This was written about a week before I left to come back from my three-month tour across the country. I’m still learning things from that trip post-tour, and that will be another post. Here’s some things I realized before I came back that I’ve learned.
I've always had the dream of owning multiple homes in multiple cities. But before doing that, I wanted to compare what it was like to be in a city for a long-ish period of time
My method of traveling is slow. I don't really like doing cliche touristy things. I'm more interested in going macro and micro-- that is, I prefer looking at the layout of a city as a whole (blame my budding urban designer that I never fully satiated when I was in college) and having deep conversations with many individuals in the city (because learning about the people in an area gives me a feel for the community here).
That’s why when the idea of going on tour across the country for professional cuddling kept coming to mind, I didn’t dismiss it. It took about a year and a half before I finally took action.
I knew when I planned out my Snuggle Tour for myself this was going to be a really busy trip for work, and I knew I'd also see a lot about the cities that I like and dislike. What surprised me the most was how much I learned about myself by going to these cities and traveling for so long.
In no particular order, here's just a small sampling about what happened in the past couple months.
1. I actually don't like eating out all that much. This was a huge realization for me considering that it's a habit I kept trying to kick while at home and it was my primary way to socialize. The only real appeal I had to eating out was to have friends to eat with and I didn't have to think about food, but if we're willing to cook together at home in a quiet setting that's even more intimate and important to me than going out to eat. When you're traveling by yourself for so long though, eating out is often just a overly expensive version of a meal. I'll gladly do it with a friend, but otherwise I'd much rather just eat food I get from the grocery store.
2. I like both experiences and self-care. I've been affording my trip this entire time by going stupid cheap the first week (crashing at friends' places, staying in hostels or really cheap shared Airbnb's).
Then I would get super amazing deals within my budget (with the power invested in me by Priceline) for the second week at very high class hotels.
This juxtaposition was hilarious to me through it all, but I had a lot of fun in both places! I loved being at the poolside at the Hotel Granduca in Austin, but I also loved being a stone's throw away from the famous "Dirty Six" in Austin while in the hostel. I loved sharing moonshine and bottles of wine with hostelmates in Chicago and I loved having all my meals catered to me at the Westin. I was fascinated while watching the police yell at two people that were about to fist fight each other right outside my friend's apartment in Philly, and I enjoyed the delicious hot continental breakfasts among business elites right next to City Hall in a suite at the Residence Inn. I enjoyed sharing a bottle of wine with my college friend in Jackson Heights and I enjoyed relaxing in a studio in Upper East Side. I enjoyed the cute little artist ranch I stayed in just north of Downtown Denver that I cooked most of my meals out of and I loved the luxurious and newly-renovated Marriott I stayed in that catered all my meals for me and had not one but TWO pools and a hot tub.
I found that it was important for me to not care about accomodations at first and instead spend that time diving into the city and enjoying those experiences that first week. Knowing that I could relax into getting many of my needs catered easily the following week while working (because I often took clients the second week and much less the first week) and really absorb the lessons I learned the previous week made it easy for me to just dive into whatever I was about to do when I arrived and go all-out with silly, cheap-ass experiences.
3. Yeah, self-care isn't just a buzzword. I actually need it even if I'm cuddling all day. I almost didn't go with nice hotels for my trip, but when I got to Philly and ran into a weird snag with my hotel accommodations, my friend Aubrey came to the rescue and last-minute booked me a hotel at the Residence Inn for around the same price I had paid. She happened to have Elite Status through the Marriott, so her booking this also meant that I got upgraded to a suite automatically, I got continental breakfast, and it was easily accessible to most things in the area.
This was just in time too, because during my two-day stay there I would cuddle for eight and a half hours between four different clients.
That was my first experience with realizing that cuddling that much in such a short period of time can and will exhaust me. I love working this much, but it threw me off mentally. Had I been in lesser accommodations where I had to figure out food and a workout routine, I probably would have just passed out between my sessions and not been at my A-game halfway through. My lesson was learned: If I'm going to work this much in such a short period of time (mind you, I hadn't done this much with this many people in such a short period of time until this point), I need really good accommodations and self-care to help me recover in between. My remaining hotel bookings were at least 3 stars or above.
4. I can't escape engineers for the life of me. I thought I'd run into more artists, dancers and marketers while meeting new people on my trip.
Holy sugar was I wrong. I did meet those people, but mostly I just kept running into more engineers even without trying. It's almost like I know how they act, get attracted to their behavior, and gravitate towards them. I get along with them so well and can keep up with them mentally, and then when it comes to talking about work, what comes out? Engineer. Or ex-engineer (which then we have just a bit more in common). My guess is that years of being in my techy-ish sub-cultures in my home area and enjoying them has trained me to gravitate towards communities that engineers would also like to be in. Someone I dated while transitioning careers was right: once an engineer, always an engineer.
5. I feel for socioeconomic class structures. I met some friendly, close friends going on a road trip in the hostel. They were super friendly with me when I randomly asked if I could sit down (I was pretty awkward about it too because they were all talking to each other really animatedly and I had no idea where else to go in the room so after circling once I found a seat there and asked if I could join them). They shared their booze. We traded stories.
I saw some of them at the hostel breakfast the next day. One of them mentioned that their car had gotten broken into early on in their road trip and someone stole their girl friend's suitcase with all her clothes, so she had been buying clothes during the trip.
I just happened to have a Buffalo Exchange gift card on me from just before I left for my trip (I had meant to get money for the clothes I brought, but the money they were giving me was so little it made sense to just take a gift card). I don't know why I had it on me, but I saw that she could use it way more than I could, so I gave it to her. She asked if I was sure, and I told her I already had way too much stuff with me on my trip and there was no way I was going to buy more stuff. She would put it to better use than me, and I really meant it. She took it gratefully.
Contrast that with staying at the Westin and getting access to the Executive Lounge where I got two meals a day plus all the snacks and soft beverages I could want and $5 glasses of wine. It was luxurious.
I remember talking to two women that were staying there for a dog show that was coming up. They asked me where I was heading next for my trip and when I told them Austin. They immediately started naming all these high-end names for restaurants in Austin and how I HAD to go get the food there and the luxurious experiences they had there, completely forgetting that I was there.
I nodded and quietly looked up these places they were naming up on my phone. These were way, way out of my budget (hell, when I was working as an engineer I wouldn’t have been able to afford these!), and mind you, I had discovered at that point that restaurants aren't necessarily a travel experience for me (unless it was Texas barbeque, then I would have totally been down, but they didn't name Texas barbeque places). When they asked me what I thought of what I saw I politely said I'd consider going.
After they left the lounge an hour later I remember thinking to myself, "What the hell am I doing here? I don't belong here." I felt like a fraud for getting this luxury when the people around me were clearly in a different class entirely that in that moment I couldn’t picture for myself.
No wonder when many people I’ve met have moved income classes they told me they feel awkward and out of place about it at first— and lifestyle inflation happens so fast.
6. I really don't need all my shit. I jam-packed a suitcase and my big-ass laptop bag for my trip and I still found that I overpacked. I brought some notepads I was so sure I would need that I hadn’t touched. I finished ONE of the six books I brought with me. I didn't even use most of the makeup or toiletries I've been bringing with me because 1. I actually really don't like wearing makeup that much and have put it on once every two weeks or so on this trip if that, and 2. Most of the places I've been staying have had shampoo, conditioner, and soap. The clothes, yes. And you know what? I brought the perfect amount of clothes to justify doing a full load of laundry roughly once every weekend and a half or so.
THIS IS PERFECT!
I've wanted to own less stuff and go the minimalist route, and I've been saying that for years, but going on this long of a trip has showed me that I really could live out of a suitcase if I really needed to. I made sure when I went on this trip that I picked clothes that I knew I'd love wearing day in and day out, and I picked well. This reinforces the idea I have around wanting fewer clothes but higher quality that I enjoy wearing.
In the last night I was on tour, I determined things I was going to leave in Denver and not even bring on the plane with me. They were small items— bottles of shampoo I collected from hotels, soaps, and some makeup that had started going bad— but it made a huge difference to just not bring those with me. I felt lighter. I loved that feeling. I wanted more of it.
I’ve slowly been pairing down on my things since the morning after I arrive back in Boston. After all, if I really need something, I discovered...
7. There's actually some really good quality things at Dollar Tree. I found myself buying Dollar Tree razors and shaving cream when my Mach3 went dull. Those Dollar Tree razors had to be the best shave I've had in a long, long time. When my boyfriend came out to visit me in Detroit, he had a really hard time not touching my legs because they were so smooth. Gillette has nothing on the Dollar Tree 6-blade razors I got for $1 for two of them.
Toothpaste, toothbrushes, mouthwash, shampoo, conditioner, soap, makeup remover, face masks, deordorant... all of these were things I saw at Dollar Tree for the brands that I'm familiar with using, but for $1. Which is crazy because even at home I would pay more for most of those things going to Market Basket! You bet your butt I'm going to the Dollar Tree in Somerville more often when I get back to get these essentials (of course, only when I find I need them). Just because something is cheap and looked down upon by many people doesn’t mean the solution isn’t there for ME.