I’m about to leave for South America in a few days. By myself. It will be continent 6/7 for me, and I’m nearing my goal of finishing the research for a travel memoir and companion guide book for older, non-wealthy women who want to get out of their comfort zone and see the world on their terms.
I’m frightened of flying. I won’t know the language, despite my efforts to learn. And I’ll be on a clenched budget, especially since I just got my kitchen renovated.
But there is something truly humbling about leaving for a new adventure.
As soon as I fasten my seatbelt, I nearly always start to cry. Partly because I’m exhausted from my work and because I’m excited and scared, I’m flooded with thoughts of friends and loved ones who’d wanted to travel more but didn’t get the chance. Early deaths or bad circumstances. And yet, here I go. And I take none of it for granted.
I’ve worked really hard to engineer a future for myself, one that looked unlikely early on. In my struggle to attempt control over my environment, I’ve become an over-anxious control freak.
Nothing crushes the false sense of control like travel. And traveling to someone else’s country, playing in their playground without officially having been invited, it’s clear that I have little influence or control. Feeling small and powerless can be exhilarating.
So away I go. Far from responsibility of house and home,away from the security friends and family,away from social media and television. I hope to meet new friends see some animals and sights. I hope I get lots of exercise and sleep. And on Thanksgiving, I will see with a new lens how grateful I am for all that I have waiting for me right here at home.
With the passing of Senator John McCain, I was transported back to my first big solo trip at the Hanoi Hotel in 2012, when I began this blog.
Vietnam and Laos were appealing because they were inexpensive and beautiful. Plus, I’d worked with and around many people from Vietnam and Laos here in Alaska for the past 20 plus years. Why wouldn’t I want to see their home? But I made Hanoi home-base because of John McCain. I was drawn to the place where the senator had been held hostage for five long years during the Vietnam war.
It was something I won’t forget. And while I waited in a long and very quiet line to get in to the Hanoi Hilton, an American teen laughed and joked with his friend just ahead. Immediately, the armed guards perched nearby leapt to attention. I don’t know what they said, but I could tell from their expressions and tone that it wasn’t good. And it was something else I won’t forget.
In Vietnam, using Facebook, laughing in a solemn setting, and/or posting negative information online about their government there can result in a myriad of consequences, including arrest. Which reminded me of how thankful I am to live in a country where we are able to make our own choices regarding media– social and otherwise–can chuckle at inappropriate times, and scrutinize our government without fear. All hard-won battles that many like John McCain fought to ensure.
I loved hearing the story of John McCain. That he was privileged, but found his his voice and his strength while suffering during the war, and then quickly reconnected with his sense of humor upon returning from Vietnam. An imperfect man with a strong sense of decency.
On the trip, I enjoyed time with my friend Jennifer who joined me from Ohio for a leg of the journey, and who insisted we hike the mountains of Sapa. I don’t like hiking and I really don’t like tours.
We had more fun than I could’ve imagined, and made new friends that I looked up in Australia a few years later.
So out of that one trip came a blog post, a deepened respect for freedoms that matter, and some lifelong friends.
Which leads me to today: It’s time to get out of my round-the-clock work rut and prep for new adventures. My daughters have had the audacity of doing fine on their own without me, and I’ve been forced to admit I’m sometimes mad at them for it.
The youngest is beginning a new fancy job next week, and my oldest has begun a new batch of courses at the university. I’m proud of them both.
So I’ve begun vlogging on YouTube and trying hard to learn how with an eye for promoting my writing and other loves.
And my next travel destination? Uruguay, with a quick jaunt to Argentina by ferry. I’ll go this winter and happily miss out on one of the holidays in the states. YAY!
Thank you for stopping by. I love getting your comments, concerns, and love that you chuckle with me and at me sometimes. You make my life richer.
Remember a while back when I mentioned I’d be working in tourism this summer?
I work in Whittier on Saturdays, an hour and a half drive from my home in Anchorage. I wanted to try a side hustle that fit neatly in to my already full workweek.
In a perfect world, this would be a job I return to after I retire and spend winters out-of-state or move altogether. It would allow me a connection to Alaska while keeping my brain engaged learning new skills, and hopefully earning me some travel credits for winter.
And in my imperfect world, this job would help me be a part of someone’s good experience. Having worked as a battered women’s advocate, a child abuse investigator, and now a juvenile probation supervisor, I’m ready to bring smiles instead of misery. And to enhance visitors’ trips to Alaska. It’s also a way for me to experience second-hand travel. All the excitement, none of the worries.
From the long cozy ride to the port with seven other workers to the crowded lines of stressed-out passengers, there is a theme of belonging. Maybe it’s the uniforms. Or maybe it’s the constant push to get people moved from train or bus to ship, or how we greet passengers. “Thank you for coming to Alaska,” or “Welcome to Whittier.” And then cram back into the van for another hour and a half drive.
There are lots of fun times. And there are a lot of other times. It’s very satisfying to stay in motion rather than sitting at a desk all day, and to help people with short-term, easy problems.I work with some terrific people, mostly women from young ones in their 20’s to others in their 80’s. We represent the full spectrum, and I love hearing their stories—of gardening, of fishing, of husbands and grandkids and pets. I couldn’t ask for a better group.
That said, I don’t have as much energy as I once did. I may need to re-think this plan until I actually have retired.
But there’s something so exciting about traveling, whether it’s going on a trip to a place I’ve never been, or hearing about someone else’s wild experience coming to Alaska. I think travel is better in the planning and in the retelling. I know I’m not alone when I say that while it’s exhilarating to reach a travel goal, amazing to keep the new friendships made, it’s just plain scary at times to be an uninvited guest in someone else’s yard.
So I’ll book a trip to a destination soon in South America. It’s long been my goal to hit all continents by 60. Time is moving fast. When each continent is complete, a book of travel essays with a companion guide of how to travel on a slim budget will result.
In the meantime, I’ve began vlogging on YouTube, giving Alaskan tourists some travel hints, and introducing readers to characters in my stories, past and future. Alaska is a big character in my memoir. More than a simple setting, Alaska has been an adoptive parent.
I’ve continued to do interviews about Pieces of Me from home on podcasts and in publications, and work with an editor to completely renovate my forthcoming novel.
If you have questions or comments about Alaska, about travel, feel free to drop me a line. And if you’re so inclined, feel free to subscribe to my YouTube channel.
And please say hello if you pass through Whittier some Saturday afternoon, where I will say,”Welcome. I’m glad you’re here.”
In Alaska, we went from 20-something degrees to 50-something almost overnight, and I couldn’t be happier. There’s still enough darkness at night to fall asleep, and enough warmth put my winter boots and coats away. As I write this, I’m sitting in a sunny atrium at the local university, watching college students walking around outside in their shorts.
No one appreciates springtime more than sun-starved Alaskans!
A few bears have awoken early and been seen in the city, and the moose are getting ready to calve. It’s a time to stay alert while enjoying a stroll in the beautiful outdoors.
I’m also gearing up for a busy summer. In the spirit of transitioning to retirement, I’ll be working at Holland America/Princess Cruise lines on the weekend in addition to my job in probation. If I like it, I may continue the work fulltime seasonally beginning in summer 2021 no matter where I live in the winters. If I don’t, I’ll finish the season and likely have great stories to write about. Plus I’ll make minimum wage and work with a crew that are even older than I am, so I’ll feel like a kid again. A real win/win.
So in the interim, I’m trying to get stuff done around the house. And I’m writing a little more, sending work to my editor, and appreciating this period of quiet.
I was invited to participate in both National Library Week and Crime Victims Rights Week, and can I tell you how much fun I had at both?
It never ceases to amaze me how many non-monetary benefits being an author has. I continue to meet lovely and inspiring people at events I speak at. And did I mention there’s free food? I ate some unidentified appetizers last night and a chocolate cake that was life-changing. And people I’ve never met email me, telling me their stories and how mine intersected with theirs. I once had a man write after his relationship ended to say he’d considered taking his son from the child’s mother to bypass government red-tape and to retaliate for their parting, but decided against it after reading the long-term impact on my own daughters.
That was a wonderful note to receive.
And I’ve written an essay on the challenge of letting adult kids live their own lives called Conscious Unhovering. It’s early draft won a contest an netted me $100! (Nothing to sneeze at for a freelancer today). Stay tuned to my author Facebook to see which blog or magazine publishes it!
Thank you for your support and for staying in touch here with me.
My New Year began with a cruise vacation on Holland America’s Eurodam, where I enjoyed sunshine, fireworks, good friends, and a break from social media and work.
I’d needed a vacation. And here’s what I loved most:
The days at sea.
I slept well. I went to the library to write. I found quiet spaces to read. There were workshops to attend, a book group. I especially loved a lecture on pirates, past and present. And the music- from the jazz band to the orchestra- was fantastic.
The days at shore.
In Key West, I went to Judy Blume’s bookstore. I’d emailed her to see if perhaps I could meet her and have her sign a copy of her latest book. I didn’t expect anything. While I lost my internet access on the ship, her assistant wrote with a date that we could meet. Rats! Missed her. But I liked the Ernest Hemingway Museum. I’d never seen six-toed cats before. I won’t miss them in the future, but it was a fun day.
Turks and Caicos was pristine. The Dominican Republic was nice, and I especially liked feeding and snorkeling with stingrays in the Bahamas. Did you know stingrays are affectionate? I was surprised to be spooned by them when I was holding their fish dinner. They wrapped around me for a little appreciative hug. Very nice (once I realized I wasn’t going to die).
The return to home. Coming back to the cold and dark season, I was refreshed. I’d missed my life here in Alaska. I knew I wanted to keep some of the vacation gains going. Like going to bed earlier, shutting my phone off for some time every day, writing more, etc. I’d given up nearly all coffee, a true love of mine I’ve maintained for 40 years which had been aggravating some health issues. And I want to take time off more regularly, just to recharge.
And guess who got herself a part-time job this summer in tourism?
Me! I’ll be working at Holland America/Princess Tours (HAP) on Saturdays, earning a little cash and meeting some great people, who will help me figure out where to go next with my HAP travel benefits. I know it seems I’m moving in the wrong direction, wanting to take more breaks and all, but if it’s enjoyable, I’ll work there fulltime for a few months every year after I retire. It’ll give me travel money and focused time to write. An inexpensive or no-cost writer’s retreat every year.
If you’re in the neighborhood on a cruise, please say hello. I’ll be stationed in Whittier.
Another fun fact—I joined MoviePass just before I left on vacation. For just $10 a month, I can see all the films I like. A movie membership that will save me easily $40 plus dollars a month. I highly recommend it if you like seeing movies at the theater. It’s terrific.At the theater, I saw Molly’s Game, All The Money in the World, Darkest Hour, and The Post.
I just finished reading In the Game by Peggy Garrity and In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume.
Dr. Jane Wilson Haworth has been my virtual friend ever since our stories both appeared in this anthology. She eventually gave me I terrific book blurb that I included on the jacket of my memoir Pieces of Me:Rescuing My Kidnapped Daughters. She was kind enough to give me a few last edits as well.
I’m really running her post, and please note that the children’s book she mentions below has been published. Wonderful, informational, and perfectly illustrated. You can find this and others on the link below or click A Himalayan Kidnap.
Taking to the road alone is a brave decision. A Girls’ Guide to Travelling Alone is an eye-opening, honest and inspiring on-the-road companion. Richly varied, these witty, inspiring, challenging and sometimes uncomfortable travel stories have been written by women of all ages, nationalities, backgrounds and experiences, each with a compelling tale to tell. Available now on Amazon and iTunes.
One of the best parts of being a contributor to a book like A Girl’s Guide to Travelling Alone is connecting with inspirational writers across the globe.
A prostitute’s “uncle” wouldn’t return Khalid’s deposit, and he was irate.
Dr. Wilson-Howarth is also the author of books like A Glimpse of Eternal Snows, Snowfed Waters, and How to Shit Around the World.
Welcome, Dr. Wilson-Howarth.
Q. How did you pick this piece to share it in Girl’s Guide to Travelling Alone?
A. I thought I’d share my impressions of sexual repression in Sindh as – years on – when I remember the incident with the shopping bag, I still feel like a Boudicca figure, fighting hopelessly for women everywhere. It still appalling to me that there are women in Pakistan who only ever leave their homes twice – once when they go from their father’s house to their husband’s and the second time when they die.
Q.What led you to doing the work that you do?
A.After I graduated first time (in zoology) I travelled overland to the Himalayas and ended up teaching villagers in a remote valley about wound care. I saw how small interventions can make huge improvements in people’s lives and this first sparked my passion for passing on the information that helps people avoid illness. Then once I was qualified as a physician I just tried to make myself as useful as I could wherever I was. I have a thing about championing the underdog.
Q. A Glimpse of Eternal Snows is your book about decision to live in Nepal with your newborn son despite his serious health challenges while you worked on child survival and health education endeavouring to improve the lot of the profoundly poor
What were your greatest challenges in writing A Glimpse of Eternal Snows?
A.It is an account of what proved to be the most important six years of my life. It was so hard to condense all this experience into one readable book. And I wanted to make it uplifting. I could have written at length about caste, slavery, wildlife, conservation dilemmas, linguistic gaffs and my work. I had enough material for many books on a range of subjects. It was hard not wandering off on tangents.
Q. How did you cobble together a support network of women in a foreign country while going through some of life’s most difficult times?
A. We were in the fortunate position to be able to employ reliable help, including women who were willing to travel with us. I found both my local colleagues and the expatriates I met were often kindred spirits – risk-takers. Most were able to see beyond the trivial and nearly all our friends and acquaintances seemed motivated to make a difference. It was inspiring to spend time with these people. We all supported each other.
Q. I read that it took many years for you to write A Glimpse of Eternal Snows. How did you know when you were finally on the right path to make your book its best?
A. There was a danger that this book from my heart would never be quite perfect, although it physically hurt to write some sections. I seemed doomed to continue writing and rewriting it – until publication stopped me fiddling. It still could be improved.
Q.You’re a doctor. An author. A mother. A humanitarian. Where do you see yourself in the next several years?
A. I’ve been kind of grounded in the UK for the last few years because of our sons’ educational needs. I’ve been contentedly working as a family physician as well as running a travel immunisation clinic. My boys are almost independent now so we’d like to do another big trip before my ability to learn a new language leaves me. I could see us moving to work in another remote corner of Asia soon – for maybe five years…. Then after that… who knows. I’m sure there will be scope for another book or two though.
Q. What’s your next writing project?
A. I’ve been working on a couple of eco-adventures for 8 – 12 year olds. These started as bedtime stories for my youngest son and he now is of an age that he considers them pretty naff. One is set in Nepal and the other in Madagascar. I hope to publish these soon.
Q. What advice would you give to busy women writers who have many other demands on their time?
A. Don’t ever expect to get a regular writing schedule going. Just grab writing time when you can. And always keep notes of choice sayings, snatches of conversation or turns of phrase.
Why do I always forget how lonely and vulnerable I feel when I travel alone?
I’ve long endorsed that solo budget travel is a good thing, even for older single women like myself. That it can be affordable. That travel isn’t just for the rich and the coupled. And it can be a way of continuing our education, not just about the country and cultures that we travel to, but it’s an opportunity to learn lessons about ourselves.
So I set my sights on Australia this time. I love koala bears and kangaroos, but more than anything, I love the Australian accents and the easygoing nature of the Aussie’s I’ve met on previous trips.
By the time I left Alaska a few weeks ago, I was already exhausted. I’d had to re-book the trip twice due to flights being cancelled, and I had developed what felt like a plague of some sort. I arrived to Melbourne, sweaty, swollen, and snotty, and took my place in a dirty youth hostel where I took my place in the top bunk of a mixed -gender room. The young man on the bottom bunk appeared to have some mental health challenges.My brand new iPhone that I bought specifically for this trip stopped working. I get lost everywhere I go. So far, so bad.
Fast-forward a week. I’m a passenger with a family I met in Los Angeles who invited me to stay with them and travel along the Great Ocean Road. I’m getting my first-ever scuba lesson. I have antibiotics thankfully (because she’s a doctor!) and am loving their kids. Together we go to a wildlife conservation center, and I tick several fun events off my bucket list.
Next, I stay with Basia, a woman I met picking berries in Seward, Alaska. She makes me smoothies and calamari and kangaroo, and together we bike ride and see the botanical gardens and the local holocaust memorial.
I enjoy Terezia for three days, a young woman I met at the eco-resort lodge in Laos in 2012. Then I get to see Lachlan and later Isabella, two young people I met in 2012, hiking the mountains of Sapa in Vietnam and catch up on how their lives are unfolding.
I enjoy the company of some sunny young women I met in a gorgeous youth hostel (Bounce) in Sydney from South Korea, the U.K, and Australia, and their wits and intelligence gave me great hope for the next generation, and their stories give me ideas about future travel.
I overcome the language barrier. Did you know that the hood of a car is called a bonnet in Australia, and the trunk is called the boot? That a pacifier is called a dummy, and a liquor store is called a bottle shop? A work break is called a smoke-o, whether or not you smoke?
I learn the wonderful transportation system of trams and trains. And I meet an Aboriginal sculptor at a train station. We have coffee days later and find shared interests in art and life.
Nearly three weeks later, I return home a little changed. I’ve been the recipient of uncommon grace, and reconnected with my sense of adventure and ability to persevere. The travel lows have been easily forgotten or woven in to funny stories, but the highs have remained.
Thank you, Australia, for having such wonderful wildlife, people, and places to see. I’m happy to have re-connected with my better self there, and am happier yet to return home to my sweet little life in Alaska.
It’s a holiday weekend, and I am in the thick of planning my next solo travel adventure.
One thing I enjoy doing is making a friend or two in each place I visit. I keep in touch with them, and make a point of finding them in another part of the world later. So dear Australia, thank you for providing so many of your people that I have befriended. I hope to reunite with them in October!
I’m re-running my post about women traveling alone. If you haven’t already, feel free to buy A Girls Guide to Travelling Alone by Gemma Thompson on Amazon or on Itunes. I contributed one of the stories.
Have a relaxing week.
Recently, I enjoyed catching up with a friend who is back from several months of traveling overseas alone. I so admire women who stop waiting for someone to travel with and just do it. I asked her the usual:
Where’d you stay?
How did you stay on budget?
What did you pack?
She mentioned she brought the Morning After pill with her.Oh, I thought to myself. It never dawned on me to be that open socially that birth control would be necessary.“In case I got raped,” she then told me.My mouth fell open. She shrugged. “Just being practical.”I get it. I even admire it. But how awful that she should even have to think about it.
It made me wonder. How often do we women edit our lives choices due to the threat of male violence against us?
Be it work/career choices, how and when we exercise, and if and how we travel, are we living as free, emancipated citizens?
I notice the tone I get when I tell someone I’ll be traveling overseas alone again soon. It’s the same one as when I put on my boots at work and go for a walk on lunch hour in the dark. And since I live in Alaska, that’s pretty much all of the lunch hours I have in winter time.
That tone implies to me that if I am raped or assaulted while on a walk alone or traveling the globe, I will be a co-defendant in my own victimization.
“US citizens die at home and, less frequently, they die in foreign countries. Stating that Sarai was murdered because she was abroad, as many comments have done, detracts from the real concern: that of violence against women worldwide.”
As an American woman, where am I most likely to be injured? Is it Turkey? Morocco? Mexico?
No, sadly. It’s in America. At home. With a loved one of my own choosing. One out of every four women in the US, and one in three women globally have been victims of domestic violence.
Women, are you interested in safely traveling alone?
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.
Have you ever had a chance meeting with someone that changed your way of thinking?
My journey to Paris last month had been a long one. A five hour flight from Anchorage to Minnesota, a three hour layover, followed by an eight hour flight to Paris. By the time I got off the plane, my left ankle had swollen outside of my tennis shoe. And then there was the crowd. I hadn’t thought Paris was a small town, but I wasn’t at all prepared for the swarm around me. I just about lost my lunch.
A subway ride, a metro, and many wrong turns later, I managed to turn the one-hour trip to my youth hostel into a six hour nightmare. My confidence evaporated.One of my hostel roommates chatted with me while I was resting.He asked about the sites I had seen in Paris thus far. “None,” I told him. “At this point, I’m worried I’ll get lost again.”
How did a nice older woman like yourself end up so far from home in a youth hostel?” I shocked us both when I spared no details. I told this young stranger about the volatile marriage that ended my youth and that nearly ended my life. I told him about raising two daughters on my own, with no financial support from their father or anyone else. I told him how I promised myself in my thirties, after earning my graduate degree, that if I did a proper job raising my daughters, I would treat myself after they were grown to travel far and wide.
The young man sat quietly for a moment on his bed. Then he said“Name what you’d like to see, and I will take you tomorrow.”
His name was Alex, and at 29 years-old, he’s just a bit older than my daughters. Though raised primarily in Costa Rica, his parents made him an interesting blend. His mother is from the Ivory Coast. His father from France. “It’s kept me from getting too puffed up about any one country being best,” he shrugged. “Every country is home, not just the one I was born in.” Alex works virtual jobs in order to live closer to his girlfriend at the university in Switzerland.
The next afternoon, we were off. To the Eiffel Tower. To the Pantheon. To Notre Dame. The Latin Quarter. The more we walked together, the more we shared about our lives.
I told him about my volatile marriage, and my concerns that my inability to find the girls a father-figure would impede their ability to couple later in life. “What you need is a man with empathy,” he said.
Alex told me about his own mother. Like me, she had been tormented by her husband. Unlike me, she never moved on after her kids grew up and traveled or embraced other hobbies. “I always wanted my mom to travel,” he said wistfully.
As day turned into night, and as our walk about Paris neared five miles, I began to dread ending our time together. I had always wanted a son, and on this night, I felt I had one.
He must have read my mind. “Don’t worry about your girls, Liz. They’re healing just fine. Just look at me. I was greatly affected by domestic violence, but I chose to be different than my father. People follow their parents’ examples often, but they can choose to be different.”
It is true. Children often follow their parent’s lead by reflex, and domestic violence is an intergenerational legacy, but with some information and perspective, kids can (and do) make different choices all the time.
I thanked Alex as we headed back to the hostel, and couldn’t help but notice the benefits we had both received from our day together. That on this cold January night in Paris, a young man could finally travel withhis mother, and a mother was reassured that her grown kids would be just fine.