Travel

And a Lonely Stranger Has Spoke to Me Ever Since

When I saw the old man waiting by the pond with his camera my heart fractured a little along the fault lines, already weak, still vulnerable. He was counting on the cormorants, their wings spread wide, and waiting for the mating beavers, swooping under the surface, staying underwater longer than you’d think they could possibly hold their breath.

They trapped the nutria past the dam over there, he said, pulling his camera aside with one hand, pointing across the ponds with the other. They’re trapped between the two ridges of trees. There’s a male beaver with two females. His nicotine-stained mustache didn’t move when he talked.

He tells me the city is monitoring the trees for the Asian jewel beetle — an invasive and ravenously destructive insect outside its native habitat. I wondered how they got here, how any of us get anywhere, and I assumed he could probably tell me if I asked but I didn’t want to stay in this moment much longer. He was kind enough, talkative without being overbearing. And I thought maybe he was one of the lucky loners who preferred being alone. Maybe he even had a loving companion waiting for him at home, someone who would lovingly pour over his photography with curiosity and admiration.

While he was talking about the two female beavers, each of which had had two pups this season, I appreciated this man’s appreciation for nature, the patience to wait for the perfect moment, the sun setting behind the cattails and a woodpecker resting.

Though I suspected he was lonely I wanted to keep walking. I wanted to see the turtles lined up on logs like they do before the sunset. But I also suspected our brief chat about bugs and birds might be his only interaction today. Or this week. I had no way of knowing but I remembered the unexpected moments that pulled me out of my darkest places.

Though not miraculous, maybe a moment, like seeing the iridescent green of a beetle’s wing is enough beauty, even in its brevity, to create a connection. A flash of color not between us but between synapses. A spark of joy, a small whoosh of warmth that tells him to keep going, to keep waiting for the beavers, to get the perfect picture of the cormorants in their Christ-like perches drying their wings for flight.

I knew I couldn’t take away the invasive loneliness of a stranger, especially if it’s lying dormant beneath the bark. But maybe I could distract him from it for that moment like a bird alighting on a branch, catching his photographer’s eye. I remembered that even a little bit of conversation can feel like companionship. And at the very least we could pause from our own lives to acknowledge the parallel lives of the animals not abstractly analyzing each other’s.

The Scariest Moment is Always Just Before You Start

When I was young I would pore over National Geographic magazines and dream of adventures like this — train hopping through the Sahara Desert on one of the world’s longest trains.

I had dreamt of the oceans, of the sand, the loud clattering noises of the train, the cold, the wind, the scorching sun. The unknown smells and sounds of the desert, and all the discomfort that goes with it.

That visceral experience was exactly what we got as we slithered night and day through the vast uninhabited desert, sleeping on top of Mauritania’s infamous iron ore train. Our unconventional 700km journey took us right through the Sahara to reach the coast, where we were hoping to find a place of forgotten shipwrecks and unknown surf.

From Nouakchott we worked our way through the interior, on what can barely be described as roads. On one particular day the weather conditions take a turn for the worse and a desert sandstorm begins to form on the horizon. I had stopped to take some photographs and before we knew it, the wind picked up considerably and it started to rain.

Within minutes, the sky darkens and the winds increase to what we guess is around 150km/hr. The stinging and blowing of the sand act as sandpaper and is so intense that I feel like my exposed skin is starting to come off.

We quickly find ourselves pinned to the side of our truck, as we try to find some shelter and reprieve. When the wind dies down and we are finally able to climb back inside the truck there are pieces of shattered glass everywhere. Our back window has completely imploded and the interior is soaked. Our guide, who had been waiting for us in the back seat, has cuts all over his body from the glass. As the storm settles we resumed our journey north through the desert, anxious to find the next unexpected turn of events.

The Expert’s Guide to Surviving Long Haul Flights

Whoever said “It’s not about the destination. It’s the journey” never flew on a long haul flight. Those flights can be painful, tiresome, jet-lagging, and not to mention absolutely boring despite whatever Disney movie is playing above you on the TV screen. As someone who has flown from Europe to the USA countless times, I’ve picked up some tips and tricks on flying long haul. Here are my tips.

Bring a scarf or jacket.

A scarf especially can act as a blanket or pillow during your long haul flight. Nowadays it’s becoming less common to have a blanket included on your flight, and sometimes the cabin doesn’t even have enough for everyone. The best advice is to bring something functional just in case because flights can get quite chilly. A relatively thick, large scarf will almost always do the job.

Pack a memory foam neck pillow.

Once again, you want to be comfortable on your flight and no matter if you’re in the window, aisle, or middle seat, a memory foam neck pillow will make it all the more comfortable and relaxing for you.

Tip: Some people are hesitant to pack a neck pillow because of space. But most neck pillows have a snap closure, meaning you can easily snap it onto your carry on handle or strap it to your personal item. When it doubt, you can always wear it around your neck. No shame.

Bring an eye mask for sleeping.

If you’re flying through the day, an eye mask will be extremely helpful in getting some relatively normal shut-eye. If you’re flying on a red eye flight, it’s less necessary, but honestly every little bit helps.

Put headphones and a portable charger in your personal item.

This one is crucial for keeping yourself entertained or productive. Headphones for jamming or listening to podcasts and a portable charger for keeping your mobile devices charged. Sometime flights have the USB port, but you can’t always count on them to be functioning… Yes, I’m serious. Pack headphones, a portable charger, and your cord just in case.

Download podcasts.

Fun, educational entertainment! Podcasts have become one of my favorite pastimes for flying. I just download a few interesting ones before my flight and enjoy them while I’m on board.

Pro Traveler Tip: If you’re traveling somewhere new, I love listening to podcasts about that country or location to start getting inspired and excited about my adventure. You could even download a couple of podcasts that teach you some essential words or phrases in your destination country, too!

Adjusting to Your Home is no Different than a New Country

I’ve been home from China for nearly three weeks now. While it hasn’t hit me that I’m not going back to China any time soon yet, there’s one thing that both countries have in common. Adjusting to each place can be difficult.

First, there’s the jet lag

There’s a twelve-hour difference between Michigan and China. No matter which country I go to, I have at least two weeks to adjust to time zones.

For both countries, this means I’m in bed insanely early and waking up earlier. If I’m not careful, I look like a zombie for about a week while I adjust.

This means I’ve got to be careful about sitting down anywhere cause at any time, I could fall asleep. The only time I’m okay to be sitting down is when I’m eating. I’ve never been so tired that I’ve fallen asleep while eating. Not yet.

It makes me want to be lazy in my first week I’m in any country. It’s hard to want to do anything when you never know when you’re going to crash.

Then there’s the food

Two countries. Two appetites. Two food cultures. Everything from adjusting to table manners to different kinds of food, I have to re-adjust when I go to both countries.

In America, a lot of the food feels heavy after I eat it, I tend to have a lot of stomachaches after a meal. I’m not sure if it’s what’s being put in the food or the fact there’s way more dairy in the diet than what’s in China. I can taste the sugar with almost every piece of food or drink I consume.

No Fixed Abode: Quitting Home Ownership

A little over a year ago, I quit my job, sold my home and gave away 99% of my possessions so that I could travel the world. It was the most exciting thing I’ve ever done.

To me, quitting a great job was very scary (No more income! A large gap in my employment history! Burning bridges right, left & centre! Throwing away a fabulous career!) but I’ve come to realise that for most people, that isn’t the scary part. The thing that everyone asks about — the part that they can’t quite get their heads around — is that I don’t have anywhere to live.

Then his spiel took a turn to a personal testimony of his experience with IF. He’d burnt more fat than he previously could with any other diet. He felt happier, healthier and more energetic. He’d streamlined his morning routine and was saving money by no longer buying late-night snacks. All because he didn’t eat for 16 hours of the day.

Sitting there, I felt like I was given one of those ‘too good to be true’ offers than lead to you joining a cult. I was sceptical. It sounded great and all that, but I’m a breakfast guy. Besides, it sounds like a fad diet that I wouldn’t be able to maintain. I’d drop some weight while doing it, then I’d put it back on when I realised I couldn’t maintain it.

The Journey Begins

A month later, I conceded that I might as well give it a go. Over the past few years, I had been carrying a few extra kilograms that I had tried to drop. For the six months prior, I had been going to the gym regularly to try and burn it off. In those six months, I had shifted the scales slightly, but not enough considering the work I was putting in. Intermittent fasting became a very tempting option. I thought I’d give it a go.

I spent a lot of time researching the 16:8 approach to fasting. Honestly, there are a lot of mixed things out there, with a lot of evidence supporting it’s proclaimed benefits, while others are not as sold on it. The overarching point I found was to give it a go and see if it works for you.

The first couple of weeks were tough. My body was so conditioned to eat at certain times and I had to fight hard to resist. This was one of the big learning experiences for me. I had to remind myself that I don’t need to eat right now and that it was my body responding to a change in routine. I decided to be as strict as possible in the first month, knowing that it takes about 4–5 weeks to establish a new routine, and it worked.

Slice of Tokyo: How Japan Became a Pizza Hotspot

Tokyo is home to some 6,000 Italian restaurants — and a growing community of chefs crafting some of the finest pizza in the world.

Tsubasa Tamaki didn’t dream of pizza. He dreamed of architecture, of following in his mother’s footsteps and designing buildings in Okinawa, where he spent the first 18 years of his life. He dreamed of being a golf instructor, of converting his silky swing into a model for aspiring linksmen. He dreamed of being on television, like his cousin, a ventriloquist who made a name for himself across Japan making special sounds from barely moving lips.

Above all, he dreamed of being famous, a dream that carried him from the shores of the southern islands to the streets of Tokyo in search of his big break. Serving pizza — his part-time gig at a mediocre family restaurant — was only a pit stop on the road to something bigger.

Tamaki’s earliest pizza memory from his childhood comes from Shakey’s, one of the first big pizza chains to land in Japan, where 880 yen — about $8 — got you all the pizza you could eat. But he doesn’t remember much about the actual pizza. “What I remember is the balloon they’d give kids after the meal.”

And yet, here he is in front of me, a 39-year-old man who spent the better part of two decades not really caring all that much about pizza, making some of the most delicious pizzas I’ve ever eaten.

First, a pizza marinara, the original pizza, and still the measuring stick by which all serious pizzaioli should be judged. Tamaki’s marinara — the concentrated warmth of the tomatoes, the floral punch of baked oregano, the garlic sliced so thin it nearly liquefies into the pizza — could make a Neapolitan’s toes curl.

Next, a riff on a margherita, made with cherry tomatoes and smoked mozzarella, a pizza so pregnant with possibilities that its inventor blessed it with his own name: the Tamaki.

Finally, the Bismarck, a composition of shaved button mushrooms and house-made sausage crowned with an egg from a pampered hen, which bakes up in the oven like the rising sun. I tear off pieces of the leopard-spotted crust and dip it directly into the miasma of rendered sausage fat and molten yolk.

How to Navigate Travel Experiences While Sober

When I was drinking, I would use alcohol as a way to ease almost every aspect of travel. It was the perfect salve for homesickness, culture shock, and the discomfort that often comes when you’re in a new place.

I also used drinking to help make new friends, feel a false sense of freedom, and have an excuse to sit in a bar and people watch.

Now, as a sober person, I’m looking for new ways to approach the challenges and discomfort of travel. I also want to find ways to enjoy new places without needing to have a drink to make everything more “shiny.”

Travel is not the only situation that challenges our sobriety, but it’s a unique issue that we must address as we navigate new sober terrain.

Besides, at this point, I really don’t have anything in common with people who are heavy drinkers. This is not to say that I reject people who drink a bit, just that I can’t be around people who prioritize alcohol over everything else.

Here are some ideas that I’ll be exploring in the next few months:

  • Find groups that identify as sober.

I’m not sure if they exist here, but I’ll be putting out the feelers to see if they do. Many sober people know that we need to find each other for a good reason. With that said, I’ll be googling Facebook groups or checking for postings in hostels or places where travelers go for information.

  • Make your own sober Facebook group.

If I can’t find any sober resources, then I might consider creating my own group for sober foreigners. This requires work and upkeep on my part, but it might be a great way to pave a trail for myself and others.

The only thing I worry about is that it might alienate people who are light drinkers and with whom I’d still love to meet. Contrary to popular belief, not everyone enjoys getting obliterated, and so I’d still like to meet people even though they may drink lightly.

  • Consider meeting people through activities where they’re less likely to drink heavily.

A few years ago, I went on a bird-watching trip to Panama and met some truly remarkable people who did not prioritize alcohol at all. Birders don’t seem as preoccupied with getting drunk at night. This is because they’d much rather get to sleep early and wake up before sunrise to catch the best birds early in the morning.

This works out well for us because although we may not be serious birders, we really enjoy bird-watching and hiking through remote trails to find wildlife. And we’re in a fantastic place known for its biodiversity.

Hopefully, we can meet people who prioritize their health and energy, because you really need this if you want to appreciate the environment you’re traveling in.

In the coming weeks, we’ll be looking for groups who are serious about wildlife viewing. I can’t say for sure that they won’t be heavy drinkers, but I’m sure some of them will not see alcohol as their only priority.

The Vacation I Became a Parent to My Father

In Hawaii, I walked around in white pedal pushers, carrying a large, white straw purse, (even larger than my mom’s) thinking that all the boys would surely notice me. Well, if they did it wasn’t as anything but a flat-chested twelve- year-old carrying a purse way too big for her and smiling like a complete dork.

In New York, I was a bit more sophisticated. Sort of. I actually fell in love and had my heart broken all in one night. This incident caused my father to go into a rage and want to go kill whoever had made his baby girl cry so horribly. (The closest I got to a Baby moment.)

When he found out I was sobbing hysterically because I would never see that boy again, he wanted to kill me!

But no matter what age I was when we traveled, I knew my father would get us to our destination safely. He would take care of everything (hotels, car rentals, food, souvenirs, fun) while we were on our vacation. And see to it that we arrived home in one piece.

Now, that’s not to say that I didn’t lose my patience a bit. Especially when my father was asking for a cocktail only a few minutes after we had taken our seats on the plane. But then I couldn’t blame him.

The first-class passengers were drinking wine and eating hors d’oeuvres, while the coach passengers were still boarding. The combined age of those first-class passengers was probably only a few years past that of my dad’s.

We arrived safely in Mexico and as I had promised my father, there was a wheelchair waiting to take us through customs. And as I had also promised there were beautiful sunrises (well, I guess I didn’t have much say in that event) and delicious huevos rancheros (again not something I prepared) and many wonderful hours playing cards, drinking margaritas and laughing.

can take credit for some of those.

Upon returning home safely, my father grasped my hands, looked me in the eye and said, “Thank you so much. We made it home safe and sound, didn’t we?”

“Yes, we did,” I said. “But you don’t have to thank me.”

To be honest, it was difficult at times. Traveling with elderly parents presents many obstacles.

But the truth is, now that my father is gone, I wish I could do it all over again.

How To Love Yourself, Even When No One Else Seems To

ear Thin Friend, we’ve been planning this trip for months, and the day is finally here. I’m so excited to be embarking on this adventure with you. It fills me with joy to be traveling with you to far-off lands to experience new cultures and reach a level of relaxation neither of us has felt for months. The prospect of getting out of our comfort zones makes my soul tingle, as does jumping headfirst into new and exciting territory with you. I just want a cocktail in my hand and you by my side and I will be a happy person.

Before we embark on this journey together, though, I think we need to chat.

You’ve never lived in a body like mine. Your view of the world and of experiences like traveling are viewed through the rose-colored glasses of thin privilege. For this I do not blame you, but I know from living in a bigger body my entire life that there are things we need to consider when traveling: things that might not have occurred to you. I hope that after reading this you will go on our vacation with freshly opened eyes and a newfound respect for what it’s like to be a fat traveler.

My dearest Thin Friend, I know that you are so excited about your new vacation wardrobe. It’s full of colorful matching sets, new bikinis, and dresses that show off your body. My suitcase is full of colors and crop tops, mesh skirts, and bikinis, too, but they won’t fit you. Nor will your wardrobe fit me. So let’s not engage in the charade of optioning each other’s clothes, and please don’t make me try to squeeze into your wardrobe. I am just as fierce as you, but there is no way my curves and swerves are fitting into that dress and that’s okay.

We haven’t traveled together before, so I want to let you know something — people stare at me, but that’s not always a bad thing. Some of them will stop and ask to have their photos taken with me. People will call out “Yas, queen!” as we are walking down the street. Society isn’t used to seeing fat people confidently owning their space, let alone fat people with a wardrobe like mine. I’m okay with the staring; I like to talk to people, and I don’t mind having my picture taken, either. I love you, but you don’t need to defend me. I’ve got this. I have been defending my life and body for as long as I’ve been alive. I do welcome your support and I love that you care about my wellbeing, but haters gon’ hate, and I can deal with that. Watch me.

Traveling together is going to be great. After two weeks of adventures and new experiences we will learn new things about each other, explore our differences and similarities, and come away with memories that will last a lifetime. I hope that spending time with me in my bigger body gives you a new appreciation for your own body and respect for me in mine, because I can do everything you can do — and I can drink you under the table.

So get on the plane and let the adventures begin!

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