Ali ali solitary

I’m trying to settle an internal debate right now. Is it freeing and thrilling to travel solo? Or lonely?  I’d ask someone else but there’s no one else around at the moment that speaks my language.

And, does having constant access with my phone (now even turned ON most of the time now that I can “roam like home” and not just when I’m reliant on decent wifi) make the potential loneliness less, or more?

Frankly none of this makes any sense at all, as by all accounts I am living a charmed life that would be the envy of many.  But I still find myself sitting in my room in a country eight time zones away from my own and I realize this is a question that’s been niggling at me for a while.

Again to be frank, I don’t really know what I’m even trying to get at, or get out, with this particular post, so maybe what I’ll do is just list a few methods I use to keep the blues at bay until I figure out the core of this feeling.  And for those of you out there, please feel free to comment – let me know if you’ve done any of these things or if you have other better ways to stay grounded and connected while still flying away.

Anti-reclusiveness tactics, told as they come to mind and no other particular order:

  1. Do not obsessively scroll through your regular social media feeds.  This comes with a caveat, as I think that un-obsessively socializing this way is very much a helpful tool. But what I mean here is that fine line difference; like when I’ve stopped being curious about what’s going on with everyone else, and when I don’t have anything new to add or say or check on specifically, but am instead clicking open my feed for the hundredth time to see if there was something for me and then feeling dumb because of course there’s not anything of interest since the last moment I checked.  Like opening the refrigerator door a hundred times wanting something but not wanting anything in there.
  2. Create content. Seems obvious, right – if there’s nothing catching my eye then maybe I should upload something that I like, something that would make me smile myself the next time I see it. Again, though, this is a delicate balance because I absolutely try to be genuine with everything I put out there, but I don’t want to be overly negative too often nor falsely effusive.
  3. Go for a walk.  Explore even a little just around the next corner.   More often than not its the simple one-foot-in-front-of-the-other that take me to a literal place where I figuratively notice something to feel better about.
  4. And on the flip side again (Because I always seem to be about balance and contrasts); know when it’s time to just lean in and curl up with a book.  There are times when I know I’d like to see more, but the Travel FOMO* sometimes is overpowered by the need to just be still and rest, and to let my mind switch off with an escapist novel along the way.  Even an extrovert needs some time to decompress without others around, but be careful not to let this continue past what feels healthy and helpful.
  5. Find someone else to be nice to.  This could be as simple as a moment of eye contact and small smile to someone passing by, giving up a seat on a crowded bus, or offering to share your meal with another traveller at the hostel. Obviously chose something that suits your situation and personality, but the point is to push yourself just a little to stop thinking of your own feelings and focus on others’ instead.
  6. Be a little silly.  It’s hard to be mopey if you’re giggling.  The other day I posted this to my Instagram story, knowing full well I was being a giant dweeb but really quite having fun laughing at myself.IMG_0488
  7. Or, if you prefer not to draw faces in your ice cream, you could just simply savour it and enjoy the treat of eating something delicious.  That works too!
  8. Remind yourself out loud that life like this is a privilege and travelling alone can be one of the most marvellous things to experience. There’s no one else to wait for or to appease, no other person’s travel style to adapt to.
  9. Reach out to someone at home and call/text/meme/message for a little while. Intentionally connect and recharge with someone that knows you.
  10. Remember that more than likely, there’s another solo traveller who’s felt this same feeling at one time or another who will be happy to connect.  Say hi and see what happens!

*Travel FOMO = Fear Of Missing Out on that one great experience that’s been all over instagram and everyone else’s blogs.  We travellers can get really overly caught up in trying to see everything and do everything that everyone else is talking about, while still also trying to be the one person to find something new in these same places.  It can be EXHAUSTING.

Well.  I guess I have one more item I should add to the list:  Making a list of how not to wallow in loneliness has been a good tactic for me.  I feel better already and ready to tackle another tour!   I’d love to hear about what you would do when these feelings set in

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Signing off with a simple shot – (It’s one I like but didn’t make the cut for the other posts)

 

In the Gaps

There’s a quote I came across a while ago, and today it’s on my mind again.  It’s by the brilliant Margaret Atwood:

“We lived in the gaps between stories”

And it’s not so much that this is a powerful quote, or is one that might make us stop in our tracks and consider something new.  Margaret Atwood has so many great quotes that do that – go ahead and google her – but this one is just where I am right now.   And I think it might be a good transition to help me get back to this blog after letting it sit ignored for so many months.  Just in the simple obvious, there’s been a huge gap in my blogging.  I last posted in the fall, and I didn’t even finish publishing everything about my travels through Turkey.   I have so many drafts that I started and will likely never return to, unfortunately.  I wanted to tell about the ancient cites in Turkey, and the epic natural sights, plus the cities and food and vibrancy.    But life was changing and I was busy living so there’s gaps left in my external chronicles.

Here’s a little sample of what I had meant to write about:

I bet you can relate.  We scroll through stories online and keep up with others’ lives digitally, and we post our own hoping to capture a good memory, or to gain validation.  As silly as it may seem to say; the obvious is easily overlooked; Despite our connectivity in 2019 we still have life outside of what we share as our social media stories.  I have to admit, for a minute there last year I was beginning to getting caught up in the idea of being an Influencer.  And even while I knew that my paltry 250ish Instagram followers left me about 2,000 short of what would qualify as a fledgling social media influencer, I’d still daydream about it.   My unplugging from this blog and from writing was not some grand gesture by design, not a deliberate retreat to ‘find myself again’ and come back all glowy and full of marketable tidbits of wisdom.  Nope.  I was just battling a bit of writer’s block and also just really busy.  Living the little details of daily life, slogging away at work but also having fun with the people who mattered to me already.

I lived in the gaps between the stories.  To be literal I say that because I spent about 6 months without posting anything on AimlesslyAli.  Life went on without the spotlight.  More poetically, the gap allowed for an echoing in my life.  Words I had sent out ages ago came back to me and I was reminded that building up love and fostering purpose in myself and others is what life’s all about.  Even without any intentionality, it turns out I did learn something.  Here’s what I learned: I don’t need to be paid for my words, or to get free samples for photos I take.  I want my influence to be personal, in real life, in my day to day connections with people who cross my path.  I hope to be able to demonstrate that kindness and gentleness ARE a form of strength rather than just the aloofness we tend to associate with mental toughness.  So this aimless wanderer is now on a deliberate path to show love to others in the gaps.  Though, let’s be real – this’ll likely be accomplished without a map and written with drifting thoughts and paragraphs of run-on sentences….. I am still Aimlessly Ali, after all.  (who’d in a heartbeat accept a sponsored trip in exchange for promoting the location if I ever got the opportunity!!!)

The man I was married to

The man I was married to was a good man.  IS a good man, but for me he’s past tense.  He was kind, so handsome, talented, and full of a charisma that drew in everyone who met him.  Descriptions of him list like a thesaurus of “good”; admirable, attractive, commendable, estimable, laudable, rare.  He was good to me.

But not good for me.

It’s difficult to draw that distinction properly, in a way that captures all the subtle nuances of an eight-year marriage without minimizing or ‘monsterising’ either one of us.   And I want to be careful, as despite it all, his feelings and pride still matter to me.  I know how much he would hate to be a public topic, but this is my story and I’ve decided it’s important for me to tell even if it makes him uncomfortable.  There could be other people hurting in the same way and may need to see that life can be better even after the broken hearts.

I am a sunny optimist by nature; a bright-eyed, blue skies, glass-almost-full kind of person; and generally it’s been easy for me to dismiss negatives in my life.  Overall I’m thankful for this, but there are some drawbacks with this aptitude.  The man I was married to thought that I was disingenuous and somehow putting on a show with my smiles instead of being honest about how I really felt.  I think early on he may have admired the way I saw the best in any situation, but the years eroded that to a sharp resentment.  He viewed me as falsely sugary and insipid, and every time he snapped at me when I said something silly it stung.  So I would try to be less somehow – I learned he hated it when I would add some comment about the ‘bright side’ of whatever he was talking about as it made him feel like I wasn’t on his side.  In all our years together I was never, ever, able to cheer him up out of a bad mood.  We just had to wait until he’d had enough alone time to work through whatever he was feeling.   Then the next hour /or day/ or week/ or whenever he was ready, he’d give me a kiss and be all smiles and the tension I’d tiptoed around with would melt away.   I believed everything was ok after each time and he believed he was doing what he had to by acting like it was ok.  We were both wrong.

The man I was married to seemed like the most social person in any room.  His big laugh would echo and his stories would draw in a crowd.  I loved being by his side when we were out.  For me, being in a group is energizing and I would want to be with friends or meet new people every possible chance, so at first his magnetism worked in my favour.  But it was exhausting for him.  He wasn’t gregarious in a crowd because he loved it; he acted that way as a coping skill to handle his anxiety.  He felt if he were the one always in control of the conversation, then there was less chance for him to be embarrassed or for an awkward situation to catch him off guard.  But I was the wild card for him and my interpretations and way of interacting with others never made sense to him, so I would be quietly shushed.  I know now that he wasn’t trying to be cruel to me, it was more a symptom of his own internal struggle, but despite his intentions this was incredibly damaging to me.  Each time he would shoot me that look to stop talking, each fight in the car home after an outing where he felt I had done some unforgivable social blunder, every time he spoke over me so I couldn’t have my own voice in the crowd, I took to heart.  I would stay quieter and second-guess every comment I would make and be too nervous to add to the conversation.   So you can see how this could be a vicious cycle.  I think that in our later years together this man who was supposed to know me better than anyone genuinely believed that I wasn’t interested in conversation.  He told me I was a snob and that I embarrassed him by being so unfriendly to everyone.

The man I was married to did his best to treat me well.  He always opened every door for me, started my car in the winter, and would often hold my hand or touch my back while we were out together.  I was so encouraged by the tiny little gestures he would do for me and believed they were to show me I was loved.  Maybe they were.  Maybe they were actions born from an intense fear of what people thought of him, so in case anyone was watching he better treat ‘his wife’ in a manner they would approve of.  And that’s the crux of it as I’ve learned after the marriage fell apart.  It was so important to him to “Be A Good Husband” as a personal checklist that it didn’t even matter to him he no longer knew me or loved me.  I was a placeholder rather than a person.  We married young and very fast, before we really had a chance to get to know each other, and for years we then thought that we just needed to make the best of it because it was too late.  I remember saying to friends years ago about how if we had only been dating still in that first year we would have broken up for sure.  Said in a flippant and smiley ‘good thing we’re married so we’re still together and working it out’ kind of way.  Ugh.

Steve and Alison Larsen Wedding
2007

The man I was married to used to tell me that he didn’t want to hear my insecurities.  He would say that he was attracted to me so I shouldn’t tell him when I hated my hair or felt like I didn’t fit into my clothes because then those comments might get in his head and possibly change the way he saw me.  And these were said in our good days, so I believed him and would do my best to hide my self-doubt from my husband.  It takes years to catch and change those patterns but I really worked hard at it.   Over the years he gradually he stopped complimenting me.  I couldn’t post photos that I looked good in because he didn’t like that I might not seem modest.  And then he said to me:  “You are so vain you make me sick.”  He may have regretted the comment because I was so hurt by it, but I know those were words he meant and not just said in anger.   It’s too bad he was so wrong.  Or, along the same lines:  He would tell me at various times how it bugged him that I was not content; why couldn’t I just be happy with life as it was and not always want to be somewhere else?  Or then he’d say he didn’t like my lack of ambition and why couldn’t I just try harder to find something to excel at?   There were a few times in our eight years (3 to be exact) that I was offered an incredible ‘dream job’ and he would start off happy for me and supportive, but then abruptly pull his support and say that my choice would end our marriage if I accepted the job.  I asked him after the fact about those times, and he admitted that he never believed I would actually be hired so he wanted to try to seem supportive, until he couldn’t.

I know that last paragraph seems negative, but I look at it as a symptom of his own struggles.  He wanted so badly to genuinely be good to me and to everyone else but there was more going on in his head than he was able to handle.  And this has all been from my side of the story – I know he has his side.  I didn’t understand him, and likely brought out the worst in him.  I hope that the man I was married to has found the help he needed, in whatever form that may be, and that now he may stop torturing himself with an unnecessary and unobtainable goal of being perfection to everyone else.  I hope he has good people around him who bring out the best in him.

I allowed a hurting man to erase my own self confidence, but I’m lucky that I have people around me now who are helping me to believe that I’m worth talking to.  With each tiny affirmation from family, friends, and even fellow travellers I’ve met, I feel my own personality returning and the confidence to own who I am, flaws and all.   I thank God for healing broken hearts.   I learned a lot from the man I was married to and am starting to be able to see the good I can keep from the memories of him: hopefully it’s made me a more empathetic person.

Editing note:  In no way am I attempting to say that this is all on him.  I also don’t mean to boil down our entire relationship to the thick negatives, nor to make it seem like it was a continuous string of torture. We had a lot of good times in there, and I think in a different set of scenarios we could have had a very happy life despite my lack of understanding and his anxiety.  I hate that having this public has caused additional hurt, and I am genuinely sad that my writing has caused further division than the divorce had on its own.    —-   There are so many other stories of people who overcome deeper issues than we ever had and are thriving, so please don’t let my one story of setback deter you.   Him and I don’t have any direct contact at all anymore, but I believe he is happy and doing very well. As am I.  And so in a sad and backwards way this has turned out to be our happily ever after.  

If you recognize yourself in any part of this story, please seek out help.  Don’t wait.  Talk to a therapist or find counselling.  If medication is needed for anxiety or any other mental health struggle please know there is no shame in accepting a prescription.  If you are hurting, or being hurt, there are people who can help.  Mental and emotional health are an important part of the equation along with physical…. don’t forget that.

– Ali

 

 

 

Moving Forward

Forget Your Past.  I hear well meaning people say things like this a lot, and it’s generally really good advice, in the context it’s meant.  Or, it’s hard to spend 10 minutes online without seeing some variation of this as an inspirational poster:   Don’t Look Back.    Yes, yes. By all means, do not get so tangled worrying about your past mistakes that you tie up today.

I’ve been thinking a lot about moving forward again lately, so of course I’ve heard heaps of this.  I appreciate the advice, I do.  I’m just feeling contrary right now.  There’s so much still that I want to be able to remember with a smile, or tears when they come; and I think I may even be in a phase where I need to look to my personal history in order to figure out my best next moves.  Some of this I mean tongue-in-cheek, too, like how I need to look back at my past travels in order to sustain me through this current flightfamine I’m in.  Travel is my personal nourishment, and I’m fading away – my malnourished sense of adventure dwindling daily while I drudge to my desk.

So my next few posts will be all about looking back in order to move forward.  First step: Get deliciously lost in my memories and daydreams of previous trips while I look to start writing here again.  Second step: Gain back some momentum with my travel blog, thus inspiring myself enough again to find a way to convince my employer I’m due for a week (at least) off.  Third: Pounce on that time off and zip away to explore some more of this big beautiful world, camera and laptop in tow for the blog!     And in that happy frame of mind again, I fully expect to be able to sort out all these other life details I need to get to.

So that’s what I’m going to do.  I can’t wait to tell you about my time in the Democratic Republic of the Congo!

 

 

The More Things Change…

Remember that old cliche saying – The more things change the more they stay the same ?   I’ve been thinking that quite a bit over the past week, and it’s never rung so true for me as it has recently.   I used to consider it a silly expression, but I think life taught me not to be so quick to judge the old folk wisdom.   Here’s a recap:   Seemingly everything in my life has changed over this past year, and much of that within the last few months.  One of those changes was my work, and I wrote about this major career change I was beginning about a month ago; yet here I am again tonight in a hotel room in a city far from home, doing a new version of the same job I have for the last decade.  It’s amazing!  I had a quick conversation with a friend about this bizarre twist in my career and was reminded “you’re good at it – roll with it!” so that’s exactly what I’m doing…. and soaking up every moment because as far as I know this is still a temporary blip rather than a mainstay of my new job. 

I was able to take a day during one layover to explore Hollywood, California for an afternoon.   I’ve been to Los Angeles before, but this was my first time walking down the Hollywood Boulevard and the Walk of Fame.  My friend Jenilee also had the time off, so we set out together to see what we could see.  The day was a little chilly,  but as long as we did our best to stay in the sunshine and avoid the wind it was still pleasant enough to be walking outside – a nice treat for late December according to a Canadian! 

Right when we first arrived, we were greeted by an Art Deco style monument.  I had never before heard of this – I’m not sure it’s one of the famous landmarks – but with its replicas in silver of four of Hollywood’s early screen stars it was a nice start to the Walk of Fame. 

“The Four Ladies of Hollywood” monument

Next step brought us to the stars… and some comical moments as I realized that along this crowded stretch of street NO ONE was watching where they were going!  We all had our heads down, reading the names of the Stars as we walked along.   I think for every celebrity name I heard called out by tourists wanting to be excited there were almost as many “excuse me” and collisions narrowly missed.  

Watch your feet
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
Is it narcissism or normal to search for my name on the stars?
 

One guy picked this crowded location as his spot to demonstrate, so for about 45 minutes we heard his chant amplified through speakers and a smattering of participants.   I don’t think he likes the upcoming government very much…. 

Continue walking further away from the largest concentration of people, and found we almost had the streets to ourselves.  All the better to study the stars and surrounding architecture!

Jenilee
There’s something about this building I love
Faded glamour
Art Deco awesomeness

City skyline
Christmas Day on Hollywood Blvd
 

The rest of the week brought more change – time in 3 different cities – but again the changes are familiar in some way.   I’ll write more about that again another time!  

Seeding Good Luck

I still have two days in Bangkok at the end of my trip that I want to write about.  They were incredible, and a very different experience from my first days in Bangkok at the beginning, before the tour.  I remember so many different snippets of stories that I had begun drafting in my mind while we were there, and I was excited to share the contrasts with what I had written a month previously when I was first experiencing the city.  So why haven’t I written that?

As has been my pattern already, if I get behind in blogging I end up procrastinating.  When I let too many days pass from the emotions and thoughts, what I actually felt in the moments I write about, my posts just end up seeming stale and forced, a list of what I had seen and done.  Dull.  So I avoid it, and my blog.  Self-perpetuating non-motion.   To shake that now I think I’ll just chatter about what I am feeling currently, and hopefully as I go on I can find a way to loop it back to the topic at hand: travel and the Thai capital.

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This week I’ve been feeling a little untethered.  My 5 month leave of absence from work is almost over, so this era of being a full-time traveller is wrapping up (for now??…).  At the same time nearly all of my other external identity markers have also disappeared or changed, and it’s a bit hard to handle all that all at once.   I spent years defining myself by my job:  I was a flight attendant, not only that, but a Corporate Flight Attendant.  When I return to work next week I have a significant career change that I’ll need to wrap my head around.  I used to be a Wife; I’m not anymore, and tied to that I used to be a Homeowner until we sold our house in the suburbs last month….  Writing this paragraph has sparked a memory for me, and I had to pause to dig through my notes for a quote that was given to me by a friend a few months ago.  It fits here for me now.

Each misfortune you encounter will carry in it the seed of tomorrow’s good luck.  – Og Mandino

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I know those little good luck seeds are already germinating in my life, and I’m looking forward to seeing what great things spring up in the near future.  And in the meantime the best way I know how to keep myself sane and happy is to dream about travel.  It really is the best medicine for me!   The picture I used for this quote is from a courtyard at Wat Pho, the Reclining Buddha temple in Bangkok, and it reminds me again of my time there.  My first few days were all about touring temples and streets full of food and vendors and massage spas and backpackers. (you can read about Better than expected Bangkok) And my final days in Bangkok: restaurants bursting with personality and shopping and expats.

We were able to meet up with a friend who has lived there for the past four years, and she was a perfect host and guide!  It’s aways fun to laugh with an old friend so we would have enjoyed ourselves regardless, but Corrie knew so many great spots we were almost run off our feet trying to cram it all in.

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speaking of feet
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Ali and Corrie

Here we are stopping for a quick selfie at the MBK Centre.  This place is a massive, seven storey mall used by locals and tourists alike.  I don’t even feel like I’m exaggerating when I say it has everything!  I definitely made good on my plan to wait and make the bulk of my purchases on my last day before going home!  Souvenirs such as curry mixes, tea, exotic fruit candies, clothing, jewelry and watches…. my list goes on.  Tricia and I had to get reallllllly creative in packing to get everything in our luggage for the flights home!  And when we weren’t shopping, we were eating.  Which I love!

 

Look at that – I did circle back and steer this post to Bangkok!  I know it’s a little light on details and funny stories this time, but considering the mood I was in when I began writing this post and how much better I feel now, I’m calling this a personal win anyway.  Thanks for reading along with me.

What if it falls apart?

Rushing. Panicking about being late and wishing I could rewind to NOT waste those 5 minutes on Instagram earlier because I really need that time back now. I hate this feeling.

The day started off with an early morning knock on the door, 40 minutes prior to the time we were expecting to be picked up, and the hotel clerk politely informing us our driver was outside.  The scramble and sudden adrenaline had us scooting around the room stuffing everything into any bag we could find, and when we got downstairs 3 minutes later quite pleased with our ability to dress and pack so quickly we were told that the van had left without us.  All my nervous energy evaporated along with our ride, and I could feel worry seeping in as I considered our next steps.  It’s moments like these when I realize I build my travel plans like a Jenga tower – it all looks creative and great until one piece is bumped and the whole thing topples.  Missing our shuttle from the hotel means missing our bus that takes us to the ferry, and if we can’t get on the ferry then we can’t get to the island where our next hotel is already booked and paid for.  The hotel clerk was quite unsympathetic when he assumed we stupidly slept in, but after I showed him our tickets with “7:30am pickup” written clearly on the front his demeanour changed.  I may have also subtly played up the damsel in distress side a little too…   Whatever the reason, he was our knight in shining armour as he made several phone calls before triumphantly announcing the driver was returning for us.  He then dropped his voice to let us in on a secret: the operator we booked the tickets through wasn’t as good – if he had arranged our transfer we never would have been given the wrong time.

With this in my mind, memories of other warnings I had read about tourist scams blazed behind my eyes.  I recall reading that people have been ripped off when booking a combination bus and ferry ticket to the Thai island of Koh Samui…. exactly where we’re headed to.  So even though the van returned to pick us up, all through the drive I was alert for the moment when we would be informed we needed to pay more to continue our journey.  And there were several moments appearing to be exactly that – when the van driver rushed us to get on the waiting bus but wouldn’t take the time to return our ticket which was our only proof of payment for the whole trip.  Or at the next transfer point where we were told a new bus would take us to the port, still had no ticket in my hand but was assured it wouldn’t matter.  Amazingly enough, all the way to on the ferry and including the van transfer on the next island to our hotel, everything ran just tickety-boo and we were never once asked for more money or proof that we actually paid our fare the previous day.        ————————————-

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Nervous on the road today

So.  I made it to my island paradise, but for me there was a little downside to being surrounded by tempting beaches.  I of course brought my phone with me to the beach – all the better for taking photos and jotting down my thoughts while simultaneously sunbathing – but my phone had an unfortunate encounter with salt water.  If you were wondering why there was suddenly radio silence on my end, it’s because I allowed my phone to drown.  My lifeline!  I didn’t know how reliant on (addicted to) my phone I had become until I needed to finish my travels without my phone.   Thankfully I had already written the above portion of this post, and it was saved in my drafts online, but I didn’t have access to it at all.

 

I will say, though, that it truly was a serene paradise.  If you find yourself headed to Koh Samui, I can highly recommend the resort we stayed in.  It was difficult to leave, despite hoping I could save my phone once we made it back to Bangkok.  Check out the Crystal Bay Beach Resort and see for yourself why it may be topping my mental list of favourite locals lately.

 

You know what I realized as I was finishing up this post?   As I worried about the worst happening (getting scammed, ruining my electronics) I have somehow come through it all without any real problems arising from my worries.   I feel so incredibly lucky to have gone this far, travelled so much, and really not had any major mishaps ruin my days.  …yet…   So from me to you:  safe travels, friends.   May your luck hold even better than mine!