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2016 – The Year That (Almost) Scared Me

I finally finished this year-end post around two in the morning…

And then I hit DELETE.

Its original title was “2016 – The Year That Scared Me.” But then I qualified it because it did have a few delightful interludes.

Let’s face it, it has been a scary year. Trump was incomprehensibly elected to the US presidency, Syria was all but destroyed, the British decided to leave (and possibly end) Europe, truth took a beating, as did civility, journalism edged towards extinction, the North Pole warmed up, and so many creative icons died young… On the personal side, I lost people who were dear to me and time sped up.

Half of me would love to give in to temptation and pound the wall in frustration and anger. But there are other ways to deal with stupidity, meanness and hatred. Writing about them and naming them is a good start.

So is looking forward to 2017 and welcoming it with open arms.

Next year has got to be better, right?

But first, let’s get rid of 2016

It was a year of mixed moments: some good, some great and some rather limp.

I traveled to Venice and to Central Asia, both trips magnificent in the discoveries I made. Venice I knew and hadn’t really understood, Central Asia I had dreamed of but never seen.

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Venice can be amazingly cheerful in the summer sunshine

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It can also be incredibly moody, at sunrise for example

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Lake Issy-Kul in Kyrgyzstan

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Uzbekistan has restored its marvelous mosaics in Khiva’s medieval buildings

I also visited Barcelona with my 17-year-old niece and her friend, both of whom saved my phone from being stolen by forcing what seemed like a harmless little lady to hand it back. Oh you beautiful and beguiling Barcelona. Can I not visit you just once without being a victim or witness of petty crime? Six visits, six incidents.

The rest of the year was a bit of a blur. Much of it was spent writing for UNICEF and UNFPA and WHO about global public health, development, women’s empowerment and other subjects I feel strongly about. A dear friend died, my beloved South African soul sister Annabel, who set me off on my first African steps when I appeared on her doorstep all those years ago.

In my ongoing battle to avoid French pastries, butter and cream, I became vegan for a month. The blood pressure and weight came down – but the weight went right back up when I couldn’t look at another vegetable.

That was HARD! I can’t quite face a life without lamb, seafood and cheese. But I’m not giving up… I’m becoming a flexitarian. In other words, I’m being flexible. I’ll be a vegetarian when I can, but when I’m desperate for meat, I’ll eat some. That’s my kind of solution.

So what about 2017?

I won’t be in charge of events (however much I’d like). I can’t control what’s around me. But I can control how I react to these events and how I lead my life in the meantime.

I’m going to take a bit of time for myself. By myself, I mean my partner, my pets, my house… I’m going to plant things in my garden, start meditating again, and read books as opposed to websites and social media posts. By throwing myself into work, I wonder if I hadn’t been tricking myself into hiding from a world I perceived as increasingly hostile – or maybe just avoiding getting too depressed.

By taking time for myself I’ll be forcing myself to look out rather than in.

I’m going to finish my house. This has been a bit of an albatross, a large French farmhouse that required far more renovation than I could have guessed when I bought it – of course it was pretty much my first house so, who knew? But it’s worth it, right? I do truly love having a home, after nearly a lifetime of hotels and suitcases.

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Home a few years ago, with about a third of the renovations done some 

I’m not going to shut up. My Facebook page says it clearly: “Intelligent conversations about women’s travel, politics, society and empowerment.” So yes, I’ll continue raising issues I consider important. I may not be the sit-in/placard-carrying activist of my younger years but I’m damned if I’m going to shut up while women’s rights – all human rights – are trampled while we watch from the sidelines.

And then there’s Women on the Road

Towards the end of 2016 I upgraded the site’s design and am constantly experimenting with what you might like.

I’ve published a number of travel guides for independent women on Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Bulgaria, China, Florence, Italy, Morocco, Portugal and South Africa. Expect to see plenty more of these. I’m also going to write more about topics I love – history, culture, politics, food, relating them all to travel.

I have plenty of plans!

I’m going to get into video. I won’t be doing those beautifully produced destination pieces – that would take too long to learn – but I will be talking to you more on camera, here and in my monthly newsletter, Women on the Road News (please subscribe if you haven’t yet). I like seeing people and looking into their eyes, and I’ve put off doing this for far too long.

And of course I’m going to travel more and write more often. Because I’ve been lazy about documenting my travels and because at 63 I still have a lot of world to see. Also, travel means fighting against ignorance and rebuffing those who want us to be divided and hide in our own little corners out of fear.

Here’s what’s on the travel wish list for this year:

  • Scotland, because I want to get a sense of how it sees its future out of Europe and because it has forbidding mountains and rugged coastlines which will probably scare me to death and give me utter vertigo
  • the Caucasus – this I’m totally excited about; after enjoying Central Asia so much I now want to visit every former Soviet republic
  • Porto – I’m meeting friends there in May during my birthday – a gang of Taureans living it up in Porto!
  • Bordeaux – to visit my friend Jennifer from Luxe Adventure Traveler (and because Bordeaux is supposed to be the coolest city in France right now)
  • South Korea – this was unexpected and came out of a phone call with a Canadian friend writing scripts for Korean films – but… why not?

I’m also looking nearby, at my own region here in the Eastern corner of France. I’m about to become the proud owner of a trailer-tent-wannabe, something I tow behind my car but large enough to house my two big dogs when I go camping. It looks something like this:

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This is it – the pop-top (although mine is beige)

And that’s my travel plan for continental Europe. I’m going camping. (I know… I’m as surprised as you are.)

Will you wish me happy birthday?

It’s not my birthday, but Women on the Road turns ten in 2017 and that’s a massive benchmark. I’ve had the opportunity to reflect on what I’ve done right and wrong with this massive website but that’s a subject for another post.

And I’ve reached an even greater milestone: my newsletter turns 20! That’s right. Twenty (21 if you need precision) years ago I took off for Africa and email wasn’t quite a thing yet. Still, I wanted to experiment so I started a newsletter.

The first year I mailed it to my only friend in Geneva with an email address. He printed it, photocopied it, and snail-mailed it to everyone on my voluminous list. Each year, more people acquired email so it grew. Eventually I converted it into Women on the Road News but some readers have been subscribers since that very first ‘Afrigram’ two decades ago.

For now, though, I’m back to plotting and planning my trips and anticipating the freedom given to me through travel. And I’ll do my best to take you all with me.

My catchwords for 2017? Clarity and focus. Do less, and do it best.

So that’s it. 2016 in a nutshell. Curious about earlier years? Here’s 2015, 2014, 2013 and 2012.

What about you? Do you have goals, hopes, plans? I’d love to hear them!

{ 7 comments… add one }
  • Olga January 4, 2017, 1:07 pm

    I love your blog; and appreciate your words and opinions. I normally agree, but even when I don’t, I still find it refreshing that someone can give me insight and honest, open dialog.
    Not to mention that I am a serial-traveller and I get tons of fantastic destination advice from your blog… So, here’s to 10 years more!

    • Leyla Giray Alyanak January 5, 2017, 7:48 pm

      thank you Olga – and it’s healthy not to always agree! I like a good debate, as long as it stays respectful, open-minded and kind… Thank you for being one of us – a serial traveller (I love the phrase!)

  • Cindy Blakeslee January 4, 2017, 4:26 pm

    I love the concept of being a Flexitarian! I am that too, trying to discipline myself to eat non-meat meals at least a couple of times a week, hard for a serious foodie and carnivore. But it does help with weight and blood pressure…

    And thanks for sharing your travels. You are giving me courage to go places I’ve only dreamed of. I’ve gotten involved in Servas (although not met any one yet) and have made (online) friends in distant places I’d like to visit.

    Thank you Leyla!

    • Leyla Giray Alyanak January 5, 2017, 7:45 pm

      Congratulations on pushing beyond your comfort zone – so hard before and during, but so rewarding after! And this evening I made eggplant stir fry and while half of me pined for the missing meat, the other half was feeling quite victorious.

  • Ann Randall January 5, 2017, 3:24 pm

    I spent the last two weeks of 2016 in frigid, but beautiful Iceland – a respite from #notmypresident who makes me angry about so many things and for travel writing research. When the landscape is stark and there are only four hours of light a day, your mental faculties become acute. It was a good feeling. I intend to carry it into 2017 by: 1) not reading anything but high quality investigative journalism about our political situation 2) work on womens rights/immigration rights (am going to WA DC to march in the 1/21 Womens March) 3) do yoga and meditation daily 4) travel for perspective and as an informal ambassador (Estonia and Latvia in March because the flight was soooo cheap!) Thanks for combining travel and other issues in your writing. Yours is my favorite travel blog.

    • Leyla Giray Alyanak January 5, 2017, 7:44 pm

      I like the idea of surrounding myself with starkness and void… I’d like to try that. Perhaps a brief retreat somewhere… Great goals – and I can identify with each one (except the last, not being a US citizen!) Enjoy the Baltics – they’re fabulous!

  • Paula Tyner January 18, 2017, 8:13 pm

    Love your blog. Love, love your straight-forwardness and honesty! And, you have courage! I like these traits.

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