SOL: Commemor-8

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I have been wracking my mind for days trying to decide how I can possibly write a succinct review of the past eight months. On my last day in Spain I was in a state of detached shock and felt incapable of being able to summarizing my time here.

I was asked if I regret any experiences while I’ve been here and I can honestly say that I would not change a thing about this trip. While there have been several terrible days and weeks, and a few instances where I wanted to pack up and leave, ultimately I can say without hesitation that while I have been here I have felt more alive than ever before. Whereas during my trip to France last year I felt that it was a metamorphic experience it was extremely static; I spent the majority of my time alone, whether it was running, reading, or working, I was isolated without realizing how detrimental it was to my happiness. Within Spain I allowed myself to open up to the world and as such I have had the luxury of witnessing the best and worst life has to offer. In Spain I created a slapdash life and while it was messy, chaotic and at times completely ill-advised, it was entirely my creation and therefore I have cherished each moment.

At my core, and it is perhaps one of my most reprehensible traits, I find I am a selfish person. I fiercely guard my independence to the point that I often shut others out without the intention of being malicious – I simply feel I am better off accomplishing my goals on my own. While in Spain I spent my working hours constantly interacting with people of all ages, nationalities and from multiple walks of life. I left several ill-advised love affairs in the past and focused my time and energy on including another person in my dreams and my life. Most importantly, I have been making the conscious decision to do so. In making these choices, I am learning to accept full responsibility for my fuck-ups (there have been many) and my small mistakes. Self-awareness has taken chunks out of my ego, however I think acknowledging our shortcomings keeps us grounded and perhaps more likely to exude caution in the future. I feel as though each month here has brought me a new lesson, sometimes in the form of a curse and other times as a blessing.

In April, I feel that I tackled my irrational fear of children. When I told people that I was going to be teaching English to a four year old, many looked at me with thinly veiled surprise and some expressed the general sentiment of, “Don’t take this the wrong way but… I can’t see you being good with kids.” Fair point all around, I don’t think I’ve spent time around kids since I’ve been one myself, and even then I found it painful. It took all of April and most of May before the child began to understand me, and after that we fell into a happy balance of him testing his boundaries and me being easy-going enough to let him get away with most of his insane antics. I doubt I will ever fill an au pair role again, but while I was teaching him English, he in turn was teaching me to be more patient, more nurturing and more playful.

In May, I learned the value of trust and honesty. I often view life as a highly idealistic and romanticized version of reality, and in my second month of Spain I realized the error of my ways. Upon departing for a six month sojourn, I expected to stay involved and connected with someone back in Canada. Upon discovering the perceived monogamy was (and had been) extremely one-sided, I immediately severed contact and realized that by harboring feelings for someone in Canada I had eliminated the possibility of meeting someone in Spain. In the beginning of May I applied online for several language exchange boards and was inundated with people willing to help me practice Spanish and probably several other skills. After weeding through the weirdos I came away with a few people who improved my Spanish and filled my social calendar. By mid-month I had gone for two job interviews and by week three I was training at a restaurant in the neighbouring town. I was lucky to finish my second month in the country with a visit from my best friend so I was able to show her what little I had gleaned of Spanish nightlife and the major tourist stops in Barcelona.

In June, I would like to say I learned about love but really I learned about lust and the mistakes we make in the pursuit of companionship and self-serving happiness. In attempting to forge connections I embarked on several haphazard and shallow endeavours. After realizing that European men are even more indifferent to fidelity within relationships than their North American counterparts, I decided to forego Spaniards and try my luck with Frenchmen (hey, it worked for my mom!). Gross miscalculation on my part, as I had a Frenchman declaring love and proposing marriage within weeks of meeting. I prefer to avoid confrontation when possible however I was forced to inform him I did not see us raising les enfants in the north of France. He did not take it well, and I learned a valuable lesson about ensuring your partner is emotionally and mentally stable before inviting them to stay with you. The more you try and push yourself towards someone the less likely a relationship is to flourish; the best connections seem to happen when you least expect it and are barely paying attention. Such is life.

By the time July rolled around I was learning a valuable lesson about time management. As my young charge finished school in the end of June, in July he spent his mornings at summer camp but I had him for an extra two and a half hours every day. The decrease in free time left me biking to work at the café in the morning from and then biking back to Sant Pol to ensure I was ready to pick him up on time. In the evenings I tentatively began to devote my time to visiting a British native in the next town over, which meant hopping back on my chariot of choice (yes, a mountain bike) and spending nights and mornings at his place. As a result of this wildly irregular schedule July passed in the blink of an eye and I was extremely burnt out by the end of the month. I spent several days in Paris and the change of scenery gave me a bit of a second wind vis-à-vis the traveler’s life.

In August I learned the importance of moderation. The month started with a drunken late-night dip in the ocean and a man choosing to abscond with my belongings (namely my keys, cash and brand new cell phone). I can chalk that lesson up to numerous factors – never spend $600 on something that can be taken that easily, never leave your clothes out of reach when you’re in the sea at 5AM and probably don’t drink to the point that you can’t chase down the dude who stole your shit. I had three weeks off from work with the child, so I filled my time with several beach days, more shifts at the bar and trips to Lisbon and Madrid. After nine-hour bar shifts I would typically bike home to nap for a couple of hours, then bike back to party with coworkers until six in the morning and then repeat the following day. In Lisbon I met up with a group of fellow traveler’s and once again drank to excess, which resulted in several afternoons in a haze of tequila sweat and hugging porcelain. Self-control has never been one of my strong suits, and August was yet another wake-up call that the emphasis on alcohol on nights out will never bode well for me. As such, this month was my “party month” and it passed me by quickly, greased as it was on its alcohol wheels.

As the summer months ended and life as normal resumed, I found myself being taught a lesson in levelheadedness. I was thankful to be able to resume a fixed schedule with the child in September as he started school the second week of the month. After realizing how quickly the summer passed I decided to quit the bar mid-month in order to have free time on the weekend again. After several unexpected events unrolled, I noticed my penchant to completely fly off the handle at the slightest inconvenience or unexpected occurrence. I was lucky to have my Brit throughout it all who was able to keep me as rationally calm as possible, and in overcoming obstacles I discovered the importance of inner strength. I don’t believe there are any insurmountable problems, it is simply necessary to maintain calm amidst the chaos.

By October I was being lulled into the steady rhythm of a rigid work schedule during the week and ample free time on weekends. Just in case life got too boring, I taught myself a valuable lesson in stepping outside my comfort zone. By the second week of October I had booked flights to take me and my Brit to Asia. The rest of the month resulted in me over-googling travel alerts for Southeast Asia and him reminding me to simmer down. As such, we both took a huge leap of faith and are hoping to continue our adventures together on the other side of the globe. I was initially torn between the safer option (relocating to Spain permanently and finding a job, apartment and all the other adult necessities) and this wild card draw. As it is, I’m glad to have someone who is encouraging me to feed my travel addiction and I can’t wait to finally cross that off my bucket list.

It seems fitting that my last month abroad resulted in a culmination of all the previous month’s lessons along with a few final twists to keep me on my toes. I walked away from my eight months abroad realizing that the most important thing you can do to overcome life’s little obstacles is to roll with the punches. In November I truly recognized how important it is to surround yourself with people who genuinely and unconditionally support your choices. The quality of the relationships you bring into your life have a huge impact on your quantity of happiness. While it is crucial that your close family and friends have a positive impact on your life, entering a romantic relationship with someone who constantly inspires you to be the best version of yourself is a huge factor in determining the direction your life will take. More than ever I realize that I am surrounded and supported by amazing people who will stand by my every inane endeavour. I am slowly, albeit reluctantly, accepting that for all my over-planning I cannot control everything that life will throw at me; at times I simply have to accept that I will be dragged through good and bad scenarios, but it is up to me to glean the lesson and move on.

I started writing this post on my train from Barcelona to Paris; I edited it during my flight from Paris to Toronto and now, safely ensconced in my cozy house in the suburbs of Mississauga, it seems insane to me that only a few days have passed since I left Europe. I feel like pieces of my soul have been perpetually scattered this summer and I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to meet such amazing people in such a beautiful country.

I will never forget the past few months spent in Spain. My character and the very fibre of my being remains forever changed as a result of my trip. As I resume life in Canada for the winter, I am already dreaming of Bali beaches…

Safe travels,
AS

SOL: Post-Travel Blues & How to Say “No” to the Ordinary

A year ago I made a seemingly small but ultimately life-changing decision – I decided to subscribe to updates from a blog called Nomadic Matt. The founder grew up in Boston and traveled little, but after finishing his MBA he decided to take his first real trip abroad. After that he was hooked and he is now a life-long traveler committed to sharing his pearls of wisdom with others. It is through one of his e-mail updates that I first discovered Workaway and from there everything seemed to fall into place.

Now that I’m back in Canada I still read his blog and file away the useful tidbits of information as he doles them out. Last week I came across an article of his that articulated with absolute eloquence the feelings I’ve been experiencing since returning from my trip. In his post he discusses post travel depression and commiserates with everyone else who has returned from a trip only to feel suffocated on home soil.

It was as if home had remained frozen during my time away. I still loved my friends, family, and city, but I didn’t fit in anymore. I had outgrown living there. Home felt small and unrelatable – I had this fire in me that I couldn’t express to anyone and it frustrated me. It yearned to try new things, go new places, meet new people but whenever I tried to express that, words fell flat. That fire was a feeling only those who had traveled seemed to understand – a simple nod to convey understanding of this shared bond.” (Nomadic Matt, Sept 2014).

Coming home is difficult. I have stressed to my closest confidants that I feel like I’m reliving last winter all over again – the same jobs, the same experiences and the same people. I try my hardest not to offend anyone; it goes without saying that while I was abroad I missed my family and friends daily, but I knew I was on a path that was worthwhile. My little slice of emotional suffering was worth it. While I was abroad I grew up and grew into myself and as a result I feel different in my skin. I hold the most important stories from the five months of solo-travel deep in my belly and guard it with a voracious pride; I am the only one I can truly share those moments with.

One of my mom’s friends asked her if I had re-acclimatized myself to life in Canada. My mom replied succinctly, “She hasn’t yet and I don’t think she ever will.” She’s right; the minute I touched down I felt welcomed into familiar surroundings but I carried a new bud of enlightenment in me that made me feel like an outsider. “Home” is a fluid term for me now; I can make a home anywhere, and I would prefer to make my home everywhere.

I’ve already started planning my next journey. I’m already making packing lists in my head and looking at maps and reading about the different climates and which metro gets you to which cathedral the fastest. I’m researching bus costs and connecting flights with undisguised zeal. Until I figure out how to turn my passion into payment, I must simply accept that I now commute and work seven days a week. In the end, I know these next few months of work will pay-off. It will all be worth it.

“Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.”
Leonardo da Vinci

Safe travels,
AS

 

SOL: À Bientôt Europe!

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Et voilà – approximately twenty two weeks after I left Canada I am awaiting a plane to bring me home.

I am at a loss for words to express the depth of my appreciation for this experience. I am tempted to say that these months have flown by but each month and sometimes each week presented its own challenges.

From start to finish, this was a personal struggle; my goal was more “deep rehab of the soul” than “I bet I can drink my way across Europe.” I came here to see the world, yes, but also to fix the cracks in my soul. It is not an exaggeration to say that when I arrived in France this April I was a broken and extremely depressed individual. I felt increasingly unstable, unhappy and panicked about life and more specifically, my place in life. I can honestly say I was a nervous wreck and for lack of a more eloquent description, I felt like an all-around piece of shit.

Having said that I must confess that on this trip three wonderful things happened:

1) I fell out of love with the people and memories I was holding onto with the toxic hope I would one day have them back again. In doing so I realized that without the grey tinge of the past haunting me my present life became more beautiful.

2) I slowly realized that although I have done terrible things in the past I am actually (and it feels odd to acknowledge this) proud of the person I have become. I realized that my past does not define the person I am today and in doing so I shook off years of angst and guilt and made a home out of my body.

3) I woke up one morning and realized that I had shaken my plaguing depression and had fallen in love with both myself and my life. This is not to say I do not still have lows, but I am much better equipped to deal with them; I now see each low as preparation for a new high and that alone is a beautiful thing.

It is a wonderful moment when you realize that the love you put into your life will be returned. Obviously I still struggle; I still have bad days and shitty moods, but I have embraced the wonderful complexity of life and relish each event, both good and bad. I do not expect myself or my life to be perfect; the bad days and my worst traits only make me value the positive that much more.

It feels bittersweet to be leaving this beautiful country but I am comforted by the fact that I will soon be able to see my family and friends. This trip has utterly revolutionized my worldview and travel itself. When I first voiced my desire to embark on this trip I had numerous people tell me it would be too difficult to do by myself, that I’d get scared or lonely, that I’d be back before the five months were up or that I was completely deluded as to how expensive and confusing traveling can be. I was admittedly petrified that I was biting off more than I could chew but I realized that people often have more tenacity than they give themselves credit for. Humans are resilient – we are durable and capable of much more than the limits we impose upon ourselves. While at times it was difficult to navigate solo-travel I am proud of myself for being strong enough to do it on my own.

My takeaway from this journey is simple:

DO MORE OF WHAT MAKES YOU HAPPY.

Life is too short to be miserable. Be honest with yourself about what you want. If you wait for the right time you will be waiting your whole life – do it now! Always remember the best things in life happen when you step outside your comfort zone.

Safe travels,
AS

SOL: Amsterdam Essentials

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I’ve been stalling packing for ‘Dam for days but this morning I had no choice but to suck it up and get it done.

Ét voila, the essentials as per Alexa:

1) eBags small carrier filled with tees, leggings and under-things.
2) One pair regular wash jeans, one pair black jeans.
3) French passport & monies for shenanigans.
4) Sturdy padlock for hostel lockers.
5) Eye drops for… Allergies.
6) iPhone.
7) Comfy Converse for trekking the city streets.
8) Leather jacket for fall weather and fashion.

Not pictured: my embarrassingly large backpack, the numerous tickets and maps I’ve printed out, my toiletries, iPad and Nikon camera.

I’m finding it hard to believe I have less than a week left in Europe! The past five months have been a blast and I’m looking forward to ending on a high note.

Safe travels,
AS

MIND: The Wanderlust Effect

It’s funny. When you leave your home and wander really far, you always think, “I want to go home.” But then you come home, and of course it’s not the same. You can’t live with it, you can’t live away from it. And it seems like from then on there’s always this yearning for some place that doesn’t exist. I felt that. Still do. I’m never completely at home anywhere.

// Danzy Senna

SOL: Solo Travels

There came a point in my pre-departure lifestyle where amongst all the planning and saving I realized that I should probably start telling people that I was leaving. Those closest to me had known for several months, but as I told more people there was one sentence they would all invariably utter, “You’re going alone?

They’d lower their voice as they said it, as if taking this journey solo was too troublesome to say out loud. Alone – as if it was a dirty or unpleasant word. Then they would raise the topic of my safety, (because a young woman travelling alone is apparently a target) or tell me that I would get lonely and want to come home within a week. I politely listened to all of it, while within my head all I could focus on was the gentle, reassuring thrum that was pushing me out the door and propelling me to a foreign country.

I feel like it’s important to address these inaccuracies. I’m rapidly approaching my one month mark in France and I can honestly attest to the fact that I have not once felt lonely. If anything, I’ve felt swamped with company and I find myself constantly surrounded by friendly faces. I’m not sure if it’s an auric radiation or France in general, but even my quiet moments result in new acquaintances, whether it’s an elderly gentleman in a café (who overheard I was Canadian and promptly whipped out photos of his own daughter who is teaching in Toronto) or a young American woman (who heard my “accent” and quickly bonded with me over our mutual interest in Thailand and discussed the best places to get Thai food in France). Each interaction leaves me feeling charmed and blessed by life. I am never lonely, but I relish the moments when I am alone.

Even while in Barcelona, which is notorious for pick-pockets and chock-full of warnings for young women, I never once felt threatened or worried about my safety. In fact, as a young woman I find people are more likely to take you under their wing and protect you. As we checked into our hostel we experienced a brief moment of panic because we had booked into a “Mixed Dorm” (8 bunks, male and female). We agreed that if we walked in and felt unsafe or threatened, we would demand to be switched to an all-female dorm. As it turns out, we were in a room with two couples and one 22 year old Dutch guy who turned out to be excellent company while we stayed in Barcelona. Hostels are great places to meet like-minded travellers and I could have easily stayed a few extra nights for the social aspect alone.

Travelling alone can be more stressful, and I can certainly see the benefit to splitting the costs of luggage lockers and taxi’s, but successfully arriving at each destination fills me with a sense of pride and independence that I can scarcely put into words.

As much as I love the people in my life, I cannot imagine taking this trip with anyone but myself. I’ve been incredibly lucky thus far to have had my experience enriched by so many colourful characters.

I’m looking forward to the next few months of travel I have ahead.

Namaste,
AS

SOL: La Plage

SOL: La Mer

Wednesday was a good day at Mas Al Quinta!

Namua asked me to go to the market with her, so I was up bright and early at 6:30 heading to a neighboring city.

She sells English books to tourists and such, so after a quick set-up I was free to wander about the city on my own.

After purchasing a fresh croissant, basically contraband in our vegan household, I set out for a 20 minute walk to the beach. It was a much cleaner city than Perpignan, and the sun was already up and shining full force.

I got to the beach just after 8am and loved it! The sea is hugged on one side by the mountains, and if you face the north you can still see the snow-topped Pyrenees.

I played around the the beach for two hours, sadly the water was too cold to wade in.

After returning to the city I found the centre square and streets were full of vendors for the market! There was tons of fresh produce, jewelry, meat and clothes to meander through.

By noon it was 30 degrees and I was sweating bullets in my black jeans. Luckily we started packing up by 12:30 and were home just after 1pm. Once we got back it was decided that we would take another trip to the beach, so we all piled into a car and drove to a more secluded corner to relax and siesta.

Two beach trips in one day and I got a bit of sun – successful day in France.

À bientôt,
AS