Looking for adventure? Step out of your comfort zone.

My first guest post! Check out Norma Wallace’s thoughts on Solo Travel.

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“I remember reading Rafif’s post about solo travel and realized I have a story to tell.

At first, I thought ‘no big deal – I have traveled alone before, in my 20s.’ Oh, that was 54 years ago. Things have changed!

green rice field
Photo by Johannes Plenio on Pexels.com

A friend asked if I felt comfortable driving 200 miles and going through Portland.

I said, “No, I am not comfortable— but I need to get out of my comfort zone if I am going to have any adventure in my life.”  So after reading Rafif’s blog I thought I would put a positive spin on traveling alone.  I was going to have a good time.

The first obstacle was a fire that closed the highway for 1.5 hours. Luckily, I had a good book in my purse. I read while I waited for the highway to open.  The next obstacle was traffic. I was so thankful for a GPS to tell me where to go. (They didn’t have those 54 years ago!)

The last obstacle, I thought—eating alone. Actually, I was so happy to have gotten through the fire area and the traffic that it was a great relief to be by myself, order the type of food I wanted, and do a little people-watching.

The last obstacle that I haven’t overcome yet: the TV remote in the motel. What happened to just turning on the TV and changing the channel?

Why is every remote different? I will try one more time. Wish me luck.”

~ Norma Wallace

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Traveling with Sneakers. Or: Stuck at the airport.

I’ve grown bored of all the posts and articles that claim to teach us how to travel: things you should know before you go, how to pack, what to pack, how to get upgrades. The information is almost always the same, just recycled with different pictures and minor edits. I stopped paying attention to the advice: “Pack light!” “Roll your stuff!” “Be prepared for different climates!” I’m sure there’s new and fresh information. I wish someone would publish it.

Also: in response to a common question (“how can I not stand out as an American?”), the number one guidance is: “don’t wear sneakers, especially white ones.”

Well, from my perch at Keflavik Airport in Reykjavik (Iceland) this morning, as part of the Itinerary From Hell that is my current trip (will rant about that separately), EVERYONE but me is wearing sneakers.

sneakers
Photography: me. Models: fellow passengers

The sneaker-wearers are women and men of all ages. They are surly teenagers and hyperactive adolescents. The wearers were Americans, Icelanders, Arabs, French, Spanish, and a host of other nationalities I could not readily identify based purely on spoken language.

I know all this because I had a pretty decent amount of time during my layover (did I mention itinerary from hell?) to people-watch quite extensively. (Greatest sport of all time.)

I saw white sneakers, some with stripes, on not-American feet. There were lime-green sneakers and black sneakers and orange sneakers and a few startling shades-of-fuchsia sneakers.

There were a few sparkly sneakers too, worn mostly by 50+ not-American women. Go figure, globalization knows no boundaries nor age groups.

Anyway, because I have time before my next flight, here’s my travel advice:

  1. Pack light, because you just might have a long trip with multiple stops before your final destination. It just may be that the gods will conspire to make every escalator break down and you’ll have to lug your suitcase up and down the stairs to get to the restroom, the gate, and the coffee. These three places are not necessarily on the same floor.
  2. Take a sweater or warm scarf, because who doesn’t travel in 3 different climates on the same trip? If you don’t take some warm clothing, you may find yourself shivering in a corner of Keflavik Airport, trying to discreetly draw warmth from fellow passengers who are appropriately dressed but who now think you’re a creep.
  3. Oh, hell. I give up. Wear the damn sneakers. This is so you “blend in” when experiencing 1 and 2 above.

I survived the trip. Looking back over the past 24 hours, now that I’m back in Istanbul and finally warm, I’d say it was a tiring but good day. I got lucky with my seats on each leg of the trip: an exit row, an aisle seat on an overbooked flight, and a near-empty row on the last. It could have been so much worse.

The 30-year degree. Or: how I finally just did it.

This post is adapted from one I wrote for American University in Washington, DC, a couple of years ago.

In the late 80s, I wanted to go back to school for my graduate degree. I was thinking I would go back to my alma mater, American University’s School of International Service. But I found a “real” job in a different field and begin to make “real” money. Graduate school, meh.

In the late 90s, I wanted to go back to school. But no, I couldn’t take the time. I was a freelance writer, finding a lot of work in writing government proposals for large companies. I realized I was just not cut out for 9-5, office politics, or clawing my way to the top. I worked hard at developing my growing client list. I was able to manage the peaks and valleys of customer demand. Anyone who works as a freelancer has experienced the “feast or famine” of non-traditional employment.

In 2005, I wanted to go back to school. But no, I couldn’t. I had two babies at home (they are now 16 and 14!). I had been in and out of Corporate America, pretending for a short while to claw my way to the top. In 2005, I was alternating between wanting what I thought was professional freedom and needing a stable income. I had developed that combination of freedom and stability by co-founding a small business – which, by the way, is still limping along.

In 2011, I wanted to go back to school. But no, I couldn’t. Syria, homeland of my parents, exploded in a revolution for freedom, dignity, and democracy. I jumped in to support the movement, abandoning family, work, career, and any notion of school. I became a spokesperson for one activist group, then another, and yet another. I wrote articles, opinion pieces, and book chapters on Syria’s revolution. I participated in public debates and started a nonprofit organization called FREE-Syria. I got involved in women’s groups, peace groups, protest groups, and social media groups. I coordinated workshops, facilitated trainings, and gave lectures till I was hoarse. I learned a lot, but I simply did not have time for graduate school.

In 2016, I wanted to go back to school. This had been a dream deferred for nearly 30 years! It was time – as Nike would say – to Just Do It. I stopped thinking about the reasons I didn’t have time. Instead, I focused on all the reasons to make time. I was in “yes, I can” mode.

I applied to AU’s Master of Arts in Strategic Communication program. It was the best I had found in terms of quality, depth, and prestige. Within days, an advisor contacted me. Within weeks, paperwork completed, I got my welcome letter. YES! Yes, I can.

In 2016, I finally went back to school. As you might guess, I was the oldest person in my classes, probably twice the age of the average Masters candidate. In fact, I was probably older than most of my professors. And while my fellow students tended to act a little deferential, at least they didn’t call me Grandma! But everyone –  classmates and professors – taught me something new every day. The class discussions and student interactions kept me engaged; the course materials kept me wanting to learn more. Sometimes the work was challenging; other times it merely validated what I already knew through decades of professional experience.

I really believe that one of the key factors that keeps us motivated is a quest for learning. I think that’s why we go to school and why we travel, make new friends, and seek new experiences. New knowledge just complements and enhances our toolkit of life experiences.

Masters degree
Tens of thousands of dollars and I-don’t-know-how-many-hours-later…

Anyway…

In 2018, I received my Masters in Strategic Communication. Because I learned to stop making excuses. Because I knew I could spend another few decades saying no, I can’t. Because I finally had that moment of clarity: yes, I can. And yes, I did.

I’m sure everyone out there has their own stories of personal achievement. What are some of yours?