Trekking Made Me Lose Things to Gain More

Once upon a time I had a 1500 square foot, three bedroom, two bath house with front and back yards, complete with furnishings from top to bottom and front to back.  I had subscription to Costco, a huge grocery chain that sells in bulk; hence,  I bought in bulk every week.  But I lived alone. I had the house for 10 years.  “Had.”  I sold it.

In those 10 years, I spent majority of my  time hiking, backpacking, trekking and whatever else one does with their feet in the outdoors.  During perhaps the most defining moment of my life, I summoned up the courage to leave my career for a year, my house in Washington, D.C. and the comfort of my daily routines and obligations, so to speak.

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In Kotor, Montenegro with my “home.”

I lived life on the road.  Specifically, I trekked in the mountains of Asia and Europe, mostly by myself but also with others as the opportunity arose.  My home then was all confined within a 65 liter Golite backpack plus another compressible day pack.  Both packs carried mostly hiking gear that allowed me to trek in all weather conditions, in addition to a few other personal items.  For the record, this was the most minimalist I had ever been in my life, but the lessons learned from the experience are too many to count.  However, here are some of the lessons worth highlighting:

I learned from this experience that minimalism means what we truly need in life doesn’t take much space as we are conditioned to think from a young age.

I realized that owning a car is unnecessary.  During the one year that I was away, I relied only on public transportation and moved around as a local.  In contrast to the typical driving life in D.C. where you find yourself stuck in heavy traffic, getting around like a local was a refreshing change.  In fact, I found myself much more productive sitting in buses, trains, boats, jeepneys, tricycles, scooters, water buffaloes, camels, and horses, to name a few of the local transports.  The time in transit allowed me to reflect and clear thoughts in my head without the stressors of dealing with the chaotic nature of road traffic.  Looking back, these were special moments; hence, I never took any of it for granted.  My car, a Toyota Echo, is now 15 years old, which I only use on weekends.  When it stops running, my replacement will be the local transports just like when I’m on my travels – an extra routine to add to my workout.  Same goes for one’s shelter.  Living in tents, cabins, huts and hostels taught me we don’t need much space if our goal is to experience life as much as possible outside the confines of the four corners of any room.

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One of the many boat rides in the Philippines.

I learned from experience that we don’t need to overindulge in the usage of certain products, some of which can last a while if we use them minimally.  

For instance, washing your hair daily is really unnecessary.  Putting on make up became less of a needed routine because on my travels, I did mostly trekking so there was no point wasting time and energy on that.  Likewise, minimalism creeps in when it comes to the usage of clothing.  How many times can you wear your hiking pants before washing, you ask?  A lot, actually.  But if you wish to be sort of scientific about it, you can often answer that by doing the “smell” test.  Generally, outer layers can wait a while before they get washed.  The undergarments, however, will need washing in a much lesser time period.  The usage of clothing changes drastically when on the road compared to being in one place.  Keep in mind though that if you change clothes everyday, the inconvenient repercussion would be having to do the washing more frequently than necessary, which for some can be a burdensome task.

I learned from the experience that minimalism on the road can transform our daily routines into their simple and basic  forms.  

For one, you’ll have to learn how to wash clothes by hand.  As much as you’d like to think that in this day and age most cities will have machines you can use to wash your clothes, think again.  Some cities may only have washers accessible.  In Chengdu, China, the hostel I stayed in had washing machines but drying clothes required sunlight and good drying weather.  As a hiker, you’ll have to shift your thinking completely as the small towns along the way to the trail heads are unlikely to have any washers or dryers.  At times, you maybe lucky to have washing service at the hostel or guesthouse you’re staying at but AT ALL TIMES be prepared to wash your clothes by hand – your hands to be exact.  If you haven’t tried washing clothes by hands, I urge you to give it a try.  It’s not as bad as you think.  I honestly can say that washing clothes by hand can be such a meditative experience.  If you love nature enough, washing clothes by hand is like being close to nature…living in the moment of feeling the water and the suds touch your skin as you smell the fragrance of the soap.  Sure, it does require a little bit of imagination but you get my drift.  You may not like to hear this but when it comes to bathing in countries like the Philippines, you will need to manage without hot showers and shower heads.  You’ll be using a bucket of cold water instead to wash yourself.  You may have to eat with your hands in Cambodia or Mongolia in lieu of utensils.  Again, approach it as meditation like I do because going back to basics like this can provide you with the rare chance of experiencing humility at its purest form.  These are the smallest of things that can truly leave a mark in a traveler’s life.

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Newfound friends while hiking up Etna in Sicily, Italy.

I learned from the experience that minimalism on the road entails minimizing our friendships, only to create more ties along the way.  

I gained, and then quickly I lost the same people I met just days ago.  This taught me to love without being attached, which was a difficult task to do repeatedly.  I had to learn to say “hello” to a stranger who became my friend, but soon enough he or she also became my ex-traveling companion – a process that can happen in as little as 24 hours.  But letting go only means paving a new path for another “hello” and a newfound friend to open up the upcoming new chapter on the road.  You realize, however, that you hardly lost anyone.  You actually have been gaining all along – the people and the memories.  What started out as such an emotional process overtime became an enlightening one for me where I learned first-hand about trusting in the flow of life.

I learned from the experience that minimalism entails indulging in experiences, not things.  

It’s true.  There are many things that are free in life – and they’re what we call experience.  While in the town of Pokhara in Nepal, I had the option to go souvenir shopping or do a day hike nearby for free.   I chose to experience life, and hike.   This led me to discover the historic village of Ghandruk where I spent a night at a guesthouse and indulged in the views of the Himalayas.  Similarly, in Croatia, I decided to go hiking in the Velebit mountains instead of spending the rest of my time in the cities.  Hiking in Velebit was free and when I reached my hut for the night, a local family was having a family reunion which entailed tons of food and drinks.  I was invited and included in the merriment which allowed me to try authentic local dishes while getting to know more about Croatia and the locals’ daily lives.  All that experience cost me nothing.    Had I stayed in the touristy areas and focused on shopping, I would have missed out on these memories I gathered from hiking – the part of my travels that truly mattered the most.

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The hospitable innkeeper of the hut in Velebit. Despite language barriers, we were both thrilled to be in each other’s presence.

I learned from the experience that minimalism affords you joy from simplicity.  

Because I was on a tight budget from the start, I managed to stay in hostels when in the cities and tents or huts in the mountains.  I rarely stayed in hotels, which in my view deprives one of the realness of the experience.  Staying in hostels provided the opportunity to meet people from various parts of the world.  Oftentimes, they became my travel or trail companions for days or weeks, which added meaning to the experience.    After days of trekking together, we were no longer just friends.  To me, they were my family.   Likewise, the art of hiking is simple.  Whether you walk solo or with others, you immerse yourself in the lure of nature with its snow-capped peaks, emerald green lakes and hidden valleys.  Walking in the mountains bestows upon you a world filled with nature’s masterpieces, simple and yet extravagantly beautiful.

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With the Milk Lake on Yading Kora Trek in Sichuan Province of China.
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The majestic rocks of the Dolomites in Italy, along the Alta Via 1.
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In China’s Huangshan (Yellow Mountains), nature meets zen.
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Gobi desert in Mongolia has the the best sunsets with the colors reflected back on its golden sand. Not to be missed in this lifetime.

I learned from the experience that minimalism allows me to appreciate the beauty of solitude.  

When it comes to numbers and company on the road, we gravitate away from “solo.”  Don’t.  When you get a chance to be alone on the road, don’t hesitate to give it a try.  You may discover the power of being “one” and the beauty of your own companionship.  Seriously.  Don’t let solitude intimidate you.  When my journey ended, I brought home with me a whole new set of myself – someone I truly got to know and learned to fully love in the end.

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In Nepal’s Everest region, it never got dull staring at the peaks as I learned about myself each day.

Falling in love with yourself starts with the moments you have in solitude.  Take advantage of it when you’re on travels or better yet, when you’re in the mountains.  I found nature combined with solitude as one of the most organic and powerful experiences to be had in our lifetimes.  Don’t pass up the opportunity to trudge on that path towards self-discovery and self-love.  If you’re venturing out for the first time as a solo traveler or trekker, see this article for tips, 8 Ways (7 Really) to Mentally Prepare for A Solo Adventure.

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I had the privilege to meet a Tibetan mastiff in Tibet! He was certainly bigger than me.  Yes, he’s real.

While I minimized many aspects as noted above when I was on the road, ironically this led to an increase of joy and abundance in my life.  That increase included my circle of friends, the trails I have trekked, the mountain peaks I experienced first-hand, the number of stamps on my passport, the happy memories with fellow humans and even furry friends (I hiked with a dog and spent time with cats), and best of all, the love and gratitude I had within me.

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My few priceless possessions – mostly hiking and travel gear.

Indeed, minimalism brought an overflow of love in my life, which brings me to the present.  I sold my first house almost a year ago now and traded that with a 400 square foot studio.  People wonder if I’ve lost my mind to transition back to a studio after owning a house for a decade. To date, I’ve not experienced even an ounce of regret over my decision.  You see, my studio holds everything that is important to me now- my furry friends, my trekking and travel gear, my passport, my laptop, among a few other items.  Other than that,  everything that matters and holds meaning in my life is tucked away safely and kept close to my heart, which suits me well knowing that I’ll never have to worry about losing any of it.

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Interested in joining solo travelers for trekking tours to Peru, Nepal, Kilimanjaro & many others?  See PEAK EXPLORATIONS.

 

FREEDOMPRENEUR: Anjali of The LITMO Life

How many of you knew what you wanted to become early on in life?  In my case,  I must admit that becoming a lawyer wasn’t a dream of mine from the start.  My parents wanted me to become a doctor and throughout my childhood that was an idea that was ingrained at a very early age.  However, it turns out in life no one can dictate who you should be.  No matter how much you defer to people’s advise on how you wish to live your life as an adult, the answer never comes from the outside world.  It’s all within.

Fast forward to now, I still work as an advocate in the legal field and as much as I have enjoyed my time fighting for a cause I truly believe in (i.e., child protection), I have set my future goals to include spending time on the mountain trails and promoting my outdoors-focused social enterprise as I have explicitly shared with the world via this piece.  Another lesson learned – it is never too late to shift focus and pursue a new endeavor despite the illusion of fear that tells you otherwise.

I say all this as a way to introduce Anjali who initially started as a lawyer only to discover that her passion has more to do with freedom, flexibility and self-reliance.  Anjali bravely left her law firm job to venture out into the world on her own terms.

Brown Gal Trekker Meets Anjali

I met Anjali through a blogger networking group online.  However, before that meeting and by coincidence, I have read a powerful article written by Anjali on Washington Post that speaks to a specific female view on dating.  You can check out her thought-provoking article here.  Needless to say, the opportunity to feature her is yet another wonderful coincidence.

Anjali Sareen of The LITMO Life

Anjali Sareen was born in New Jersey (a fact she rarely shares with people) and grew up in Florida since age 2.  Anjali is currently in Cuba and was in Florida shortly before that.  She’s a freelance remote writer and lawyer that quit her traditional firm job so she could travel around the world full-time.  She writes for a few publications on the web and now she has her own fully remote law practice.

Tell us a little bit about your background and your 9 to 5 life.

I’m a former “traditional” lawyer that decided that living for the nights and weekends was utter bullshit. I grew up in an Indian family – my parents were both born and raised in India and came here in their twenties. They met and got married here, so my brother and sister and I were all born in the States. My childhood was great – my parents were the perfect mix of loving traditional and open hippie. They wanted us to get educations, and be good people, and live a good life, but they also encouraged us all to think for ourselves and carve our own paths and – most importantly – to question why we did things. It was that encouragement to question that led me to change my life.

What are your interests and passion in life?

Of course, traveling! But not just traveling for traveling’s sake – traveling to help make the world a smaller place, to help us realize that we’re all the same and that we should be loving and supporting each other at every turn – no matter our races, genders, sexuality preferences, socioeconomic status, or anything else. I’m also a writer and reader – on any given evening I can be found with a book or my journal in hand. Veganism isn’t just a passion of mine – it’s one of the things I believe most strongly in: living a life in which we behave the best we possibly can to all sentient beings, not just humans. And one of my truest loves is fitness – I’m a runner and CrossFitter and hiker. I find my bliss being active.

Tell us how you ended up with your 9 to 5 job and your thoughts about having that typical career.

I went to undergrad at NYU and graduated in 3 years. I wasn’t even 21 the day of my college graduation, since my birthday was a month later in June. I didn’t want to be in the real world. The honest answer is I went to law school because I was encouraged by my parents to get a professional degree and when I graduated college I didn’t want to grow up. So I thought more school was the answer! Not a very thoughtful path, I admit. I went to law school knowing I didn’t want to be a lawyer in a traditional setting – I just didn’t know what I actually did want to do and I chickened out of finding my passion – I took a set path. I didn’t like 9 to 5 life at all – I didn’t (for the most part) like other lawyers. I didn’t like the arrogance and assholery of the profession. I didn’t like that you were considered a shit lawyer if you didn’t give up your whole life for it. I did like my actual practice areas – intellectual property and animal rights – but not enough to keep me trapped in a firm.

As a lawyer myself, I can totally relate to the complexities of such a career – the attitude, the expectations and pressure.  How was the process like to quit something so stable?

Scary – but SO, SO exciting. Of course, you would expect that it would be kind of scary, but it was also very thrilling and freeing. I went into it with the mentality that even if I was going to be poor, at least I would be poor and free!

What made you decide to quit your 9 to 5 job?

The honest truth, which I talk about in my book “Quit Your Job and Travel The World” is that it was a few different things – I didn’t have ONE really big aha moment. But if I could pinpoint it, I would say after I got my tubes tied (I never wanted kids and always wanted the surgery!) I woke up and it hit me: who was I living this life for that I didn’t like? I didn’t want to get married again, I didn’t want to have kids…there was no one to worry about but me and my puppy! That sealed the deal for me to change my life.

Anjali will talk more about the book she wrote below.  Before that, I asked her about her current plans.

Indefinite travel until I get sick of it!

Anjali launched her enterprise called LITMO Life in May of 2016 when she made the decisionn to quit her job to travel full-time.  Here, she tells us more about it.

I run a travel blog at The LITMO Life. LITMO stands for “Live In The Moment Only” and it’s something my dad used to say to me when I was a kid. At the blog, I don’t just talk about traveling – I talk a lot about how to design a life that fits you so that you can help make the world a better place. I touch on everything from the best vegan snacks at airports to politics!

What is the mission for your enterprise?

I really want to help people – at the end of the day, if I can look back and say that I spent my entire life helping people, that would make me very happy.

What challenges have you faced thus far with your enterprise? How did you overcome them?

It’s hard to find the time to work on the blog when I’m also working a full-time job, that’s my biggest issue at the moment – finding time to work and travel and work on my love (the blog). That said, I’ve largely overcome that by waking up earlier! It sounds nuts, but I get up at 5am to work on the blog and other miscellaneous work like social media before I start my normal work day.

How do you balance traveling and working on your enterprise?

Very carefully! I make sure I schedule time for sightseeing a little every day and I get out into the local restaurants and coffee shops to meet people even while I’m working. It’s easy to get wrapped up in just wanting to work all the time and I try really hard not to do that.

Tell us about your traveling life. How did you become interested in traveling?

My parents were into traveling when I was kid and they are Indian. I grew up here in the States, but we traveled back and forth a lot to India when I was little and we would often make stopovers in Europe. I think I always had a desire to see the world – and I always thought there should be more to life than just a 9-5.

Who or what inspired you to travel?

I think the desire for a better life inspired me to travel. I say “better”, but I mean better for me – maybe just different for other people. Letting someone else dictate my time by going into an office every day at 9 am and leaving at 5 pm and only having time to “live” on the weekends wasn’t my idea of a full life. I thought there should be a better way to live, so I went in search of it.

How much did you travel before quitting your 9 to 5 job?

A bit, when I could, but not nearly enough! It’s hard to get away from the office as a young lawyer so I rarely did.

Where are you now? What’s your next stop?

Currently in my home town of Fort Myers, FL – I came home for a bit for the holidays and am about to head to Cuba next!

In terms of how she funds her travels, Anjali now works remotely as a lawyer while working on her writing projects which she discusses further below. But before moving on to that, Anjali shares with us her favorite places that she has been to thus far.

My favorite place in the entire world is Costa Rica. The country has no standing army – the abolished it in 1948 – and because of that, it truly feels like the most peaceful place in the world. The locals are incredible – open, welcoming, hospitable – and the lifestyle of “Pura Vida” really suits me.

In the Tabacon hot springs in La Fortuna:

On some of my domestic travels through the States, I picked up hiking as a free, easy thing to do in certain of the cities. One of my favorite hikes was up a mountain just outside Seattle – the weather was crisp and cool and getting to top just made me feel like I was on top of the world.

What have you discovered about yourself as part of this process?

That I can do anything! Hopping on a plane to a foreign country completely alone is exciting – but also scary! Getting there and realizing that I cannot only handle it, but that I’ll also have the time of my life, is something incredible.

Any regrets so far?

Not a “regret” so much as a wish – I wish I could travel and still be with my friends and family all the time. It is so nice to continually meet people and make more friends, but then, with full-time travel, you inevitably have to leave again and there are times you can’t be home for special events like birthdays and holidays. That’s the only thing I would change, if I could.

What’s the most courageous thing you’ve done as a traveler so far?

I don’t know about courageous, but I went boarding down a volcano in Nicaragua and that was pretty amazing. The volcano is called Cerro Negro and you hike all the way and sit on a sled to speed down. It was one of the coolest experiences of my life.

What advise do you have to those who are thinking of pursuing their passion?

DO IT! Today. Right now. This moment. Don’t wait until you are “ready” because you never will be ready, you just have to get up and go and the “readiness” will find you.

Did quitting the 9 to 5 kind of career and working for yourself turn out the way you envisioned it to be? 

Yes, 100%, but I think that is because I didn’t have many expectations. I believe expectations are the mother of disappointment so go in expecting nothing and hope for the best. If anything, all I envisioned was a life that was different than my old one – and I was really hoping it would be a better fit. And it really is. Sure there are some unexpected things along the way and some bad days, but every life has those. The freedom of working for myself and traveling the world is unbeatable.

Are you living a life with more freedom now than before?

Yes. Even though I am still working full-time, I work when I want, so little things like getting up when I want and taking a break when I want – those are really critical to a life full of freedom. I also not only have the freedom to travel the world, I have the freedom to go home any time I want – to spend more time with my family, which is really important to me

Anjali noted she will never go back to that 9 to 5 kind of world.  To be successful in sustaining a traveling lifestyle, she believes one needs to have the following:

Curiosity. Authenticity. Kindness.

When asked about her favorite quote to inspire her on her journeys, Anjali shares the following:

“When you want something you’ve never had, you have to do something you’ve never done.”

It’s perfect and encapsulates this lifestyle completely – to find a life that’s truly a fit for you, you have to think outside the box of what everyone else tells you you should be doing. I also have a tattoo going down my ribs that says “Semper Ad Meliora” which means “always towards better things” in Latin.

You published a book as well called Quit Your Job & Travel the World:  The Complete Guide to Making Your Dream a Reality. What is the book about? 

It’s about how to live this lifestyle – or really, at the end of the day, about how to be more free. It guides people through the exact process of how to quit your job and travel the world, if that’s something you want to do. It’s chock full of resources to help guide you at every stop of your journey. 

What inspired you to write this?

I want to help people. I feel like we’re all too wrapped up in the idea of living the life that we think we should be living, not the life that we want to be living. It’s not hard to create this lifestyle, it just takes dedication and work, and anyone can do it.

How was the process like to publish a book?

It was fun! I wrote it like a banshee, working 13 hour days. Then I worked with several editors and graphic designer to make it look perfect, and I loved it.

What do you hope people will get out of the book?

I hope, at the very least, they will start to realize there are other ways they can live their lives and that they don’t need to do what people have always done or what people have always said. We’re here to design our own lives and live our own truths.

Do you have future publications that you are pursuing?

I actually just released my latest project – a travel journal just for the travel junkie! It has journaling prompts, inspirational quotes and places to jot down your own thoughts. Check out more information here.

To wrap things up, I asked Anjali the following questions. 

What do you miss the most with a traveling lifestyle?

CrossFit! Sounds crazy, but my scheduled fitness routine, along with the community and love I got from my gym, is something I miss every day.

Please describe the word FREEDOM.

Freedom means living and choosing your own adventure book – every moment of every day. Not in the evenings, not on the weekends, but EVERY moment.

Best food you’ve had on your travels?

A jackfruit taco in Vegas. I’m vegan, and I’m very easy to please – this taco was incredible!

Least favorite place you’ve been to.

San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua. The place was BEAUTIFUL – don’t get me wrong. Very gorgeous beach town! But so many people I met there just wanted to drink and drink and drink – not my vibe!

What’s your best travel tip?

Be authentic and radically honest – immediately, with everyone you meet. The only way to connect with people on the road is to be who you are and be open and accepting of who they are. The world is a beautiful place when we value each other more, and the only way to be that is to be who we are and building real connections immediately.

Thanks Anjali for sharing us your story!  You can follow Anjali via her website, The LITMO Life and Anjali Sareen and through social media: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube & Instagram.  You can also check out her new book, “Quit Your Job & Travel The World: The Complete Guide To Making Your Dream A Reality” via Amazon. 

If you know of someone who you think should be featured on FREEDOMPRENEURS SERIES (yourself included), you can find out more here.

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Interested in joining solo travelers for trekking tours to Peru, Nepal, Kilimanjaro & many others?  See PEAK EXPLORATIONS.

 

OUTDOOR WOMAN’S VOICE: Upasana Ray

As some of you may know, I am currently a nomad in Washington, DC which is my third home.   I have called Washington, D.C. my physical home for the past 15 years.  With a few exceptions, this area is a hub for nomads and transients who come to the city to pursue their dream jobs and initiate lifelong careers.  Hence, Washington, DC is a unique place to meet a diverse group of people.  This applies as well to meeting hikers and mountain lovers in the region.

Upasana herself came to D.C. for work opportunities just like many of us.  She came to the D.C. area to pursue a fellowship in 2012 and eventually discovered her love for the mountains.  Upasana became known to me via outdoor groups through Meetup.com.  If you have yet to familiarize yourself with Meetup, I highly recommend it.  If it wasn’t for Meetup, I would have never discovered my passion for the mountains and Brown Gal Trekker would not have been in existence.  Suffice it to say, I’m grateful for the invention of such a platform.  It’s one of those social media sites that actually allows for people to meet and connect in the old school way – plan the activity and go!  This discovery is something that Upasana also experienced herself as you’ll hear more about below.

Truth be told, I have yet to meet Upasana in person which hasn’t prevented me from  hearing about her from mutual friends and acquaintances.  Eventually, despite the lack of an actual meeting in person, we managed to become friends virtually on Facebook.  That allowed me to witness her passion for the mountains, and as such, I quietly admired her nonstop pursuit of peaks in the East Coast, then West Coast, and eventually the Indian Himalayas.

As I got to know her a little more, I realized Upasana and I have this similar love for high altitude treks – the ones that make you work extremely hard to capture an everlasting moment in nature.  At the same time, we both share the same sentiment about trekking – the notion that we spend time with our beloved mountains for spiritual connection, more so than a personal goal defined by distance or speed.   It’s a thrill for me to feature Upasana, who is now a kickass hiker in the mighty Himalayas of India.  Although she has left behind her Meetup hiking friends in the D.C. area, I’m sure we’re all with her in spirit as she continues to trudge up the Himalayan mountain ranges of India.

Feature Outdoor Woman’s Voice

Upasana Ray is from India and is currently living in West Bengal.  She’s a scientist working on research on viral infections and development of therapeutic aids.  She professes to being a nature lover and wildlife enthusiast since her childhood.  However, due to her busy school schedule and lack of like-minded friends, she did not get into hiking until she came to Maryland in 2012 for a fellowship with the National Institutes of Health.   The boredom during her free time led her to discover hiking via Meetup.com, which was a pivotal moment in her hiking life.  Upasana is also an avid landscape and wildlife photographer and loves painting, music and films.

Let’s hear directly from Upasana about her hiking life in the U.S. and India.

Tell us some details on how you discovered hiking via Meetup.com in the U.S. and your experience hiking with strangers for the first time.

In 2013, one lucky day, I do not even know how, I was searching for trekking clubs or nature clubs over the internet. It was then that Washington Backpackers and Young Adventurers groups caught my eyes. These were actually Meetup groups. Travelling with strangers? Oh, I do not drive! Should I take this risk? Are these good people? What if…….? And so on…….Many questions came to my mind especially being a woman.   But then, I decided that alright…..enough of thinking……….I should go for one and see how I feel.

The next question was which one to do? I did not know a single thing about trekking and gear list involved. That time in the meet up group I saw that a night hike meant to view the sunrise from the Old Rag mountain, Virginia was getting organized. This was it. I wanted to do it. It was a group of many hikers…….really many. We did carpooling (something that I could never imagine doing) and reached the trail head at almost midnight. Everything was new for me that time – the country, the people, the culture, the society and the type of activity, as well. But, as it turned out, I liked the people, I liked the company, I liked the fresh air, the darkness of the mountain, the thrill……every moment of the hike. The sunrise…….Ah! I decided, yes, I love this!   And, the journey started.

After this first hike, I did several day hikes before I did some weekend backpacking trips in Virginia and Southwest Virginia with Washington Backpackers. Then I came to know about the DC-Ultralight group. I wanted to do serious mountain treks/hikes with full of challenges and definitely risks. It was this group where I was taught to be methodical and independent on mountains. I kept doing all kind of hikes with them starting from low mileage to moderate to extreme hikes. Very soon, I realized that I have changed a lot.  My endurance level increased a lot and I was getting crazy about mountains.

Between, 2013-2015, I did many… REALLY MANY hikes with them. Even though I returned to India in July 2015, by then I had done many section hikes of the Appalachian mountain/Massanutten mountain, many weekend backcountry hikes in Virginia and Southwest Virginia regions like the Roaring Plains, Dolly Sods, Double Top mountain, Canaan mountain, Catoctin mountain, Mill mountain, Big Schloss, McAfee Knob, Tinker Cliff, Dragon’s Tooth, Cranberry Wilderness, Mount Rogers, North Fork mountain, AT-Mau-Har trail, southern SNP, the Tuscarora trail, Great North mountain, so on and so forth. I loved the foothills trail running from South to North Carolina. Then I got the opportunity to taste the mountains of New York. The first one was Devil’s path. I was told that it’s very tough and risky and I should be careful. Yes, it was. But I did it. I successfully finished United States’ one of the most difficult hikes.

Tibett Knob, Virginia.
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia.
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia.
The Adirondacks, New York.

Then I followed my passion and did many peaks of the Adirondacks range.  East Coast was not enough for me and so I went to other parts of the country with different groups of hiking friends and hiked the Rocky mountains, Colorado; the wind river traverse in Wyoming; the famous rim to rim hike in the Grand Canyon, Arizona; Olympic National park in Seattle; Mount Rainier up to the Muir base camp in the Washington state and the Burroughs mountain of Washington state.  All these – in less than 2 years.  As I kept hiking I realized that I like high altitudes more, the snow covered peaks and the beauty of the mountains above tree line.

Olympic National Park, Washington.
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona.
Wind River Traverse, Wyoming.

Then in July, 2015 I came back India. We have Himalayas. I had to try. Himalayas have completely different terrain, very unstable weather, more dangerous on high altitudes and definitely majestic. So, I went for a 12 day high altitude trek in the state of Himachal Pradesh, the Bara Bhangal trek that involved two high mountain passes of almost 14,000-15,000 ft altitude, the Kalihani pass and the Thamsar pass. We were a group of just a few trekkers and out of them I knew one who studied in the same institute from where I did my PhD.

This is one of the most remote treks in India and we did it. I was extremely happy. The view that one can get from these high mountains is just breath taking. No, I could not stop here. In fact, now it’s time to explore more and explore higher. This year, after all the preparations, I went for a semi-technical climb of Stok Kangri, in Ladakh region of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. This is a 20,080 ft high summit of northern Himalayas, the highest in the Stok range. It was a serious expedition as the altitude falls under extreme high altitude range. With a systematic ascent I could successfully be at the top of the summit.  It’s beyond my vocabulary to explain how I felt. This was an achievement.

And the journey continues.

Who or what inspires you to trek?

Mountains attract. They are addictive and keep calling back. The beauty, the massiveness, the sense of achievement after a successful summit or after successful finish of a trek, everything inspires me to do more and not stop. When I stand surrounded by those massive snow peaks and weather doesn’t follow the rules, I feel how tiny I am and how big mother nature is. So, shake off all those unnecessary ego, overconfidence and what not…….here I am nothing but a tiny part of this huge universe. Mountains teach to be human, to share, to live, to smile, to enjoy, to respect nature and to trust each other. When the same mountain allows us to stand on top of one of her peaks, she says…….hey, see, you can do it….this is success! Being a woman, this feeling of achievement is a huge driving force.

What do you like the most about hiking or the outdoors?

Hiking lets me see nature at its much unaltered/ minimally disturbed form and offers me with a feeling of success. This success is something very different than materialistic success. Above all,trekking brings tremendous peace of mind and boosts my confidence level. Even if no one is there for you, nature will always be there. I always feel that mountains make me feel that I am important, I am worth it.  Every time I visit her, she asks me to come back and talk to her, whatever I want, whenever I want. She has so much to offer but for that I need to keep going back.

Apart from walking on the trail or climbing the passes/peaks I also love mountain photography and thus every time I trek, I shoot lot of photographs.

Upasana proceeds to tell us about her most important treks thus far.

I will tell you about not one but two of my favorite treks that I did in India as I can’t pick one out of them. These are (i) Bara Bhangal trek, Himachal Pradesh, India (12 days) (ii) Stok Kangri expedition, Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir, India (9 days). I went for Bara Bhangal trek in the month of October and Stok Kangri, between end of August and early September. The reason I attempted these treks are the challenge levels. These are challenging treks. Additionally, Stok Kangri is a summit climb of a 20,  080ft mountain top that is the highest of the Stok Range of the Himalayas.

Bara Bhangal Trek

Bara Bhangal is a very less explored trek. Not many people attempt this. The trek is 12 day long and difficult but what you experience is majestic. The two passes that one has to traverse, the Kalihani and the Thamsar, will drain out the energy from you but once you start feeling like you are now completely drained out, it’s when you realize that you reached the top and then look up to see the heaven. Tons of high Himalayan peaks show up in panoramic form and you now feel all of a sudden that the energy you lost is back again.

Bara Bhangal.
Kalihani Pass.
Thamsar Pass.
Thamsar Summit.

Stok Kangri Trek

If weather is clear, from the summit of Stok Kangri, one can see the higher Karakoram range and even K2. There is a massive glacier that one has to cross after the second base camp of Stok Kangri and that part of the journey is glamorous. However, the summit climb of Stok Kangri is a night ascent, hence one can actually see the glacier only while returning.

Stok River.
Stok Kangri Basecamp.
Glacier after Stok Kangri Advanced Basecamp.
Stok Kangri Summit.

What did you wish to get out of this journey? What personal goals did you have and to what extent did you achieve them?

I am a person who just wants to see very high mountain peaks as closely as possible. I enjoy taking challenges and going through difficult conditions to ultimately view something majestic. The only goal I had was to go for extreme high altitudes to see high peaks, cross glaciers and travel through high mountain passes and snowfields full of crevasses. Of course, when I return I wanted to have plenty of photographs to show everyone what I saw, what you can’t get in cities or low lands.

What lessons did you learn from this trek?

I learnt that one should not get demoralized because many people could not finish a particular trek…..rather you should trust your abilities. Being mentally positive and being happy on the trails, both are very important. Instead of trying to finish a trek, one should try to live the trek and enjoy it.

If you were to do this trek again, how would you do it differently, if at all?

I think I did pretty much what I could. But, more the fit one is, the better it is. So, I would definitely exercise harder and try to improve breathing efficiency even more considering the thin air that one faces at extreme high altitudes.

What piece of advise would you give a female who is thinking about doing this trail based on your experience?

I would definitely say that one must at least give it a try ……..and do not underestimate yourself.

Upasana talks about her toughest trek, which happens to be Stok Kangri for obvious reasons.

There are many tough treks that I have done, each challenging in one respect or the other. However, Stok Kangri was most challenging because of the extreme altitude of 20,080 ft accompanied by bad weather. Many participants had to turn back because of altitude mountain sickness sooner or later, in some cases milder and in some others harsh. The pace of an athlete would not necessarily help in such altitudes.  It’s the discipline and slow but steady ascent that counts. If you hurry, you will be in trouble. Being slow, acclimatization, drinking lots of fluid, eating well, and honesty make the difference.

Someone told me in the beginning of the trek that hardly 50% of the total participants can actually finish Stok Kangri. That was not nice to hear. Also, I am not a very thin person. Plus, I am a woman. But, I kept my confidence level high and did everything that I could. I worked hard on acclimatization, kept my spirit up and that was my key to the successful climb of Stok Kangri.

What other treks do you have on your bucket list?

Oh, many…… I would require lots of buckets. However, some of them are Kalindi Khal, Pin Parvathi pass, Annapurna Circuit, Chamser Kangri, Goecha La, Auden’s Col, Panpatia Col, Everest base camp till camp 2 i.e. crossing the Khumbu ice fall and back and the Siachen Glacier trek for civilians that is organized every year by the India army.

I want to explore more semi-technical peaks of altitude 20,000 ft and more. I am also looking for sponsors for my treks so that I can accomplish more and write about such expeditions.

What is your favorite hiking gear?

They are two: (a) My hiking shoes as that keeps my foot (most important for the journey) safe (b) my backpack as that is required to store the essentials for a multi-day exploration in the rugged mountains.

Have you run into any challenges personally as a female hiker? 

As a female hiker my experience regarding issues that I faced is similar if I compare India and USA. Generally speaking, women are considered less efficient as compared to men whether it’s here in India or the western world (of course, the extent of this type of thinking is of lesser degree in western countries). Let’s talk about hiking alone. I found that a lot of women engage in this hobby. However, if you are interested in high altitudes or multi-day treks, the number of women participants decrease with the increase in number of days and increase in altitude. So, if I am looking for a female company, my chances are low.

Being a woman, I am confident. I fight for the rights of a woman. However, I do have to accept that nature herself has made man and woman different. On the trail, some women can be very fast just like their male hike mates while others can be slower but not inferior as far as endurance is concerned. Lot of times I felt that when I trek in a group of men only or mostly, it’s hard for them to understand that a woman who is slower than them is not necessarily less efficient or is feeling unwell. It is just that she hikes little slow but can hike as much as the others do.

Then, we women have health related issues that we need to consider seriously. If needed, we should have someone to share our problem with. It is a little harder when you do not have other female hiking friends in the group. I have faced this once and I had to take medication and wait on the trail itself in an isolated place where the other group mates went ahead. I waited alone for almost half an hour before I could get up and start walking again. This was way back during one of my initial backpacking trips and would never want another woman to go through. Hence, I would suggest every woman hiker to carry enough medicines and have them when required. Also, if you are not feeling well please tell your hiker friends whether female or male about your exact problem.

Lastly, women always are at the risk of harassment/ misbehavior. I generally keep a knife for emergency use and always maintain distance from suspicious people.

Upasana gave us an in-depth insight on some of the challenges as a female hiker including the pace difference between men and women which I completely relate to as generally men tend to go on a faster pace.  In any event, we ought to listen to our body and learn to respect our own abilities for safety reasons regardless of the pressures from our fellow hikers.

Moving on to the trekking world in India – what are the best areas for trekking in India?

For someone who likes snow peaks, I suggest trekking in the northern and eastern Himalayan ranges in India. The terrain is different in each of these areas. While extreme north (e.g. Jammu and Kashmir) is arid, as you move towards eastern India, the mountains are greener. Each type of the terrain has its own beauty. Ladakh (in Jammu and Kashmir), Himachal Pradesh, Uttaranchal, Darjeeling (in West Bengal) and Sikkim are some of my favorite destinations.

How would you categorize the hiking/trekking in India?

In India you will find hiking choices of all sorts, non-technical and easy, moderate, non-technical but very difficult, semi-technical, and of course, technical. Some high peaks such as Stok Kangri and Chamser Kangri are semi-technical climbs where you need to trek till the base camp and some more before you need to get roped up and use your ice axe, crampons etc.

As far as elevation is concerned, the altitude can vary from nominal to extreme high altitudes above 20,000 ft. Trekking above 12,000 ft is very common here in India and thus for many treks hikers traverse through altitudes ranging from 11,000 to 16,000 ft. For those who like to go even higher, there are plenty of options.  The Himalayan terrain is not easy. The weather is also unpredictable.

Although many people opt to hike on their own, according to the government rules, Himalayan treks must be done by hiring a guide and you should have permits wherever required. Hence, trekking alone is not advisable. This is particularly important for high altitude treks as altitude mountain sickness is a common issue in Himalayan treks and guides become very useful in case of any sort of emergencies.

What treks would you recommend for someone who is doing treks in India for the first time?

If someone is new here, I would suggest doing Goecha La (in Sikkim), Roopkund (Uttaranchal), Rupin Pass (traverses from Uttarakhand to Himachal Pradesh), Har ki Dun (Uttarakhand), Chadar (Jammu and Kashmir), Bara Bhangal (Himachal Pradesh) (this is very remote and less explored) and Kuari pass (Uttarakhand). There are many more. These are only some of them. It also depends on individual interests. Like myself, I always look for very challenging treks at extreme altitudes and remote areas where risks are high, and of course, treks with good views. Some trekking companies conduct guided treks and these can be pre-booked. People who are trekking for the first time in India, it will be advisable to book the treks beforehand.

Can people trek solo in India? If so, which areas?   What are the obstacles/challenges of solo trekking in India?

You can trek solo in India but with a guide. However, a group of 5-6 hikers is always better. Himalayan terrain should be taken seriously. As I said elsewhere as well, most of the Himalayan treks involve high altitude climbs in one or the other forms, for less or more duration. Mountain sickness is a commonly experienced issue. Weather is unpredictable. The trails in Himalayas are not well marked, especially at very high altitudes. Hence, even if you want to hike solo, please hike a guide who can help you out in difficult situations.

How does one obtain guides for treks in India for those areas requiring permits and guides?

Guides are mandatory in Himalayan treks. Those who don’t hire guides, violate the law. If caught, you can run into trouble. If you come here and decide to go for a trek unplanned, you can certainly still go for it. You need to get in touch with travel companies and they will assist you.

Are there factors that women should specifically know about when they trek in India?

Yes, being a woman, you have to be a bit more careful. That is why I suggest to be in group. If you still want to go solo, please get in touch with reputable trekking companies. They will take care of your safety. On your own hand, you should keep something for self-defense and emergency situations. Phones might not work on trails. Let the embassy or similar organization know that you will be out solo in the wilderness and share your travel logistics with them.

Upasana encourages everyone, as I would, to experience trekking in India.  As my social enterprise, Peak Explorations, intends to scout the trails in India to promote local tourism, I plan to trek there one day and hope to cross paths with Upasana in her trekking paradise – the Indian Himalayas.

On one final thought, Upasana leaves us with her favorite quote in loving memory of her friend a beloved member of the Meetup hiking community of the East Coast and an inspiring Outdoor Woman’s Voice –

HUA DAVIS

“The whole secret of existence is to have no fear. Never fear what will become of you, depend on no one. Only the moment you reject all help are you freed.”

                                             -Swami Vivekananda

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Diversity Needs a Voice: Will You Speak Up?

America’s political and cultural landscapes are about to change in a drastic manner. The incoming new president of the supposedly most powerful nation in the world is set to initiate his leadership position in a matter of days. The very thought of it reignites my belief even more strongly than ever before in the importance of the role that writers, bloggers, creators, artists, musicians and all other sorts of dreamers play in advocating for diversity, multiculturalism and globalization.

I’m not going to lie. I’m scared for the future of America and anxious as to how dialogues and human interactions will go from here. Even the liberal nature of my locality, which happens to be the D.C. metro area, is ineffectively able to pacify my fears, so much so, that I get the nagging feeling that being apathetic is no longer a choice. In fact, in a place where marches, rallies and movements are common occurrences, my tendency to shy away from these events as they come to my area no longer feels okay. There’s guilt deeply seated within me ready to consume all of me for any future rallies that I avoid with no justifiable excuse.

I’m not saying we all should hold hands and sing, “Kumbaya.” Doing that will not create change unless we utilize our voices more effectively in our respective mediums. The next four years will likely bring tremendous change to people’s mentality about human rights, globalization, diversity, travels, and everything in between which in essence touches upon the very nature of our humanity —that of love and respect towards one another.

If you have a voice, which we all do, then now is the time to speak up. If you believe in the value of diversity in our society, then it’s time to incorporate that in your business, your publications, your personal dialogues with friends and strangers, your film projects, your artwork, your music, your blog, your travels and everything else in between. Silence is only acceptable for self-reflection and to further tap into internal inspiration. Other than that, to be silent on such issues is to be deliberately reckless and egregious as a human being which would utterly be detrimental to the human race, if we seriously hope to instill and advance mutual respect towards one another despite our differences.

I say all this to assert that now there’s a new form of guilt to contend with — one in which our inner being compels us to leave a critical mark and legacy in the advancement of human rights whether within America or beyond. So, as non-politicians and regular individuals, what can we do about it?

If reading books and articles on human rights are too dry of a reading for you, then there are simpler avenues for you to take to educate yourself and others. For one, travel outside the U.S. more. Talk, or better yet, write about your adventures in Pakistan or Iran so the world can be less judgmental of certain ethnic groups and refrain from labeling them as terrorists. Blog about the beauty of human interactions in remote countries that are predominantly of Muslim faith. Take photos of the wonderful human connections that you managed to develop. Let your photos depict the innate goodness of people from any parts of the globe. Create art or music that sends out a positive message on inclusiveness. Collaborate with diverse individuals to advance your business enterprise.

Artists, musicians, storytellers, dreamers, entrepreneurs, writers, bloggers, and whatever voice you may have at your disposal — we all have a place in this movement. In fact, we have an important role to play and this is our time to rise to the occasion to perform our very best.

At this juncture, we can’t afford to overlook any opportunity to grow as individuals and to go beyond our prejudices as so much of humanity is, and will be, at stake for the years to come. There’s no room for apathy. Silence will only make it all worse. When apathy lures you, reject it, and focus all your energy to summon that part of you that values change, progress and humanity. Your role as a human being is now much more critical than ever before.

When it comes to diversity, it’s either you effect change to advance it or you subconsciously join the silent movement to destroy it. We all have that decision to make, whether we like it or not.

What will it be for you?

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HIKER’S PARADISE: Meteora, Greece

Welcome to HIKER’S PARADISE!

We’re glad you’re here!  This series is where you’ll find some of the best recommendations for places in the world to live in or visit if your passion has to do with spending time in the mountains.  Our featured hiker’s paradise is: 

METEORA, GREECE

by Romy of Brunette at Sunset

Before I get into the hiking trails, I have to tell you a bit more about Meteora. Meteora is an incredible phenomenon in Greece. A landscape where the wonders of nature and man meet. Rock formations form this landscape and monasteries were build on top of them. It is an UNESCO World Heritage Site for good reason. Monks had to climb the rocks to reach them as there where no stairs then. It somewhat of a mystery how they did it. They must have been incredible rock climbers, because the rocks are steep!

Many people come just to visit the monasteries, but this area has some of the most scenic hiking trails. You can walk the trails that monks may have used centuries ago. Some of the trails are more challenging than others, but they are all beautiful. This place feels magical and I’m sure the monks felt that magic and serenity when they build the monasteries. A couple of the trails lead up to one of the monasteries and a few up the rocks in the area. I’d highly recommend:

Aghio Pnevma

One of my favorite hikes was up the Aghio Pnevma rock, also known as the Holy Spirit. There are a couple of companies advertising hiking tours, but this is one you can easily do yourself. Our hotel staff told us we could do the trail in about an hour, but it definitely took us a lot longer than that. I’ll leave it up to you to judge if the hotel staff was wrong or if we were just out of shape;) The rock is situated in the middle of the valley. Early on in the trail you already get to see amazing views of the monasteries. When you continue you’ll eventually reach a gate, but don’t worry, it is open! You can just open the gate and continue. A rugged trail leads to the top where you can find caves that were once used as prisons for monks. Take a short moment to imagine what it must have been like for the monks to be locked up there, before you finish the trail. You’ll have to climb the last bit of the rock to reach the flag on top. From the top you’ll have breathtaking views in every direction.

How long do you need?

A lot of tour groups have stopover in Meteora for just a few hours, but they are crazy in my opinion! I would recommend at least 2 to 3 days. You need at least one day just to visit the monasteries and maybe do a tour to get to know the history of this magical place. There are a lot of incredible legends. The other days you can explore the hiking trails and view the area from a different perspective.

How to get there:

You will probably arrive in Athens. I would recommend booking the train from there. The train takes about 4 hours to get to Meteora. Just make sure you make the reservation well in advance, because they sell out quickly. We were the suckers that were too late to book the train and had to take the bus. The bus takes about 5 hours and is harder to get to. There’s no easy way to get to the bus station in Athens so we ended up taking an uber there.

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Fire & Zen: STROMBOLI

Stromboli was special. It always will be.  On my journey through Europe, I was trying to decide where I wanted to spend the last year of my being in my 30s.  Stromboli was my birthday peak.  I wanted something that wasn’t a major chain of mountains to trek; rather something a bit simpler. What can be more appealing than hiking up one of the most active volcanoes in the world to witness it spurt lava and smoke?  Hence, Stromboli.

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I was actually in the middle of trekking in the Dolomites when I went to Stromboli. In a way, it wasn’t the most efficient means of traveling as after Stromboli, I returned to the Dolomites to do the Alta Via 1 trail.  Nonetheless, I was very glad I took that break in terms of scenery.  I ended up spending time checking out Sicily as well, and some of the Aeolian Islands which were beautiful in their own right. Stromboli is one of the Aeolian Islands and so riding the boat is the way to get there.  Luckily, the island still has cheap stays for budget travelers like me as I found a dorm bed stay for less than $30 per night.  The rest of the options appears to be pricey.  As I settled into my dorm bed shared with 4 others, I booked a night hiking tour to the top of Stromboli.  One can easily book it via local operators in the main center of town.

I only had a few days to spend in Stromboli and the plan was simply to go hike up the volcano and witness the crater and lava.  I was told by the locals that Stromboli had been quiet lately and that there might not be so much to observe on the top. However, it turned out in reaching the peak of the volcano, I was treated to a few bursts of eruptions here and there as I stood with the crowd at a safe distance from the fuming crater.  In addition, the sun was setting behind the clouds.   After sometime just watching the fire show and the sun setting, we then descended with our headlamps via the volcanic scree-filled trail and made it back to town in no time.   The hike up started around 4 p.m. and it took 2 hours or so to get to the top.  The hike up was quite pleasant but the going down another path of very loose scree was a bit tough on the knees and you do it in the dark! My birthday could not get any better than that.

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Well, it did actually.  Stromboli had the ambience of a small community of nature lovers and adventurers.  I met some locals who used to be tourists themselves but fell in love with the island that they either decided to make the place their own or they frequented it so often over the years or decades that they had to proclaim themselves to be natives at this point.

IMG_20160520_112328Stromboli’s streets are narrow with a small town where everyone can be seen at the end of the day drinking or eating after a day of beaching or hiking.  There are plenty of sandy black beaches to be had.  I must confess I’m not a big fan of black sand beaches and I didn’t expect to like Stromboli’s beaches for that reason. However, I fell in love with the beaches in Stromboli. The water was so clear (even though rather cold) and something about that combined with the sand that comes from the volcano itself made it so “earthy” and “pure.”  The island’s inhabitants are unsurprisingly earthy themselves as they believe in preserving the beauty of Stromboli.  There are no cars in Stromboli – just golf carts.  In the event of an eruption, the locals have been trained how to evacuate the island for safety.  Conserving electricity and water is a must.  Time moves slowly in Stromboli, and in fact, it is such a small place that you can easily see everything in just a few days.  Beyond that, you will be living day to day on the same routine – hitting the beach, strolling into the town center to eat, and jogging/hiking around.  But that’s what makes Stromboli special.  One can indulge in silence and peace; the means to meditating and spending time within yourself.   And if you wish to know – no internet!  The inner peace was reflected back to me by the locals.  No stress in Stromboli, unless of course there is ever a major eruption.

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What strikes me about the people who have decided to make the island their home is how they seem to be excited and fueled by the notion of danger associated with living on this island.  Because of the potential for life to end anytime mother nature chooses so, they are living their lives in the moment and happy at that.  No one I encountered on this island talked about what they plan to do the next day or month or year.  They simply sat next to you and stared at the sunset or the water or the fumes coming out of the volcano.  Once in a while I made a mundane comment, “what a nice sunset,” to which the other replied, “but it’s always like that every night.”  “And what about the volcano’s fumes?”, I’d asked further to which the other would say, “Oh, she does her own thing…we can never predict.  That’s why I love it here.”  “Of course,” which I said with a smile.  “Me too.  I’d love to come back,” I thought to myself.

Compared to other parts of Italy, Stromboli doesn’t get as much tourism.  But if you manage to go which I think you should, I promise there is some major beauty to be had.  So, see the photos of the lava below, but better yet, see them in person if you ever get a chance.  It isn’t the easiest place to get to within the country but it is truly unforgettable in its own right.

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OUTDOOR WOMAN’S VOICE: Victoria “Vix” Harris

In the years I’ve been trekking, I’ve been wanting to use the activity itself as a means to an end, not only for the purposes of taking people to trek globally through my social enterprise, but also to support a cause and be an agent of “change.”  When I met Vix on one of the social media sites and learned about her project to do a solo trek  of a lesser known long distance trail in Jordan to raise money for Doctors Without Borders, I quickly gained interest in her project.

For one, I am a believer in utilizing our experience outdoors as a way to have a positive impact on others.  Secondly, Vix’s idea for a project is not new to me since I intend to do a trek of the Great Himalaya Trail in Nepal to interview women in the villages along the GHT as a way to share with the world their voices through a documentary or a book publication.  Knowing that such an endeavor requires determination, meticulous planning, stubborness and enormous amount of time, I can completely relate to Vix’s aspirations of supporting a cause while undertaking a major trek in the process.

Without a doubt, I admire her courage to pursue this on her own and her deliberate intention to make a difference in the world in doing so, especially in the current global state that we’re all in.  I’m excitedly anticipating the start of her journey which is set to commence in April, 2017 and will for sure be following Vix as she does a solo trek of a newly developed trail in Jordan.  Let’s hear from her directly about this project and her hiking life.

Feature Outdoor Women’s Voices


Victoria “Vix” Harris grew up in Scotland, but have been nomadic for the last 10 years.  At the time of her interview, she noted she’s in West Africa but then will be heading to Geneva before returning to Cape Town, where she will live for 3  months.  Currently, Vix is wrapping up some Ebola projects for work and planning an epic 640 km solo hike through Jordan to raise £6400 for Doctors Without Borders.

When and how did you start hiking?

I grew up in the Scottish Highlands, in Helmsdale, a small fishing village on the ocean and surrounded by hills. I was a very hyperactive kid and I was always running, jumping and climbing trees. I would spend hours walking along the beach or climbing up hills. I learnt basic mountain skills through the local army cadets and Duke of Edinburgh Scheme  but after I graduated, I stopped hiking and didn’t pick it up again until I moved to Australia.

Learning to hike was harder the second time around. I was older and more cautious. I wanted so much to do a multi-day hike and to do it solo, but I had talked myself out of it so many times, I was convinced that I couldn’t. That was until I stayed with an avid outdoors friend, who basically told me to get over it and go do it. He lent me a bunch of gear and drove me into the Australian desert and left me there with a promise to pick me up in 4 days at the other end. I walked, I got blisters and got scared and maybe I sat down and cried. But I got up and walked and camped and met other hikers who also had blisters and had been lost and wanted to sit down and cry. A few days later, my friend picked me up, handed me a cider and laughed at my blisters. I had survived. And I was excited to do more.

Wild camp on the Larapinta trail during my first solo hiking adventure, nobody else around, just me the stars and a rather loud red kangaroo who came by to wake me up in the morning.

What is your most memorable hiking experience to date? 

Every trip is memorable, there are moments from each hike that I find myself coming back to, time and time again but it’s the kindness of strangers and the camaraderie of other hikers on the trail which is most memorable. I’ve been offered shelter from the weather, taken into people’s homes or yurts, carried across rivers by donkeys, brought home-cooked food and shared many fires, whiskies and tall tales. Other hikers have taught me lessons simply by allowing me to walk with them some of the way. It hasn’t mattered which country I’ve been in or if I could understand the local languages, it’s the people I remember most. The kindness of new friends and total strangers has made me more generous and giving myself.

The kindness of strangers in Kyrgyzstan – I speak very bare bones Russian yet I was welcomed and very well fed.

Kindness of strangers- yes, I couldn’t agree more on that.  It’s a universal fact that people, regardless of where they’re from, are by nature willing to help whenever and however they can.  

What do you like the most about hiking?

I like to be alone and self-reliant. I like the feeling of conquering something difficult where I’ve had to overcome my own fears or push my limits. I love those moments when you experience something special and you are the only person there to experience it. It could be a stunning sunrise or a surprise animal encounter but that moment is yours alone.

What are some lessons you’ve learned from hiking?

The outdoors has taught me how small I am in the world. I stand and look at 6000 meter mountain peaks and I’m a mere speck. Yet I know the smallest things can be the biggest motivators. When you think you are too small and insignificant to direct change remember that the tiny Scottish midge can motivate anyone to change their plans! And if you have never had the pleasure of a midge swarm at your beautiful Scottish wild camp you are not missing out.

What advice would you give to those new to hiking?

Take some lessons, there are great resources out there, or start with a group. The success of your hike comes down to preparation and safety: you have to know how to navigate and how to cope with bad weather and injuries. Hiking should be fun but you have to know how to avoid problems and how to cope with the unexpected. Knowing you have those skills means you are free to relax and enjoy the walk.

Vix shares with us her favorite hiking photos.

Facing your fears – This picture just can’t convey the pain of arriving at this spot or how steep this final section actually is. 25kms at over 4000 meters in altitude, one dead horse and the final ascent is a scree bowl. I have nightmares about this kind of terrain, I’m convinced all the rocks will just keep sliding and I’ll be cut to 1000 pieces falling down the mountain. But it has to be done, even if I hate every moment of it.

At least the view from the top was amazing! 80km, 6 days, 5 people, 4 passes between 3500m- 4800m, 3 kg of chanterelle mushrooms,  2 sore knees, 1 trek

Scotland in May! Overcoming this section of my walk across Scotland in 2015 really boosted my confidence. (It helped that only a dozen km away was a pub with an open fire and a large Scottish breakfast!)

River crossing selfie – one of the biggest challenges of hiking solo is getting any good action shots. Kidding. In Scotland, you have to be prepared to ford a river or two, which comes with obvious risks, but makes you feel like an absolute champion when you cross it safely.

What treks do you have on your bucket list?

Greenland, the Arctic Circle trail, 170km. It’s remote, beautiful and I know almost nothing about Greenland so I want to find out more.  

You can read more about Greenland here.

The Cape Wrath trail is my nemesis. It’s the trail I most want to experience, it’s almost on my Scottish doorstep and it’s a massive challenge because being remote you need excellent hill skills and to be confident wild camping. Then there is the weather which can destroy the best laid plans on a whim. And if you survive that there are always the dreaded midges. 

More information on Cape Wrath can be found here. 

What challenges have you faced if anything as a female hiker? 

The most annoying thing on a trail is coming across a guy who thinks you shouldn’t be out there on your own. Oddly, these guys are usually on their own and that isn’t a problem, but they see me as a delicate liability. I’ve been told by an Australian ranger that I should turn back now as he doesn’t want to have to come out and rescue me later. I was 5 days into a multi-day trail, I had all the correct gear and nothing other than being female gave him the impression that I would get into trouble. I usually shrug and carry on, there is no point debating, and in the case of the ranger, I reported him at the park exit, the woman behind the desk knew exactly who I was describing. This was not the first time he has tried to send women back.

Ignoring the sexist ranger meant I got to enjoy this view during the only 5 minutes of sunshine on my 3 capes track walk.

Getting your period on a trail is challenging – do we talk about that?

Yes, YES! Please do so.  

The ethos of leave no trace includes sanitary products, and that means storing your waste and carrying it out, which let’s be honest, is a bit gross. I’m not a fan of menstrual cups as keeping them clean in the backcountry can be difficult, but others swear by them. If I can’t avoid hiking on my period I carry spare ziplock bags and make sure they are packed careful away from my food, then dispose of them when I reach civilization. But that is only half the problem, you won’t be able to keep the same hygiene standards in remote areas especially if water is scarce. Wet wipes are great, remember to carry out the waste too, it’s a pain having to carry extra weight and but nobody wants an unwelcome yeast infection or UTI.

Even finding a concealed spot on a trail to deal with these and bathroom issues can be difficult if hiking a busy trail or with others. Sometimes you just have to get on with it…. Or buy a she-wee.

Or a Go Girl which I personally took with me on my one year trekking trip.  Also, just so you know the ladies from Animosa have developed a solution to address some of the sanitary issues.  The hassles of being a woman on the trail are clearly self-evident.  

I’d like to move on to the future trek in the horizon for our feature.  Vix is set to trek  640 kilometer of the Jordan trail over a period of 30 plus days, which will commence in April of 2017.  This trek aims to raise fund for Doctors Without Borders.

Tell us about this upcoming trekking trip you have in mind?

I will be walking the 640km of the Jordan trail. it starts in Um Qais and ends with a dive into the red sea. The trail traverses the length of the country and one of the highlights is hiking into the ancient and world-famous city of  Petra. The trail was developed with the support of USAID and only opened in its entirety in 2016. So far, nobody has done the walk solo, (although I’m sure that will change before I get there) and only 3 women have completed the whole trail in one go. I’m going to do the whole trip on my own but I will take rest days especially in Petra so I can do some sightseeing and eat some of the amazing Jordanian foods.

You can learn more about the trail HERE. 

What is the itinerary like?

The trail should take me around 33 days to walk end to end and I hope I can do it in less time by using a light and fast approach. But, I don’t want to push myself too hard and fail early so I’ll play it by ear depending on the weather and how many of the sights I want to take in along the way. It could take up to 40 days.

What are the logistics?

When I arrive in Jordan I will have to pick up some last minute items such as stove fuel and then drive to Petra to drop of a resupply box and a number of water containers with a local guesthouse. Then I can drive back and head to the start of the trail in Um Qais. 

For the first time, I’ll have to navigate 100% using GPS as there are no detailed maps of the trail have been published yet. I’ll need to carry a backup GPS as well as new batteries. And a compass, just in case.

Tell us about the accommodations along the way? 

I plan to mostly wild camp, but also to regularly stay at guesthouse stays so I can shower and get an amazing cooked meal. The Jordan trail website has all the details for guesthouses along the route. I’m going to be carrying my sleeping bag, a bivvy bag, sleeping mat and yes, a pillow. Comfort is important on long walks so I’ll be able to camp when I find a nice spot or carry on to a village guesthouse.

I plan to stay a few nights in Petra, where I will spend my days visiting the Petra site and eating my way through the Jordanian menu!

How do you deal with the food and water?

For the first part of the walk, down to Petra, water and food can be found in numerous small villages which the trail passes through. Although I will still have to carry a lot of water, I expect it to be similar to hiking in the Australian outback where I carried 5L as standard – that really makes your pack feel like a brick after refilling everything! I am looking forward to the Jordanian food, I’ve just found out about Kanafah, a Middle Eastern cheese pastry soaked in sweet, sugar-based syrup, which I am super excited to try. I might actually gain weight while hiking!

For the second part I will need to hire a driver who is familiar with the trail, to fill water containers and drop them into the desert along the trail so I can refill when I walk to the spot. This will give me an additional safety margin in the remote region. During this stage I’ll rely on dehydrated foods and shed the extra weight gained in Petra.

Will you be receiving any help or support from anyone or any organization to accomplish this?

I’m not receiving any formal help but so far, everyone has been very helpful. The folks responsible for the Jordan trail are providing advice and contact details for drivers familiar with the trail and on social media several people have reached out and offered advice and help when I am in Jordan. Again, I’m relying on the kindness of strangers and I will welcome all the support I can get!

How did you come up with this idea of a trek/project?

I love to travel. I travel for work more than I stay home, but I needed a personal challenge and wanted to take on a new hike. At the same time I didn’t know where to go. Being a geek I set criteria, the hike had to be over 500km in length and in a country, I had never visited. When I thought about Jordan, I knew I’d found my next destination. The trail is new, but well-documented on their webpage, and not yet crowded with thousands of reviews of every step along the way. There’s still a lot to discover. Also the thought of walking into Petra, really grabbed my imagination.

In Swaziland.
In Ethiopia.
In South Africa.

What inspired you to do this?

I woke up and realized that if I want to see change, I have to act as if I can effect change – hence “be the change you want to see”. I hope I can reach out to others who want change, who want to help, but don’t know how. I’ll walk the walk so they don’t have to!

What is the purpose?

I want to “be the change I want to see.”  To me, that means doing something more than clickbait social activism.  I want to walk the walk and not talk the talk. I can’t just sit and watch as the world builds walls and demonizes groups of people. I can’t solve those issues myself but I can do more than repost angry tweets by raising money for a cause I believe in so people with the right skills can reach and help more people.

Why are you doing this SOLO as opposed to group?

I’m doing this solo because I prefer to walk alone, although I’m not sure I could persuade any of my friends to come along if I asked them. They all support me, but mostly they think I’m a little crazy.

Have you hiked solo before? 

I usually hike solo as a preference, I’ve walked across Scotland and several Australian trails. I love setting up for a wild camp and being the only person around, where possible I use a bivvy so really can sleep under the stars.

How would you measure the success of this project?

Initially, I thought I would aim to raise £640 just £1 per KM of then trail, but my mum hearing my plans, offered to donate £500, basically my wedding fund, to the project. At first I thought she was offering to donate it if I didn’t do the walk! But happily it turned out she is really 100% behind me. Then my friends and family chipped in more and I broke the initial £640 in a few days. So now I am aiming to raise £10 per Km I have to walk, a total of £6400.

What do you hope to accomplish on a more personal level?

Other than raising funds, I want to have fun, I want to enjoy Jordan and meet people along the way. I want to do the walk safely and dive into the Red Sea at the end of the trip. I want to walk every step of the way, so no cheating and hitching when the trail follows a road! Safety first, then fun will come and completion is a bonus.

What do you anticipate to be the challenges? 

The biggest challenge for me is being active and engaged on social media and contacting people to support my cause. I’m a science nerdy lab rat, not a social butterfly, so I don’t have a huge media following, I’m not famous and I’m not setting out to climb Everest or Kilimanjaro which everyone has heard of. But I have set a huge goal which I won’t reach with donations from friends and family alone so I have to be bold, loud and proactive. And that is scary. But I’m putting myself out there anyway and I’m already surprised by the generosity and kindness of strangers.

It’s great news indeed to know how supportive folks are for this kind of project.  Given that there are tons of options for organizations to choose from in terms of fundraising, I wonder how she decided to support Doctors Without Borders (or Medicines Sans Frontiers).  Her response echoes my own sentiment about the current struggles around the world and the feeling of helplessness and search for empowerment as individuals.  

I didn’t decide to raise money for Medicines Sans Frontiers/Doctors without Borders until after I knew I wanted to hike the Jordan trail. I was frustrated at the world and feeling powerless in the face of Brexit, the American elections, the war in Syria, the escalating humanitarian crisis in Burundi and so many other terrible situations. I can’t personally change these things, But I can donate to an organization that helps people around the globe and that shares my values. I’ve worked with MSF three times and seen firsthand that almost all money donated to MSF goes directly to saving lives, instead of big salaries or fundraising appeals. They won a Nobel Peace Prize for their work but they still need more support to help more people. Because of their neutral and independent stance, they do not accept money from governments, and instead they rely on the public. As some governments build walls and fences and cut aid spending, MSF will become more and more vital to those in need.

You can read more about the reasons why Vix is supporting Doctors Without Borders via this ARTICLE. 

Curious and wish to track Vix’s project before the trek?  She’s put in some serious time to create this outline below.  

Vix is raising the funds through JUST GIVING. 

She’s also hoping to raise some funds from personal collections after the trek by giving a couple of talks which have yet to be arranged. All funds raised will go directly to Doctors Without Borders or MSF.  Not one penny will be spent by Vix to fund her trip.  She also intends to add to the donation funds any gratuities she receives during the trek via free food, accommodation and other expenses as saved cost.

How can individuals support you on this project?

You can support by sponsoring me per KM for just £10. In return you can request something from me on the trek.  For example, I can dedicate KM 100 in your name as posted on my social media, or you can ask for a specific picture at a certain place, or challenge me to do 20 push-ups on film when I reach your KM. You can be creative, as long as it’s respectful.

To support Vix’s project, you can either help her through spreading the word about her project or via donation HERE It’s a secure website and donations from UK have a bonus 25% gift aid tax relief that allows UK charities to reclaim an extra 25% in tax on every eligible donation made by a UK taxpayer.  

Make sure to follow Vix’s journey via her blog, Vix’s Jordan Jaunt and through Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Vix’s aspirations are truly inspiring.  I wish her the best, and the most life enriching adventure yet as I look forward to interviewing her again after her off the beaten path trekking experience! Until then…hit those trails, enjoy the journey to the fullest and leave nothing behind except a positive impact on the world.

If you know of an outdoorsy woman who you think should be featured on the OUTDOOR WOMEN’S VOICES SERIES (yourself included), please see THIS LINK to find out how to be a part of it.

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I Turned 40 and Became a Superwoman

My costume as a superwoman. Watch out for my walking sticks.

“40”

What a scary number for most women. Well, in 2016, 40 came to my life and stayed. It looks like it’s not going anywhere either.

While most women struggled transitioning out from their 30s and transitioning into “40,” my circumstances were highly unlike most, and for that, I’m grateful. Before turning 40 myself, I heard heart-wrenching stories from women about their harrowing experiences with it. The difficult transition can be minor, chronic or severe. I recall a female friend who was having difficulty with the notion as she was single, never married and without kids at the age of 40. Her choices in life were driven by desperation and overwhelming need to feel good that ultimately led to her own pain and suffering. To receive some form of validation, she engaged in this unhealthy habit of dating men who were married or already in relationships. Little did she know, that cycle wasn’t going to get her a long-term commitment from anyone — the very core of what she desires.

That friend’s approach to life never left my mind. Partly, it’s because witnessing her go through a tough time with the age made me wonder if I’ll go through a similar unpleasant situation. The thought scared me. Subconsciously, over the years, I have kept that image of her in my mind as a contrast to how I wish my transition into the 40s to be.

In my case, I turned 40 while camping and hiking with friends in Acadia, and like my friend — single, never married and with no kids. There was no real celebration as on my actual birthday I was on the road driving back to Washington, D.C. As expected, people sent me their birthday wishes in various forms, but all in all, there were no fireworks to celebrate the milestone, which is exactly how I intended it to be.

Internally, however, it was a different experience altogether. There was a sense of peace and calmness within me and yet a loud voice saying, YES! Quite frankly, turning 40 felt like a major achievement in my case because despite all the dangerous solo trekking I did the past decade, I successfully made it to 40, nonetheless. I also felt rather enlightened by the many lessons I have learned both on my travels and in my regular life. I even managed to write about the 40 lessons I learned on my blog to celebrate my entry into the 40s zone. In essence, I had no fear whatsoever when 40 entered my life. Instead, I felt tremendously excited about the new decade settling in. In my mind, it only means more adventures to come for a wiser and more mature version of myself.

So, as you can see, my reaction to 40 was different from how my friend reacted. It wasn’t an overnight process. My 30s involved making mistakes and learning, getting hurt and growing, and even hating myself in order to finally love myself. When you figure out a way to the path of becoming a self-made individual, you then discover your powers to create your own world that is aligned with your true essence. This then develops your ability to dismiss any negativity in the external world.

In other words,

You no longer have the urge to please everyone or even anyone for that matter. You learn to value pleasing yourself. You no longer feel obligated to look, act or speak as dictated by society. You are 100% YOU. You no longer follow other’s desires. You only follow yours. You no longer judge others. More importantly, you no longer judge yourself. You no longer fear anything or anyone but fear itself.

This all leads me to say, “40 turned me into my own hero.”

By permitting yourself to embrace the person you are now and in the future, you dive into a version of freedom that only a handful of humans can relate to. You become fully awakened by your potential to expand and create your own path. You become your own superhero — in my case, a superwoman.

Forty can be an enlightening moment — a moment to be your own version of a hero to yourself so you can be of service to others and beam light on people’s lives in the darkest of days.

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OUTDOOR WOMAN’S VOICE: Andrea of Andy in the World

We, hikers, are more similar than we think.  If you ever doubt that, please let me give you some arguments to support that statement.

I took one year to travel and trek.  Andy did as well.

I have trekked the Inca Trail.  Andy has done the same.

In fact, I’ll add Mont Blanc in Europe, Torres del Paine in Chile, Banff in Canada, Haleakala National Park in Maui and Yosemite.  We both have trekked in those places.

Add Kilimanjaro, South Africa and Nepal, which I’ve been to.  These three are on Andy’s bucket list.

Obviously, Andy and I have similar tastes when it comes to mountains.  Not only that, but we are also both fortunate to be part of the same supportive community of female hikers called Hike Like a Woman.  And, I’m quite happy to add, Andy is also part of the Don’t Date a Girl Who Treks project.  Who knew there is such a thing as being twins in the trekking world?  Well, now you know.  With all that said, I’m excited to share Andy’s hiking story.  She’s truly an adventurer and a source of inspiration; hence, I’m thrilled to have her featured on this series.   After all, Andy has already inspired a significant number of people.  Need some proof of that?  Check out her Facebook page and see for yourself her number of followers.

Feature Outdoor Woman’s Voice

Andrea “Andy” Buzeta is from Kennesaw, GA who currently resides in Canton, GA.   Andy is back in the working world after a full year of traveling and hiking.  But not for long.  She already has some adventures in mind. Her next trip will be in Colorado for a week of hiking in the Rocky Mountain National Park.   Locally, Andy hikes around North Georgia mountains, metro Atlanta and the Smokies.  She usually takes 1 to 2 hiking trips a year abroad or to a U.S. National Park.  When off the trails, Andy loves traveling that entails experiencing other cultures and cuisines.  She’s also fond of biking, kayaking, salsa dancing and reading.

How did you discover hiking?

I first started hiking 8 years ago- 2008. I had moved from the city (Atlanta) to the country (North Georgia) when I had first got married to my then husband. I was bored and having culture shock because there was nothing to do- no crowded bars and nightclubs, no international restaurants, it was even hard to find a gym. While I was out driving one day, I found Amicalola Falls State Park and hiked some of the trails.  Upon hearing that the Appalachian Trail starts there and goes all the way to Maine, I was fascinated!  Also the 2 mile loop I did with 600 stairs in the middle made me realize that I was out of shape!  It became my goal to be able to do that 2 mile loop without feeling like I was going to die.

What is your most memorable hiking experience to date?

My most memorable hiking experience to date was my trip to Chile in January 2015.  It was supposed to be a 6 day backpacking trip called the “Trail of the Neighbors”, trekking Chile’s famous Futaleufu River Valley.  The trip would depart from near the little town of Futaleufu and take me to a camp located at the confluence of the Futaleufu and Azul rivers.  It would be a circumnavigation of the Teta peak along side the Espolon lake, while experiencing deep immersion of Patagonia culture with homestays in remote ranches. Well, that’s what I went to do.  But I ended up on an expedition from the Andes to the Ocean on horseback, because the route was too dangerous on foot. A volcanic eruption a few years before had left the route too dangerous, with rivers unsafe to cross on foot.  I later learned that this was a bucket list trip for horseback enthusiasts. I had never even rode a horse before. It was way out of my comfort zone to trust an animal to carry me up high mountain passes and to cross rushing rivers.

That’s quite a surprise – from walking to horse riding!  That’s why it’s memorable indeed.  

What do you like the most about hiking?

What I like most about hiking is the mental meditation that it is for me.  It completely clears my head and rids me of my anxieties.

I couldn’t agree more with that.  To me, the meditative part is the most alluring aspect of hiking.  

Do you enjoy hiking solo or with others more?

It depends.  I enjoy hiking solo more as a general rule, when I am just going out for a hike on the weekend.  On trips, especially international trips, I enjoy the group comraderie, meeting like-minded people from all over the world, and sharing the experience.

What are some lessons you’ve learned from hiking?

First, to be truly present in the moment.  Put away the IPhone. Put one foot in front of the other, breathe in and out, see the sights, hear the sounds, smell the scents around you.  Second, some things seem impossible when really they aren’t, it is just your brain telling you so. For example I look at a pass and think wow, there is no way I’m going up and over that. But you just put one foot in front of the other and next thing you know, you’re there!  Third, when you’re lost and cannot find the way, sometimes prayer really is what works.

What advise would you give to women who are new to hiking?

1) Always go prepared- with water, rain gear, etc. 

2) Don’t not go hiking because you don’t have anyone to go with, go alone anyway. Start at your local state parks and get comfortable there, then you will have more confidence to venture out for hikes in other places.

Please share with us your 3 favorite hiking photos and the reasons why they are your favorites.

This is in Banff National Park, Canada, in July of 2014.  This was the day I went over my first real high mountain pass. I was very happy because I had accomplished something new. The scenery around me was so very beautiful!

This is going up Macchu Picchu Mountain in Peru, in April 2016.  This was a very challenging hike, because you have to climb 2000 stairs above 10,000 feet in altitude.  The air was thin and it was hot and humid.  But about halfway through I got this crazy second wind and zipped up to the top!

The next picture is from the Tour du Mont Blanc in August 2015.  This was right near the border of Switzerland and France. Our group was about to close the loop we started 10 days before. The weather was just gorgeous this day and I was enjoying every moment.

With all these beautiful trekking experiences you’ve had, what other treks do you still have on your bucket list?

I would like to do a trek in Nepal in the Everest region or Annapurna region.  I would also like to do a trek in Africa- either Mt Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, or something in South Africa.

What is your favorite hiking gear and why?

I love my Merrell Moab Waterproof shoes.  They have taken me all over the world.

Andrea shares with us 3 favorite trails.

In July 2016 I took a trip to Yosemite National Park in California and did day hikes for 6 days.  My favorite hike was the Panorama trail, which starts at Glacier Point, passes Nevada Falls, and ends in Yosemite Valley.
 

In February 2016, I took a trip to Hawaii (Maui and Lanai) and did day hikes for 6 days.  My favorite hike was the Sliding Sands trail in Haleakala National Park, which is a dormant volcano.  The terrain of this place is the closest you can be to walking on another planet!

In October 2015, I hiked a 100 kilometer section of the Camino de Santiago in Spain, starting in Sarria and ending in Santiago de Compostela.  The Camino is an ancient pilgrimage route to the shrine of the apostle St. James the Great in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in northwestern Spain, where tradition has it that the remains of the saint are buried.   This walk was 8 days, 2 of which were in the pouring rain.  This hike really tested me.  Even though the terrain was flat and much easier than trekking in the mountains, the 2 days of rain and amount of time walking on concrete really took its toll on my feet.  This was also my first solo trek.  On others I have typically gone with a group.  It was a great experience.

What was the toughest hike or trek you have done?

It was actually the section I did of the Camino de Santiago in Spain.  It was physically more challenging to me because walking on flat terrain, sometimes paved, for longer distances was harder on my feet and legs than walking up and down mountains all day. I got leg cramps that I had never had before. I walked 2 full days in very heavy rain so I got blisters also. It was also mentally challenging. I expected to be meeting and connecting with lots of people, but the rain had everyone just trudging along only focused on getting to the next town. This was also my first solo trek, so when my phone died from getting too wet, it did increase my anxiety.

Yikes!  That is one heck of a blister.  I do agree with flat paved paths as a challenge.  I’ve had that same issue in the past myself as it can be mentally challenging due to the lack of variety of the trail.  

Have you run into any challenges personally as a “female” hiker?

 No, not really.  On one of those really rainy days walking on the Camino, I did have a man pull over and offer me a ride to the next town.  I asked the pair of hikers behind me and the pair in front of me if he had offered a ride to them and they said no.  I’m pretty sure it was just a nice person offering me a ride, but being a female alone, my guard was up and I declined.

One last thing, Andy leaves us with her favorite quote from one of my favorite authors to inspire us all.

“If you get tired, learn to rest, not to quit.” 
                                       – Paulo Coelho

Andy manages to document all her adventures via her blog,  Andy in the World which launched in August of 2015.   In her blog, she documents not only the treks that she has done but also her non-trekking travels.  I do enjoy the fact that she is eclectic in that she does combine her love of the mountains with regular traveling.   With us being so similar in tastes and with my social enterprise (Peak Explorations), I get the sense our paths will cross sooner than later, and that’s something I look forward to!  Until then, you and I can follow Andy via her blog to see what mountain trails or cities she’s exploring.  And if you did end up checking her Facebook page earlier, you would then have discovered that she has over 17,000 followers!  Proof enough of her being a source of inspiration in the traveling and trekking world.

You can follow Andrea via her blog, Andy in the World and social media:  Facebook 

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FREEDOMPRENEUR: Cory of You Could Travel

Most of us can only imagine of a traveling lifestyle where one gets to travel frequently and have the financial resources to do so.  In the brief period I’ve been writing and connecting with other bloggers, it became apparent to me that there is a huge community of nomads, expats, lifelong travelers of every kind.  In the Freedompreneur series, my hope is to debunk the myth that it is close to impossible to live a life filled with travels.  With creativity, passion and perseverance, many aspiring nomads do achieve their dream of a traveling lifestyle.  This achievement is exemplified by our feature Freedompreneur, Cory Varga, from You Could Travel, a website that provides travel inspiration and advise.

Dreamy in Madeira, Portugal.

Brown Gal Trekker Meets Cory

When diving into the world of travel blogging, one can easily lose his or her way.  I don’t blame you.  It’s a rough blogging world, after all.  By luck, I met Cory via one of the blogger groups when I posted my search for features for the Freedompreneurs series.  Unbeknownst to Cory, I did know of her even before then due to an article she wrote that caught my attention.  The article,  aside from being well-written, somehow left an impression on me.  Her article spoke of the hurdles that bloggers face, and despite of it, deciding to to take the higher ground, nonetheless.  As a new blogger, I have yet to get a full understanding of how collaborations work with fellow bloggers.  Cory provided an opening for me to get somewhat of a view of how that world works.  Since reading that article, I have always kept Cory’s advise nearby as a resource for future mishaps in the world of blogging.

Cory Varga of You Could Travel

Nature in Seychelles.

Cory Varga is a Romanian born British citizen from Bristol, UK.  She   grew up in Bucharest, Romania.  She was an only child which enabled her “to keep all treats for herself and not having to share them with siblings (haha!).”  According to Cory, she had a very happy childhood as her mother dedicated 7 years to stay home with her, raise her and teach her about the world. As a child, they used to travel to the seaside and mountains a lot, which she believes made her the traveler that she is today.

Cory loves writing and photography.  She always had some sort of inclination towards arts, but her parents told her on many occasions that without mathematics and sciences, she can’t make a decent income. For many years, during school, she dedicated her time to learning mathematics and computer science, whilst using her spare time to visit art galleries, museums and read A LOT.   When she turned 18, she pursued her passion to learn languages whilst pursuing a degree in law with criminology. Years later, she settled for what she truly loves: design, photography and writing.  

Hence, it isn’t a surprise that You Could Travel came into existence.   Cory is a UX designer for her own digital studio in the UK, as well as, a travel blogger and photographer for You Could Travel, which she deems  as her epic soft adventure website.  Let’s learn more from Cory about her enterprise and traveling life.

Are you still working a 9 to 5 job? 

The answer is not quite as a black and white. Together with my husband, I own a digital studio in the UK, whereby I am the creative force in the office. This is my main source of income and I absolutely love designing. As a hobby, I started writing on my travel blog about my travels, whilst sharing my photography with friends and family. A few months later, my blog took off and became my second source of income. I am now sharing my time between both businesses so in a way, I work from 8am till 11pm.

What are your current plans?

I want to continue to grow both 42droids (my digital studio) and my travel website, You Could Travel. I also want to focus more on monetizing my photography skills.

In Madeira’s Pico Ruivo.

I’m curious to know more about You Could Travel. What led you to start your travel website?

It all started at the end of March 2016 when I decided to write down everything about my trip to Japan. Before visiting the country, I found little information about what a foreigner should actually be aware of. Beyond the tourists attractions and a few Japanese words, there is a lot I wish I knew prior to my arrival. I wanted to share this with the world. My website has only honest information, and I only write about personal experiences. I make mistakes so others don’t have to.

What is the mission of You Could Travel?

To encourage others to travel safely, learn new ways to enjoy various destinations and avoid making the mistakes I made during my trips. I want to educate through my blog.

What type of content do you have on your website?

I mainly write about my travels to Japan as this is my main niche. I am obsessed with this country and one day I hope to live there. I obtain my content based on personal experiences and I usually spend at least a week figuring out a proper travel itinerary. I read other blogs, books and ask around what’s best, then tailor this to my own requirements.

What hurdles have you faced thus far with this project?

The competition is fierce and sometimes I feel that blogs are about who shouts the loudest as opposed to ethical and quality writing. In the end, great content and a solid business plans wins the race.

How did you overcome these hurdles?

I created a solid business plan, dedicated a lot of time A/B testing to ensure I know what works and what doesn’t. Also, I followed my gut and continued to create good content as opposed to short targeted articles.

Who or what helped you along the way to make your website a success?

I am grateful to several blogging communities from which I learned a lot about the business aspects of having a website. I spent a lot testing on my website to understand what works and I was not afraid to try new things. I kept an open mind and embraced useful advice.

Tell us more about your traveling life. How often do you travel?

I am keen on slow travel so I prefer to travel one month out of three, as opposed to travelling somewhere just for a weekend. As it stands, on average, I travel every month for at least a week.

Cory shares with us some amazing travel moments:

Mount Hiei when my husband proposed to me.

Tokyo arrival when we realized how amazing the city was.

Driving in Madeira because their roads are crazy narrow and sometimes close to 90 degrees upright.

How do you define success for You Could Travel?

The more visitors read my content, spend time interacting with my website and email me for further advice, the more successful I deem the website to me. Of course, I need to make a living so kind readers using my affiliate links make a difference, but I strongly believe that when people press that share button, it means my content left an impression. That is what my website was created for.

What have you discovered about yourself as part of this process?

I discovered that I love a good challenge and I am relentless until something works the way I want it to. I also learned to be more patient, because let me tell you, I usually want things to happen yesterday!

How do you manage to afford traveling?

As I mentioned before, I make a living from my digital studio. Together with my husband, we offer a lot of fantastic digital services which clients love. This leads to more recommendations, which translate to more clients and ultimately more revenue. Since we own the studio, we can work from anywhere and are location independent. We also get clients though You Could Travel which helps us a lot.

Do you have other future projects in mind? Tell us about it.

We are redesigning 42droids Ltd and we can’t wait to put the new website live very soon! I also want to launch my own ecommerce brand. Next year I will have a space on You Could Travel dedicated to photojournalism, through which I want to sell my photography. Now that is what I’m mega excited about! Want even more? I have almost completed my first book and going to Japan for a month to research for my second one!

What advise do you have to those who are thinking of pursuing their passion?

Stop dwelling, stop finding excuses and just take the first step. Don’t be abrupt and change your life all of a sudden, but it is important that you take the first step towards following your dream. One step will lead to another, and then another, and ultimately, this is how we all start pursuing our passion.

The coastline of Madeira.

Did quitting the 9 to 5 kind of career and working for yourself turn out the way you envisioned it to be? 

It really did. I was working a 9 to 5 job when I met my husband, already a freelancer who enjoyed a free lifestyle. Together we put together our digital studio and the moment we had our first client, I quit and never looked back since. There are a few downsides and you have to be cut for this lifestyle. Whoever tells you it’s all pink and flowers will lie to you. If you do it with you partner, you have to know you can work and live together almost 24/7. You have to be relentless and perseverant and know how to do your research. You have to be good with budgeting because you can have a huge contract today and nothing for 6 months down the line. It works for me and my husband and I would not do it any other way.

Are you living a life with more freedom now than before? 

Of course I am and it’s epic. I can take holidays whenever I want, budget the way I think is fit and have the flexibility to shop on a Thursday and work on a Sunday. Well, I do tend to work most of the time but that’s not a bad thing. The important part is that I can tailor my schedule to fit my needs and avoid busy times at the market, busy weekends in the mall or peak times on vacation. I can travel during the cheapest dates and work from anywhere in the world as long as I have internet.

Finally, any unique travel advise you can give everyone?

Don’t start travelling because you seek to discover who you are. Travel because you want to get to know the world, because I promise you one thing: by discovering the world, you will inevitably discover yourself.

To wrap it up, I asked Cory just a few more QUICK travel-related questions:

How many countries have you been to?

You know, I never kept count of this. Over 30 but the more you focus on quantity, you start forgetting about the quality.

What other countries are on your list?

Canada, Nepal and Mongolia.

Name one thing you miss the most when on the road?

My tea!

Which do you prefer? Mountains or city life?  

I’m an outdoors lover. I would take a hike up the mountains over shopping in a city any day.

Name 3 qualities that you think are the most important in accomplishing one’s dreams?

Patience, perseverance, relentlessness.

As you can see, choosing to live a traveling lifestyle is not as easy as one would think.  It’s possible as long as you are aware and open to the challenges that it brings.  Thanks Cory for the insight and encouragement!  I’m definitely looking forward to what the future holds for your project and mission.  Undoubtedly, you’re well on your way to your dreams, as we speak.

You can follow Cory via You Could Travel and her social media accounts: Facebook & Twitter.

If you wish to be featured or know of someone who should be, let Brown Gal know & email her at bgtrekker@peakexplorations.com

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Interested in joining solo travelers for trekking tours to Peru, Nepal, Kilimanjaro & many others?  See PEAK EXPLORATIONS.