As I travel I like to post photos and a few words about my experiences. It warms my heart to know that some of you have actually been inspired (by them) to go and do things that you always wanted to do. It takes courage to be true to yourself and live the life that you want to live. This travel experience has been tremendously enriching and has taught me a great deal about the world, different cultures, and people. When you travel for this long, a long-term “vacation” turns into… a new way of life. What I mean is that although I am traveling and living new and mostly fun experiences everyday, it is LIFE and it still comes with the good and the bad. Although the happy and wonderful moments have been too many to count, it hasn’t always been all fun and games. I have dealt with some prejudice and uncomfortable situations in the past twenty-three months. It’s been a while since a “bad day” for me meant a tough day at work, an argument with a significant other, being stuck in traffic for hours, etc. I just traded these for other types of bad days.
I hesitated about writing this post for a long time. I try not to focus on the hard things that I have experienced during my travels too much. I also don’t want my blog to be about complaints or bad news. But I realize that the bad stuff is also part of the story, MY story. Good or bad, it is what I have lived and experienced in this journey around the world. Sometimes the bad stuff is what serves as the biggest lessons and makes us wiser, stronger, and hopefully better human beings. The more I think about it, the more it makes sense to tell it all. This blog is actually a great outlet for some frustrations that I have carried around. Perhaps my stories can help other travelers be more aware of some of the things that they may encounter on the road, especially “older” solo female backpacker travelers like me. It is always good to be informed… the more knowledge we have, the more power we have… in any situation. Thankfully none of my experiences were life-threatening or so horrible that they would stop me from continuing on the road, but they were certainly uncomfortable to me, and they surely tested my patience and tolerance.
Keep in mind that travel is a personal experience and just because this stuff has happened to me, it does not mean that it will happen to you. Your experiences will be influenced by your gender, your age, your demeanor, your looks, your personality, even your marital status. Yes! Unfortunately in our societies these things matter a lot and you will be judged upon them, and on a more frequent basis than necessary. I prepared for all of this mentally before starting my trip. I knew that quitting my job, not being married, not having children, and traveling around with a backpack at 39 years of age would not be well received or even accepted by all cultures. Mental preparation is one thing, but your feelings, and physical reactions to situations will always be influenced by the mood you are in, and your energy level, and a million other things. Travel takes a toll on the body and the mind and after being so long on the road I just don’t want to put up with any disrespect or bad treatment from anyone. In comparing stories with other travelers, I have noticed that solo female travelers may just go through uncomfortable situations more often than other types of travelers (solo men, married couples, solo young girls, friends traveling in pairs, groups, etc). To offer some examples…
I have been told that my life has no purpose because I don’t have children, I have been told that I will never find true happiness unless I get married, I have been scammed on the streets, I have been yelled at by random men who just want to intimidate independent women (I think…), I have been robbed three times, I have been refused service at restaurants and hotels (even while traveling in a group), I have been verbally harassed while my male travel partner (at the time) was away for a few minutes, I have been ambushed by a group of men and grabbed (twice), my mom was offered camels in exchange for my hand in marriage (this is actually the funny one). So it is in these “trying” moments when my reactions mattered the most, when it was and it is (still) most important to practice the three principles that I have chosen to live by: to be Respectful, to be Kind, and to be Useful. In these situations I try to have some sympathy and put myself in the other person’s shoes, sometimes waaaaay after the bad moment has ended. I have come to understand that if I stay mad, if I dwell on the bad feeling, if I keep going over the situation and beating myself up over what I could have done differently, etc.. I just hurt myself more. So when I say I try to have some sympathy, I try to understand why it is that these people do what they do. The one that robbed me maybe needed to desperately feed his family, the man that questioned my not being married just wants me to find love in my life, the one that grabbed me was a young man with crazy hormones that lives in a culture that is sexually oppressed and cannot touch a girl until marriage, etc… I am not condoning any of the bad behavior done to me, or to anyone else but by trying to be a little more compassionate it allows me to not only relieve some of my suffering and stress caused by these situations, but also to practice being kind to others. I can’t control everything that happens to me but I can certainly try to control my reactions to these situations and my thoughts about them.
No matter what comes my way I know that as long as I am being true to myself, living the life that I want to live, and practicing respect, kindness, and compassion, then happiness is possible and attainable. No matter the circumstances and the obstacles that I face, I know that happiness is always within my reach because it remains in the same place where it has always been…INSIDE ME. I have learned that happiness is not a certain destination, a specific place, a specific job, a precise amount of money in the bank, a big house, a boyfriend, etc. Happiness is something that we can choose to feel, more often than we think, and perhaps more often than we allow it. It is a state of mind that we accept, a feeling that we open up to, and an opportunity that we embrace. It is found in the little moments… a good conversation, a glass of wine with a friend, watching a kid play, a great meal at a restaurant, laying on a beautiful beach, spending time with someone you like, being silly with your sister, jamming to a song, putting your kids to bed, hugging a friend, petting a dog, grilling, fishing, dancing, eating, etc… it is present in soooo many moments of our lives and it is up to each one of us to identify it, to accept it, to open up to it. The bad moments will surely come, they are part of our journey, so let’s cherish the good moments and live them with passion!
As I approach the end of my trip and get prepared to come home, my biggest wish for everyone around the world is to practice finding happiness in every possible moment and being respectful to one another, even if we don’t accept how they choose to live their lives.
BE AND LET BE