A Little Musing… Cheers to Embracing Your Weird

I wave and grin at the teenage boy playing basketball in his driveway. My feet beat an unsteady staccato on the pavement to the African-infused rhythms of Paul Simon’s The Boy in the Bubble. The teen shuffles and nods in my direction, but avoids eye contact. Ever since he caught me run-dancing down the sidewalk last week we switched from an innocuous “we’re just jolly, friendly neighbors” wave to this bashful greeting instead. He is embarrassed for me.

With my first marathon just two weeks away, my runs have been like clockwork, always catching this teen in his driveway in the late afternoon as he shoots hoops. Running through my head as I run is the recent litany of questions from long-time friends soon following me into the next decade of our lives. How does it feel to hit a milestone birthday? Am I okay with turning 30?

It’s my birthday. Three days after Christmas and just before the New Year… a really crappy placement on the calendar, but then, I didn’t choose it. I woke up this morning and greeted 30 with little fanfare but much contemplation. The only thing on the schedule for the day was a run. My birthday gives me the odd convergence of aging with the new year, which I have talked about before. Each year, my personal goals float on the waves of resolutions circulating as the world blows kazoos to the tune of Auld Lang Syne.


my runs

My thoughts again drift to the teenage boy, the thumping of his basketball has long faded. It’s god-awful-terrible to be a teenager. High school was a painful experiment in conformity, humility, and perseverance for me, and I know why this boy is embarrassed on my behalf. Heck, I would have ridiculed the now-me, fearful of anyone confident enough to live their own brand of weird.

Fifteen years, though, changes a lot.

Progression is inevitable.

I double back toward home. Like many people, each year I make mini-goals and resolutions that march me forward into a New Year. Some I share here, others I hold tight, fearful if I tell someone they might hold me accountable. Then the year progresses with its daily dramas, mild successes, and hard-won happiness. A year later, I check back in on December 31st to take stock and see how much I have accomplished. Then I judge myself against that list. I lament over the little failures, and nit-pick any success, assuming anything good that happened was a fluke—never to replicated.

The boy’s driveway is now empty, and I think back to the 15-year-old me, full of insecurities and fears. I am not that person. Though any single year in the last 15 years netted many failures and losses, there were successes within those years I missed at the time. Fifteen years later, I am different. I am changed for the better. Travel did some of this for me, the decision to leave five years ago caused profound shifts in my perspective (and life). But I worked hard throughout too, and looking back now, those little successes I never celebrated have shaped the best parts of what I have now.

In the macro perspective, it’s easier to be kind to myself. And that’s worth thinking about. Worth honoring.

This boy is in his home now, I am a forgotten moment lost to his own daily dramas. But as I turn onto my street, I am thankful for this final lesson before the New Year. He reminded me to step back from the minutia of last year that seems so significant now—minutia often masks progress—and instead look at the fuller picture. Even in the years I felt unmoored, confused, or purposeless, even in those years I made progress.

I share this now because it gave me unexpected happiness to think of the progression a decade brings. I have faith that this year will see progress too.

And to the questions about my perspective on entering my thirties? Bring it!

As always, thank you for the support over the years. Many new readers joined the A Little Adrift community this year—welcome! I look forward to getting to know more of you through the comments, interactions on the Facebook page, and in reader meetups. If there’s ever any way I can help, please don’t hesitate to let me know.

Cheers and happiness in 2014, I hope it’s a year filled with your own brand of weird and awesome. :-)


A Little Cheers …To Unexpected Changes and Amazing Possibilities

I turn 29-years-old today. This birthday is already going a lot better than last year … last year my lovely friends in Chiang Mai came out to celebrate with me at a Mexican restaurant and instead of enjoying it, I spent much of the night sick in the bathroom (that was the first day of what became a three month battle with Giardia parasites … fun times). The illness made me slow down at the start of 2012, but it didn’t put a damper on the plans, because it was early 2012 when I began writing my book, which was such a hard but positive part of my life for majority of 2012.

So, anyway, 29 today. You know, I don’t feel very old, and yet I have an acute memory from ten years ago of thinking how “ancient” the nearly-30s seemed. I had lots of ideas and few clear plans at 19—college and acting amounted to most of my tangible goals at the time. And yet now, at 29, I am much more willing to look into the New Year with an eye for unexpected gifts and amazing possibilities than with plans and specific goals. I had so many plans and definite ideas (comes with the territory of being a young adult) and now most of those are gone, and I often feel a little lost, but I feel like I am more on the right track now than I ever was before.

My fifth birthday with my brother Brucey nearby
A photo of my fifth birthday with my brother Brucey nearby.

The fact is, I couldn’t have planned out these last few years in my wildest dreams, and I still can’t figure out the key moments that led me here. Perhaps at a time in the future I will look back and see those pivotal moments where a butterfly beating its wings rippled change throughout the course of my life … but for now I can merely go along with the events and hope that changes, obstacles, and decisions have a deeper purpose. Because some of what happened this year hurt, and it was hard. The book was a personal challenge, but beyond that there was dysfunctional family drama, hurdles, changes, and new directions for myself and many of the people in my life who I love.

mango sticky rice street food
Ana and I enjoy one last mango and sweet sticky rice at a street food stall in Bangkok before we headed back home to the US. The kid is so cute–she waxes poetic to her friends here about the food we ate in Thailand :)

For my niece, I hope and believe that a Butterfly Effect moment in her life was our decision to travel to Asia last summer. And now, another change as she returns to life back home while I continue traveling. Plans shifted over the past few months and Ana is re-enrolled in public school. My dreams for her haven’t changed, and though I am her aunt—and it would seem to many that me even taking her to Asia for nearly seven months was strange—I can only say that I have been a very strong part of her life since birth. And so … it’s hard to let her go. It’s hard for me to let her integrate back into a school system, friends, and a life that only includes me on the periphery.

It was harder than I imagined to watch her again embrace life in my hometown … a town I intentionally and very methodically plotted my exit from at 18-years-old; a place I do not want to live.

Ana frames her photo and snaps some shots of the cows outside of Hongsa, Laos.

My rambling stream of consciousness now turns back toward 2013, and the 30th year of my life. Ana will not be with me on my next trip, which is to Mexico in January (though she will join me again in the future to be sure!), and I am back to the solo traveler I started as in 2008. But not the same at all, there were choices along the way that have changed who I am and changed my perspectives.

I like to use the end of a year and beginning of the next as a way to both reflect and look forward, so here are both, intertwined!

To New Countries …

Myanmar (Burma) was a new country in 2012—I loved the fun of exploring a new culture and sites with my niece. Ana and I also traveled back to one of my favorites, Laos, but it was a very different experience in Myanmar, to spend three weeks immersed in an unfamiliar country with little internet and connectivity. I loved my break from the online world and used the time to talk and really pay attention to friends during our adventures in some of the prettiest places on earth, like Bagan and Inle Lake.

Sunset in Bagan, Burma (Myanmar)
As the day ends the sun drenched the ocher temples of Bagan in a warm, comforting light.

I also hope to explore a new place in 2013; though plans are unsure, I may travel with friends to Peru (I haven’t stepped foot in South America yet!) and if not, I have a very deep interest in taking several months in the fall to travel to Kenya or other parts of Africa (also an unexplored continent for me!). Africa is the dream right now, I like the world better knowing that I might make it there this coming year, so I mention it here, even though it’s the more distant possibility of the two. Looking closer to home though, immediate travel plans are to as-yet unexplored regions of Mexico, where I will hunker down for a few months to work on new projects. I need a place to hunker–more pointedly a place to hunker in solitude I think, I am ready to feel a part of a city again and have fast food and fast friends on hand, which happens most when I find a new place I want to call home.

To New Projects …

My book, The Volunteer Traveler’s Handbook, launched in October at an event where I spoke on a panel at Housing Works in New York City. Writing, publishing and launching my book was a wonderful and scary learning process and it’s more rewarding than I imagined to have it out now. Perhaps the best part? I loved hearing feedback from the wild—and by this I mean people completely unconnected from me and this blog—from people who read the book and have reviewed the book online, or emailed to share how it’s helped them solidify plans to volunteer or visit social enterprises. That’s the point, when I saw that I could actually have this sort of positive effect, it has motivated me in a way the idea of it never did. I want to help people travel, and all the better if they volunteer or give back when they do that traveling.

travel speaker volunteering
Speaking on a panel about travel at the Housing Works Bookstore in NYC for the launch of my book, alongside the authors of the Food and Solo travel handbooks.

In the coming weeks I will share more about the book and my journey in 2013 to support it out there in the world—podcasts, guest-posts, and giveaways are in the works. I often fear criticism, and equally fear looking like a braggart which keeps me quiet and silent as I hesitate to post any real-time updates—neither the successes nor the failures. I intend to do better on that in 2013.

And speaking of 2013, I have lightly mentioned my other projects, but my volunteer site will formally launch next month, and that is exciting; it’s been in beta form for well over a year, so I will share more on that in January. Then, throughout the year I intend to speak more often and about volunteering and travel when possible. I spoke with an 8th grade class in the United States last month  about following passions and how—for me—that has been travel these past few years. Those kids were so bright, inquisitive, and fascinated by the idea of long-term travel that it’s further inspired me to work with youth and college students in that capacity as a goal this year, and into the future.

To New Ideologies …

In summer 2011, I wrote a post that detailed my desire to travel for the better part of each year, and to weave that travel with time at home. This is how I have balanced old friends and family with my wish to travel for years on end. And that worked well as I bounced around between continents at roughly five-six month intervals.

sunset in yangon
A man on the commuter docks in Yangon, Myanmar takes in a quiet sunset as the last of the boats zip across the river, bring the workers back to their homes and to nearby cities.

Now though, I am shifting that a bit to take the lessons I have learned through travel and channel them into other passions like speaking, more writing, and creative projects. To do these things though, I want to settle somewhere more permanent and with a home-base that isn’t well, home. I haven’t found “the place” yet. It’s not the United States. I think it might be Mexico because I like the country’s proximity to the US (and thus Ana), I already speak the language, and the food is pretty great. But I’m not sure. Four years of travel wore me out some; perhaps it’s the solo travel aspect of it weighing on me lately. I rarely mention (um … never) my relationships, but that could be factoring into things too. I want to be closer to friends, while keeping the joys that travel brings to my life.

2013 is a conundrum for me. I have many professional goals I’d like to see happen in regards to my book. I am looking for a home—anyone, anywhere want to adopt me?! I still have many travel plans in the works. And I will miss my niece when I leave for Mexico. I am in a state of change right now. I know that what I’ve had for the past four years is not the pattern that will make me happy long-term, but I don’t know where I am headed precisely. And this is where the amazing possibilities comes into play. I never thought I would write a book, I never predicted my niece and I would explore Southeast Asia together, and traveling the world was a mere pipe dream at one point. And so, though I feel lost sometimes, I am willing to believe that the possibilities out there may bring some great changes.

tbex speakers spain
Hanging out with my bestie Jodi after we both spoke at the TBEX travel conference in Girona, Spain.

To What I Know …

For all the uncertainty I just laid out there, here is what I do know:

… I was blessed with finding a smart, sweet, funny friend in my niece as we traveled, and that is a gift I will cherish.

… I wrote a book, and I think it’s great. I want to help people and I want to see my book help people. So I know I will make that happen in 2013.

… None of us died during the Mayan apocalypse (had to add a dash of humor here folks).

… I am deeply grateful for the community and people who have supported me through this site, and throughout my travels.

… A new year means so many possibilities for each of us and when we stay open to potential, great things can happen and wonderful people come into our lives.

… I am 29-years-old today and this will be a kick-ass year!

Happy New Year!  :-)

Railay-Beach-Thailand Longboats

A Little Reflection … To 2012, and the Case for Making No Plans

Who can really know what a year will bring? If you had told me last year at this time, as I was packing my bags back in 2011 to move to Chiang Mai the first time around, that I would start 2012 with an 11-year-old in tow and once again in this same city, I would have raised an eyebrow at the very least, and most likely let out an unladylike guffaw. I just didn’t see it happening in my fit of random pre-travel euphoria a year ago.

Last January, I wrote about abandoning plans and embracing whatever life threw in my direction in fact, I exactly wrote:

“I also have no attachment to a plan this time around.”

Perhaps I tempted the universe with this. I put myself out there as open and willing to see what new came my way, and truly some new paths opened before me.

railay beach longboats thailand
The longboats and aqua waters of Railay Beach in the Thai islands

This time last year, I moved to Thailand to hang out with the ever-so-lovely Jodi for a couple of months in a pretty, low-key city. That downtime included an unexpected whirlwind trip/visa-run to Malaysia with a new friend, Paddy, then she dragged me along with her to the Thai islands for a couple of weeks of sun (which I strongly avoid on my own accord, but I admit were fun weeks once I went and enjoyed). And a year later, although Paddy now lives in the islands, she flew up to spend Christmas in Chiang Mai and was one of the first expats to bond with Ana here–that’s Paddy’s smiling face you saw last week in our 10K Christmas Marathon run!

Funny how things come around full circle in even the smallest ways. :)

Rural rice paddies outside of Yangshuo, China.
Biking through the rural rice paddies outside of Yangshuo, China.

Fast forward a bit, and my close friends from back home traveled this way (and by “this way,” I mean Asia). We met up for a quick two weeks in China (not nearly enough time to really see China), but it was pretty great to have friends I’ve known since my high school days come travel with me…in fact, it was a highlight of the year because it completely changed the dynamics in such a neat way.  :)

dead sea jordan
The mountains around the Dead Sea in Jordan

By late spring, I was packing my bags again for an unexpected and wholly unplanned, but beautiful, 10 days in Jordan with the Jordan Tourism Board. The days spent eating and simply experiencing rather than handling all the planning details easily made Jordan one of my most memorable countries.

In the background though, at this point, a new plan was forming that would shape the rest of my 2011; around Easter my family and I began plotting how we could use my current travel/internet-work lifestyle to empower my niece and send her on a journey of her own. Because I am a mad puppet master (and because everything was tentative) I kept this under wraps while we figured out the logistics and I returned to Florida for my annual break spent back home–which is essentially my long-term plan for travel, some months back home, some time on the road…and a bit of life and otherness between.

Key Lime Pie down south in Key West, Florida
An obligatory food photo, I tucked into this huge slice of tart key lime pie at Blue Heaven in Key West, Florida

Speaking of logistics though, it turns out there is a lot to figure out when you take a child who isn’t actually yours outside the country! I spent the summer in Florida visiting with friends and engaged in some furious hand-wringing as I gathered up documents, applied for my niece’s passport, found vaccines, and shoved my head full of everything I thought I might need to school Ana here in Thailand (far more freaking out and hand-wringing than was necessary now that we’re here, honestly, but there was no convincing me of that back then!).

We left, and let me assure you, that transition month last November is one of those things I never saw coming. November was the adjustment period and there were days I thought this travel homeschooling plan was an utter failure (this is where I learned to sing myself the mantra “she’s a child, she is still just a child” — a phrase many parents of preteens have used before me…). But I grew up, and Ana grew (perhaps not up, but grow she did). And we hit our groove over the past six weeks; I figured out the projects, tasks, and things I need to do to keep Ana actively interested in our traveling plans, and she’s become more enthused and excited about the people we meet and places we visit.

weaving in Laos
Ana enjoys a hands-on weaving class in Luang Prabang, Laos (more on that soon!)

It’s January once again, and although I have this niggling weariness about what’s in store (admit it, most of us are worrying about something!), I know 2012 will have its way with me (the hussy) no matter what I actually “plan.” Instead, I once again welcome the New Year with a blank slate because you know, the surprises given to me in 2011 have all worked out pretty well this far, though some threw me for a loop once or twice!

Also of note though, is the business side of things. I have several volunteer projects I hope come to fruition this year (you’ll be hearing more about that soon!). Many have been in development in the past weeks and months, but out of some internal fears I’ve kept them fairly secret. So, soon they will launch.

Though my closet type-A personality gets anxious sometimes, all this time in Buddhist countries this year is wearing off on me. I can’t possibly know what is in store for me, so the anxiety, planning, and fear does no good. Instead, I eagerly open my arms to what awaits. In the past I was a planner—I spent several years creating poster-sized vision boards with my full-year goals. Other times I wrote out epic lists of resolutions and five-year-plans. And I even spent time in morose futility once or twice.

Like last year though, I will quote Joseph Campbell, because unlike any guru’s message I’ve jived with in my various fits of fancy, I truly believe if we’re doing something right now that brings us happiness, then we’re heading in our own “right” directions.

Follow your bliss. If you do follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while waiting for you, and the life you ought to be living is the one you are living. When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in the field of your bliss, and they open the doors to you. I say, follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.

If you’ve made it this far in the post, I’d love to know what do you think of Campbell’s message, and do you find it true in your own life as you begin 2012? 

Songkran water fight in Thailand?

A Little Celebration… Welcome to Songkran, The World’s Largest Water Fight

Like a warrior prepping for battle, I cranked the faucet on the sink of my apartment in Chiang Mai, Thailand and listened impatiently to the glugging sounds as tap water slowly filled my water gun’s reservoir. Day one of Songkran festivities were ramping up, (and a day ahead of schedule I might add!) and celebratory shouts for the Thai New Year bounced into my apartment from nearby streets.

I’ll admit, I was psyched!

Every year, Thailand and the rest of the region, including Laos, Cambodia, Burma, and nearby parts of China, welcome in their New Year with water, prayer and rituals.

A Little Accountability…I Tell You, You Keep Me Honest

A huge and jolly Happy New Year to you!

I sincerely hope your first hours and days of 2011 are joyous.

The theory goes that you can wake up on the wrong side of the bed each day and that’s justification for a crappy day, so my chipperness knows no bounds today this week; I want to send all kinds of positive vibrations into 2011.

Can you tell I'm Excited?
Yep, I'm THIS excited about 2011

And rather than a 2011 wrap-up post (check out the best of and resources pages for that!), I’d like to look forward into the new year and put out some ideas and projects on which I need some accountability.

The thing is, I hate to fail in public. And no one really does, right?

So to mitigate that I just keep all of my projects, ideas, and dreams to myself. I wrap my arms tightly around my ideas and give off glib responses even to those in my inner circle.

Then my progress on any given dream or project goes something like this:

I do my own brainstorming; I plot and I plan.

I get really excited about it so…

…I plot and plan some more.

Plans derail while I get distracted and forget about my original plan for a bit.

Then I decide the first plan sucked anyway and go back to the brainstorming.

And I plot and plan.

Rinse and repeat.

There has to be a better way. I figure the warm red flush of embarrassment and shame that creeps into my face when I fail just might be enough to keep me focused my goals this year. And if I fail, well, at least I really tried this year!

So Here Goes…Shannon’s 2011 Goals and Aspirations:

  • Launch Volunteer Site: I’ve owned the domain for 2+ years. I love the idea. It can have such a positive impact on socially responsible travel. So I am actually going to launch it this spring. Thanks to an epic brainstorming session with Andy Hayes I have a workable plan….and a launch deadline of before Chris Guillebeau’s World Domination Summit in June.
  • Keep A Little Adrift Honest to Me: There are ways I could monetize the site better (I talked about that in my State of the Blog Address) but really I love this site as my personal adventure and a place for me to share tips and stories about my style of travel: giving back, gaining a global perspective, and environmentally conscious. They’ll be more of this type of focus in the coming year and less of me trying to write content I feel like I should be doing to fit in…which I have been doing…sometimes…too often… :(
  • Seek Out Speaking/Writing/Doing Opportunities: Maybe it’s my “actor gene” waking up from nearly three years of dormancy, but in 2011 I will get myself out in front of people more and talking about travel, and the power of volunteering and purposeful lifestyles. I will actively seek out opportunities to talk to people.
  • Care More About Those I Care About: I missed a lot of birthdays and important events this year. Sometimes I would remember a family member’s birthday just a couple of hours later. Other times day. I forget to call people back. And I chalk it all up to the expected draw-backs of world travel…but really it’s just lame.

Okay, those are the one’s I’m willing to share. And to be clear, I have specific target numbers, dates, and figures associated with them too, as the mysterious “they” say you should with any long-term goals.

And there are actually a couple other goals still wrapped tightly in my arms, but who knows, maybe they really do need another year of incubation! ;-)

So fess up, what do you want to accomplish this year that kinda makes your heart beat faster and color rush into your face to admit?