This Isn’t What It Was Supposed To Be

This isn’t what it was supposed to be. How many times have you said that? Maybe you have felt it over something trivial, such as a drink or meal, maybe a paint color or hair cut. Perhaps you felt it in regards to something larger and more consequential; a job, career, your relationship or even your life. I have definitely felt it as I am out here traveling solo through Europe. I have also been feeling it increasingly with this website.

The Birth of Tasty Travelogue

I had grand ideas about this website when I was planning my trip. But at 42, I should know by now that life is what happens when all the planning goes to shit.

The plan was traveling solo for 365 days, roughly. That or until I ran out of money, which I hope doesn’t happen to be honest.

I had thought that I would easily put aside a couple hours every morning to write and push out a few where I am and what I like articles a week, til I ran into several prolonged wi-fi outages on the road. I also found myself sidelined for a significant period of time while trying to remotely manage some unexpected personal stuff back home. So, life got in the way of planning.

Selfie in Belgrade, Serbia near the waterfront
Selfie in Belgrade, Serbia near the waterfront

Then the anxiety kicked in. I’ve been writing for 20 years, why was this suddenly impossible? Why did I suddenly find myself with writer’s block when I had a platter handed to me daily with content ideas? I think I started to figure that out this morning. But first, let’s break down where I am today and we’ll get back to my writer’s block later.

Facts and Figures : 146 Days as a Traveler

I’ve been traveling solo since my first flight on the evening of February 6th. Tonight I have been on the road for officially 146 days. What does that look like?

 Countries  12
 Cities  23
 Passport Stamps  10
 Flights  12
 Missed Flights  1
 Trains  8
 Buses  3
 AirBnB Flats  17
 Hotels  5
 Times I’ve Cried Because I Miss “Normal”  10
 Starbucks Frappuccinos Drank (seeking normal)  3
 Jars of Peanut Butter I’ve Eaten (seeking normal)  3
 Pounds Gained  8
 Miles Walked  1044.5 (really)
 Head Colds  1.5
 Dog Bites  1
 Misplaced Cables/Chargers  3
 Credit Cards Hacked  3
 Phone Calls to the States  9
 Dogs I’ve Pet  484 (approx)
 Friends I’ve Made  29
 Days I’ve Wondered WTF This is About  146
Wondering WTF This is About

I started this trip for the same reason a lot of people do things like this. I wasn’t happy and I felt stuck. Standing still wasn’t getting me unstuck, but would leaving? Was traveling solo for such an extended period of time the way to clarity?

I was a typical American in many ways and atypical in others. This has proved to be both an asset and a disappointment on this journey.

I had just turned 41 and was looking at my life saying – this wasn’t what my life was supposed to be. But I didn’t know what the alternative was. I just knew that this was NOT it.

Early-mid 2016 was the turning point. I was trying to salvage or end an incredibly meaningful relationship, and I was in a job that was miles from being anything resembling a healthy working environment. There was a growing level of toxicity and I was just trying to make it through my days. I knew I needed change, but I wasn’t sure what that looked like. I considered a move back to NYC and set that as my goal.

As the months dragged on and the environment at my office grew more and more volatile, I realized I wasn’t mentally able to jump to NYC and make the best decisions about a new job. I was feeling trapped and reactionary, rather than proactive and in control. I needed to stop the ride for a bit.

I should know by now that life is what happens when all the planning goes to shit.

But how does one do that? A suggestion was made by a friend that I should take a personal sabbatical of sorts. To do something I had never done. Having applied for a passport in late spring of the year, I realized I could actually do something I had truly never done – which was travel abroad. Perhaps by traveling to “foreign” places, I could gain some fresh perspective. Because… why not. And so, the seed was planted.

Semi-Typical American

In some ways, I am very much a typical American. I didn’t have a passport until I was 41. Other than some very rudimentary restaurant French, Italian, and German, I don’t speak any other languages. I can’t drive a manual transmission.

I had never left the country other than Canada. When you are born in New York state, heading to Ontario or Quebec was like visiting your neighbors. Prior to 2009, you didn’t need a passport to cross the border into Canada.  Other than Quebec, lower Ontario feels like a lot of upper New England, albeit with poutine and Canadian beer. For a New Englander, it hardly counts as heading to another country.

Languages weren’t offered to me until high school and at that point, I was solidly swimming in the quicksand of undiagnosed ADD. School was difficult at best. I’d avoided a structured college environment and with an apprenticeship, I had gone on to become a photographer.

Young, insecure, and fearing failure and a poverty-stricken life as a starving artist, I made the transition into marketing in my late 20s. It was then that I would realize something about me and how I processed and managed information wasn’t “normal”.  While I would actually discover nearly a decade later, at 36, why things that came easier for others was ridiculously impossible for me, the official diagnosis did not suddenly gift me those lost years or give me the magic ability to learn languages.

Despite these typical Americanisms I maintained, I possessed a uniquely muddled adult life. I had lived with a woman from Britain and a man from Germany, dated men from Wales, Italy, and Spain. Worked for a British company run by a Kiwi from New Zealand with colleagues from Malta, Australia, South Africa, and Britain of course.

In some ways, I was so comfortable with the quirks of other countries that my Americanisms seem less severe. It’s actually baffling to some that I haven’t been out of the country in light of my connection to so many foreigners.

And then my passport came…

My new passport and a chai at Cafe Zing in Cambridge, MA
My new passport and a chai at Cafe Zing in Cambridge, MA
Europe or New York

I had a decision to make. Things weren’t changing by standing still. Two very large things happened in the summer of 2016 that made me stand up and scream out loud.

On June 23rd my friend Amanda was killed tragically in a cycling accident in Cambridge Massachusetts. She was a 27-year-old nursing student who was finally in her groove. In a relationship with a mutual friend which I honestly believe would have lasted decades. Amanda had recently discovered the joys of extreme fitness (tough mudders, rock climbing, etc) and was in a comfortable place with her mind and her body after years of struggle.

Amanda was a bright light on the days when I would see her and her smile literally could erase clouds. Her sudden death at such a young age broke my heart.

Amanda Phillips bent down and happilly petting Ronin the Boxer dog in Davis Square, summer of 2015
Amanda Phillips and Ronin the Boxer – Davis Square 2015

Roughly a month or so after Amanda’s death I would learn that an ex of mine from 2004 was quite ill. We had remained friendly over the years and despite our breakup over 12 years prior, I had always held them in the highest regard.

I was proud and awed to watch them grow their passion into a fulfilling and successful career and business. It seemed, like Amanda, that everything had finally clicked for them. That all the earlier struggles had made way for this much-deserved joy. Unfortunately, the illness isn’t an easy one. They have been diagnosed with severe Lyme and ALS.

Life is VERY Short

This is not what this was supposed to be. I said that a lot in 2016. My job, my disintegrating relationship, the death of my friend Amanda, my ex’s diagnoses… I needed to stop the ride. To get unstuck from the wheel that was cycling but leaving me feeling increasingly empty.

I should note, I wasn’t unhappy on a day to day basis, I just had this increasing existential dread and deep knowledge that there had to be more to my life. Then I was smacked in the face with yet another reminder of how short life is.

So, I decided that the only way to get unstuck was to get lost in order to find myself. I was already feeling lost, but maybe a change of continent and culture would help alter my perspective enough to bring some answers. Unfortunately, I first needed to figure out what the actual question is that I need answering.

As 2016 wrapped up I sublet my beloved Davis Square apartment. I packed up my life and placed my things in a storage unit. I bought a one-way ticket to Paris, said my see you laters and flew out on the evening of February 6th.

Airline tickets from Boston to Lisbon and Paris
My One-Way Departure Tickets
Traveling Solo – 146 days later…

That is the story of how I have ended up sitting here in Verona, Italy. While I have gained 8 pounds, I have gained no more supreme knowledge. I’m still no closer to knowing the question, and I feel no less lost.

This is how I come to sit here, traveling solo, in the midst of both a solid mid-life crisis and a terrible bout of writer’s block. Between wi-fi issues and anxiety, I’ve found myself wondering what this travel blog is supposed to be.

This morning in the shower I had yet another, “This is not what this was supposed to be” as I felt overwhelmed by the backlog of content I haven’t finished for the site. Then I realized that my version of what was supposed to be was not aligning with the universe. So this is my moment of reckoning as I realize what I do not want this site to be.

What IS Tasty Travelogue?

There are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of identical travel blogs. All pushing the best this and that. Is any of it the very best? No, taste is subjective. My best is no better than your best, they are just different.

I do not want to talk AT you, providing an endless page after page of trite lists of places that will come and go. This is not to insult those travel websites and blogs that do that. There are so many wonderful travel bloggers out there, and they LOVE writing these lists, but for me, it feels like I am missing something.

For me personally, I feel compelled to have a more meaningful conversation with all of you. I want to talk to you about life and as cliched and buzzwordy as the term is… I require more authenticity at this point in my life.

So that is the conversation, the ups and downs of a life spent on the road and how sometimes it really sucks. How long-term travel isn’t always exciting, and how it can actually be disappointing at times.

When you are an extrovert, traveling solo can be filled with a deep loneliness that was unexpected. But despite that potential disappointment and loneliness, I do believe travel is vital. There is joy and wonder and knowledge to be had from it.

I truly believe that being uncomfortable is vital to our personal growth. Because in order for any of us to truly know we are in the right place, we have to first get lost and understand what are the wrong places. I’m not talking about dangerous places, just square peg/round hole places. In order to find yourself, you need to get lost first.

What about the PLACES and the FOOD?!

No worries, I will still write about “my” best places in the cities that I have found. I’m a foodie and I love discovering new places and sharing them. I have so many places I have been that I will share with you in the weeks to come. After all, this travelogue is about trying to truly taste life and everything that comes with it.

Dinner while traveling solo - Bucatini all'Amatriciana in Verona Italy
Bucatini all’Amatriciana in Verona Italy

Sometimes the conversation will be funny, but not always. Life isn’t always entertaining, and it is important that in the age of social media we find our way back to some sense of authenticity.

As I wrap up this piece,  I laugh because in the midst of this seriousness there is a sudden disruption from above. Apparently, the man in the room above loves to sing quite loudly, yet he is so terribly off key that the ridiculousness of it means I can’t be upset. He sounds like a donkey in labor, but he’s owning it. His unabashed joy is something we should all strive for.

Unless it is 1 AM. Then maybe hold off til tomorrow. 

 

 

2 Comments
  1. Michele, I can feel your frustration and sympathize with your wonderment. It’s not easy being alone, being somewhere unfamiliar, being unsure of your calling, unsure of your finances – much less all of that at once! I can tell you that I have rarely met as competent a decision maker as you. I was thoroughly impressed with your thought process behind going abroad, the revenue ideas you would implement along the way, and the amount of research you did in order to plan your route, You have reacted to changes quickly and with wisdom.

    While clarity and undeniable purpose have yet to surface, know that we who know you, who want you to succeed and flourish, and have consummate faith in your creative energy all believe in you and your mission. You are a unique and brave person, exhibiting determination and freedom that we all want to have and admire you for. We send you virtual hugs, love, and support every minute you are out there pushing your comfort zone wider.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us. Travel on, intrepid one!

    Stephen

  2. Michele,
    Enjoyed this candid post, cracked me up, provided insight and ah-ha’s that other seasoned travelers can understand, thank you.

    Dig those stats…
    Althea

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