Reflecting on Anthony Bourdain’s Death

“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks you: it breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you.” Anthony Bourdain.

When I heard that Anthony Bourdain had taken his life, for one brief moment my heart stopped. Envied by both travellers and would be travellers alike, he had an amazing ability to gain an understanding of the many countries he visited. His love of all kinds of food and his talent for cooking it in five-star restaurants before he gained his fame as a ‘tell it as it is’ travel reporter led to an impressive lifestyle envied by those who wanted the kind of freedom that such a profession can give. The intensity of my shock at the news of his suicide took me by surprise. How could he of all people commit such a sad and selfish act when at the top of a flourishing career?

Although I envied his job and the finesse with which he handled it, I was never one of his avid fans. There was no question that he was a powerful interviewer and showed an honesty and humbleness which is rare in celebrities and that impressed me.  However, call me judgemental or plain old-fashioned, but his many tattoos bothered me. What was he trying to say I wondered? I wonder this about all the young travellers I see with bodies covered in them? I know that tattoos are meant to portray something personal about those wearing them, such as a love affair gone sour, a particular beef against the world, or to draw attention to a personal philosophy or cause, but aren’t they also an indication or sign that the person sporting them doesn’t really respect or like his body or what’s inside it? To me it speaks of some kind of self mutilation.Was this his way of unknowingly portraying an inner disconnect of something vital missing in his seemingly exciting life of freedom?

I also admired Bourdain’s wonderful way with words, hence, the above quotation which appeared in our Chronicle Herald the day after his death. It so vividly sums up the good and bad aspects of travelling alone. The amount of travel I have done is a drop in the bucket compared to what he put in. Nevertheless, I totally agree with what it can be and apparently was for him. It can be a blessing as well as a curse. The freedom which it allows has to be the top draw for any traveller who endeavours to do it, but there is invariably a price tag attached to such freedom.

Bourdain had an eleven year daughter and a wife… for awhile…apparently they had separated. He was totally responsible for pulling together his team of writers, photographers, and all the other bodies needed to carry out his travels to exotic places around the world. This effort was from all reports on a modest budget. It’s not surprising that this would eventually take a toll on his family. Those closest to him noticed that although he appeared to be happy right up until a few days before his death, he did look very tired. At the age of 61 perhaps he saw what was ahead and decided to end it before it got the best of him. We will never know, but the one thing I do know is that if you have a family or a spouse, travelling on your own doesn’t provide a firm foundation for a close relationship…..unless you can take the family with you. This is happening in some rare cases with young, mostly European couples. I think we will see more of this in the future as our world becomes more dependent on technology and young people are forced to find more rewarding work in a foreign country, or to escape from the rat race in their own countries. They could also be forced to move because of climate change and the cost of living in their native countries. There are a myriad of reasons and the opportunities for doing this are certainly there. The nomadic lifestyle is appealing to a growing group of those who want that kind of freedom.

I totally agree that the best education you could ever get is to travel by yourself. There is no doubt in my mind about that. As Bourdain said: “The journey changes you.” That is certainly true for me. Let me name the ways:

  1. It has increased my self-confidence.
  2. It has helped me to find the value in reaching out to others.
  3. It has helped me to be more resilient.
  4. It has helped me understand the world through the culture and the customs of the countries I have visited.
  5. It has helped me open my eyes and heart to see that although we may be different on the outside, we are not so on the inside. We are all very much connected.

Anthony Bourdain found his passion in the work he was doing which garnered him fame and recognition and all the other benefits that came with that. The missing link was his inability to overcome his demons and realise that the only way he could have conquered them would have been to face them. He needed to slow up and take time to do that. Unfortunately, he did not, resulting in leaving behind a young daughter who will have to deal with his decision. He will definitely be missed by all those who knew him, but we all  know who will miss him the most… and this is the greatest tragedy of all.

If you would like to find out more about my thoughts on travelling on my own as a senior woman you can take a look at the following posts:

Overcoming the Fear of Travelling Solo as a Senior

How Our Changing World Is Affecting Our Travel

Travelling Solo or Not?

My tribute to Anthony Bourdain’s perpective on travel with food as the key for unlocking his road to fame, is the gallery of pictures I have taken over the years in my travels to Viet Nam (his favourite country), Thailand, Cambodia, and Myranmar (Burma), Morocco and Italy. Click on the picture for the caption.

 

 

First Stop – Melbourne, Australia

Australia is a traveller’s dream. It is a modern country with a fully functioning democracy, English-speaking, with a warm and sunny climate, beautiful, coastal beaches, out of this world scenery, rich in resources, and not too many people. What more could a traveller ask for?

There are many different ways to see this vast country but because it’s expensive it can be a daunting task for a solo traveller on a budget like me to decide how to do it. I realised that the only way to see as much as I wanted in just under a month would be to fly the cheapest ways possible.

My intention at first was to fly to Sydney using that as a base to start and finish. However, that plan flew out the window when in December, while researching cheap flights to Australia, a fantastic opportunity with Jet Star Airlines popped up out of nowhere. My take off point was Singapore and if you want to find out why, check out my post Travel in 2018: Fulfilling a Dream. Taking this opportunity to fly to Melbourne first made sense because from there I could easily fly up to Alice Springs, on to Cairns, and then to Sydney, my departure point. Seizing this opportunity would be a good start towards helping to keep me within my budget, knowing that other things such as accommodations and food would be double the price of travelling in SE Asia.

All was good now that I had a plan. After a stress free stay in Singapore (You can check out my post entitled Four Days in Singapore )I was looking forward to my upcoming trip to the Land of Oz. On the day before my departure, I received an e-mail from Jet Star that my 8:15 p.m. flight was delayed until 5:30 the following morning. This meant I had to find a place to sleep for a few hours at least. My hotel came to the rescue with an additional charge for the extra hours I would need. On top of that was the stress of dealing with the place I had booked in Melbourne which had a ‘no refund’ policy. They did promise to hold my room until I arrived. If I wanted compensation, I would have to get it from the airline. The trouble was I didn’t take out cancellation insurance because it’s costly. This is what budget travellers do. We take our chances and hope that the worst won’t happen, and if it does, we pay for it. It’s always a gamble.

I had only three full days to explore this cultural capital of Australia which has always competed for the number one spot with Sydney to be not just the cultural capital, but the capital of the country. The war on who should get the coveted title was finally settled by the decision to build a new city as the capital which is Canberra.

Federation Square – the cultural & meeting centre for Melbourne.

My accommodation choice while in Melbourne was a small, country-style inn of some character in St. Kilda, one of Melbourne’s precincts. St Kilda is a beach side resort, not far from the CBD (central business district). With this location and its apparent old world charm, I booked a room at Little St. Kilda with booking.com. I arrived tired and cranky after a long 11 hour trip with little to eat except the few snacks I brought with me. Discount airlines give you nothing except your seat. You pay for everything including earphones if you wish to listen to music. To add insult to injury, they then charge you for the music!

Gateway to Little St. Kilda.

When I finally found Little St. Kilda, two hours after my arrival, I couldn’t get in. The door was locked and the house was in darkness. “How could this be the place I booked?” I asked myself. This looked like a private home with no one in it. There was no sign or even a house number. I looked around for a doorbell in the dark and instead found a box with numbers on it. But wait, underneath it was a button which looked promising so I pressed it, to which a voice responded telling me to use my code number. “Code number, what code number,” I yelled. “The one we sent you,”  said the calm, slightly condescending voice. “I did not receive any messages from anyone about this!” I yelled back. Realising I am starting to come apart at the seams, the voice quickly gave me the four digit code to punch in. Barely able to see the numbers, I have to trust I am hitting the right ones. With my first attempt nothing happens so I try again. “Wait for the click and then push the door,” he barks. Finally, there is a faint click and I push. I’m in! I turn left as the voice directed and find before me a long, elegant hallway with an inviting living room at the end. Where is the check-in counter, I wonder? How naive of me. This is no ordinary hotel. There is not a human in sight to greet me or to show me to my room. Now what do I do? Is this some kind of joke? Then it dawns on me that this is one of those ‘do it yourself’ check-ins similar to what you might encounter when staying at an Airbnb. The only option was to make myself comfortable on the inviting sofa until someone came along. If no one came, I thought, I could stretch out on this comfy sofa for my first night’s sleep. Thank goodness I had the good sense to stop on my way to this place for a bite to eat. At least I wouldn’t have to go to bed hungry. While pondering this rather bizarre situation, I realised the voice over the intercom had to come from somewhere in the house so in that case he would come shortly to take me to my designated room. I would just have to be patient!

It seemed like an eternity before  a young chap appeared to ask if I was happily settled into my room.  “What room?” I asked in disbelief.  “The Marina Room noted in the e-mail you were sent,” he replied. By this time I was totally baffled and wondered if I was loosing my marbles. I had been checking my e-mails and found nothing from Little St. Kilda. It wasn’t until a few weeks later I found that much-needed e-mail with all the check-in instructions in my spam box.

Once I got into my charming room, I quickly forgot my woes of getting into it. I was just thankful for a comfortable bed to lay down on for a good night’s sleep. As well as the great bed and other amenities such as a fridge and a kettle for making tea, there was also a well-equipped kitchen nearby to prepare my breakfasts in the morning and dinners at night. Dining out in Australia is very expensive so this is the only way to go if you are on a budget.

Unfortunately, other unexpected problems popped up during my stay concerning  the final bill. An additional $40 for cleaning fees had been added and no allowance had been made as I had requested for my missed night. Never have I heard of a cleaning fee for a hotel or guest house on Booking.com. On Airbnb it is clearly visible as a part of the cost. Then I got it! The owners were cutting their costs by listing with Booking instead of Airbnb because it’s cheaper for them. I checked out their website again and found to my surprise that there was mention of a cleaning fee but for less than what I was charged.

Clearly I was not too happy with my stay at Little St. Kilda. My visit had already been cut short by a day, and once there all I seemed to get was grief. My only contact with the hosts was by intercom, phone and e-mail. The young chap, who gave me an orientation of the place, was seldom to be seen afterwards. He apparently was a long-term guest enlisted by the owners to deal with problem guests like me who had difficulties with their checking-in process. From then on I was on my own to find my way around. Fortunately, the Aussies I sought help from were more than happy to comply.

When the time came for me to give my review to Booking about my stay, I realised I didn’t have much to say that was good. I was all set to give them a bad review which I rarely do since I always pick places based on good testimonials which never have let me down . Yet this place which had a 9 out of 10 didn’t come close for me. The only way to handle it was to let them know of my discontent. I did and wasn’t too surprised that after “some consultation” they would give me a refund for my missed night. In the end, they got a decent review from me, however, I did suggest they try to improve their check-in procedure and make sure a light was on for those who were checking in after dark.

My lovely room.

My first day in Melbourne was spent just getting to know the area of St. Kilda which I read was once a seedy area of nightclubs, prostitutes, and crime. This is certainly not true now as it has morphed into an up and coming area of trendy homes and restaurants.

A stately home with lovely filigree. Reminded me of homes in southern US.

However, before I set out to explore, I needed to find a place for breakfast. It was at least a ten minute walk to the centre of St. Kilda. When I got to the busiest cross street, I decided this would be the best place to look. I guessed correctly because what I found almost blew me away. It was not just the proliferation of restaurants and cafes, but in the midst of all of them were at least a half-dozen cake shops strung out in a row one after the other. Never have I ever seen such a display of mouth-watering sweets. Most of them offered good coffee and breakfast so I decided to try one out. I was famished so opted for poached eggs on toast. No butter on the toast and a fairly middling cup of coffee didn’t make much of an impression especially at a price of $11. As I was leaving, I made a promise to get to the Woolworth’s or Woolie’s* as the Aussie say before they closed to buy some food to make my own breakfasts.

One of those cake shops.

And another one.

Melbourne can boast of having some of Australia’s nicest beaches and St. Kilda is lucky enough to have one of them.  With the first glimpse of that beach, all my stress from the past few days just melted away. Finally I had found one of the reasons for my coming to Australia. It was a sunny but windy day so not overly inviting for a swim, but I found the solitude I needed by sitting there on the sand watching the balloons and surfers. I was also able to walk along the beach via a boardwalk that gave me the feeling of being in the country even though in the distance I could see Melbourne’s skyscrapers.

It was a bit wild that day.

Part of the walkway.

My remaining two days were spent exploring the CBD ( Central Business District). With the help of a Miki card which is free pass that can be topped up for any amount depending on what you are planning to use it for, I managed to get around to see a few places of note. My first stopping place was the Melbourne Museum which you can read about in Exploring the Spiritual Heart of Australia.

No, he’s not a live one. Taken at the Melbourn Museum.

There was far too much to see in just two days and getting to these places wasn’t always easy to do. I have to admit their transit system was confusing, not just for me, a visitor, but even to some of the Aussies because I kept getting different stories of how to use the card. Some stops required you to tap for getting on and off, while for others you only needed to tap getting on. Then there were the free trams which would take you around the centre. Great idea but many of the people I asked weren’t sure just where to link on to them or even which buses qualified. Such conflicting stories I did not need so opted in the end to hoof it.

I love old buildings with outstanding architecture which Melbourne has in abundance. The State Library Victoria is one of them which I found the time to visit and was glad I did. The reading room with its magnificent dome and soaring glass was one of the largest in the world when it opened in 1913. It’s now one of the most photographed sites in Australia.

A close up of the dome.

Looking down on the Reading Room with its 3-tiered gallery.

However, putting aside the architectural splendor of this building, the second most interesting thing about this library is its abundance of art and memorabilia on the state of Victoria. Here I learned all about Australia’s infamous bushranger, Ned Kelly, an Irish man of poor background, who has become the stuff of legend to most of the country. His rogue life and the discrimination he endured turned him into the kind of criminal you could not hate no matter what he did. An articulate man despite no education, he left letters which were on display stating his concern for the under privileged. In addition, there was his suit of armour which he wore on some of his killing forays to reveal his bad boy side. He would do anything so long as he could get retribution for the poor at the expense of the rich gold diggers. Not surprising that he has become a symbol of all the things that were wrong in Australian at that time.

Ned Kelly’s armour.

One of his letters.

Another attraction in Melbourne is the lovely Yarra River where you can take a boat trip or walk along its meandering course lined with numerous parks and a huge Botanical Garden. I chose to do neither since my feet would not allow it. Taking the time to sit there with the ducks was enough for me. As I gazed out over the river, I recalled a similar scene many years ago in Cambridge, England where expert oarsmen plied their skiffs along that river. I realised that this was just one of the ways that Melbourne still reveals its British heritage.

An Australian magpie.

The following day I had to leave for my next stop…Alice Springs. By now I was beginning to get a better feel for this massive country and the people. Melbourne taught me a valuable lesson as I came to grips with my rough start at Little St. Kilda. Australians really are true pioneers in a sense. Their approach seems to be that everyone, including tourists, must step up to the plate. We’ll help you but you must help yourself, too. Ask us the questions and we will answer them the best we can, but don’t expect us to read your minds. That was my first impression but I knew there would be more.

Woolworth’s is one of the largest chain of supermarkets in the country and Woolies is what they fondly call it.

Some additional shots of Melbourne

Outside the State Library

Cafe scene in St. Kilda

There’s that Aussie sense of humour.

 

 

 

It’s Time For Us to Wake Up

I don’t know about you, but I am getting to the point where I simply don’t want to hear the news these days. All the negativity, the bickering, hate and narrow-mindedness going on all over the world is getting me down. Many of us knowingly or unknowingly are being affected by it for such negativity can be toxic. The question is, “What can we do about it?”

For starters, I have quit listening to any news on television and seldom go onto Facebook these days. About the only thing I do now is quickly scan our daily newspaper in order to give a pass to the recent crime stories, what our political leaders are saying, or Trump’s latest tweet, in my quest to find an uplifting story. Thankfully our own Chronicle Herald…one of the few independent papers left in Canada… has some excellent writers doing a great job of providing us with a flicker of hope that we will find solutions for some of the many problems facing us, not just here in Nova Scotia,but everywhere.

Once upon a time I read and listened to just about everything the media offered. Today we no longer know if the news is real or not, and with so much falling into the realm of ‘gloom and doom’ it all becomes overwhelming. It makes me want to get to Thailand fast to escape it all. However, I have a month before I can do this so I must endure the long, dark days of November and December by finding other diversions. Thus, I find myself looking in the cupboard or fridge for a snack, watching far too many British mysteries on PBS television, reading a good book, exercising my brain by tackling a cross word puzzle, or getting together with good friends. All of this is good and necessary, but I can’t help asking,”Is it enough?” I don’t know about you, but with the sorry state of our world and the lingering knowledge that if we don’t do something quick, our world as we now know it will eventually disappear, is a fact that I can’t ignore.

We know that escaping or ignoring our problems isn’t the answer because they will always come back to haunt us. However, the bottom line is that we want to feel useful…to feel like we are contributing something which will help our world. We feel better about ourselves when we give rather than take. Yet many of us still choose to either ignore the problems or perhaps simply give up in despair because we just don’t know where to start or what we can do. What’s the use in even trying? Let our politicians and other leaders sort it out. I already have enough to do just trying to live my life. These are unfortunate assumptions to make because there always solutions to every problem. We just have to open our eyes and hearts to find the answers.

My guess is it’s part of our human nature to react in this way because we simply are not inclined or possibly not wired to change our old way of doing things. We get too used to being in the comfort zones we have created for ourselves. Changes that take us away from that are scary so are best ignored. However, our world has had enough of this kind of thinking and is calling out for our help. It’s trying to tell us to change our attitude to how we have always treated it. We can’t just keep taking from it; we have to start giving back. So how we can do this is always the all important question.

Recently I’ve been bombarded with self – help techniques for keeping healthy, not just physically, but mentally and spiritually. Our modern-day sages are bringing back ideas that aren’t new and have been uttered down through the ages by other wise men and women. I find it interesting that the wisdom of old is not that different from that of today. There really is not much new under the sun. Their message is that if we truly want to save our world then we are going to have to change our thinking and, thus, our way of doing things. There are a myriad of enlightened individuals out there who are more than happy to have you sign up for their courses to teach you how. At one time we would buy their books if we wanted to change ourselves for the better. Now we can get more involved by meeting them personally on the Internet.

Just recently a familiar name whose books I read years ago appeared on a video interview announcing his upcoming course on this theme.  The man I am referring to is Neale Walsch, author of the best-selling trilogy of books entitled  Conversations with God”. His books, based on messages he claims came to him from God when he was at a low point in his life, were read by millions and became the impetus for us to consider the whole nature of who or what God is to us. Instead of something from above or external, the concept has become a personal one which we can find within us. This was the beginning of our awakening as to where we fit in to the whole scheme of things. Now he has come out with a fourth book where he says the time has come for each and every one of us to take the next step… to use our true calling in a way that will help our world. It’s now time to go beyond the looking inward and look outward. He doesn’t ask us to throw out all the good wisdom our various religions have given us, but to keep what works and discard what doesn’t. “I could be right but I could be wrong,” is his mantra. He goes on to say that we have been taking ourselves far too seriously by feeling we have to be right all the time.

Walsch’s new message really hit home for me, but instead of signing up for his expensive online course, I will look into buying his new book “Awaken the Species: A New Conversation With God”.

Returning to my realization that there are certain wise ideas that have been with us forever which come back to haunt or help us whenever they are needed, I remember one that has stuck with me throughout my life’s journey. It is something the mythical Greek hero, Ulysses, said: “I am a part of all that I have met.” This speaks volumes to me because in my travels I have learned so much about myself and this world I live in from all the different countries I have visited. I think if everyone could have the opportunity to travel, we would not be facing many of the problems we are facing today. Travel has taught me more than my family, my country or my teachers ever could have, and, yes, I should add any of the courses I’ve taken or books I’ve read. They have all been valuable but it’s the experience of travel that has been my greatest teacher. Think about it. With travel you have to use all your five senses not just your eyes to read about it. More importantly, you have to rely on that sixth sense… intuition. All the knowledge in the world won’t be of much help when faced with difficult circumstances or having to make tough decisions. This one is so important because it depends on faith and let me tell you much of what can happen when travelling depends on how strong your faith is. I would never have chosen to travel solo if I had not had the power of my 6th sense to keep me going. I just had to trust that no matter where I was or what predicament I had to work my way out of that faith in myself and my spiritual guides and God were there to help me.

Another wise saying that comes to mind and is so appropriate as we struggle to deal with the changes that are occurring in our world right now is this by Ghandi: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Ghandi believed so strongly in the importance of his country to be free of British colonial rule that he sacrificed his family and all his worldly comforts to fight for this in a peaceful manner. He was admired by some but scorned by many at that time, but still he persevered. I am not suggesting that we all follow in the footsteps of Gandhi, but we can take some of his words and actions as a starting point by getting involved in what is going on in our own communities or neighbourhoods.

One final word….we can’t sit back and expect our political leaders to have all the answers to our problems. The system isn’t equipped to allow them to carry out all those wonderful promises they made to us before they were elected to office. We need to start with ourselves and begin the work of making changes within starting with our own thoughts and actions. We need to set an example to our families, friends, and neighbours. We need to banish the negative thinking….judging, blaming, hating… and operate at a higher level of accepting, sharing, and loving. If more of us can do that starting right now, then just maybe we will achieve a world with more peace and harmony.

How Our Changing World Is Affecting Our Travel

How Our Changing World Is Affecting Our Travel

Anyone who travels afar these days can’t help but wonder or worry….a little… about how our fast changing world is affecting how we travel. I know I am noticing some changes not always for the better. For me, who is in her senior years and often travelling alone, it’s becoming more of a challenge.

The rapid evolution of our technology which has had a drastic change in how we communicate has probably had the greatest impact upon how we now must travel. When I started my travelling in 2008 I did not have a cell phone or Smart phone. I did not have a computer or an E-reader. The only piece of technology I carried was my new digital camera bought the year before when I lost my Fuji camera with film while vacationing in Cuba.

Now I travel with a cell phone… which may soon have to be traded in for a Smart phone…. a tablet with and E-reader, a small laptop computer, and a camera, along with  other ‘must-haves’ such as, chargers, USP cords, adaptors and other technological gadgets designed to make my travel easier….or so I am led to believe. Frankly all these gadgets just make me more stressed. I admit I am a dinosaur when it comes to all the new technology, but I am forced to get on board with it all. If I don’t have a an app for this and that, I am often left up the  creek without a paddle. Internet cafes are fast disappearing the way of the Dodo so I can forget trying to find a place where I can get a copy of anything, such as proof of my booking at a hotel or an airline ticket. Folded paper maps that you can hold in your hands are scarcer than hens teeth. Now I am supposed to find my way around with Maps Me. A young man I met on my travels last year downloaded this app onto my tablet. I tried it out while in Viet Nam, but found it so confusing that I ended up going east instead of west for more than five kilometers before I discovered my mistake. I needed to see the whole picture of the area not just a partial one in order to get some proper orientation. I needed a map!

Today, changes in our climate are having some effect on where and when I travel. Our earth is definitely feeling the effects of global warming. Granted, we are noticing more weather extremes here in North America than the countries in SE Asia where I have been travelling to. Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Viet Nam are on or near the equator, making the effects of climate change more subtle. Nevertheless, I have noticed that the time period in Chiang Mai in the north of Thailand for comfortable weather with clear sunny days is getting shorter every year. Now we are lucky to get two months of this kind of weather before the intense heat and humidity set in. By mid February it’s getting too hot for me to stay any longer forcing me to leave for a more moderate climate. To arrive back in Nova Scotia before April is too soon since our winters are long so making a stop in one of the countries in southern Europe has helped to solve this problem. The downside to this is that it’s more expensive than any of the countries in SE Asia.

One of the many wats or temples in Bangkok.

Furthermore, it should come as no surprise that the cost of travel is creeping upward in most areas. What this means is that unless I have more money to increase my budget, I am compelled to limit my travel and opt to stay in one place. The more travelling and sight-seeing I do, the more I spend. Everyday living expenses in food and accommodations have increased over the years but not too drastically. It just takes more careful planning to keep my costs within my budget. In Thailand it’s still cheaper to eat out than it is to eat in. But, for how long? In Bangkok, the present government is cracking down on street vendors forcing them into markets or out of business entirely. This will definitely make a difference in the cost of meals for those travellers who thrived on eating authentic Thai street food at fabulous prices.

Street food in Bangkok.

Surprisingly, the cost of my airfare over and back has not increased by much, if at all, depending on when I make my bookings… the earlier the better… along with the help of a good travel agent. You can easily book a round trip fare from Halifax to Bangkok starting at $1200 and upwards depending on the class and flight times you prefer. However, if you break your flight up with short or long layovers as I do because I want to stay awhile in Europe, then you pay for the privilege. When doing this, it’s best to enlist the help of a travel agent.

Although the cost of flying hasn’t varied much, the days of leisurely air travel, which once travellers could look forward to, are fast disappearing. Most will agree that air travel is becoming more and more challenging. Increasing numbers of passengers, overwhelmed and poorly trained customer service personnel, more competition among the airlines, uncertain weather conditions, ever-changing technology, and strict security due to the threat of terrorism have all taken their toll on what used to be fun way to travel. We have all heard of the horror stories resulting from cancelled flights and missed connections. Just read the testimonials given by anyone who has experienced this, or better still talk to those you meet. Everyone has their story. I encountered all of the above when travelling westward over to Thailand with American Airlines, but since I changed my direction by heading east via Europe, I have had fewer problems. I have been lucky…so far.

Another reality…I hesitate to even mention this… is that I am not getting any younger. By eating well and remaining active, I have so far avoided having to rely on any medications, thus, eliminating the problem of carrying prescription drugs. Vitamins and other alternative health foods are available in most of the countries in SE Asia, and the ones that aren’t or are simply too expensive, I take with me. I confess I don’t get any kind of health insurance as the Thai medical system is not only inexpensive but in most cases very good. The other SE Asian countries are iffy and in some cases bad. I have accepted the fact that if I should need medical care, I will simply pay the cost because any type of medical insurance today would cost me more than the cost of my flight over and back. Taking extra caution on where I go within the countries I visit and limiting my movement by not trying to see it all, helps me keep my costs down and eliminate any possibility of getting sick or injured.

Despite the changes and challenges of travel today, it doesn’t seem to be affecting the number of people who are on the move. Tourism is up in most parts of SE Asia as it certainly is in Europe and here in North America. Many of us would agree that it’s the Chinese Effect. This huge country with its strong economy has put them on the move…young and old alike. I think it’s a good thing as it is the best way to gain an education especially for the young who will inherit the problems our world is facing. From my own experience, I count travel as one of my most valuable educators. However, now as an older traveller, I question just how it can contribute to my own personal growth.

Sunset in Laos

Supposedly with age comes wisdom gained through our long life experience, but does aging not also come with greater challenges to our capacity to be more resilient in our physical and mental abilities? If this is so, then am I not going to be affected more by the changes taking place in the world.

I can’t help pondering this dilemma after ten years of travel. The monumental changes in how we communicate, move around, and the increasing number of people travelling these days have all upped the ante to my own personal challenges. Travel was easier ten years ago. Was that because I was younger and more naive to its challenges, or was I simply that kid in the candy store exploring and savouring all the new countries and cultures I visited all the while relishing the new-found freedom that came with it? Perhaps now the time has come for me to turn my focus away from the fun and freedom of escaping our winters to concentrate on how to be of more service at home in this troubled world we find ourselves living in.

Early morning monk walk for breakfast – Luang Prebang.

Laos

 

 

Overcoming the Fear of Travelling Solo as a Senior

To escape the harsh Canadian winters of Nova Scotia, the place I call home, I do what more and more people are doing which is… to seek out some place that is warm. Florida is not the answer for me as has been the custom for many Nova Scotians in the past. For the last nine years, winters have taken me to the Far East, to such countries as Thailand, Viet Nam, Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Nepal, India, and, finally, last year to South America for the first time.

When I explain to friends, old and new, why I choose to travel to far off places by myself without my husband (Hubby), I get various reactions, such as: am I worried about getting sick, do I feel safe, how do I endure the long flights, or where do I get my energy? They might then end up by saying, “I could never do it.” Before addressing these concerns from the dubious, let me digress to the events leading up to my discovery of travelling solo as a senior female.

I never planned to do this kind of travel when Hubby and I moved to Nova Scotia from the big city of Toronto in 2006. It happened gradually. We kept meeting people in Annapolis Royal…the little town nearest to where we live in Victoria Beach… who had been to South East Asia. They helped perk my interest in the possibility of going there instead of to the south where we had gone previously. To my surprise I was able to talk Hubby into testing the Asian waters. We both realised it was so much cheaper to head east rather than south. For the same amount of money as we would spend to go to Cuba and stay at a resort for a week, we could stretch out our time away in Thailand, for example, to a month or more. Heck, after our second visit we realised we could stay for three or four months and live on a much smaller budget than we ever would if we stayed home. Home meant having to heat a century old house with oil and driving two cars.

Our home in Victoria Beach.

Annapolis Royal in December

After our fourth visit to SE Asia, Hubby announced that he was tiring of this part of the world and wanted to spend his next winter in Florence, Italy, where he had lived for a while as a young man. He also had friends in England he wanted to visit. The thought of spending my winter in either of these places left me cold (no pun intended). I was going back to Thailand again, not just for its warmth, but also because I wanted to shop. If you refer to one of my previous posts you will know why shopping in Thailand is my lure. Click on this link to read: Shopping the Markets in Chiang Mai.

Hill Tribe village in northern Thailand.

Night market in Chiang Mai

So now back to the concerns I have encountered from those who are interested in travelling solo as an older person. I say “interested” as I accept that not everyone wants to do this. We all have different ways of deriving satisfaction on our life’s journey. However, for those who would like to do it, but think it’s impossible to travel as a solo senior who is married, I want you to know it is… if you want it badly enough. You can convince your spouse or partner, if you have one, that it’s better for your relationship if you take time off from it and just trust. You can be safe if you use your common sense…this is where seniors have something that the younger set may not. You most likely won’t do anything crazy like walk around deserted streets late at night. You won’t get sick if you are careful of what and where you eat, and should you get sick there are tons of pharmacies with qualified staff and good hospitals in all the countries I have travelled to. Finally, you will survive the long trip overseas if you prepare yourself for the flight and take it easy for the first week by not eating too much spicy food and keeping a normal sleeping schedule. I have many tips for keeping in shape and staying healthy while travelling which I can address in a separate post if you want me to. For anyone who does decide to give solo travel a try, two things can happen:

  1. You will gain a thirst for more.
  2. Or if not, you will be glad you overcame any fear and just did it…once!

Either way you won’t regret it!

Fear of what disasters could happen are a huge concern for anyone starting off on a solo trip. When Hubby and I went on our separate trips in 2013, I was scared, but at the same time I was excited to be out there on my own. I could almost taste the freedom facing me. To deal with the fear factor, I started off with the familiar by travelling to Thailand first. I had friends there and was so familiar with this country that was becoming like a second home for me as Florence was for Hubby.

Viet Nam, however, was another story. My first night in Hanoi scared me to death when I was finally faced with the hoards of motorbikes and cars which seemed to be everywhere buzzing around like flies. With few traffic lights and police to direct the chaos, the Viet Namese drivers cope with a seemingly effortless charge ahead into the flow aiming for any spot that looks like a possibility. As a pedestrian, we must wait for a small gap or lull before heading out into the traffic. Then we pray the drivers see you and go around you rather than into you. I will be forever indebted to Mike and his wife, Diane, for helping me master the art of crossing the busy streets of Hanoi. Their presence was a gift because having been there many times, they were happy to not only be a guide for me, but to be my dinner companions. Aware that this was my first venture to a new place on my own, they kindly took me under their wing… or tried to. I can be awfully independent at times.

Hanoi traffic

My next leg of this solo journey took me to India and Nepal. This was the most daunting part of my whole trip. Any traveller will tell you that India isn’t easy…Thailand is a breeze in comparison. I was definitely put to the test by having to endure scams, pushy males, and sickness. You will come away from India either loving or hating it. By the end, I was somewhere in between. Should the opportunity arise to return, I would. If you want to learn more about my adventures in India you can click on my post Incredible India. 

This is Kerela in South India

Nepal came much easier to me, but it still had its challenging moments, such as my encounter with a bull who didn’t like what I was wearing. You can find out more about this adventure by reading my post Adventures in Nepal.

The Annapurna Massif – part of the Himalaya range.

What I learned from this trip was that any fear you might have about travelling on your own can be overcome by simply doing it. If you don’t have friends you can meet up with, you can always find fellow travellers willing to help you out at the places you stay or eat. Moreover, don’t discount the incredible helpfulness of the locals who in almost all cases will bend over backwards to help. Not everyone is out to scam you. Even in India which probably has one of the worst reputations for devising outlandish schemes to get your money, you will find incredibly helpful people.

So what I have learned about overcoming the fear that comes with travelling on your own is to gain all the information you can about whatever it is you need to know. And, of course, what better way to gain this information than by actually doing it. You can read all the guidebooks and talk to others who have done it, but the best teacher is your own experience. You will make mistakes, things will go wrong, you will get scammed, you will get discouraged, and sometimes feel very alone. However, look at these as the ingredients that make up the experience. Keep at it and you will get better at it. Fear will be replaced with love. Through your own growing, you will learn to not only love yourself more because you have done something you wanted to do and be proud because of it, but you will also become more accepting of all those you meet up with on your travels. You will become that better person where you will have gained a more open mind and be more compassionate towards those who have less than you. You will cease taking our wonderful country we call Canada for granted. This is what travelling solo has done for me, and I am so grateful that in my senior years I can still do it.

For more thoughts on my solo travels, you can refer to Travelling Solo or Not?

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” – Mark Twain

 

 

 

 

How Good Are We at Dealing With Change?

“The only people who really look forward to a change are babies.”

Change is a topic most of us even hate to talk about let alone deal with, and yet we are being bombarded with it every day in some way, shape or form. Seems like it’s occurring all around us as we are called upon to deal with it whether we want to or not. We can’t ignore it, especially those changes we have no control over. Do I need to give examples here? Okay, the one we hear most about, at least here in Canada, is climate change. Second to that one would be our aging population and what this means for all us Canadians, and the third might be the changes which are constantly occurring in the technology field. These are the big ones to my mind which then can be broken down into a myriad of smaller components such as, how our political system must change… possibly our concept of democracy… our social systems, our approach to immigration … the list can go forever. I sense that almost everything needs to be changed. We are becoming aware that we must replace all our old ways of thinking and acting for something new. The big question is how do we go about making the changes we know we must?

I should give credit for the quote about ‘babies’ to a workshop leader I met in the mid ’90’s. He got me thinking about change and how it can affect us in our lives for better or worse. At the time, I was working for a non-profit agency. Ontario’s economy had been dealt a huge blow putting them into a recession which was brought on by the change of an industrial based economy to the  ‘age of technology’ or computers. Jobs which people had worked at for years were being wiped out….never to come back. The thousands who witnessed their jobs disappearing faced the choice of either learning how to use these machines or end up serving coffee at Tim Horton’s for the rest of their work days.

At first, I was excited to be a part of Ontario’s launch to help these displaced workers to either get another job or some training for the new age besetting them. Here was an opportunity for me to help these unfortunate people with my teaching and counselling skills. This would be the perfect job for me, for hadn’t I recently been through the same ordeal after losing a lucrative position as a sales rep? Set adrift with no immediate prospects or outplacement help from my company, I happened upon Richard Boyle’s “What Colour is Your Parachute?” This book became my Bible in helping me make my career switch from sales into counselling. If I could do this on my own, then couldn’t these displaced workers do the same with a little help from me?

How naive of me to think I could save all those poor souls who were experiencing just what I had gone through. My agency was responsible for getting older, experienced workers either job ready or trained in something that could get them back into the work force…quickly! It didn’t take me long to realize that it was an impossible task to do this in just three weeks.

Upon reflection, I can honestly say my five years working with the unemployed offered me challenges I had never faced before. On the other hand, they handed me an incredible learning experience. You may think it strange that I say this, but didn’t some great sage…was it Plato or Socrates… reveal that we inevitably end up teaching what we need to learn the most? My greatest awakening was accepting that not all people will handle change in the same manner or time frame. In other words, the idea of a three week program was doomed to failure. Only a few breezed through the program with any kind of flying colours. Those who did manage to finish it either found a job or went on for some short-term training in computers. We also turned out many truck and fork lift drivers. Sadly, there were some who couldn’t overcome their job loss before their EI (employment insurance) ran out so ended up on welfare. Of those who did find employment, none got anywhere near the salary they earned at their old jobs. Most ended up working on contract or an hourly basis with little in the way of benefits or pensions. My guess is that some never worked again due to depression resulting from their loss. One of my clients even tried to take his life and ended up in the Clarke Institute, a mental hospital in Toronto.

Everyone handles change in a different way depending on their past experiences, their outlook on life’s challenges, and their emotional development. Change is mostly good as far as I am concerned, and I hope that some of my clients did get that message. Having the experience of working with them, I concluded that the more change we have in our lives, the better we get at handling it. Again I was judging from my own experience. I had to deal with many changes in my growing up years at home…moving around and living with various relatives because my parents weren’t up to the task. This could have had negative results, but instead I unknowingly developed some resilience. Although this helped me through my job loss, it took a toll on my confidence which I had to work hard at rebuilding. My work with older workers helped as did further internal work over the years.  Again, I prejudged my clients by thinking that if I could do it why couldn’t they? There was a difference. Many of them had grown up in stable homes, worked their entire work life at the same job, and were the sole bread winners. They had the toughest time dealing with their job loss for they had not only lost the only work they had ever known, they had lost their self-worth. Our programs didn’t give enough credence to their emotional states. To rebuild a man’s self-worth by probing into his past calls for an inward approach that most of these men were afraid to address. Our life skills classes only touched the surface of such a necessary journey and fell short of helping them to come back out on top to eagerly pursue new possibilities for the challenges ahead.

In the ’90’s we had the older workers who had their jobs disappear with the advent of new technology. Today we have the young workers trying to find jobs in our new economy who are discovering they are woefully lacking in the skills needed for today’s work world. Alvin Tofler, author of “Power Shift”, warned us that this would happen. Whenever, I told my clients that the future would require workers who would need more than a high school education, be willing to learn new skills all through their work life, and count on having several careers, I would be met with disbelief and laughter. They looked at me as some kind of Pollyanna who was not to be taken seriously. Thirty years have passed, and we are still figuring out how to deal with the fast pace of our technology. We haven’t planned for the future and are now scrambling to get people trained to do the jobs which are now here and will be coming. Just think about the jobs which will be required to deal with climate change!

But now back to the present. Every day the media is talking about the changes we must make in practically every facet of our life. Sometimes it seems we must change just about everything, and we must do it now.  This is frightening news for most people because it’s so overwhelming. However, there is a growing movement of young people who are products of the computer age and good parenting who will be the movers and shakers we’ll need. I meet some of them in my travels. They are the ‘digital nomads’ who don’t call any one place as home but travel this earth using their computers to conduct whatever business they are interested in. They teach English, they write, they sell, they do volunteer work, or they set up their own business. They are totally independent and know they’ll never work for some large company for any length of time. They are constantly learning, they’re creative, and they are open to helping this planet in any way they can. They are the hope for our future because they are resilient, and they aren’t afraid to take the challenge that comes with uncertainty and change. They have a totally different mind-set from our workers of the 90’s.

For those of us who are older and don’t have such an adventurous spirit as our ‘digital nomads’, what can we do to prepare ourselves for the changes which are so inevitably coming?  How do we prepare ourselves, our children, and grandchildren? How do we even get them to listen and get involved in being part of the solution for dealing with the changes we must make rather than be part of the problem? My work with the displaced workers of the ’90’s taught me that change imposed on us by outside forces can be devastating if we aren’t prepared. The best way we can prepare for external change is by changing ourselves. Then we can help others. This is the part that will take work and daring because we will be forced to take a long hard look at the truth about ourselves and the state of the world. This is the starting point. From there we can use our skills and knowledge to help our ailing world. What other choice do we have?

 

Thanksgiving in Nova Scotia

 

Happy Thanksgiving!

I heard this greeting many times over our Thanksgiving weekend … something I had never consciously heard before. Then again, maybe some people have used this greeting in the past, much like we say Merry Christmas in December, but this year for whatever reasons I took notice, and I’m glad I did.

After a half-dozen or more “Happy Thanksgivings”, I was becoming slightly annoyed. However, upon reflection I can honestly say it began to take on more meaning for me, and I suspect many other Canadians. Why? Because as we sat down to enjoy our turkey dinners, many of us must have realised just how much we have to be thankful for.

Sometimes it’s difficult to find a silver lining in what to be thankful for in this crazy world after tuning in to our local, national, and world news. Often our media leaves us with the impression there are few places left on this planet of ours which aren’t in some state of turmoil…except for where we live, of course!

However, I must not be smug about this for ironically our beautiful Cape Breton was unexpectedly hit with the remnants of hurricane Matthew just as many CBer’s were preparing to sit down for their Thanksgiving feasts. Extensive flooding, fallen trees, and no power for two days have run up a tab of millions of dollars. However, the good rising from this devastation was that no lives were lost, thanks to the resilience of the people.

There is nothing like a disaster such as this to pull people together to help those in need. Last weekend was not just Thanksgiving in Cape Breton, but also the beginning of their International Celtic Colours Festival, an annual event drawing a huge influx of visitors from all over the western world. True to form the people in the community of Eskasoni rallied together ensuring that the concert goers in their town would not be disappointed. Not only were they well fed and feted, but somehow had the power restored so they could see the show. But the people of this enterprising community didn’t stop there: they even managed to build a detour road to get the bus loads of visitors back to their hotels so they wouldn’t  have to spend the night in the community hall. What tremendous organization and teamwork this must have taken!

Fortunately here in Victoria Beach, we were relatively unscathed by Matthew’s final hurrah save for leaves and broken branches littering our yards. We were thankful for the rain which was so desperately needed after a summer of drought reported to be the worst on record in some parts of our province.

A small waterfall created by the rain.

A small waterfall created by the rain.

Further reflection upon this past week’s events have left me feeling unusually thankful for my life right now. I am thankful that Hubby and I got to enjoy Thanksgiving with not one but two delicious turkey dinners, none of which I had to cook! Although we were unable to sit down with family members due to the choices of where we all live, we were delighted to share our dinners with friends. Furthermore, I am especially thankful for where I live which has got to be one of the most awesome places in the world. I can still say this despite all the beautiful places I have witnessed in my world travels. Not to bore you with too many more ‘thankfuls’, I will mention only one more….

Found a grand pumpkin right here on our road.

Autumn of 2016 will definitely go down as one huge surprise. Many of us wondered if we would be rewarded with any significant colour this year because of the drought. By mid September our trees were looking old and tired with many of them shedding their withered leaves far too early. But, lo and behold, about two weeks ago those that still had leaves presented us with a glorious range of reds, oranges, and yellows. This transformation seemed to happen overnight. Somehow sensing this might not last forever, I realised I needed to grab my camera to capture the panorama which would in turn spur me on to completing another post for this blog.

However, when Matthew’s unexpected winds came last weekend, I despaired there would be any autumn colours left to capture. Shortly after the storm had passed as I drove into town, I noticed there was still a decent palette of colour miraculously left behind…just enough to provide me with those much-needed pictures.

Where did all this colour come from, I wondered? There were so many leaves stripped from their branches littering our road and yards, and yet those vivid colours were still evident. As I looked more closely, I realised much of the colour was produced by the abundance of foliage that lines our road, and not from the trees. Shrubs and other plants were climbing up the trunks of the bare trees and the telephone poles. My guess is that it’s climate change at work. Mother Nature is playing havoc with our maples and birches which we have always relied on for our autumn colours, but perhaps now we must look at the smaller plants and climbing vines as our colour source.

In spite of the changes occurring in our world right now… which for some can be down right scary… there are still rays of sunshine peeking through those grey clouds. Let’s hope that as some things wither and die away there will be other things to replace them.

A good example which has nothing to do with our autumn but is appropo for how change is being handled by folks in Nova Scotia is our main provincial newspaper, The Chronicle Herald.  This paper has been in the midst of a strike between the owners and the workers for almost a year with neither side about to give in. Changes in staffing and working conditions have meant many jobs lost and hurt feelings, but the newspaper carries on despite them. To my mind, those who are left are actually improving the paper. Although much smaller, its content has improved. The viewpoint of the owners is more positive than it ever was before the strike so we are seeing more hope and less gloom and doom. Every day I can count on reading an article or two reflecting the positive changes occurring in our province. I am thrilled to see this new direction of The Herald and am truly hopeful that Nova Scotians will be able to handle any future changes which are bound to come.