Photoessay: Argentinian Desert

This trip to Jujuy and Tilcara was my first solo travel trip. There were friends made, buses ridden “black” (past the destination on my ticket), hills climbed and cacti gawked at, as they towered over my head. I came home with sandal, necklace, sunglasses and earring tan lines. The bus ride from Tilcara to Buenos Aires took a full 24 hours.

The national park full of cacti remains one of my all-time favorite places I’ve ever been. I’d kill to go back with a DSLR.

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Where did you take your first solo trip? Have you ever seen this area of Argentina?

You can also find me on the ABOFA Facebook page, Instagram and Twitter. There’s also an email list, if you’d like to subscribe.

Photoessay: Córdoba

I have an old friend that lives in Córdoba, Argentina. We met when I was 17 and both studying abroad in Austria, and almost five years later, we finally met up again. I couldn’t stay very long on my short pass-through (was it just one day?), but she took me to a party with traditional bailando. I have a blurry photograph that contains a lot of snapping fingers held up in the air. That was one of the times I was especially grateful to have not just friends all over the world, but wonderful ones at that.

The other memory I have of my time in Córdoba involves the first time I asked strangers if I could take their photograph, HONY style. I was pleasantly surprised when they said yes. It’s one of my favorite photographs from that semester abroad.

Photos were taken in October 2011.

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squiggle3Do you have old friends in foreign places? How about those old men?

You can also find me on the ABOFA Facebook page, Instagram and Twitter. There’s also an email list, if you’d like to subscribe.

“Sally, What Are You Doing With Your Life?”

So the phrasing isn’t usually so direct, but the gist is about the same. When you return home and you’ve finished your undergraduate education, everyone wants to know about the big picture. You’re 24, what are you going to do now? Did you finish dealing with that pesky travel bug you’ve been plagued with for years? (Haha, funny joke!) Wow, you’re going to be here for at least a year? Is it time to settle down, now?

No.

No.

No.

But maybe for a little bit.

If you’ve been following my Instagram recently, you’ve probably noticed that my life consists of a lot of domestic things at the moment. There are dogs, scarves I’m in the middle of knitting, running shoes, neighborhood street lights… not so many foreign things. Unless you count that sushi I ate two weeks ago, which I definitely do. It’s almost the same as going to Japan, right?

Anyways, that’s what I’ll be telling myself for the next few months. Not that I’m unhappy to be back in Pittsburgh, because that’s not the case. Pittsburgh is awesome, especially in the summer. But I think it’s always a hard adjustment to start a routine when you’ve been living a country-to-country, city-to-city kind of life for any serious amount of time. And even harder if you spent a year and a half prior to that living in Asia and eating strange foods on the regular. It’s just tough to go back to your neighborhood grocery store or bar or mall and feel very excited about it; I’m experiencing that first-hand and certainly not for the first time.

What’s different about this time is that I have to learn how to work through it.

I’m going to be back in Pittsburgh for at least a year.

Why, you ask? Well, let’s start with the most obvious reason: I’m broke. Thanks for all the cash, South Korea, and you’re welcome, Europe, for spending all of it within your borders. Even if I was planning to move to another city in the USA, I’d still need to take some time and work in Pittsburgh until I could afford to do so. But that’s not the plan at the moment, because I’m waiting to hear back from an application to the Peace Corps that I sent in last month. There’s no guarantee that I’ll get in, but in the chance that I did, it would still be about a year (or more) until my departure date and it makes the most sense to stick it out where my friends and some of my family are, and where the flexible timing of it all wouldn’t strand me.

But, if I needed more reason to stay, it arrived last week when I accepted a writing and social media job in Pittsburgh. This job would have been tough to pass up no matter what my plans were; it’s what I love to do and do well, but with room to grow. So while some of my readers may be sad to hear that my next job isn’t overseas (I just couldn’t work with kids in a classroom again, I’m sorry!), the rest of my friends from Pittsburgh are pumped to see me stick around for more than just a few weeks here and there. And I’m pretty happy about the new gig, myself. A job I enjoy is a first, solid step in the right direction for a recovering expat like me.

Which leads me to my personal goal for this year or more (who knows?) in Pittsburgh: I want to make Pittsburgh work for me. I don’t want to feel like I’m just passing the time here. I want to put things into my life that I enjoy and which are fulfilling. Part of that process will be dissecting what exactly about expat life and travel abroad made me smile. Was it the new foods? The broken English and prevalence of foreign languages all around me? The chance to meet people with different cultural upbringings? Or just the sheer variety of cheese in Germany? Because if that’s the case, I’m pretty sure the USA has a few stores that won’t disappoint in the cheese arena, and all I need to do to feel better is visit them.

So my plan is to find activities and organizations in Pittsburgh that scratch my international itch. And see if I can’t recreate some of the things I love about life abroad, but do so while staying in one place for a bit.

This is going to be one heck of a challenge, folks. Wish me luck.

 

 [Begin shameless self promotion.]

Did I mention I’m poor?

And I’m selling blank notecards with my photography on them! If you’re interested in grabbing yourself a set of 4, head over to this page and order yourself a few. Contact me with any problems or questions or haikus you’ve written for me, anything!

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Are you also in a transitional move home? What have you done to scratch those itchy feet without jet-setting across the world again?

You can also find me on the ABOFA Facebook Page or subscribe to the email list, if you’d like.

Photoessay: Albania Blooms

I have yet to write about Albania, but it was one of the countries that stuck with me most. While I loved the friendly people, little bits of chaos that infiltrated everyday life and the gorgeous Adriatic sea on my doorstep, the flowers are what immediately come to mind when I picture the country. It seemed like everywhere I looked, another new kind of flower peeked out between a fence or two buildings, brightening my day.

So I tried to make it a habit to stop and smell the roses. In other words, I photographed the shit out of those flowers.

Enjoy!

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Which flowers are your favorite? Have you ever seen any of these where you live or while traveling?

You can also find me on the ABOFA Facebook Page or subscribe to the email list, if you’d like.

iPhone Photoessay: Giovanni’s Mother’s Cooking

Somehow, someway, I ended up on the fourth floor of an old European apartment, walls clad with twenty-year-old wallpaper and the living room desk covered in small, framed family photographs. An older Italian lady stood in the kitchen, preparing pasta for me and my Couchsurfing host. I was at Giovanni’s mother’s home, in Rome, Italy, and she was cooking us lunch.

I guess I’m the kind of girl you can bring home to your momma. Even if your momma doesn’t speak English and we’ve known each other for two days, and we’re just friends. Now that I think about it, this isn’t the first time I’ve been invited along with the parents.

I’m not complaining… certainly not on a full stomach.

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Om nom nom?

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The Truth About Couchsurfing

Does the thought of contacting a stranger to sleep on their couch or spare bed freak you out? You’re not the only one. That’s about how most of my relatives react, with a bit of fear in their voice, when they hear I’ve been Couchsurfing. The first time I used it, traveling through Argentina three years ago, I didn’t even tell my parents what I was doing until after the fact. It sounds scary, and for some people it can be. It took me all of thirty seconds to find four different articles about how to Couchsurf safely, most of them centered on the idea that some people have ulterior sexual motives. But there’s more to it than that.

So what’s the point of Couchsurfing, anyways? Here’s the mission statement, straight from the website:

We envision a world made better by travel and travel made richer by connection. Couchsurfers share their lives with the people they encounter, fostering cultural exchange and mutual respect.

It sounds great and when it works, it is. But before you plan to travel several months without budgeting for accommodation, there are some things you need to know about Couchsurfing.

My very first Couchsurfing host, back in 2011.
My very first Couchsurfing host, back in 2011 in Bahia Blanca, Argentina.

Reading is Required

When you find someone on the website, you have to read their profile. Then you have to read through their references. Then you need to read about their couch, apartment location and any rules they have concerning staying there. It’s not an option, it’s a requirement. If you send a request to someone who’s profile you haven’t read, it shows, and you’ll either be denied or end up somewhere you’re not prepared to be. Either way, it’s much better to just read a potential host’s profile thoroughly before contacting them. You’re staying with a probably really awesome stranger, but even so, do your research.

It’s an Exchange

How would you feel if someone walked into your house, used your toilet paper, slept on your couch, ignored you throughout the morning and then left? Couchsurfing is not a free hotel. While money is off the table, you’re still expected to give something to your host in exchange for their time and hospitality. Think a small magnet from your last destination, a recipe from your home country, a note of appreciation or just a willingness to always wash the dishes are often well-accepted. Couchsurfing has a “Teach, Learn, Share” section of their profile that asks you to describe what you could teach or share with someone hosting you, and what you’re interested in learning. For most people, good conversation and some stories are enough, though in truth it’s just about the effort. I personally like to keep notecards with a photograph of Pittsburgh on them and write small thank-yous on the day I leave, or bring a bottle of wine from the region I’m coming from. Intangible or otherwise, you need to give something back to your host.

What You Save in Money, You Spend in Time

Going to Hostel World, picking out a hostel and making a reservation usually takes somewhere between five to ten minutes for me, depending on how lost my credit card is in the depths of my purse. It’s easy and your bed is guaranteed the second you click ” confirm”. When you Couchsurf, the opposite is true. While I wholeheartedly believe that the experience is worth every minute you put into it, dear golly, I have put a whole lot of minutes into finding hosts on Couchsurfing. First there’s the reading, then there’s more reading of more profiles just to be sure you found a good one. Then comes the writing of a good couch request or two. Then you wait for a response, which could come immediately or never (check those response rates before you choose someone!), and when you’re trying to surf in Europe in the middle of July, for example, you’re bound to get several rejections before finding a suitable place to stay.

All in all, sometimes Couchsurfing takes forever. And if you’re traveling on a more fast-paced trip, one or two days in each city, it may not be worth it to you to spend an hour or two daily on the Internet, trying to find your next place to stay, when you could be out soaking up your current destination. Whatever your circumstances, it’s important to know that Couchsurfing is going to take you a lot of time and weigh that into your decision.

You Will Live Like a Local

On one hand, this can be an amazing experience to see what people really live like in cities all over the world. On the other hand, they may not live as well as you’re accustomed to and this may mean grungy bathrooms, tiny kitchens and less than beautiful apartment complexes with way too many stairs. One time my host didn’t have air conditioning, and I sweat buckets in a windowless room and in the heat of summer for two nights straight. But I didn’t complain because she was sleeping in the same house with the same temperature, and it was part of her everyday life. Just know that when someone welcomes you into their home, it’s not always roses, but it will be authentic.

Some People Want Sex

I know, I know. Nobody wants to hear about this, least of all my mother. But it’s been talked about before, and it’s a fact of life that some people use Couchsurfing as a way to have exotic one night stands. I can firmly say that I’ve encountered no such unsolicited situations myself, over three years and about 30 different hosts, a third of them men. But it’s something women and men alike have to watch out for, and some Couchsurfers have even deleted their profile over. This usually happens more in man-centric cultures, though that’s not to say you shouldn’t keep an eye out for it surfing in the West as well. You can easily tell what someone’s intentions are, though. Just read through reviews people have left for one another and you’ll quickly find real people who are in it for the cultural exchange of ideas, not fluids.

R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

You gotta have it. You’ll need to respect not only your host’s home by keeping clean and not going through their things (duh!), but you’ll more importantly need to respect their rules and boundaries. If they only have one key and need you to get up in the morning at the same time they do, you’ll need to do it with a smile, 8 AM and all. If your host is vegetarian, it would be respectful to not cook hamburgers for breakfast, lunch and dinner each day or offer them a casserole with meat hidden in the folds. If they need to work or study during the day, you’ll need to respect that they can’t show you around and be independent, sightseeing on your own. Because Couchsurfing is a mutual agreement based on trust, respect is huge. HUGE!

The Kindness and Trust of Strangers is Real

I’ve had so many hosts go out of their way to make sure I’m having a great experience; everything from cooking me specific foods I wanted to try, calling their history-buff friends to give me an impromptu city tour, to bringing me out with their friends or to their work and even going so far as paying for my meal, when I’m the one sleeping in their space. I can’t even count the number of times my host has met me and immediately given me a spare key, so I could come and go at my leisure. If nothing else, Couchsurfing will give you a deep and life-long conviction that people are kind and good at heart, and then create in you the desire to be just as kind and good to the strangers you meet.

 

Just a few of the many, many faces from my Couchsurfing experiences.
Just a few of the many beautiful souls from my Couchsurfing experiences.

 

If you do it wrong, you could end up in an uncomfortable, or worse, compromising situation. But if you do it right, it may change not just the way you travel but the way you live and think about humanity.  And that’s the real truth about Couchsurfing.

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What have your Couchsurfing experiences been like? Any other truths you think I’ve missed? Completely disagree?

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True Life: My Parents Are Expats

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There they stood, lurking in their small town’s daily market, among stalls of horse sausage, cheese-galore and asparagus, acting like they fit in. They walked like the others, but they did not talk like the others. These two adults were different. They were expats.

And so might begin the saga of my parents, who’ve just begun a brand new chapter in their married lives: expating. In Germany. I think the empty-nest syndrome must be a real thing, because why else would two perfectly happy people pick up and move somewhere that doesn’t have bagels?

Yeah, no idea.

My Dad’s job sent him to a new position outside of Halle an der Saale, Germany, a city which I explored for a few days (and found quite charming) when I first began this five-month trip around Europe. When I first arrived in Halle with him, he was going solo; my mom had been left behind to tie up loose ends around Pittsburgh before heading over herself. He was still living out of a hotel room when I left and the house they’d agreed to rent wasn’t quite ready for them.

But when April rolled around, I rushed into town as well. And by “rushed”, I mean stumbled in with baggage… I came down with a fever in Paris a few days earlier (plus a lingering chest cough, yuck) and had to spoil my poor parents’ fun with sickness. But I got better. And I wasn’t completely useless the entire time, in fact I was almost always up for eating cake.

Almost always = always.

We also spent a lot of time shopping, which is what happens when your parents sign a two-year lease for a house with literally nothing in it. My poor father spent several weeks building basic furniture – beds, tables, chairs – after work each day before my mom arrived, so they would at least have something to sleep on. In the three weeks I was there, the furniture grew by four patio chairs and an outside table (co-opted to be a dining room set in the interim), a large area rug, a grill and a very comfortable, if I do say so myself, corner couch.

When we weren’t shopping for furniture, we were outfitting the kitchen. Cutting boards and spatulas and a blender (Mom’s smoothies, hurray!) and the proper knifes and the list goes on. Then there were the actual food items that one needs in a kitchen; cinnamon and other assorted spices, almond butter, olive oil, Greek yogurt and where is the spinach? Are these sweet onions or normal? I’d almost forgotten about all those small details that can drive an expat mad before they’ve gotten into the swing of things. Bless my mama’s heart, she doesn’t even speak German and she strolled down those grocery store aisles and pointed to the cheese she wanted with confidence, and succeeded.

During my last week there, she even strolled down the street to the meat shop and got extra bratwurst for dinner, all by herself. Boom. She does a lot of strolling.

In between the shopping madness, my parents got to try some new foods.

Mom digging into her first currywurst. Needless to say, she approved.
Mom digging into her first currywurst. Needless to say, she approved.
One of many, many bratwurst my dad's consumed since arriving in Germany. Nom.
One of many, many bratwurst my dad has consumed since arriving in Germany.

And me? Well… I also ate. I ate so much, so well, so many different great foods while I was with my parents, that I’m going to have to put together a separate post on that once my final week in Germany is over in the beginning of July. Prepare to drool. Unhelpful Hint: Cake.

But, like any expat adventure, it’s not an adventure until hilarious and uncomfortable things happen.

Here’s an except from an email my father sent me sometime in early March:

I had a great Sunday morning here in Halle. At Jon’s behest I did 25 minutes of intense exercise outside. Maybe 42degF.  While in push-up position after about 10 reps I heard someone coming and maybe a pet in tow. I kept to my business of doing my reps but could not ignore the presence of an animal right next to me who was not going anywhere. I turned my head towards the presence and was dutifully licked in the face by a large dog twice as big as Finn with a face like Finn. The dog was not on a leash but was with the owner– a 30ish eastern euro looking man who didn’t care or wasn’t alarmed at his unleashed dog licking the face of a defenseless and vulnerable man on the ground. He said nothing to me, just calmly called his dog to keep going. I finished my push-ups and stood up to see what was going on. I guess dogs are irresistibly drawn to me.

As for my mom, she’s just had to try a lot of different ways of ordering a decaf latte, because what they have on most menus isn’t quite right. And she would also dropkick me from across the continent if I posted any actually embarrassing moments on the entire Internet, and so I will stay mostly silent on that.

The biggest challenge for my parents during the three weeks I was there was undoubtedly attempting to get Internet. Every single morning, my mother and I would wake up and head to a local cafe with our computers in tow and use up our daily allotted two hours on their network. We struggled to find a better cafe with unlimited WiFi and enough outlets for us, and both of us had high hopes that the Internet conundrum would be solved before each week was up. But each day and week passed, and the kind-of-crappy satellite still wouldn’t pick up a good signal and the software was outdated, to boot. Dad’s work friends came over, the landlord came over, the company was called and complained to, the local experts were asked how much they might charge to fix it. For three long weeks (and more), Internet was illusive. When I left to continue my trip, it was still unresolved.

Turns out, the router just needed a good restart. They finally got Internet in the house about a week after I left: mission successful.

Now that they’ve settled into the house, gotten a long-term rental car and set themselves up with Internet, the news is that my parents are very happy at the moment indeed. And I’m very excited for them; these are going to be two years to remember.

And so they laughed over a cup of coffee as my father eyed up a strawberry shortcake on display a few feet from him, wasting away a lazy Saturday in a place they now called home.

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Have your parents or family ever lived abroad? What do you think of my parents living in Germany? Do you need recommendations for restaurants in Halle an der Saale? (My dad can help you out!)

You can also find me on the ABOFA Facebook Page or subscribe to the newsletter, if you’d like.

Photoessay: A Day in Bray

I haven’t written about it yet, but I didn’t really enjoy Dublin, Ireland very much. So one beautiful day I decided that instead of commuting north into the downtown again, I’d instead head south and see what the ocean side had to offer. After all, people don’t travel to Ireland to see Trinity College once and then head home. They come for the green. So 13 miles down the coast from Dublin, I traveled, looking for some green.

My oh my, what I found exceeded my expectations. Not so much the green, but the way the green contrasted with everything around it. It seemed almost neon. And the small mountain the lay south of Bray bordered right up against the ocean, and included what I later learned was the most expensive-to-maintain stretch of railroad tracks in Ireland and is still used to this day. The views are probably incredible on that train, judging from my own incredible views a few feet above.

Near that railroad track, winding its own way around the mountain, is a six kilometer stretch of trail that reaches the next nearest town, Greystones. The stretch of trail overlooks the ocean for its entirety and I felt jealous of the joggers and runners I saw along the way; they would be able to complete and see the entire stretch today, while I could only walk part before it was time to go home.

In the end, it was a wonderful day in Bray.

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Have you ever visited Bray or rode down this stretch of the railway? What did you think? Would you ever run this trail?

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On Falling in Love (With London)

After spending two weeks out in the wild nature of Ireland, I wasn’t sure how it would feel to return to a busy metropolis such as London. The day before my overnight ferry I walked around Dublin with a friend, and the drizzle, traffic and noises aggravated me after the peaceful island quiet. And I was headed to an even bigger, busier city across the channel? How could this possibly go well? I wondered. But London is a must-see and I had to pass through anyways on my overland way to Germany, so onward ho.

I was lucky enough to have a family contact in London, who not only offered me a place to sleep and a key to her place, but who is just as obsessed with delicious noms as I am. Suffice it to say we got along quite well, if for no other reason than we both love stuffing our faces and talking about travel. Her intimate knowledge of London’s food scene and kindness set me up on the perfect foot to dive into London, despite my hesitations about being in such a big city.

This is what London angels leave you while they go to work.
This is what London angels leave you while they go to work.

And then the food, oh the food! One of the best things about big cities is the array of cuisines available in one place, and London surely didn’t disappoint. We ate Asian noodles and Spanish tortillas and Indian daal and sandwiches from Pret A Manger, a French health-food chain. I spent no more than three and a half days in London, but food-wise, it was well spent. Afternoon Tea and strawberry cake and other sweets here and there didn’t do much for my waistline, either, but I don’t regret one delicious bite. Mmm, allow me to wipe the drool off of my face as I continue.

On second thought, I'm not sure if I actually fell in love with London or just with clotted cream and macaroons...
On second thought, I’m not sure if I actually fell in love with London or just with clotted cream and macaroons…

The tourist sites were beautiful, as well. Huge churches, beautiful parks and elaborate costumes on the Queen’s guards were all sights to see. But of all the things to look at in London, there is one moment I remember clearly; it took my breath away. I was walking down the street and as I turned right onto Westminster Bridge, I was suddenly faced with the entirety of the House of Parliament across the river and Big Ben standing tall. To see such a gigantic, beautiful building come out of nowhere stunned me. Sometime while walking across that bridge is when I really fell in love with London and all of its charm. The Tower of London, while expensive, was worth the cost only because of the Beefeater tour, though the building itself is also lovely. Old buildings, tall as can be, lurked in corners at nearly every turn, somehow hidden by the city around it from other angles, much to my delight as I rounded corners throughout the city.

I'm just a huge, gorgeous building chilling on the riverside. No big deal.
I’m just a huge, gorgeous building chilling on the riverside. No big deal.

But one of the things that struck me most about London was how easy it was to travel. I’m not just talking about the language, though not having to navigate and read things in a foreign language was nice. I’m referencing the bus system, which was both efficient and not overly expensive. The Oyster cards that made everything easier and cheaper. The way the city was laid out, with multiple bridges to choose from when crossing the river, meaning no backtracking was necessary to get where I wanted to go. More than anything, though, were the beautiful maps everywhere. I even stopped carrying my own city map with me, which if you know me, is unheard of. (I always get lost.) I simply didn’t need it. Every few blocks stood a post with two maps: one close up and one farther away, so you knew not only exactly where you were and which direction you were facing, but what important landmarks were nearby and how to get there. I never worried about being lost, because if I needed to double check my location, I just checked one of the signposts within a few blocks of wherever I was and all was resolved.

It should be illegal not to have helpful maps everywhere in big cities.
It should be illegal not to have helpful maps everywhere in big cities. Seriously.

Genius, really. Maps. Useful public maps. Can every city get on board with this, now? (I’m looking at you Valencia, Spain!)

Between the relaxed feeling I had walking all over the city, the happy state my tummy was perpetually in, the lovely company I enjoyed while in London and the ancient beauty lurking in corners, I found London a hard city not to fall in love with. London is easy. London is beautiful. London is fun. Tell me, how could I not want to stay forever?

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Have you ever been to London? What did you think? Has anything ever caused you to fall in love with a city within days of arriving?

You can also find me on the ABOFA Facebook page, Instagram and Twitter. There’s also an email list, if you’d like to subscribe.

The Ridiculous Story of My Buzzcut

If you follow me on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, you may have noticed a little change to my look in the last month. And by little, I mean drastic, and by change, I am referring to my haircut. Normally I wouldn’t talk about something as simple as a haircut, but this haircut happens to come with a hilarious story. A story that’s begging to be told.

I (quite ineffectively) let the secret out first on Instagram, when I had less than five followers:

But, Why?

Sometime in Madrid, I woke up wishing I had no hair. I’ve always had a little desire in the back of my head, a voice that said “Someday, I’m going to chop all of my hair off.” And I woke up in Madrid realizing that the day had finally come, and if I really wanted to cut off all of my hair, this trip was the time to do it. Instead of simply a someday desire, I now had a full-fledged drive. Suddenly my hair wasn’t just there, it was annoying. It was a burden. I woke up thinking get it off my head.

But I’m on a budget, and I couldn’t justify paying $20 for someone to run buzz clippers over my scalp, when I could probably find someone who owned hair clippers and do it myself. My flight out of Madrid came and I found myself in Dublin for a week, as annoyed with having hair on my head as ever. The week passed quickly, and finally I made my way west to the Aran Islands to work at a hostel for two weeks. I made friends. And I knew the time had finally come, when someone knew someone who had hair clippers and agreed to let me use them.

The Story

I’m not sure why the whole thing got so hyped up, but my boss at the hostel started telling everyone that I was going to shave my head, and I gained an audience of people from all over the world, asking when I was going to cut my hair. One of my friends made a Facebook event, and we decided to do the deed at night, in the Irish pub next door, because the bartender on Mondays wouldn’t care about some random girl getting her hair shaved off while she was working. One of my friends decided to conduct interviews and make a mini documentary, just for fun. (She’s into film making.) Some of the guests at the hostel decided to come along for the show. That night, some 15 people walked into the bar to see me cut off my hair.

Apparently, it was a big deal.

“No, don’t do it! You’re beautiful!”

“But… why?”

“Don’t do it. No, don’t do it. Don’t cut your hair, it looks good already!”

It seemed like everyone had an opinion about me getting a haircut. Even the guy renting bikes out to tourists. Especially my two brothers, who’d been both angry and annoyed that I would change my hairstyle. I was a little baffled, considering that it’s just hair and it’s also my hair, but my support in the endeavor was small. Me being me, I didn’t really care what anyone thought the best length of my hair was. I wasn’t trying to be beautiful, I wasn’t trying to look good. I just really didn’t want hair anymore.

Some people didn't react so well to the news...
Some people didn’t react so well to the news… but they got over it.

So sitting on a stool in the middle of an island Irish pub, I let a random French guy use his knife to cut off a big chunk of my hair and then hold it up to his face like a mustache.

 

The first cut.
The first cut.

Everyone took turns with the machine. Some people were rough, almost pulling the hair out of my scalp, other people could have been scratching my head for all I noticed. Piece by piece, big chunks of brown hair fell onto the pub floor as the local Irish people looked around in curiosity at the strange party. I sipped a Guinness while my hairdresser became someone else, having to be careful to avoid getting pieces of hair in my drink. I wasn’t completely successful with that, unfortunately, but there’s only so much one can do when you mix haircuts and the bar, eh?

Eventually everyone had their turn and my patchily buzz-cutted head was turned over to a different French guy. He told me that he cuts his friends’ hair when they ask him to, which officially qualified him as a professional among the other slightly tipsy guests at the pub. Taking off the plastic guard for the clippers, he sculpted my fuzz-head into an actual style, short on the neck and near the ears. It didn’t look half-bad for a haircut a bunch of slightly drunk people gave me in the middle of an Irish pub. Several people commented that I looked like Sinead O’Connor and that short hair looked really good on me; these were unsurprisingly often the same people who said “Noooooo!!! Don’t!!!” just a few days and hours earlier. The filming came to an end with a few final interviews and we enjoyed a little encore: one German guy ended the night with a ridiculous haircut and eventually had to shave his entire head to the scalp just to look normal again.

(That’s what happens when you mix alcohol and hair clippers in Ireland.)

And best of all, I finally did what I always wanted to do. I cut all of my hair off. I even have a ridiculous, ridiculous story to go with it.

How Does It Feel?

At first it felt weird. I didn’t recognize my reflection in the mirror. At times I still run my hand over my hair and wonder where it all went. Before bed, I kept trying to pull out an imaginary ponytail and finding nothing there to take out. I suddenly had nothing to do in the shower, anymore, since washing took so little time. A few people looked at me strange, but for a little while I did look like a dandelion running around in clothing.

Now? I picture myself with short hair. I’m excited to try new short-haired styles when it grows out a little more. I can’t say I’m entirely happy with my short-haired-styles thus far (see above re: dandelions) but I am glad that I cut it. I’m confident that it’ll settle in, and I’ve now let a friend of mine (who actually cuts hair) style it into something that’ll grow out well. Based on my shower times and how little my hair gets in my mouth, which is never, I’m not sure if long hair is in my immediate future again.

I’m not “pretty” like I used to be. But that was never the goal. I just wanted to follow through on something I’ve always wanted to do someday, and took the plunge to make it happen, awkward growth stages and all. And for that, I’m happy.

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Note: The video my friend filmed is still being edited, and it’ll take quite some time. When it’s done I’ll definitely share!

Have you ever had your hair buzzed off by half drunk people in an Irish pub too? Do you think I’m crazy? (It’s okay if you do!) Do I look like a dandelion or a more like cotton ball head in that one picture? When are you cutting your hair?

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