2021 Travel Resolution

I was recently approached by a major travel publisher and asked to write a short contribution to a round-up of authors offering their travel resolutions for 2021. The piece was to be about 150 words and include a photo. I was offered US$40 for this. I wrote the piece, focusing on two places I would love to visit if able, and received feedback that they were changing the direction of the article and now wanted something less destination-specific and more themed, with ‘tips’.

I rewrote the piece from a deeply honest place. It was longer than 150 words (but, really, not that long and do I need to remind anyone that the internet is infinite?). I was asked if I would “make some cuts”. I said no, that this is what I have to say. That’s when they ghosted me. A couple of days ago, I saw by chance that the article had been published without my contribution. Luckily, the commissioning editor of this website was happy to publish a slightly longer piece, so it is below.

It’s time to make change happen and we have to be brave enough to say the scary and honest things first so we can then get about the business of doing them.

Travel Less, Travel Regeneratively

I don’t make resolutions and this year is no exception. I find them to be either empty promises that make you feel good about yourself with no follow through, or just a way to self-flagellate. What can we say about travel in this new decade? 2020 changed the world fundamentally, cracking open our systems of social order, governance and economics. We have to take this, our one chance as humanity, to rethink everything. Mass tourism cannot continue along its previous and destructive course, and so if any resolution is to be made this year, it is to understand how our social order has contributed to a system of travel and travel media that is fundamentally unequal, white, colonial and exploitative. Can travel be a force for good? Absolutely. Is it most of the time? Certainly not.

To move forward from here is for travellers and travel writers like me (read: white, rich European/Americans), to understand our part in the systems of the world that create inequality, climate change and environmental destruction, and critically, to change. This means owning the uncomfortable truth that we must travel less or not at all, and we must travel very, very differently. Some of us, many of us in the industry, probably need to consider career changes (I have), and travel as a whole must be understood as a privilege and not anyone’s right, and one that comes with grave and profound responsibilities to listen, self-reflect, learn, fight for justice and give back.

One pathway to this is the concept of regenerative travel, whereby each trip not only is ‘sustainable’ or carbon-zero, but actively regenerates the environment and communities. But these trips are hard to find – the concept is new and most of the travel industry is focused on economics, money and restoring what was. To travel this way takes real effort. There is no quick list a traveller can tick off to achieve a life of regenerative travel. It means doing the hard work of self-reflection and owning your personal history and part in the systems as they are today, and then making the tough choice to travel a lot less, and when you do, to choose trips and experiences that actively give back in a non-exploitative way. It’s a nigh impossible ask just yet.

An example of this is the Global Himalayan Expedition’s regenerative trips, which are carbon negative by funding and putting travellers to work installing clean, solar electricity in remote communities, while providing multiple opportunities for the traveller to listen and learn from the Indigenous people they meet along the way. Tips? Stop travelling. Listen. Reassess why you want to go somewhere. Ask yourself, ‘Is this actively helping the world or just self-indulgent?’. Nine times out of 10, the answer will be a tough pill to swallow, and in those cases consider staying home and getting involved in your local community instead.

Purge

I am the sort of person who doesn’t like anyone to see me not being strong. I was raised by a parent with some deep-seated emotional issues and being strong was a coping mechanism. When I excelled and was capable, I was rewarded with attention, which was the only form of maternal ‘love’ I ever got. Or maybe it’s because of my Leo sun and Cancer moon. Or maybe it’s just a personality quirk (ok I don’t believe in those). Whatever. The end result is that when I am curled up in a ball sobbing, no one ever sees it. Ever.

I’m strong to a fault. I caretake to my own detriment. I people please. I over-give. And because I’m an empath, I’m acutely aware at all times of every single thing that other people are going through and make every effort to accommodate them. Then when it comes my turn to be vulnerable and sad and broken, I don’t even know how.

A few years ago, I crumpled. I crumpled into a dark night of the soul that lasted months and I still haven’t fully healed out of it. I had so many emotional splinters that I’d been ignoring – actually I didn’t even really know I had them – it took emotional purge after purge. I purged until I was in a heap and no more tears would come, and then just dry heaved. One dark January evening, I had purged so much emotion out that I didn’t think I could get through it. I wasn’t suicidal but I just didn’t think I had the strength to exist anymore. I couldn’t cry. I couldn’t move. I was just purely exhausted. I grabbed at the last string of something I hadn’t tried yet, and that was meditation. It helped, briefly. I kept going. It helped more.

Slowly, slowly, since that 2018 night, my nervous system has been restored. I cried everyday still for a long time, but a little less each day. Then there were days when I didn’t cry! Miracle. Days turned into a whole week, and then suddenly I found myself meditating more than crying. Meditating, and moving — not self-flagellating exercise, but soothing and gentle movements like walking, quiet yoga postures, stretching — these helped shift my energy.

But when a new trauma strikes, the old trauma responses are ingrained. It’s one thing to feel peaceful and healed when you aren’t actively being triggered, but when a situation comes along that scratches at that old wound, it can feel as if you never healed at all.

Tonight, I was fine, totally fine, until I wasn’t. I am alone. I am lonely. I am sad. These realities make me feel weak and powerless. Are others judging me? I am judging me. Everyone else has someone to drink gin with and watch bad TV with and welcome Tier 4 with and I am a sad sack sitting in my flat. Alone. I know I am strong and capable and beautiful and I know I have to give this love to myself, it comes from no one else. But let me judge myself some more for this, is where my mind goes.

I know these things are Brian – my brain, my ego – telling me lies. But tonight I am struggling to move through it. So first, I will write it and I will publish it and I will splay it around on the internet so that people can judge me or feel smug or pity me or whatever they want to do. At least I am telling the truth.

Then I will feel it all. The sadness. The loneliness. The abandonment from way too many people ignoring me, giving me up, forgetting about me or not even caring about me the way I thought they did. I will love myself through it. She deserves that love, she has that love. I will resist Brian’s cries that I should not write this. Should not publish it. It’s too raw, too honest and too much a chance for everyone to see you at your worst, Megan. Look at you, what a pity, Brian says. People will think you are really fucked up, Brian says.

I will feel it all and let it out, then let it go. I will look at the stars. I will sleep and I will get up tomorrow and try again.

the quiet time

stillness. silence. of a type i’ve never before in my life experienced. yes, there were the the wild places. the far reaches of tajikistan, the gobi desert, white sands, otago. places where i noticed the missing rumble of humanity. but now is different.

i wake and wonder if i’m still dreaming – though my dreams have been restless and cleansing and strange, and this silence is the opposite of that. some mornings i wonder if i’ve possibly passed over. normally on a sunday, planes landing into heathrow airport would be thundering overhead every forty-five seconds, a familiar pendulum reminding that life as we know it, the steady hum of commerce, industry, capitalism, is ticking over. today, it is so quiet and so still, if it weren’t for the sun’s comforting ascent, i might wonder if the planet had stopped spinning altogether.

this morning i hear nothing. an occasional bird’s twittering song, but even the birds seem mystified and have quietened themselves. a report yesterday said that seismologists who, in searching for earthquakes normally measure the persistent vibrations of the ground, found that “seismic noise” has dropped by one third. the turning of tires over asphalt, the roar of airplane engines, the rattle of trains and metros, the clanging of building machinery constructing another skyscraper. all shut down, and it is quiet. the whole planet is, very literally, stiller.

the stillness is hard to get words around. i sense that, if my back garden were a pond, even the vibrations of typing on my laptop might cause ripples in the water. the fact of experiencing this deafening quiet while still somehow surrounded by nearly 9 million people is almost too much for my brain to take in.

later, noise of a more primal sort will patter as my street slowly lifts to life. children shouting in back gardens. a neighbour finally hammering together that bit of fence that blew down last winter. the trill of a fork on a plate as someone lingers over a lunch outside. and sirens, there will be sirens.

i live alone in a small studio attached to my landlord’s 1920s terrace house in southeast london. my flat is a tiny empath’s oasis with its own entrance, and now it is paradise. a place to live out this house arrest in peace, a hard-won serenity i laboured over the past few years and work daily to maintain through regular cleansing rituals, emotional purges, meditation and scent control.

i’ve kept to myself. though the government has said we’re allowed to go out once a day to take exercise, it almost seems counter to the point. the virus has stilled the planet for a reason. it’s brought our economies, our way of life, our busyness, movement and constant on, to a grinding and then very quiet halt. it has asked us a few simple things: stay at home, stop what you are doing, be still.

many jog and work from home and use zoom to attend meetings and pub quizzes and raves. many plan future travel, fill the time making lists of how to fill the time, learn to cook, make sourdough and sew. many drown in netflix, in delivered cocktails, in online exercise classes. a strange shadow of life pre-virus.

it’s not anyone’s fault. we are all products of a system. we have been programmed to be productive from babyhood. told if we are still, we are worthless. taught if we experience the depth and fullness of the human spectrum of emotion, that we are mentally ill. chided that if we feel sadness, grief or anger, that we are depressed or disruptive and should be medicated.

and now, here we are asked to be still. we are asked to go within. we are asked to reconsider our lives as everything we’ve built crumbles. we are shown that things we learned as gospel before we could express ourselves – to be productive is to be a good human, to feed yourself to the system, to spend is happiness, if you feel something deeply move to avoid it – are falsehoods.

the virus orders us all into time out. go and think about what you’ve done. who you are. what you have valued, and what you have believed to be true. your complicit and complacent personal participation in how we got here. and what you truly want for this and all of life that is to come with and after you. go and feel it – all of it, finally.

this is what the virus demands.

 

cat shadow

welcome back

for so long and so many reasons, i have been away from this blog. largely, professional writing can strip your creative juices for producing anything personal. i was sharing all of my best and most interesting anecdotes in paid work, leaving little left for this humble space.

then, apple went and deleted mobileme, and so my beloved former website went down with it, leaving me to completely redesign this space. i decided (rightly) to go with wordpress and transform what was formerly my basic gypsytracks blog into a full fledged portfolio and website. and i love it.

a lot has happened since our move to london last year. i got my UK residency. we’ve been on several international trips. i was invited on a weeklong blog adventure to wales last autumn, and fell completely in love with that country. and, i suppose most importantly, i gave up my freelance life and took a position a few months ago as editor of the rather fantastic travel guide hg2 | a hedonist’s guide to. it was a huge transition but i am really loving it. although unfortunately, between my commute (commute!) and many daily tasks, it leaves little time for personal blogging. i hope to change that.

so, for now, please enjoy the photo of the cat shadow, which i snapped at a cozy little pub in reading several months ago.

cat shadow

the daily shoot

i’ve decided to start doing the daily shoot. this is in an effort to practice my photography with a bit more structure and to learn to use the manual settings on my camera to take pointed pictures that revolve around a theme. the above photo was snapped about half an hour ago out my back window. today’s theme is “blue”. that’s it. just take a photo where most of the shot is encompassed in blue. i do realize that taking pictures of the sky is a bit cliche, but also that one of my recurring motifs seems to be sunflares. and i quite like all the busyness of the power lines and clouds that break the picture up. [tweetmeme]

money or life?

it’s 6:47 pm. i am sitting in havana tapas bar on georges st. eating a spanish omlette and dousing myself with a glass of chilean cabernet, my third this evening. i’ve spent the greater part of the afternoon here, drinking wine and working on writing projects and generally pondering my recent decision to do freelance writing full-time. i am too broke to afford this meal; in fact, the mere buying of this meal may actually mean that i can’t pay my rent on october 16, but i am not unhappy.

my latest forays into finding a “real” job in dublin have been unsuccessful three times over. the lowest point of recent times was actually applying as a checkout girl at Lidl. for those unfamiliar, Lidl is the european grocery equivalent of wal-mart – dirty, crowded and cheap with bad, VERY bad lighting. i actually become ill whenever i go into Lidl (which i do a lot recently to buy the cheap bread and €1 frozen pizzas that i’m currently living off of, spanish omlette aside) from the crowds and “ethnic smells” and general mayhem inside. (i can get away with saying “ethnic smells” because i am a degreed interculturalist now). what’s worse? Lidl hasn’t even called me back. i can’t even get hired for Shit-Checkout-at-Bad-Immigrant-Grocery-Store-Job.

i love freelance writing. if i was really honest with myself, that is what i would want to do full-time, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week (okay maybe 8 hours a day, 5 days a week).

i do not love being broke. first of all, i am a wine drinker. i need wine to function (that might be a stretch) and my boyfriend is also a wine drinker. a good 13% of our conversations actually revolve around wine, and it’s a good thing he actually has a paying salary because we like to go to wine bars and buy nice bottles of wine. often. being a wine drinker in dublin is not cheap, mind you. ireland is not a wine culture – people here prefer the pints. so, we spend a lot more money on wine than one would in italy or france or napa or even new mexico. but we like our wine.

i am also a traveler. the better part of my writing skill and inspiration come from traveling. being broke does not lend itself to traveling, either. i would kill to be in spain eating an actual spanish omlette right now, rather than the dublin, havana bar version of it (which is actually quite decent), but alas, i am not. at the moment, i could not afford a plane ticket off this rainy island if i wanted to. here again, i am lucky to have a boyfriend with a real salary who will gladly foot the bill to places like brussels, to where we are going in 2 weeks time.

there is also that pesky business of a residence-or-work visa hanging over my head. the other day, i spent nine (count them 9!) hours at the immigration bureau along with loads of africans and indian families with crying babies trying to get my student visa changed into an “i’m a desperate american looking for work” visa. after 9 hours, my number wasn’t even called, so i gave up and went back 2 days later. now i’ve got 6 months until march 19 when i will be unceremoniously kicked to the fuckin’ irish curb, if you get what i’m sayin’.

so, i’m optimistic! these things work out, right? seriously people – if you ever want a reality check and a blow to your dignity (not that you would???), i’ve got one word for ya: emigrate.

leprechaun in alabama?

this really deserves it’s own post.

i’m really not sure what my favourite part of this video was. the “amateur sketch” was certainly a highlight. i had to concur that the lady’s conspiracy theory that the alleged leprechaun was actually just a misguided crackhead was probably pretty accurate, given that the event took place in the hood. but probably the best part was the guy in fatigues showing off his magic flute, passed down through 1000’s of years from his great granddad.

“i want da gold. gimme da gold. i want da gold!”

excellent tv. excellent.