I can’t believe I’m saying this, but there’s a possibility I have too many jobs.
The pandemic has left me fearful for when my next job will be in a way that I’ve never experienced before; I have said no to exactly one project since 2020 began.
Granted, this doesn’t take into account what I’ve decided not to pitch or apply for, but you feel me.
I keep a detailed spreadsheet that outlines all of my projects, and moves each title from a series of statuses from pitched to paid. This “Active Projects” sheet, as I call it, references another one that details every publication I’ve ever pitched, or may want to pitch. In March of 2020, I added a column to the latter, with a simple check-box in the field. “On Hold,” it read. And I only deleted it recently.
Recently, I’ve been positively be-fucked with work, to the point where even these 15 minute missives can fall off completely if I get so much as a cold.
I’m sure you’re hearing the part within this where I mildly apologize for not writing this last week. Because, yes, I had a cold. Don’t worry: it wasn’t Corona. I’m perfectly fine (and double vaxxed I should add, soon to be triple.)
Look, I know we’re still very much in the throws of the pandemic. You can see evidence of that everywhere: still rising case numbers, the mask wearing, even me trying to schedule my life and travels around getting my booster shot in Belgrade in November. But for me, my “work pandemic” seems to be waning dramatically.
And I’m saying this because I just, out of sheer habit, applied for two more contributor positions I happened across, and only after I sent them all my info realized that I don’t really think I have time for these at all.
See, leverage isn’t really something that travel writers have been privy to during the pandemic. And now that getting it back is looming on the horizon, my mind is positively racing with the possibilities of free time filled with leisure and expensive destinations.
The first of which is coming up soon; this years birthday trip kicks off from Istanbul on the 22nd, inshallah.
We’ll see how this all goes.
So I was speaking to someone a week-ish ago who asked me about my writing.
“What would you like to do with your writing? Are you trying to write a book, or…?”
But like. I don’t have this anymore.
I spent all of last year, right up until the very last minute, trying to make these exact plans. And all of my goals kept morphing and changing, bending to the will of the pandemic. And then, pretty much as soon as I landed in Georgia, I just gave it all up.
I have no goals.
That’s not entirely true: I have some goals, though they’re not lofty enough to truly put them in this category. My goals now are like “eat every day” and “go visit the United States;” the latter of which is truly terrifying. But maybe that’s a story for another day.
But the thing is: I’m just not so naive to believe that we yet have the tools to know how to behave in a post-pandemic world. And for someone like me who engages with the world and not just my home country, I recognize that we could be facing another couple years where, at the very least, the pandemic is still affecting people’s lives in some way.
Out here, we all talk about how difficult it is to make plans. We generally plan about a month ahead at the most, and past that, things in the future can seem filmy and vague. Rules change. Countries close. Put simply: shit happens, and a lot of shit has happened in the past couple of years.
I have some vague idea of “finishing” the Balkans: meaning going to all the places I have been meaning to go since I first got here last January. There’s a festival I’d like to attend in January in North Macedonia, but who know’s if I’ll actually make it there. And I’m just waiting for Azerbaijan to open their land borders with Georgia, so I can take a train ride that I’ve wanted to take for years.
And I’d finally like to see my West Virginia of Europe: Austria. And yeah, I guess Lichtenstein, too.
And then what?
I have no idea, because honestly, I’m having trouble just planning my birthday trip this year that’s less than a month away.
See, Rajiv and I have been trying to take this trip together for fucking ages, since last November in Cairo. And in the time in between, visa policies have changed. Entry requirements have changed. Shit, I’ve had the vaccine since then, and I’m even planning to get my booster shot in November.
And now we’re actually going to do it. Except, of course, our plans are completely different than they used to be.
They are even more exciting.
Like, bucket list exciting.
And I’ve already told a lot of people about my plans, but we haven’t booked our flights yet so it doesn’t yet seem real. And maybe this will be one of those trips where y’all find out where I’m going when I’ve already arrived.
It just feels right to do it that way.
And you never know – maybe I’ll manage to turn my birthday trip into words this year.
Last year I just couldn’t, I was just trying to figure out Cairo; it was basically the first place I’d been besides Istanbul since I escaped South Africa, and I went a little bit silent online. Especially here.
And I mean, I was turning 40. I know I was expected to have some sort of grand, revelatory story to tell, but it was so much more internal than that.
But who knows. Maybe that’s one of my goals for this year.
I know you may think you do, but there are a thousand reasons why you don’t want my life.
Probably the worst part, the part that even I have a hard time reconciling, is that people just fucking die while you’re gone. And then that’s it. And everyone you would likely share that grief with is a million miles away.
It’s fucking crushing.
He proposed to me once.
I was fresh off a plane from Mexico City reclining in his bed like I was oft known to be, even though I knew I shouldn’t have been.
“It’s you, Miranda,” he told me, “it’s always been you.”
It wasn’t me.
But there were so many times that I wanted to be, and so many times I tried to mold myself to be her because sometimes it seemed so much easier to become someone that could be in love with him back rather than to find someone else who loved me for who I am.
But regardless, I spent ten years, maybe more, with his messages in my inbox, and mine in his.
I have, over the years, written thousands of words about him, so this doesn’t have to be too long. Every time we broke up or got back together or flew across the States to see each other is pretty methodically documented on my old blog.
I just want to tell you a few things that I’ll remember.
I’ll always remember coming home from work in San Francisco to find him sitting on my couch, despite the fact that he lived in Seattle. And when he left a few days later, I rode with him down the elevator in my building silently. “Are you sad?” he asked, without any hint of subterfuge. And I looked up into his face and saw his brow furrowed, and then I rearranged my own to match.
I’ll remember when I lived in New York and we hadn’t spoken in a year or so and it didn’t matter, because I knew that if I just texted him “I love you” that he’d call me back right away. And he did.
And then I’ll remember when he looked me in the eyes in the long dark, and told me, after ten years, that he was finally ready. That he wanted it all. Marriage. Kids. The works. But I was a year into a life I hadn’t quite yet figured out, and I knew immediately that he just didn’t fit in it.
And now here I am: living that life that I was just beginning to ideate back then. And for better or worse, I’m doing my best to reconcile all of the choices that I’ve made.
We first dated so long ago, back in 2005, and just a couple of months later I had my second going away party at the Duck. He came with his best friend, and he gifted me a tiny enamel pin: a red heart made of two clasped hands. I put it on the front pocket of my jean jacket that night, and I wore it there until that jacket got stolen in 2016.
I was so upset after I found out, and I sent a series of texts that I shouldn’t have, many of them lacking the euphemisms that they probably should. They all merely used the word “dead” rather than all the other things that people say to be nice when someone has died.
One of them didn’t mention him at all. It began, “hey, I don’t know if I’m allowed to say this, but I’ve been really concerned for you and I hope you’re okay,” because now it feels like practically anyone could die.
I don’t know if I’m allowed to say any of this either, but here we are. Because for lack of anyone here, in Tirana, to really share this with, I have words.
And I think it’s actually a pretty shitty memorial considering how much I always prioritized words over him, but it’s all I have left.
And if I’m being honest, it’s all I ever had.
So this is the piece I promised last week.
So maybe you remember, approximately a billion years ago, I was headed to Tampa from Austin, and I missed my flight. Y’all may not know, but I rarely miss my flights – I’m generally vigilant to the point of near panic; I frequently have a hard time sleeping if I have an early plane.
But anyway, since the last time I had been to the Austin airport, they had opened a new terminal. Now I don’t know why the fuck they call this a new terminal since it’s practically an hour away from the first one, but whatever. What I’m saying here is that by the time I made it there, my flight had taken off without me.
Five minutes earlier.
I was flying some crazy budget airline, and thought there was no way I’d get on another flight at all, let alone that day. But sure enough, an extremely helpful gate agent said he could put me on a flight to Orlando that was boarding in two minutes. I had about 30 seconds to decide.
But I thought to myself: I can do this. I’ve flown into MCO, I already know which bus to take from the airport to the MegaBus station, I know there’s a bus to Tampa that leaves three hours after I get there. I can do this, with about a half an hour to spare.
So I agreed.
And when I was already on the taxiing plane, strapped into my seat, ready to fly to Florida, the captain comes on the loudspeaker and informs me, for the first time, that we’re not flying to MCO.
We were flying to SFB.
Now for those of you who don’t know, Sanford, Florida is like…and hour and a half from Orlando by a combination of Lyft and a train.
So I get off the plane, I make it to downtown Orlando. The last bus to Tampa, with three different companies, had already departed for the day. So I had to find somewhere to stay.
I found a hostel on Booking.com for one night, and booked a bus to Tampa for 11 am the next morning.
I mean, it sucked because I was missing a day in Tampa with my friends, but it was otherwise okay.
Until I got to the “hostel.”
It was basically just someone’s house, and there was no one to check me in at all. I sat in the living room for a while waiting, and then I called Booking.com. And then I learned what is still to this day the greatest travel hack I have ever learned: when you book a place to sleep through literally any reputable booking site and it turns out they can’t accommodate you, they will relocate you at no extra charge.
And even better, especially if you’re me and you’re pissed at the original property that you booked, they will often actually charge them for it.
Anyway, a few hours later I was tucked into a king-sized bed in a suite in Winter Park. They even paid for my Lyft there.
You see, virtually anyone can list on Booking.com these days. Honestly, it’s a pain in the ass, because I’d rather just pay than show up to a property that doesn’t exist or is in someway illegitimate, but it’s nice to know that this backup exists. I’ve done this exact thing a few more times: Once in Tulum, Atlanta, and my favorite time, in Tokyo when I ended up in a 22nd floor suite looking out over Shinjuku. All because the hostel I booked, and had already paid for, was unavailable.
And it just happened to me again.
So with the whole “all my cards are expired” situation, coupled with whatever the fuck is going on with the goddamned US Postal Service, I ended up in this period between the last day I could use my cards and them arriving overseas. That’s all squared away now, they’re arriving on Thursday inshallah, but in the meantime, I had one day in Istanbul to withdraw as much money as possible before they lapsed.
Because I only had a certain amount of cash to use until my cards come, I found a place in Pristina that I could pay for, in advance, with my PayPal account.
Except that I messaged them five times in the few days before my flight, and they never answered.
And then I called them. Like 10 times. No answer.
So I called the booking company. This time I booked it on an Expedia site, namely Hotels.com, but this shit works the same way no matter where you book, as long as it’s legit.
I actually wasn’t even trying to get a free hotel room, I was trying to get them to simply pull another number for the original, shitty property I booked and fucking call them to make sure it actually existed. And when we all realized it didn’t, I asked for a credit for the amount I paid so I could book another property at my own expense.
It was gonna cost me like $200.
It was actually their own incompetence that landed me in a $300 a night suite in Pristina; they could have just kicked me back the $20 or whatever that I had spent, not kept me on the phone for six hours, and I would have gone happily on my way.
But apparently that’s against their “policy,” and this stupid-ass policy cost them $600.
But here’s the thing.
I was arriving in Pristina after midnight. I wouldn’t have cell service, and since commuter planes over here frequently don’t have outlets, there was a good chance my phone would be dead by the time I arrived anyway.
And quite frankly, surviving this pandemic has been enough, and I’m generally in no mood for a fucking middle-of-the-night adventure in a country I’ve never been to when it’s already past curfew.
And like, yeah. It worked out this time. But what if I hadn’t tried to schedule an airport shuttle with the property? What if I hadn’t found out that this property is actually closed before I arrived?
See this, THIS, is the fucking problem. Booking sites don’t give a shit how their customers are impacted as long as they’re still making money, so they keep listing these shitty properties even after people have already complained that they’ve been raped there, or mistreated, or even after they’ve been informed that it doesn’t actually exist. The more properties they have on their sites, the more variety it appears that they have, the more revenue they collect.
If this is not yet clear: I am saying that they don’t give a shit about you.
And they should, because people using them are at disproportionate advantages.
Like, sure. If I was a white guy booking at, say, that hostel in Skopje that had a serial rapist as a manager for six fucking months, then yeah. I would never find that out, likely have a good experience there, and be merrily on my way without any problems at all. I’d probably even leave a good review.
But not everyone is a white guy.
Not everyone is even a guy.
And when the number of people who don’t have a problem outweigh the number of people who do, which is assuredly the case, these sites continue to list dangerous properties simply because they can.
And, as I mentioned before, because they truly do not give a fuck.
And none of us have a lot of recourse out here.
Unless these sites start to feel it. Financially.
See, because I rebooked my property before I arrived, the booking site had to pay for it themselves. They didn’t charge the other property for my stay, but rather had to pay this five-star hotel, out of pocket, for some dirty, poor nomad to stay there (me.)
And hey, if you really want my review on the hotel? The sheets were excellent. My bathroom was practically solid marble.
And that’s about it. I fucking hate staying at these soulless, “fancy” places.
But regardless, the more it costs when these sites have to rebook a property, the more they will actually consider vetting the properties they list more carefully.
So what I’m telling you is that if you want to do something to decrease the amount of danger that women face when booking properties abroad, you can do this on purpose.
Do you want to stay in a five-star hotel for free and help decrease the rates of sexual assault simultaneously? You can!
Just look for some sus-ass property on one of these sites, and pay for it in advance. Trust me: you’ll find one. Once you know what to look for, you’ll start to realize how many dupes these sites list. You have to pick one that actually doesn’t exist. Call them, email them, whatever to double-check.
Then book it. Be sure you pay in advance.
Then, a day before your trip or after you arrive, just call the booking company and tell them the property can’t accommodate you.
And you’ll be relaxing in your suite in no time.
I mean, don’t get me wrong. It’s a fucking hassle. I have never wanted to have to be relocated, I’d always prefer to just get off a plane and into my bed without all this fucking nonsense. But if enough of us put this pressure on enough of these sites, financially, it will actually be better for us in the long run.
Now look – these are multi-million dollar companies. Expedia is a multi-billion dollar company. I think.
But – and I’m speculating, here – if even 100 additional people exploited this loophole in a month, I bet you it would trigger an entirely new department, one that audits and vets the goddamned properties that they advertise on their fucking site before women traveling alone even have to deal with them in the first place.
So. If you’ve ever wanted a free hotel room, here’s your chance. I’ve done it five times.
How may can you rack up?