Born in France, raised in Canada, Spain and the Middle East, Leyla Giray Alyanak is a former journalist/foreign correspondent who is now an independent traveler and runs the acclaimed travel site, Women on the Road. Leyla’s work inspires women to travel independently, strongly, proudly and safely. She is the author of the book Women on the Road: the essential guide for baby boomer travel.
What is one travel experience you would live again? And one you wouldn’t?
I think one travel experience I would live again would be anything involving nature: whale watching on a friend’s boat off Vancouver Island, climbing the hills of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest to see mountain gorillas, watching elephants feed at sunset in the South African savanna, wrapping my arms around redwoods and baobabs and feeling their strength, watching the Northern Lights dance over the Labrador skies…
One thing I might not want to experience again would involve getting stuck in a minefield, as I did in Mozambique. It lasted less than an hour, but it’s an hour I would prefer not having to live through again.
If you allow me a second experience I’d prefer not to repeat, it would involve watching smoke billow throughout the fuselage of a Russian jet – while it was up in the air and I was in it. Once was enough.
What inspired you to create women-on-the-road.com?
After backpacking across Africa and Asia in my late 40s I came back to Geneva ready and primed to write a book – but never got around to it. When I left to travel, there was very little information available specifically for women travelers and once I returned, I found that things hadn’t changed much.
I decided to fill that gap and Women on the Road was born. Today of course, travel blogs and sites for women are incredibly plentiful, but back then, we women were desperate for information geared to us specifically.
How many countries have you visited since you began traveling?
So far I’ve been to about 75 countries in total – and I plan to add two more in the next couple of months. I took my first trip when I was five weeks old and have been accumulating passport stamps ever since.
What’s the most surprising thing you’ve discovered in your travels?
What has surprised me are the similarities we share with one another. The world is delightfully diverse, but people everywhere are the same at heart. They suffer equally, the same kinds of things make them happy, and they require the same respect in order to live a life of dignity.
Culture is important and I’m the first to love the differences I observe when I travel, but I was surprised to realize how very similar we really are, no matter where we are from or how we live.
…And the least surprising?
I wasn’t surprised at how easy it was to travel as a woman on her own – I actually expected it. In those days, the mid-1990s, I was a bit of a rarity. This was before location independence and the Internet and iPhone apps that map every street corner.
When I left home to travel most of my friends were alarmed! It wasn’t common to take off like this in the middle of a career, especially a woman on her own. My friends predicted all sorts of dire outcomes, from assault to robbery to the end of my career to utter loneliness…
None of these things came to pass – and I hadn’t expected they would!
Why do you feel that women in particular should have a guide on solo travel?
I think that women travel differently than men. While men aren’t by any means immune to danger or harassment, these happen more commonly to women, often because of the low status of women in many societies.
There are also useful pieces of information around health and safety in guides that specifically apply to women. Most guides are written generically and the bulk of the information is fine. However, I do like the idea of something written just for me, and my experience with my readers has been that they appreciate it too.
What can men glean about travel from your site?
Men can come to understand that women have very real safety concerns when they travel, and can be respectful and supportive of that. Sometimes they’re simply not yet aware that we as women might have to be a little more cautious when we travel.
What are some examples of how people can earn money while traveling?
Finding work abroad is in many ways (other than work permits) similar to finding work at home: it depends on your skills, and the needs of the market. For example, English as a second language is in great demand overseas, and if you speak English and have teaching skills, that’s always a good place to start.
The other low-hanging fruit is anything location independent. With a laptop and the broad availability of wifi, you can work from anywhere if you have a non-manual profession. Even servicing clients can be done over Skype, as many of my consultant friends do. If you’re a writer, work in IT, are a coach or any number of other portable professions, you can explore taking your work online.
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