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Solo Female Travel: Women in the Wilderness

Written by Karo Wieczorek

Despite the fact that women have been successfully traveling and having adventures alone in nature for centuries, the solo woman who announces she’s going on a back-country adventure still seems to be a topic that gets people’s emotions going. The majority of support for solo female activities outdoors goes to the women on the billboards – the extreme sports heroines, the pioneers reaching for the ultimate heights.

But what about the rest of us? What about all other women who want to get out there and live their own small adventures?

For us, the situation can look a little different. Our dreams and plans come up against a wall of doubt, distrust, fear and disbelief. We face it not only from the people around us (“Are you sure you’re ready for this kind of trip?”), but also the doubts that live inside our own minds (“Can I really do this?”).

If you’re a woman who wants to take a solo trip into the wilderness, but is having a hard time dealing with the reactions from the people around you (not to mention the doubts coming up in your own head), this post is for you.

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Social Stigma

You have great dreams, you make plans, you test your gear, and you’re happy to go out and embrace the wilderness. Excited, you announce your plans to your family and friends and the moment you do, you face an irritating reality – no one shares your feelings of excitement. Instead, you get the opposite reactions:

You’re Going Alone!?

One of the first things that can come up when the adventurous woman shares her travel and adventure plans with people who care about her is shock and difficulty comprehending why she would want to risk going alone.

And not just going anywhere…but going alone into the woods, mountains, desert. For people around her, it’s unimaginable. They might not believe that a woman would be courageous enough to do such a thing. No boyfriend going with her? No other girlfriends? No hiking buddy?

The underlying question they’re asking is why? Why would she ever want to go alone?

The need to be constantly surrounded by people is embedded into our society. It’s how humans have survived as long as we have. Being alone used to mean certain death.

Nowadays, being alone is not a death sentence, but it does mean having to have to deal with yourself. It means having to confront your own deepest thoughts and emotions, your inner shadows you would rather not think about. Being alone, you might even hear your heartbeat for the first time, and confront your own humanity…your own mortality.

For many of us, being alone is something to avoid.

But for the courageous ones, we have our reasons to wander into wilderness alone.

It’s up to us if we try to make others understand. The thing to remember is not to get discouraged — just stick to your decision and trust yourself.

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But You Don’t Know Anything About [insert outdoor activity/location here]!

The next thing that the adventurous woman has to deal with is the denial of her skills, often wrapped in the form of “concerned questions” that downplay what she is capable of on her own.

Will you manage to set up camp?

Do you really know how to make a fire?

How will you stay safe?

How could you possibly be able to do all that on your own?

All the time she has spent reading, educating herself, taking courses and practicing wilderness survival skills seems to be irrelevant compared to the fact that she’s still a woman.

People may believe that outdoor skills are difficult to master, something out of reach of the average person working a desk job in a city.

That of course is not true, and the wild woman knows that. She’s also confident and aware of her skills and has no problems facing obstacles and conquering them.

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But…The World “Out There” Is A Dangerous Place!

This is one of most common fears, the argument the adventurous woman hears the most when people are trying to persuade her away from the idea of a solo wilderness trip.

There are so many dangers out there!

Opinions that if you go “out there”, every human will try to harm you, every animal will try to eat you, and you will fall in every possible hole are common. They’re created by a general fear of the unknown.

For the adventurous woman, the unknown is something exciting. For others, the unknown only brings trouble and danger. These fears that loved ones or friends have are the hardest to explain away. Realistically, it will take the adventurous woman a couple expeditions and just as many safe returns to convince the people who care about her that she can actually thrive “out there”. Even then, there will likely be resistance to each new trip she plans to take.

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Build a Strong Inner Mindset

The fact that people around us doubt our skills and abilities can always be expected. What is much harder to overcome is the doubt and distrust that dwells within us.

No matter how hard she tries, the adventurous woman will face a point where she starts to feel the seeds of fear within her.

Can I really do this?

Are my skills really good enough?

What if they were right…What if I don’t make it?

All these questions and many more will race through her mind. She will experience moments of discouragement and doubt. The key to her success will be to stay strong and cultivate her self-awareness and self-confidence.

But the adventurous woman travels prepared. She will remind herself that she knows exactly what she’s capable of. She knows her gear and the place she will travel to. Trusting herself is her main asset. In the end, she will be on her own out there and she will be the only person she can rely on, so she prepares herself and trusts herself to tackle challenges, one by one.

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Be Prepared

The key to a successful outdoor adventure is preparedness. There are a couple of important things the adventurous woman needs to think about before going into the wild:

Manage Your Risks

It’s probably one of the most important aspects of your preparations. Knowing exactly what to expect and mitigating any possible risks should be one of your core skills.

The wilderness is unpredictable, yes, but you can and should make sure you have as much information as possible in advance about the following…

  • Weather conditions: what can you expect during your trip?

Knowing your forecast will allow you to prepare your gear accordingly and prepare for quickly changing weather.

  • Trail conditions: is your trail open at this time of year?

Make sure you check if the trail you have chosen is open to the public and if any other difficulties or obstacles will be in your path.

  • Day length: how much daylight will you have during your hike?

This will allow you to plan and time your trek, especially if it’s a long stretch.

  • Wild animals: what wildlife activity can you expect in the area you chose?

This especially applies to regions where bear and/or mountain lions live, where you should be extra cautious with carrying and storing food and other smelly products like sunscreen and lotion!

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Skills and Education

You’ll acquire both skills and knowledge over time, mostly through experience. However there’s a good chunk of knowledge you can get before your adventures.

Educate yourself by reading books and articles (like this onethis one, and this one), listening to podcasts like The First 40 Miles, DirtBag Diaries, and Sounds of the Trail, and watching some wilderness survival videos (like “Magnetic Declination Demystified“, “How to Tie the Simplest (But Also The Most Useful) Knot in the World” and the “Ultimate Hiking Gear & Skills Clinic“. Whenever possible, attend trainings and get first-hand experience in a safe, controlled setting.

Try and test things out yourself as well! Trying to start a fire for the first time on the trail is not a good idea. Put effort in acquiring as much knowledge as possible in advance; it will pay off once you’re out there in the wild!

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Equipment

The gear you carry is everything you will have to survive on your own in the wild. Make sure you know how to use it, make sure you can rely on each and every piece in your backpack.

To do that you MUST test out ALL of your gear in advance. Every part of your equipment should be checked long before you take your first steps on the trail. Go walking or hiking in your shoes for several miles, wear your backpack while doing so, try cooking something on your small camp stove.

The very best way to prepare your gear is to embark on smaller hikes and walks where you can test most of it before you take your big wilderness trip!

Fitness

You need to be able to trust your body as much as your gear.

Knowing your abilities and limits is important because it lets you set boundaries and manage your own expectations. How much weight can you carry for a couple of hours? How many miles can you hike before you need to rest? How will your feet react to constant use?

These are the questions you need to know answers to before you start your adventure. I recommend starting a small training routine to strengthen your legs, core and back as well. This will make all your hikes much easier and allow you enjoy your adventures even more!

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You Did It!

When you meet a woman in the wilderness, you know she’s special.

She has a particular energy about her, a kind of strength and power. That’s what solo adventures give you.

They empower you, give you self confidence, and build your trust in your skills and abilities. They make you realize that you can handle so much more than you thought you could.

The adventurous woman who travels, hikes, backpacks, or does any other kind of solo outdoor trip becomes a better version of herself. She is healthier, happier and more fulfilled — and she doesn’t leave that behind on the trail. She takes all those positive things back into her everyday life.

No challenge at work is comparable to that last stretch with no water and an aching body… No fight is as threatening as that terrible storm that almost blew her off the mountain. Her inner self gets stronger with every trip she takes. Now, she makes decisions with confidence; her mind is sharp and fast.

The truth is that the ability to survive in the wild on your own makes you a strong, confident and self-aware person. The energy you get on your adventure will influence others around you, too. You’ll inspire your friends to be more courageous. To trust themselves more. To take on challenges directly and not shy away from something that might stretch their comfort zone.

So follow your dreams, adventurous woman, and don’t get discouraged. Have respect for nature on your solo trip, but have no fear.

About Karo

Photo - KaroKaro is a passionate hiker with a true calling. Every trail is an adventure and every adventure is a lesson. When not hiking she’s either planning her next tattoo or writing to her blog where she shares her knowledge and experience with other outdoors-loving people. Connect with Karo at Trail Maiden.

July 18, 2016
9 Things You Must Know Before Traveling Outside the U.S.

1. In the majority of the world, you will be safe and sound. The media (and your mother) likes to make you think that leaving the country will end in death (or kidnapping). In most places, this is both statistically unlikely and just plain inaccurate. Travel will actually enrich your life instead.

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2. Learn how to read train, metro and bus schedules and maps. Much of the world outside the USA has extensive public transportation systems. They’re often reliable and inexpensive – take advantage while you can! (You can learn how in our very own Travel Savvy eCourse, along with 29 other must-knows for new international travelers.)

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3. Asking for help, early and often, makes travel easier. You might not speak the language, but if you pick up a Lonely Planet Phrasebook for the country you’re visiting, asking for help becomes as easy as pointing to a phrase on a page.

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4. Knowing even 5 words or phrases in the language of each country you travel in basically means that you can get all your major needs met. The most useful ones to look up in advance are: “hello”, “how much?”, “yes/no”, “thank you”, #1-#10, and “good”. Need to order something? Say “hello”, point to the object you want, say the number (or hold up your fingers), ask “how much?” and say “thank you”. Easy peasy.

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5. Staying in hostels, though budget-friendly and probably inside your comfort zone, is not the best way to have an authentic travel experience. Alternatives that are friendlier on the wallet, with the added bonus of a local’s perspective? CouchSurfing and Airbnb.

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6. 99% of people have good intentions and want to help if you are in trouble, even if they don’t understand what the problem is. People are generally kind, everywhere, especially if you begin the interaction with a smile!

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7. You can create a sense of home wherever you are. All you have to do is bring a hobby of yours from the USA with you. For example, dancing salsa: whenever you get to a new city, look up the salsa clubs or find a Meetup.com dance group and head out for a night. You’ll end up meeting local people and evade homesickness too!

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8. Street smarts serve you everywhere in the world. You have personal boundaries, and you are allowed to assert them and stand your ground or leave a situation whenever your gut tells you to. (No idea how to set a clear boundary, especially when you don’t speak their language? You can learn this in the Travel Savvy eCourse, too.)

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9. You don’t need a TON of money to travel outside the USA and have the time of your life. Google “travel hacking” or “credit card hacking” to learn how to use points and frequent flyer miles to pay for travel. Use a fare alert site like AirfareWatchdog to tell you when prices drop. Join a volunteer organization that covers your travel expenses, apply for grants and scholarships that sponsor you to be in a foreign country, or get a working holiday visa and take your time to explore countries like Australia and New Zealand while earning normal income.

P.S. #6 is my favorite 😉

What do you believe everyone MUST know before traveling outside the U.S. for the first time? Share your ideas in the comments below!
July 2, 2016
Cuba: In-Depth With Hillary Griffith

What was the very first reason you traveled to Cuba, over 15 years ago?

I have a long love of dance. I was dancing salsa when the Afro-Cuban all-stars came through Boulder, Colorado many years ago. I mentioned to them that I had just finished dancing for famous salsa artist El Canario’s music video, who was finishing shooting in Denver then. I took them to meet him, and we all became friends.

As they were leaving the country, they called me for help with some sound gear issues. They were so grateful I helped them out, and told me to come visit them as a thank you. I went there initially with that invitation. This was in the 90s.

I was dancing at a large congress event that was happening in Puerto Rico every summer at that time. I was on my way there with one of my dancer friends when I went to Cuba with a research license. In Cuba, I stayed in a little town just outside of Havana with one of the families of one of the artists.

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Photo by Adria Ellis, @aconica

I fell in love with Cuba after the first five days, mainly because the people are incredibly beautiful. If there’s a place where you’re going to experience community and the most non-judgmental culture ever, it’s Cuba! Everybody has struggled there, so there’s so much compassion for surviving. People know that everyone has to work together to survive.

During that first trip, we had dinner one night with some family members and friends. One of the guys who lived in the house was so excited for one of their good friends to come. He wouldn’t stop going on about her, telling me she would be the most beautiful woman I’ll ever meet.

When this woman arrived, a bunch of neighbors came together and carried her in her wheelchair up to the third floor of the apartment building. This guy treated her like the most beautiful, incredible woman in the world. I had never seen somebody treat a disabled person with so much admiration and love and inclusion. It was amazing.

Once I went to Cuba that first time, I was sold. I had to go back and see more. Five days was not enough.

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Photo by Adria Ellis, @aconica

As you went back multiple times over the years, how did you get into Cuba?

Over the years, people have found many creative ways to get into Cuba. It was never illegal to go to, but it was illegal to spend money there. The Cubans were never against having Americans there.

There were a lot of legal ways to get there. In some cases, I was involved with an organization or a group that had permission to go. I was able to do that for example, with the Cuban Sister City Organization for many years.

There were a lot of ways one could travel to Cuba, for example to do research, for religious reasons, or for educational purposes. I traveled that way too in some cases. These days, it’s very easy to go.

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Photo by Adria Ellis, @aconica

Are there direct flights now for people who want to go from the U.S. to Cuba?

No, there aren’t many. American Airlines, for example, has been flying out of Miami for many years. Last I saw, a lot of the airlines were fighting over which ones would get to fly directly into Cuba. I think it’s supposed to be 20 daily flights into Havana, and another 10 throughout the rest of the country starting in November 2016.

Right now, the best way to go from Colorado is probably to Cancun and then to Cuba, because it’s the shortest travel distance. Cancun is the cheapest place to get accommodation if you have to spend the night.

 

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Photo by Adria Ellis, @aconica

Have you already seen things start to change in Cuba despite little outside influence from the developed West?

Remember that though the American embargo was in place for years, very few other countries in the world have had travel restrictions for Cuba. Europeans have been going there for a while. I don’t know if it seemed as hot of a destination, because it didn’t get the same sort marketing that it does now.

A lot of people say, “I want to get to Cuba before it changes,” but Cuba has been changing all the time. When I started going there, things were still raw, in a way. There has been a change in the urban landscape. You used to see Santeria ceremonies, the main religion in Cuba, in neighborhoods that are now more touristic locations.

Santeria is a blend of Yoruban polytheism and Catholicism. In this religion, there are multiple gods and goddesses who come onto Earth and possess people, and then through those people they offer wisdom and blessings. There are certain rhythms that are played only for ceremonies, which open the door to the heavens. Anybody can become possessed in a ceremony. It’s quite an experience.

People of that religion greet one another with the same kind of deep admiration and respect that they would a god or goddess, because anyone is a potential vessel for the god or goddess to run through.

As a dancer, I love it. I discovered Santeria for the first time when I was wandering down the street and heard those rhythms. I thought, “What is this rhythm that I’ve never danced to?” I went to go check it out, people invited me in, and I discovered this whole new experience.

A lot of people are very scared when looking at another religion, but it’s amazing to experience and witness and contemplate an entirely different mindset.

I live part of the year in West Africa too, and I see where some of the roots in indigenous villages there have evolved in Cuba. It’s quite fascinating to see the parts of Cuban culture that are really African.

I think that one of the reasons why communism became attractive as a political system in Cuba is because in African culture, you share everything. In Africa, everyone sits around and eats form the same bowl, no matter how much food there is. A certain amount is cooked, and if more people from the village show up, it goes to smaller portions. People who work come home and share with their entire family compound, which could be around 50 people. Sharing is a very natural African value and psychology.

It’s very difficult for an African living in that context to step up from a quality of life standpoint. They get stuck sharing their income with the larger group. It’s interesting to see both the beauty of that as well as the challenges that come with it.

Photo by Adria Ellis, @aconica

Photo by Adria Ellis, @aconica

 

What would you say to someone who wants to be a little more adventurous, to convince him or her to go to Cuba and discover what it has to offer? Is there something in particular that Cuba can unlock in a traveler who goes there for the first time?

I think Americans tend to feel isolated, but in Cuba you really feel what it’s like to be fully welcomed and taken in. When you’ve experienced all that nurturing and love from strangers who take you right in like you’re family, you know how to bring that back and share that with others.

Some women go to Cuba and feel a little overwhelmed, because men talk a lot on the streets. It’s a very macho culture, but also one that has a lot of love, appreciation, and respect for women. What the men value about women they fully value, and they acknowledge that and speak it out loud.

I always tell women to not take it so seriously. I feel like it’s a form of entertainment for Cubans. They don’t have access to a lot of things, like cable TV or the internet, so they sit on the street in front of their houses in Havana, watch people parade by, and find ways to say interesting, poetic comments and see which ones catch. It’s like going fishing with your words.

People will always speak. The choice is yours to respond or not respond. Americans tend to be very friendly. In Cuba you want to look the other way and kind of smile, but not engage with the other person unless you want that contact.

It’s okay to be really feminine in Cuba, which I think is sometimes hard to do in American culture with all the issues around sexual harassment or what’s politically correct. I feel like people have to be very gender neutral in the United States. In Cuba, women get a chance to rediscover parts of their femininity that they don’t always get to express or experience.

Men are also forced into being more gender neutral in the United States. I think that men here are terrified of doing something wrong. It might be refreshing for them to be in a place where they can also be more traditional and feel that role.

Anytime you travel or find yourself in an international scene, you have to learn how that culture sees the world. Anytime you step out of your own culture and place, the first thing to do is to observe the people around you carefully, and see what it is they’re doing to learn the lay of the land. That way, you will move through the challenging parts more quickly.

 

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Photo by Adria Ellis, @aconica

How do the things that you would normally purchase in America on a daily basis differ in Cuba, and how are they similar? What should travelers prepare for?

I would say that Cuba is changing about every three months at an “avalanche-turbo-rate” right now. Years ago, for example, I would never have thought of eating out at a restaurant. They were all state run.

About three to five years ago, Cuba had a policy change so that people can now own private property and start an enterprise. This has started to take off within the last year.

In the one neighborhood that I usually live in, there are about six great restaurants that opened up, and they’re all fantastic. It’s great, creative food. There are no Starbucks or that kind of thing, but we don’t know at what rate things will progress and in what direction they will go. You might go to a smaller town though, and still see what things were like in the past.

As a tourist, what would you do in that situation? Would you have to go into a family’s home and ask to share with them?

In the past, the best food you would eat would always be in people’s homes. Some people have formalized those into paladar, where they have their little restaurant in the front living room of their house.

In other cases, you would maybe ask around a neighborhood, or you’d ask the family you were staying with who the best cook is in the neighborhood. You could go to different neighbors and spread out the wealth by giving them some money and having them cook your dinner that night. That’s pretty much how I always ate.

The food is incredible, because about 90 percent of it is grown locally, and it’s organic. There’s nothing like fresh guava juice in the morning, and fresh coffee from a little organic farm.

Another funny thing for travelers is that it’s good money to sell a pig. I was staying in one house just before New Years. The family next door had been raising three pigs and decided to kill them at 7:00 one morning. It was quite horrible to hear the pig scream, but that’s the reality of real food and what it takes to get that food.

Photo by Adria Ellis, @aconica

Photo by Adria Ellis, @aconica

What was the most surprising thing or things that you’ve experienced in or about Cuba so far?

That’s hard, because I’ve been going there for so many years. I think one thing people will find very curious is that Cubans live a kind of double life. In the past, everyone was required to have his or her state job, and almost everyone also had an additional ‘under the table’ job to survive.

Then Cuba started allowing free enterprise, which has been transitioning into people starting their own businesses. Almost everyone is a small business owner, unless they’re still working for the state. They might be taxi drivers, or own a house and rent rooms, or have a restaurant, or sew clothes. People can now start registering those as private enterprises.

Because it was illegal to have a second job in the past, Cuba never had any marketing or advertising. There are no signs or billboards there now. People traveling to Cuba might find it very refreshing to be in a non-commercial space.

In the case of second jobs, people had to work only with people they trusted. Any time you wanted to find or buy something, you had to go through a network of trust. Cuba still operates that way, because these are patterns that are really ingrained in people.

You could also look at how collective trauma happens. Unfortunately, it’s happening all over the world right now. Cuba has had it’s own, too, like the repercussions of the embargo and the “special period”  that have left their mark on how Cubans function in the world. It’s interesting to observe a culture where people have lived under a lot of repression, and see all the ways they have learned to survive.

Photo by Adria Ellis, @aconica

Photo by Adria Ellis, @aconica

I’ve heard that the average Cuban is joyful and self-expressed. Despite the destruction, trauma, and human rights issues, how are Cubans still so happy?

Cubans have also had many great things. Not that they live well on government subsidies, but they have always had food, healthcare, education, housing, and transportation covered in a basic way.

I feel like Cuba came through a time where it responded to a very urgent issue, like the Special Period, when Russia stepped out and the American embargo was in place. Suddenly grandparents were starving to death to make sure their grandchildren were being fed. When you see that happening with your people, you want to get that figured out. So what do you do?

There are policies such as if you kill a cow, you go to prison for life. It’s pretty damn straight.  Some people would say that’s ridiculous for someone to be in prison for life for killing a cow, but they look at it like if you’re killing a cow, you’re killing six people, because six people don’t have access to the milk.

The laws are also changing in Cuba. It used to be illegal to hold American dollars, but it’s not anymore. So what should happen with the people who are still in prison from 10 years ago who did it, because it’s no longer illegal? Are they going to be given amnesty? All these things are rapidly evolving.

I think this is very positive, but it’s also part of a natural evolution of coming out of a place of chaos and moving towards a place of stability. I think growing too fast has also been a challenge for Cuba. They’ve been sort of fast-tracking many things to try to really work with this time that Obama is in office, because the policies of the people who are running for office now could be radically different. This is creating this hyper speed for change, and that also comes with its risks and challenges. They’re dealing with choices, and what the consequences are of the different scenarios.

 

Photo by Adria Ellis, @aconica

Photo by Adria Ellis, @aconica

Do you now take people to Cuba with you? Is this a business for you, or is it for fun?

I started a company called Havana Creative. It started out because people—my family, friends, and acquaintances—knew I spent a lot of time in Cuba and everyone had questions. As it has started to open, many people have been coming to me to ask for advice on where to go, where to stay, what to see and what to do.

It’s a place that I love, so I love to send people and to encourage them to go and discover it. It became so much of a full-time activity, that I decided I needed to formalize it. I’m at the very early phases of creating a website that is a portal for information.

I’m just building the website now. It’ll be located at www.havanacreative.com when it’s live. Basic things that I’ve been helping with have been facilitating lodging and housing for people. These are things that you can kind of get online and see photographs of sometimes, but I want to help people in really knowing what neighborhood they’re in, that it’s the right neighborhood, that you’re in a clean, safe and good house with good people. A place that’s not just about the photographs, but is also a really great spot with amazing people.

I want to be able to connect people to really local resources, like a university professor who could take them on a walking tour of architecture or urban planning, or help them create a custom itinerary based on some special interests. So it’s a very personalized, local perspective, getting people comfortable but integrated into what people on an average day experience.

And yes, there are still a lot of challenges with traveling in Cuba.

You’ll wait in line for so many things. There aren’t many banks. You only change money in the change house, or CADECA, but the line is very long. If you’re buying an Internet card, the line is very long.

You can do things on the street, but not everybody is comfortable changing their money on the black market, or if they don’t speak the language, not knowing whom they’re buying the card from. And that guy probably spent a couple hours waiting in line to buy the legal limit of like three half an hour Internet cards, and he’s going to sell two. It becomes a business for him.

Photo by Adria Ellis, @aconica

Photo by Adria Ellis, @aconica

People make a business out of waiting in line in Cuba.

Around New Years Eve, a lot of people kill pigs for the holidays. They come and they deliver pigs in these giant trucks. People will be out there just like on black Friday, and they’ll be there the day before to get their ticket to get their place in line to buy the pig. They’ll resell their ticket to people, so some people don’t have to wait in line.

If you’re going for a short holiday, you don’t want to spend half of it waiting in lines. One thing that Havana Creative can facilitate is helping with things like internet cards and bus tickets, or getting things that you’d otherwise have to spend a lot of time waiting to get. In addition, I am really interested in helping facilitate people who also want to bring small groups down, especially any sort of creative arts, or entrepreneurial activities.

One of the things I’ve done is blocked inventory of a lot of really great casas that have 6 to 10 rooms for 10 to 20 people, because there’s not enough infrastructure to support the influx of tourism right now. I’ve made the reservations and paid the deposits to have certain inventory. So with some of these pieces, as well as the contacts I have, I can make it easy for a small group to come down and have a great experience there.

There are a few trips that I’m personally facilitating and leading, in addition to helping other people who want to do that. I am bringing about 25 business students from the University of Colorado-Boulder Global Creativity and Innovation MBA class down for a two-week tour at the end of April. We’re doing things like having dinner with Cuban entrepreneurs, who are some of the people that Obama met with. We have lectures on economics, legal structures, import and export, and manufacturing.

There were also fun things mixed in with that, like an activity called Havana Hacks, where people can go out and look for creative hacks for how Cubans have solved small problems in creative ways. So it might be that they reused a water bottle to create a watering system. We will be looking for these kinds of things, then facilitating some sort of dialogues and discussions around it.

Photo by Adria Ellis, @aconica

Photo by Adria Ellis, @aconica

I’m doing a dance trip from July 18th through the 22nd. I’m bringing people for dance workshops, and it’s overlapping with the carnival period in Santiago. Carnival time is not based on religion there, but on the Día de la Revolución on the 26th, so it focuses around this Cuban independence celebration.

In the future, I would really like to do more things that facilitate the arts from a tourism standpoint. A fantasy end goal would be to work with a lot of Cuban artists who are friends of mine and who are jazz artists, musicians, dancers, and painters. I want to work with everybody in the arts and create a collaborative, creative space. Cuba has such a vibrant, creative culture, and for me to bring people together in that environment and collaborate on creative work would be very special.

There’s nothing like having an informal jazz jam session, and letting people bring in whatever their instrument or background is and create fusions. It’s the same thing with dance. What happens when you mix tango with salsa, or some other dance form? It creates a really interesting, invigorated space!

Where is the best place to go for people who want to find out more about you or your work?

At this moment, if they’re interested in doing anything with Cuba, they should email info[at]havanacreative.com.

 

About Hillary

d77646_a642eeb026ef457787cafbcadabf5669Hillary Griffith has been traveling to Cuba for over 15 years, as a dancer, an artist, and a social entrepreneur. She is the founder of Havana Creative, a company that facilitates group travel to Cuba for people who want to experience the country in-depth. For more information or to join a group, email her at info[at]havanacreative.com.

May 15, 2016
Traveling with a Purpose: Anita Wing Lee

Anita Wing Lee is a 25-year-old blogger turned international broadcaster, humanitarian, and meditation guide. She is the founder of Project Soul Fam and has done international development work over the past couple years.

She recently found her passion through Periscope, an site that lets you explore the world through someone else’s eyes, that allows her to produce content and share her story in real time, evolve with her audience, and build a community. On her Periscope @anitawinglee she shares daily scopes of guided meditation, her travels, spiritual guidance, book clubs and more.

Anita knows it’s hard to make that initial leap to travel. Once she did, and once she discovered her purpose, she couldn’t get enough of it.

Her advice? It’s not about being where you are in the world, she says, but about the state of mind that you have (the traveler’s mindset!) — being alive, aware, empathetic, and compassionate.

Check out the interview with Anita below to find out how to find and fund travel opportunities with a purpose everywhere — even in your own neighborhood!

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April 13, 2016
Find Your Courage Through Solo Travel: Jackie’s Story
This is possibly the most important interview that Jackie Norse of The Budget-Minded Traveler has published to date.
Together with Nathaniel Boyle from Holocene, the three of us explore solo travel as a tool for personal growth and healing, by sharing Jackie’s own personal story on the heels of her divorce.
Through a number of hard questions and deep topics, and based around a piece she wrote recently: 5 Beautiful Lessons I Learned From Making the Hardest Decision of My Life, we discuss the unparalleled power of change, transformation, and strength that comes with traveling solo.

Listen below, or download the episode and listen on the go.

And please, do reach out if you’re going through a break-up or divorce and want to heal and feel like yourself again. As Jackie says, “If you think there’s nothing waiting for you on the other side of the world, you’re wrong,” and we would be honored to support you in your journey.

 

About Jackie
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Latina by heart, Californian by birth, and Montanan by choice, although currently traveling the world with her office in her backpack. At age 18, she chose travel as a lifestyle and never went back to “normal” as she knew it. Over a decade later, travel is her full-time profession, and home is (once again) where the toothbrush is. Connect with Jackie at Traveling Jackie or The Budget-Minded Traveler.
February 24, 2016
Finding Help in Dark Times: How Trusting My Intuition Makes Travel Magical

I wake up to the sound of distant roosters and chirping birds.

Sunlight seeps through the thin, mosquito-netted bed curtains. As I pull them gently aside, I catch a glimpse of the lush, well-kept garden outside.

I am in Bali.
I am also in a stranger’s home.

A stranger who I met on a flight to Singapore about a week earlier. A stranger who, two hours into the conversation, had turned into a friend. A friend who happened to be heading on a three week vacation, leaving his house by the rice fields of Ubud completely empty.

Unless, of course, I wanted to stay and look after the house?

It took trust for this man to open up his house to a complete stranger. It also took guts for me to accept a good offer when it was right in front of me.

Luckily, I have learned that these are moments when the Universe simply provides an opportunity for me to say “YES,” and that I shouldn’t let my head get in the way.

I have been a solo female traveler for fifteen years.

I have studied Italian in Rome, backpacked the east coast of Australia, lived and worked in Cape Town, traveled on local buses in Mozambique, sky dived in Namibia, taken a leap for love in Texas, stayed at ashrams in India, and spent a summer north of the Arctic Circle in Norway.

I have also gotten mugged more times than the average person, and lost at least three credit cards, two cameras, numerous phones, and handbags. I have gotten food poisoning many times in Asia, fainted on the street in Africa, missed flights, been stranded on dark streets, had flat tires, and slept at airports.

But even in my darkest hours, I have known deep down that I was safe.

Simply because for every misfortunate event, there have been a hundred ones more fortunate.

And every time I have needed help, it has been provided.

People have created many layers of doubt around this topic, but a recent experience of mine has once again strengthened my belief in it.

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After my encounter with the stranger on the flight, I lost my wallet and credit card while in Singapore. I was standing in the downtown financial district, gazing up towards the towering skyscrapers and having a reflective, rambling conversation with myself.

These structures, I thought, are built on fear.

Fear that we don’t have enough as it is.
Fear that there won’t be enough later.
Fear that later might never come.

And just as I was reaching for my camera to capture this moment of great insight, I realized my wallet was gone.

Suddenly, my perfect conceptual epiphany had turned into an actual, practical matter. I was face to face with my thesis.

I only had so little time to laugh at the synchronicity of the situation before getting my act together and blocking my credit card. It was midday and swelteringly hot, and I had no money to buy food or drinks or a public transport ride back to Little India. So I walked for an hour, sweating and swearing at the situation.

Once back at my hostel, I was ‘hangry’, tired, and stressed. I didn’t want to talk to anyone, especially the Indonesian guy who had been trying to get my attention for days. But somehow he overheard me explaining the situation to the receptionist and came up to me.

“Here, have this,” he said, and handed me an MRT public transport card and 30 dollars.

I was close to politely rejecting his offer with the comment that I was fine by myself, that I didn’t need any help, thank you.

But there was that voice again. Just say YES.

I would later pass this MRT card and the 30 dollars on to another girl at the hostel when I found out that she had lost so much more than I could have ever imagined, and needed the money much more than I did.

This situation, as simple as it was, had a distinct ripple effect. It not only provided the necessary funds when I needed them, but also provided an opportunity for the man who gave me the money feel abundant and generous, but also for me to feel the same when I gave it away later on.

This is how skyscrapers come crumbling down. In these moments, we see that we are all just human: each of us has the same needs, and we experience them at different times.
All we have to do is keep our hands outstretched to receive, so that we have something to give in return.

 

About Helen

d77646_e82d2c55463e435b83b64dfcf84665d6Helen Light is a Holistic Health & Happiness Coach who inspires people to live with more Lightness, Ease and Trust. She has created a life that allows her to travel and make amazing connections all over the world, by keeping a flexible and open mindset, seeing and seizing opportunities. Her travel blog, dating back to 2008 with more than 1000 posts on subjects like happiness, letting go and courage, echoes the feeling that it really is about the journey, not the destination.

February 17, 2016
Solo Travel as a Woman in India: Why I’m Not Afraid to Go
I’m in love. Deeply in love. With a country that wrapped me around its little finger in a twinkling. That stole my heart right at our first encounter in 2006. That gives me the feeling of missing something as soon as I leave.

Many relationships cool down after the first honeymoon phase in which we tend to see everything around us through rose-colored glasses. The beating wings of the butterflies in your stomach begins to subside. Your heart is no longer in your mouth when you see that special someone again after some time apart.

Not so with the country I’m in love with. The country that, after ten years since we first met and after many visits, still makes my pulse increase when I get off of the plane. The country where I’ve spent almost a year, when I total up the weeks and months of my six stays. The country that makes me want to return as soon as possible after leaving.

India, my love. My crazy love.

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After all these years, many of my friends and family have difficulties understanding this love. Why do I go there, again and again?

Aren’t there so many other nice travel destinations in the world?

What is it that makes you keep going to India?

…To a country that seems to be poor, overcrowded, chaotic, loud and dirty. To a country that seems to be dangerous for women. To a country that in the last few years has become a talking point in western media mainly with regards to the ugly cases where women, both indian and foreigners, have become victims of rape?

Poverty, dirt, chaos and not safe for women — these are the first associations many westerners have when it comes to India. Or at least, here in Germany, where I live.

I would be naive if I denied that India is chaotic, loud and dirty. It is. Yes, there is a case with women. I’m not naive. I don’t wear my rose-colored glasses all the time, preventing me from seeing the darker sides of my love.

(For example the sides which Tamar, who has been living in India for almost a year now, shares in her article “5 Challenges of Living in India as a Western Woman”.)

I met Tamar incidentally on a visit to Pondicherry in December where we happened to live in the same house. I share many of her experiences. Not only that people stare at you, that people you don’t know want to take a picture with you and that the rickshaw wallahs almost always try to rip you off, but also that as a woman you feel you should take extra care.

Some of these topics still bewilder and trouble me, while others I can laugh about. For example, the two sentences I heard so often: “Ma’am, one photo, please” and “Which country?”

Most of these things, at least to my experience from traveling, you won’t solely find in India. The Vietnamese, the Thais, the Malaysians and the Chinese also have the urgent wish to get a click of the western woman with the white skin and the blonde hair. Why not? If it makes them happy and you can laugh together for a while, fair enough.

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I love taking pictures of people as well. When I travel to so-called “exotic” countries like India, it still happens that I stare at people. At the old lady with the beautiful smile and the colorful sari, who is selling fruits at the corner of the street, where I pass everyday on the way to the café where I have my breakfast.

I might approach her and ask her if I can snap her photo. I might not get to know her name and her story because my Hindi is as poor as her English, but I will always remember her, the old lady at the fruit stall at the corner.

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The In-Between Moments Of Travel In India

I hate being ripped off. Once, I was ripped off in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia by a taxi driver who manipulated the meter and who wouldn’t stop the car when I asked him to after realizing it. He only would stop at the temple I wanted to visit. I had to pay the full amount as the meter was the proof.

An scam like this never happened to me in India. In India, the rikscha drivers would always quote me an inflated price when I approached them and they could obviously see that I was a foreigner.

However, in big cities such as Delhi this also happens to locals, for example in areas without many rickshaws. Bargaining is part of Indian culture as it is in many cultures. It might be tiresome, but you get used to it.

It’s helpful to learn a few words in Hindi and tell the driver that it’s not the first time you’re here and that you know the local prices. In most cases it works, and you find a compromise you can both live with. This of course should not include bringing you to his cousin’s friend’s shop. In most cases it doesn’t.

Instead, you might hear interesting stories from your rickshaw wallah or taxi driver. That he has two daughters and a son, and he even might have pictures with him that he proudly shows to you. That he originally comes from a small village in Uttar Pradesh and came to Mumbai to work here. That he misses his family. He might be sorry for when he learns that you’re not married. He will tell you that you definitely should marry soon. That it’s not good to be alone.

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It might happen then that you philosophize with him on the meaning of life while you’re stuck in the traffic jam and that the two hour drive from south Mumbai to your hotel in the north feels like 30 minutes.

I love these encounters. They teach me so much about a country. About the way of thinking, about the culture. I learn so much more than I would just from visiting the big monuments.
Indians are curious. They want to know everything: where you are from, if it is your first time in India, if you are married… None of their business? For me, it makes a difference who is asking these questions and who is looking curiously at me. Is it a family? A bunch of teenage boys? A single man?

It can be irritating if five pairs of eyes are targeted at you. In most cases also with men, the staring is not offensive, it’s mostly out of curiosity. Like the stares I got when I was waiting at the platform for my train at Patna in Bihar to go to Darjeeling. Dozens of boys and men were staring at me. Patna is not a tourist destination and they simply had never seen a white person with blonde hair before.

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I would make a face to them to make them realize that they are staring at me and then they would stop. I didn’t feel unsafe there because there were lots of families around me, also waiting for the train. However, I would not feel so comfortable being the only woman together with these boys and men in the overcrowded sleeper class in the night train.

There it would not be easy to escape the stares. There were incidents on trains during the night in the sleeper class. So I was glad that I had a ticket for the AC-2-Tier class, where I shared my compartment with a family.
Safety. Yes, it’s a topic for women in India. But isn’t it a topic everywhere?

I remember a media report about a young woman in Thailand who was doing a late evening stroll at the beach and who was robbed because she had an expensive video camera with her. That was a lesson for me too, when I stayed alone in Goa a couple of years ago. No late night evening strolls at the beach.

I would also avoid walking alone at night on a beach in Germany, on the North Sea or the Baltic Sea. It’s sad that we as woman apparently have to be a little more careful than men. And it’s sad that in some countries, it’s better to take precautions if you’re traveling alone as a woman. But In India, there aren’t monsters around every corner. So I always try to be thoughtful, but not overly cautious.

Why I Love Solo Travel In India (And Why You Shouldn’t Be Afraid to Go)

1. Cultural Diversity

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I fell in love with India for many reasons. I love the cultural diversity of the country, that is as big as Europe and not only combines so many different languages but also so many different cultures. The influence of the Mughals in the north, the Buddhist influence in the extreme north in regions such as Ladakh, Darjeeling, and Sikkim, and the beautiful Hindu temples of which some are so old and beautiful that they count among the UNESCO World Heritage sites.

India is full of history. A history that is told by the beautiful monuments, palaces, forts and temples that are spread all across the country and that go far beyond the obvious ones such as the famous Taj Mahal in Agra.

 

2. Aliveness

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I have never experienced another country which is so vivid, so full of sparkling energy, so full of life. Of course that has to do with the fact that India, with its 1.3 billion people, is the second most populated country after China.

The aliveness also shows itself in the attitude of its citizens. Much of life happens on the street, which gives the traveler priceless insights into habits and lifestyle. It might be through walking along the chai stalls in the morning, where everybody from the holy sadhu to the father who brings his small daughter to school has his or her morning chai or a bite to eat at the colorful bazaars. There you can buy your veggies and flowers, or get a new haircut or get your teeth done.

3. Awareness

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India can help to ground you, to bring you back to reality. To make you appreciate what you have. It’s a matter of fact that almost 30% of the Indian population lives below the poverty line, meaning that the daily spending is 32 rupees ($0.47US) in rural areas and 47 rupees ($0.69US) in cities.

A chai at a street stall usually costs 10 rupees ($0.15US), a piece of samosa 15 rupees ($0.22US). A cappuccino at a café in one of the upmarket areas in South Mumbai costs 250 rupees ($3.68US).

When you travel through India you witness poverty nearly everywhere. It makes me both sad and thoughtful. That I often fret about nullities here at home, although I have everything.

Tips For Your First Trip To India

(All photos by Alexandra Lattek - Nimesha Travel Photography)

(All photos by Alexandra Lattek – Nimesha Travel Photography)

India can be a overwhelming on the first visit. It certainly helps if you already have a bit of travel experience in Asia. If you’re solo traveling for the first time, you might want to consider booking small tours on site, either for a day trip or for several days.

This way, you don’t commit to a group from your own country for 3 whole weeks and you keep your flexibility as a solo traveler, but you get the feeling of security from being in a group. You also might get to know people that you could hang out with for a few days and travel together to your next destination.

If you only have a limited time budget it helps to plan and book in advance, especially if you want to travel by train, as trains are often booked out in India quite early.

Either way, you will meet lots of solo travelers in India, women and men, especially in typical backpacker places such as Hampi, Goa, Gokarna, Pushkar or Rishikesh. Prepare yourself mentally that much of Indian culture is different from the Western way of thinking, as I mentioned in the scenarios above, and be ready to stay open to new ways of human behavior and flexible when things don’t go how you’re used to. Above all, be considerate, but not paranoid. The common sense you rely on at home will also help you while traveling in India.

  
About Alexandra

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Alexandra Lattek lives in Munich, Germany, where she works as a freelance PR & Social Media Manager. She has traveled solo to many countries in Europe and Southeast Asia. As a professional blogger, she travels for travel agencies, contributing to their blogs with texts and photography. On her personal blog “Traveling the world – stories of a travelista” Alexandra writes about her experiences as a solo traveler in India. She is also a passionate travel photographer and a selection of her work can be found on NIMESHA.

January 19, 2016
Become the Savvy Traveler You’ve Always Wanted to Be

Feel the fear and do it anyway.”
-Susan Jeffers

My first trip abroad was as an aupair when I was 19. While I was super nervous at the time, in hindsight I can see that most things were taken care of for me.

Still, leaving your country right after graduation and going to a country where they speak a different language, living with a family that you haven’t met in person before, taking care of kids and doing all this without your friends is scary. Even when your travel arrangements are taken care of…

I’ve learned a lot since that first experience living in a new country. Traveling has become my chosen lifestyle — it’s fun, exciting and I get to experience life from ever-new perspectives.

One of my favorite things to do when I am not busy telling travel stories is to inspire and empower others to travel too.

I decided to collect my resources and honest advice for you in hopes of showing you why traveling alone as a woman is really not that scary.

Prepare

1. What exactly are you afraid of?

Make a list. Writing down your fears is incredibly powerful. Fears lose much of their intensity when we look them in the eye.

Are you afraid you could get lost? Are you afraid you might get harmed?

Write down all the fears that come to mind, reasonable or unreasonable. This might be uncomfortable at first, but you will see that it is very empowering and gives you a starting point for the next step…

2. Who could help?

Contact friends or travel bloggers and ask for advice. Your best friend Google will have some advice too.

The Traveler’s Mindset community also has plenty of people who have been in your shoes and are willing to support you make your first trip a reality! Nearly everyone who has been interviewed on this site has personally agreed to be a resource to anyone who reaches out to them online!

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Book Your Flights and Accommodation

1. First flight ever? Spend a little more $$ for a good airline. It’s worth it.

As a first-time traveler, investing in a good airline that actually knows how to spell the words “customer service” is worth it, especially if it has a direct flight to your destination.

Trust me, once the travel bug bites, overnighters at an airport become an adventure. But this is not something you HAVE to put yourself through when you are nervous about traveling in the first place.

Make it easy for yourself to get to where you want to go. There is enough room for adventure once your luggage is safe at your accommodation.

2. Consider hostels for community & safety

Though you might want to stay in luxurious places or think that hostels are not safe, if you want to travel by yourself and meet people, hostels are a great starting point and nowadays, there are so many places to choose from!

Extraordinary hostels in former chapels or castles, cozy, bamboo-covered huts in the jungle or modern sleeping pods in Hong Kong…the choice is yours.

A good way to get an idea what to expect in a place is to read the reviews on pages like Hostelworld or TripAdvisor. Often you can see the age and the nationality of the reviewer too, which is a good point of reference for how you might experience it.

The advantage of a hostel is not only the community, but also safety and activities. If you are in a city that feels a bit scary at night, it’s great to stay in a hostel where people hang out. You might meet your next travel buddy in the kitchen while making dinner or you might learn about a must-see spot in the place you are traveling to next!

3. Booking pages & resources
Accommodation
Hostelworld
Hostels.com
Airbnb (New to Airbnb? Get $20 towards your first booking anywhere in the world at this link!)
Couchsurfing
Flights
Google ITA Matrix Airfare Search
Google Explore Flights
Skyscanner.com
Kayak
Travel deals
SecretFlying
The Flight Deal
HolidayPirates
The Points Guy

At the destination

1. Meetups/Couchsurfing Events

One of my favorite platforms to find fellow travelers in a new place – if the hostel proves itself useless – is couchsurfing.com. It is great for much more than finding a couch to sleep on!

You can find events, travel buddies, or sometimes even jobs or future business partners!

2. Stay safe

I have been to destinations where I felt totally safe walking by myself at night and others where I did my exploring during the day instead of wandering around alone at night.

In these cases I enjoy a good night’s sleep or a nice chat with fellow travelers at my hostel or accommodation. While I love the idea of getting uncomfortable and exploring my limits, I do a little research online to see whether it’s common for women to go out at night, and I always trust my gut with these decisions.

Most of the time I have found that you meet people within the first couple of hours at the hostel or cafe and there is no need to walk around alone anyway.

Resources
Meetup.com
Couchsurfing “Groups” (You’ll need to sign up to access the groups.)
Sandeman Free Walking Tours of Europe
Free Tours By Foot
General Travel (& Life) Advice
  • Trust your gut!
  • Does a location scare you? Prepare!
  • Does it excite you? Wing it! (fun factor: +++)
  • Something looks/feels shady? Avoid it!

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Your turn. Plan (and go on) your trip!

Let me know if you have any questions. I’d love to get you on the plane to your next adventure!

P.S. If you truly want to become the savvy traveler you know you can be, you’ve got to check out the Travel Savvy eCourse, created by the founder of this site! It’ll take you through the ins and outs of planning, affording, and creating your next travel adventure overseas. It’s on sale from now until the end of 2015, so don’t wait! Become a savvy traveler today!

 

About Jenny

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Jenny Rieger has been described as a hippie with a scientist brain and a business attitude. Equipped only with her laptop, her passion and the desire to connect and learn from inspiring people, Jenny travels the world and lives life on her own terms as a world citizen.
She runs a web development business for coaches and Synnection, a community for contrarian learning and living. Jenny shares alternative ways of living and provides tools that help you to figure out what you really want in life, and how to get you there.

December 22, 2015
Leaving Love Behind When You Travel

“Do you ever get tired of it?”

Tamara asked me.

It surprised me how quickly the answer came to my lips. “Every day.”

Tamara was one of my CouchSurfing hosts in Salt Lake City during the spring of 2015.

One morning, early in my stay, she’d taken a seat on the living room floor and proceeded to ask me a few of the standard questions nearly everyone asks about hitchhiking, couch surfing, and my life as a vagabond.

Have you ever been attacked?
What’s your favorite place?
Has anyone ever propositioned you for sex?

And in turn, I’d been giving her my standard, well-practiced replies.

Except for this question. No one had ever asked me this before.

Perhaps it was the novelty of the thing or maybe she’d caught me with my guard down. Whatever that case, her question managed to slip through the cracks of my copy-and-paste response mechanism, and touched on something genuine and new inside me.

The fact that I’d responded with such a negative response also caught me by surprise.

But before I could rationalize what I’d said, my mouth began to speak again.

Every day I fall in love with new friends and new places. Whether it’s hitchhiking, or couch surfing, or just being out in the world. It’s one of the greatest joys I find in living the way I do. But with every new love comes a little bit of heartbreak, knowing that I may never speak to these new friends, or see these wonderful places again.”

While I was saying it, it didn’t feel like complaining. It felt like a welling up of something that had long gone unaddressed, and had waited patiently at the door of my mind for the right question to let it out.

And then there’s my family and friends back home. There are times when I miss them so much it’s hard to deal with. It makes me wonder if all this time out in the world is worth the price of being away from the people I value most. Or the price of putting down roots and really having a place to call home.

 

Sometimes I’m surrounded by new people, and I feel completely alone. Many times I still struggle to connect. I don’t quite know how to open up, and I pull back. I put on a smiling face, I tell the greatest hits of my adventure stories, and try to be entertaining. But it only ends up feeling empty.

 

And then there are the women I’ve had to say goodbye to because of my love affair with travel. That has been the hardest thing by far. It weighs on me constantly. What if I had stayed? Why did I have to leave when everything was working so well? Am I afraid of them, or just in love with travel and not willing to compromise”

Tamara sat across the room. Her eyes lost in an unseen distance.

When I’m standing on the side of the road for hours on end, watching car after car pass me by. Or when I’m lying awake at 2am on a stranger’s couch. These are the times when I feel it most. All the love I’ve left behind.”

Tamara and I continued to speak on other things, but this little snippet of our conversation stuck with me. Even months after leaving Salt Lake City, the truth of it followed me.

Was it really that bad? Was travel for all its seeming adventure and grandeur really causing me so much pain? Was I trading away the magic of long lasting connection and intimacy for the short term thrills of a life on the road?

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Before leaving on the trip I’m currently on (hitchhiking and sailing to South America), I once again found myself in a situation where the prospect of leaving my home base in Colorado meant leaving behind a budding romantic relationship.

Even though it was new, there were still ties that would be stretched and possibly broken under the strain of a long distance situation. As much as I like to pride myself on my emotional self-reliance, the thought of returning to find her in a serious relationship with another man was not a pleasant one.

During the days and nights that preceded my departure, I gave considerable thought to the answer I’d given Tamara. Was it truly worth it? Were the benefits of travel worth the steep price of saying goodbye?

It wasn’t until it actually came time for me to leave that I realized I’d been asking the wrong question.

Taking Love Along

I knew what profound joy and deep, meaningful experiences a long-term relationship can create. And on the other hand, I knew the absolute magic of what long-term travel can bring into my life.

Beyond these, I also knew myself. I knew I wasn’t going to stop traveling, and I wasn’t going to stop loving people. So what was I supposed to do?

And then it hit me. What if I stopped buying into this false dichotomy?

What if my pain wasn’t a consequence of my lifestyle, but the way I’d been living it. The decisions we have to make in life are very rarely so binary.

Do I want travel or love?
Adventure or security?
Freedom or connection?

These were all arbitrary choices.

Travel and love.

Adventure and security.

Freedom and connection.

If I wanted to have more love in my life then maybe all I had to do was learn how to take it with me.

It was not a matter of how often I had to say goodbye, nor of how far I happened to be from the people I cared about. It was a matter of focusing on the love that I had.

I wasn’t going to stop loving this person once I left. Nor, in all honesty, had I stopped loving the others I’d said goodbye to in years before. Realizing this, I saw that the real love I held, whether for people new or old, near or far, had nothing to do with the role they played in my life at the moment, and everything to do with the beauty of who they were.

And that was something I could take with me wherever I went.

Problem solved… Right?

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When The Rubber Meets The Road

While this mental methodology looks great on paper, when the person I am seeing in CO and am attempting to love “regardless of their role” tells me she’s going out on a date with someone else, or my when my sister forgets to even spend the five seconds it would take to write “happy birthday” on my facebook wall, I have to recognize there is only so much philosophizing can do to alleviate my pain.

Sure, someday I might achieve a zen-like state of being where I can be completely emotionally independent, and feel just as connected with everyone, regardless of how much they are personally investing in our relationship. I’m just not there yet, and I don’t know if I ever will be.

When I started writing this article, I wanted the reader to walk away with an insight that might help convince them to make the leap into long-term travel, if it was something they were contemplating. A strategy to alleviate the fear of loss that this sort of lifestyle inherently entails.

But now that I’m writing it I realize that’s not going to help either of us.

Because if you jump out and leave everything behind, unless you entirely despise everyone you know, it’s going to hurt.

And here’s the cool part: that’s okay.

It hurts. So what?

Everything I’ve ever done that was challenging, and epic, and worth doing, hurt.

Usually a lot.

These last three weeks have been some of the hardest I’ve experienced in my six years of travel. With being away from everyone for Thanksgiving and my birthday, and getting kind of stuck in the outskirts of Atlanta by myself, things just got really low. I haven’t felt that alone in a long time.

But that loneliness motivated me to reach out and call people who matter to me. My pain made me question a lot about what type of people I want more of in my life. It gave me an opportunity to look at myself, and examine some of the ways I might still be self sabotaging. And it reinforced the importance of practicing loving people for who they are, even if I’m not there yet. Even if I never get there all the way.

Recognizing the value in this experience, and in turn all of my travel experiences, has turned out to be much more important than any quick fix philosophy.

I don’t travel because I expect it to be all sunshine and rainbows. I travel because it wakes me up. Sometimes with unexpected wonder, and sometimes with a boot.

 

About Alex

d77646_67a7c0f1911941649da6e12c04cb50a3 Alex Canby is a guy who loves travel, but hates writing short bios about himself. Check out his blog at alexcanby.com to read crazy stuff about Alex as he explores the world and his place within it.

Alex is a Traveler’s Mindset Ambassador, contributing to the “darker side of travel” series by sharing his real life experiences as they happen and what it means to be challenged and transformed by travel.

December 15, 2015
5 Challenges of Living in India as a Western Woman

Tamar Gaffin-Cahn is an American citizen living and working for a literacy company in Pondicherry, India. She is a Traveler’s Mindset Ambassador, contributing to the “darker side of travel” series by sharing her real life experiences as they happen and what it means to be challenged and transformed by international travel.

I’m grateful to be sharing my experiences and challenges with you, and that you are willing to read about my experiences while living in India. First, I want to be clear that these are told from my personal perspective, the view of a white woman who was born and raised in the United States.

Pondicherry (also written Puducherry) is where I live now. It’s a place where the collision of Indian cultures with the former French colonial culture is obvious. In fact, the entire town is divided into two sections: the French Quarter (Ville Blanche or literally, ‘White Town’) and the Indian quarter (Ville Noire or ‘Black Town’). Many streets still retain their French names, and French style villas are a common sight in Puducherry.

You can rest assured that foreigners living in India who come from other perspectives and backgrounds have different stories to tell and contrasting experiences to share. Nevertheless, you’re about to learn about five struggles I’m currently facing in the “darker side of travel” and how I’m working through them as I live life here in southern India.

1.    The Stares

I happen to be white. I also happen to wear clothing that’s distinct from the people around me. It’s obvious I come from another place, and maybe you’re not used to seeing a human look like I do. So it’s natural that you look at me.

But you don’t just look, you stare intently. I see and feel your extended glance and no matter the length, you show no change in your facial expression.

This isn’t what I’m used to. In the United States, if someone stares at me and I see them staring, the stare-er smiles, nods, or somehow acknowledges their having taken a good, long look at me.

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“Puducherry Tamil house” by Flickr user Melanie-m – http://www.flickr.com/photos/melanie-m/2677014244/. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons

 

The other day I was taking my scooter out of my garage, as usual, and noticed a neighbor looking down at me from his balcony. I made eye contact; he didn’t glance away. Then I smiled, he’s a neighbor, I didn’t want to be rude.

Eventually, he smiled back, but what was the staring for? Did he want contact with me, was it interesting to him, how I took my scooter out of the garage? Or was he staring just to stare (a concept I still don’t understand)?

In the United States, we’ve perfected the quick glance, just a blink from our peripheral vision. I’ve lived in India for nearly seven months in the same apartment building, taking the same route to work every day, and even now there is still one man who stares at me every time I walk by his house.

I should mention that most stares are either directed towards my whole body or my face. Occasionally, some men take very obvious, long glances at my chest, but for the most part when I look back at the person staring at me, he or she is looking at my face.

There are a few ways I’ve dealt with these moments walking down the street, riding my scooter, or doing anything I do while I’m out in public… ignoring it, wearing sunglasses, or shaking my head in a stern form of “no”. What’s frustrating is that none of these tactics is consistently effective at stopping what I feel is unwanted attention.

 

2. “Will you take a picture with me?”

"Rock beach aerial view" by Karthik Easvur - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

“Rock beach aerial view” by Karthik Easvur – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

 

A few times each month, I’m stopped while walking along the beach (a tourist destination) and asked to take a photo with Indians visiting from out of town. It feels almost like I’m a celebrity; they get that excited to see me.

Most of the time I want to be left alone and kindly decline, but if it’s to be in a family photo or with women, I accept. I realize I’ve been taking this personally, as if they want a photo with ME, not the foreign-looking woman I happen to be.

I have experienced all types of Indian tourist photographers, everything from aggressive guys secretly taking a photo of me after I’ve told them “no” many times…to giggly, innocent families excited and happy to see a western person.

A strange thought crossed my mind lately: the photo they want has nothing to do with whether they like me or not. It merely documents having seen a foreigner, something new and exciting, like I’m a bear in a zoo. Take a picture of the bear, watch it walk around, then leave. But I don’t want to be a bear, so I’m going to stop making that comparison.

3.    No Late Night Travel “Allowed”

This one feels extra difficult, as it prevents me from spending time with friends. Many people I know here live in the part of the town where most of the other foreigners live, about 20 minutes outside of the city center.

I live in the city center because it’s closer to where I work. However, as a woman it’s not safe to be alone on the roads here past 11 pm. I’ve traveled by myself late at night before and am constantly watching to see if anyone is following me. For the record, no one ever has.

Without any knowledge of how risky it is, you might not feel unsafe. I’ve been told by locals and foreigners not to travel so late at night, but because I still haven’t felt unsafe yet, the issue isn’t fully a reality to me. That means I’m more likely to push limits to see how far I can go. I don’t want to be the overly-prudent one holding myself back just because I’m scared.

The only preventative solution to this particular challenge is not to put myself in the situation of being out at night, which means I simply have to stay over at a friend’s place if I want to spend time with others in the evening. It may be a small sacrifice compared to the comfort of my bed, but it’s something I have to do to build relationships with my new friends here.

 

4.    Trusting People Around Me

There are certain disadvantages of being a foreigner or non-local in any place. You’ve probably also been warned about being taken advantage of, whether that’s through sky-high prices only for tourists, or having a driver tell you a particular restaurant is no good because he wants to send you to his friend’s place instead, for example.

Bargaining (also called haggling) is helpful in cases with money, as I’ve found my bearings and can bring the price down to something reasonable. Another thing that has been effective is simply being very direct with what I want and don’t want.

For example, I will tell my auto-rickshaw driver very firmly, “No, I do not want to go there, I want to go here” if I notice him taking me in a different direction than I asked him to. I’ve often walked away from or ignored people altogether.

I’m very firm in setting boundaries with people trying to get me to do something other than what I truly want to do. I’m not afraid to say “no.”

On the other hand, India has a bad reputation for women’s welfare (see #3) and coming from the US where people are hyper sensitive about safety, I’m constantly concerned about trusting men here, especially because men and women have different relationship dynamics and interactions than in America.

 

5.    Constantly Being Guarded

"Puducherry Government Park" by BishkekRocks - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

“Puducherry Government Park” by BishkekRocks – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

 

During my first weekend here, I rented a bicycle and went exploring alone. I didn’t know exactly where I was going, but headed in the direction of a boating area I had heard about.

Once I left the main part of town, there were no more foreigners around me. Then I realized there were very few women on the road, too. It was the middle of a swelteringly hot day, and I felt completely out of place.

I biked for 45 minutes and decided I would bike until I didn’t see any more women on the road. The proportion of men to women out in public isn’t noticeable…until you notice it, and then it can feel scary.

This guardedness, this frequent necessity to defend myself with boundaries keeps me constantly aware of my surroundings, on edge.

Similar things happen at local bars, which are often full of groups of men and maybe two or three women. In situations like these, it’s even easier to be a target for negative and unwanted attention, and I make sure that I don’t drink so that I’m able to stand up for myself if needed.

But being guarded with daggers in my hands, ready to fight, is exhausting. It tires me out. I can’t enjoy myself freely; therefore, I’m not happy.

Why I’m Still Here, Despite All This

All the challenges are difficult, and I’m constantly struggling to overcome them. Will I ever?

Maybe, maybe not, but it’s part of living in a developing country or any place where you’re the “stranger”. It’s part of traveling alone. Ultimately, it’s part of life.

But this is why I am here. I wanted a challenge; I wanted to get out of my comfort zone and learn about myself.

I wanted to experience things no one else can give me and get stronger and more confident in myself. At the end of the day, I am the one that will make the change within myself.

The hard part is that constantly having my guard up all the time means I’m not being as open to meeting new people as I would be in the States.

This wall stops connections, connections I love to make, connections I live for. I love looking around a room and appreciating the diversity of native languages, of experiences, of having every continent on earth represented.

I’m lucky I have these experiences under my belt, and I’m definitely lucky nothing bad has happened to me, but that doesn’t mean I’m not scared. Moving my fear from something negative to a positive force that projects me forward in my personal development is also scary.

 

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But I think it is worth it. And it will be worth it.

I’m working on patience with the world and with myself to take these out-of-my-comfort-zone times to wow-I-surprised-myself-and-had-an-incredible-time! moments.

Slowly but surely, my hard work is paying off and I hope to look back on this experience with a smile, laughing about how awkward I was and how much I’ve grown.

Knowing you’ve grown is a fantastic feeling. The struggles are 1000% worth it and no excuse like fear, lack of time, or money should stop you or me. Might as well make life more challenging and more adventurous!

As far as I know, we only have one life; I’m going to make opportunities for myself that I can grow into.

December 8, 2015
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