark and I was hungry – did they apologize for taking up my first afternoon. “We don’t normally have guests come in and then just get them drunk upon arrival!” I didn’t mind. A couple ice-cold beers after a long day of traveling never hurt anyone, and I was glad to meet such laid-back people who truly understand what’s important in life.

It’s not about how big your house or car are. It’s not about where you work or the clothes you wear. It’s how you treat those around you, how you can appreciate the little things in life, how you’re willing to take a risk to live the life you’re meant to live. I thanked them for their superior hospitality, got my backpack from my room, and set out to find some foo.d

Mini mobile posting

I have a spare 20 minutes before I need to head to my piano student but I’ve already left the office for the day. Not enough time to go home, I can’t go get a snack with my Invisalign in, the weather is threatening another thunderstorm, so what’s a woman to do? I’m reclined in my car, typing this post on my phone to try to make good use of my time.

My good friend Ashley made a solid point in a comment last week and it got me thinking. We’ve both spent years alone, having adventures, and breaking ourselves out of our comfort zones. We’ve tried new things and gone to new places by ourselves. I started to think about the evolution of travel, my aversion to the idea of “authentic travel”, and the allure of excitement our generation seems to seek.

Travel has changed so much in the last century. Airplanes? A man on the moon? A car in nearly every household? The technological advances in the world of travel have happened at an astounding pace. There are few completely remote destinations left to explore. I may be alone in this thought, but I believe that also leaves us with fewer completely genuine travel experiences. The Internet both connects the world – which is amazing – but also homogenizes us. I can hop on a plane to a third-world country and meet someone who may live in conditions you’d never see in the US who also owns an iPhone. Yes, on one hand, that’s the genuine reality of the world today, but on the other hand…how many new experiences are we truly getting by jet-setting to a new time zone only to see what we left at home?

As the world grows smaller, finding unique and extraordinary experiences becomes more challenging. We can find guidebooks on how to navigate nearly any remote area or hire professionals to take us to the top of Everest (if we can afford it). The people we meet often speak at least one language we can speak and they’re just as familiar with technology and pop culture. The food we find can often be found in the States.

Is our desire to travel really based in the hope of exploring the unknown or experiencing something unique? Or is it driven more by how much we hope to see now that we have the means? Traveling is way more attractive than a desk job, for sure, but WHY? Our grandparents would have been thrilled to find high-paying work with a pension and would never have considered quitting to find themselves on an adventure. Most people around my age can’t imagine working behind a desk for 30 years and not setting foot on another continent. Have the attitudes toward what makes a life successful changed so much? Does traveling make us more successful?

I don’t yet have the answers. I wish I did. I wish I knew why “somewhere, anywhere” pulls so strongly to my core. I wish I knew what I hoped to find out there. But, as Paul Coelho eloquently told us in “the Alchemist,” the treasure was waiting right at home throughout the entire journey.

The People Who I Was Once

That title isn’t a proofreading error; it’s a reference to a song by a dear friend I lost a few years ago to suicide. As usual, I had a different topic I wanted to write about today, but we’ll see how well that goes. Griff’s song has been stuck in my head for a few days. Each year, around the first of March, his songs seem to float back to me in the breeze and stick in my soul for the entire month that marks the anniversary of his passing. This particular song is the one that stood out to my ears this spring as I’ve undergone so very many changes this year. In some ways I find myself clinging to the people who I was once, and in other ways, trying to be strong and move forward.

How do I connect the two stories I want to tell today?

Yesterday would have been the 33rd birthday of my ex-husband, and today would have marked our 8th wedding anniversary. But the world lost him, too, to suicide last fall. In the months since I’ve often wondered how my life could have been different. Did I contribute to this somehow, because I left to strike out on my own? Did I ever know somewhere deep inside that he was struggling with something I couldn’t reach? Is there a reason I’m not the widow here? Am I making the best choices for my life now and living life to the fullest?

I suppose part of the answer lies in the story I planned to write today. Last week was my birthday and I made my third annual birthday trip, this year to Washington, D.C., with Travis. The previous two years I’ve traveled alone to more adventurous destinations. Traveling with a partner changes more than the itinerary. In the years since I chose to go my own way I’ve been the one in charge: I choose my destination, how I’m going to get there, when I’m going to go, and what I’m going to do. Sometimes I’ve purchased tickets or made reservations after an extra glass of wine, but it’s always worked out and made for great stories in the end. Now, I have a partner to consider – and not the type of partner I ever expected to find. I didn’t think it was possible to find someone who wanted to have the same adventures I do – which is a large reason I chose to leave my marriage. Travis wants to explore the world with me, and that’s exactly what I wanted to find. So why is it, in some ways, more challenging to travel with a partner?

I’m reminded of this article that arrived in my inbox some months ago. You do have to give up your single self in a partnership, and to let yourself grieve that loss. (Side note: I’ve done too much grieving over the last few years. I really wasn’t expecting to grieve more when I found what I wanted most). On the other hand, it’s important to see the past – the people who you were once – the way it truly was and not through “graduation goggles.”

Did I enjoy exploring the world on my own and meeting strangers in strange places? Definitely. Was it scary – but worth the reward – sometimes to push myself way out of my comfort zone? Absolutely. Was it so much more easy to follow the beat of my own drum when I was traveling solo? Yup. Was it freeing to not take anybody else into consideration when planning a location, activities, what to eat, or even when to go to bed? YES.

Would I trade Travis in to have all of that back?

No.

Those experiences – and all the experiences I’ve had – shaped who I am. My idiosyncrasies are unique to me and I know I can plan too much and make one mistake that could throw off the entire day (e.g., locating the wrong restaurant with a similar name which only served a prix-fixe brunch, when the restaurant I really wanted to find turned out – upon hours-later Googling – to have been less than a block away). Someone gets to see those blunders now, instead of me going about my adventure lost in my own head. But on the other hand, someone is there to share my joy. We saw a little girl in a bright-pink shirt and tie-dye backpack skipping and twirling alongside the Reflecting Pool on the National Mall and I asked Travis if I could be her.

“Why not?” he countered.

“I’m not four years old and I don’t have a tie-dye backpack.”

“It’s not the backpack that’s making her happy. She’s happy. Be happy.” So I, too, skipped along the National Mall, holding his hand, the weekend I turned 32.

Without him, I would have stayed quietly on the sidelines, trying to blend in. Without him, I wouldn’t have had a bottle of champagne waiting in the hotel for me…because I wouldn’t have told anybody it was my birthday. Without him, I wouldn’t have taken the Amtrak train down and enjoyed the freedom of not driving a car. He’s added so much to my adventures – much more than I’ve had to give up. Sure, I can’t just spin the wheel and choose a destination and dates now. We need to consult our work schedules and our household budget and our adventure priorities. But that’s not a bad thing.

The people who I was once are in the past. They no longer exist on their own, but weaved their way into the fabric of the person I am now. The people who I loved once who no longer exist on their own have also woven their way in. Their impacts on my life shaped me in many ways and continue to surprise me. It’s possible to grieve my losses and still feel joy. And it’s okay to  let down my guard, make compromises, and become part of a true partnership. I don’t have to navigate this wild world alone anymore, and that is, perhaps, the greatest way my experiences shaped me. Every moment in my life has lead up to this.

Friends in Far-Flung Places

“Didn’t you travel with a group once?” a long-time friend asked me recently. “I’m trying to plan a trip but I don’t know where to go and I don’t want to go alone.”

“No…I did a volunteer trip but I traveled alone and met up with friends upon arrival. I do that a lot – it helps to meet up with friends who live locally at the start of a trip. They can act as a tour guide as well as a familiar face in a new place. Surely you have some friends living abroad,” I suggested.

“No, they all live here.”

Later that day I got to thinking about all the different lives I’ve lived. There have been so very many. Sadly, the more time that passes, the more those lives feel like a dream – like they didn’t happen or I made them up. However, I know these various periods of my life were real: I have the friends to prove it. Social media makes us all feel like we have hundreds of friends, but I’m talking about real friends. People I could call anytime. I sung at their weddings. I’ve met their kids (or their parents). I’ve crashed on their couches or floors or futons more than once. I’ve had beers with them in multiple time zones in a two-week time span. I thought about it some more and realized that’s not normal (although it’s been really handy when planning adventures).

It’s totally normal to meet people while traveling, pass through, cherish the moment, and never touch base again. It’s not normal to have friends all over the world, in various stages of life and career, whom you met at various stages during your life/career, and remain close with them.

My life has taken some absurd twists and turns over the past ten years: army wife, rock star, small-town music teacher, single in the city, traveling to remote global destinations, landing a dream job, and now working at an engineering firm. I’ve met so many people during each of these stages: fellow army wives, fellow rock stars, fellow small-town musicians, plenty of single people in the city, fellow travelers, and fellow dreamers.

Of my army-wife-life friends, I was the first to leave. Then Ashley, then Jessica. Our three lives intersected at various times as we discovered our independence. I was the first to travel internationally. Then Jessica, then Ashley (who is currently on her trip around the WHOLE FREAKIN’ GLOBE, which is her first foray out of the US. Can you tell I’m actually really jealous?). Ashley spent Christmas with me one year and Jessica moved less than an hour away after four years. That said, I still have a bunch of army-wife-life friends who are still – you guessed it – army wives! And it’s awesome. We’ve stayed in touch through lots of moves, career changes, and in some cases, kids. Anytime our schedules and area codes have aligned, we’ve been able to make plans. Even if we can’t get together in person, we still support each other. That sisterhood never really goes away.

Seattle.

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My rock star band-buddies are still some of my closest friends. You can’t spend hours in a van with the same bunch of weirdos without getting to like each other at least a tiny bit. I consider my former drummer a brother, and I either talk about or talk with my lead guitarist at least once every couple weeks. A woman I met at a radio event I now consider a sister, and we were lucky enough to grab beers together in Seattle last year – after having met in GA and not having seen each other in 4 years. It amuses me how many people met me during that stage of my life and how disappointed they would be that I wear dress pants and work in an office now.

Some of my early music students have grown up before my eyes. Photos at the holidays and emails from them or their parents keep me in the loop. Some of my older students have already graduated college, gotten jobs, or gotten engaged. I was able to visit my very first student in November and I nearly cried seeing her all grown up. It was like coming home to spend an afternoon with her mom – one of the kindest, most genuine friends I’ve made. And technology now allows me to continue teaching students – no matter where the world takes us!

2008

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2016 (she’s on the right here – so much taller than me!)

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Traveling – and chance meetings – probably brought me the most random group of friends I have. They range from a German pop band who visited my workplace one day to a Brazilian drummer who got my friends backstage passes to a Neon Trees concert to a 20yr old Israeli world traveler to a South American woman studying in Canada and now working to help women on a global scale to, perhaps most importantly, Travis. By getting out in the world and doing the things I love, I’ve met the most intriguing, friendly people. Perhaps I should revise “things I love” to “things I love and/or things I did whilst trying to break out of my comfort zone.” Taking chances on talking to strangers gave me companionship on a long bus ride in Israel. It made my friend’s bachelorette party a success. It offered me a couch in VA when I attended Jessica’s ex-husband’s funeral (more on that another day).

It’s not normal to have friends in all these places, but I can’t imagine a different life. I just moved to a new area in January and I’m still having a really hard time making friends here. I call, text, or email my far-flung friends regularly to make sure I’m getting social interaction. I haven’t made any plans to visit any particular friends lately, but I’m excited at the possibility of connecting with a former guitar student during a trip I’m taking later this week. I haven’t seen her in over 4 years, and her daughters are growing up so fast. Although I don’t currently have many close local friends, I’m really glad for the close friends I do have – no matter how geographically far they may be – and the experiences that brought us together.

A Canadian New Year

For the last couple of years, I’ve been trying to focus on minimalism and whittling down my possessions in favor of only those that truly add value to my life. I’ve been trying to learn that it’s possible to appreciate without ownership. My journey toward minimalism is a major work in progress, and a couple weeks ago I got a nice kick-in-the-pants reminder from the guys at The Minimalists with a post called “A Month of Minimalism.” What does this have to do with going places?

Every time I scroll through my photos, I see pictures I’ve taken from trips I keep meaning to write about, but haven’t brought myself around to doing so just yet. So instead, these images are adding to my digital clutter – on my phone, on my computer, in the cloud. I really like some of the images, and others remind me of stories I wanted to tell. But as time passes, the stories fade, and I wonder whether they’re worth telling at all. So today’s post is a little different. I have photos from New Year’s Eve 2014 in Montreal, Canada, and I’m going to post the photos I’ve been saving to share, along with a little tidbit about the photo. No long drawn-out entire trip recaps today. No greater story of connectedness. Just the images I wanted to share, so I can take that digital clutter out of my iPhone, write the story, and then…let it go. Without further ado, I give you:

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I took myself to Montreal, Canada, for New Year’s Eve 2014. Why? I hadn’t left the country all year, and I didn’t want to let an entire year pass by without getting a little use out of my passport. I didn’t have a lot of vacation time, and my finances were a little tight. O Canada it was, nearby, and not requiring plane tickets. While in the states I have successfully avoided such large gatherings as Times Square for NYE, I decided to branch out and try something new in Canada, and I’m not just talking about poutine. I went down to the Old City of Montreal to join 40,000 other people in the freezing cold and blowing snow to watch a concert of music performed in French, which I don’t understand, drinking Canadian rye whisky with a bunch of strangers. The above photo was taken during the concert. I remember everyone being really kind, and the port-a-potties being really, REALLY cold – but it was a really fun experience to have at least once. Probably not more than once.

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On 1 January 2015, hangover intact, my Airbnb host took me to a hot yoga class led by a friend of his. I wanted to start the year off right with some physical and mental activity. The class was in French so I spent much of it just looking at all the other poor souls trying not to fall over, sweating their own hangovers out. After class I hung out in the lobby with the dog pictured above. That’s about what I felt like too.

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My awesome host Benoit owns a cafe on the ground floor of the building I stayed in. Every morning – including New Year’s Day – he prepared delicious food for me, whether we ate upstairs in the apartment while the cafe was closed for the holiday, or I ate downstairs with locals in the shabby-chic Cafe Depanneur. Pictured above is one of the elaborate breakfasts Benoit cooked while the cafe was closed: fresh-cut fruit, crepes, and an egg, tomato, avocado, and cheese sandwich on homemade bread, complete with a latte and one of his Bonsai trees in the background.

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Montreal is named for Mont Royal, the “mountain” in the middle of the city. It’s more like a hill, but the tallest point in the city, and it offers a beautiful view of the city, and lots of trails for walking. Although it was incredibly cold (my weather app actually registered -999* F one day, which was clearly an error, but it felt pretty damn cold) I took a day and “hiked” to the top of Mont Royal. I can only consider it hiking because of the amount of snow on the ground and the fact I needed to wear boots, but the trails were wide and paved. There were loads of people out too – it really made me happy to see so many people enjoying the outdoors, despite the chill.

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Okay, this photo isn’t going to win any awards, but it tells the tale of the first time I tried poutine. As a vegetarian, I wasn’t sure how this was going to work out but I found a poutine restaurant with many vegetarian options and happy vegetarian reviews. I stood in line in the cold for some time awaiting a table. As I finally approached the door, an ambulance wailed up. EMTs and medics ran inside and pushed through the hungry crowd to get to a young woman now seated just ahead of the line to my right. Not speaking French, I had no clue what was going on, but can only assume she either had a seizure or something, or a very bad allergic reaction to an ingredient since she was passed out, and they came in with a defibrillator and all. Still, not one person in line left, and nobody was panicking – very different from what you’d imagine happening at an American restaurant if the ambulance rolled up.

I enjoyed some vegetarian green pepper poutine and a delicious Canadian stout at my table for one shortly thereafter. The beer far outshone the poutine, which I can only liken to breakup food: greasy, heavy, comforting, and simple. Glad to try it, but I won’t be running out of my way to get more anytime soon.

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Here I am, performing at Cafe Depanneur. This was the reason I’d selected the particular apartment I chose on Airbnb. Not only does my host Benoit make delicious food, but he has live music in his cafe all day, every day. I enjoyed performing for a small group of brave Canadians during a bone-chilling snowstorm late one afternoon, and the people really liked it, even though I sang in English. The Blues were really popular in Montreal at the moment so I lucked out, since that’s my usual style.

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After my performance I went to see Luminotherapie, an art installation in the city. Montreal takes art pretty seriously – or perhaps they have more fun with it. These prisms each shine multicolored beams of light, play chimes, and spin around. I ran through the snow with my arms out, spinning an entire row of prisms as I ran past, and laughed as I heard the tinkling of chimes and saw the swirling colors in the falling snow. There were footprints of other adventurers lining the installation but very few people out in the cold and dark. I found a section of virgin snow and decided to make a snow angel to do my part to contribute to the art in Montreal. I can’t recall the last time I made a snow angel, much less in public, in a city in which I don’t speak the language. Brushing off the snow, I had more stops to make since I was now down to my last night in Montreal.

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I had three bars on my list to check out while I was in town. My emailed travel journals had alerted me to a good wine bar, friends had told me about an unmarked cocktail bar hotspot, and the beers I’d had during the past few days led me to a brewery. I took the bus, which, despite the 8″ of snow on the ground and the heavy snow continuing to fall, was still running. Canada doesn’t mess around – there were no snow closures in Montreal. I also managed to hail a cab in French to get me from the cocktail bar to the brewery. I believe the above photo was taken while hoping a cab would come through. I loved the glowing lights hanging across the street, and seeing the headlights rolling down a snow-covered road, showing the city wasn’t the slightest bit dimmed by the weather.

The wine bar was good, but not outstanding. The drinks at the speakeasy were fine, but I don’t think it would have been worth the wait the larger parties in line were subject to (a seat for one was much easier to find). I had the most fun at the brewery, speaking in a tipsy mess of English and French with a waiter who sat next to me and taught me French words and phrases while we drank. The conversation started when he handed me a newspaper section since he saw me sitting alone next to him.

“I don’t speak French, I can’t read it.” I lamented.

“But the pictures don’t need a language.” I accepted the paper. It was the waiter’s 38th birthday and he was celebrating alone, and gave me a gift – not the paper, but the conversation.

I walked home from the bar in the snow, stopping at a Montreal bagel shop – which is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, even in the snow storm – to get some food and warmth. Perhaps “trudged” is a more accurate term, but despite the blowing snow, late hour, and alcohol, I made my way home easily. IMG_1188

Although I have a US passport and had passed back into the country a handful of times before, this was the first time I drove back. The border crossing sign looked pretty intimidating and I couldn’t help but take a picture to remember how imposing it was just to come back to my home country. Getting into Canada had been a little tricky and I almost got arrested for running a stop sign at the crossing since I don’t read French and was trying to read something else, but they eventually laughed at my naïveté and let me through. Going home, the border agent thoroughly inspected my car, including my guitar, asking where I’d bought everything, but finally let me in.

The adventure was over. I’d successfully navigated a new city on my own, learned a few words and phrases in a language which, a week prior, I hadn’t spoken at all, tried a handful of new foods, enjoyed some good drinks, and met some wonderful people. I performed in another country and drove my guitar with me, instead of flying with a travel guitar. My Airbnb host had been incredibly welcoming with food and friendship – he even brought me along to a welcome-home party for a friend of his, where I met tons of people and heard so many languages in one apartment in one night, and I didn’t feel like such an outsider. At one point a group of us all switched to Spanish so we were all speaking second languages.

Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good” kept playing on radio stations and in bars during my trip. Despite the cold weather and the language barrier, I was feeling good. I used to have trouble going to the movies by my self, and now I was going to new countries by myself. Canada was kind and welcoming: at one point in the market I dropped my subway card, and anywhere in the States, nobody would have noticed. Instead, I heard a young man calling out, “Mademoiselle! Mademoiselle! Votre cartre!” I didn’t understand, but turned around when he tapped my shoulder to hand my card back.

When I was getting in my car to drive away, the inch of ice on top of the 9″ of snow that fell overnight proved to be more challenging than I’d expected. I also found a parking ticket attached to my windshield under the snow – my first international ticket. I felt pretty accomplished as I then set to the task of rocking the car, digging out the tires, and hoping I’d get out. After about 45 minutes of this, a tall Hasidic Jewish man came out, asked me where in New York I lived, and told me he was from Brooklyn. He told me to get in the car and he’d push – and his strength got my little jeep over the snow and into the road. He waved his big arm at my rearview mirror with a smile and I rolled down the window to wave back in thanks.

Traveling isn’t always about the play-by-play order of events. Sometimes it’s the small moments that all but disappear until a photo or a conversation spark the memory of an adventure that happened along the way. Details become fuzzy with time, and names or faces may be forgotten, but the experience of traveling and what you learn to rely on when you’re alone are what will stay with you.

How Dating is Like Buying Jeans

How Dating after Being Single is like Buying Jeans after Going to the Gym

  1. You’re not the person you were last time you went shopping…for a relationship or for a new pair of jeans. You’ve taken some major steps to improve yourself – and these steps had to be taken by you alone.
  2. You may not know exactly what you’re looking for. You’ve changed, and sometimes that means letting go of what you thought you wanted in order to focus on what’s really important to you.
  3. You’ll most likely need to try some on for size before making a decision. Sure, one pair of jeans may make your backside look fabulous, but the waist isn’t cut quite right. Another pair may seem perfect on the rack, but a terrible match once you’re alone in the fitting room. Still more and more pairs may hang next to you as you try them on, one by one, knowing that none of them are quite “it.”
  4. Even if you have an idea what you’re looking for when you get to the store, you probably won’t find it the first time you look. You’ll find indigo wash jeans with a flare – but the wrong rise. There will be black skinnies but the ankles are too loose. Your dream jeans seem just out of reach – these would be perfect “except…”
  5. You may get to the point you feel you’ll be wearing yoga pants forever. They hug you in all the right places and you know exactly how they fit. But are they really work-appropriate? Are they truly durable? Can you actually dress them up?
  6. You now know what patience feels like, and you have enough of it to wait for the perfect pair of jeans, rather than grabbing the first pair you see.
  7. You’re dedicated – to improving yourself as a person, to reaching your goals, to getting what you need, and to following through with your choices.
  8. You’ll be doing a lot of self-reflection – both in the mirror and by thinking about what you truly want.
  9. You know better than to settle for what looks good on paper. If you’re just not feeling it in person, they’ll go back on the rack – no matter what your friends say, your family thinks, or online algorithms have to say.
  10. When you find the right match, you’ll know when you put them on – there won’t be any second-guessing or wishing some detail was different. They’ll fit you, as you are now, and you’ll feel great in them.

This post is a little more personal than adventurous – but dating is also an adventure, and a place I’ve been, so here we go!

Dating after a long period of being single is a lot like trying to find the perfect pair of jeans after spending some serious time in the gym. In both instances you’ve spent months – maybe years – improving yourself, learning from your experiences, and hopefully making positive choices. You’ve made a change from the person you were before, and though the changes may be subtle, you can’t ignore them.

The choice to take care of this one physical body you have is a positive one, but the benefits only come with hard work. One of my favorite quotes is from Physique57 creator Tanya Becker: “You can’t think yourself to a better body.” It takes some time to see results, and you may see them sooner than others – carrying groceries in the house is easier, or you’re not winded running to visit a colleague upstairs. Eventually, your clothes start to fit better…and then they don’t fit at all when your body shape visibly changes. Then it’s time to find a new pair of jeans that fits and flatters this new body you’ve worked so hard to achieve.

If you’ve had a serious relationship or two (or a handful) and have taken some time to be single afterward, you’re working on the mental and emotional side of that one physical body you have. You’re letting yourself feel and thus heal the pain from losing relationships that meant so much to you. You may feel a swell of emotions at first that will fade into the past as your emotional and mental strength emerge. Much like going to the gym, flexing your emotional muscles makes you healthier and changes you in subtle ways you alone may see at first. It might start small: being able to sit at a bar by yourself and not feel horribly self-conscious for being alone in public. Or it might be huge: buying a one-way plane ticket to a country you’ve always wanted to visit.

Being realistic is part of these changes. We all have a dream list of qualities and physical characteristics we’d like – both physically and emotionally, in ourselves and in a partner – but those qualities may not truly be attainable. It’s not settling to be realistic – being realistic actually opens your eyes to more possibilities and brings you more peace with what is. Try on a style you never thought would flatter – but your new healthy shape may surprise you. Maybe go on a date with a cat-lover or a blond for a change, and see what happens…you never know! Change takes courage: courage to break out of your comfort zone, courage to know when something feels right – and when it doesn’t, courage to take a risk when the benefits far outweigh the what-ifs.

I once went on a date with this Gap-model gorgeous, dog-loving, SAT-tutoring runner and world-traveler. Sounds perfect for me on paper, right? Too bad he had the personality of a dishtowel, no sense of humor, couldn’t stop going on about his ex, and had the audacity to tell me it was good I was taking half of my sandwich home because I didn’t “need to eat that much.” I’m glad I had the courage to walk away from that date, knowing that although he seemed to fit the qualities I thought I wanted, it was definitely not a match. Back on the rack.

Today, the man I didn’t think existed found me while we were both hiking on the Appalachian Trail – and he has blue eyes instead of the brown I usually go for. If I’d written him off just because something about his physical appearance was slightly different than my usual “type,” I’d be missing out on the best relationship I’ve ever had. I’d been single – lots of dating, but no serious relationships – for close to four years prior to meeting him. That gave me plenty of time to reflect, grow stronger, consider what I want in a partner and what I have to offer, and be open to the possibility of a healthy, loving relationship.

I started lifting weights last winter after being a runner for over a decade, but I still haven’t found the right pair of jeans for my newfound muscles. I hope it doesn’t take me four years to find new jeans.