*Click "display images" at the top to see a picture of a book with naughty words written on it.
Today I'm giving zero fucks about solo holidaying
There is a certain... I won't call it taboo, but a certain intrigue around the "solo holiday". To be the lone traveller can elicit any one of a number of possible reactions in people, from fear ("but don't you feel vulnerable when you arrive at a bus station as a young woman on your own at 3am in a heavily misogynistic, patriarchal society?") to apprehension ("I'm worried I'd end up crying and watching boxsets on lonely evenings in") to confusion ("but who rubs the sun cream into your back?") to concern ("hey Jacs, just checking in, ARE YOU OK ON YOUR OWN OUT THERE MILES FROM HOME, we totally trust you can do it but I'm just checking in - by the way, have you been taking your medication?") to intrigue ("is it really, truly wonderful to just be silent and wander?") and more.
I solo travel a lot. The majority of the time actually; I can't remember the last time I got an airplane with someone I knew. To the extent that getting a flight with a friend now makes me feel a bit socially awkward (so, hang on, let me get this right: we're supposed to sit next to each other, our arms touching on the armrest, and just... read?). But I have absolutely dealt with all of the above questions. And yes, I have burnt the backs of my shoulders on occasion because I will never be able to bring myself to ask a stranger to rub my sun cream in for me, however high my disregard for social boundaries is. The truth is, holidaying alone is all the things that people worry it might be but then there's all the things they dream it might be too, and it truly is all those things as well.
"Is it really, truly wonderful to just be silent and wander?". It is. I won't pretend that that "silence" is always easy, or that it brings to the surface what you think it might, but I think that is part of the brilliance of it - that is, if you're the type to like being confronted with you, as you are, and have a little bit of an explore of what's going on for you. A space and an opportunity to be with no one but yourself, to not have the frivolity of margaritas on the beach with friends and prolonged seafood dinners by the harbour with great wine and even better company and casual chats wandering around foreign and exotic cities. To not have any of these things to distract you from the you that you never get the time to be alone with. If this thought terrifies you, I might tentatively suggest that solo holidays may not be for you (unless you want a challenge, but perhaps leave a little in the budget for an early flight home).
I recently returned from a 9 day lone trip to Israel - Tel Aviv, specifically. Tel Aviv is not the silent type of city; it is beautifully chaotic, from the 24/7 bustling bakeries that spill out on to the street, to the beach bars that are packed with people drinking local beer and eating plates of beautifully crispy fried seafood, to the falafel and hummus restaurants that people dash in and out of clutching bulging white paper bags, to Carmel market where you'll find row after row of sharon fruit, medjool dates, rich pistachio and rose water Halva, deeply pungent spices, chocolate rippled babkas, fresh plaited challa and pomegranate juice made before your eyes. It is hard to find silence or an empty road in a city where people go out at 11pm and stay out till 4am. Walking down the street, understated looking residences pulsate with coloured light and heavy bass from inside.
Yet, I found silence.
At 6am, when I couldn't sleep, I'd wander to Abulafia, the best known 24/7 bakery in Jaffa (which is the oldest port in Israel and just at the end of Tel Aviv and where I stayed), buy a pastry made of thick, heavy, sesame seed flecked bread, loaded with white Bulgarian cheese - salty and tangy - and with a hard boiled egg added before it went in the oven for good measure. I would take my weighty bag of baked goods to the promenade by the sea, sit on a stone wall and eat, looking out over the sea and the Tel Aviv skyline. There, I found silence.
I'd go to Gordon Pool, a beautiful salt water pool at the beach's edge, by the marina at the north of the city and plunge my head into the water, doing length after length of front crawl. I sat round the pool afterwards, with my towel wrapped around me, warm in the cool winter sun, people watching. There was a woman there, she must have been in her 70s, who had headphones in and had the strongest 80s lycra game (and hair) that I've ever seen. She stood at the side of the pool and danced as though it was Ibiza in the early 90s and it made me smile. There, I found silence.
I went to the beach at Bat Yam, a suburb that lies a half hour bike ride from Tel Aviv, because I needed a change of scene. It's a brand new, pristine beach, made to cater for the sheer overflow of people from Tel Aviv. I bought a Coke Zero, lent my bike up against a palm tree and sat on the beach with my coke, a notebook and pen and wrote. The beach was empty save a woman who bravely swam in the sea (brave because it was cold in there but also because swimming there was forbidden and the Israelis are ruthless bastards and I didn't like to think what might happen to her if she got caught). I sat and I watched the sea and it reminded me of my ex because she loves the sea and I let myself think of her a while. There, I found silence.
Cycling through the city on my bike, sometimes along quiet beach-side cycle paths, other times weaving between crazy Israeli drivers, I felt so very part of this humming city, while also apart from it. The Brit whizzing past the throb and bustle of the streets, feeling the salt-licked wind fresh off the sea against her skin as she powered up north along the coast. There, I bought a great big schmaltz herring baguette (being an Ashkanazi Jew, herring is the nectar of the Gods to us), sat by the marina and enthusiastically chomped on the crusty bread with its salty herring filling until my jaw ached and I had to pause, simply sitting and looking out over the water. There, I found silence.
I went to the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. There, the women weeped silently, rocking gently back and forth. I put a note in the wall in memory of my now departed grandparents (and came out to my grandma on the back of the note; in a shock turn of events, the Wailing Wall does lesbianism). I sat a while and thought. There, I found silence.
But, of course, silence is never truly silence. I'm glad; the time that I was most depressed, my Mum would desperately ask me what I was thinking (perhaps if she understood it she could fix it) and I would angrily say "nothing, my brain doesn't work, I can't think of anything". Of course I had thoughts and they were usually messed up, anxious ones, often about what an awful human being I was. Except it felt like my mind was empty. So the fact that in our most silent moments we have such diversity of thought, that our minds can take us everywhere and nowhere simultaneously, to both the highest points and the lowest points, is a complete delight to me.
But when the silence turns bad, that's when solo travelling is the hardest to deal with. Yes, five days in and you do long for someone to eat dinner with. Someone to share a coffee with in the morning. Someone to delight over how bloody good that hummus with mushroom and caramelized onion was. Someone to rub some fucking sun cream into your back. But the absence of another can be more than that.
Three days into my stay, I felt low and I couldn't work out why or what to do about it - my usual weapon of exercise had stopped working. I felt lethargic, unmotivated to do anything, to get out of bed even, and I was walking round the city with a sense of dread and gloom hanging over me. I worry excessively when my mood feels low; five episodes of depression that have stolen jobs and friends and, well, life from you will do that to you. So I rang my therapist and she helped me feel better.
My therapist didn't take away my low mood but she made me feel it was ok to feel as I do. It's that thing, isn't it: "It's ok not to be ok". And that's the thing on a solo holiday. You won't always be ok and when you're not you won't have anyone by your side to help you feel better - be that with a late night heart to heart, a silly chat that distracts you or just getting plastered on cheap, Greek aniseed-flavoured spirits on a sweaty dance-floor. Except we have raised holidays to some dizzying height. On holiday, there simply isn't a place for the negative - it's supposed to be "wish you were here" not "wish I wasn't here and on a plane home".
But I think I'm finally realising that a solo holiday will never be as glossy, as polished. It'll always be a bit ragged, a bit frayed, a bit rough round the edges. In my experience, it is never a glowing, perfect week-long romp through frivolity, over-indulgence and guilt-free hedonism. But somehow, in the bits that you find yourself silent and slowly, beautifully, exploring the parts of your mind that are normally left untouched, among the dusty streets and palm trees of a foreign land, somehow it all adds up to far more than just a week that you can smugly upload to Instagram and hashtag #theperfectweek. A holiday alone is never perfect.
When I spoke to my therapist, I let go of the pressure to be "having the best time ahhhh #beefababes2k19 xoxo". I suddenly didn't mind that I felt a bit down. To be honest, I've always given zero fucks about the "taboo" of going on holiday on my own. I know I can cope with the planes, buses, trains, exchange rates, shitty hostels I still insist on staying in, lecherous men, not having someone to look after my stuff when I'm swimming in the sea and asking for a table for one (and never feeling self-conscious; when you've done the same in a Nando's in Reading, wearing corporate clothes, everything else pales in comparison - people legitimately stared). If what's stopping you from a solo adventure is those sorts of things, the practicalities of being a person on their own in an unknown country where you don't speak the language, I'd say fuck it and go for it - you are more capable than you think and you never know how you'll grow.
But what I would say, and what I've learnt, is that when you come home from that holiday alone and people ask you how it was - "was it, like, completely and utterly amazing?" - and you think back on the trip and say "yes, it was so gorgeous and the food was amazing, I had a lovely time, thank you", but then you remember that moment at the pool, or at breakfast, or lying in your bed before falling asleep when everything felt a bit tough and you weren't sure why and the glow of that holiday is momentarily dimmed a little bit... try to give zero fucks about that bit. A holiday alone may not be perfect, or close to it. But it is something else entirely; it is a few days of perfectly, imperfect silence.
In 2014, there was what I lovingly referred to as the "triumvirate of feminism". Roman empire connotations aside, this was three women who I felt were shaping the feminist movement and public discourse at the time. Enter stage right: Laura Bates (founder of Everyday Sexism), Lucy-Anne Holmes (founder of the No More Page Three project) and Caroline Criado Perez (got Jane Austen put on the £10 note and the Millicent Fawcett statue in Parliament Square). I've been lucky enough to meet them all, but also Lucy-Anne Holmes is now friend of mine. I fan-girl her because she's my friend, a very lovely one at that, and also decided she would tell the Sun to stop being dickheads and take Page Three out of their newspaper and she fought for it for years and it worked and no longer were there tits in a carelessly abandoned tabloid on your morning bus ride and we all breathed a sigh of relief.
Most recently, Lucy has been on a journey - a sexual journey. I didn't know the scale of this sexual journey, which started out as a quest to find beautiful, slow sex, but now she's written a book about it and, yep, it was a bigun. So far I've felt sad, delighted, angry, excited, disappointed and all the rest of it. Lucy writes with an honesty that makes you squirm, makes you laugh but also crushes your heart. And I love a good heart-crushing. What's more, this book starts with A DISAPPOINTING WANK (I wrote that in capitals because I really wanted to write the word "wank" in capitals). Can you imagine if we all wrote a book after a disappointing wank? Cultural production would be through the roof.
"Don't Hold My Head Down" by Lucy-Anne Holmes is out in hardback and on Kindle now and it's fucking (in the literal sense of the word) awesome.
The Online Dating Profile I Wish I Could Write for saying all the things that are unsaid by people who have experienced abusive relationships. Of course they would never make it to a dating profile, but what if they did? I sent it to a friend whose last relationship was an abusive one and she loved it, so I'm sharing in case there are others with similar stories.
Tech's Long Hours Are Discriminatory and Counterproductive for saying what I've been saying for ages about startup culture and its impact on our mental health. She's got 4k claps on Medium for this article - I'll let this writer do my message spreading for me, no biggie.
The Five Families of Feces for the title alone. I haven't read past the first paragraph, not gonna lie.
My tweets get, like, 7 "likes" maximum. Sometimes I write, what I think are, hilarious ones and they get none. This tweet has 20 likes, a clear record. It makes me think that people really want me to do this thing I've got planned. And that we need to talk about mental health more. And yes, this is my way of telling you that I've got a new little project brewing. An admin job will do that to you. Watch this space.
p.s. clue #brand:
I think I would have been brilliant in the 80s - hair that didn't need perming, shoulders that didn't need the shoulder pads. The only thing is, when I imagine myself in the 80s, I legitimately look like Meg Ryan, but honestly my eyes will never be that big and beautiful, nor my lips so luscious. But she'll never have my cheekbones.
Because I'd be so great in the 80s, I'm listening to Roxette this week. The Look (I urge you to watch this 80s-tastic video), of course, but I also discovered Dressed for Success which is about, well, dressing for success when you've quit your boring job and are "shaping up for the big time, baby". When I quit my admin job I'm going to don an 80s power pant suit with a brilliant white shirt with an inappropriately wide lapel and open neckline, heeled leather boots, not caring that I'm suddenly 6'4", and stride through London looking for my next job like I'm pounding the streets of New York in the 80s, in pursuit of the American Dream (the one that no longer exists).
p.s. if you don't want something that makes you feel like your parents, CHVRCHES cover of Rihanna's Stay is gorgeous and I properly recommend it.
"When you're depressed, nothing is normal: notes on feeling suicidal". It's the most exposing thing I've written when it comes to sharing some of the moments that made depression so baffling and dark for me. My friend read it and said that she wanted to say something, anything of substance, in response but all she could manage was "Fuck, Jacs". But she also said that nothing has helped her to understand depression properly till now. That was my goal and so, though I'm a little nervous to share this one and the content embarrasses me a little, I'm happy it is out there and I hope that maybe it sheds some light on what depression is like for you, if you haven't been through it directly yourself.
The Ladder (you know, the one that us women like to extend to other women because we want to see them climb)
I mean, it's not like she needs my ladder - this girl is acing it. My pal from uni, Anna Codrea-Rado, suddenly and somewhat unexpectedly found herself in a freelance career as a journalist. She has made a brilliant name for herself in the industry, since then, writes excellent pieces and shares her knowledge in her newsletter, The Professional Freelancer.
One of the huge uncertainties of freelancing is getting paid - on time or even at all, despite merrily sending across an invoice with 14 day payment terms, which is a nightmare for cashflow. So Anna took things into her own hands and wrote an open letter on the subject and is gathering signatures in support. A one woman band, she has already amassed 800 signatures (at the time of writing). I hope that the campaign is still live when this ZFs "goes to print" but if not Anna is absolutely worth a follow if you're into all things freelancing and journalism. She's just launched her own brand, FJ&Co, "a platform for freelance journalists that will provide them with the tools, resources and community support they need to make a happy, productive and sustainable self-employed living". It kicks off with an event series at the Ace Hotel, the first on "managing your freelance finances". Financial independence #ftw.
QOTD (like #ootd but more quotey)
But, then, what of the depressed?
That's What She Said
She didn't - hit me with your kind, kind words about how much you love this newsletter. Also let me know if there's a particular topic you'd like to give zero fucks about and I'll see if I can come up with the goods!
Like what you've just read? Pass this on to a woman or man who gives so few fucks that they couldn't even give a fuck that I wrote the word wank (in capitals) and that was my favourite moment of this ZFs.