Just before the holidays, I spent some time discarding and donating stuff I no longer wanted when I came across this tattered list. It is an outline of wishes and goals I hoped for in my 39th year.
It was just the distraction I needed to stop de-cluttering.
Thirteen years ago, when I crafted the list, my kids were nearing adulthood, so I aimed high. I hoped for things like a fake wood floor, a better car, a book deal, $500 more a month, travel opportunities, a soulful community, lower cholesterol, and a promising relationship. And then I scrawled all of the qualities I wanted my suitor to have.
I think I’d listened to some motivational guru Tony Robbins cassette tapes that inspired me to be focused and intentional about what I wanted.
There’s nothing wrong with being focused, so long as it’s tempered with flexibility.
So how did I fare, achieving my goals?
Well, that year (2003) I was fortunate to enjoy a soulful community and I completed the first draft of my memoir.
And over the next ten years, I did get a fake wood floor, a better used car, and more money. I began to travel, and completed more drafts of my memoir, finally publishing it a few months ago.
My cholesterol is still high, but my good numbers increased while the bad decreased.
And my promising relationship?
Songwriter Leonard Cohen once mentioned in an interview that perhaps his greatest goal was to recall what he’d hoped to achieve as a young man, compare it to what actually did happen in his life as he grew older, and then accept the gap between the two with grace.
Of all my resolutions for 2017, this is perhaps what I want most of all.
Accepting the gap. And keeping hope and faith alive for the future.
If you want to go far, go together.–African proverb
I like going fast, and I’m a huge fan of traveling alone, but when a dear friend invited my little family to use her empty condominium in Manzanillo, Mexico cost-free, I couldn’t resist. I hadn’t traveled with my grown daughters in almost ten years. This was a golden opportunity.
We planned to cook meals at the condominium to stay on budget and to stay healthy. The biggest splurge would be on the jungle horseback riding trip I’d buy the girls for a belated Christmas present. I made the brilliant decision to book it online, using a company with great reviews on trip advisor.
What possibly could go wrong?
That online transaction completely cleaned out my bank account. The phone number and email address for the company didn’t work, and the windstorms interrupted my phone connection repeatedly so that I couldn’t make a thorough report to my bank or authorities for three days. Once my complaint got through, all access to my funds were cut off until the matter could be sorted out.
I half-hoped that there had been a misunderstanding, that maybe I’d accidentally bought a horse that would be waiting in my yard when we got back to Alaska.
No such luck.
After the initial shock, I made the conscious decision to not let ruin our time together. And you know what? It turned out to be the best trip ever.
Here’s are my secrets to enjoying unexpected extreme cheap skate travel.
Keep great company.
I felt like I got to know my daughters in a new way, and without distractions. No television. No radio. No internet. It turns out, they’re wonderful travelers, picking up language quickly, trying any and all food available, tipping generously, and rolling with the unexpected. They were attentive and considerate, and adorable enough to net us a great table everywhere we went.
Enjoy good books.
I read seven, including Dominick Dunne’s Justice, Comedy Writing 4 Life by John Vorhaus, Family Furnishings by Alice Munro, and Far Outside the Ordinary by Prissy Elrod to name a few. The sun and balcony became good friends to me.
Embrace the added exercise when forgoing taxis for long walks.
Exercise sharpens the mind, and gave me time for candid talks with my daughters, and time to sort out my thoughts when I walked or swam alone.
I returned to Alaska having strengthened my relationships with my daughters, exercised, read, and slept better than I have in ages. It was like I’d gone to a poor person’s spa. There was no horse on my snowy lawn when I got home, but there was a renewed excitement to lead my pedestrian life.
Not too shabby, I’d say.
What are your tips for enjoying budget travel? Leave a comment below.
For the past twenty years, I’ve been talking to my now-grown daughters about things like stranger-danger and picking safe friends, later followed by picking a safe partner. And yes, it’s good to follow a sort of universal precaution about potential mates, given that 1 in 4 women in the United States are abused in an intimate relationship. Still, I may have gone overboard.
How can I tell, exactly?
So this weekend, when we went on a mother-daughter camping weekend, I watched their eyes widened when I began chatting up strangers. The Greek chef at local eatery who told them about life at home, and how. The berry-picker from Australia who’s living with her adult son in an old van for six months while they travel the United States.
I do it all the time when I travel. But at home, I avoid talking to strangers at all costs. I’m too busy, crankily making my way through the never-ending chore list at work and at home.
We have to talk to strangers. To gain and maintain employment. To find love. To make new and interesting friendships that breathe life into our old ones. I find that when I’m vulnerable or relaxed, the better me is there, ready to chat with a stranger, ready to hear and remember their stories, ready to embrace the idea of a new adventure.
My daughters watched incredulously as I accepted the invitation to visit our new friends in their van, and I watched them relax into the conversation, where we learned about the Aussie mom’s solo travels to Iran, Syria, and Laos. Where we heard from the charming son how one travels with their mom in such a tight space without any obvious signs of hostility. We were inspired by our new friends. They’re now our Facebook friends. A travel link to Australia. Our inspiration when we’re elbowing one-another in our thimble-sized bathroom in the morning.
“To start, make a point of talking to someone you’re acquainted with but don’t know very well. They’re familiar, but you still have to work to engage with them and build a relationship.
Get out of your environment
Home is cozy. It’s yours and you don’t have to talk unless you want to. But if you want to get out of your shell, you first have to get out of your environment and hang out with … other people. Scary, I know.
No really, I know.
But it’s the only way to meet people. Unless you want to start hosting dinners at your house, then go for it. But you can’t hide in the kitchen all night.
Would you rather talk with Emeril Lagasse about pork fat or Dave Ramsey about debt snowballs? That’s a trick question.
I would say both because of their passion about their respective topics, which draws people in (or repels them, which works out well for you in the end).
Sharing your passion with others, be it travel, cooking or simple living makes it easier for you to open up and more enjoyable for the person talking with you.
Tell a better story
One of my fears was that people would come say hi, then walk away because I was just so boring.
If you have a deep desire to come out of your shell, chances are your story might not be so hot. It’s ok. It’s never too late to change.
Life doesn’t have to be extraordinary all the time, but you should definitely start sprinkling in moments of awesomeness where you can.
Take dancing lessons, learn a new language, travel, volunteer, take up a new sport, move into a school bus. Sign up for something that sounds fun but scares your pants off.
Start living your life as the amazing story that it is. Once you feel truly alive, it’s hard to hide it. Relating to others is a natural by-product.”
Perfectly said, Nina.
Safety is important. But we need one another to allow love and safety to meet.
I leave on New Years Day for a long jag of solo travel. France and Italy are on the agenda, a time for lots of fun and photography. There will be time to visit some old friends. The challenge? Enjoying it while on a budget.
Do you have any must-see recommendations for Italy and France?