Throwing up in Doha–and the Courage to Travel Alone

by | Feb 26, 2024 | Advice, Personal Growth, Travel | 0 comments

one of the enchanting pedestrian streets in Istanbul, on the European side in Cihangir. Just loved those umbrellas!

I left some audios for a close friend last night, and she wrote me back, “I love living vicariously through your travel adventures,” and “‘Throwing Up in Doha’ is a great title for a memoir.” This isn’t a full-blown memoir. It’s a humble blog post. But I will tell you the story of throwing up in Doha, anyway. (Doha is the capital of Qatar, in case you didn’t know–I don’t judge you. I didn’t know either. And it’s only in the last year that I learned to pronounce “Qatar.”)

I left that message with a friend to let her know that I have been going through a lot since leaving for this trip on February 14. My first stop was Istanbul for a week, then four days in Singapore, and soon I will be heading on to Bali for two months where I will continue to work with my clients remotely and focus on a creative project. My hope is that the availability of cheap healing massages and the energetic magic of Kundalini yoga will help me make headway on a writing project. I am very happy that I am finally living this dream, which took a ton of work to make possible.

But man, woman, nonbinary person, it’s been a rough two weeks. To recap, my father has been in and out of the hospital twice in the moment when I was about to leave the US and then a week later when I was due to fly from Turkey. It’s hard for me as an eldest child to step back and let my younger siblings, who are wonderful, and totally on it, take responsibility when I am away. There’s guilt to feel, and to release. Luckily, blessedly, after a ton of uncertainty, my father is doing much better, so we are all tremendously grateful.

There have been other things, like getting accidentally punched by a woman in a Turkish hamam, and living through a corneal abrasion for two days. Yes, the hamam experience was fantastic, and the inside of your eye can hurt badly when someone hits it. During these travels, there has been a relationship issue where I realize that I have been deluding myself in fantasy, longing for something that was never an option. and that has been humbling to face. My goddess it’s hard when I realize that I make the same mistakes over and over again. That comes up for a lot of us as we get older. There’s been a lot of looking in the mirror, and getting punched in the face. What can I say? It’s brave to look in the mirror. It’s the only way to evolve.

a snuggly street cat cozies up to the door of the place where I stayed with a friend in Kadikoy

But back to Turkey. Istanbul is spectacular, bursting with history, culture, street cats (watch the lovely documentary Kedi to learn about how Turkish people care for stray felines communally), food, warm people, and very flirtatious men. The cab driver from the airport told me I looked twenty-seven. That’s pushing it! Istanbul is a completely unique city that brings together the secular and the nonsecular, but also overwhelming. Fifteen million people live in Turkey’s capital, more than New York. Istanbul is the biggest city in Europe and straddles the Bosphorous, a natural waterway between the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara. It covers more land mass than New York City.

On one side is Europe, and on the other lies Asia. I stayed on the Asian side in Kadikoy, which is said to be calm compared to the European side, but this bohemian alcove of a million coffeeshops still thrums with energy and bars, restaurants, and bazaars (markets). I have never been in a place with more cafes! Almost every day I went over to the European side, which could be a journey that took three or four forms of public transport or a cab ride that could take an hour and a half because of hellish traffic. I stayed out late four nights during that week, mostly at milongas dancing tango. All of this added up to exhaustion by the time I was packing my bags.

By the time I left for Singapore, I was depleted, beyond needing a vacation from this vacation. The flight from Istanbul to Doha was the most cramped I have ever been on. I was seated between an unsmiling woman and an unsmiling man. There was a very strange moment when, after I asked the flight attendant for a drink, and she passed me a tiny can of Diet Coke, the woman turned to me and asked if it was possible for me to not drink a Coke near her. I said, “I don’t understand,” because I was frankly flummoxed. She darted up and out to the first class section, and stayed there until we landed.

To say I was rattled would be an understatement. I hadn’t slept more than three or four hours a night in several nights, and all the stress was catching up with me. I had the irrational thoughts that I had traumatized this woman, and she cursed me. By the time we landed in Qatar, where I would be catching the next flight to Singapore, the pressure in my head started to squeeze my brain. I’ve had about 10 or 15 migraines in my life of varying intensity. Sometimes I throw up. Something must connect the gut and brain in the migraine state. So that was the situation, probably borne out of lack of sleep and stress. I was shielding my eyes to block the light on the way through the massive Doha airport (the number one thing to do in this state is to seek darkness) and then I found the most luxuriously, blessedly pristine bathroom by the gate. I threw up in the bathroom a few times, telling myself, “This is miserable but I will get through this.” That was my mantra.

When I saw myself in the mirror I thought, I do not look well. Why remember the bad moments from traveling? Because they are all part of the mix. People say they want to live vicariously through my adventures. Well, traveling can be quite challenging at times, especially in a city like Istanbul that is so vast with so many hidden places and confusing directions. But I love it. I still love to travel, and often I travel alone. Traveling is worth throwing up in Doha: I guess that is what I am trying to say.

While I was in Kadikoy, on the Asian side of Istanbul, I made this little video about the courage to travel alone, and the angels that help us when we run into problems. I was inspired to make this video by a conversation that I had with a Turkish woman whom I met in a remarkably friendly cafe called Tribu (Italian for “tribe.”) (Watch this little spontaneous video I made with the owner to learn about the cafe–and maybe someday you will visit).

This woman who had worked for the Smithsonian in DC after doing a masters in art history in the US was telling me about a solo trip that she had taken to a Greek island, and a moment when her phone didn’t work and she couldn’t find the place where she was staying. Someone came along to help her find her hotel. That sounded familiar. That is my experience too. Countless times when I have been traveling alone in South America, Europe, and Asia people have helped me when I was lost, sick, or injured.

Angels do come to help. Many of my coaching clients want to travel alone but they get worried with reasonable concerns. I made this video below to encourage other women to travel alone. Because even though shitty things like “Throwing up in Doha” happen, I would still say that traveling alone is worth it. More than worth it. It makes our world bigger. It makes us feel alive, More things happen when we are alone. And we are never totally alone. Angels will come forward. It’s important to acknowledge that and be grateful for them. 

Here’s the video I made for you walking through the streets of Kadikoy in Istanbul about solo travel. I hope you enjoy.

Are you planning any travels, solo or not? Let me know in the comments.

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Hi! I’m Sasha

Executive and Life Coach on a mission to help women connect with their bodies to pursue their truest desires in the bedroom and the world.

Author of Quirkyalone: A Manifesto for Uncompromising Romantics (HarperCollins) + To-Do List: From Buying Milk to Finding a Soul Mate, What Our Lists Reveal About Us (Simon & Schuster).

At work on a memoir called Wet, about adventures in healing through sensuality.

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