Travelling Changes your Personal Aesthetic

Courtesy of Jezebel:

backpacker

When I quit my job in New York to go backpacking in South America, I agonized over what to pack. I couldn’t, for instance, not bring my Ferragamo flats, even if it meant ruining their soles on dirt paths and crumbling cobblestones. I certainly couldn’t leave behind my beloved red lipstick—I wanted it for nights out salsa dancing, or when I needed to feel myself. It was a reliable pick-me-up, an armor against insecurity. But I left behind everything else: my makeup bag full of OPI and Essie nail polishes in shades of red and gray and green, expensive top-coats with specks of gold glitter, black eyeliner and mascara and dozens of tubes of lipstick—neutral to crimson to pretty in pink. I’d left my satin gloves and pearl necklaces and flapper dresses.

Consciously, I’d decided to leave behind the New York fantasy I had built for myself, a fantasy built in no small part on clothes. Still, I refused to buy a pair of hiking shoes. I couldn’t stand the way they looked: clumsy, heavy, ugly mud brown.

I wore a v-neck t-shirt, jeans, and an old cardigan at the airport. I did not feel myself. I sat across a perfectly coiffed Colombian woman with a Hermès Birkin in her lap. I frantically texted my friend: I feel so underdressed. My hiking backpack, with its countless, messy straps, didn’t lend me an air of sophistication.

I love clothes. I always have. In the earliest days when fashion blogs were just beginning to sprout, I posted daily outfits to a Flickr group. Fashion was novel and exciting, and it was a way to distinguish myself. I loved losing myself in editorials, in beauty and glamour. I loved the transformative power of clothes, how changing your outfit meant changing your persona.

On the road, my aesthetic changed. It was a slow, subtle process. It became looser and easier the longer I was away. In New York I loved silk shirts and tailored blazers and pencil skirts. In South America, I bought feather earrings and macramé necklaces made from natural stones. My single pair of jeans became worn out with holes. I never put on my red lipstick. And I learned the depth of my mistake about the hiking shoes: I went hiking for the first time in the rocky, jagged mountains of Colombia wearing gym shoes that had tractionless white soles. It was completely miserable.

So I stopped worrying about it, and I got hiking shoes. There was so much more to do. There were hikes to go on and waterfalls to swim in and cities to explore. If anything, I wanted to play down my Western clothes. It was easier to explore Latin America as a young woman alone if I was less conspicuous, and so it was jeans and t-shirts and a local bag. On the nights I did go out with fellow travelers, everyone else was rumpled too. At least I had my Ferragamos. That was the only thing that tied me to the past, my fancy New York persona. Once, someone recognized the brand and laughed. They became worn down, too, holes on the toes, the heels. I took them to a cobbler in a small Peruvian city, and afterwards, the shoes looked industrial. I could have cried. I desperately missed my favorite cobbler in Williamsburg, who worked miracles restoring the shoes once every couple of months.

Still, there was a certain joy in abandoning myself to the world around me, which meant becoming a hippie. The travelers who dressed very well—the girls with heels in their backpack—were a different kind of traveler: prone to dancing and drinking in hostels full of Westerners, and not so much exploring dusty, neglected towns and mountains with unmarked trails alone.

After seven months of backpacking in South America, I came back to New York for a visit.

I felt shocked by the style all around me. I kept staring at clothes of strangers. I admired the gold buckles of boots and the sharp silhouettes of coats. I looked at stylish haircuts and dangling earrings. I’d been lost for so long in a world of Keen sandals and alpaca sweaters.

“You look exhausted,” a friend told me at dinner. We were at a West Village restaurant that served complicated classics: tiny corn dog appetizers paired with curated sauces. I felt the sting even as I smiled and said, oh, I’m not.

I was happy, actually, overwhelmed by the sudden return to the city, the Western world, but blissed-out from my travels. But then again: I wasn’t wearing makeup. My t-shirt had holes in the neckline. My woven bag from Colombia was tattered and pilled.

It shouldn’t have mattered. But so much of my identity as a New Yorker had been built around a certain attitude, a certain look. It alarmed me that, so quickly, I’d become a stranger.

So I left again. Traveling in Asia, I became fully unrecognizable in comparison to old selfies: me with lush bangs, cat eyeliner. On the road, sometimes I’d dig up the photos and show them to the people I met. What happened, a man in China exclaimed. He was not enthusiastic about my short hair, my makeup-free face. In big cities in China, it set me apart as an outsider, where most young women looked like dolls in pastel-hued dresses. Sometimes, I got the hippie approval. A rock climber in Yangshuo told me it suited me better. Mostly, I agreed.

Nearly two years after I first left, I moved back to New York. I didn’t think I’d stay—I only intended to visit before heading off on another trip. But then I fell back in love with the city, and I couldn’t go.

This time, I had only my backpacking clothes (all of it fit inside one tote bag). For the winter, I bought just one new thing: a black wool coat that I wore every day. Remarkably, my backpacker clothes served just as well in NYC.

This time, I found the balance between two worlds that once felt contradictory. Now, I wear clothes until they are absolutely undone. Half of my wardrobe comes from my travels: oversized cotton shirts and long linen skirts, pashmina scarves and wool shawls from China, Peru, Nepal. I’m still fond of clothes that let you walk long hours and sleep on couches, clothes for grass and sand and mountains, clothes that are quickly washable and not so delicate. And I’ve also grown fond, again, of my city shoes and fancy jewelry: leather oxfords and loafers with intricate beading, a ring of diamonds and rose gold.

The only thing I’ve left behind for good is the performance of beauty. When my friends tell me about new hair treatments or shopping trips to Sephora, I listen blankly. But then, still, some days, I curl my lashes, sweep on blush, and put on tinted lip balm. But I don’t spend too much time before the mirror. Instead, I go for long walks in neighborhoods I don’t know, and turn my face up to the sun.

Laura Yan is a writer, wanderer, and sketcher of strangers. She does not know where she is going next. She tweets @noirony.

Photos via Laura Yan.

Making Lemonade

This summer was supposed to be our epic, legendary trek to London, Paris, and Reykjavik. However! We also decided, some time after that inital travel plan, to sell our rental property. To sell this property we need to have money for light renos and fluffing that are beyond regular staging. And we will need to carry that property until the sale closes, which will require patience and fortitude. And money.

This summer is the last one in which I can travel for an extended period of time with both of my midgets. Boy is 14 now, and is already at an age when I expected him to have a summer job. But, it’s all just shit talk until you are raising your own offspring. Next summer when he is 15, he will have a job earning minimum wage, keeping him occupied.

So what to do? Time is of the essence. I decided to use Airbnb to rent out our own living quarters, to raise some funds we can use to travel. I also scaled back our plans to make them more finanically reasonable but still adventurous. I tossed around many ideas, from a road trip in Canada or US, to flying somewhere on the west coast or east coast. Once you add plane travel, a trip gets a lot more expensive of course, but cheap accommodation can make up for that. 

I landed on a trip to Central America or the Caribbean. I found a wonderful rental, very close to the beach, in the Dominican Republic. All of us will fly down there for a 3-week stay, the same length of time we have renters in our own house. The flights are not outrageously priced, and the accommodations are cheap and cheerful. We are getting a little bit of adventure, a lot of relaxation, and all at a price that doesn’t stress me out. Our era of family travelling is going out with a bang.

The Balancing Act of Buying Airline Tickets

Duration vs. Price vs. Number of Stops

And if there is a long layover (13 hours or more), hotel costs have to factor into the overall price. And don’t forget how to get to the hotel when all of the travellers are already feeling bedraggled, having risen at 5 am to get to the airport. The adrenaline rush associated with travel has long since worn off, probably at the precise moment the airline ‘meal’ arrived at your fold-down table. Yes I know, creating edible food for the masses is extremely difficult. Still. Ick.  But we are always hungry by that point (and don’t know what the next meal will contain or when it will be available) and so we always eat what we are served.

Add to this the general confusion at the in-between airport, where we need to find the next gate, and get through security for that gate (take off shoes, put all belongings onto a conveyor belt to be x-rayed, submit our passports and possibly dignity if we need a personal pat-down by security). It’s no small process. At the airport in Frankfurt we were very worried about making our connecting flight, AND we were each patted down. I had a female pat-ter, but I still didn’t appreciate having my genitals touched a few times during that process. I was wearing yoga pants, so I’m not sure what they thought I could have concealed there.

At this point, I’m looking at long layovers on our way to our destination because non-stop flights are way too expensive. This situation leads me to explore what airport lounges might be available at our in-between airports. This is not to say we qualify, but sometimes you can purchase a day pass. I was excited when google turned up this gem. But one can expect only so much from an airport lounge. There are comforts available there such as refreshments, wifi, and nice chairs (which probably recline and don’t have armrests that restrict leaning over to one side), but there is definitely NO SLEEPING allowed in any of them. This means we would need a hotel nearby to rest for about 10 hours. This means we would have to take our carry-ons on quite a journey (reminds me of The Mission) through the huge airport (because they are all huge, being hubs and all), into a taxi, and to a hotel to check in. However, I suppose we aren’t adding any security clearances to our trip, as we would have to go through security even if we stay at the airport.

It’s pretty frightening to me when I read articles saying how insecure our airports are, considering all of the scrutiny all travelers endure.

I draw the line at 2 stops per direction. Or I try to. If the connections have good spacing (~2 hours seems to be good), and the ticket price reflects this inconvenience, I can sell it to husband and the troops. If there is a single layover for a very long (more than 10 hours and some daytime hours included), maybe the city is interesting enough to squeeze in a meal or museum in between flights. The worst layover seems to be 5 hours. That time is not enough to leave the airport, and is too long to be happy about hanging around a building in which all the diversions (stores or food) are barely passable and oh-my-god expensive.

Before I book airline tickets I look at dozens of web sites and perform hundreds of searches for nearby airports on various dates to see what our best options are. Basically I’m what a travel agent used to be before the great unwashed (including me) each got personal computers and discovered travel web sites.

I have read lots of articles on how to get the best prices – travel on a Tuesday or Wednesday, accept long layovers, watch carefully for sales, adjust your travel dates, etc. etc. Recently I read an Ask Me Anything on Reddit from a travel agent who says clearing one’s cookies before performing a search (or search while in Incognito Mode) is not necessary; the fluctuations in prices are due to there being hundreds of thousands of people searching at the same time you are, and some of those people booking tickets or cancelling them.

The search continues…

The sun on my face

At this time of year, each sunny day is a rare blessing. The dogs and I wandered around on the beach, recognizing that today is wonderful.

Remembrance Day has come once again. A few years ago I was standing in Normandy, at Point de Hoc in particular, gazing at the water and marvelling at all of the evocative scenery and landmarks. There are bomb craters still left there although they are now covered in grass. We investigated the bunkers, taking in the details such as the charred walls. The whole day was sobering and impressive. The beautifully maintained monuments in the American cemetery (I really think we could have eaten off the platform on one of them), the perfectly groomed grass around each grave marker, the American employees speaking heavily accented French but speaking it nonetheless, were all part of a very rich experience.

Later this morning I’ll head to girl midget’s school for their ceremony. Boy midget’s school has something this afternoon. I’ll probably go to that too; it isn’t often I have the time and inclination to attend these school gatherings. Besides, much more noble to attend ceremonies honouring veterans than to rake leaves, even though the latter is more ‘productive’.

Planning myself into a ball of stress

Gah, I am in the throes of trip planning for next summer. Originally, for various reasons (English-speaking country desired, getting in touch with our roots) we chose Ireland as our big summer 2015 destination.

So, I mocked up an itinerary, complete with educated calculations for flights, camper rental, fuel, site seeing fees, camp site fees, and meals. All of it calculated and then converted to our currency. Behind these numbers is a wealth of research into site seeing must-dos, a driving route around the entirety of Ireland, how much time to allow at each site, where we are sleeping and how much gas we will use. So, a lot of research. I’m the kind of traveler who thinks that if a little bit of site seeing is good, then more is even better. After all, when would we get to Ireland as a family again? Probably never, so I had better make this trip count. We should stretch ourselves physically and financially to see the most meaningful sites, which would amount to a lot of driving, which includes a lot of direction-figuring (nevermind the GPS, we would still have to navigate/concentrate for hours each day) and patience.

3+ weeks of that sort of thing doesn’t signify, for me or husband, a relaxing vacation. Heck, not a vacation at all. And having grumpy parental figures doesn’t usually equate a vacation for the midgets either, I have found. Our greatest trip we have taken en famille so far was to Paris, where we stayed for a full month. I had drawn up daily itineraries from which we could choose, and either during the night before or breakfast that day would make a decision on what we are going to do that day. There were days when we didn’t do much of anything except wander around our neighbourhood and stop for impromptu picnics where appropriate (i.e. wherever there was a patch of grass and a need for us to stop for a break).

Thus, Ireland has been scrapped, pretty much. I quickly looked at the tally for the trip and thought about going to an all-inclusive beach or something, but with that money we would be able to afford just 1 week. And as an educational type trip for the midgets, an all-inclusive beach vacation falls short.  So.  After conferring with husband and with boy midget who is now 13 and so has opinions (which I make him stand up for because otherwise he can mouth off without backing up those opinions with hard facts/work/plans), we have tentatively decided on London UK. The reasoning is that, we can have 1 home base for a few weeks there, and can follow the same sort of pattern as in Paris: we would have some day trips planned and we would choose what to do on what day. Less rigid than the Ireland trip and hopefully therefore a bit easier too. To offset the cost of staying in such an expensive city, we would eat breakfast at the apartment and pack a lunch, probably. Dinners out are inevitable because by the end of the day I’m not interested in cooking/cleaning/etc. I mean HFS I don’t like the dinner routine when I’m at home, much less on vacation. Now of course, because we would already be in Britain, I figure we should make the trek to see Edinburgh and Hadrian’s wall. And if we’re going that far up we should go to Fort William or Inverness. And if we’re doing that, we should stay in Scotland for a week and maybe even go to Isle of Skye. You see what I’m getting at here? I can’t stop myself, and before I know it I’ve planned myself into a tiring, extravagant trip. I’m working on curtailing that but so far I haven’t had much luck.

Tonight we have more people checking into our airbnb lodging, and boy midget is doing the cleaning. For this I give him the cleaning fee ($25), which is a great income for him. All I need to do is gather up the required cleaning supplies and then inspect his work when he is finished.

Is it too late to work on a garden, halfway through a cool summer? Because I need to do something with the backyard.

 

Airbnb vs VRBO and Internet Stalking

As you might know, I have a listing that advertises our apartment for short term rental on Airbnb.com. So far the experience has been positive, and we have renters for most of the summer. I am thinking ahead to winter though, our off season and so am looking for ways to increase our exposure in the marketplace. That thought process led to me looking into VRBO.com.

Vacation Rentals By Owner is very well known to the online market, and so I figured it would be a good place to advertise. It’s way different than Airbnb in terms of commissions and listing priority. Airbnb has only 1 option for payment, and that is a commission-based system that you manage yourself. VRBO has a pay-per-booking option or yearly subscription. Within these categories are options to have an agent or property manager handle your entire rental process or to do it yourself (a la Airbnb).  I began building my listing on VRBO after deciding on the pay-per-booking option. I don’t know what sort of increase in bookings I can expect, so I want to try it out before committing for a full year subscription of $350. VRBO is trying really hard to get everyone onto the yearly subscription program, and they do this by making the commission option really unattractive. The per booking option pays them 10% commission on each booking, plus you get paid your rental income 1 week after the party has checked out. That’s a big difference from Airbnb, which takes a 3% fee from hosts for each booking and hosts are paid 24 hours after the guest checks in.

Furthermore, if you buy a yearly subscription for VRBO, your listing takes priority in the search results. Airbnb is much more egalitarian and tumbles the results for search results so that listings take turns being displayed at the top.

And what about the people who are renting from us? How do we know we can trust perfect strangers in our home? Especially for those hosts who are offering rooms in their homes and not self-contained apartments or entire houses. Airbnb makes renters and hosts alike create a profile. In this profile you put your picture, likes and dislikes, and general info about yourself. Then you can link your Airbnb profile to your Facebook profile and your LinkedIn profile. As a host I feel more confident renting out when I can see a photo and get a sense of a renter’s personality. Likewise, renters like to read my profile to see what I’m about.

Another feature on Airbnb that makes it an attractive option for me is that hosts and renters review each other regularly. This info increases knowledge about each other and therefore the comfort factor for all parties involved.

Guess what? VRBO doesn’t have profiles nor reviews.

Yesterday, as I was building my VRBO listing I had to pause at the photo step because my photos are not located on my laptop. So, I walked away from that with the intention of picking it up later. Meanwhile, I received a phone call from a VRBO sales rep located in Texas. HFS! I hadn’t even finished my listing and VRBO was stalking me. Even with all I know about online monitoring, and how all activity is accessible, etc etc etc, I was creeped out. Nonetheless I talked to this rep to find out a little more about VRBO policies. That’s how I learned about the priority listing, 10% commission, lack of profiles for hosts and renters, and lack of reviews of each. The rep suggested that when I received a rental inquiry (assuming I listed with them) that I should phone up the prospective renter to chat and find out about them. I can’t think of anything more futile and ridiculous. Srsly?! I replied to him that it’s rare for me to answer my phone if I don’t recognize the number, and I certainly wasn’t going to call others who likely wouldn’t pick up and what can I find out about them via a quick phone call anyway? I wouldn’t be able to tell anything about their renting habits that way either. So then the rep suggested I ask them to forward me a link to their Facebook or LinkedIn profile. So very lame. Why can’t VRBO improve their web site to allow for this information to be automatically displayed? They do, after all, bill themselves as the premier site for advertising vacation properties for rent.

I especially loved the rep’s comment about how VRBO renters are generally ‘a little farther off the ground’ than Airbnb. Ha ha! I’ll take the proletariats any day, as long as I’m being offered more control and increased confidence in my Hosting experience.

 

We Conquered NYC

Yes we did! March Break consisted of us seeing the following sites:

Liberty Island & Statue of Liberty
High Line Park
Chelsea Market (old Nabisco factory)
FAO Schwartz (private pre-opening tour, highly recommended!)
Rockefeller Center
Century 21
Times Square
Cycling in Central Park
Frick Collection
American Museum of Natural History
China Town

Veni Vidi Vici!

Shhhh

Trying to keep my excitement contained but the lid keeps popping off. Husband and I depart for his birthday trip to Paris on Tuesday night.

Paris is our favorite place in the world, currently. We have been there a few times but never on our own. I surprised him for his 60th birthday with a quick trip there. I would love to pack up and move there but that’s not practical at the moment. Maybe not ever. And we still have other countries to explore, so perhaps we will develop another favorite destination at some point.

I got a good deal for a last minute trip, plus the flight there is non-stop and the flight back has just one short layover. And the flight times are fairly civilized. Priceline is my best resource for discount travel. There’s also Vacations To Go, but it’s useful only if you want to go on a cruise. I looked at flights plus renting an apartment in Paris as we have done before, but couldn’t beat the package deal for flights and hotel I found this time.

We could have used our resources this time to see a new city. But with such a short trip, I don’t want to spend much time learning to navigate a new place. In Paris, we already know where we will want to go and how to get there. Valentines day on the Champs Élysées. Gee how boring 🙂

A few things

Most of the time I feel like I have a lot going on in my life; I have many plates I cannot let stop spinning. Lately, husband and I have been dealing with some changes.

Husband runs his own business in a leased retail environment, and a few weeks ago his landlord served him notice that landlord wants to take over this retail space for his own business. In one month’s time from that notice being served. This news was quite a blow, since moving a business is a big deal in terms of money, time, and re-establishment. There is also the problem of finding another space nearby that’s affordable. Husband and I looked at many rentals and finally he found the right one. Now the construction at the new place begins, which also costs money and time. During this transition I have been husband’s personal cheerleader. ‘You can do this! We will find you a great space! This move can be a positive event!’ I started believing my own hype, I’m THAT convincing.

Second, you may recall we had planned to sell our house and move to a less expensive one this past summer. That plan fell through with a gigantic thud. Our deposit on the new place that we didn’t end up buying remains in limbo. Instead of waiting for the sword of Damocles to fall and make our decision for us, we instead hired our own lawyer to begin legal proceedings to free up the deposit and move on with our lives. Day in and day out we think about this legal hassle; we will feel much lighter when this is dealt with.

So I have once again come around to accepting my cube farm life. As long as I have writing and editing work to do, I’m actually very happy there. Just last week I tore into an awful document and created a procedural masterpiece! My skills are appreciated at work. This past summer I took an extended vacation away from my job. At the end of it I reluctantly went back to the office, dreading the vague job I had been recently given along with the meaningless title. However, I learned something important: I like going to work. As a concept, I mean. This revelation was more like a profound epiphany; after all I had spent a considerable amount of time thinking up ways to create an income stream that would allow me a lot of free time on weekdays. But now I know I’m going to continue in an office and that’s ok. Better than ok, even. I’m still interested in thinking up business ideas, but I’m no longer a malcontent.

Later this year husband and I are hoping to open a second retail location for his business. That’s still on the table.

On March break this year we are doing a family trip to NYC baby. Husband and I really struggled to figure out how to help the offspring have spending money that will both empower them and not break us. We came up with matching them dollar for dollar on whatever they save up for that trip. I’m proud of this solution. We can help them and they can help themselves. I am working on our itinerary, and teenager is taking charge of 1 day during our trip. I am greatly looking forward to seeing what he comes up with.

Our summer 2014 trip to Ireland and England has to be postponed. Due to us buying a new car that we desperately needed, plus doing repairs (that aren’t finished yet due to snow) on the rental property (that add up to thousands of dollars), I had to postpone. Our consolation prize is NYC I suppose. Nonetheless, I’m looking forward to a terrific week and the midgets took the Europe postponement pretty well, especially when I explained the financial reasons. The airfare alone would cost us 5k and all together the trip was adding up to about 12k. Not doable this year. We weren’t planning a lavish trip, and would be camping for most of our time in Ireland. I got the trip down to the cheapest I felt comfortable with but we just couldn’t do it.

Airline travel is very pricey when flying overseas. Fuel cost is a big part of that price, I know. Still, I wish I could tap into some secret airplane ticket site that would let me find a way to score a great discount. The search continues.

Next summer I don’t know how many midgets would come with us on a 5-week excursion. Certainly boy midget will be working by then, probably as a camp counsellor. Teen will working too, but maybe he could fly and meet us for a week or so? And as for girl midget? Hmmm I really don’t know what to predict with her. As for the oldest 2, they are already bonafide adults with lives and full time jobs. But again, maybe a meet-up could be arranged. However it happens, the trip won’t be the same as it would have been this year, when everyone seems just about the right age. How quickly situations change.

Hair

We are supposed to have lots of it on the top of the head, but none anywhere else. It’s ridiculous, isn’t it? And the attention paid to cutting and styling our hair to exacting specifications, depending on the fashion at the time, is downright dumb.

I’m not a fan of Star Trek, not even close. In university there would inevitably be a Trekkie in whatever living arrangements I was in. So I have watched a few episodes, mostly under duress and a pleading “oh this one is so good you’ll be a convert!” There is one aspect that Star Trek does very well; it showcases how absurd we are about our appearance. Egad we are laughable creatures.

At my office there is a woman there who always looks very nicely turned out. She is adorable and so are her clothes. But so what? We are all so busy gazing at our belly buttons, inflating our own importance and the impact we have on others, when really no one else notices if we have a nice necklace on or if we don’t. Nor does anyone else care about our shoes or our haircut, as long as we are neat and clean, and blending in with the crowd.

I visited NYC last spring and was amazed at how much people blend in with the huge crowds, no matter what they’re wearing to attempt to stand out. Nobody gives a shit, people.