Tuesday Tirade: Know Your Strengths, and Lack-There-Of.

Trigger warning: Feelings of self-realization and having to be honest about your intentions and abilities may occur. If the shoe fits…wear it.

I’m not interested in showing you how to “quit your 9-5” or “live your best life.” I’m a practical, independent, hard working woman from New York. Those sound like personal problems, and I stand to gain nothing from helping you out with all that. I have a family to help support, dreams of my own, and bills to pay. All of which require hard work.

I’m a story teller. I’m a teacher. I’m a writer. I have both degrees in English literature and literacy (reading and writing effectively.) There’s a lot of things I suck at, but I’m a damn good writer. It’s a talent I’ve been given praise on since as long as I can remember. I’ve been inducted into academic honor societies for it, and I’ve won contests for it. Writing essays, stories, posts, is not difficult for me at all. Articulating my ideas and being persuasive in what I say through writing is not difficult for me at all. Writing is my joy, my passion, and my talent. If writing is difficult for you, then you are not a writer.

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Some days, being a teacher is the worst job. But, 85% of the time, I love my job. On any given day at my job, my role is to inspire children who have otherwise lost hope in themselves and in society. I’m immensely fulfilled knowing that I provide (hopefully) an environment where my students re-build their confidence, learn more about the world in a fun way, and at least for 40 minutes of the day, feel safe and valued. I take pride that my honest and consistent hard work allows me to contribute to my relationship financially, gives us health insurance, and allows me to make money for travel and leisure. Do I dream of running off to some island where life is simpler? Sure. But, I know that some things are more important than running off to live on some island, like making sure my family has reliable health insurance and making sure I have a life insurance plan that takes the burden off of my family should anything happen to me. It’s important that I have a pension so I don’t have to work until I’m 80 and it’s important that I have a savings in case of emergency. So, no. I don’t think I should quit my job, run off to St. Croix, and become a “digital nomad.” My blog is something I write for fun, I don’t need anyone to sponsor my trips for me, I can do it on my own, and that is something I’m proud to have achieved. ‘

My blog isn’t polished and it isn’t perfect, and I don’t care. However, I’m more than certain that if I put legitimate effort into it, stopped using salty and less than lady like language, and stopped dropping my metaphorical balls on everything I write with the force of a sledgehammer, I could make it as a “travel blogger.” However, who knows? Because it’s becoming apparent that travel blogging has less to do with one’s ability to actually write, and more to do with “how freaking adorbs” their blog page looks. There is more time spent on “cute-if-ying” blog pages than worrying about quality of writing, and it’s sickening.

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While many a “travel bloggers” use “swirly teal, pink and white girly font” like it’s going out of style (and trust me, it is) I write everything in bold faced black. While the average “travel blogger” is petite and blonde, I’m curvy and dark haired. The typical “travel blogger” LOVES yoga, smoothies, beaches, and positivity. Most of my travels stories focus on my battles with anxiety, drinking with interesting characters, making questionable choices, not getting enough sleep, and never feeling like I have my shit together. I’ll take a coconut margarita over coconut water any day. I’ll take an entire plate of cheese fries to the face over chia smoothies any day. I will take dancing until I’m a sweaty mess on the dance floor with my friends over real exercise any day. I’m not anti yoga, I like it, and Lord knows I meditate every day, but because it actually helps me get my life together, not because it’s “super ‘grammable.” While most writers use a style that is neutral and like VERY encouraging and lovable, I write how I speak. I’m interested in sharing my stories, and if they resonate with you, great. If they don’t…I don’t care. The biggest praise for me is when I get told that I’m “witty” or “authentic.” Witty and assertive in one’s beliefs is something you can’t copy or fake. You either ARE that way, or you are not.

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Speaking of copying, take a look at every travel Instagram and blog. I’d wager 90% of them, for the most part, looks exactly the same. It looks like a valley girl ate a shit ton of cotton candy, glitter, and magic and then ejaculated all over the place. No one can stray away from “the ultimate guide” either. Bloggers are even too afraid to use a word other than “ultimate” GOD FORBID it’s labeled as the “definitive” guide. By the way, another pet peeve… “life style coach?” Move over Barbara Corcoran, we’ve got a 24 year old Insta model who can do your job now! Years of experience? Who needs it? She got 40 thousand followers, a draw string bikini from Baby Gap, and a coconut in her hand!

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As an English teacher, of course I think everyone of every ability should write. Writing is fun, it is trans-formative, and it heals. The ability to use words in a multitude of ways to express ourselves is what separates us from the animals. Anyone and everyone should write and even publicize their writing. But, make no mistake, your having a blog does not inherently make you a writer.

Like photography (a skill I don’t have), writing is a skill. The more “blogs” I read (some of which are actually great, and far better than mine) the more I’m personally insulted at having read them. I was writing for fun before it was cool, and before the thought of publishing anything on the internet ever crossed my mind. Why? I like it and I’m good at it. Sickeningly, it’s becoming so obvious that there are people not blogging for fun, or because it is their talent, but because just HAVING a blog MIGHT make them super famous and they might get to take free trips and be an “influencer”.

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What ever happened to knowing your strengths? My Instagram description reads, “shitty photos.” You know why? Because I’m not trying to insult people’s intelligence and I own who I am. I suck at taking photos, I don’t sit and edit my photos all day, because I have a life, so I post what I have. If you suck at writing, how do you have the balls to call yourself a “travel writer?” The complete lack of self awareness is unbelievable, and the problem is becoming pervasive. I don’t call myself a musician just because I sing in the shower, and I don’t call myself an artist just because I color sometimes. Telling me via your blog that, “the food was delicious and the bar was super fun” doesn’t make you the next Julia Alvarez or Gillian Flynn, sorry. Let me guess, the water was also wet at the beach? Sand dry? Thanks for the info.

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Not. everyone. can. be. a. writer. There is a difference between enjoying writing as a hobby and being a writer. Writing a shopping list of what you did in Los Angeles does not make you a writer.

My point in all of this, is the next time I read a comment of, “How do I grow my blog following” the answer is going to be, “Learn how to write.”

Tuesday Tirade: “How do you afford to travel so much?” and other ball-sy remarks.

My whole life, the only time it was ever deemed acceptable to discuss finances was to inquire how much you owe someone or when discussing future goals and needed savings for said goals with my parents. Questions of “how much do you make?” and “How do you afford what you have?” from my mouth would have made my parents blush. Come to think of it, I don’t ever recall my wondering how much someone I know earns in a year or what they can or cannot afford. Odds are, they either make more or less than me, and I’m fine with that either way.

Needless to say, I’m constantly caught off guard when family, friends, and even acquaintances whom I barely speak with feel that they are entitled to an answer to THE pervasive question: “How do you afford to travel (so much)?” This truthfully sets my teeth on edge and makes me tense up.

I don’t doubt that some of these people, are quite innocuous in their asking. Recently, a close friend of mine disclosed that she will be visiting next weekend a place I went to this weekend. She asked in passing how the food prices were, and so I told her. There was not even the slightest bit of discomfort or shock in her asking me this. After all, she’s heading where I’ve already recently been, and her question was clearly genuine and sincere.

But when people who don’t travel…who have no intention on traveling ask me, I get irked. Let me explain the difference. I refer to the question of, “How do you afford to travel?” as the ‘winning ticket effect’. Think about how that question is worded. Look at it word for word. It does not say, “How can I afford to travel, like you?” It’s a question whose answer has little bearing on the interrogator’s life. Why does it matter to you how I personally afford to travel? What business is it of yours how I afford my travels? Why do you believe you’re entitled to know how much I make and exactly how I budget (or don’t) my money to afford my travels? Enter, the ‘winning ticket effect’.

When one lucky person wins the Mega Millions lottery, consider the majority of people’s responses to the news. It is seldom filled with apathy or niceties, but rather, hostility and jealousy. Somehow, we convince ourselves that this person is not worthy of their luck, that we, for whatever reasons, were so much more deserving and that this person should be ashamed for taking away what could have gone to someone better.

What I really hear when people ask me, “How do you afford to travel?” is actually, “Why should you be able to travel the world while I cannot?” In which case, I’m not sure how to answer that. Because I worked hard and diligently from high school through college to obtain a job where I get paid enough to travel? Because I pursued travel with as much fervor, intensity, and passion as I do everything that matters the most to me? Because I’m a good person who always is happy for others and I think I deserve to do what makes me happy? Because I believe you only live once and you should do whatever you have to in order to achieve your dreams? Because I don’t buy new clothes, pocketbooks, appliances, make-up, shoes, hair treatments, and wasteful items from Target and what else would I spend my money on? The list is endless.

There will be readers who tell me I am taking this question the wrong way, but I tend to disagree. As an adult, who generates money at his or her job, who lives on the same planet as I do, you mean to tell me you really don’t know the answer to your own question of how to afford travel? Gee, let’s see. How do you afford something that you want to purchase…Hmm…

For those who are dying for tips, here are some that work for me:

  1. ) Pay for your trip on a credit card little by little and pay it off little by little. (Ex. Purchase airline tickets one year in advance, pay them off before booking the next part of your trip such as hotels or excursions.)
  2. Save your money. I’m not excellent at this. But, I save where I can. I pack my own lunch and breakfast. I only buy new clothes three times and year and the max I spend is $300 each time! I don’t belong to a gym, I’ve lived at home instead of paying rent, and I get my hair done twice a year. I wait 24-48 hours before making a purchase. I pay myself every month, even if it’s only a hundred dollars. I rarely go out drinking or dining with friends, instead, we go to each other’s apartments.
  3. Plan in advance. Again, planning in advance helps you pay for things little by little rather than paying one lump sum all at once. This gives you time to watch flight trends and look for different deals through various search engines.
  4. Off Season FTW. I take risks. I’ve visited the Caribbean during hurricane season and Europe, Asia, and India during the summer, literally the worst and most inopportune times of the year. Why? It’s cheaper and I still get to see it.
  5. Say No to Luxury. Stop splurging where you don’t need to! A hotel room is something you sleep and shower in and that’s it! Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Choose a non glamorous budget option like a Days Inn or hostel rather than a $200 a night mega resort. Eat one meal in your Air BnB a day rather than dropping serious cash for all three meals every day. Pre-game at your lodging or sneak a water bottle full of booze with you around town in your purse (Oh yes, I DID just go there!)
  6. Work your ass off. At my job, we have an affectionate term called “A Per-Session Whore.” Per Session at my school are opportunities to do extra work to get paid per hour. This might include tutoring for the Regents exams on Saturdays, teaching an extra class, curriculum writing, etc. A Per Session Whore is someone who grabs as many of these opportunities as humanly possible. I’m not ashamed to say that last year I taught an extra class for the year as well as two periods of night school several times a week in order to pay off my dream destination wedding in Mexico. I am proud to say we were debt free from our wedding!

Have these tips always kept me debt free? No. But, they certainly have never left me feeling like my head was not above water, they really do help. At the end of the day, travel is a priority the same way a home, a fancy princess wedding, and designer clothes and shoes are to some people. It blows my mind when women will make the case for spending upwards of $50,000 on a “dream wedding” which lasts four hours, but clutch their pearls at the idea of me spending $4,000 on a dream honeymoon around Europe. If something is a priority to you, you do whatever you have to in order to achieve it. That is my answer to how I afford travel. Period.

“Must be nice!” You know what, Susan? It is nice. It’s very nice to travel several times a year. When you write, “must be nice!” to someone…what type of response are you looking for exactly? My social media is full of pictures of me traveling, leading some people to think that this is all that I do. Bear in mind, our social media selves are renditions of our best selves and lives. Things I spend more time doing than traveling:

Crying, grading papers, writing IEPs, attending meetings, visiting family and friends, arguing, worrying, planning lessons, calling families of my students, trying to write my novel, exercising, talking on the phone to my mom who hates texting, watching Netflix, reading, washing my face, brushing my teeth, looking up facts about ancient civilizations, staring at the wall, parallel parking, counting how many ounces of water I drink in a day, food shopping, picking a movie on Prime, listening to the radio…

Should I start posting pictures of all the mundane and normal things I do too, for reference, so that you feel better about the fact that you, me, WE ALL DO THE SAME SHIT 90% of OUR LIVES? After working in the most thankless profession in the world is it OK with you if I take a little vay-cay every now and again to remind me that life doesn’t suck? If you looked inward at all of the blessings you have in your own life, instead of wondering why you don’t have, I bet you would find that your life is just as nice as anyone’s. There are plenty of people who have more than me, who do more than me, who are better than me. That doesn’t mean they are awful people and I am lacking in abundance.

When Will You Slow Down?

When I die.

Enjoy It While It Lasts

Thanks, Deborah A. Downer. If I had a nickel for every time someone told me that I won’t be able to travel as a married woman and as a mother, I could afford to bring all of you with me on my next trip. 42702363_10160960779670603_3945872543159681024_nI’d prefer if you didn’t tell me what I will and will not be able to afford as a future mom someday based on your own financial burdens and woes. While you may have prioritized dance, soccer, organic food, and chess for your children, learning through travel will be a priority for mine. And not traveling because I’m married?! My husband is as big as a travel fiend as I am (albeit a bit more responsible and reasonable.) In fact, we even take separate (gasp!) guys and girls travel trips every year! We don’t believe in stopping each other’s personal goals, dreams, and passions as well as precious time with friends.

So there’s my Tuesday Tirade! I’m curious, what questions do you get asked, (even non travel related) that grind your gears?