Every year I have a birthday ritual that would seem to most people to be kind of out there:
I consult with Bob Marks, a world-class astrologer, (www.bobmarksastrologer.com) via Skype, who tells me where I should travel to find the best possible alignment with the planets to positively influence the coming events of the year.
A consultation with him costs $225 and last about 2 hours.
Following his recommendations, in the last three years, I have traveled to Ireland, the Caribbean on a cruise, and this year I went to New Orleans, and Helsinki Finland ( the latter for my half-birthday, in April).
I usually ask my fantastic travel agent, Mary-Ann Ramsey at Betty MacLean Travel (www.bettymacleantravel.com) to make the arrangements because she is fantastic and knows, after many years of working with me, what I like. In the age of internet bookings and whatnot travel agents are becoming a dying breed but the really good ones can make the difference between a good trip and one that is unforgettable.
The running joke with my friends regarding my eccentric travel practice is that Mr. Marks must have a side line travel business. People’s reactions when they hear that I am traveling solely on the recommendation of an astrologer run the gamut from benign bafflement to outraged scorn. Very few if any think that the idea has merit.
Okay, here’s the deal: even I am not sure that it has metaphysical merit. After four years of following his tips I can’t say I have noticed radical, quantifiable, irrefutable improvements in my life. BUT I can say that I have had several adventures I wouldn’t have had otherwise; and these mostly solitary journeys were as much of an inner exploration as they were an exercise in tourism. They have been so enriching on a personal development level that I feel incredibly lucky to have the excuse of Bob Marks’ travel edicts.
This is what I have discovered:
When you travel alone to a place where you know no one you enter into a state that I can only describe as hyper vigilance. You notice everyone around you, you are finely attuned to sounds and sights in a way that you wouldn’t be if your attention were shared with a traveling companion’s conversation and company. It can be a little scary, like when I was walking back to my hotel from dinner through the French Quarter on a Friday night in New Orleans. I had, unthinkingly, worn an Alexander McQueen (www.alexandermcqueen.com) dress my husband likes only to discover that lots of rather drunk frat boys like it too!
I’m a foodie, and work in the food and wine business, so for me a visit to New Orleans had to include some fine dining. So to dinner alone I went. That takes shifting into another kind of gear, one that I seldom use, to navigate the social anxiety such an experience can provoke.
My suggestion here is to try to:
Eat at restaurants that have a bar at which they serve food. I ate at Revolution (www.revolutionnola.com) which turned out to be a good choice. The restaurant was very high end (so no leering come-ons), and fairly new (means the staff were out to impress and really took care of me). It was also a short walk back to the safety of my hotel which is no small consideration when traveling alone in a party town like New Orleans.
I stayed at a small boutique hotel in the French Quarter which I won’t name as it was completely forgettable but I think that small hotels are best for this sort of adventure as a big chain hotel or resort could be alienating to a solo traveler.
Instead of taking the group package tours I decided to arm myself with a map and go exploring on foot without a specific plan. I wore comfortable shoes and walked all the way to Bywater the ‘cool’ gentrified district which is about as far philosophically from the French Quarter as you can get.
Below, this is what it looks like there….
And, honestly, it was so much more interesting there than the over-touristy French Quarter… I ate at not one but two places in Bywater, one a charming place with fantastic service and style, called Maurepas Foods (www.maurepasfoods.com) and then a vegetarian cafe called Satsuma (www.satsumacafe.com) that had the best people watching. Afterwards, I went to a flea market where I saw a fantastic thing posted randomly on a wall:
It was my birthday and there was my lovely gift. This made my day. I mean, who doesn’t need a dose of love, forgiveness, serenity, etc.?
The act of going some place that is ‘random’, selected out of a hat, is incredibly powerful. Going alone makes this an even more vibrant, present experience. Does Bob Marks astrological travel work? I really can’t say for sure, but my life has been immeasurably enhanced by these unique travel experiences which I would never have embarked on without his say-so.
This year, in October, I turn 50 and I already know where Bob Marks is sending me: Punta de Este, Uruguay. Playa Vik here I come! (www.playavik.com/indexENG.php)… and the added bonus is: it’s compelling me to learn Spanish at last! (using the Pimsleur Method: it works!).