personal

On Solo Travel

Over drinks last week, two of my girlfriends and I were discussing a travel phenomenon that we’d just recently noticed:В When you tell people where you’re going on vacation, the first thing they’ll ask is not, “What will you be doing there?” or “How did you decide on that place?” But “Who are you going with?”

Though I’m sure I’ve been guilty of that, myself, it strikes me as so odd! That instead of inquiring about the amazing experiences lying ahead—the restaurants you’ll eat at, the trails you’ll hike, the neighborhoods you’ll explore—most people first want to know who you’ll be with.

I suppose I’m especially attuned to this now, with my fall trip just a few weeks away. Because when I tell people I’m going to Buenos Aires by myself, unless they know me well or have traveled alone, themselves, their reactions tend to be similar: They look impressed. They look surprised. And sometimes, they look like they feel a little sorry for me.

To be completely honest, my solo trips haven’t stemmed from a burning desire to travel alone. It’s more that I have insatiable wanderlust—and if no one is available to join me when I’m ready to go somewhere, I’d much rather head out on my own than miss an opportunity to travel.

Last year, I took my first solo trip in six years. While I was considering it, I was a little nervous about traveling on my own, again. I wondered if I’d get bored and lonely being on my own for so many days. And I worried about my safety in a country with a high murder rate and a dubious public transportation record. Deciding to study Spanish through a school assuaged those fears. I knew I’d definitely meet people to spend time with, when I wanted company. And I’d have plenty of time to be on my own, as well.

I ended up having an amazing time. I met lots of smart, interesting people, climbed a volcano, ate mountains of tortillas, immersed myself in Guatemalan culture and history—and improved my Spanish a ton, too! And I relearned an important lesson I’d forgotten from my first solo travel experiences: That traveling alone is quite a luxury.

Because you can do whatever you want.

You can sleep as late as you choose, go to whatever restaurant you desire (even if it’s the same one a few nights in a row), hit whatever museum looks appealing, and then leave after a few minutes when you realize you’d rather not waste a sunny day inside. As a college kid, I got my first taste of doing things on my own: I went to anВ Australian music festival alone, and spent long days wandering around hip Sydney neighborhoods. On my last pre-Guatemala solo trip, when I was 23, I hit up Lan Kwai Fong bars by myself, and spent one night doing nothing but relaxing and staring out at the Hong Kong skyline for hours.

Those are the kinds of things I’m looking forward to doing in Buenos Aires. I’m excited to rent a studio apartment that’ll serve as my home base, and take my first ballet classes in Spanish. I’m eager to explore different neighborhoods and find a cute cafe where I can get coffee and medialunas every morning. I’ve found a few restaurants I want to try, and I’m seeking places to tango.

None of those activities are all that different from what I do every day in NYC—usually on my own, as well.

Earlier today, Peter sent me this.gif"http://nycexpeditionist.com/img/2013/09/4ngb7yr.gif">iguazu falls

That’s all I want to hear when I tell people about my upcoming trip—no awkward looks of surprise or awe or pity. Just excitement.

(Image via Reddit)

So Long, Summer

ocean city lifeguard stand

My favorite season always comes and goes so quickly. But this summer flew by especially fast.

Now that I’m already looking forward to future summers, I’ve come up with two goals:

  • Buy a beach house.
  • Re-learn how to drive. (To get myself to said beach house.)

Obviously, both goals won’t happen overnight. Especially the first one. But they’re doable!

Here’s the logic behind both:

Mal, Peter and I decided that we want to buy our own beach house in five years, or so. It would prevent us from dealing with the nutty summer rental market. And it would take me eons to save for a decent-sized apartment, here in NYC. So it makes sense to look for a house in an area where my money would go a lot further. And as much as I love NYC more than any place on Earth, even I need frequent escapes from the city, for my own sanity—especially during the summer.

We’re planning to spend the following summers doing a few weekend rentals in various east coast beach towns, to get a sense of their vibes. Hopefully we’ll find one that suits us, and has property within our budget.

As for driving…I am the world’s worst driver. I have a license, but I’m so bad that it’s been seven years since I’ve really been behind the wheel. But over the past few months, I’ve decided that it’s time to relearn. I want the freedom and ability to get around in areas that don’t have public transportation—without having to rely on other people.

I’m actually hoping to check off that goal by next summer—so I can drive myself to our rentals. I figure a few hours of driving a month might get me there?

I’ll keep you posted on how that goes.

(Photo: Ocean City, MD lifeguard stand)

Fall Travel Fantasies

For the past few weeks, I’ve been feeling “meh”—struggling to feel excited about anything, bored with my everyday routine. (Well, except for ballet—the sole bright spots.) Looking at my calendar, and counting down to some upcoming, fun summer events, helped a bit. But the looming shadow of fall and the endless weeks filled with the same old routine just seemed overwhelmingly depressing.

It took me a while to realize I’ve gotten stuck in a rut.

A non-traveling rut.

Last year, at my old job, I had five weeks of vacation—plus five summer Fridays—and I used every single one of those days. At this time, one year ago, I’d already spent a week inВ Panama, had a girls’ weekend inВ Chicago, another one inВ Boston, tookВ a three-day running trip, and was taking lots of three-day weekends to visit Mal and Peter inВ Maryland. Plus, I had two weeks inВ GuatemalaВ on the horizon.

I’ve just realized that this year is half-over and I’ve only taken three days to go toВ Eleuthera. And I have no big trip planned for the fall. Part of this is due to having a new job and far fewer vacation days, and feeling hesitant to take any. But I’ve realized that because of this, I’ve been reading less travel articles, daydreaming less about where to go next—and dragging myself down, as a result.

My blog tagline pretty much sums me up: I love travel, ballet and my hometown of NYC. I need them all in a way that’s hard to articulate and, I assume, difficult for other people to understand,В unless they feel the same way about something. I can’t be without any of the three for an extended amount of time without feeling off. (When it comes to travel, I don’t need to go far or spend tons of money—if that were the case, I wouldn’t have gone anywhere during the last 10 years. I just need to goВ somewhere…every few weeks, if possible!)

So yesterday, I decided to pull myself out of my travel rut. I decided I would definitely plan a fall trip—even if it ends up being another solo journey. And IВ started to think about all the places I could explore. I took a Chile travel guide off my bookshelf and read it on the subway. (I’ve still yet to go there.) Just envisioning Torres del Paine and Parque NacionalВ Los Glaciares lifted my spirits. And since then, I’ve felt more energized and optimistic than I have in ages.

Pretty amazing what a little determination and positive thinking can do.

torres del paine

…if you have any ideas about where I should go, please let me know! I’m still figuring it out and would love some suggestions.

(Torres del Paine photo byВ Steffen Sauder via Wikitravel)

Another Reason to Do What You Love

…because that’s how you’ll learn the most, according to none other than Albert Einstein, himself.

I recently stumbled upon a beautiful letter he wrote to his son, Hans Albert, age 11, back in 1915. In it, he alludes to the separation between them (Hans Albert was living in another city with Einstein’s estranged wife), as well as the theory of relativity, which he’d just completed. But he wraps up the note with this sage advice:

I am very pleased that you find joy with the piano. This and carpentry are in my opinion for your age the best pursuits, better even than school. Because those are things which fit a young person such as you very well. Mainly play the things on the piano which please you, even if the teacher does not assign those. That is the way to learn the most, that when you are doing something with such enjoyment that you don’t notice that the time passes. I am sometimes so wrapped up in my work that I forget about the noon meal. . .

einstein

So true. Doing something you love and seeing what you’ve learned or how you’ve grown in the process is really one of the most gratifying things.

(Photo via Pinterest; quote found via Brain Pickings)

Ballet-versary

On Saturday, I received a very nice, unexpected email: The Ailey Extension, where I take ballet, wished me a happy anniversary. It’s been exactly four years since I started taking ballet again, after a five year hiatus.

At the time, I had no idea I was making one of the best decisions of my life. I just knew I needed a change. It was the height of the recession, and I’d recently been laid off from my job. I was scraping by with whatever freelance writing and editing projects I could get. I was in a dead-end relationship. And I was bored with the workout routine I’d had for years: going to the gym, jogging 3 miles, lifting weights.

I figured ballet might be the best way to get me out of the rut I was stuck in. I’d danced for 10 years as a kid, took a break during high school, danced through college, then stopped. Ballet had always been my favorite style. It felt natural, in a way that jazz, hip hop and tap never did. After college, I’d taken a few ballet classes, but felt so out of shape and discouraged after each, that I couldn’t bring myself to return. This time, four years ago, I felt ready to get back into it. For real.

I looked up classes at a number of NYC studios and decided to take Kat Wildish‘s advanced beginner class at Ailey. Kat’s name sounded familiar, and I thought I might have taken her, back in the day, when I was in college.В The class was at a good time and location. Plus, I’d never been to Ailey before. It seemed like the right place to start fresh.

At my first class, there were lots of people who were way better than I was. But the students represented a wide range of abilities, ages and backgrounds, which made me feel comfortable. Many seemed familiar with the class’s rhythms and routines, which indicated they came often—a good sign. And, as I was teetering during one of the first balances at the barre, Kat strolled over and told me I was balancing all wrong—and that she could push me over. Which she did. It felt like a challenge to do better, and I wanted to prove I could. (In case you’re wondering, I was balancing with my weight over my heels instead of my toes.)

When I left that class, I felt energized and inspired, instead of defeated. I started returning regularly, first once a week, then twice a week. Then three or four times a week. I started pointe, for the first time. (That’s a whole other story!) After a year, I worked up the nerve to try the Intermediate class. Over time, I began opting for that over the Advanced Beginning level. Last year, I finally felt confident enough to get onstage again (after eight years!) and perform in a few student showcases.

I was lucky to find a teacher who inspires and challenges me every class. But even so, getting back into ballet shape was a slow process! It was like relearning a language. Each class, I’d hear words and phrases I hadn’t thought of in years, and then have to remember what they were and how to do them. After flubbing combinations in the center (and feeling like an idiot), I’d go over them in my head, on subway rides home, and type them in my iPhone, so I wouldn’t make the same mistakes again. I’d also note down all the corrections I’d been given, and commit them to memory. (Two practices that I still do.) And I’ve worked for every iota of flexibility and extension I have!

I always loved ballet, but I appreciate it so much more as an adult. It’s wonderfully challenging, because you can study forever and never be perfect. At the same time, it’s gratifying to see how my hard work pays off, in the ways I’ve been able to improve. After a long day of sitting at a computer, it feels amazing to stretch and move to live music. Plus, it’s given me part of my identity that’s not tied to what I do for a living.

Ballet has also afforded me a consistency that’s been lacking in other areas of my life. During the past four years, I’ve changed jobs and careers, apartments and relationships. Friends have left NYC and I’ve made new ones. Mal and Peter moved away and came back. Throughout all that, I’ve been able to rely on ballet as one thing that always makes me happy and allows me to be in the moment and escape everything else.

…and it’s a hell of a lot more fun than loping along on a treadmill, day after day!

I’m looking forward to celebrating many more ballet-versaries in the years to come.

heather eng

Hello, 30!

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As I write this, I’m in the last hours of my 20s! In just a short time, I’ll be entering a new decade.

A lot of people I know were/are freaked out about turning 30, but I’m actually ready.

My twenties felt like a period of trial and error. Sure, there were lots of really good times. But there were also many occasions when I felt like I was bumbling through life, unsure of how I’d ever get to a place where I truly felt content.

In my early twenties, I was singly focused on my career. All I wanted to do was climb the ladder and amass bylines in as many publications as possible. I’m proud of what I accomplished then (hundreds of stories written between the time I was 21 and 25), but I pushed myself so hard that I was constantly stressed about work.

It took a while, but eventually, I realized that my job didn’t have to be my life. It was around this time, when I was 26, that I started taking ballet again (after a 5 year hiatus!) and it brought me incredible happiness. Even though I was super-rusty, I loved (and still love) working towards something that had nothing to do with my career. Having that helped me establish a better work-life balance. And, at 27, since I was a little older and wiser, I felt more confident making decisions at work—and really believed in my abilities.

At 28, I thought I had everything figured out.

But I didn’t.

A string of events in the first few months of my 29th year made me question everything—and that’s when I really took a good look at my life, thought about what I wanted to accomplish (I actually made a list), who I wanted to become and how I could make myself truly happy. Then I set out to do it.

That’s how 29 ended up being one of the hardest but best years of my life. In the past 12 months, I took a solo trip to Guatemala, learned Spanish,В performed onstage three times (I hadn’t since college!), ran a road race (first one in six years), В started a new job, restarted this blog (!) and tookВ many, many, many fun trips with loved ones.

All those things have made me happier, more optimistic and more confident than ever before. Sure, there are still many goals I’ve yet to achieve. But at least now I feel like I can, while enjoying the journey, too—something I was never able to do for most of my 20s.В And that’s what I always imagined my 30s to be like.

…I can’t wait to see what this decade will bring!

(Image via Pinterest)

A New Beginning in November

backflip

You probably wouldn’t have guessed from my entries over the past few weeks, but October was a bit of a tough month for me. Nothing spectacularly bad or life-changing happened. I was just under the weather for almost four weeks, which felt like an eternity—and not feeling well for that long had me feeling down and out of sorts. (First I had a horrible cold, then caught whatever Mal had at the Grand Canyon, then had my wisdom teeth removed and experienced a complication with one, then the hurricane hit…)

I’ve found that when I’m feeling down about something, it helps me to look ahead—literally, to flip through the months in my iPhone calendar—and choose a date when I know I will be out of the situation and feeling much better. And while I’m moving forward, I’ll look to that date as often as I need to and remember that things are improving. Earlier this year, I was going through a particularly trying time. I gave myself three months to feel mostly better and six months to be 100% healed. This time, I didn’t need nearly as long. I chose November 1 as my all-better day.

Sure, illnesses and natural disasters are out of my control. But just reminding myself that happier days are ahead did boost my mood a great deal. And now that we’re a few days into November, I can happily report that my colds are gone, all my wisdom teeth have healed and I was super-lucky to have made it through the hurricane without any major troubles.

This quote, which I stumbled upon via Shoko’s blog a few weeks ago, puts it perfectly:

no feeling it final

Definitely wise words to keep in mind!

How do you deal with trying times? I’d love to hear your thoughts. And thanks to everyone who reached out to me during the hurricane—I was touched by your concerns and good wishes!

(Top photo via Travel, Culture, Books and Tea—though if you know the photographer or the setting of this shot, please share! Bottom image via Shoko.)