Quick Advice For Female Travelers In Their Twenties

 

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I‘m here today to talk about one of my favorite topics: travel! One of my main goals when I graduated university at 24 was to travel as much as possible. The problem: I had a very restricted budget (I was broke AF) and was kind of nervous about traveling solo. So, while some of my friends backpacked through Morocco solo, I  got a job at a travel agency, traveled in very large groups and went on adventures with my then-partner. While I think traveling solo is definitely something everyone should experience at least once, it’s only since I’ve been in my 30’s that I’ve become more adventurous when it comes to striking out on my own.

With that said, female travelers in their twenties are becoming increasingly common. If you’re thinking of taking the plunge, here’s a few things that I learned while traveling in my 20’s (and also my 30’s!)

Do As Much Research As Possible Beforehand

While it can be tempting to book a trip with reckless abandon, do your research beforehand so you know what you’re getting yourself into (I’d prefer to stay in places that don’t have murdery vibes, but that’s just me). Just don’t go overboard. You don’t want to get analysis paralysis, but you do need to make sure you’re booking places that are safe, secure and come with positive reviews.

Be Mindful of Your Drinking

By the time I started traveling in my 20’s, I’d heard enough stories that started with “so, I woke up naked on a beach in Thailand after blacking out”, that I vowed never to drink while traveling, period. To be clear, drinking is fine, just make sure that you stay safe. You shouldn’t drink too much if you’re alone, or with people you barely know either. Don’t put your drink down, know your limits and use your common sense. (PS. If you’re going to drink absinthe, don’t do it in the shower.)

Stay Somewhere With Great Reviews

Look for places with great reviews so you know you’re staying somewhere trustworthy. I chose my recent hotel in Jamaica not because it was the fanciest place on the strip, but because it had consistently great reviews. A place like Fairfield Inn & Suites Mexico City Vallejo has features you should be looking for. You want to make sure that you’re going to be well looked after, wherever you’re traveling and whatever you’re planning on doing.

Pack Light

Nothing hammers home the importance of packing light like having to lug a heavy suitcase up the stairs of a five story Italian hotel with no elevator or air conditioning (#truestory). As a recovering over-packer, I always have to remind myself that I usually end up only needing 3/4 of what I put in my suitcase. Pack minimally, pick up anything you need/forget when you get there and leave room to bring home anything you might purchase.

Invest In A Portable Charger

I learned this hard way when I went to Disneyland for the first time as an adult and my phone ran out of power halfway through an epic photo-shoot with Joe the Intern. A portable charger will ensure you always have phone battery – not to just update Instagram, but to call a cab or LYFT if you need to.

Eat The Food And Don’t Sweat It

Although you may want to stay healthy on your travels, give yourself permission to let go a little bit. While I don’t regret eating my body weight in tacos last time I was in LA, I do regret that one time I went to Loteria Grill and ordered a salad when I was really craving a plate of juicy lamb Birria. Don’t be afraid to try the specialty dish, and enjoy a glass of wine with dinner. It’s not going to kill you!

It’s Okay to Get A Bit Lost

If you get lost, don’t sweat it. You might find something amazing that you wouldn’t have found otherwise — like an amazing hole in the wall restaurant or a cool photo op. Allow yourself some freedom in your schedule to really explore and find new things. For everything else, there’s Google Maps.

Enjoy The Moment – Not Through A Screen

For the majority of my twenties, smart phones simply didn’t exist (shout out to my Nokia flip phone, RIP!) so this wasn’t an issue. Now I try to make a concerted effort to limit screen time as much as possible when I’m traveling. Make sure you’re properly enjoying the moment as you travel, and not just through a screen. Be mindful of what you’re seeing. By all means, snap some pictures, but make sure you actually take in the moment yourself.

A Quick Note On Safety

Don’t listen to anyone who says “it’s not safe for females to travel alone.” While there’s definitely some locations that are safer than others (and some that you probably want to avoid altogether), if you carefully plan where you’re going and take safety precautions, you should be fine. You can’t let fear of the unknown stop you from exploring!

Hopefully, these tips have been helpful.

Bon Voyage! xx

10 Weird Jobs I Had Before Became A Sex Columnist

 

My good pal Kate recently wrote about some of the weird and wonderful jobs she’s had and it’s inspired me to share some of mine. I worked part time throughout the later part of high-school and university (and beyond!) and while the jobs themselves were for the most part pretty normal, I still have a lot of  “interesting” stories.

1. Body Shop sales clerk.

I worked at three different Body Shop locations throughout university, but the one that made for the best stories was the Toronto Eaton Center location. Our store was located on the bottom floor of the Eaton Center — a busy, sprawling downtown mall, dubbed by many “Toronto’s armpit.” Smack dab in the middle of downtown and next to multiple subway stops, when it came to people watching at my former job, there was rarely a dull moment. A few of the highlights:

  • The store had a large makeup section with lots of mirrors. On a Friday or Saturday evening, it wasn’t uncommon to see people come in and do their entire face. After seeing what people do to makeup testers I will never, ever use them — not even on my hand, if I can help it. Shudder.
  • The store also had a large sink intended for sampling shower gels and soaps. One day a man came in, filled the sink, dunked his head in the water and proceeded to wash his very long, filthy hair. Then, instead of toweling dry, he stood up and shook his head like a dog, spraying water everywhere before casually sauntering out of the store.
  • Maybe it was the ubiquitous smell of fruity soap or the fumes wafting in from the food court, but something about being inside The Body Shop compelled customers to tell you all about their bodies. From bikini waxing mishaps, venereal disease symptoms to a man who needed something for what he called his “XXX parts” (very itchy recently shaved balls), I saw and heard things that can never been unseen/heard.

2. The sketchy designer jeans store. 

My first job when I moved to Toronto was working at a store that sold Diesel Jeans (and other brands du jour) on Yonge Street. The store was called Soul and when I saw the help wanted sign, the wide-eyed eighteen year old me thought it was destiny (I mean, I love Soul music. So, what could go wrong?) In retrospect, I’m pretty sure the whole operation was a drug front. We rarely had any customers and every two weeks they’d pay me with cash out of the till. I didn’t mind because they gave me a sweet discount on a pair of Parasuco sparkly denim flares (the jeans had a shimmery silver sheen that made them sparkle in the sun. Like glitter. Oh dear.) In my defense, they made my ass look amazing.

3. Ghostwriting erotic fiction.

When I first started freelancing, I scored a gig creating content for an SEO company that specialized in the adult industry. For several months I wrote a series of “real life” blog posts as “Ginger,” a law student turned cam-girl with a penchant for sex in public places. It was fun & hilarious & weird (and I would totally do it again). FYI, SEO strategy is infinitely more interesting when your keywords are things like “ass cheeks,” “rim job” and “money shot.”

4. The Hungarian deli.

For a very brief period in 2003, I decided to embrace my Eastern European roots and apply for a job  at the Hungarian deli near my house in Toronto. The manager looked like a Slavic stereotype straight out of central casting. Olga wore a white butcher’s coat, a hair-net and a grim expression that made her seem utterly terrifying. Even more terrifying: learning to operate the meat slicer. I was too tentative, which lead to a lot of thickly sliced Tziganskaya (which even I know is a total abomination). I never got called for a second shift.

5. Candy Girl.

My first real job in high school was working at a movie theater downtown. I was initially hired to work at the concession stand. However, I never quite mastered scooping popcorn (notice a pattern here?) so, I was promptly moved over to the bulk candy station. The owner — an older, red-faced man that had a voice that sounded like he’d swallowed a bucket of gravel and washed it down with a whisky chaser – had a mental block when it came to remembering my name so he just called me “Candy Girl.” He told me, “I hired you because you put on your resume that you know how to use a computer.” So, when things weren’t busy, Old Gravel Mouth would bring me up to his office where he’d dictate emails. They were always addressed to a woman named Tammy, who wasn’t his wife.

6. Flight Attendant.

So, yeah. That happened. After graduating university, I thought it would be really cool to get paid to travel. Spoiler alert: it wasn’t (at least for me). I spent two months in an aggressive training program learning all about airplane safety, watching videos of airplane crashes, and doing simulated crash drills that always took place at 4am in empty airplane hangers. Needless to say, it didn’t exactly help with my then un-diagnosed anxiety disorder. I did one flight before turning in my resignation. However, if you need help dragging a body from a burning wreckage (we practiced!) or zip-tying an unruly passenger to their seat, I’m your gal.

7. Coat check.

In third year university, I spent a winter working at the coat check for a high-end night club/cigar lounge. Oddly enough, this is one of the best jobs I ever had. I made an hourly wage, plus tips (usually about $100-$200 a night). The clientele was a lot of pro sports players, C-list celebs and other high-roller types. The money was good and the people watching didn’t disappoint. Annnnd, at the end of the night they’d give us free sandwiches. I’d always leave work with cash in my wallet and a handful of sandwiches stuffed in my purse, that I’d eat for lunch & dinner the next day. Because, #studentlife.

8. Peddler of fancy old lady clothes.

Home for the summer after second year university and desperate for a job, I spent a few months working at a boutique that sold high-end designer clothes. From ten seasons ago. The clothes were brand new, they had just been in the store forever. The rest of the stock looked like it was pulled from the wardrobe department of The Golden Girls. My manager reminded me of Kris Jenner, only more evil and with a raging cocaine habit. She would frequently yell at me because she didn’t think I was selling enough. (IT’S NOT MY FAULT THAT I CAN’T MOVE THIS PAIR OF SUN-FADED SHOP WORN YELLOW VERSACE JEANS, SUSAN.)

9. Managing a Co-Op residence.

This is by far the worst job I ever had. You can read about it here. And yes, I still have nightmares about the van and the never-ending demand for toilet paper.

10. This job.

Being a freelance writer that mostly writes about sex and relationships is weird & wonderful & I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I get to interview porn stars, travel to nude resorts and share my feelings with the internet, all in the name of work. I like to think that all of these other jobs in some way prepared me for what I do now, which often involves writing and speaking about things that make other people feel uncomfortable. “Itchy balls” guys of the world, I solute you.

What’s the strangest or most memorable job you’ve had?

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Too Much on The Inside + Other Truths

0402d5ae9968c163d5d9db0d742611bcWhile I was writing my book, which is a coming-of-age memoir about (you guessed it) dating and relationships; I avoided reading anything similar out of fear that I might creatively psych myself out. Now that the manuscript is complete, I’m having fun binge reading female penned memoirs and books set in Toronto. Last weekend, I finally had a chance to pick up and read cover to cover, Danila Botha’s Too Much on the Inside.

When Danila got in touch with me a few months ago, we quickly bonded over the fact that we spent our 20’s hanging out at a lot of the same places along Queen Street West in Toronto. She remembers what the area was like before it became gentrified, when two of my two favourite bars, Nasa and Element still existed. From the excessively greasy pub food to the telephone poles made thicker by six-inches of flyers and concert posters, Danila captures this era and locale so perfectly that I was unable to put her book down.

Set in the sub-cultural heartland of Toronto’s Queen Street West, Too Much on the Inside explores the depths of human connection as the lives of four people in their twenties converge with the impossible task of escaping their pasts in Brazil, Israel, South Africa, and Nova Scotia. They wrestle with love, heartbreak and angst while trying to build new identities.

All of the characters feel like they’re bits and pieces of people I met in Toronto. Whether it’s a violent trauma or their own angst, all of the characters are trying to outrun something, while grasping at the new and unknown. But, as Too Much on the Inside unfolds, it becomes clear that escaping the past is easier said than done.

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[photos of our old stomping ground via erik howard & flickr ]

Told in the first person, each chapter alternates between the perspectives of the various characters, which gives Too Much on the Inside a voyeuristic, diary like feel. One of the characters I found the most compelling was Marlize – a young South African woman trying to rebuild her life after her mom and sister are murdered and she’s violently raped during a home invasion in her native Cape Town. Traumatized but tenacious, she’s determined to move forward with her life. I loved watching her character fall in love, stumble and get hurt while growing stronger and more sure of herself.

Like the characters in Too Much on the Inside, when I moved to Toronto I was also running – from my parents separation, the lethargy of small town life and an aimless relationship with a much older man – in search of a place where I would feel at home. On some level, I intuitively knew that I would find likeminded individuals in Toronto – and I did – but, not without experiencing my own struggles.

When I was 19, I was sexually assaulted. I’d just moved to Toronto. Although the circumstances of my assault were completely different than the rape described in Danila’s book, the effects were long lasting. At the time I really wanted to talk about it, but often just couldn’t; instead I carried it with me, like a weight that felt impossible to shed. Desperately homesick but also determined to build a life of my own; I wanted to say everything, but also nothing at all.

Too Much on the Inside illustrates this dichotomy so perfectly. Dez, Lukas, Marlize and Nicki – the protagonists of the story, literally have “too much on the inside.” Their hurts, anxieties and hopes for the future are concealed from others, but always on the verge of spilling over the top. The title of the book is a perfect metaphor for being in your twenties, but also for living in Toronto – a bustling, multicultural city where everyone is from somewhere else, homesick, striving, forced to coexist in a melting pot of everyone’s different histories, disappointments and ambitions. I’ve always said that it’s hard to describe the inherent tension and energy that’s unique to life in Toronto, but I think Danila does a damn good job.

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[from my Queen West days circa early 2000’s. I was angsty but I liked flowers. Still do.]

For decades people have been writing stories about angsty twenty-somethings trying to find their way in the big city. But, with the exception of maybe Dionne Brand’s What We All Long For (also set in downtown Toronto), Too Much on the Inside is the first I’ve come across that takes place somewhere that I’m intimately familiar with. I can actually see, hear and even smell this story (the weird dirty greenhouse smell of Toronto never leaves you.) I think that’s why this book feels special to me.

When I think about the stories I’ve written about in my own book, Too Much on the Inside feels like a slightly different conversation, but a parallel one – like if I teleported myself back to the early 2000’s, I might look up from my beer and see Dez, Lukas, Marlize and Nicki living out their lives on the other side of the smoky dive bar. Knowing what I know now, I would wrap my arms around these characters and tell them, “This. All of this. It’s going to be OK.”

 Too Much on the Inside is available on Amazon. I received a copy of the book (thank you!) in exchange for my honest review. All views are my own because that’s how I roll. 

Dating in College. It’s Weird.

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May 2016 will mark the 12th anniversary of my college graduation (Jeebus, when did that happen?!) Although my college days are in the rear view mirror, there are some things that still are fresh in my mind – namely, what it was like dating as a university student. I dated a bunch of different people, had my heart broken a bunch of times and learned a lot of important stuff along the way. These were formative years. While I don’t regret my college dating experiences (ok, maybe I regret a few…) and I kind of wish I still had the hair volume of my early 20’s, you couldn’t pay me to go back to that era of my life. So, when custom-essay.ca asked me to share my thoughts about my college dating, I gladly stepped up to challenge.

Here’s a few reasons why dating in college can be challenging.

Time constraints. 

College students have no time to date properly. I went to a really academically challenging and competitive university. I also typically worked 20+ hours a week.  Dating wasn’t high on my list of priorities. Instead, I was focused on getting good grades and making money. When I had free time, I wanted to go out with my friends and party (read: drink my face off.) If I met someone while I was out with friends, cool. If not, that was OK too. I’m sure college dating is really different now that there’s apps like Tinder, but back then, I would much rather be out with my friends (where I could meet people organically) or working on my Linguistic Anthropology paper than trolling online dating sites for a potential soulmate. In other words, my priorities looked something like this: dating < school work, money, partying, sexy times with hot people I met randomly (in that order.)

Although I used to complain that most of my romantic adventures never amounted to real relationships, I honestly don’t think I could have handled the time and emotional investment that having an actual boyfriend would have required.

Lack of options or access. 

The first time one of my closest friends came to visit me at school, she scrunched up her face and asked, “what’s up with the guys here?! Why does everyone look like they’re vying for a spot on the Fortune 50?” She had a point.

I want you to imagine the ultimate party school (crazy keggers! Dorm parties! Football games! Greek row!) Now imagine the complete opposite of that and you’ve got my alma mater. I think we had a hockey team, but everyone was too busy studying to go watch any games. My school was big, anti-social and nerdy. The male population generally fell into one of three categories:

1) The above mentioned group: Izod shirts, Docker khakis, a copy of the Wall Street Journal or the New Yorker conspicuously peeking out of their Cole Haan messenger bag.

2) Suburban commuter students that looked like their mom still bought all their clothes at Eddie Bauer and maybe even cut their hair.

3) Guys who looked borderline homeless: greasy hair, torn jeans, pyjamas in public, multiple coffee mugs dangling from their MEC backpack. I once saw a guy wear a bathrobe to class. A bathrobe. 

In my four years of undergrad, I only met 3-4 guys at school that I was actually attracted to. I briefly dated one of them (and by “brief,” I mean we went out twice.) The rest of my love interests I met through housemates, coworkers or while partying at underground clubs with my friends.

No one really knows how to date. Not really. 

A few years ago, New York Times writer Alex Williams, wrote a piece about “The End of Courtship” which blamed all of the usual suspects (smartphones, technology, online dating, hook-up culture) for the death of modern romance. As she writes, “Dinner at a romantic new bistro? Forget it. Women in their 20s these days are lucky to get a last-minute text to tag along. Raised in the age of so-called “hookup culture,” millennials — who are reaching an age where they are starting to think about settling down — are subverting the rules of courtship.” 

While I don’t disagree with Williams, the fact that traditional dating is lacking in your 20’s isn’t anything new. I can count on one hand the number of times I went on a “real date” in college. Not only does the average 20-something not have the disposable income to wine & dine each and every one of their love interests, there’s also a good chance that they haven’t learned how to date in this way yet. In college, the best dates were usually the most casual ones. The times I did go on traditional dates in college that involved wine, a fancy dinner & roses, it always felt forced and awkward. It wasn’t until I was out of university and dating guys who were a bit older that I started to go on “real dates” that were actually enjoyable – chic bistro & all. So, a note to the college students: if you’re after the latter, dating does get better with age.

Hook-up culture is a thing. 

People like to pretend that hook-up culture is also a relatively new phenomenon, but it’s not. College is a time to experiment with all kinds of things…including sex. I know I did. Similar to the women in Kate Taylor’s New York Times article (“Sex on Campus: She Can Play That Game, Too“), I saw my college escapades as a cost/benefit kind of situation. I wanted to get the maximum return, for the least investment. Like the girls interviewed in Taylor’s article, I was super busy and the people I was interested in were also super busy. Dating in the traditional sense wasn’t really a thing. Instead, it was easier to seek out casual relationships (i.e. a friend with benefits) that allowed me to skip ahead to the good stuff – sex and cuddling – without the emotional investment of a long term relationship. This kind of arrangement worked for me until it didn’t.

Sometimes, hooking up sucks. 

When you decide that you want more than a casual relationship, the college dating scene can be a really lonely place. It can also hurt like a hell when you develop feelings for the person you’re hooking up with, only to find out that they just want to keep things casual. True story.

Everyone is trying to figure out who they are. 

I think the biggest challenge of dating in college is that everyone you meet is still trying to figure themselves out. That’s not a bad thing – after all, that’s what college is for. Unfortunately, even if you think you have a clear idea of who you are and what you want, a lot of the people you try to date don’t. I can’t tell you how many times I was broken up with because the other person “just needed to find himself/go to India on a vision quest/join the Peace Corps/Do Ayahuasca” or all of the above.

While it’s easy to focus on the negative aspects of dating in college, it can also be a lot of fun. I’m grateful for all my college year hook-ups and romantic failures. If I hadn’t had these experiences and been dissatisfied with many of them, I never would have learned what I really wanted and needed out of my relationships.

What do you think are some of the challenges of dating in college?

This post was brought to you by custom-essay.ca. All opinions are my own because that’s how I roll. Image credit: The Little Things. 

Things I’d Tell My 20-Year Old Self #14 – Akirah

It’s been a while since I posted another installment of the Things I’d Tell my 20-Year Old Self Series, so I thought what better way to get back into the groove than with a post from one of my favorite people on the Internet? Along with writing one of my favorite blogs, Akirah Robinson is a break-up coach and brave hearts enthusiast. What does that mean? Having been in an abusive relationship for 4 years, Akirah is now passionate about self-love and helping other women pursue healthy relationships. She believes we all have brave hearts.

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I really could have used Akirah’s words and wisdom when I was going through my own abusive relationship when I was in my early 20’s, so it seemed fitting that she write the next Things I Would Tell My 20-Year Old Self post. Also, as you can see from the photo below she’s just all around lovely 🙂

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(As I write this piece, I keep experiencing slight heart palpitations. I can’t stop thinking about the fact that I was 20 years old almost ten years ago. Hopefully I’ll be able to get through this.)

When I remember what it felt like to be 20, I can’t help but smile. Life was so simple back then and yet, I was so miserable. I had no real reason to be miserable, but I was. I mean, at that point I hadn’t yet kissed a boy or gone out on many dates. I couldn’t stop thinking about the fifteen pounds I “needed” to lose. It seemed like life would never work out for me.
So I smile. Because that discontent has morphed into extreme gratitude for the life I’m creating right now. I’ve come a long way, baby. Knowing what I know now, here’s what I’d tell 20-year old Akirah:

Yes. One day, you WILL kiss a boy. So calm down! It’s going to happen. In about one year, in fact. And while you’ll feel a little silly for being such a late bloomer, one day you’ll be glad boys didn’t distract you too much during high school and college. (In a few years when a show called “16 and Pregnant” debuts on MTV, you’ll be really glad.)

Take some time to learn the warning signs of partner abuse. Because honestly, you don’t really know them. And partner abuse is so much more than “my boyfriend hits me.” You’ll experience some crappy things during your first serious relationship and throughout much of it, you’ll be in denial about what’s really going on. Don’t fret though; this experience will teach you more than anything else has in your whole life. Even so, learn the warning signs. Then, tell your friends to learn them too.

Stop being a bitch about your love for Jesus. Seriously. People avoid religious fanatics for a reason, my friend. One day, you’re going to have to accept that people make mistakes. Let them. Then love them. And listen! Because no amount of preaching is going to convince your friends to live the life you think they should live. So just stop.

Your marriage isn’t going to save you. Yep, 20-year old Akirah. You get married someday. To a wonderful man, I might add. But this relationship will not save you, even though in the back of your mind, you kind of hope it will. In fact, in many ways it will stress you out. When you realize all those rainbows and butterflies were only a part of the story, you will struggle. So try really hard to not cling tightly to your expectations of marriage. Instead, work on yourself. Because your self-worth is not dependent upon your relationship status. And other people can’t save you.

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