What I’m Afraid of Missing While on the Road

HouseWhile I’m incredibly excited to move into the short bus my fiancee and I converted into a tiny home (my skoolie for those in the know), there’s a part of me that’s also scared shitless. There’s a reason why modern western life is set up the way it is. It’s comfortable and convenient, and moving into a bus I’m going to be leaving behind a lot of the modern-day conveniences I take for granted.

It’s so easy to move from day to day without remembering to appreciate all the little things that make your life easier and better. When you’re cooking dinner, do you step back and go, wow, I’m so happy I have an oven? After you take a shit, do you look into the bowl and go, wow the ingenuity of flush toilets is incredible? Of course not. That would be insane. But at the same time, you’re surrounded by all these little amazing inventions every day.

Most of the time, it isn’t until you’re without these modern-day conveniences that you realize how great they actually are. The year I lived in Scotland, we didn’t have enough money to turn on our heat or hot water, so we boiled water for dishes and had a little electric coil on our shower to heat up the water there. Moving back to Canada, I spent a year marveling at the heat coming out of the vents and the warm water coming out of the tap. Slowly, though, that wonder went away.

As I get ready to move onto our skoolie, I’m trying to remember to appreciate the modern conveniences I won’t have access to on the road. The more I take the time to appreciate these little things in my life, the more little things I find to appreciate. I’ve made a list of a few of the big ones I’m afraid of missing while we’re on our skoolie.

What I’m Afraid of Missing While on Our Skoolie

My Oven. While Em and I are going to be bringing a two-burner camp stove on our trip, we’re going to be without an oven. This means goodbye potato wedges, quiche, and home-baked cookies, and hello pan-fried everything. We already have a hard time remembering what the heck we eat, and I’m worried that without an oven, we’ll just end up eating salad every day.

Like Jolly Frogs

Running Water. While we’ve got a solar shower and a pretty good bucket system set up for a toilet, I’m trying to appreciate not having to constantly worry about where to refill my water jugs.

My Friends and Family. Yes, we’ll meet people on the road, we’re coming back for Christmas, and we’ll be able to keep in touch through phone calls and Skype, but it’s not the same as spontaneously going for a beer with your neighbors or getting brunch with the people you’ve known for 15+ years.

My Fridge. The fridge is going to be a big one. We’ve got a cooler that plugs into our solar-powered battery, but the cooler is pretty small and only makes things about 15°C cooler than the outside temperature. We mostly eat vegan food, but I’m still worried about keeping produce fresh and storing leftovers.

The Library. As someone who reads three or four books a month, this is a big one for me. I’m planning on cycling through used bookstores in all the places we stop, but I’m worried about not having almost-instant access to any book I could possibly decide to read.

I’m sure as we head out on our skoolie, there will be more and more things I’ll wish I’d appreciated while at home, but these are the ones I’m clinging to now. I’m trying to be mindful when I use them and appreciate what a good thing being alive in a real-life apartment with modern appliances, running water, and reliable electricity and internet is.

Top Books to See New York City in a New Way

People posing next to the Statue of Liberty’s face as it was being un-packed #NYC #photography pic.twitter.com/N0lva6TBb2This morning when I decided to take on the task of making a list of top books set in New York City, I was hopeful. How many books can there actually be that are set in New York, and how many of them are actually good? Well, the answer is a lot and a lot. I was halfway through the list, when I remembered The Great Gatsby, and then I decided to give up. Instead, I made a list called top books to see New York City in a new way.

I was in New York in January, and the thing about it, and all cities, is that it’s not just one place but a whole bunch of places all together. It’s Manhattan and Brooklyn and China Town and Soho and Harlem and so much more. Each street corner and each little patch of grass is different, and no two people see the same place the same way.

With this list of top books to see New York City in a new way, I tried to find books that showed or said something new about the city so many people have written about.

 

Poet in New York – Federico García Lorca. People tend to shy away from poetry, and my theory is because it makes them feel stupid. The thing is though, there’s no right or wrong way to read a poem. You don’t need to try to figure it out like it’s some annoying puzzle your English teacher gave you to solve. Just read the words, let the images wash over you and move on. Lorca’s got some ridiculously great lines about New York including: “The New York dawn has / four columns of mud / and a hurricane of black doves / that paddle in putrescent waters.”

Baron Munchausen is reading in an armchair as a boa constrictor waves a fan with its tailBright Lights Big City – Jay Mcinerney. If you ever wanted to be super high on coke, running through the streets of New York City in the 80’s, this is the book for you. A quote that sums up the whole book pretty well is: “Tad’s mission in life is to have more fun than anyone else in New York City, and this involves a lot of moving around, since there is always the likelihood that where you aren’t is more fun than where you are.”

Tropic of Capricorn – Henry Miller. Yes, I’m including Henry Miller on a list again. But he’s pretty much amazing. Just check out this description of a New York City night: “Again the night, the incalculably barren, cold, mechanical night of New York in which there is no peace, no refuge, no intimacy. The immense, frozen solitude of the million-footed mob, the cold, waste fire of the electrical display, the overwhelming meaningless of the perfection of the female who through perfection has crossed the frontier of sex and gone into the minus sign, gone into the red, like the electricity, like the neutral energy of the males, like planets without aspect, like peace programmes, like love over the radio.”

Church of Marvels – Leslie Parry. This is probably the most “readable” of the books on the list, but also a fantastic and fun read. It’s set in New York city in 1895 and has got freak shows, mad houses, opium dens, and more. It’s a great way to see what New York might have been like in a glorious and fantastical past.

In the Country of Last Things – Paul Auster. In the Country of Last Things is the counterpoint to Church of Marvels. Instead of a glorious past, it’s set in a brutal future. It follows one woman’s journey as she searches for her brother in through a crumbling city, and shit gets dark. While the book never explicitly says it’s set in New York, because Auster has written so many other books set in New York, I just assumed it was set there, too.

While this list of top books to see New York City in a new way is by no means exhaustive, and I’m no doubt missing some good ones, it’s a start. If you’ve got any books you’d like to add to the list, feel free to drop them in the comments, and if you liked this list, also check out Top Books Set in Paris.

Where to Make Friends When Traveling Alone

A vagabond pauses under the setting sun as he approaches a village the viewer can't seeWhile traveling alone can be freeing, empowering, and exhilarating, it can also be soul-crushingly lonely and isolating. Making friends when traveling alone can add to your experience in a new place, and can stop you from wandering lost through a strange city with this distinct sensation that you don’t actually exist and that you could dissolve at any second and no one would even notice.

Some of the best trips I’ve been on have been the best because of the people I met while traveling. I met a man named Treasure, a woman named Cookies, a 70-year-old exotic dancer, a Mormon who loved heavy metal, musicians, actors, botanists, and hundreds of other kind, interesting, and generous people who have made my trips memorable and exciting.

Making Friends While Traveling Alone

When you’re traveling alone, wandering around by yourself like a huge loser, how do you know where to go to make friends? I’ve found that the best places to make friends when traveling alone are places where locals hang out and where there’s some level of social interaction already in place. Where I’ve found the most success making friends while traveling alone include:

The Queen of Hearts and the King of Clubs dance together in front of other queens and kingsOpen Mic Nights. These nights usually have a super friendly and supportive atmosphere. The people there are looking for someone to perform to, and if you’re a fresh and willing audience, then what’s not to love about you? Plus, talking to someone about their performance is a super easy way to start a conversation with a stranger.

Concerts and Comedy Shows. Similar to open mic nights, concerts and comedy shows are great because in between sets, you can talk to the people around you about what you just saw. At the same time, though, you’ve got a reason for being there as oppose to skulking around at the back of a bar, drinking by yourself.

Classes. Why not drop by a yoga class, cooking class, or drumming workshop? You’ll probably find other people who are there alone, and you’ve automatically got the class as an ice breaker.

Art Events. Gallery openings, short film screenings, and other art events give you a chance to mingle and talk about what’s in front of you, making it a little easier to meet the locals.

Friends of Friends of Friends. Traveling gives you a free pass to do things you normally wouldn’t. It can be really fun to post on social media that you’re going to a specific location and see if you know anyone who knows someone who lives there and would be willing to show you around.

Knowing where to make friends when traveling alone can be challenging, and speaking to strangers can be intimidating, but most people love showing off where they’re from. Be honest, let people know that you’re new to town and looking for something fun to do. Be open to saying yes, and don’t forget that if you make a complete fool of yourself you’ll be leaving in a few days and will probably never see these people again.

Top Books Set in Paris

UntitledIf you’re getting ready for a trip to Paris or are wanting to relive the magic of a trip you’ve just been on, why not pick up a book set in the city of love? With long flights, trains, and buses, traveling is the perfect opportunity to read, and reading is the perfect way to relive your travels. Below, I’ve made a list of my top books set in Paris. While I’m know there are so, so, so many more, these are my personal top books set in Paris. They’re the ones that really inspired me while I was reading them and that made me feel like I was walking through “la Ville Lumière” all over again.

Giovanni’s Room, James Baldwin. While this list of top books set in Paris is in no particular order, this book is number one and is possibly one of the best books ever written. By far my favorite genre of books is LGBTQ love stories set in romantic European destinations, and this is one of the best of its kind. It’s heart-wrenching, suspenseful, beautifully written and incredibly romantic.

A Moveable Feast, Earnest Hemingway. While my bro Hemingway wrote a few books set in Paris, this one is my favorite. I don’t think I’ve ever used the word “romp” to describe anything before, but that’s definitely what this book is. He writes about real-life people and events and really makes you feel like being a starving artist in Paris in the 20’s was just about the best thing you could do.

A man is falling backwards among piles of books cascading over himTropic of Cancer, Henry Miller. If you’re not a fan of bizarre and graphic sex and surreal ramblings, then you might not be into Tropic of Cancer, but if you want to read some weird shit, then definitely give this one a shot. Similar to A Moveable Feast, it’s based on the author’s life in Paris in the 20’s struggling to be a famous author. While Hemingway’s life sounds astoundingly glamorous, though, Miller’s life seems to be one weird sexual escapade after the next.

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, Mackenzi Lee. When I heard there was a YA book about a young bisexual gentleman taking a European tour in the 1700’s, I said oh, did someone write a book specifically tailored to every single one of my interests and passions? The answer is yes, they did. I love a good historically-accurate LGBTQ YA romance, and one that also talks about people of color in the 1700’s? Sign me up!

Me Talk Pretty One Day, David Sedaris. As someone who’s struggled with French for forever, the Parisian anecdotes in Sedaris’s Me Talk Pretty One Day are all too real. This is a book of personal essays is funny and charming and a great light read while waiting for a plane.

Bonus Book.

Half-Blood Blues, Esi Edugyan. There are a ton of books set in Paris during World War II, but this one is particularly interesting and important. While I’ve read a lot of World War II books, this is the first one I read that talked about black people in Europe at that time, their role in the war, and their treatment. The writing is fantastic and it’s extremely riveting. The only reason it’s a bonus book and not officially on the list of top books set in Paris is because you don’t get a ton of scenes that actually describe Paris.

If you liked this list, also check out Top Books to See New York City in a New Way.

 

 

Convincing Yourself to Do Horrible Things that Are Supposed to be Good for You

Never Stopped RunningI started running because I love cake and I’m afraid of dying. That, and like most millennials, I’m all about working your ass off until you have an ulcer or something. Going for a run takes way less time than going to a gym or doing some form of exercise that’s actually fulfilling, and so running it is.

It’s been two years of getting out for a run a few times a week, and I’m starting to think that the people who talk about the majesty of a runner’s high have never done magic mushrooms then stared at a river for a really long time. When I run, I usually just feel tired and sweaty and like I might throw up. Still though, I’m getting out there and I’m doing it even though I usually hate it before, during, and after.

How to Trick Yourself into Doing Annoying Things You Hate

While I might hate running, I’ve found some pretty good ways to convince myself to keep going. Basically, I have to trick myself every single day like I’m a little child going to the dentist, but if it works it works.

Make it Easy. I have the luxury of working from home and wearing whatever I want or nothing at all. In the mornings, I change out of my pajamas directly into my running clothes so that when I go on a run right before lunch, all I have to do is put on my shoes and go.

Build It into Your Routine. There are a lot of horrible things you have to do every day, whether it’s commuting to work, brushing your teeth or making dinner. For the most part, though, these horrible they’re so engrained into your routine that you eventually forget how horrible they are.

Baron Munchausen runs away from a herd of elephants chasing after him in the savannahUse it As a Break. I’m not going to lie, as glamorous as my life might seem on paper, some of the work I do is pretty boring and mindless. If you work a horrible thing you have to do into the middle of the other horrible things, then suddenly one of the horrible things a is break and not that bad, right???

Distract Yourself. While a lot of people will suggest music, I cannot champion audiobooks enough. You can download them for free from most libraries, and then you can listen to a kind person read you a story rather than think about how much your body hurts and how you hate this and want it to stop. I always listen to audiobooks at 2x the regular speed to make it an exercise for my brain and my body at the same time.

Set Goals. This might seem kind of silly, but every month, I draw twelve circles at the back of my notebook, and every time I go for a run, I get to fill in one of those circles. Seeing a month with every circle filled in is extraordinarily satisfying.

Keep Track. While I’m by no means a competitive person, I like to challenge myself by seeing how many runs I did one month, and see if I can do more the next.

Be Okay with Failing. There are some weeks when I don’t go for a run at all, and you know what? It doesn’t matter. Your doing this for yourself, so as I always say about everything in life forever, try your best and forget the rest.

While I’m giving you these tips in terms of running, they’re actually relevant to a lot of horrible things that are hard to do on a regular basis, including laundry, dishes, cleaning, or even replying to e-mails. I’m not going to say it’s going to get easier but I will say that getting started is half the battle.

A single file of women in bathing suits trots down a narrow walkway on its way to a crowded beach

Women Building Skoolies: I Am Not Enormous, I Mean a Really Enormous Elephant

In 2nd grade, I wrote an acrostic poem that went like this:

  •  J is for Jane
  • A is for athletic
  • N is for neat
  • E is enormous I mean a really enormous elephant

Depiction of Behemoth who reigns on gluttonyand is described as stupid despite his rankWhile I can only imagine that eight-year-old Jane’s confidence was through the roof, the sad reality is that I never became enormous, I mean a really enormous elephant. I only became a regular size, or maybe slightly-under regular size woman, and I was worried about this fact when my fiancée Em and I were building our skoolie.

Before we started our build, Em and I watched a ton of YouTube videos of people all over the world converting buses into motor homes. While different people had different techniques, there seemed to be one common thread between ever single person posting an instructional skoolie video. They all seemed to be strong and burly men.

Meanwhile, I am a regular-sized woman, and Em is a tiny woman, and we were trying to build a skoolie on our own.

I’m all about woman power and believing in yourself, but I was intimidated to start a huge build project that would involve a lot of hard manual labor. Would we be physically strong enough to pull out bus seats and rip up flooring? Would we be relying on the kindness of strangers while we drank lemonade and fanned ourselves in the corner?

I’ll admit that the first days of building our bus were physically difficult. For one thing, when building a skoolie, a good deal of the manual labor comes at the beginning. You’re taking out bus seats and taking off walls and the floor before you’ve had the time to build up any strength or confidence in your abilities.

In addition to not being used to hard work, the week we were doing our bus demolition, it was about 35°C (95°f) the whole time. We had to wear a decent amount of protective clothing while grinding off the bolts on some of our bus seats, and I’ve never been so dirty or sweaty in my life.

Two adult elephants and a calf can be seen standing amid the African savannaBut while the start of our build was definitely difficult, it was by no means impossible, and there were a number of instances where being small women actually helped us. When it came to taking the bus seats off, it was easy for us to crawl under the bus and under the seats to unscrew the bolts by hand. We were dumb and installed most of our furniture before we installed our electrical, but this ended up not being a problem. Because we were small, we could crawl under our bed and under our couch to do the wiring without having to take everything apart.

Obviously, crowbarring up the floor and hauling the seats around would have been easier if we were enormous, I mean a really enormous elephant, but we were much stronger than we thought we were. I didn’t realize that I could carry a whole sheet of plywood by myself or use brute force to rip the legs off a folding table. Sure, it might have taken us longer to get things done, but it the end we did them.

If you’re a small person with big construction dreams, don’t be intimidated. While there don’t seem to be as many women building skoolies, they are out there, and with a little patience and determination you can be one of them!

Lessons You CAN Learn on the Couch

Fashion plate showing a man in a stylish dressing gown reclining on cushionsWhile it’s easy to feel inspired by following along with other people’s travel blogs and Instagram adventures, it’s just as easy to feel like shit watching other people travel while you sit at home on the couch.

I was going to write a blog about all the inspiring and adventurous things I got up to this weekend, only to sit down on Monday morning and realize that I spent my entire weekend in a blanket fort watching reruns of Project Runway. At first I thought, God, I’m supposed to be writing nice stories that inspire people to go out and enjoy the beautiful world around them. What am I doing if I can’t do that myself? And then I remembered how tired I was on Saturday. I hadn’t been grocery shopping in three weeks, my house was a mess, and so was I.

While it’s important to get out into the world, meet people, learn and explore, it’s also important to have realistic goals about what you can do, and to forgive yourself if you can’t meet those goals. I think that everyone, even that mom of 48 on YouTube that says she gets up at 3am every morning, has days when they just need to stay at home and not talk to anyone. Even while traveling I have days where I need to read a book in my hostel bed because I just can’t see anything or go anywhere, and that’s okay.

You can't get inWith the way social media works these days, it’s easy to make it look like you’re living a glamorous life while you’re sitting on our couch wearing your underwear inside out because you haven’t done laundry in over a month. I could have easily written some bullshit piece about being so inspired on this hike I took, and not mention that the hike was two years ago, but fuck it, life is hard and sometimes you need a break.

I guess what I’m trying to say is get out there, see the world and have adventures, but also don’t feel bad if you’re not doing that. If the only adventure you can take is to the grocery store in your Crocs, then why not celebrate that you did that, and hope for better days ahead?