Lessons You Can’t Learn on the Couch

A fairy sits on the edge of a boat made of a nautilus shell floating on the open seaLet’s face it, sitting at home and watching Netflix and baking cookies is probably the most enjoyable thing anyone could do on a Saturday afternoon. I just can’t get enough of good TV or a good book by myself. I’m definitely what you’d call naturally adventurous or outgoing, and I don’t even have that innate sense of wanderlust that all those travel blogs seem to be banging on about. That being said, though, I’ve gone on enough adventures and have taken on enough big and stupid projects in my time that I know how good they are for me.

While traveling, building, and experiencing has taught me a lot about the world around me, it’s also taught me a lot about myself. Thanks to the adventures I’ve had, I’ve become way more confident, more ambitious, and in the end way more okay with the person I am.

Lessons Learned in Motion

New experiences give you a new perspective on the world around you and on yourself. Some of the most valuable things I’ve learned while off my couch and out of my house are:

That I’m Strong. I mean this very literally. While I’m by no means a body builder or an Olympian, I’m constantly amazed by what my little body can do when pushed. Whether it’s walking ten miles in the rain carrying an enormous backpack, or ripping the seats out of a bus to turn it into a tiny home (skoolie), I am a beast and a force to be reckoned with.

A young woman carrying a bunch of flowers walks in the woods followed by two deerThat I’m Smart. New situations make you use your brain in new ways. Traveling through new countries without a map has sharpened my memory and sense of direction. Building a skoolie reminded me of all the math I learned in school that I thought I’d forgotten.

That I’m Charming. This is most definitely self centered to say, but the number of times I’ve been able to enlist help from strangers just by smiling and asking nicely has let me to believe that I’m extraordinarily charming. I should also mention here that a lot of my charm is really just my unbelievable privilege as a young, white, straight-presenting woman, but I do feel like I add a little razzle dazzle of my own.

That I’m Not Always Right. I’ve gotten lost in places where it should be impossible to get lost. I’ve said stupid things in French or German to people who don’t even speak French or German. Trying new things has led me to humiliate myself over and over to the point where I’m no longer quite so afraid of the burning shame that comes with doing something stupid.

While it can be almost impossible to get up off the couch and actually do something, in the end I’ve never regretted taking risks and actually pushing myself. What lessons have you learned about yourself while off the couch and out in the world?

Doing the Huge and Stupid Thing You’ve Always Dreamed Of: Why We Built a Skoolie

A child blows a bubble while balancing on a fish's nose in the middle of the oceanIn June, 2018, my fiancée Em and I gave almost all our money to a man we met on the internet. In return, he gave us a short school bus. We stood in the parking lot with the keys in our hands and we knew we were fucked. We were two young women who had watched too many YouTube videos of people turning school busses into tiny homes, skoolies to those in the know, and up until then, we were dumb enough to think we could do it, too.

There isn’t a line so much as a chasm between planning to do something huge and risky and possibly life changing and actually doing it. I’ve planned plenty of backpacking trips across Eastern Europe and bike trips across Canada without actually following through with them because planning is fun.

When you plan, you get the rush of feeling like you’re doing something exciting, adventurous and new without actually having to leave your house. You can look at pictures of new places and imagine yourself there, and you can get the gratification of your friends thinking you’re cool for planning this amazing trip or new business venture without having to do anything.

What then actually makes someone take that leap, whether it be taking out a loan to start that bakery or putting down their credit card to book that flight? For Em and I it wasn’t one factor that pushed us forwards but rather a lot of factors that could have stopped us and the ways we pushed past them.

IMG_20180731_125830786_HDR

Why We Almost Didn’t Build a Skoolie

There are always going to be one-hundred reasons not to do something huge and stupid and life changing. By its very definition, doing something huge and stupid and life changing is a risk that could leave you fucked for years to come.

For Em and I, buying a school bus and building a skoolie to live in for a year meant parting with three year’s worth of savings, leaving good jobs we actually liked, and signing ourselves up to shit in a bucket for a year. Before deciding to actually go through with it, we considered all the factors that were stopping us from moving forwards and found ways to overcome them. I imagine that a lot of these factors are the same for a lot of people, whether they’re deciding to backpack through Asia, open a coffee shop, or go back to school.

Money. Right before Em and I set off on our year-long trip, we’re going to get married. Unlike most newly-married couples who are saving to buy a house, settle down, have kids, etc, we’re blowing a huge amount of our savings on this enormous trip. While it’s important to us to eventually have a house and kids and all those adult things, we decided to make compromises. Right now, we live in a tiny one-bedroom apartment. The furnace is always broken, and you can hear everything the neighbors say through the vent. When we come back from our trip, we’ll probably move into a similar place, and put off buying a house for a few more years, but for us, it was worth it.

A man symbolizing time stands in the foreground as the chariot of the dawn races across the skyTime. It’s never the right time to uproot your life and try something new. For us, we were worried about my eggs shriveling before we were settled enough to have kids. At the same time, though, we wanted to live full lives before we had children and we wanted to be adventurous role models to our screaming shitting future babies. If putting off kids for a few more years means having to go through IVF or adoption, then we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Careers. Em is a new teacher trying to work her way up the ladder. I’m a future famous author. Putting our careers on hold for a year is definitely risky, but in the end, we want our lives to be more than our jobs.

Role Models. Aside from strangers on the internet, we don’t know anyone who’s traveled across North America in a skoolie for a year, and while the internet people make it look extremely glamorous and easy, we didn’t know if we could do it in real life. An extra barrier for us is that while there are hundreds of videos out there on how to convert a bus into a skoolie, we haven’t come across a single woman who’s built a skoolie. We were intimidated by the strong men on the internet who know how to use power tools and crowbars, but in the end we had to grow some ovaries, have confidence and be our own role models.

While building our bus went extremely well, we still haven’t left on our trip yet. There’s a chance a year from now you’ll read a post titled: How We Fucked Up Our Lives and Why We Hate Ourselves, but right now, we’ve decided to find ways around all the factors that were stopping us from following our dreams, and we think that you can, too.

What about you? What factors have stopped you from taking risks in your life, and how did you overcome them?

Real Talk for Solo Female Travels: Going Pee

The Devil smiles to the man beside him as he points his finger toward a city in the distanceA few years ago, I went to a castle in France, pulled my pants down, sat bare-assed on the side of a hill and tried to do a stealth pee in front of about fifty tourists. It was definitely not my proudest moment, but it wasn’t my most embarrassing one either, because let’s face, people have to pee, and if you’re a solo female traveler, going pee can be a challenge.

If you’re in a new place and you don’t want to have to pay for food or a drink from a restaurant you could be left staggering around, racing back to your hostel before you piss yourself. This is especially true if you’re a solo female traveler who can’t just whip it out at a moment’s notice.

I basically always need to pee, and over the years I’ve learned to make a mental note of bathrooms in certain areas and to remember a few of the key places where there will likely be an open bathroom. The ones I’ll list here are more North American specific, but have gotten me through a number of trips to Europe as well.

Where Solo Female Travelers Pee

Libraries. Really, you should be visiting libraries all over all the time anyway, but if it takes almost pissing yourself to get you in there, then so be it.

Malls. Not very glamorous, but effective.

Bus or Train Stations. These bathrooms can often be quite sketchy, but most bus and train stations are located in city centers, so they could be a walkable option.

Puss stands on the bank of a pond where his owner is bathing and gestures toward a carriageTourist Info Centers. If you’re in the downtown core of a big city, look for a tourist info center. A lot also have free WiFi.

Universities. Why not pretend you’re a biology student or an ethics professor while wandering through the halls and pissing in the toilets.

Movie Theaters. This one’s not a guarantee, but a lot of movie theaters have bathrooms before where the person takes your tickets.

Museums. Same with movie theaters, look for bathrooms in museum lobbies.

Big Hotels. Just walk confidently into the lobby and pretend you’re staying there. There’s usually a bathroom on the first floor.

Parks. These can also be pretty sketchy. For bathrooms in parks, I always wait outside and try to go in at the same time as another woman, because power in numbers, right?

Chain Restaurants. I always feel a little bad going into a McDonald’s or Starbucks or whatever to pee, but a lot of the time, the people who work there don’t care, so just go for it.

And if none of these work, ask and be polite. Remember, people are people and people need to pee. Solo female travelers need to pee, shop owners need to pee, bakers need to pee. Smile, try to explain the situation with words or else just gestures, and hope for the best. If you’re shy, remember you’ll be leaving in a few days, and you’ll probably never see any of these people ever again.

Anyone else have a similarly embarrassing story of trying to find a bathroom as a solo female traveler, or am I the only one who’s peed on the side of a hill?

Hostels for Women Traveling Alone

Two children are asleep in their bedroom as the back wall opens up to a dreamworld landscape

One of the best things about living in the future is that there are more options than ever when it comes to accommodations while traveling. For women traveling alone and for anyone, really, there are hotels, hostels, B&Bs, and Airbnb’s, as well as couch surfing, sleeping in your car, sleeping under a bridge, and so much more!

For women traveling alone, I cannot recommend staying in hostels enough. I’ve traveled a ton by myself, and have had almost exclusively amazing experiences in my time in hostels.

Why Hostels are Great for Women Traveling Alone

If the thought of sharing a shower with eight other strangers and sleeping in a bunk above a snoring man with a raging erection doesn’t get you going, then here are some actual perks to staying in hostels.

Cost. Compared to most other accommodations, hostels are usually a great bang for your buck. While there are some boutique hostels that can be $100+ a night for a private room, depending on where you’re staying and what room option you choose, the prices can be ridiculously low. I’ve stayed in some hostels for as little as $8 a night, leaving tones of funds to explore the city with.

A girl lies asleep on the mossy ground of a forest as her companion is reclining against a treeMeeting People. If you’re a woman traveling alone, hostels can provide a safe and convenient way to meet people. Many hostels have common rooms, kitchens and even bars where you can meet fellow travelers. A lot of hostels also host events for their guests whether that be pub crawls or game nights.

Cooking Space. Many hostels have kitchens and cooking utensils which make it easy for you to prepare and eat your own food while traveling. Cooking a few of your meals can save you a ton money and can save you from the scurvy that comes from eating out all the time.

Security. Overall, staying in a hostel with fellow travelers usually feels more secure than staying at a stranger’s house. Especially because a number of hostels have female-only dorms. While not all hostels are guaranteed to be safe, there a few different review sites that will let you know whether a hostel will be okay for a woman traveling alone. I personally use Hostelworld, which has rankings for issues like cleanliness, security, location, and more.

For women traveling alone, hostels are a great way to save money, make friends, and still feel safe. What are your thoughts on accommodations while traveling?

 

 

Five Years from Now, You Probably Won’t Be Dead

UntitledJust over two months ago, two big things happened. Firstly, I turned thirty, and secondly, I bought a double-pack of floss.

Up until then, I was a one pack kind of person. I’ve always known that it’s cheaper to buy in bulk, but I am an adventurous woman. By the time the first pack of floss ran out who knows where I’d be. I could lose all by teeth or be in a place where floss is banned, or heck, I could be dead.

This short-term thinking did me well for most of my life. Living each day like it’s your last and all that bullshit really lights a fire under your butt to get out there and get stuff done, but in the past few years, I’ve begrudgingly come to realize that there are some serious perks to planning out your life a little bit and realizing that five years from now, you probably won’t be dead.

Throughout my life, there have been so many projects that I haven’t taken on because they seemed like they would take forever. There are jobs I didn’t quit because the work it would take to find a new one seemed too intense. There are skills I didn’t learn because they seemed like they would take too long to master. There are hobbies I didn’t try because they seemed like would take too much organization.

UntitledBut the truth is that while my surroundings have changed and I’m maybe less of an asshole than I was when I was twenty or twenty five, I’m still basically the same person. I’m still alive, and I’m kicking myself that it took me this long to figure this out.

In the depths of the despair that that so often surrounds turning a decade older, I came to realize that if I’d started learning French five years ago, I’d be fluent by now. If I’d gone back to school for welding, I’d have a sweet job melting shit instead of juggling twelve different writing gigs, and wondering how to pay my rent.

Sure, I traveled, and sure I had a pretty great time being alive, but if I’d taken on one or two small projects with long-term results, I’d already be reaping the rewards. It wasn’t that the last thirty years had been a waste, but I did have a feeling I could have done more.

As I stood there, drunk and looking at my reflection in my cracked bathroom mirror (this part isn’t true, but imagine it that way for effect (also, imagine I’m covered in tattoos, because that’s cool)), I realized that there was still time. I could keep living my life while making little ambitious changes with long-term results.

I realized that when I was thirty five, I’d still be me, more beautiful and more glamorous of course, but still me, and I could live it up thanks to the hard work my past-self who was currently my future-self had done.

UntitledAnd so I started with the floss, because chances are I’ll probably still have teeth, and I probably won’t be dead by the time the first pack runs out. And I’ve been trying to move on from there and set up little routines for myself. I haven’t tried to make too many changes at once, but I’ve been trying to focus on little things like building my career by tweeting more and writing a blog (what up, y’all). I’ve been trying to convince myself to run every day, and reach out to my friends more so that don’t accidentally drift away.

Who knows if it’ll work, and who knows what sort of a dead-beat loser I may end up being by the time I’m thirty five, but chances are, I’ll probably just be myself only hopefully a little better. I just have to keep reminding myself that I’ll probably still be alive then and that all this work I’m doing now will probably be worth it.

Safety Tips for Solo Female Travelers

So, you’re an adventurous woman, about to take your first trip as a solo female traveler. You’re worried about getting lost and forgetting to pack the essentials, but maybe most importantly, you’re worried about getting murdered. It’s a valid concern, but it shouldn’t stop you from having the trip of your dreams. I’ve traveled by myself for years, and have learned quite a few safety tips for female travelers. I’ll write out the tips below, but mostly it’s common sense. Be smart, be aware, and don’t let your fears stop you from having an amazing experience.

11128456996_aa5e1a8c07_b

Tips for Staying Safe as a Solo Female Traveler

Do Some Research. God invented Google for a reason. Research accommodations in safe neighborhoods and how to get to them. Google maps the roads from the bus station to the hostel you’re staying in to get a feel for if it would be safer to take a bus or cab.

Call in Advance. If you’ve booked a hostel, hotel, or AirBnB, you’ve automatically got the phone number or e-mail address of a local who knows the area you’ll be staying in. Before you go, send a quick note saying you’re a solo female traveler, looking for safety tips about the local area.

11133416443_da663f187b_zWrite Down Important Information. Keep the address where you’ll be staying and important phone numbers written down somewhere other than your purse or bag. That way, if your phone dies, your bag gets stolen or anything else, you won’t be SOL.

Pack Light. This isn’t just a safety tip for solo female travelers, this is an everything tip for an everyone. In this instance, though, packing light will make you blend in more with the crowds and will make it easier to maneuver and get away from someone if needed.

I don’t want to get too hung up on safety tips for solo female travelers because most of them are pretty obvious. You already navigate the threats of your environment every day. You can gauge when a situation might be dangerous and when someone’s intentions might not be the most pure. Stay alert, and remember to enjoy yourself as you explore the big and beautiful world out there.

What about you? Are there any safety tips you’ve learned from your experiences as a solo female traveler?

In Defense of Women Traveling Alone

If you’re looking to push yourself, experience new things, and learn more about the world, traveling by yourself is just about the best thing you can do. For women travelling alone, though, the experience can seem daunting and dangerous. Why take the risk of going somewhere by yourself like a loser when you’ve got real-life friends who are willing to spend a weekend in Montreal with your or even backpack through Europe for a month or two?

Whether you’re a woman or a man, traveling alone gives you new freedoms and new challenges. It forces you to see the world in a different way and do the things you may be afraid of.

Women Traveling Alone: What’s the Worst That Can Happen?

Well, the worst that can happen is that you get kidnapped, raped and ransomed for millions of dollars. When your family goes to pay the ransom, every one of them gets murdered in front of you, and you’re left to live with the guilt and trauma of what’s just happened. Also, the kidnappers cut off your arms and legs.

Probably, though, that’s not going to happen.

What you have to remember as you plan to travel alone to a new place is that women already live there. They ride the bus and they go into stores and they get drinks with friends. Every day, the majority of them don’t get kidnapped and don’t get murdered. What makes you think you’re so special that you’ll be the one who does?

Obviously, this doesn’t mean that if you’re a woman traveling by yourself you should drop willy nilly into a new place and assume it’s safe. I’ll get more into safety tips soon. I’m just saying that thousands of women travel alone each year, and you can, too.

But Why Travel Alone if You’re a Woman?

Still, why bother skulking through a strange city on your own when you could be drinking margaritas at a rooftop bar with your best gal pal?

Well, when you travel alone, you can:

deghens-machineMeet New People. Let’s face it, meeting new people is hard, but if you’re by yourself for days and days, eventually you’re going to have to talk to someone. Traveling alone forces you to reach out to people, and it makes you more approachable. For women traveling alone, this can be a double-edged sword, but for me, meeting new people has almost always made trips even better. I’ve met locals who have pointed me to spots I never would have found on my own, and I’ve met fellow travelers who I still keep in touch with today.

Have Complete Independence. All the biggest fights I’ve had with friends and partners have been while traveling. You’re tired. You’re in a new place. You’ve spent a whole lot of money, and there’s a lot of pressure for the trip to be great. When you’re by yourself, you can make your trip exactly as you want. Maybe you want to sleep in or spend an extra hour at the museum. You’ve got the time and space to enjoy the place you’re in without having to also navigate complicated relationships.

Have Complete Anonymity. When you’re by yourself in a new place, you can be whatever kind of person you want. No one knows who you are, and no one has any expectations for the type of person you’ll be. You may find that you’re more outgoing or more introverted than you are back home. You may find that your humor is cruder or more zany than you realized. No one knows who you are, and once you leave, there’s a good chance you’ll never seen any of these people again.

Find Inner Peace. It sounds like bullshit, but there’s come a point on every solo trip I’ve ever taken where everything in my life just levels out. I realize the only things I have to worry about are where to rest, where to eat, and where to go to the bathroom. When you travel alone, you have time to think and time to process, not only what you see in front of you, but your life at home, too.

If you’re a woman interested traveling alone, you don’t have to hop on a plane and travel halfway around the world for a month. Why not start small? Plan a day trip to a nearby town you’ve never been to, or take a weekend to visit a friend in a different city and spend one of the days by yourself.

What are your experiences as a woman traveling alone? What other benefits have you found?