Category: Uncategorized

Women traveling alone-A different point of view

Women are in the news yet again.  These days it has to do with the current US president’s views on women (and other marginalized populations), but honestly, it’s always something. A few years ago, it was the media giving women traveling along a hard time.  This post is from my previous travel blog and seems like a good time to keep in mind that for women every day life boils down to one thing–personal safety.  It doesn’t matter if it is the president of the US talking about ‘grabbing the by the pussy’ or female genital mutilation [a subject I wrote a paper on in college], daily life for women is all about personal safety.

Women traveling alone are in the news again [A woman hiking the Camino de Santiago has had her body found months after she went missing along with the woman who was killed while CouchSurfing in India] so it seems like an appropriate time to revive this post from my previous travel blog.

It seems like every few months or so something happens and all the news outlets rush to make up stories about why women shouldn’t travel alone. I am referring to the latest story to attempt to scare people [especially females] away from traveling alone.  Almost every news outlet has an opinion on the subject.  [comments from the NBC  site–““A woman has no business traveling alone,” FOX news’ take, another FOX gem, CBS has an opinion too, let’s not leave out ABC] The current theory is that the victim was ‘hanging out with criminal element‘ and therefore, it shouldn’t be surprising that she got her skull bashed in.  Several travel bloggers [who travel much more frequently than I do] have already weighed in on this issue,[see the posts here, here, here, here, here, here, and here,] but I am more inclined to go with this viewpoint.  It is the violence directed at women, not necessarily the traveling abroad, that is the real issue.  For whatever reason, women are a target when it comes to violent crime–not just abroad, but at home too.  As for me, I would not be the same person I am if I hadn’t traveled solo at various points in my life.  Truth be told, I’ve experienced violence directed at me at home, and I’ve experience less subtle attempts at violence  while traveling. At home sometimes we let it slide because it’s someone we know; while traveling, we usually have out guard up–at least to some degree.

Traveling solo has helped me to:

  • not feel guilty that I majored in foreign languages in  college and didn’t add a teaching degree with it
  • end a relationship that was seriously bad news
  • meet new people that I wouldn’t have ever had the opportunity to meet before [people that are definitely different that the crowd I normally meet in South Carolina]
  • develop a quiet independence
  • come out of my shell [It’s hard NOT to talk to someone, anyone when you are traveling alone]
  • make decisions about where I want my career to go
  • be confident in making decisions
  • explore my photography passion
  • go where I want and do what I want
  • be a better citizen of the world
  • build self-esteem
  • develop an inner voice
camellia in winter

Traveling alone isn’t rocket science. Use common sense.  Let someone know where you will be.  Trust your instincts.  Don’t advertise that you are alone. Don’t be a idiot.  Don’t flash around jewelry, electronics, or cash.  Know where you are going, or at least act like you do.  Research your destination ahead of time.  Just be smart about being out there by yourself.  These tips apply whether I am traveling in Charleston, SC, Cape Town, South Africa, or even my hometown.

The case for traveling and the counterpoint

I am only passionate about a few things:  traveling definitely makes the shortlist, but just because I love it doesn’t mean I’m not aware of its faults. As with many other things in life, there are ups and downs when it comes to traveling.

Escapism.

South Carolina is awesome, but there are no beaches like this near my home.

At is simplest, travel allows you to escape. Whether it’s from a bad relationship [been there, done that one, or maybe no relationship at all],  job you hate, or simply a boring, sedentary life [also done that], sometimes you feel like you just need to get away. Travel is the perfect form of escapism – far better than reading a book or watching a movie – because it actually means you get to leave your current situation. You can trade in whatever is making you unhappy for something different, even if it’s just for a little while. A change of scenery is sometimes just what you need to get over boredom or the blues, and being far removed from a problem or stressor often allows you to look at it through new eyes.

Travel is a learning experience.

Before visiting Prague, I never knew St. Wencelces was the patron saint of the city. I only knew him as the good king in the Christmas song.

Seeing other parts of the world and immersing yourself in foreign cultures opens up completely new avenues of discovery. Travel in itself can be educational, and can it open your eyes in ways you never thought possible. Through travel, you can become more aware – both of yourself, and the larger world around you. A traveler has the unique ability to be a citizen of not only his/her own country, but also of the world.

Ability for self-discovery and reinvention. 

I took my very first yoga class on a beach in Ecuador. I followed it up by taking regular yoga classes on the beach in Peru. I’m still not great at it, but it’s something I probably never would have tried at home.

When you are out on the road meeting new people and opening yourself up to new experiences, you may find that you are also slowly reinventing yourself. Or perhaps letting the self you would like to be finally emerge. Travel can be liberating in many ways, but especially when it comes to self-discovery. Being thrown into a foreign culture [or even into a not-so-foreign culture] without all the comforts of home can be challenging, but it’s often those truly tough, personal challenges that will help you grow as an independent individual.

Opportunity for adventure and spontaneity. 

Travel can open up so many doors and provide for so many adventures, both planned and spontaneous. If you are in the mood to make a lasting memory [and really, who isn’t?], get out and see the world. Let life happen, both to you and around you, and just go with it. Who knows where it could lead?

It can be affordable.

Contrary to popular belief, you do not have to be a millionaire or have a large trust fund in order to travel. Saving a little here and there can go a long way over time. Being a deal hunter and staying in hostels can pay off. And, if you choose destinations where the cost of living is low, a little can go a long way. For example, a month of your U.S. salary could easily last you two, three, maybe even four months in Southeast Asia or parts of Central America. Basically, if you really have the desire to travel, then you can make it happen.

Cons

Escapism. 

Yes, travel allows you to escape. But sometimes escaping can take the form of running away. Whether it’s that bad breakup or loss of a job, sometimes you just want to leave it all behind and do something crazy, like move 10,000 miles away for a while. [I’ve done this so I am not judging]  But if you truly run away and never look back or never confront the initial problem that sent you fleeing, travel may do more harm than good. Escaping a bad situation is fine, but hiding behind the guise of travel in order to avoid dealing with that bad situation is not quite as advisable. Eventually, you have to face your demons.  They will come find you.

Being homesick.

Even if you are not close to your family, it’s likely you will still feel some semblance of homesickness at some point during your travels. Maybe you miss your significant other. Maybe you miss a sibling or cousin. Hell, maybe you really miss your cat.[I inquired about mine more often than the well beings of other humans] Being away from home can be stimulating and wonderful, but it’s not unnatural to fall into a funk every now and then when you pine for “home.” The good news is that the world has gotten a lot smaller with things like Skype, Facebook and e-mail making it  incredibly easy to keep in touch [should you feel the desire.]

Yep, when I call home, I am asking about my boy.

Missing family milestones/emergencies back home.

Maybe your best friend gets engaged, or has a baby. Maybe a friend or relative dies.  You’d love to be there for all of these important milestones and tragedies; you want to be able to offer your love and support in person, and not through a computer screen or telephone signal. But, it’s likely to happen if you’re traveling for any length of time. Life at home will go on without you, and it’s one thing you just have to come to terms with.  I had friends get married, have babies, and had relatives die all while I was out of the country.  I may not have been there at the moment, but I was when I got back, and I am now.  True friends will understand.

It can be costly. 

Just as travel can be affordable, it can also be extremely expensive. Many European countries [hello, Sweden and England, I am talking to you], as well as Australia and New Zealand,  have incredibly high costs of living. If you’re dead-set on staying in any of these places for any length of time, for example, that $10,000 you saved up over the past two years  isn’t going to get you very far. The same goes for hard-to-reach destinations like Antarctica and Easter Island. If you’re dreaming of the ultimate budget travel adventure, you may have to edit your list and cut many places -– like the South Pole–out.

The addictive-ness of travel.

They don’t call it the “travel bug” for nothing. Once it bites, it can infect you with an insatiable desire to travel that never really goes away. Once is often never enough, as evidenced by the scores of travelers out there who are on the road indefinitely. Especially if you’re prone to becoming addicted to things that give you a good high, don’t expect one trip to ever be the end of it. This can easily turn into an incurable sense of restlessness that no amount of movement can satisfy.

With any great adventure or endeavor in life, there are going to be risks, and there are going to be sacrifices.

Some people might put “the dangers of travel” on the cons list, but, really, just getting in your car and driving to work each day is dangerous. Sure, there are risks to travel, especially long-term travel. But life itself is a risk.

The sacrifices, though, are real, and do exist when it comes to travel.

But if I have to sacrifice some family time to better understand myself, I think it’s worth it. If I have to substitute one destination for another because of finances, then I’ll do it. And, honestly, travel is just about the best thing a person could become addicted to, as far as I’m concerned.

If traveling could mean that I’ll never want to stop… well, that’s another post for another day.

0 to 10000 feet and back to 0 in two days

It’s been a rough last three days.  Starting with the arrival back to Quito from the Amazon rain forest.  Funny thing about Ecuador.  You pretty much have to go through Quito to get to any other place in the country.  The middle of the country is all mountainous and not fun at all to travel.  So hot and humid meets cold and damp.  A quick check into to my hostel [in the sketchy part of town] to drop off my stuff and off to the mall to buy supplies for the next part of the journey [mainly rubber working boots]. At 9p, a quick bite of pizza, and a [very short] slumber, I am off again…

A bonanza of modes of transportation in one day, and me with my giant backpack, little backpack, and plastic shopping bag with my rubber boots.  Up at 3:30A to leave the Mindo cloud forest for the coast. Caught the early bus to Quito.  Arrive in Quito and transfer to the trole station so that I can get to the OTHER bus terminal where the bus to the coast leave from. At 5:45am I am on the electric trole that runs through downtown Quito stopping every 200 feet or so to pick up more people.

Three troles later, I arrive in Quitumbe terminal to wait for the bus to Pedernales.  The bus to Pedernales is a regular bus which is great beacause we are decsending through the Andes montains. Brakes are a good thing to have when you are decending from 10,000 ft all the way to sea level.  At Pedernales, I transfer to a local bus–much less comfortable and much more crowded–so crowded in fact that I can’t get off at my stop and it takes 1km before I can get the driver to stop so that I can get off.   Luckily for me a very nice girl offered to bring me back to my stop on her moto-bike. So its her doing the driving and me with my two backpacks and sack on the road. I’m sure it was a funny sight to see. Amazingly enough, we did not crash and I safely made it to the welcome center of the forest where I´ll be for the two weeks or so.

Bosque Seco = Dry Forest

Some of the highlights of my new lodgings:

  • What they call it:  Ecological toilet   What it actually is:  an out house–A very large hole in the ground with a toilet seat attached to a   built up concrete platform. [outhouses still freak me out due to a very close call I had in one as a child involving a snake and a very full bladder]
  • What they call it:  Environmental shower  What it actually is:  a hose hanging from the ‘ventilated’ building using  rain collected from the rainy season [Yes, it is cold]
  • What they call it:  Candlelit evenings  What it actually is:  citronella chic because the mosquitoes will eat you alive and take your bloody carcass to their lair [This province hasn’t had a single documented case of malaria in YEARS, but I still plan douse myself in 80% DEET when I am in the woods.  Wait, what am I talking about, I’ll be living in the woods]
  • What they call it:  no electricity  What it actually is:  no electricity– the house is constructed from bamboo so there are gaps in the walls, the roof is tin and palm thatches, also gaps in it, and birds and things can just fly through.  Glad to have the mosquito nets, and glad that the cabin is elevated off of the ground.

This is the meaning of roughing it?

But in exchange I get 3 meals a day, a bed with mosquito nets, and a chance to do conservation education in a place that is just starting its conservation efforts. And I found out today that there is the chance that I will be able to go to the Galapogas Islands for a week for next to nothing–which would be awesome because tours to the islands are around $1000, which is definitely not in the budget.