Stuck in the Middle

“Where are all the people my age?”

“They’re breeding,” a travel friend told me in Vietnam.

Hello! After quite a long hiatus when a shit-ton of life stuff has happened (you’ll get filled in on the details here and there throughout these coming posts), I decided to take the Trip of a Lifetime, or the trip of at least of my midlife crisis, and spend at least three months traveling Southeast Asia.

If you are now rolling your eyes and thinking that I am on my Elizabeth Gilbert ‘Eat, Love, Pray’ Spirit Quest, you can quit imagining that right now. Here are the main differences between Liz’s journey and mine.

I will preface this by saying that I have interviewed Ms. Gilbert about her subsequent book on marriage, and she is one of the most delightful human beings on the planet. Really. So take issue with her writing however you like, but damn, is she a nice, humble person. Just watch one of her TED talks if you don’t believe me.

That said, my journey did not start like this:

Me: “I need a $200,000 advance so I can travel the world on my quest to get fat on awesome food, flirt w/ strangers, achieve enlightenment in a few short months and end the whole shebang by finding the love of my life!”

Book Agent: “Go fuck yourself.”

I’m kidding! I don’t even have a book agent!

My Spirit Journey was financed 100 percent by me. And the hundreds of Airbnb people who paid me to stay in my extra bedroom. I scrubbed my guest toilet for what felt like 1,000 times, wrote what felt like a bazillion blog posts, case studies, Google ads and a whole river of other piecemeal work trying to finance this little sojourn.

So, after the end of 2015, I closed up shop, put everything in storage, quit all my jobs and headed out.

Traveling is quite like a relationship — the first few weeks are glorious! Everything is new! Everything is special and for the Very First Time! Wee!

We all should know what begins to happen next.

Realities start to creep in. For example, I just changed locales yet again, and every time you do this, there’s this emotional dip, like ‘oh, what now?’ that comes with getting the grasp of the new lay of the land. It’s not a big deal, but a few weeks of this can become a little emotionally tiring.

I feel like this might be the equivalent of the “Oh, you again,” look you give/get at breakfast. Or when you ask your significant other how their day was, and they start in with the same tired bullshit of office politics, wasted time in meetings and issues with management. Which is probably a huge reason why I don’t work in an office anymore.

Look, travel is wonderful and glorious and opens you up and makes you be so super self-sufficient — something I’ve spent a lifetime proving and finally realized on this trip, “You know what? I don’t need to fucking prove how self-sufficient I am anymore.” If they gave awards out for being self-sufficient, I would be the Leonardo fucking DiCaprio of self-sufficiency right about now.

That’s when I let the 20-year-old surf guy assigned to me for the day in a strong current drag me behind him. Fuck it. I have nothing left to prove. Especially in heavy surf. Let the kid drag me.

This is a long round-about way of getting to my above point about traveling in middle life — it’s fucking lonely out here. No one — and I mean hardly anyone — travels in middle age. Or at least extensively and in exotic locations.

There are two big universally accepted moments in one’s life when people really grab the horns of that travel bull and go batshit for it — right after college, packed down like miserable, sunburnt pack mules, and when they’re retired and therefore kinda old and cooking themselves like rotisserie chickens on some godforsaken, all-inclusive fucking beach in Thailand.

Now, a few reasons why you shouldn’t put off a journey — a real one, no resorts or cruise ships here — to Cambodia or your nearest national park much longer:

1. Travel is physically hard, yo. Even for me, and I’m in pretty great shape, hiking up and down a lot of stuff, the hot weather, the stairs of ancient temples, the mountains, the ocean, etc. It’s all a grind. And if you leave this shit for the end of your life you will regret it big time. Or not even be able to see it.

2. Traveling flat-ass broke is only fun when you’re a kid. In midlife, I can afford some boutique hotels, nice spots on Airbnb and decent meals. I don’t sweat paying for a sweet 45-minute plane ride instead of a 16-hour hellish bus ride sitting next to a chicken and hungover German. (I’m going to make fun of Germans a lot here).

3. You are actually sober enough most of the time to enjoy it. Aka, you don’t spend every night in a shitty night club and the entire next day fighting a hangover.

4. You are kind of in that sweet spot of knowing better and still being able to have a conversation with whatever smart, worldly people you meet.

5. You can walk into a fancy hotel or restaurant without looking like a vagrant and get served.

6. A lot of this stuff out here in the world is degrading fast — especially the natural world — and will be gone. Sorry to be a Debbie Downer about it, but there you go. Find an environmental scientist to argue differently and I’ll be amazed.

7. You have zero guarantees in life that you will even make it to retirement to see any of this. Do. It. Now.

But Evil Molly, you say, I have jobs, kids, responsibilities. Yeah? We all do. Somehow, it’s important to life engineer travel in — or adequate breaks. In fact, I’ve seen enough nice European couples hauling their well-behaved kids around to think that travel only broadens kids’ minds and makes them better. It always makes a person better when they meet/see/do things different from their native cultures.

I don’t know how you’re going to do it — I hate those whimsical “I quit it all and lived my dream!” travel websites. Unless you are independently wealthy, or just sold a company to Zuckerberg, you’re gonna have to do it the hard way. But somehow I think it’s imperative that we all make time for more travel in mid-life, which really is the best time of life to travel when you think about it.

 

Learnin’ Lessons: Surviving Nicaragua

Lately, it seems almost everyone I know is a bit down. We’re coming off one of the worst winters in history and spring is being a fucking bitch about showing up. Folks I know are broke down, beat down and just plain tired.

Also, I am sick of complaining about shit. Really, I am.

So, I went to Nicaragua about two months back. The memory of it seems very, very distant. In fact, this vacation didn’t take. As in, most vacations I come back restful and happy and I can bask in the post-vacation glow for a month or two until the sun decides to show up. This time it didn’t happen. In fact, I am so stressed out that after a week back, I felt like I hadn’t gone anywhere.

Maybe this post is more for me than you. See, I believe that travel is one of—if not the most—unbelievable way to recharge and reboot. There’s nothing like ripping you out of your comfort zone and boring day-to-day life to really ruminate on what matters. I hate routine. I hate doing the same thing all the time. This makes having a day job really hard. But travel is an excuse to ditch all that…and meet new people and eat new food and see shit that blows your mind.

So, here are a few finer points I learned from my last Nicaragua trip, and while the relaxin’ didn’t take (and I have a feeling that has more to do with NYC than Nicaragua) these lessons did:

1. Sometimes, a dead grandmother can come in really, really handy. Especially if the airlines cancel your flight and you need to skirt the Joe Dirt line to book your rewards travel. I swear, to anyone in my family, you have my blessing to use my impending death as an excuse to get the fuck out of dodge any time.

2. It always amazes me when I look out the plane’s window that my grandparents, just two generations ago, never saw this…and that future generations probably never will due to lack of oil and air travel becoming prohibitively expensive. Take advantage while we still got it, folks.

3. Then there’s that feeling of anticipation—that anything can happen—that adventures (my favorite thing—adventures!) are right around the corner.

4. Then I realized that you can feel that way about your whole life—it’s an adventure largely dictated by you. And your choices.

5. You may be staying in an Oceanside beach bungalow named something fancy like “Costa Dulce,” but you can always rename it for the stray dogs running through your yard: Casa de dog rape.

A sunset. No dog rape.

6. You can kill a blue crab with your flip-flop, but they will always win. And come back. And sometimes you need to let the blue crabs have the fucking bedroom and you take the couch.

7. Gringos need coffee.

8. If you are truly, pathetically addicted to coffee, you will find a way to make it, even if you have half a broken French Press, no filters and can’t figure out how to light the stove.

9. “Survivor Nicaragua” is total bullshit. If you watch that show, that is our beach and jungle where we stayed. And If we ever were to see a boa constrictor, I would’ve had it totally under control.

Our view. Seriously. That's Costa Rica on the other side.

10. Vegetarians taste the best—in oral sex and cannibalism. This is the kind of philosophy that emerges after smoking a lot of free ditch weed and discussing cannibalism at length.

11. If you cut your toe surfing and are bleeding, a shark will probably not attack you.

I am surfing! I am surfing on a baby wave!

12. Sexo de tortuga—or the mating of sea turtles—is pretty awesome to watch. Also the birth of turtles, crawling their little ways out of the sand.

Baby turtles, the result of sexo de tortuga.

13. Watching whales and dolphins play in their natural habitat in the ocean kicks the ass out of seeing them in captivity. Seriously, watch “The Cove,” and ban so-called “sea world” type parks from your life.

14. When buying cookies south of the border, let the person in your group making said cookie-decision purchase take that decision very fucking seriously.

15. “Don’t sponch on me.” Google it.

Sponch! Now with more Sponch.

16. If you borrow a Chevy Astro circa 1991 from your buddy and it starts to billow out steam, yep, you probably blew a radiator hose.

Our awesome guide, Gonzalo, trying to fix our bitchin' van.

17. Children need not be screaming, demanding, entitled pieces of shit. In fact, they can be quite lovely.

18. “Thank you for you.”

19. Learn some Spanish. Or some other language. But leche, bano and pornografia will get you pretty far.

20. Road beers at 10 a.m. are pretty fucking awesome.

When a dude with a machete walks by, you just let him. Good rule for life.

*All pics except surfing one shot by Margaret Hester, who is an awesome photographer. Seriously, hire her.