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Is a backpack just another word for “female mid-life crisis”?

female mid-life crisisI’m not dealing with age very well.

“Middle-age” feels like the un-sexiest number to be.

Everything from moisturizers to anti-aging potions are strewn throughout my bedroom and bath. The yoga mat is my closest companion and my mirror can occasionally be my worst enemy when magnifying my physical flaws.

I won’t lie- I’m superficial.  If I could live the life of Dorian Gray and shift all my aging haggardness to a painted portrait, I would.  I might even consider being a botox candidate some day if it weren’t for the fact — I quite like moving my eyebrows …a lot.

They say that a woman’s 40s are  the new 20s.

I don’t  buy it.  Is that any consolation for deep-crested wrinkles, drooping flesh and a slowing metabolism?

Okay, so Tara is more “fierce” than ever, J-Lo carries that tight “back” and glowing beauty better than she did when she was a decade younger and Selma Hayak still looks like,  “Wow”. But that’s Hollywood celebrities, who rake in thousands per movie and can afford Evian facial spritzers as they travel via private jet.

I don’t think ‘cougaring‘ as especially flattering. I’ll admit, younger men I meet on the road beginning to look more delicious. They don’t have pot bellies or relationship baggage larger than a backpack to deal with. They’re not wading in hairy relationship traumas of “evil” ex-wives or boring me with long-ass car sale pitches hinting at why I should be lucky to test-drive them. No, what makes young men so attractive, is that they look the way I feel ~ light-hearted, vibrant, curious, romantic and simple.

Now I know people like to say “Age is a state of mind.” But ‘state of mind’ can’t fight the date on a birth certificate or what unconsciously defines your “expected role” in society.  Maybe I’m blessed with fortunate Asian genes and a baby face. People often quote me to be much younger than my age, but the moment I lay my numbers on the table, it  triggers a switch behind their eyes. I become a number and the unconscious code of expectations of “having life figured out”, “being strong and independent”, “successful” and “in-control” .

True, at forty, I’m more confident than I used to be at 30. I’m at the core of my strength!  My awkward kinks are kinda worked out and I have battle scars from having dodge many of life’s bullets.  But personally speaking, “strong” is not the prison mask face I want to wear 24/7.   It’s not something that makes me feel light-footed, giggly or  remotely sexy. 

As a single woman, bearing that stone mask can feel like a Cinderella-weighted chore!

 

Is a traveling backpack just another word for  “female mid-life crisis” or is it my passport to explore myself?

I love travel. No mistakes about that. Having been an artist most of my life, discovering myself through different cultures, ideas, and philosophies was part of my creative process and travel was always unconsciously wedded to my way. These days however, I feel like my feelings about travel have intensified. Whether through solo travel, expat life …or my growing age, travel has taken on another life for me. It’s become more …consuming and necessary.

Flashback…

Four years ago, my life changed, when I made travel my concentrated goal. Turning away from a New York lifestyle and freelance career as a cameraman/producer for television, the spiraling economy gave me an excuse to set out to make my travel dreams happen — solo travel and living abroad. Within a year, my plans were a success. I held my first “9-5  job” teaching English in Korea, while spending weekends and vacation breaks exploring Asia’s exotic charms. Insta-dream. Insta-life.

My life then took on what felt like a fast track of travel goals and executions. Scams were easier to sight and dodge, finding hotels on the day of arrival wasn’t impossible and taking a poo in a squat toilets began feeling remarkably more efficient than using a western toilet.  I  was bouncing from city to city, country to country based on mood swings,  living travel outside my comfort zone. Life wasn’t this fun, even in my twenties! Now I was rolling in travel adrenaline…   scuba diving certified in Thailand,  yoga (and reiki certified) in India, and changing occasional travel companions as I changed cities.  The only thing that could hold me back , was my imagination.

Where would my dreams lead to next?  What adventure could I live to outperform the last? …

But then, I began to worry. Wait, was I turning into a thrill-seeker or was I merely excited by the new ‘me’ I was awakening?

Thrill-seeking isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it can start to feel excessive,  superficial and addictive. At it’s worst, it would turn into a vapid pleasure seeking path … a masturbation of sorts.  Skydiving, riding in a hot air balloon, stepping into shark cages…  it’s not uncommon for travel bloggers to get lost in the drive of wanting to experience cool things to write about. We all need to come up with ways to sell our experiences, even if it’s occasionally, the same thrill that every tourist in the vicinity has queued up to experience. Expat travel can fall under a similar drug habit of bragging rights.

Overall, travel was becoming an addiction and I wanted to know why. Was it because of my blog?… Because I had suddenly awakened to life?

Or was I entering …a mid-life crisis?!

female midlife crisis

Single and forty: Am I trading cats for a backpack and is this a bad thing?

As I mentioned in a recent post, I had some mortifying unconscious images about female solo travel. When it comes to age, those images don’t get  better.  “A single woman in her 40’s”, personally, conjures the image of a spinster in her 60’s with a cob-webbed vagina, drowning out her loneliness in a room full of cats.  If she’s a traveler, then scratch “room full of cats“, insert “backpack“.

But is a backpack really a bad way to go for a single, middle-aged woman?

In many regards, travel feels like a healthy fountain of youth… a game-changer.  Although, I’m still struggling to work it all out and see where I fit into my life now that I’m home, travel challenges me to question the rigid ideals and myths created by the western society.

1.  Travel challenges me to live organically with time.

For a single woman in her forties, the romantic highs of travel can feel like an upgraded second-chance at life, in league with  getting a new ferrari or dating a younger man. The difference is that age and status are actually, the least important signifiers in travel (except when you get drunk and act stupid– in that case, you might just be in your twenties…).

When I travel, my mirror switches its focus to my ability to live  in the “now”,  as I catch a bus, interact with locals, embrace my foreign surroundings.  I am contented with the life in my backpack, even if the contents in it don’t fill a house. All I need is me. I don’t obsess about my single status, my career, my financial future. In society, these are all the things we need for survival. Not when you travel.

2.  Travel shows me that I’m a social creature and teaches me to be a global citizen.

A solo traveling woman doesn’t experience the same magnitude of loneliness, as a single woman in western society. In society, my social life can suffer long, cold winters and draughts. We’re conditioned to filtering our relationships and our human interactions. We’re wary when strangers approach.

With travel, my social life blossoms.  I’m much more open to living an unfiltered life, embracing its mystery… and strangers. In fact, I love strangers! I meet and chat with a myriad of people I might never ordinarily cross paths or hang out with in everyday life. A French embassy worker, an Australian medical student, a German lawyer and a Vietnamese rice farmer…we’re travelers of life, sharing the same journey.

3.  Travel lets me be me, perfectly …flawed.

My curiosity, when I travel, is like that of a giddy child. I can let my hair down, let it get tangled. There’s an extra bounce in my step and I’m allowed (and sometimes, expected) to be a little vulnerable, helpless, naive, …even lacking a bit, in intelligence at times. To me, that feels sexy… it’s a liberation from the competent, independent and cool mask I’m expected to wear in society.  I’m not a “together” person (how many of us actually are?). And I realize this is okay.  I celebrate my flaws.

4.  Travel shows me I have the unending potential to change my life at any age.

Maybe it’s that biological clock that started every other ticking clock in my life.  Career success clock, marriage clock, baby clock, financial future clock, are-you-living-your-dream-yet? clock…  Time sags and the winsome opportunities feel like they dwindle as I cross the “‘age cut off ‘ gate”. There’s a large part of me, which unconsciously thinks (but is afraid to believe) that “the pursuit of dreams” are for the young; and that a woman in her forties, should act like an adult , walking a line of “shoulds” over “wants”.

But when I travel, I begin to see exciting  possibilities in alternative lifestyles. I see folks re-designing their lives to the shape of their dreams,  living on less, but happily.  Others are developing their own businesses abroad or gaining employment as English teachers or in random jobs which will afford them an income or sponsor a visa. On the road, I see impossibles becoming possible.

And when I look at my own self and see how far I’ve come as a solo traveler, I’m quite charged and surprised by a woman I never thought I could be. Each time I travel to another country on my own, I’m following through and creating one more of my dreams.

 

I ask myself- what does a normal, single 40 year old female live in Western society live like and do I want to live like that?

I feel torn.  How does one re-make their life at forty? What steps do I take to create the happiness I want when I want a bit of society and yet, the freedom and self-loving that travel brings? It’s not something any anti-aging cream can solve.

Travel feels like my fountain of youth at the moment. Sorry if I sound like it’s the cure-all remedy, because I know it’s not. But what I’ve experienced through it gives me hope. It keeps me feeling like I’m capable of chasing rainbows.

Are 40 year olds still allowed to do that?

 

39 Comments

  1. Lizzie says:

    I’m leaving in two days for a month of traveling to South Africa, Botswana (presenting at an international academic conference), and Namibia. This is my 3rd trip to southern Africa. The first time was for two-weeks, as part of a short-term study abroad. The second time was last year where I did an internship at a university as part of my master’s program. Now this third trip I finagled by getting accepted to a conference. But I have the bug! I was bitten hard and I don’t think there’s a cure. I don’t know how I’m going to make travel happen, but I’m focused on pursing that lifestyle. Its great to discover a wonderful female voice who is also a Gen Xer.

    • Helen says:

      Lizzie
      I left my home country about two years ago (47) and it is exciting, challenging and rewarding. Whats most interesting is if you just let it happen it will and you will end up in places you hadn’t envisioned you would go!? Enjoy.

  2. If you think the 40s are fun, JUST WAIT until your 50s!!!!! Loving this time in my life!

  3. Jessica Fun says:

    Well, I sure hope that’s the case when I get to my forties! =D

  4. daniellemlloyd23 says:

    All I was thinking while I was reading this was “You do you!!”. If it makes you honestly truly deeply, smile then smile and say fuck ’em 🙂

    This post was so raw and wonderful. Thanks.

    • Christine Kaaloa says:

      @Danielle: I like that ‘You do you!’ I’ll need to remember that.

  5. Jim says:

    This is an extraordinary post Christine. Well done on every count. A wonderful thing to read, thank you.

    First let me say that you do not want to be “normal” ever. It should be your goal to never be normal as that is the most boring unfulfilling thing I can imagine for you.

    Next just accept the fact that you are absolutely perfect the way you are. All of the adventures you have had culminate in this amazing woman that you are. There is no reason to reinvent yourself. Just continue being the way you are.

    Finally, I love your interest in young men. So it is not just for old male wankers in Thailand to crave the youth that can only be found in the young. LOL, fun stuff.

    Love and respect,
    Jim

    • Christine Kaaloa says:

      Thanks @Jim! A normal life can feel boring but safe, while the not normal on you often have to forge your path in the unknown. It’s a hard toss up and understandable why others would fear going down a pioneering road. But you are correct– acceptance is key! Some of us aren’t designed towards a “normal” life and really, what is “normal”, right?

  6. Emily Vuong says:

    Thank you for writing this Christine. I am so inspired by women like you! I am only 20 years old at the moment and next year after graduation I’ll be off to Beijing for 6 months teaching English. I also study gender politics and find it unfair that society makes women feel obligated to marry, settle down, have children etc. You really shouldn’t need to justify yourself at all. Keep being awesome! x

  7. Karen H says:

    This is so intoxicating to read. I am a travel wannabe. I am almost 46, tired of the rat race, but my daughter has 2 more years of high school left. I can’t make a move until she is settled. Do any of you ladies have children or are you all single and do not have children?

    • Christine Kaaloa says:

      Hi @Karen, 40s is a check-in point for all of us and there’s many types of midlife soloists, who redesign their lifestyle to travel for various reasons, so you’re not alone. I’m 43, single. I love kids and it’s slightly mortifying to me, to think I might never have them. I’ve just never found a partner. That that is my chip to workaround, aside from restarting my career at 40, and it can feel equally frustrating. Not all soloists choose to be single and childless.

      But yes, there are single parent female/male travel bloggers out there, who are raising children on the road! There’s also a growing amount of family travel bloggers doing the same, but the single parents, who are making it work win my awards. Off-hand, the ones I’m familiar with are Raising Miro, Escape Artists and 1Dad1Kid. Check them out and gain some inspiration from them. =)

  8. I’m 38 and travelling just gives me a new lease of life and puts everything into perspective for me. I meet younger men and they are just a mirror image of how I am feeling. Being in your thirties gives you that extra confidence and I am loving my life right now. You are definitely not having a mid life crisis 🙂

    • Christine Kaaloa says:

      Thanks @Lisa: I guess we must both be feeling “delicious” then! That’s how the younger chaps are looking. 😉

  9. Great post! As a 37 years old woman who’s been traveling mostly solo for the past 3 years, I’m starting to face some of these issues as well. Granted, I’m also blessed with awesome South American genes that make me look younger and I could get away with lying about my age… But who would I be fooling? I was born in 1976, dammit!

    The most difficult part for me is when it comes to having a relationship… I’d love to meet a guy in his forties, without too much emotional baggage, who’s also into traveling longterm and having an unconventional lifestyle and whom I find also attractive… but the more I travel, the more I realise how hard it is to find someone like that. For some reason, I’ve met way more solo women travellers of my age group than men. To the point that sometimes I wish I was a lesbian.

    But my current reality it’s not that bad, thankfully. After months of not getting any, I’m writing this from a little coffee shop in Ecuador, as I sit across my 29 years old lover. We’ve been traveling together for a few weeks now, and the more time we spent together I find my feelings for him growing. We don’t feel the age difference most of the time; and when we do, we laugh about it. I’m also aware that this could end in heartache. But for the here and now, I’m enjoying every moment of this new thing, so that if it does end at least it’ll be worth every tear.

    • Christine Kaaloa says:

      I was sure I responded to this but it looks like I haven’t. Thanks @Bianca and sorry it’s taken me this long to get back to you. Rock on for finding love with a younger man. Life gives us moments which only take us onto greater ones. As for the lesbian part, I hear you. There’s a *lot* of single women out there to the point single men can feel like a dying breed. And should we find one, then we have to “like” them. ha ha.. Hang in there sister- sounds like you’re living your passions perfectly!

  10. Dany says:

    Nice! And I was thinking that I was on a mid life crisis now that I’m just turning 30!!! Haha. Well, traveling might be a escape… but what’s the problem if we love to do that?? Why not?! I often come up with that question to myself.

    • Christine Kaaloa says:

      @Dany: haha… don’t worry, when I hit 30 I had a midlife crisis too! 😉 I think midlife crisises help us reevaluate the path we’re on and travel does also.

  11. immensely beautiful. uniquely you.. keep living your dreams

  12. SnarkyNomad says:

    The issue to me is that people say traveling is an “escape” from life, and for some people, maybe it is. But at the same time, “regular” life isn’t real the ideal format for human existence. 9-5 jobs only existed fairly recently in human history; desk jobs are especially recent. Driving an hour to and from work isn’t something humans had to do 200 hundred years ago.

    Humans existed for tens of thousands of years in a totally different way, one which involved far more numerous close personal relationships than the average modern person has today, and involved more physical activity than any office drone. It’s worth thinking about the fact that when people seek to escape the office life, it’s because the office life isn’t what humanity is supposed to do. Of COURSE they’re trying to escape. Office life has only been around for most people for the last 50-100 years, so that’s how people think it’s supposed to be, but it’s nonsense.

    And I’m not saying bucolic village life was ideal, but it was quite different from sitting in front of a screen all day, taking trips to the water cooler every 20 minutes to avoid going crazy. Humans aren’t built for this so-called “normal” life, which is why people try to get out. But there’s nothing weird about it. “Regular” life is what’s weird.

    • Christine Kaaloa says:

      @Snarky Nomad: I love what you wrote! I never thought of it like that but you summed it up perfectly. The societal lives we’ve built have closed us off and taken us far from really who we are and what’s organic to our original natures! Thanks for sharing that.

  13. Agness says:

    My dear, as you said the age is just a state of mind. When you travel, you really forget about how old you are and you actually feel like 10 year-old girl looking sfor more adventures. I totally understand your break down as I’m nearly 25, single, travelling solo or with my friend, blogging, but you know what? I totally love it!!!

  14. Monica says:

    Great Blog. Your main four points apply broadly. I am 48, happily married to a co-traveling-minded man. We are not yet traveling regularly though. I love those 4 points though – living in the now. I feel I worry about so much less and live so much more when I am traveling. Sure there may be a “catch-up” to life time, but the American life of mortgage, job and wondering if there is more, often brings me down. I don’t want to worry about the status quo. I want to live in the now. You have encapsulated that wonderfully. Thanks!

    • Christine Kaaloa says:

      @Monica: I envy that you’ve found a co-travel minded partner. I sometimes feel like those aren’t always easy to find. Loove that you said “catch up“. American lifestyle goals can make you feel like life is one big racetrack and chore. Guess that’s the “keeping up with the Joneses” idea. It’s really at odds with human nature to a degree. Guess that’s why travel feels so good; feels like homecoming to our original selves.

  15. Daisy Wong says:

    Thank you for posting this. I am 31 years old and I also have similar fears about my baggage! I really relate to your post and I am so glad Jeannie Mark shared your blog on FB. I will start reading! Thanks again. Love it.

    • Christine Kaaloa says:

      @Daisy: Thanks for sharing. I know the feeling. Despite the age, we’re all prone to being victims of social mores. It’s actually not our baggage, but one that got dumped on us & made to feel like it’s ours. I wasn’t traumatized by turning 30, but I was definitely like – Uh,oh… 40 is around the corner!

  16. Mandy says:

    And it doesn’t change in the next leg up, ladies. I feel many of these same things as a solo traveler at 62! I cannot yet travel full time, but put on my backpack and travelin’ shoes as often as I can. Yes, traveling is similar to a fountain of youth in that we experience as a child – all senses open and inquisitive. We CAN do that “at home” too, but it is much harder
    The pursuit of dreams and adventure are NOT only for youth. The same confidence and desire that sent you off at 20 can keep you going at 40, 60 or 80 – even if it is to the local stream for wading in the spring, walking tightrope style on the curb edge on your way to yoga, or still/again teaching in Nairobi!

    • Christine Kaaloa says:

      @Mandy: lol. Love what you said =) :


      “The same confidence and desire that sent you off at 20 can keep you going …even if it is to the local stream for wading in the spring, walking tightrope style on the curb edge on your way to yoga, or still/again teaching in Nairobi!”

      I love that you’re still solo traveling at 62! That’s kickass and personally inspiring to me. Agreed, curiosity isn’t as easy to experience at home. It’s doable, but it takes a concerted effort to be inquisitive and to seek new places to explore.

  17. It’s interesting that western culture describes people who are taking a second look at their lifestyles as in ‘crisis”. I think checking in on your goals and lifestyle is just a natural part of life and doesn’t have to be filled with drama. I’ve found that those around me bring the drama. When I decided to become location independent- leaving a plum position to become an entrepreneur and leaving Canada with nothing more than a suitcase- my friends, family, and heck even the grocery store clerk became very concerned about my wellbeing. But I stuck to my guns and feel like a butterfly set free. I’m sure I’ll cocoon/re-evaluate again in a few years. But I’ve decided to embrace the uncertainty of where life will take me.

    • Christine Kaaloa says:

      @Sara: I love what you said about cocooning/re-evaluating. I agree. The process is very natural and society has a way of making it a negative experience.

  18. Leigh says:

    Great post, and one I think that will resonate with many women whether they’re traveling or not.

    Yeah, our whole lives we’re told (and had modeled for us) that women of a certain age must act in a certain way. We should be married by a certain time or we’ll be more likely to be hit by lightening or be taken hostage by terrorists. We’re warned our biological clocks are ticking. We’re told we shouldn’t have long hair or wear certain types of shorts.

    If someone wants to call it a midlife crisis, so be it. Sometimes travel is the only way to escape the constant drone of what we “should” be. Far better trave than being stuck.

    • Christine Kaaloa says:

      @Leigh: Yes, we have been given too much direction on how to live our lives by time. Travel certainly helps alleviate that pressure. But what happens when we come home? 😉

  19. Jeannie Mark says:

    LOVE THIS POST. Been waiting for you to write it for ages. As you know intimately (cause we are around the same age), I also waver between feeling perfectly normal to feeling like a freak. And I wonder why that is. I can’t help thinking of a travel writer I dated briefly, he was actually older than me, but still looked vital, like me (he looks like Robert Redford – score!) yet he never seemed apologetic about his age or trouncing around the world and sleeping with/dating younger women. Yet here I am feeling like I have to explain myself, my existence to people, sometimes purposely hiding my age. This is the year I feel like enough is enough, to accept that I am this age, to accept my flaws (like you) and be who I am. I really feel this keenly when it comes to love and relationships, the impulse to make sure I’m still attractive and worrying who could possibly be attracted to me because of my age (if he’s younger). Yet to return to Canada and a life that is not fulfilling to me feels so wrong. Maybe it is an addiction for you, but I am starting to believe that age and life does not have to be how we were taught it should be and maybe travel is helping you figure that out?? Keep discovering lady, you have so much talent and so much to give, that a life you want will find you.

    • Christine Kaaloa says:

      @Jeannie: Hope the right life finds me or that I direct myself honestly enough to find it & thanks for sharing & commenting. =)


      “…I am starting to believe that age and life does not have to be how we were taught it should be and maybe travel is helping you figure that out??”

      Yes, I agree and it feels challenging to remake a truth from the dust of old beliefs. We talked about the hiding our age part and I do it a lot (which is why this post took so long. lol). I feel like the freakdom comes when your true feelings about yourself are so strong, but old beliefs are just too narrow for it to fit into. We feel wrong, ridiculous, humiliated for not fitting the generic mold of expectations. Kinda like how I wore your tiny sandals to Sky Bar… it wasn’t physically uncomfortable but it I felt awkward, like others would notice my (now) “big” feet trying to fit into tiny cute sandals. I think that’s what we struggle with in society & in our relationship attractions. Men also have a more wiggle-room in social beliefs; your Robert Redford never had a tiny shoe to try to fit. 😉

  20. Janine says:

    I love this! And yes, being at the same place as you both in age and in mindset, I totally understand and really like your take on how to enjoy it, live it differently from others and their lifestyle expectations, and embrace it, flaws and all. Thank you!

    • Christine Kaaloa says:

      @Janine: Thanks for commenting, sister! Individual stories may vary, but we’re all in it together. =)

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