So thanks to my friend Angela, I learned about this book and pre-ordered it on Amazon (as I am wont to do, probably much too often). I read the blurb and agreed with Ang that it was probably written for me and about me. I couldn’t have been more right. For those who don’t know, this book was written by Kristin Newman, a Hollywood television writer. She was single until her late-30’s/early 40’s (she is now married). She traveled a lot in her 20’s and 30’s and she wrote a memoir about it.
I was able to prevent myself from crying as I read the prologue, but by Chapter One I was done. It was me, in a nutshell (well, sans the random sex and drug use, that is). This is an entertaining, humorous, enlightening, affirming, and encouraging book (for me). It very clearly could not have come at a better time than mere months from my 3-month sabbatical. Here are some of the things that stuck out for me (and that I feel comfortable sharing with the world).
First, I should point out that Kristin’s philosophy of traveling is one that mirrors my own: “I love to do the things you’re supposed to do in the place you’re supposed to do it.” This is why I ate escargot and duck in Paris (ok ok, as well as a lot of chocolate croissants, twist my arm); I tried to drink Guiness in Ireland, and I ate my weight in fish and chips in both Ireland and London.
Kristin has a list of things one should ask of their travel partner before traveling. But I think the list is a perfect reminder for mef as I venture to Europe. Here it is, with my annotations in bold:
1) You are open. You say yes to whatever comes your way, whether it’s shots of a putrid-smelling yak-butter tea or an offer for an Albanian toe-licking. (How else are you going to get the volcano dust off?) You say yes because it is the only way to really experience another place, and let it change you. Which, in my opinion, is the mark of a great trip.
There are a few things on this list that will be a challenge for me. I am fully aware of that. This trip is both right in my wheelhouse and so far out of my comfort zone. I look forward to growing and stretching. My hope is that I remember this advice and am able to practice it.
2) You venture to the places where the tourists aren’t, in addition to the “must-sees.” If you are exclusively visiting places where busloads of Chinese are following a woman with a flag and a bullhorn, you’re not doing it.
This has always been key to me. It, among other things, is why I loved Ireland so much. Yes, we did the must-sees (Guinness Brewery, Kilmainham Gaol, Blarney Castle), but we also got off the beaten path. We stayed for a night in Clonmel and hung out with (albeit strange) locals. We stayed in a small town in the Burren. It was a good mix. London and Paris? Not so much. That was mostly must-sees. And that trip felt so incredibly different. So I definitely have as a goal of this trip to make sure I have a good mix of these experiences.
3) You are easygoing about sleeping/eating/comfort issues. You don’t change rooms three times, you’ll take an overnight bus if you must, you can go without meat in India and without vegan soy gluten-free tempeh butter in Bolivia, and you can shut the hell up about it.
To me, this is related to number 1. I don’t think I will find myself growing and stretching anywhere more than in the food department. It’s sort of become my “thing” to say that I am culinarily (is that a word?) adventurous when traveling. But it’s true! And not only in other countries. Ask Karin, who got me to try fish tacos in San Diego. Because really, where else does one eat fish tacos? And, like the escargot in Paris, I liked them! Shocking.
The big one for me, that I have thought about and accepted already, is that I am going to be eating pork. Especially in Poland, Austria, and Germany. How can I go to those countries and fully experience their culture without eating one of the main staples of their diet? So I am at peace with that decision! But I am sure it is going to be a recurring theme and I hope that I am able to remain open to different cuisines.
4) You are aware of your travel companions, and if not being contrary to their desires/needs/schedules more often than necessary. If you find that you want to do things differently than your companions, you happily tell them to go on without you in a way that does not sound like you’re saying, “this is a test.”
So I’m not going to have many travel companions on this trip, but I think this is a very important “rule.” It was something Loren and I discussed several times before Ireland and we were both ok with it. And I left Jaime one afternoon in London so she could go shop on the High Street while I went and took a much-needed nap. And it was ok.
5) You can figure it out. How to read a map, how to order when you can’t read the menu, how to find a bathroom, or a train, or a castle.
I think I’m good here. Confident in this one!
6) You know what the trip is going to cost, and can afford it. If you can’t afford the trip, you don’t go. Conversely, if your travel companions can’t afford what you can afford, you are willing to slum it in the name of camaraderie. PS: Attractive single people almost exclusively stay at dumps. If you’re looking for them, don’t go posh.
So as I was planning my accommodations for this trip, I initially was refusing to stay in hostels. I thought, I am a 38 year old woman, I am not about to stay in a youth hostel. Granted, Loren and I stayed in one in Dublin and it was perfectly fine. But from what I was finding, to make it economical, I needed another person. (Because I was only looking at private rooms in the hostels.) Then I read this book. Granted, I’m not going on this trip to meet a man, but I do want to meet similarly-situated individuals. Kristin really convinced me to look beyond my comfort zone and think outside the box (which is when I found the “luxury hostels”,which are geared exactly toward people like me). So I still have parameters, e.g., I am not staying in a co-ed dorms, but I have widened my horizons.
Kristin also states elsewhere in the book: “This is my best travel advice for solo grown-up travelers: shoot for the middle.”
7) You are aware of cultural differences, and go out of your way to blend. You don’t wear booty shorts to the Western Wall on Shabbat. You do hike your bathing suit up your booty on the beach in Brazil. Basically, just be aware to show the culturally correct amount of booty.
I don’t think I am going to be showing any booty, so I think I’m good here. Thank goodness I’m not going to Brazil!
8) You behave yourself when dealing with local hotel clerks/train operators/tour guides, etc. Whether it’s for selfish gain, helping the reputation of Americans traveling abroad, or simply the spreading of good vibes, you will make nice even when faced with cultural frustrations and repeated smug “not possible”s. . . .
I fully believe this and it was something that Loren talked about a lot before Ireland, as well. Not only just making nice and behaving yourself, but to assimilate as much as possible. That was easier to do in Ireland, harder to do in Paris. The language barrier was something that I took seriously. Yes, the Parisians could tell from a mile away that we were Americans and they spoke English to us, but where possible (which isn’t much, considering I don’t speak French) I wanted to speak their language. I believe that is the respectful thing to do. Of course, this was challenged by the fact that apparently when my brain hears a foreign language, it wants to respond in Spanish…the only foreign language I have ever been semi-fluent in. I don’t know if I am relieved or annoyed by the fact that it’s happening now in Irish class, too!
9) This last rule is the most important to me: you are able to go with the flow in a spontaneous, non-uptight way if you stumble into something amazing that will bump some plan off the day’s schedule. So you missed the freakin’ waterfall–you got invited to a Bahamian family’s post-Christening barbecue where you danced with three generations of locals in a backyard under flower-strewn balconies. You won. Shut the hell up about the waterfall.
Again, some of these are interrelated and I feel like I’m repeating myself. But I’m not always the most spontaneous person. Shocking, I know. But Loren and I did say “yes” to going to a wedding reception in Dingle. And it was an amazing experience and probably the highlight of the trip. I hope I can maintain that spontaneity on this trip and say “yes” to similar situations. I was able to let go of some of the itinerary in Ireland and roll with it, with the mantra that I can come back another time to see this or do that. And lookit. I’m doing it! I will make it to Cobh and the Wicklow Mountains and Mizen Head. Granted, I will likely never return to some of the places on this trip, but for the most part, I know I need to let go of the itinerary if a great opportunity presents itself.
Kristin shares this little nugget, which should be my life mantra, I think, in addition to my trip mantra: “You can’t control everything. Just enjoy what the world is giving you.”
And finally, something that I think we all need to hear sometimes:
“My friends who met their spouses young have often told me they live vicariously through my adventures. That they sometimes think about the oats they never got a chance to sow. There is a trade-off for both their choice and mine. . . . [L]ife is almost never about choosing between one thing you really want and another thing you don’t want at all. If you’re lucky, and healthy, and live in a country where you have enough to eat and no fear that you’re going to get shot when you walk out your your door, life an endless series of choosing between two things you want almost equally. And you have to evaluate and determine which awesome thing you want infinitesimally more, and then give up that other awesome thing you want almost exactly as much. You have to trade awesome for awesome. Everyone I knew, no matter what they chose, was at least a little in mourning for that other thing.”
Kristin Newman, THANK YOU. Your book was not only an inspiration to me but a validation that I have lived my life and made choices that were right for me. And I don’t think I’ve ever been happier!