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eating, praying and loving
when you're not made of money
by maigen thomas (@Maigen)
8.25.10
general

It’s almost as if the recession ended and no one told me (or gave me a raise). For some, spending a fortune on taking a vacation is the point rather than a means to an end (the experience). It’s just another form of elitism. Even in these economic times, I read in a Gallup poll done in May of this year, Americans report that they are expecting to vacation less this year, but intend to spend more on transportation and other holiday and leisure costs.

I read an article retweeted from both Tracey (@traceylkelley) and Alex B. (@lexistential) about the new trend of “Priv-Lit”: Eat, Pray, Spend in Bitch Magazine. I laughed in disbelief at first, but as I read further, I realized how painfully truthful the article is. The target audience for the original content of The Secret, Eat, Pray, Love and the Oprah Winfrey Show are, for the most part, people with more money than sense. These are the kind of people who take what Oprah says as gospel and buy into the More Is The New Less mentality. However, this magazine article is directed at the counter-culture coven: more eco- and financially-conscious women, who still want to explore wellness and happiness through out-of-the-box travel and experiences.

In the article I read about 2010 vacation spending, “According to the authors of Gallup's new book Wellbeing, a key to financial wellbeing is to "buy experiences -- such as vacations and outings with friends or loved ones." … [Americans] may be enhancing their wellbeing by buying richer experiences, even if they feel they can do so less often.”

Buy experiences? On a vacation intended to refresh, renew and restore? It’s such a materialistic and impersonal viewpoint, a view contradicted by the intention. And the theory of taking a shorter vacation but spending more on the experience – I think that’s what my grandmother would call “six one way, half a dozen the other”. It’s still spending. In all probability, it’s probably spending more, not less.

I hate seeing people who think they’re doing it ‘right’, just because they’ve spent more. In the Bitch magazine article it says, "The story priv-lit tells is that true wellness requires extreme sacrifices along economic, family, and professional lines, but those who make them will be rewarded and attain permanent enlightenment of one kind or another.”

Actually, that is what no guru, experience or amount of money can guarantee. It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money to travel and have the experiences that appear to only come with high price tags.

I know I’m lucky that I have a job as a flight attendant. When I can, I pick up trips to destinations I’ve never been and I go out and explore them. When I can’t travel for work (and I’d prefer not to, 24 hour layovers are never long enough to see a country properly!), I try to take the time in between trips, use my travel benefits and do things I’ve never done. I started a Life List just so I could have a record of what I’d like to do – and to hold myself accountable for accomplishing them.

The balance I have to deal with as a flight attendant and getting free flights is that when I don’t work, I don’t get paid. And the pay isn’t all that great to start with. I am in a constant struggle to be creative in how to live with constant travel (i.e. eating when I can’t cook for myself) on a small budget and still save money to get places where I *can’t* fly for free.

I read Eat, Pray, Love when it was climbing the New York Times bestseller list, and while I was pretty tepid throughout most of the story (there was a fair amount of whining in the undertone of the story, and frankly, when someone else is footing the bill for you to fuck off and travel for a year, I don’t think that’s the tone one ought to take), the parts about India really inspired me. But, I didn’t have a sponsor for my travels. I had the desire for self-acceptance and empowerment, but not the never-ending funds. When the time came to actually get out and travel, I didn’t just seek out any old random place online, nor was I willing or (able) to spend a fortune to find enlightenment. I asked my yoga teacher from Vancouver, Shivani, about what I should do to find an ashram. She had a recommendation, put me in touch and two months later I was there, taking a Chakra Sadhana course. Leaving the states with open-ended travel plans scared the hell out of me, and it was the best thing I ever did. I ended up spending about $1000 for almost two months in India.

I know I’m a happier person for taking the opportunities I’ve been offered. Because I’ve been open to conversation with strangers, I’ve had some great times: I’ve spent an evening getting drunk in random places in Moscow, seeing all the gorgeous subway stations with a Russian-speaking new friend. I’ve seen Prague from a local’s perspective because I said yes to the offer of a drink from a very handsome man on the plane. I had a personally guided walking tour of the entire city, and it cost me nothing. I traveled with friends to Hawaii and met people in person who I had only known online, and because of it, I had a place to stay when I didn’t make it onto a flight to the mainland. I have been invited to stay in Honduras by a guy I met recently who owns a cigar factory. I have been invited to tour a rice plantation owned by the parents of a girl whose pants I complimented in the airport.

There are many things I learned, both about how to travel and about myself during my voyages. When I travel on my own, I have to do it for less, so I find ways to make the travel aspects cost less. If flights within a country are more expensive than I can afford, then I have to find another way. Trains, buses, boats – if you spend time looking for it, you’ll find it. Search for it online. Ask questions of people who have been there or done something similar. Get an idea of what you’re going to spend. Be willing to deal with less than perfection, because you’re going to find a lot of dirt and poverty out in the Real World. Learn how to barter. Let go of your OCD obsessions. Say “Yes” more often than you say “No”. Get your shots before you leave. Learn to let go of control, because you’ll be surprised at what might happen (in a good way! And sometimes not in a good way, but it’s still interesting). Try not to have preconceived notions about what should and will happen, because you’ll be wrong. Read up on other people’s travel experiences, but then be willing to have your own.

These are some of the biggest lessons I can impart to anyone wanting to travel for the pleasure of Eating and Praying through any country in the world. Loving, though, you’ll have to survive on your own. I’m no expert. But I will say that it’s always worth it, even if you end up crying. There’s no amount of money that can buy you the feeling of falling in love with a new place or a new person.


ABOUT MAIGEN THOMAS

Maigen is simple. is smart. is wholesome. is skeevy. is spicy. is delicate. is better. is purer. is 100% more awesome than yesterday. She';s traveling the world and writing about her experiences with life, love, yoga, food, travel and people. Mostly people. Because they';re funny. hear more of her random thoughts @maigen on twitter.

more about maigen thomas

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