It’s Up to the Solo-Female Travelers

New guest post with the wonderful LyfandSpice travel blog!

Thank you so much for letting me guest post and discuss how important it is to encourage women to travel the world safely, independently, and with the support of other women.

Here is the original post but you can read below as well!

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Being a solo female traveler has plenty of misconceptions. Everyone thinks you are going to get kidnapped, sold into the KGB sex trade, and be found years later in a Moldovan heroin den believing your name is Klavdiya.

The world still questions whether women can travel safely on their own. As someone who has traveled to 30 countries solo, without the shadow of a man always beside me, I can say that I believe women can travel the world intrepidly and independently. It’s not that we should, but that it is imperative that we do. Not for the likes and the x off our bucket lists, but for the generations of women who were locked away in their homes, forbidden to go out, and explore beyond their own villages.

This is the first epoch in human history where women have the opportunity to travel freely through (most of) the world. Where the assistance and presence of a man is not required, where we can go to places of our own choosing, kiss people who don’t speak our language, and dance all night just to watch the sunrise over an unexplored city. Women’s abilities and independence outside of the home have always been doubted. People used to believe ludicrous “facts” about women like having erratic wombs that would float around our bodies, how reading would make us infertile, and how our brains were scientifically smaller. These stories are painfully, and only recently, proven false. Nevertheless, we can continue to debunk the stories that are imposed upon us.

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Our freedom of movement is a relatively new right that we are far too comfortable in it for its brevity. However, we must do it for our mothers who married too quickly, for our grandmothers who fought for our suffrage and our great-grandmothers who couldn’t even entertain such an idea. Now, we can travel alone, and, yet, there are still issues we face. However, these challenges will become your source of power.

People will question whether you can do it and you can prove them wrong

The first time I backpacked on my own, I got numerous questions, hesitations, and second guesses on whether I could do it alone.

I would get one of the following:
” Don’t you think that is pretty dangerous as a chic?” -misogynistic uncle
“ Don’t you want to travel with a (male) friend?” -boyfriend
“ Why don’t you wait until someone else can go with you?”- gender studies professor

And then they would be followed with the myopic knowledge of someone who has never actually traveled.
“ That’s really risky. I hope I see you again.”- ex-boyfriend
“ I wish I had done something like that, but it’s too scary.”- forlorn female bank teller
“ EMAIL ME EVERY TEN SECONDS.” – Mom

But the point was to see if I could do it on my own.

Women’s independence might still be unsettling to some because we are still expected to be emotionally responsible for others and tend to be defined by our relationships instead of accomplishments. That’s also not to say that these people aren’t just being protective; however, I still get questioned on whether I can do it even AFTER I have traveled to 30 countries by myself. People in my life who understand me better have been extremely encouraging, but know that if you do decide to go off and travel, you might get the occasional micro-aggressive question on your own abilities. And you can totally f***ing do it.

Internalized Misogyny

It’s not always the doubts of others that you will have to push through (which you will), but the doubts you hold about your capabilities.

As women, we also have internalized misogyny. We begin to question whether we can take on the world mainly because there are few women showing us we can. Representation is a contributing factor to one’s perceptions of their own abilities. My own hesitations came from not seeing enough examples of other women exploring. I still have doubtful thoughts as I’m packing my bags the night before. Voices will run through my head that ask, “Why am I doing this? Women who travel with me are much safer…should I invite a dude? Am I asking for it traveling solo?” But, just because we have seen few embark beyond, doesn’t mean we can’t. There is a small pool of female explorers (recorded) throughout history. Let’s try to make the list longer.

You have to be culturally sensitive

You need to research the country you are about to travel to and now with the magic of ~* the internet*~ you can look up other female travelers’ experiences in specific countries and how to prepare for them. It’s important to know cultural hand + head gestures like how the “okay” symbol is chill in America but is extremely offensive in Brazil, Iran, and parts of Europe. Or the typical agreement headshake of nodding your head up and down in the states is a hard “no” in Albania (which is the bane of many food orders when you DO want extra fries).

And watch the clothes you wear

And while you might stand out as a tourist in certain countries (like how I stand out like an All-American sore thumb in Peru) I can control the clothing that I wear. I am in full belief that what people wear is NOT an invitation to be approached or touched without consent; unfortunately, not everyone or every culture has embraced this 3rd wave feminist philosophy.

So, be sure to research what is and isn’t appropriate. Some countries might not care if you wear crop tops and booty shorts but others will. I have lived in abroad and received unwanted attention for wearing dresses at knee length and then other places where bathing suits were acceptable as work clothes. You are the one that will have to be flexible.

 

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Practice Active Listening

Once you’re out there, you need to be aware that the world does function differently outside of your hometown. When you’re abroad, you may want to argue with the machismo men that they are being sexist or explain to women in burkas that they are being oppressed, but you are treading on THEIR TURF and imposing your beliefs upon them.

Not everyone in the world holds the same beliefs about how the world should run or live a life. You wouldn’t want someone coming into your home and telling you how to redecorate it after only seeing the vestibule. Even if you find specific aspects of a culture oppressive, insensitive, or harmful towards a specific group, don’t think of it as an opportunity to “educate” individuals (there’s a LOT of colonial baggage with that one). It is a better opportunity for you to practice active listening, which will increase your empathy and compassion for those you are interacting with.

When you actively listen to someone, you will hear what they are saying and not what you want to hear. When you listen, you will gain a better understanding for that individual or culture and maybe realize that they aren’t so different from you. Once they feel as though they are being understood, you might have an opportunity to discuss your point of view and be heard as well.

All you can do is provide an example that there isn’t only one way to live and should respect another’s decision to do differently. Keep in mind that you are also a walking example of what the world can be. When you travel (respectfully) in other people’s cultures, you are showing the locals that you yourself (an outsider) are no different than them and can help expand their worldview as well while you pass through their homeland. If there are countries that are supporting harmful acts that you are against, don’t travel there and support their economy. However, I do encourage you to adventure with cultures that do have contrasting values or opinions about how the world works.

Violence towards women is not country or culture-specific. Even after the global waves of feminism, achieving the right to vote, burned our bras, and embraced non-gender binaries, there are some places in the world that will not perceive you as equal (well, technically we aren’t here in America yet, so….).

Although some places are worse than others, violence against women is not culturally specific. Don’t believe that since you are going to a “progressively minded” country that you will be exempt from unwarranted behavior. Across cultures and histories, women have been perceived as sexualized objects and with most cultures inundated with sexually graphic advertisements and porn being three clicks away, these perceptions about women still ring true. You can be assaulted in Norway and treated with respect in Honduras. Rape culture is not exempt from any one place. However, don’t let the fear of assault thwart your travels. The probability of you being assaulted in other countries is lower than at home. Although rape statistics are notoriously under-reported and from the data, we have at hand, most rape victims know the perpetrator. Meaning that someone grabbing you in a back alley is less likely than it happens somewhere closer to your home.

Some things to keep in mind….

• Depending on the country you might be harassed more, especially if you are alone. Just continue walking and don’t engage if you feel uncomfortable.

• Women are often warned about walking around late at night. Take some time to get to know the area you are walking around in the daylight so you have a sense of direction once it gets dark out.

• Have fun but be careful. Watch your drink and bring the minimum amount of possessions with you and hide them in safe and indiscreet spaces (my bra is my wallet).

• Don’t be discouraged from going to certain places (or traveling at all). But know what your personal limits are and travel to areas you feel comfortable in or have connections + hosts in.

Which leads nicely into the lessons I have learned

The world is more protective than predatory.
I personally have found that the world tends to be more protective than predatory. I have had people of all ages, genders, and ethnicities help me get to the right bus stop, watch my luggage while I go to the bathroom, or even let me stay in their homes after knowing them for only a few hours.

I was often warned to be wary of strangers and skeptical of people’s intentions. However, my trips have always been based on the benevolence of complete strangers. I have couchsurfed with as many locals as possible and have done work-stays where I have lived with a host family. I would rather sleep on someone’s couch over a 5-star hotel any night. These people who showed me the world through a different lens, helped me carve out a clearer picture of the whole story. People are proud of their homes and want to give others a good experience of it. If someone is a d***, it’s because they are a d***- not because they are Swedish or Australian or Bolivian. Relish in the simplicity of kindness. It’s everywhere. You will overcome. We need to show the world examples of our strength.

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Travel evokes learning and disrupts the self. The opportunity for self-reflection has typically been thwarted away from women since our roles have historically kept others at the center of their attention.

When you take yourself out of the comforts of home, you get to experiment with different sides to you. You recognize what parts of you need to grow and soften and which parts are fundamental to your being. You can find what parts of you have always been misunderstood thousands of miles away from the land you were born. You are able to see your full potential. Being a solo-female traveler has helped me move beyond my gender and the limiting stories that accompany it.

So please, go.

Do it for the dreams of our for-mothers who only envisioned other lands from the stories of their male counterparts as they stirred soup on the stove with a baby cradled on a hip, chained to a life within the home. Do it to make travel safer for the unborn women who will someday stand where you have been fortunate to be. We can change the world, one plane ticket at a time.

To a world that does not always welcome women, I will wipe my feet at its doormat and say hello.

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5 Most Unique Adventures in Mexico City

It was a pleasure writing a guest post for the Solitary Wanderer blog! Aleah is a Filipino solo-female traveler, and her blog is filled with great stories and travel tips.

Here is an expert of my writing. You can check out the full post here.

Follow the street art

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The Mexicans are known for their passionate forms of expression and you can see it on the streets. They wear their hearts on their sleeves and paint it for the world to see. The city is painted with a wide variety of street art, and you will typically find one on every corner.

The paintings range and include all of the influences that make up Mexico — modern takes on ancient Aztec or Mayan influences that blend with Catholic iconography or sometimes peyote trips. The symbols, passions, and priorities of the people are painted on the streets: day of the dead art, oppression, music, religion, nature, suffering and love.

They are hidden all over the city like Easter eggs. If there is a corner amiss with a mural or graffiti, the colorful houses will nevertheless make up for it.

Walk through the parks and eat mangoes

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As a daughter of horticulturists, I firmly believe Mexico City holds some of the most unique parks in the world. They are as lush as the city they grow in. Each park is overgrown with diverse native flora, from pine trees to cacti; their roots tangle together underground fighting for the same water. The trees are old and mighty and create expansive canopies that blanket the parks, allowing only random and soft streams of sunlight in between the leaves.

The parks don’t just harbor regional vegetation, hidden behind the layers of trees you will find avant-garde sculptures, hand-decorated shrines of Our Lady of Guadalupe, waterfalls, libraries, mosaic kiosks, and castles.

But these trees and flowers are not quarantined to just the parks. They are everywhere. Each street is shaded with large Mexican cypresses, sweet gums, or pine trees that twist and contort around the street and buildings like advanced yogis. Some areas are so densely covered with trees it feels like the city was built around the jungle. The people know that the city is too wild to be tamed. It’s like living in a tree house.

Go to Frida Kahlo’s house + Leon Trotsky Museum

Frida was a fierce and capricious woman who cultivated a home to keep her inspired. She understood that an artist must organize their space to keep them challenged yet comforted. In the neighborhood of Coyoacan, you can retrace the steps that she took every day in her house Casa Azul.

You can slowly pace around the rooms that were only big enough to hold her dreams, her pains, and ideas. You can observe her kitchen table where many philosophical conversations and fights happened between her numerous lovers and friends. Then walk through her studio overlooking her garden filled with palm trees, cacti, and ferns, and step out in the gardens themselves.

You can go up to her bedroom at look at her ceiling butterfly collection, permanently frozen in mid-flight. It hung above her head and they gently lulled her to sleep. In times of pain, she was often anchored to her bed, where she painted through her torment.

There is also an exhibit that has a selection of her clothing on display, including the body casts that she was often trapped in after a streetcar accident when she was 18. They are decorated with butterflies, tigers, communist symbols, unborn children, and stars.

It is inspiring to walk through the rooms of other fearless and adventurous women who made beauty out of their limitations.

If you are a huge history buff, you can also go to the Leon Trotsky museum, which is where he was murdered. Leon Trotsky and his wife sought asylum in Mexico City under the protection of Diego Rivera and Frida. A love affair between the Russian communist and Mexican painter quickly ensued.

Leon and his wife were kicked out once Diego realized the affair was happening, and they moved to a nearby house where Leon was later murdered by one of Stalin’s assassins. The house has been preserved as a museum that you can also walk through, and where his ghost remains.

Scream at a lucha libre fight

The only event that gets locals more riled up than football is their national sport of Lucha Libre (free wrestling). I honestly didn’t know I would enjoy lucha libre as much as I did. The theatrics are as dramatic as watching a Shakespearean play — hell it basically is one.

Each character has a backstory and rivals, lovers, and are typically part of an extended family with their own drama and history. They are almost like telanovelas (Mexican soap operas) with more stage dives, backdrops, and power strikes.

They are iconically known for their vibrant metallic masks that are influenced by ancient Aztec and Catholic myths, heroes, and symbols. Each luchador creates a mask that represents their character and helps distinguish their identity. If a luchador loses a match, they will be unmasked, revealing their true identity.

They also have luchadoras, female wrestlers, who are gaining more respect and credit in the community. The wrestlers are also often adorned with capes and boots, making them true superheroes or villains. There are matches that happen in the oldest lucha libre fighting ring Arena México on Sundays, Tuesdays, and Fridays.

Yoga in Spanish

There are several places in La Roma or La Condesa where you can do daytime or night time yoga. This is a great way to realign yourself after contouring your body on an airplane for god knows how many hours, and you get to practice Spanish.

The yoga class becomes more mentally enduring because you are listening, translating, and moving to the words more intensely than if it was in English. Although this is a bit more of a mental challenge, it is a great way to actively practice and associate the words you need to learn anyways! Arriba!

Blue Hearted Glutton

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Blue Corn Goddess 

You can smell the streets of Mexico City from the airport. Once you step outside of Internacional Benito Juárez, the faint smell of caramelized onions, diced pork, and spicy peppers greets you. Welcome to a world whose obsession with food is not dictated by Instagram photos or Facebook likes. Although the restaurant scene is flourishing, the best food in Mexico City cannot be found in a Yelp review. It is found only by following the trails of smells that are carried by the wind.

The streets of Mexico City are lined with entrepreneurial chefs; their children hang about the area as their parents serve torta after tostada after taco. Their faces are always perspiring from standing over the grill and under the oppressive Mexican sun. There are more outdoor tortilla stands than garbage cans ( which is an issue in its own right).
Mexico’s classic meals are always served in these collapsible kitchens. There will be coolers filled with Mexican coke and aguas frescas ( fruit water) that mothers and babies guzzle down in between bites. Some stands specialize while others are versatile. Good food in Mexico City is a lazy man’s game. Although you will never have to journey far for quintessential quesadillas, there are still some secret ingredients worth hunting for.

Enter: the blue corn tortillas.
Like most inexperienced gringos, I first heard mention of the blue corn tortillas after watching No Reservations by the late Anthony Bourdain. He interviews a tiny abuela who stands outside by her portable kitchen. Her hands have turned a shade of periwinkle after spending hours squishing, flattening, and frying up these blistered blue patties. Once I arrived in Mexico City, I was on a mission to find them. It took me two days of slowing down by every tortilla stand to see if their pans were lined with blue pod delights. No luck. Although I was always full in Mexico City, my hunger for these tortillas continued to grow as the days passed.

 

The afternoon of my last full day, I decided to take a long walk from my Airbnb to go to an unexplored neighborhood. I was walking off a large meal of huevos rancheros and cafe con leche, and, then, unexpectedly, I found them. There was a collapsible tent taking up a parking space, with plastic chairs and tables surrounding it, shading the customers and cooks from the afternoon heat. I slowed down to survey the area. And there they were. A few were lining the circumference of a large pan; the heat crisped the natural light blue into a steel grey. My eyes and stomach started fighting with each other. I ignored my stomachs begging to take a rest because, since I was leaving tomorrow, I might not get another chance. My food baby and I rolled up to the woman who was elbows deep into a bucket filled with a squishy shadow blue paste. It made the same pleasant sound of when your toes squish in the mud. I ogled at her for a while, watching her body undulate up and down, pushing and mashing and mixing this edible play-do. She was in the eye of the hurricane. Her assistants was constantly bobbing back and forth between customers, shouting and laughing at each other and people passing by, but she stayed transfixed on her job as if the world was only made of her and her tortillas.

She looks up at me; her hands scrape the bottom of the bucket,and I ask ( in passable Spanish) for a tortilla con queso y chorizo. She nods, doesn’t write anything down, and goes back to her patties. She takes a handful of dough and quickly passes it from hand to hand like she is playing catch with herself, and molds the amorphous blob of dough into a round patty. She then plops it onto the sizzling pan and squishes it down to form a large circle. She does this again, and again, and again, going back and forth in front of the fire until the entire pan is lined with periwinkle disks. She is cool-headed for all the heat she is taking.

I didn’t ask her the questions I wanted, like how long have you been here, why blue corn, how is it different from yellow, and how many burns do you have on your body. Instead, I fixated on the simmering meat pit behind her, sporting someone’s skull in one of its corners for ambiance and added flavor. At the other end of the stand were teens spending their Saturday afternoon chopping onions and peppers instead of playing soccer. From their banter with other workers, I’m not sure which they would have preferred.

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A beautiful vat of meat with a nonchalant skull. 

She has eight orders going on at once, but was able to keep track of the particularities of each one and served them to the correct customer. She walked me through her confederacy of toppings. Every color and texture necessary for the ceremony was accounted for: creamy green avocado, crunchy pink radishes, pickled green jalapeno peppers, soft queso blanco, and neatly sliced lime wedges. It was as colorful as a well-organized paint palette. I point at and poorly pronounce what I would like. She nodded and gingerly sprinkled on portions of guacamole, pickled vegetables, cilantro, and lime with her stained blue fingers.

Her helper rang me up, and I was alarmed at how cheap it was. The cost of the meal didn’t match the energy and love that I had just witness go into making it. Her actual sweat seasoned my blue corn tortilla, which I was happy to devour. That’s the beauty of Mexican cuisine, and why it is a caliber above the rest. It is a place that still insists that food should be made with your hands, not a machine. Where time is a necessary ingredient, and it is worth spending 16 hours making one large pot of beans that will be eaten in less than five minutes, lubricated with memories and anticipation. Where human fluids are seasonings- the nick of blood that gets sliced in with the tomatoes, the sweat that beads and streams over their faces and plops into the steamy pot of beans, and the tears that well up and cascade themselves onto a cutting board of freshly chopped onions. What makes Mexican food so sapid are the human emotions baked into them. I’m curious how homemade food affects us on a cellular level- if it is more nourishing than just the nutrients it provides and if we have lost something in our culture of processed food, microwavable meals, and fast food.

These were thoughts I had after I recovered from my food coma.

But what do I remember?

That I unwrapped the aluminum foil like a present that had nice wrapping paper I wanted to keep.

That it tasted a shade darker than its lighter friend- the yellow tortilla.That it was nutty and crisp- hot and flakey on the outside but softened by the tender romance of chorizo and plushy queso intermingling on the inside. It warmed more than just my mouth. It gently gave to each bite I took. I chewed slowly, switching each bite between both sides of my mouth, letting the flavors blanket my tongue. I was full, so that let me savor it even more at a pace at which I hardly ever chew.

As I felt my stomach push against my jeans, I knew it was worth it.

 

 

5 Reasons to Try Solo Travel Around the World

I’m so honored to have been featured in the wonderful travel blog Balkan Digital Nomads! 

“Ian and Antonio, travel buddies who started with digital nomad lifestyle. We originally come from Croatia and didn’t want to accept regular nine-five as there are so many things to see in the world and many adventures to take part in. ”

 

Here is the post.

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Me on my way to Lost Angeles and at my most beautiful. _________________________________________________________________________________________

The first time I traveled by myself, I didn’t know where the Prague was on a map. I just knew that I had to leave. I had always felt a strange pull towards travel. For as long as I tell, there was no day I lived without that feeling. I grew up in a small town where most people settled down after high school, but the call of the unknown was as clear as a French horn in the distance telling me it was time to hunt.

It was an irrational curiosity that could only be consoled by the purchase of a plane ticket. However, this is not a novel feeling. It is one that has lead humans to discover every landmass, from the outstretched continents to the loneliest of islands.

We have always been travelers. And, now, it was my time to go.

The first time I left the states and after months of planning, I still didn’t know what to expect, let alone how I would pull it off. I tried to choke back the tears that scratched in my throat as I parted from the only soil I had ever known.

But after 30 countries, thousands of miles, and innumerable stories, traveling alone has had the most positive impact on my development. More than college. More than falling in love.

Although these experiences were powerful, I struggle to type them out to you. These changes aren’t like borders with clearly defined signs that indicate you are entering a new country, a new state. It’s a gradual growth, one that only occurs by taking overnight bus rides, talking to strangers, and falling asleep in strange spaces over and over and over again.

If you are debating on whether to travel alone, know that you will not return the same. You will experience a metamorphism only the brave embarks on but that everyone should try.

Your trip will not be defined by the souvenirs, pictures, and passport stamps, but by the conversations you had, the new perspectives you saw, and the story we are all connected to.

I cried harder when I had to return and couldn’t wait to get back out there.

Once I was back home, it was easier for me to see how I was different, but still hard to diagnose what had changed within me. Here is a short and ill attempt at describing some of the shifts that you will experience once you board a plane with a one-way ticket.

 

1) You Become Fearless

No matter how well you planned each day, ride, or adventure, there will be times where no matter how well prepared you to think you are, the world will still blindside you.

Like the time I was stranded on a highway in Mexico for 8 hours with only one water bottle. Let me back up.

I was traveling from Oaxaca to Puerto Escondido, which is roughly an 8-hour bus ride. We drove away from the arid landscape, with felids of agave sprinkled like candies on a cake. The rocky terrain began to smooth out as we reached closer to the coast. The bus began to ride along the edge of the country with the Pacific to our left and jungle to our right.

As we turned around a bend, the bus stopped in the middle of the road, and I looked up from watching Like Water for Chocolate on my mini-laptop. Some traffic, but nothing to worry about. I continued to watch the movie and sat in anticipation for that lurch forward of our journey onward. But that feeling never came. I looked up an hour later and the bus was nearly empty. Everyone was outside.

I tucked my belongings away and got off the bus. Everyone in the surrounding vehicles were also out of their cars and were walking along the outstretched line of buses, cars, tractor trailers, and vans.

Protests were intentionally blocking the passageway ahead with no sign of letting vehicles through. We were stranded for hours under the blazing and cancer-inviting sun.

You don’t anticipate these situations or know how to prepare for them. But it gives you an opportunity to witness who you are and how you will respond: will you rage over the situation and collapse into despair or play cards & share sugarcane with the bus driver in the shade of the bus as you wait it out?

This is one of many times the world has been rough with me, but I became stronger from it.

I’m not scared of anything now.

2) You Witness the Extreme Kindness of Strangers

I was often warned to be weary of strangers. However, my trips have always been based on the benevolence of complete strangers.

One of my favorite examples (for there are too many to count) was the time I was in Dubrovnik and a female couchsurfer, about my age, had agreed to host me. However, she still lived with her parents and she didn’t want to say we met on the ~* internet *~ so we agreed to say that we met while I was studying abroad to appease her folks.

She was working when I got into the city and had her father pick me up from my ride from Montenegro. This tall, silver fox zips through the bus station and has me hop on the back of his electric blue Vespa. I wrapped my arms around the waist of a stranger as our bodies undulated up and around the inclining road that leads us to their modest one-story house.

Her parents had me sit down in their two-person table and immediately feed me a giant salad of soft cheese, greens picked from their garden and fresh olive oil. Between each crunch, the father tells me the story of how they lived through the Croatian War.

He points to the 5×5 bathroom only a few feet away from us and said, “We lived in that space for months. We had to smuggle my wife out to Split to give birth to my daughter (the female host I had yet to meet).”

It was hard to swallow.

I had a limited understanding of what Yugoslavia was, let alone able to comprehend a genocide that was comparable to the Holocaust. He opened up the cabinets and about his family’s forbearance and fortitude during the fall of the Soviet Union, the economic ruin after the war, and the rebuilding of their country while he offered me a bowl of freshly made fig jam and butter cookies; flavors so rich with intention and kindness I can still taste them. I had known him for less than an hour.

It was a lot to digest.

They had a simple living, had been through immense suffering, and still cared for me as if I was their daughter. They had no incentive to help me, but insisted on feeding me, driving me around, and allowed me to stay with them indefinitely.

It is easy to argue that these are people who are naturally inclined to help strangers and that they are exceptions to the rule.

However, I would dispute that and make the claim that this kind of kindness was experienced beyond my hosts. I wish I had enough limbs totally the myriad of people who grabbed my wrist and pulled me in the right direction when I was lost, local bakers and mothers who shared their secret recipes with me, and the shopkeepers who offered tea and expected nothing more than conversation.

People are proud of their homes, and they want to give others a good experience of it. Their nation is an extension of themselves, and they wouldn’t want others to think poorly of them.


3) You Get to Experience the Rich Diversity of the World, From the People…

Travel disrupts your sense of normalcy. How breakfast isn’t always pancakes and bacon but can be seaweed and rice, millet and plantains, or a shot of espresso with a cookie. It adjusts your perspective like a lens on a camera.

I stood in awe as I admired the opinionless glass blowing in the Czech Republic, to the geometric patterns that lined the walls of the Alhambra in Spain, and the molded gold jewelry that laid across the chests of ancient American tribes in Colombia. We were resourceful with what we had around us but still expressed the same fundamentals across cultures with the underlying desire to be understood.

That desire is heard without words.

Our interpretations of the world are as varied as our species, and it is a blessing to see a fraction of it.

…..to the planet.

You also bear witness to the diverse shapes our earth takes. Our earth can switch and turn on a dime, from arid deserts bleeding into lush rainforests, from quiet wetlands surrounding rowdy volcanos.

Although you may get 100 likes on an Instagram post, that hopefully shouldn’t surpass the extreme pleasure of experiencing complexity the natural world has to offer.

I had the same feeling when I boated around the islands of Greece, walked through the temperate rainforests of the Pacific Northwest, or swam through a sea of bioluminescence on the shores of Panama. It is a moment when I am fully present and see the complex world around me.

The noise of my own problems are muffled, and I recognize my minutness. I become humbled by the intricacy and unintentional beautify the earth beholds. It’s a feeling that begins at the base of my pelvis, bubbles all the way up, and pours out of me like a boiling pot filled with more water than it can hold. I’m too overwhelmed and in love with the world to keep my shit together.


4) While Experiencing the Underlying Fundamentals of Humanity

I was amazed by how many taxi cab drivers I was able to make laugh as they drove me through a town or across a border, and I am speaking across cultures here. They were typically older men who had been living in their area their whole life and had such different perspectives on how the world works.

No matter how different their culture was from mine, I would always dig for some commonality, even if it was just extending empathy over long work days, as they navigated through the well-known streets of their city. I was able to do this all over, from Mexico to Morocco, Scotland to Peru.

As I listened to their stories, I recognized that they too contain similar goals, fears, and desires like mine. A goal to be successful, a fear of wasting time, or the desire to see the world. I began to feel more empathetic because I was able to connect with those who, ostensibly, were obviously different than me. Once I related to them and showed I tried to have them feel a bit more understood, they would open up to me. I heard heart-wrenching stories and the best place to get tacos. There is no disadvantage to expanding your empathy, which is a skill that becomes finely tuned while you travel.


5) You Actually Don’t Know Anything

Woof, this one is hard for our egos to swallow.

We feel like we need to know everything! Especially now in the age of the internet, people will scoff at you for not knowing something.

However, you can jump on a plane with years of schooling, a master’s degree or Ph.D. and still be dumbfounded by how little you actually know about the world.


Here is a simple (and embarrassing list) of things I didn’t know before I traveled:

  • Where the Czech Republic was on a map (or the locations of countries in general).
  • The Incan Empire was larger than Rome’s ( by a long shot).
  • That Great Britain is different from England and different from the United Kingdom and different from Britain.
  • That America took most of Mexico without asking (and then overthrew a ton of Latin American governments 100 years later).
  • How to properly eat pasta.

There should be no embarrassment around not knowing everything and no one should be held to that expectation.

Let the world humble and soften you.


Conclusion

Every time I return home and am asked: “What did you learn?”

I reply, “Less than I knew before leaving.”

 

Travel Bloggers and the #Metoo Movement

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“ I mean, all men love it when their elbow accidentally touches a woman’s boob,” he starts, with little prompt.  

My eyes squinted and mouth curled,

“ Well, wouldn’t it be weird if it was intentional?” I replied.

Not getting the encouraging response he wanted, he goes on.

“ Well, we don’t say anything when it happens but our minds say YES,” with the enthusiasm of his favorite team just scoring a goal.

Please, stop.  I think to myself.

I’m in a semi-circle around this guy, sandwiched between two other women who are standing there, heads tilted, quietly perplexed. We are at a bar, and this is my first real interaction with this fellow.

“Well, how much pleasure can you really get from an elbow?” say’s the women to my left.

“What, don’t women do that?” he says, feeling his isolation and egging on the conversation.

“I don’t “accidentally” touch people to get a secret pleasure out of it,” I replied curtly.

“Well,” starts one of the other women, “ I mean I love arms and might try to feel them if they are really nice.”

 

I didn’t have the energy to get into how flirty touching with someone is different than “accidentally” (intentionally) touching a sexual part on a person.

Also, it is perceived as innocuous if a man is hit on by a woman because women aren’t perceived or known to be threatening. Where on the other end of the gender spectrum, women are raised with a subtle untrustworthiness of men because if we politely decline, they could kill us. We have normalized male behavior to a point where if a man does “accidentally” graze our bosom with the point of his elbow, we are supposed to sit there and smile.

 

Feeling like that was some sort of approval, he goes on.

“ The best is during the summer time when I walk behind women who are wearing sundresses. I slow down and pray for a breeze.”

Good. Fucking. God.

The women are silent. We are all wearing skirts.

I’m stunned and am resisting the urge to wack him over the head with my Gender Studies degree.

This socially inept person is, unfortunately, a big deal in the travel blogger community: he has impressive travel experience, social clout, and makes a ton of money from it.  I was looking forward to asking him to be on my podcast. He had hosted a summer event to bring out all his fans or fellow travel bloggers in the city. That was where I had met him and the women who were standing uncomfortably around me.

I’m not saying that we don’t all derive unexpected pleasures from our world. That is part of being human. We live in a sexual world, and we can’t always control the sudden arousals we get from our environment. However, we can definitely control what we say and how we think about them.

The #metoo movement has been an awakening for all of us. What was once normalized behavior and treatment of women is being torn apart like a dog attacking a feather pillow. The normalized behavior that has been perpetuated for hundreds of years- believing that women are objects, that women’s highest value is their fuckability, and that men are entitled to women’s bodies- is a mess and won’t be cleaned up overnight. We will still find random feathers around our house for years to come, no matter how many times we go through it.

I took a moment to collect my thoughts in the awkward silence that followed his predatory statement and instead of going femininazi on his ass, I walked away. I felt that it would ironically be inappropriate to call him out on his behavior at his own party.

As I walk away I hear him say, “I guess she’s not into shoulder-boob touching,” painfully hoping that someone will offer him a sympathetic chuckle.

I confided in a fellow female travel blogger that he had just said some fucked up shit and that I wanted to leave.

As I left, I still had the need to express to him that he had made me uncomfortable, so I sent him an email thanking him for the party but also expressing I was made uncomfortable by his statements.

He was fortunate to respond and apologized for his behavior and stated it was intended as a joke. 

I thanked him and reinforced that sexual assault isn’t funny.

Travel on its own is a risk for women and the female travel bloggers and male allies should be working hard and mindful to make the world a safer space for women to navigate without fear.

For someone who has been everywhere and seems to have everything, he clearly doesn’t have much awareness.

 

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Photo of Tarana Burke, the badass who started #metoo.

Bus Ride from Hell

Another guest post! Here is a short piece I was asked to write on the theme of “travel horror stories” for the wonderful blog ChasaTravels.

The post is a collection of stories when your travels don’t exactly go to plan and I’m honored to be a part of the series with some other fantastic storytellers. You can read the story below or check out the full post below!

Buckle up!

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WHACK- went my head.

The sweater and scarf I was using as a pillow did not soften the blow of my head slamming on to the bus window after the vehicle took an aggressive swivel around a curve.

“Oh my god,” I may or may not have said out loud. I was too sleep deprived to know and couldn’t hear my own thoughts over the sound of an infant screaming behind me.

I checked my watch.

4am.

I saw the blue shadows of night begging to slither away as the sun began to slowly crawl back up from below the horizon.

I have 8 hours left….

The bus left Cusco at 6pm the night before, a ride I thought would be as innocuous as all the other bus trips I had taken throughout Latin America.

I had been traveling for 5 months at that point. I booked a one-way ticket to Mexico City and slowly made my way down through all of Central America, Colombia, and ended in Peru.

Those 5,000 miles had been broken up between smaller excursions – 6 hours from Mexico City to Oaxaca, 8 hours from Playa del Carmen to Belize City, 16 hours from Guatemala City to Nicaragua, 16 hours from Lima to Peru.

After a while, I started enjoying my long bus rides through the Mexican and Central American landscape- maybe it was a form of transportation Stockholm syndrome- I fell in love with my captor.

I love the feeling of being in motion and having a constantly changing backdrop of lush jungles, deep canyons or the soft peaks of sleeping volcanoes.

I had one last long one to go. I was in Peru and needed to take a 14-hour ride north to Lima from Cusco to catch my flight home to the States. I booked a night bus ( which I always felt was a two for one- why just sleep and stay in the same spot when you can wake up in a new destination!), but was a little disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to see what was around me. Nevertheless, I bulldozed my way onto the bus, claimed a single seat, made my cocoon, and curled up for the night.

Everyone else shuffled in, a mix of older men, a woman and her infant baby, and a few Aussies joined our small cabin. I watched them play a standing game of Twister as everyone worked their way through the narrow aisle and attempted to put away their bags in an orderly fashion before they grab a seat.

Once everyone was settled in, the bus took its first lurch forward and we were off. I turned my head and gazed out the window to watch the sun scorch the Andean mountains in red shadows for the last time and when it would return, I would be in the desert.

The bus began the steady incline up the mountains and the sky turned one shade darker.

From the moment we started, we felt it would be rough. The bus caught every pothole, squeezed through narrow passageways, and would jostle back and forth on the zig-zagging inclining road.

It seemed like a road that had no patience for errors.

Now riding on unpaved terrain is one thing, but it’s the driver that’s ultimately in control, and both were terribly mismatched ( or daringly matched) for this hike out of the Andes.

It felt like the driver was living out his dream of being in the Indy 500 and unfairly making the rest of the bus live out that fantasy with him.

I could just imagine what his thoughts were narrating a car race, “ Express bus makes a hairpin turn, makes an aggressive pass at a carbon emitting, rucksack of a car, just nearly misses a tire slipping over the edge of the Andean mountains, and pushes back into its lane- 500 miles to go!”

I could feel how close we were onto the precipice of the mountain when the bus would lean a little too long and heavy on one side, like a newborn baby just getting in its first lopsided steps.

“Holy shit,” I thought. For once I’m glad I can’t see outside.

As I tried to be rational and calm myself over the cultural differences of safety, I heard the beginnings of a soft blubbering.

The infant baby behind me was also not enjoying this ride and instead of keeping its opinion to itself, it let everyone else know exactly how it felt.

It began with restless murmurs, an occasional yelp, and then silence.

“Ok, phew.” I thought. Just a little sleepy whimpering.

Then another yowl, this time longer but followed by an even longer silence.

Then the cries began to build up like the rhythmic pulses of a cat that is about to vomit all over your new shoes….. and then silence, like the feeling of when you think you are going to sneeze and then don’t.

But then, with a sudden swivel of the searing wheel, possibly to avoid a vicuña, who have a penchant for jumping out into the road like their North American brethren I was used to, the baby prima donna began bawling out her aria.

I started counting her screams like a metronome

– 8 beats- pause- 24 beats with a crescendo pause- 8 forte beats- 8 piano beats-32 forte beats long!

There were some points I was impressed with its pitches and ability to hold notes, but there was no talent; it was like going to an opera where the prima donna audaciously believes that she can go onstage without warming up her vocal chords.

I was trapped. There was nothing I could do. The mother seemed to be doing the best she could.

What was once my cocoon now felt like I was mummifying to myself.

Unable to sleep, I felt my body + mind begin to calcify, every joint hardening and crystallizing.

If I didn’t know she was Peruvian, I might have thought she was Italian with that performance.

And by that I also mean, it was an opera that never fucking finished. That baby screamed directly behind me for the remaining 12 hours of our clunky bus ride and needless to say once I got off the bus my chakras were out of alignment.

I was haggard, bags under my eyes and arms, and the screams of the baby reverberating in my skull even when I was finally surrounded by desert silence.

Now, when I’m boarding a bus, I scan for children, babies, obnoxious teenagers and attempt to put a sleeping spell on them for a quiet journey ride.

What It Is Like to Be A Solo-Female Traveler

I had the great honor of writing for a great travel blog Travel Lexx about what it feels like to be a solo-female traveler. I had so many feelings when I was writing this because at points I feel like it doesn’t matter, then other times I’m rudely reminded of my gender and the limitations the world puts on women.

Being a solo-female traveler adds a whole other dynamic to traveling, but I also believe that the world shows us different sides of itself because of our gender. Nevertheless, I want women to feel like they can go out and take on the world, and to not let the stories that we put on ourselves to limit our precious lives.

Here is an excerpt from the post!

Me in Bocas del Toro, Panama, taking on the world.

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I feel like sunlight when I travel alone. I love nothing more than standing on a train platform at some god-awful hour in the morning. My face is untouched by makeup and my money and passport are stuffed down my sports bra. As I stand with my home on my back, I wait in anticipation for the train to come to carry me off to…. wherever. I am radiant, and I am free.

It is freedom from societal presumptions, from beauty standards, and from consumerism. It is freedom from the chaos of the world and daily dramas. It is freedom from my anxieties around my life. It is freedom from expectation. It is freedom from myself.

I can strip it all away, like peeling bark off of a tree.  I can see my tender core, my humanness when left with a few possessions and no cover-up.

But, why do I have to do it alone? Because I’m selfish. Because I didn’t want to compromise. Because I wanted to make a left or a right turn at the whim of my curiosity. I wanted to hike mountains, volcanoes, and pyramids at my own pace.  I wanted to stop on the streets and have everlasting conversations with street vendors. I don’t want to be curbed by the wants, needs, and goals of another.

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I want to encourage women to travel the world, to show the world our strength and abilities.

Thank you so much Lexx for giving me an opportunity to share my story and voice!

Please visit his blog which provides stunning photography, travel tips, and places to discover!

 

 

The Unsettled Stomach of Anthony Bourdain

 

I was always envious of Anthony Bourdain. It wasn’t only his endless international adventures, his skills around the kitchen, or his connections to the best food in the world, but the honesty with which he wrote. His first piece in The New Yorker, a modern, sharp-toothed version of The Jungle, left me with a pit in my stomach, “He’s such a good writer,” I thought to myself, “I will never be as good as this.”

He had the ability to make any uneatable ingredient or pretentious word palatable.

His character had been sharpened like the knives in his kitchen: cutting, blunt, and aggressive. Teetered on a tightrope between a rowdy American man and diplomat, he was always utterly himself.

His sharp tongue got him the fame he deserved from haggling for the finest fish in Manhattan at 4am on a Tuesday to throwing back Vietnamese beers on plastic chairs with the leader of the free world. This man could serve you a perfect eggs benedict and bust your balls at the same time.

 

When I was baking, I could never keep my cool and would stress eat raw apple slices and uncooked crumble topping as I worked through the 6 am shift. His books would be stacked between the pantry shelves, his nonchalant eyes staring back at me as I hoisted buckets of brown sugar off the shelf.

 

“How the fuck is he able to work in a kitchen and stay so skinny and his eyes aren’t filled with broken blood vessels or underlined with dark circles?” I never had the cool to do what he did.

 

My envy did eventually turn into admiration, once I was transitioning out of my love of cooking. I was over the food porn, the ridiculous desert combinations, or the pretentiousness of gastro-cuisine. What I liked about Bourdain was that he never shied away from the nasty bits. He didn’t entertain the idea that food was meant to be looked at- it was meant to be devoured.

 

“Your body is not a temple, it’s an amusement park. Enjoy the ride,” is easily my favorite quote. He understood that food is messy and fickle and not easily tamed. He seemed to gain a strange pleasure of being covered in blood, eating bull balls, or puking his brains out. He never ran from it; hell, he enjoyed it. He understood that in order to have great meals, you need to have a few fuckups in between.

 

Which is also how he spoke about travel. Sometimes, I didn’t want to agree with his crude comment or eye roll about a culture, and at times I thought he was a bit insensitive or abrasive. But he was seeing things I wasn’t, and he was being honest. He never intended his work to be click bate. He only showed what was the truth, from the unexpected hospitality in Iran, the military dictatorship in Myanmar, to the opioid crisis in Massachusetts. He was a translator. A translator of ingredients, a translator of cultures, and a translator of experiences.

Most importantly, he knew how to unite people. He understood that what bonded stronger than tapioca starch was a shared meal- how stews could sometimes solve wars. When people sit together around a table, we pass around more than butter but our experiences, our pains, and our pleasures. We are forced to listen to each other between bites. He wanted curiosity to fuel us as much as our food does. He knew how to ask the right questions and when to let the meal speak for itself. These talents allowed him to extract the secret ingredients, cultural stigmas, or unsettling histories out of people. He showed us our humanity through food, and his biting perspective and expertise is something we might not see for a long time.

It honestly baffles me why someone who has been fortunate to enjoy more breadth and bread of the human experience would voluntarily take theirs away?

I truly don’t understand suicide. And I by no means want to talk light of this situation. It is saddening and perplexing and heartbreaking that we have lost such a unique and honest human being.

I didn’t know him personally, nor am I pretending that I did. I was just another person who devoured his work. I don’t know what thoughts plagued him once the cameras were off and the kitchen doors were closed.

All I can say is that I hope he is at peace now.

I can’t help but think, what was his last meal? Did he enjoy it?  Did he savor it? I hope he did. I hope it was simple and effortless and nourishing. I hope it was a moment he was able to truly enjoy on his own, a return back to why he used to wake up in the morning. I hope it was the best meal he has ever had.

 

Tonight, I eat for Anthony Bourdain. A man I always wished I would randomly run into at a random dumpling house off Canal St, secretly trying to chew cheap pouches of heaven in peace. Tonight, I will be more risky about what I put in my body and more curious about who I am sharing the meal with.

We should become the intrepid, earnest eaters he wanted us all to be.

The New York Times Supports #NoMoreTaboos

I woke up the other morning to find my face on the featured image of a New York Times article. It was because I talked about my period.

I was recently asked to participate in a storytelling show about menstruation in honor of National Women’s Hygiene day at the New Women’s Space in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I JUMPED on it.

Not only is this my favorite topic, but it is necessary to destigmatize it. I was raised with a group of girls who were shameless about their bodies. Once the first friend saw a drop of blood, we didn’t shut up about them.

Our periods would often be the first topic of conversation in the 8th-grade bathroom that we commandeered every morning before school.

We had a ritual. Once we got to school, we would often bypass our lockers and head straight to the bathroom. That was our sanctuary. It was where we put on makeup our moms forbid, swapped clothes, and gossiped about everyone else in school. We would groom each other like our ancient grandmother gorillas did before homeroom.

That isn’t to say we weren’t catty with each other, which we were, but we always found ways to support each other in the end.

One of the dominant conversations, while we braided each other’s hair, put on someone else’s nail polish, and rushed to copy homework, was our periods. We were able to scope out if it was normal, observe how each other’s bodies were developing, or offer support when we were in pain. We exchanged tampons the way we would later bum cigarettes: you always buy a box to share with no obligation to pay back.

What we mostly swapped was old-wives tales about the female body and advice from our horoscopes ( “Well, you’re a Pisces, and your chart says that today is going to be rough anyways!) but what was traded around more than our skirts was a sense of support and safety. That no matter what rogue turn our bodies took, we had each other to lean on when the cramps were too painful in biology, the acne got too bad in French class, or the mood swings got too much in math.

Our bodies and minds were percolating with a new outlook on ourselves as we sat in Chemistry class together. We were often thought of as “intense” by our fellow classmates, but we were stronger together for it and have still remained close friends.

We knew that our pain would be our source of power.

Because of them, I have never been ashamed of my period. I have never once thought that it was an embarrassing topic, something to be avoided during parties, or deterred other women from talking about it. It wasn’t until college that I met women who never broached the topic or didn’t have friends to talk about it with, and I realized that my experience was the anomaly.

So, I was elated when I found out about the period party because I wanted to be with a group of women who also enjoyed talking about these experiences. But I found that it hasn’t always been a place of pride for these women. When most women get their periods, they begin a silent journey. Many women that night discussed how they couldn’t believe they were talking about it. There were plenty of women who expressed that their bodies had always been circumscribed with shame; however, together were able to bond over our shared troubles. The audience was as much of the show as the performers were. The loud sighs, the head nods and eye rolls, the belting laughs and hands-on checks as performers opened up about the bleeding that lasts for weeks, vomiting in public, or being as horny as a cat in heat, the parts that people don’t want to hear about- the honesty of the situation. We bonded over the emotional bleeding that happens as well: when men shame us, when other women have silenced us, or when we were too confused to ask. That room was clouded with empathy and estrogen.

What we need is to keep talking about it. Not talking about it sets us back.

Although we are fortunate in the State’s ( even though tampons are NOT a luxury item) to not be inhibited from normal activities- going to school, places of worship, or work- that still is a reality for many women around the world. It is not just a setback for women, but a creative, scientific, and economic detriment to society when women are not able to contribute. How much farther along would we be if women were able to participate in male-dominated spheres.

For thousands of years, there have been systems in place that conditioned us to believe that our bodies are bad, that if we spoke about it we were crazy, and if we were open about it we should be ashamed.

The patriarchy has been gaslighting us forever.

We do ourselves a disservice by ignoring it. By stuffing toilet paper in our underwear instead of asking for help.

Because we have been told to shut up about it, it took us thousands of years to get the right to vote. Because we have never had the support, we have never had a female president. Because we were silent we have been set back.

Now we need to keep talking, be louder, be angry, and not shut the fuck up.

Photograph by Bridget Badore

Photo: Bridget Badore @bridgetbadore #PERIODPARTY #NoMoreTaboos

My feelings on the patriarchy.

A Life Worth Living in Arequipa

Back to back! I have another guest post from the incredible travel blog A World to Travel. 

This time we take you below the equator to a hidden gem of a city at the tip of Peru on the border of Bolivia and Chile: Arequipa.

 

I awoke in the desert around Arequipa after being in Peru for a total of 18 hours and spent most of my time in the dark on a bus.

I awoke surrounded by sand dunes, an element I am not so familiar with. I had been traveling for 5 months and had made my way from Mexico City through the lush rainforest covered countries of Central America that are dripping with foliage, brightly colored fruits and vegetables, multicolored flora and fauna, and electric streaked hummingbirds. So being surrounded by beige was unsettling. It was like driving through an ocean of suspended waves, frozen in time like a magic spell had been cast upon them, and the repetitive pattern of curves and swirls of the desert was meditative and occasionally boring.

Then our bus began to elevate and made its way down a rockier mountainous path, an adjustment from our smooth sail through the desert.

You can feel the rumble of Arequipa before you get there. It’s like walking towards a thunderstorm. As you drive closer, the power of the active volcanoes and city comes in clearer, but you are still surrounded by the silence of the desert. You are stuck between emptiness and everything. It’s hard to describe.

We arrived when the sun broke over the city like an egg and began another glorious day.

I arrived at Arequipa at 7 in the morning while the city was just waking up. In broken Spanish, I asked a combi driver ( cab driver) to bring me to where I would be staying. I was going to be working at a chocolate shop for the next few months and living with the other workers and owners.

I stepped out onto white and beige cobblestone street. The air was crisp and dry with no water vapor between you and the sun. My hair for once wasn’t immediately curled. I put down my bags and took my first walk around the city.

Once you step out into the cobblestone streets, you will feel a ubiquitous force that whisks itself around the city. You will find it in the streets, in the basements of monasteries, in the bites of ceviche. Maybe it’s that the walls of the city are made of the same material that hovers above them; the rock from the volcanoes have been repurposed to make a different kind of juggernaut.

Maybe it’s the fusion of colonial Spanish, ancient indigenous, and modern influences condensed into one area. There is so much life in a such a small space, surrounded by extreme nothingness. The energy is trapped, like a frantic bee in a Mason jar.

Or maybe Arequipa is special because we are always reminded of our existence. The volcanoes are always in sight, a constant reminder of their magnitude and your minutness.

We can sense the lava flowing beneath the buildings and our bodies. It’s a place that reminds us we are alive and to not waste such an unlikely possibility.

Whatever it is, Arequipa is an experience not replicated elsewhere.

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You can check it out here!

This is a great article filled with travel tips on where to go, what to eat, and how to experience the White City of Peru. Arequipa has been safe to travel to for groups or solo travelers ( including solo girls!). It is cheap to travel to and great to travel throughout the year.