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Alison Pilling gave up her ‘normal’ life in her fifties for adventure, retraining as a sex coach and traveling the world barefoot…
Alison decided it was time for living life to the full by swapping stability for excitement. From corporate office to exotic beaches…
What does ‘normal’ mean anyway?
“I gave up ‘normal life’ in a big corporation five years ago, after taking a Tantra journey and retraining as a sex coach. So pre-pandemic, my unusual normal was living in Hebden Bridge making a small living as a sex coach for one-to-one clients, and running events called The Sex Lectures in Manchester. I lived alone with no mortgage and had a fantastic group of friends. In 2019 I’d been to Bali and written a memoir which I was editing.
“I was living fairly comfortably and with a sense of stability. Excitingly, I had a writers residency in Sri Lanka lined up; I was already following my heart. As well as holding together financially, I had a small amount of savings for back-up.
While he was in love and thought he was ‘helping me’, I was dying of boredom, entrapped in conventional housewife mode
“At the end of 2019 I’d had a date with someone who was visiting the UK from Australia. He came back to visit in January 2020. I’d realised our hearts, minds, and personalities were incompatible, but as the first lockdown happened, he asked to stay. Overriding my instincts, I agreed.
“Although sex was a brilliant coping mechanism – as was my Tantra teacher’s advice about kindness and patience – by May I felt imprisoned in my own home with an older man who loved looking into the fire, telling repetitive yarns about bygone days in the marines and his childhood. While he was in love and thought he was ‘helping me’, I was dying of boredom, entrapped in conventional housewife mode.”
Taking a leap and travelling the world
“The pivotal moment during the pandemic for me to change my life was when a friend bailed me out of my metaphorical jail and took me to Corfu for a week. I came home, told the guy to leave, then decided it’d be better if I used this time to follow my instincts to live abroad in my fifties. So the ex turned into one of my two lodgers – both of whom are ex-lovers.
“My life looks so much better now; I’ve lived simply and cut down on spending. I went back to Corfu before heading to Italy for five months, to housesit with a friend I met on the beach. Unfortunately, I didn’t like the house or the location for the second winter lockdown, where I edited my memoir for the sixth time. I started an online Sensual Salon with a Tantric poet from Berlin: a speakeasy for sex-positive people to share experiences, vulnerability, and honesty. At the time, I was also on the teaching team for the UK Sexological Bodywork training in 2021.
“In spring, I moved to the Albanian riviera for three months. It was a revelation to be in an open country, and a time to enjoy living alone by the beach. From there I went back to Corfu for 90 days, before heading to Mexico for 90 days to work at a Tantra festival and live at the beach. I then lived in Oaxaca in an artist’s studio.
Living life on my terms
I’ve refused to let my attention be hijacked by the COVID narrative
“I’ve refused to let my attention be hijacked by the COVID narrative; I’ve ignored much of the news and just got on with creating what I wanted to create. I’ve lived life on my terms, which largely involved travelling when my 90-day visas ran out. And I’ve mostly been in the sunshine, learning to enjoy solitude.
“I’m becoming curious about living in intentional communities in the future. I’m currently here in a creative one in Colombia called Arte Sumapaz, as I would like to explore setting one up.”
“The biggest loss is in the close friends I miss and the chances to be in relationship. While I am enjoying being single again and following my own path, I miss love, intimacy, kissing, being close.
I know my choices mean I’ll be something of a pleasure nomad for a while, so it’s hard to create something lasting
“I’ve had occasional erotic dalliances but as my body has changed and I discovered that sex is painful, then I’m wary. In the absence of a medical system to explore the prospect of HRT, my tantra and sex coach training mean that I can still have sensual choices in the moments of connection. I know my choices mean I’ll be something of a pleasure nomad for a while, so it’s hard to create something lasting. A brief foray into Tinder didn’t help.
“I’m in a sex positive community so emotionally-connected friendships – if not physical intimacy – has been a valuable constant. Although I’m alone, I rarely feel bereft. I’m flirting with polyamory knowing that when I’m back in the UK for the summer, there will be friends and former lovers that I can be intimate with, as well as new possibilities for love.”
“Financially, I’m just about breaking even with the rent, mentoring, and government grants of 2021. While there are no luxuries, I’m recognising that I’m in a fortunate position of living like a barefoot hippy while following ideas and impulses that – if I hadn’t broken out of the UK when I did – I’d have been a lot more vexed by restrictions.
“I haven’t touched a tax bracket in years which is a huge contrast to my successful corporate life. Letting go and becoming truly happy has a price, but when you make a living from teaching that involves touch, you’re unable to find the energy to create a new business beyond sex therapy and coaching.”
Appreciating the unknown
“Mentally, I’m mostly steady, though I have the occasional periods of homesickness, anxiety about the future, and regular outbreaks of ‘what the fuck am I doing with my life?’. Whenever I find myself in those natural moments of doubt, I acknowledge how grateful I am for my choices, the sunshine, and the freedom I’ve had in the last two years to live freely in beautiful places meeting like-minded people.
I know I need to go home at some point and do a bit of life admin, but for now, I’m enjoying Colombia and the discovery of a more beautiful world
“Having a spiritual practice, however patchy, allows me to feel a trust in this transition. I have no answers or certainty about the future, but the chance to experience this uncertainty in new places allows me to understand how much I value feeling safe, loved, and free.
“I know I need to go home at some point and do a bit of life admin, but for now, I’m enjoying Colombia and the discovery of a more beautiful world and myself; three years ago, I wouldn’t have imagined this was possible.”
Are you thinking of travelling abroad this year, or are you going play it safe with a staycation? Here’s our top tips for staycationing safely.
Carly gets to do everything under the sun, including writing, editing, taking photos, creating stories, and swanning around at launches. She can down a glass of Prosecco without pausing for breath, and aims to be the youngest Pulitzer winner ever.
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