All posts by BGT

FREEDOMPRENEUR: Sofie of Wonderful Wanderings

Living a life of freedom takes many qualities including persistence, faith, courage, among a few others.  But when you really think about it, even if your original plan to live a freedompreneur type of lifestyle doesn’t work out long term, you will always be okay no matter what.  Luckily for our feature,  Sofie, her leap of faith into the world of traveling full-time worked better than she anticipated and she continues on with her journey in which she’s able to sustain her traveling lifestyle.

Let’s hear from her directly on how she made this transition and how she’s able to make it work. She has a new project worth knowing about as well that has to do with chasing one’s dreams!  Sofie is from Belgium and is a full-time travel blogger and copywriter.

Sofie of Wonderful Wanderings

Before I dive into questions regarding your online business/project, tell us a little bit about your background and life growing up.

I’m afraid there’s not much exciting about my childhood. I grew up happily in a small Belgian town between the cities of Leuven and Brussels. My parents kick ass and my little brother’s not too bad either 😀 I went to the same school my entire childhood and teenage years before going to university in the city of Leuven, where I now live with my boyfriend.

What are your interests and passion in life?

Travel, obviously! And aside from that I love everything language-related. I studied Literature and Linguistics and am fascinated by how languages is used and how it changes throughout time. I love helping people put their ideas into words and crafting texts that do exactly what they need to do, whether that’s sell, inspire or inform.

Related to that, I also always loved reading fiction but have to admit I’ve let that slip ever since I started blogging. Most of the books I read nowadays are related to marketing.

And lastly, I love dancing. I’ve been taking dance classes for more than 10 years now and although I only dance a couple of hours a week, I wouldn’t want to miss it.

Are you still working a 9 to 5 job? 

Nope! I handed in my resignation letter December 1, 2014 and left the office February 5, 2015, less than a month before my 3-year anniversary at the office. The company I worked for was the Belgian branch of an international publishing house specialized in B2B publications concerning “dry matter”, as I call it: personnel policy, property management, business legislation… Basically everything that had to do with money and law for businesses.

I started there as a copywriter and marketing coordinator for the Flemish region of Belgium and the Netherlands, writing sales copy in Dutch and overseeing our direct marketing campaigns from creation until the moment they went to print. Later I transitioned to doing the same for our campaigns in France and Spain, with the difference that I then had local writers delivering the copy.

It was a very typical office 9-to-5.

How was the process like to quit something so stable?

Liberating, really. It was so unlike me to quit. I’m someone who hesitates for ages before taking a decision on just about anything and for most of my life, I’ve always taken the safe route. I did well in school, went on to study what I’d always planned to go study, found a job right after in-line with my studies and then… I got so terribly bored.

I launched WonderfulWanderings.com as a passion project but it soon turned into a way out. When I quit my job, I knew it had potential but I wasn’t nearly making enough yet to sustain myself. Yet I had the biggest smile on my face when I handed in my resignation letter and wasn’t nervous to do so at all. I’m pretty sure that was the first and only time in my life I did something important without dying inside.

In terms of finances, I did have savings. Being Belgian, it’s kind of in my blood to save up and I’d always been saving for something important. The first two or three months after quitting my job I used a bit of that money for living expenses, but quickly earned it back and I haven’t had to touch my savings since.

What are your current projects/business/plans?

I’ve just launched #Anydaysgood, a year-long project going against all those posts that tell you you need to visit x countries before you’re 30 or do y things before you’re 25. I want to tell people any day’s a good day to start chasing their travel dreams and to prove that life doesn’t end at 3° (I’m kidding, of course it doesn’t), I’ll be chasing 30 travel experiences I’ve always wanted to had but never went for while I’m 30.

While some of them are pretty “big”, like wanting to ride a hot air balloon, others are much smaller and personal, like wanting to spend a night out partying with a local somewhere.

The goal is to get people to create their own list of travel goals and to motivate them to check those of one step at a time, and to help them not to postpone those steps indefinitely 🙂

I’m curious to know more about your project (this can be a travel website, business etc). What led you to start this project?

A few months ago I was talking with a friend and she suddenly remarked that I should throw a party for my 30th birthday. I absolutely didn’t want to do that, but it did make me aware of the fact that even though it’s just a number, that birthday might be a good reason to start a new project and do something cool. When I later bumped into one of those “30 before 30” articles, I knew what that something had to be.

When did you launch your project?

I’ve actually just launched it as my birthday is February 12 so I’ll be doing the #Anydaysgood challenge from now until February 12 next year!

What is your project’s mission?

To inspire people to chase their dreams no matter where in life they find themselves and however silly they think those dreams might be.

What hurdles have you faced thus far with this project?

Because I only got the idea late November, it’s been a bit challenging arranging everything logistically. I was stressing about it rather badly in the beginning but now I’ve just decided to plan things as I go. I know I could just book everything, but as I don’t want this to be about having to money and time or not to go after your dreams, I’m also trying to partner up with some cool brands along the way. It adds a difficulty level – but I need to look out that it doesn’t become an excuse to postpone things!

How did you overcome these hurdles?

I’m still working on them 😀 As it’s a year-long project, I’ll be planning, traveling and reporting all-year-long. Maybe you should ask me again in 2018 🙂

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

So far I’ve gotten great responses from the travel community, which is really motivating.

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

My friends and family ask this all the time and I always say the same: it depends. Sometimes I’m home for a month and sometimes I make four different trips in a month. I really depends on the projects I’m working on, the assignments I get and my mood, really.

How does your project complement your passion for traveling?

It’s all about having special experiences while traveling the world. There are definitely things on the list I could do at home in Belgium as well, but that wouldn’t really be a challenge 🙂

Sofie shares with us her favorite travel moments.

My first trip to Los Angeles. It opened up a whole new perspective on life for me, making me realize there’s more than the traditional path I’d always envisioned I’d follow.

My trip to Quebec in winter with my Boyfriend. It was the first time I tried skiing and snowboarding and thus also the first time I really tackled my fear of heights. He’s passionate about winter sports, so this trip really allowed me to connect with him on another level while doing something I’d always been afraid to do.

Every first 15 minutes in a new city. No matter how much I hate the whole getting there part, as soon as I’m walking around in a new place, I’m reminded of how much I love to travel.

How do you define success for your project?

It’ll be successful if I manage to experience all the things on my #Anydaysgood list and inspire people to create their own list and go through the challenge together with me. Even if just one person has an experience they’ve always put off until now, it will have been a success.

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

It’s not really a discovery, but I’m quite the chicken. I love interacting with locals and doing new things, but I’m often too shy or not confident enough to take the first step. This project really forces me to get out of my comfort zone and do exactly those things.

How do you manage to afford traveling? 

As a travel blogger, I earn money in several ways. I do freelance travel writing for other websites and magazines, I work with travel brands and destinations on marketing campaigns, I have Adsense up on my site and I do a bit of affiliate marketing. Aside from that, I also do copywriting and the occasional translation work (English <-> Dutch).

What advise do you have to those who are thinking of pursing their passion that require quitting their 9 to 5?

Before you do, ask yourself if your passion can be a job and if you’re sure you even want it to be a job. Maybe you love doing what you do exactly because you do it in your downtime. Or maybe you’re crazy about it but only five other people in the world are. Make sure there’s a demand for what you want to do and… make sure you save up first.

It might work out, it might not. Either way, it’s easier if you don’t have to worry about rent and being able to buy food.

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

Better, actually. I honestly thought I’d give it a go for a year, but would fail and then have to find a new job. Luckily, that’s not how it turned out. I love the freedom and being my own boss. It’s hard. I have the occasional panic attack and the “I’ll never really make it” thoughts, but I never consider quitting. Doing this energizes me just as much as it occasionally wears me out 🙂

I realized that I’m a bit of a loner when it comes to work. I never liked the structure of school: not being able to advance at your own pace, needing to be there at specific hours of the day and not being able to choose who I surrounded myself with. But I loved university: planning my work as I saw fit, having a much more flexible schedule and mingling with like-minded people. I guess you could compare school to the 9-to-5 and university to freelancing – although there’s still a lot more freedom in freelancing.

Are you living a life with more freedom now than before? Feel free to elaborate.

Yup, see above 🙂

 How many countries have you been to?

I always have to count because honestly, I don’t know and I don’t care. There are people who’ve been to 80+ countries but they’ve only been there once for three days. I tend to travel a lot around Europe and visit the same countries over and over again to really get to know them. But so to answer your question, 20, I think.

What other countries are on your list?

There’s hardly a place I wouldn’t want to visit.

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

My boyfriend.

To wrap up, I asked Sofie a few more questions:

Which do you prefer? Mountains/nature or city life?

City liiiiiife! I honestly don’t know why. I like discovering new bars, new eateries, cultural things… I guess that’s more related to cities. I love being in nature too, but there has to be something to discover or eat 😀 I’m not someone to go hiking for days at an end just to look at a green scenery.

Describe the word, FREEDOM.

Freedom comes from choice. As soon as you can choose, you can choose freedom.

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

1.Persistance – to work hard and keep at it even when things don’t go well
2. Down-to-earthness – to realize what’s achievable and what it takes to get there
3. Patience – lots of it

Thanks Sofie for the wonderful and real insight on how it’s like to transition into a life with more freedom.  Many of us are intimidated by the thought and you just proved that no matter where you are in the process, with faith and persistence, it is possible to sustain a life where you get to be your own boss and travel on your own terms.  Goodluck!

You can read about Sofie’s travel life via her website, Wonderful Wanderings and social media:  Instagram and Facebook

Follow Brown Gal Trekker via:

Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest

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

V-PODCAST EPISODE 1: On My Way! From a Lawyer to a Mountain Nomad

EPISODE 1: Should I Stay or Should I Go? Reasons for Leaving my Career

Welcome to Episode 1 of the V-PODCAST SERIES: ON MY WAY! FROM A LAWYER TO A MOUNTAIN NOMAD.  In this episode, Brown Gal Trekker tackles the question, “Why leave a stable career for pursuit of an unconventional dream?”

Tune in and share with us your own reasons or thoughts about the topic! Thanks!

To learn more about what this v-podcast is about, check out the INTRODUCTION.

Follow Brown Gal Trekker via:

Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest

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

WOMEN TRAIL LEADERS: Summer & Lezley of Fat Girls Hiking

The outdoors appeal to most of us as a safe haven to let ourselves go from our day to day routines and stress in life.  But the reality of it is that life in the outdoors is not as perfect as any paradise we conjure in our minds, especially when, as a female hiker, we don’t fit the looks of women as portrayed by the outdoors media.

That has been the case until Summer and Lezley came into the forefront of leading women entities in the outdoors world to serve as the voice for women who may feel different, weird, strange, unsuitable or unacceptable.  Summer and Lezley not only love hiking but they also made it their mission to encourage women of all backgrounds to find pride in who they are as women hikers.

From my own personal experience, my being featured on Fat Girls Hiking’s Inspiring Women series clearly demonstrated that feeling of belonging and self-acceptance.  I’m no exception to feeling different as a woman of color who continues to wait for inclusion in the media.  Fat Girls Hiking provided a voice on my behalf and echoed my presence to the social media world of the outdoors. That’s a good start towards a long road in promoting diversity and women in the hiking world.  For that reason, I’m absolutely delighted to come across these two lovely souls and be a part of their mission to promote diversity in the outdoors.

Women Trail Leaders: Summer & Lezley of Fat Girls Hiking

Summer is from Minnestoa while Lezley is from New Mexico. They currently live in Portland, Oregon.  Off-trail, Summer works as a nanny while Lezley is a Data Analyst.  They typicall hike in the Portland area, and around Oregon and Washington states.  They also have traveled overseas for on trekking trips.  Summer is also a writer, a photographer, crafter and reader while Lezley is a sports enthusiast, daredevil, traveler and a board game and film geek.

When and how did you first start hiking?

Summer: My love of hiking started about 4 years ago.  I had been on a few hikes before then but not on a regular basis.   At first, I didn’t like it.  But it grew on me. 

Lezley: I started hiking 10 years ago while living in Nevada after getting a taste of hiking while in Zion.  My uncle was an avid hiker in New Mexico & would take me with him but I didn’t appreciate hiking until I got older & moved to Nevada. Now I hope to hike more in my home state to experience the things I missed when I was younger.

What do you like the most about hiking?

When we hike, we feel strong & capable.  Worries & stresses of everyday life are wiped clean.  We hike to be connected to nature & our selves.

Do you enjoy hiking solo or with others more?

Summer: I like hiking alone a lot. There is something therapeutic about being out there by myself that makes me feel self reliant. When I face challenges & solve problems on the trail, I feel empowered.  But I also love leading hikes with Fat Girls Hiking, I love watching other people gain confidence & feel inspired in the outdoors.

Lezley: I prefer hiking with a group or another person. For me, I feel safer being with others. Plus, I like getting to know people or spend quality time with people away from the distractions of everyday life.  Also, having another person on the trail with me motivates me to keep going when the trail gets challenging.

What are some lessons you’ve learned from hiking?

Summer: Hikers are creative problem solvers.  When I am miles away from civilization on a hike, if something goes wrong, I have to figure it out.  Also, I love feeling small in the grand scheme of the world. It puts any silly or trivial problems in my head in check when I can look around from the summit of a mountain and say, “Those things don’t matter, not really.”

Lezley: Sometimes trails can be intimidating but if I keep on pushing myself forward, then there always seems to be a reward at the end.  It’s a daily reminder of life off the trail: keep pushing forward, no matter what might scare you.  The other lesson I’ve learned is to appreciate the aspects of nature that we often take for granted.

Summer and Lezley share with us their favorite hiking moments.

Avalanche Lake in Glacier National Park, Montana. 

We had spent the night before the hike sleeping in the back of the truck in a 24-hour grocery store parking lot because all the campgrounds in the park were full.  We wanted to get up early to beat the crowds because we heard this was a busy hike. 

On the hike in to the lake, we counted seeing only 5 people. It was amazing to witness the sunrise over the mountains onto the clear lake cluttered with logs at the bottom. We ventured around the still lake and the mountains were reflected perfectly.  There were glacial waterfalls above us that we heard would be extinct in less than 10 years.

Then we met another hiker who was gathering sand from the beach, he said he proposed to his fiancé at that spot & they were getting married later that day in the park. As we were heading back to the trailhead & the sun began to shine onto the lake, it was a bright green color that matched the leaves on the trees.  On the way back to the trailhead, we counted 207 people making their way to the lake.  So glad we hiked early!

Saddle Mountain, Oregon.

We were so excited to do this hike.  It was the day after Thanksgiving a few years ago & we were ready to conquer one of the Oregon Coast Range’s biggest mountains.  The hike starts out really steep & 2 minutes in we were taking layers off.  This is the most elevation gain we’ve ever done on a hike, it felt good & really difficult.  We were stopping a lot but enjoying ourselves.

About 45 minutes into the hike, Summer’s stomach started to ache.  Oh no.  The trail is mostly switchbacks & there isn’t any spots off-trail to dig a cat hole.  Ugh.  Finally, we found a spot where Summer scrambled up to some bushes for privacy to “use the bathroom.” 

Much better…Ok, let’s do this.  We get to the summit & WOW what an amazing view.  There’s the ocean to the west, and it’s a clear day so Mt. Rainer, Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Adams and Mt. Hood are visible.  It was incredible.  Then we notice the trail keeps going.  Oh. Shit.  This is what they call “the false summit.” Ok, we can do this.  We are tired & the rest of the trail feels painstakingly steep.  The trail is covered with chain-link fencing, and there is ice in some spots, but we make it to the real actual summit. 

The exhilaration of the view, being up there with the wind as it whips our hair around. We know we are strong enough to carry our bodies to the top of a mountain. This is the reason we hike.

Johnston Canyon, Banff National Park, Canada.

We knew this hike was busy & touristy.  The photos we had seen online were amazing & we really wanted to see it for ourselves.  So we got up really early to beat the crowds.  The trail is paved almost the entire way. There’s no “roughing it” on this trail. There are catwalks along the side & bottom of the canyon that allow access to the canyon in a way that usually could only be accessed by repelling.  The natural beauty of the rock & the pure clear water was stunning.  However, the trash & plastic water bottles underneath the catwalk were less than desirable. Nature Tourism is over rated.

Sometimes the crowd of inconsiderate tourists can overshadow the beauty around us. Well, at least it changes the experience. We carry on. There are three waterfalls along the trail that we enjoy & then decide to turn back & head to a less busy trail.  The trail was really crowded  the last half mile & there is a group of twenty slower hikers ahead of us.  We just want to get out of the crowds.  Summer finds an opening & jogs around the tourists & Lezley gets stuck among the crowd. 

After Summer jogs by one of the men Lezley gets stuck behind says, “Wow, you could really feel the ground shake when she went by.” It’s attitudes like his & comments like these that intimidate plus size people from feeling safe in the outdoors.  Even though we are avid hikers, most likely more experienced than the man who commented on Summer’s body size, this comment changes our experiences on trails.  It’s easy enough to shake off an ignorant comment from someone who arrived via a tour bus & carry on with your love affair with the Canadian Rockies.  Needless to say, we found many other gorgeous places to explore while we were in Banff National Park but Johnston Canyon was the most memorable.

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

Start out on some easier trails with a fabulous reward at the end (waterfalls & viewpoints are good).  Don’t worry about how fast or slow you hike.  It’s not a race.  There are no prizes at the end.  Research the trail & the weather before you go. Have more than one source of information on hand (a screenshot on your phone is good, but a backup is never a bad idea). Print out driving directions & don’t rely on Google maps.  Many trailheads do not have cell service which is a blessing in our overly “connected” world, so make sure you know where you’re going.  If you are hiking alone, tell someone specifically where you are going & when you are expected to return.  Bring enough water, snacks, and weather appropriate clothing. Most importantly, listen to your body.  If something isn’t feeling good, don’t do it.  Savor your time on the trail & have fun!

What treks do you have on your bucket list?

Summer: All the hikes are on my list.  Seriously, all of them.  If I could travel endlessly & hike everywhere I went, I would. I definitely want to spend more time in the Canadian Rockies & Glacier National Park. 

Summer at Falls Creek Falls.

Lezley: Patagonia and Machu Picchu are on my list. But any time we travel, we like finding a hike in the area so we get to enjoy that peaceful part of a city.

Lezley at Oregon Coast.

What is your favorite hiking gear and why?

Summer: As a plus size hiker, finding gear that fits is not easy.  There are such limited options for women’s plus size outdoor gear that I usually end up buying men’s gear. Ill-fitting raingear is the only option I have.  However, I do have an amazing Granite Gear backpack that fits well and has hip pockets for little things that I need accessible while hiking.  And I love my Platypus hydration bladder—it’s really easy to clean & dry out. Black Diamond trekking poles are my new favorite gear…wish I would have gotten them sooner.  And of course, my Canon 5D.

Lezley:  I like my Granite Gear day pack.  Everything else I’m still testing out.  I haven’t found the exact right gear for me yet.  My $1 bandana is pretty sweet though!

What is your favorite quote that motivates you on and off trails?

Summer:  As an avid reader with a degree in writing, words always motivate & inspire me. Mary Oliver, Cheryl Strayed and Audre Lorde are among my favorites. My recent favorite quote is by Judith Thurman, “Every dreamer knows that it is entirely possible to be homesick for a place you’ve never been to, perhaps more homesick than for familiar ground.”

Summer at Mt. St. Helens.

Lezley: “Why you crying? Are you bleeding? But did you die?” –traditional Mexican words of inspiration.

Lezley at Oregon Coast.

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

There are many challenges to being a female on the trail.  Often in our society, women aren’t taken as seriously as men. In any athletic endeavor, women can be even more patronized.  The idea that women aren’t as tough or as knowledgeable about the outdoors is merely an extension of our sexist society.  Women are still treated as novelty in the outdoors. We face these challenges by going outdoors anyway, by proving them wrong.  For the most part people are kind on the trail & there’s a wonderful community feeling while hiking but these challenges can be intimidating for women to face on the trail.

Summer and Lezley are the women behind Fat Girls Hiking – an important female led entity in the outdoors world that promotes diversity.  Below they tell us more about FGH. 

Fat Girls Hiking started on Instagram in early 2015.  We were hiking a lot & looking to social media to find outdoor communities that represented us, but they didn’t exist.  There were a few accounts that focused on women but they were very homogenized & always featured a specific type of woman that we couldn’t identify with.  We are both fat queer women.  One of us is covered in tattoos, one of us is a woman of color.  We do not look like typical hikers.  But the lack of any diversity was staggering.  So, we decided to change that.  We wanted to celebrate all these amazing, beautiful people who aren’t usually featured on blogs or outdoor Instagram accounts.

What is the mission of FGH?  

Fat Girls Hiking is a body positive outdoor community. We believe that all folks should be represented in outdoor media.  We want to take the shame & stigma out of the word FAT & empower it.  Our motto, Trails Not Scales is to focus on self love in the outdoors instead of weight loss.  Trails Not Scales reminds us that the more we hike, the more love we have for ourselves & our bodies just as they are.  We want all people to feel comfortable outdoors & to be able to claim their space on the trail.  We know that bodies of all shapes & sizes are capable of anything.  Our community is for those folks who have felt like they didn’t fit the typical hiker mold. We encourage & support folks who want to get out & hike, to do so!

How do define success with respect to FGH?

Empowering people through group hikes is how we define success.  Any time we get an email saying “thank you for including people who look like me” is how we define success. People who don’t feel represented in outdoor Instagram accounts commenting on a photo & saying, “I love this account” is how we define success. Watching people who come on group hikes grow & gain confidence is how we measure success.

What are the current and future projects that you have for FGH?

Fat Hiking Club is a documentary about Fat Girls Hiking that is still in production.  Some amazingly talented filmmakers from Vancouver, BC contacted us about FGH & filmed a hike we did with our group & interviewed us about body image, the outdoor community and why it’s important to create this space for fat folks, queer folks, people of color, trans & gender non-conforming people and women.

The Fat Girls Hiking Adventure Club is a new endeavor that is starting January 2017.  We love hiking & will continue to lead group hikes once a month but we also want to have other outdoor adventures with folks in our community.  Parasailing, fat tire biking on the beach, kayaking, snowshoeing, high ropes, climbing and many more activities are on our bucket list of adventures.  The Adventure Club will sometimes be a body positive yoga or dance class, other times it will be a weekend getaway with outdoor activities or a group camping trip.

Besides Fat Girls Hiking, Summer and Lezley also have a blog called Be Heard and they tell us below what it’s about.

We have a blog called Be Heard.  On the blog, we post photographs (taken by Summer) of people in the Fat Girls Hiking community or other body positive folks & have them answer a few questions about themselves.  We want to hear people’s stories & photograph them in a space that feels comfortable for them.

Thanks Summer & Lezley! Fat Girls Hiking certainly symbolizes the awakening of women to loving themselves more in the outdoors.   Without your organization, the hiking world would be less celebratory and appreciative of women who are different and unique in their own way.  I can’t wait to see what other projects you have in store for us.  So, keep doing what you do to inspire women of all types.  After all,  for the rest of the world to love us, we have to first love ourselves.

You can follow Fat Girls Hiking via their website & social media: Facebook & Instagram,

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

Follow Brown Gal Trekker via:

Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest

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

No Boundaries (VBlog Poetry)

NO BOUNDARIES

I go where there are no boundaries

Because the other side brings me closer to my self

I embrace the unknown

For what we don’t anticipate

Takes us by storm

In a good way, that is.

We glide through life with ease

When we  allow ourselves to be

Just you and me.

I go where there are no boundaries

Because when I do, I find myself frolicking in the playgrounds of the mountains

Where I rise and fall

From dust til dawn

Letting myself go from it all.

I go where there are no boundaries

Because when you reach the peak of that unnamed summit

You know damn well there’s a hidden gem

Right below your feet

Don’t let time pass by

Without digging through the dirt

To find your diamonds.

I go where there are no boundaries

Because right there and then

I bask in that glow of hope

For I have learned to be the courageous version of me

The “Dora, The Explorer”

That I’ve become.

I go where there are no boundaries

Because life just so happens to be as vast as the sea

Creatures abound around us

To inspire us to be free.

I go where there are no boundaries

I’m the yin and the yang

The stars to the moon

The clouds to the sun

The sky to the mountains

Engulfing me in secrecy.

And only then I sit in silence.

For there are no more words to speak.

Follow Brown Gal Trekker via:

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

FREEDOMPRENEUR: Danielle of WorldSmith

Listen to that voice.  It’s the one that tells you what you really desire in life, be it travel, a partner, family, a pet and whatever else.  But when you’re a city dweller or someone who thrives in the chores and busy nature of life, there’s a chance we may overlook what our intuition is telling us.  That’s when a moment in silence helps retrace our steps back to our voice.  In my own process of discovering my path, the voice was the instrumental tool in arriving at the direction I wish to take from here on – the life of a mountain nomad who runs her trekking/adventure travel social enterprise.  The process takes time as opposed to the romantic notion that passion strikes you overnight.  Once you discover your passion, creativity becomes the key to get you there.  Our feature today exemplifies both notions – allowing your passion to find you and relying on your creativity to get you there.

I’m very excited about our feature for Freedompreneurs series.  Danielle has the exceptional ability to maintain authenticity towards her passion amidst the chaos in this  rather noisy world that we live in.  Danielle shifted from a typical work life, trying to make ends meet with two or more jobs to a life of instability “in her own terms.”  The good news is the shift turns out to be much easier than she has anticipated and as it stands Danielle found “stability” and a way to sustain her long-term travel through freelance writing – a rather happy outcome of her journey.

Danielle Bricker of WorldSmith

Danielle Bricker is from Charlottesville, VA.  She is currently traveling in Southeast Asia and working as a freelance writer.  She also writes via her travel site, WorldSmith.

Before I dive into questions regarding your online business/project, tell us a little bit about your background.  Where did you grow up? How was your childhood like?

I lived my entire life in Charlottesville, Virginia – a small-ish liberal college town where 20 minutes driving in any direction will land you in the middle of nowhere. More than that – my mother has lived her entire life there and her mother before her and so on past the point of our recorded family history. This is actually pretty unusual. Being a college town, Charlottesville attracts a lot of students and academics who form a very transient population. I, on the other hand, had very deep roots I couldn’t wait to break free of. While one side of my family had known no life outside Virginia, my dad’s side was the polar opposite. He grew up as an army brat, moving from base to base every few years, even spending three years in Bangkok. Even after the active duty days, my paternal grandparents continued traveling frequently, so I (quite luckily) grew up knowing that places like Peru and Egypt and China were places people actually visited.

What are your interests and passion in life?

1) Travel. 2) Writing. 3) Travel writing.

A lot of people moan and groan about ‘How do I find my passion in life?’ which is ridiculous. Passion finds you. If you don’t know what you’re passionate about, then you’re not listening to yourself. I always listened. I listened when I was in first grade and knew I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. I listened when I was a freshman in college and wanted to declare my major in English, despite the snorts of derision that I would be majoring in unemployment. I listened when I interned at a travel guidebook publisher and realized I could unite my two greatest loves in a career. Following your passion may not always be easy, but finding it should be.

Are you still working a 9 to 5 job? If not, when did you quit? What kind of a job was it?

Since I graduated into one of the worst economic downturns in American history, I technically only had a 9-to-5 job for a grand total of 10 months. After I got laid off, the only way for me to stay in my field (writing, editing, and publishing) was to take unpaid internships or super minimal part-time work and cobble together a living from whatever odd jobs I could get. I’ve done everything from pouring wine at a vineyard tasting room to redesigning the website of a public sculpture program (and a whole lot of less sexy things, too, but who wants to read about bookkeeping?). Somewhere along the way, I also started freelance writing on my own, whenever I had the time for a personal project. I cut ties to my last desk job in June 2016 and committed myself to freelancing as my only source of income, so I could embark on a year-long round-the-world trip.

How was the process like to quit something so stable?

I didn’t have much stability to begin with. When nobody will hire you full-time, it’s not that hard to say ‘Bye Felicia!’ There were points where working two jobs to make ends meet would have been a break for me. I sometimes had three or even four part-time commitments on my plate at once. I finally got fed up and decided that since I couldn’t have a stable job, then the lack of stability would be on my terms.

What are your current plans?

I am six months into my year-long RTW trip. I will be in Southeast Asia for the next two months, and will then move on to South and Central America for four months. After that, I will return home, but am not sure whether it will be for a short visit, a long visit, or permanently. When I left the U.S. in July, I thought my freelancing would help me get through the year, but I’d have to return to the 9-to-5 world after that. Through a lot of luck and a lot of hard work, I’m at a point where I can meet my expenses and even turn a profit in Southeast Asia. So I’m now looking into what it would take to make full-time freelancing a permanent career change.

I’m curious to know more about your site, WorldSmith. What led you to start your travel website?

While I long had the vision of WorldSmith becoming a celebration of creativity and travel down the road, I actually launched the blog as part of Bootsnall’s Indie Travel Challenge. I had been planning my RTW trip for two years and it still seemed so far away. I needed to blog about that planning process as a motivational tool, to keep me from giving up. It worked. Blogging held me accountable to the point that I left a year earlier than I thought I’d be able to.

When did you launch your site?

November 2015 – a date reflected in my social media handle @worldsmith2015

What is your website’s mission?

Live creatively. Travel more.

I think everyone is creative in some form. Maybe it’s writing or drawing or music. Or maybe it’s not as easily recognizable. Maybe you create your lifestyle. You find clever ways to budget your money. You forsake the status quo and find ways to generate income outside the 9-to-5 bubble.

WorldSmith is very much a work in progress. But I’d like to see it become a resource and inspiration for creative professionals, digital nomads, and traveling artists.

What hurdles have you faced thus far with this project?

I am my biggest obstacle. All that pesky training in journalism has made me a bit of a snob regarding the ways blogs can monetize. I just can’t bring myself to enter the realm of sponsored posts. I think the whole ‘advertorial’ setup, no matter how honest you are, no matter how many disclaimers you publish, ultimately skews the presentation. It seems to be feeding a culture of ‘If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all,’ which isn’t always useful to readers. And I also wouldn’t feel right telling readers to spend their money on something I got for free. I prefer to have some skin in the game when I make a recommendation.

Because my self-righteousness has eliminated a major stream of monetization, however, I don’t make money off my website and therefore have next to no time to spend developing it. I have to focus on the freelance projects that grant me income, and if I have time leftover, then I can maybe get a post published.

How did you overcome these hurdles?

I’m sure a lot of people would tell me to just get over myself. Instead, I’ve accepted that my blog is just going to be a long labor of love. It will probably take years to become what I want it to be. But that’s okay. I started it because I believe in its principles, not because it’ll make me rich and famous.

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

I don’t think I can call WorldSmith a success. Not even close. So I’ll pivot a bit and talk about how I’ve made my freelancing career a (moderate) success.

I rely on the Upwork platform to get freelance work. It has a lot of haters and many of their complaints are valid. There are a ton of clients who want to pay peanuts for top-quality work and it’s easy to get discouraged amid all that. The platform takes a big percentage of your earnings at first, which can make it seem not worth the effort. Personally, the security Upwork provides me is worth the fees. I don’t have to worry about a client refusing to pay me for my work. If there’s a problem between me and a client, I have mediation resources at my fingertips.

What’s really made me successful on Upwork has been finding ongoing projects. I can work with the same three clients every month and have a steady income flow. Developing those long-term relationships means I don’t have to go back to the drawing board (and that pool of poorly paying clients) every few days. I can settle in and know I’ll have work for months at a time.

Tell us more about your traveling life.

I currently travel full-time. I’ve been doing so for six months, and plan to travel continuously for six months more. Before learning about long-term travel, I would take one big international trip every year or two. After learning about long-term travel, I went without a vacation for two years to save for a year-long RTW trip.

Tell us about the travel component of your website.

I write about my experiences on the road, detail my exact budgets, and draw from my experience to compile a Creative Professionals’ Guide to artsy cities around the world.

Danielle shares her favorite travel moments below.

Jeez. I’ve always been terrible at the favorites game. I don’t even have a favorite book or movie, let alone a favorite travel memory.

Three moments from the start of my RTW trip I often reminisce about – particularly on hard days – are as follows.

Walking onto Dritvik Beach in Iceland. I planned part of my RTW trip around touring the Golden Circle in Iceland. Once I was in the country, however, I impulsively decided to first tour Snaefellsnes, the country’s western peninsula, which I knew absolutely nothing about. We had several stops over a 12-hour day, but Dritvik was the most spectacular in my eyes. You wind through these towering craggy formations before the beach opens up before you, a huge swath of lava turned to perfectly round, smooth pebbles where the fiery flow met the ocean. It was the first moment of my RTW trip (probably the first moment in a very long time) I felt completely happy and I broke a cardinal rule of responsible travel. I slipped a pebble in my pocket as a keepsake. It’s been my good luck charm through 15 countries and counting.

A surprise encounter on Barceloneta beach. The second stop on my RTW trip was Barcelona, and my two weeks there were rough. My week in Iceland was just like taking a vacation. When I moved on to a new destination instead of going home, it finally sunk in just what ‘year-long RTW trip’ really meant. I wrestled with a major life change and some crippling anxiety issues. The turning point came about halfway through my second week. Back home, I’m a swing dancer. I ran my college club and the swing dance group in Charlottesville is how I met my boyfriend of two and a half years. So I was completely surprised to walk down the boardwalk at Barceloneta beach and find a large group of people swing dancing in the street. I impulsively walked up to a man between songs and asked to join. My lindy hop was rusty, but it was still great fun. Having that kind of spontaneous connection completely lifted my spirits and I started to get more comfortable with traveling alone.

A luxurious dinner in Paris. Even after my night dancing on the boardwalk in Barcelona, I struggled with dining alone. I think many people really fear eating alone and at the start of my trip, I was no exception. It’s just not something you do in the United States. It is something you do in Paris, however. I looked up in advance a couple recommendations of restaurants for solo diners. In Paris, that’s actually most restaurants. It’s not unusual for Parisians to treat themselves to a nice meal, and I found that ‘treat yo self’ attitude to be the best way of overcoming the solo dining hurdle. Starting with my glass of Bordeaux and duck confit at Au Pied de Fouet, narcissistic as this is, I started approaching dinner as a solo date. I could be interested in myself, as I would be another person. I wanted to do something nice for myself, as I would for other people. Damn it, I could even love myself, as I do my friends and family. I could go out, enjoy a nice meal, and enjoy my own company.

How do you define success in your case?

I think I’ll feel successful if and when I meet someone who has already heard of WorldSmith before meeting me. I feel semi-successful as a freelance writer in my ability to earn enough to cover my expenses in Southeast Asia. I’ll feel completely successful as a freelance writer if and when I can earn enough to live in the U.S. or Europe.

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

In the years of part-time jobs outside my field, I realized I have a tendency to over-invest. Whatever my job is, I throw myself in mind, body, and soul. I actually developed high blood pressure at one job, I cared so much. I don’t know if I’m better at letting go yet, but I am better at choosing where my energy goes. By moving into freelancing full time, I insure that only the projects I sign on for get my investment.

How do you manage to afford traveling?

I spent two to three years saving for my RTW trip. I relied on my savings for the first six months of travel, and now rely on my freelance income.

Do you have other future projects in mind? 

In January, I’m launching a new series of monthly profiles on WorldSmith. I never wanted the site to be ‘me, me, me.’ So I’m fulfilling another piece of the vision and featuring others’ work. Each month, I’ll tell the story of another traveling artist or creative professional. I want to celebrate creativity in all its forms, and provide readers with a fuller picture of how you can pursue art and travel.

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

A lot of people will tell you to ‘Just do it.’ I think this is overly simplistic, and sometimes just plain wrong. If you know what your passion is, great. But if you’re guessing, it’s a recipe for disaster. Take your time. Read everything you can. Talk to people who have gone before you. Plan. Save. Read some more. Know without a doubt that this is your calling. It could take years, but that’s all part of the journey. I don’t regret for a minute that it took me nearly three years to go from the pipe dream of long-term travel to the reality. I needed that time. You might need the time too.

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

Since I freelanced on the side before taking the leap into full-time freelancing, I had a very clear picture of what it would be like. I even surpassed my own expectations. I thought my freelance income would help me get through a year of travel, and I’d have to go back to a desk job afterward. Now there’s a chance I might be able to sustain it as a permanent career change.

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

Abso-fricking-lutely! Though there are days when having to work while I travel feels burdensome, I am really in complete control of my life. I feel like I can wake up in the morning and more or less decide what I want to do that day. There are consequences. I don’t get paid until I finish my work. But I’m not tied to an hourly schedule or to a particular workspace the way I often was back home.

Finally, any unique travel advise you can give women out there?

Traveling as a woman is different. Don’t let anyone make you feel bad for that fact. We have different health concerns. (Accept that your menstrual cycle will be affected.) We have different safety concerns. (Trust your instincts and take solace in female-only spaces when you need to.) We also get to connect with other women, which in more conservative countries male travelers may not be able to do. We cook and weave together. We protect each other. I feel so much more sisterhood as a traveler. Enjoy those moments.

To wrap up, I asked Danielle the following questions:

How many countries have you been to?

23 – United States, France, Monaco, United Kingdom, Italy, Vatican City, Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria, Hungary, Iceland, Spain, Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Greece, India, Nepal, Thailand, Laos.

What other countries are on your list?

I have concrete plans to go to Vietnam in January, Indonesia in February, and Peru in May. I have plans in the works to visit Cambodia in January, Japan in March, Argentina in April, Chile in May, and Costa Rica and Mexico in June. Beyond the plans of my RTW trip, I won’t waste your time. I’m one of those people who wants to go everywhere.

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

I miss having a set reliable group of friends I can call on and spend time with at any given moment. I have plenty of contact with my boyfriend, my family, and my close friends. But when I want someone to have dinner or just hang out with, I have to rely on new acquaintances. I’m pretty introverted, so this constant flux of a support network can get very tiring.

Which do you prefer, mountains or city life? 

I love getting into the mountains as a break from ‘regular’ life, but I spend most of my time in cities. It’s just more practical for the purposes of working on the road. And coming from a smaller town, large cities have an undeniable allure for me.

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

Conviction. Perseverance. Flexibility.

You need to believe in your dream 100%. It can’t be something you adopt from anyone else because you think it’s what you’re supposed to do. Traveling full-time isn’t for everybody, and that’s okay! But as someone who could never stand to live in the same place for more than a couple years, I knew always having something new on the horizon would be perfect for me.

You have to always keep going. It’s so easy to get discouraged, especially in the early days of figuring out what it will take to make your dream a reality. Find ways to motivate yourself and hold yourself accountable. For me, blogging was broadcasting to the world that I was going to travel – I would have been so embarrassed to just give up after that.

Finally, at the end of the day, you have to know when it’s time to compromise. Nobody’s perfect and neither is any dream. I would have liked to have enough in savings to cover my entire year-long trip, so anything I made freelancing would be extra. But I reached a point where it was leave now or never, so I let go of that piece of the vision in order to hold on to its core.

How can we continue to follow you and your work/project?

I’m on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram as @worldsmith2015. Instagram is probably the most accurate and up-to-date reflection of where I am and what I’m doing at any given moment. You can also subscribe to a monthly newsletter at WorldSmith  and never miss a beat.

Danielle notes that we don’t look for our passion but rather passion finds you.  I couldn’t agree more.  In her world, traveling spoke to her.  Danielle trusted her instinct and went for it.  Every freedompreneur can appreciate the courage that it takes to take that plunge.   In the end, no matter where the path leads you, we’re destined to come out of the experience with more wisdom.

Thanks, Danielle for sharing your freedompreneur life with us.  We wish you the best as you continue to create your own unique journey.

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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9 Things Every Traveler Can Do in Kentucky

A Guest Post by Louise Brown

The first thing that people think of upon hearing Kentucky is probably fried chicken. Although that’s a very valid association, there’s a lot more to this state than that.

Bourbon, horse races, tobacco, and bluegrass are just some of the popular things that make up Kentucky’s character. Aside from that, there’s deep love for music, arts, food, and the outdoors.

Here are some of the things you should do when you’re in Kentucky.

#1 Have a Taste of Good Old Kentucky Bourbon


The Russians have vodka while the Americans have bourbon, and Kentucky is one of the best states for it.

You can stop by any distillery, but for an even better experience, go on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. It’s probably one of the unique experiences you’ll have in Kentucky.

The Bourbon Trail consists of 9 of the state’s top distilleries. It lets you experience the culture of Bourbon, from the ingredients, to the process, to having a taste of the best Bourbon.

Many facilities have stunning surrounding landscapes too! If the trail doesn’t interest you, that’s okay. Just don’t leave Kentucky without having at least, a taste of Kentuckian Bourbon.

#2 Saddle Up

Horses are not only a big thing – they are one of the defining things of Kentucky. This state is, after all, the Horse Racing Capital of the World.

All year, you can enjoy horseback riding in the hundreds of miles of horse trails in the state. It doesn’t matter if you are a pro or a beginner, there’s a trail just right for your skills.

Many stables offer horse rentals, as well as horse camps for those who have horses of their own. Horseback riding is also a great way to see the outdoors. Most horse trails and horse camps offer stunning scenic views and peace and serenity.

#3 Kentucky Derby

Every year on the first Sunday of May, crowds of people from all over the nation and the world, come into Kentucky. The Kentucky Derby is one of the state’s most popular event, which takes place at Churchill Downs.

Either before or after the event, you can visit the Kentucky Derby Museum to learn even more about the sport.

#4 See the magnificent Cumberland Falls

Cumberland Falls is also known as the “Niagara of the South.” The waterfall is 125 feet wide and has a drop of 68 feet into the Cumberland River.

The Cumberland Falls State Resort Park also offers other activities and attractions aside from the waterfall. It’s an outdoor lover’s paradise! It has hiking trails, rafting, horseback riding, fishing, and camping.

#5 Go camping

The Kentucky State Park System has 31 campgrounds all throughout the state, so wherever you are, you’re never too far from one. Most grounds are open year-round, with sites for RVs, cabin tents, traditional tents, and even hammocks.

You can even lay your sleeping bag right under the stars. Also, many of the campsites are also equestrian-friendly.

After you set camp, you can do some exploring. Depending on which park you’re in, you might be able to go hiking, see lakes, rivers, and waterfalls, go horseback riding, or go biking.

#6 Explore Mammoth Cave

Did you know that the world’s longest cave system is Mammoth Cave, which is in Kentucky?

I didn’t know until just recently. From simple walking tours for families to strenuous spelunking for experts, there are lots of opportunities for exploration. It’s one of the many unique activities you can do in Kentucky.

#7 Go extreme at Hidden Rivers Cave

Another cave adventure you should do is the one at Hidden Rivers Cave. However, this one is not for the faint of hearts. Part of the adventure is zip lining across the cave’s sinkhole.

You can also go rappelling from the start to the mouth of the cave. That’s about 75 feet high!

The tour doesn’t get easier, but it’s still worth the thrill. A guide will lead you on a walking tour of the cave where you’ll be passing through wet and muddy surfaces.

Along the way, you’ll see some eyeless cave creatures too! Be ready to bear crawl, scramble, and have a memorable experience!

#8 Eat Hot Brown

We all know world famous food chain that originates from Kentucky – KFC! However, the state has other food that they are proud of. One of this is Hot Brown.

It may not sound so appealing, but this open-faced sandwich is a must-try! It’s made of turkey, bacon, tomatoes, and covered with Mornay sauce.

Many restaurants serve Hot Browns. However, there’s no better place than where it all began – the Brown Hotel. Nevertheless, do not leave the state without having a Hot Brown.

#9 Explore The Music Scene

Music in Kentucky runs deep, especially since it is the birthplace of Bluegrass music. It’s also the birthplace of many stars, including Billy Ray Cyrus, The Judds, and Loretta Lynn.

Being so musically inclined, the state has many museums that showcase the history and the music culture. At the end of your visit, you will have a new level of appreciation for this genre of music.

If you’re lucky, you might visit during the music festival.  If it is, don’t miss it! Many international and local artists share the stage and play all sorts of genres.

Conclusion

You’ll find Kentucky has so much more to offer than fried chicken and horse racing. It’s a state that is so diverse and has something for all sorts of travelers. It’s also surprisingly such a great place for outdoor adventures.

I’ve only named a few, but I’ll leave the rest of the exploring to you. Don’t miss out on what Kentucky has to offer!

Author Bio

Louise is the founder of TheAdventureLand.com, where she and her associate’s blog about Outdoor experiences, tips & tricks that will help you have an exciting adventure. She is also a tour guide of travel company where she learned many things about wilderness. “Let’s pack our bags and explore the world!”. Follow her on Twitter and on Google+

If you are interested in submitting a guest post, please see the guidelines here.  Looking forward to your articles!

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V-Podcast Series: On My Way! From a Lawyer to a Mountain Nomad

Do you wish to quit your career and change shifts? Have an off the beaten path kind of dream? It’s never too late to change paths.

Marinel (Brown Gal Trekker) starts on her journey towards retiring from her 14 year career as a lawyer to become a mountain nomad and run her mountain trekking/adventure travel social enterprise, Peak Explorations. She plans to go full time as a nomad in August, 2018 at which time the podcast/vlog series will end to launch her into the world of a nomadic lifestyle.

Tune in via YOUTUBE (subscribe HERE) every 1st and 3rd Sunday of the month for her ongoing updates on her journey to becoming a nomad including her reasons for the decision to make this shift in her life, the steps she’s taking, her future plans as a nomad, challenges, joys, ups and downs of the process to get to an off the beaten dream plus featured guests to inspire her to forge ahead.  If you’re planning to quit the 9 to 5 and go for your dream as an entrepreneur or a nomad, Brown Gal Trekker would love to hear from you!

For more inspiration, check out her article, She Becomes a Judge, I Become a Mountain Nomad.

 

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

WOMAN TRAIL LEADER: Rebecca of Hike Like a Woman

I must admit – life can be hectic.  But what happens when your passion takes over most of your waking life?  Since the inception of this blog and my social enterprise, Peak Explorations, any minute I get outside of my legal career has been dedicated to building the foundation for both entities.  Luckily, my effort to do so is inspired by so many wonderful women who thrive in the spirit of the outdoors.  Rebecca happens to be not only an inspired hiker, but also an INSPIRER for many women who love the outdoors.

To be honest, life before meeting Rebecca was like living in a bubble with the presence of such frequent thoughts in my head:

Am I the only one who is obsessed with hiking?  Why can’t I be normal like the rest of the single girls back in Washington, DC?  Why do I preoccupy myself with the idea of mountains and summits?

Shortly after launching this blog and Peak Explorations, I met Rebecca through her women-focused outdoors website, Hike Like a Woman.  This discovery was completely by accident which happened through a network of bloggers on Facebook.  From the HLAW website, I gathered that there are more women who care about hiking that I could have ever imagined.  In fact, I discovered through HLAW that there IS a community of women supporting one another in their pursuit of the outdoors.  How did I overlook the idea of the existence of such a community?  From there, I gained interest in getting involved and contacted Rebecca about the Ambassador Program with HLAW.  I then contributed a few articles to HLAW and eventually became a contributor for the website.

The thing is I never really thought of the possibility that networking with other outdoor bloggers/leaders would be feasible.  But, Rebecca through HLAW managed to pave the way to connect many of us and create a community that continues to grow as time passes.  As I learned to get to know Rebecca and her mission behind HLAW, I began to sense that Rebecca’s role within the hiking community for women is irreplaceable.  

Rebecca embodies the role of an icon for women as a reminder of the possibilities out there for us, be it in the world of the outdoors or in our personal lives.  There is no limit to what we are capable of as women – whether we choose to be a trail leader, an entrepreneur, a wife, a mother, or to simply be a hiker.  In the most authentic version of ourselves, we have the power to be what we wish to become.  HLAW is a testament to the empowerment of women that we embody individually and celebrate as a whole.  The sum of all the parts leads to HLAW as the vehicle to promote the voices and the relevance of women in the outdoors.  HLAW’s success, of course, goes back to the founder herself.  It’s a reflection of Rebecca’s commitment to be of service to the community of diverse women who share her passion – hiking and the outdoors.

There are plenty of individuals and organizations I’m grateful for since the start of my blogging life and entrepreneurship.  As such, undoubtedly, Rebecca and HLAW are on top of the the list of those who I’ll always be grateful to in terms of inspiration and support.

So, with all that said, I’m thrilled to share Rebecca’s hiking story, her role as  a trail leader and her experience as an entrepreneur in the outdoors world.  As I learn about Rebecca’s insight and passion for all the above endeavors, I quickly came to this realization:

When our passion takes over our lives, it may very well be so damn exhausting. Yes, indeed it is.  And yet, alongside with it, is a feeling of immense joy- after all, it is all about going after what is truly dear to our hearts.  Hence, we rest, if needed, but no matter how tired we may be, we never stop forging ahead.

Outdoor Woman’s  Voice, Woman Trail Leader & Freedompreneur: Rebecca of Hike Like a Woman

Rebecca Walsh grew up in Bozeman, Montana.  She currently lives with her husband and two children, ages 5 and 3 in Laramie, WY.  As our feature, it’s a pleasure to have Rebecca because she not only is a voice for outdoors women, but she is also fitting as a feature for the Women Trail Leaders and Freedompreneurs series of the blog.  Rebecca has founded several outdoors entities: Hike Like a Woman, Little Laramie Hikers and Just Trails.  She’s also a published writer.  Rebecca’s love for the outdoors is unquestionable as any activity that she partakes in almost always has everything to do with the outdoors.  Talk about passion!  It’s amazing how she manages to find time for all these things.  It must be true love!  So, let’s read on about Rebecca’s hiking life and learn about her amazing projects that have become instrumental to the hiking community.

When and how did you start hiking?

I grew up in a really outdoorsy family so I don’t really remember when I started hiking but I’ve seen a lot of picture of me as a baby in a backpack carrier on my Dad’s back. So I guess it started from before I was born. It’s just kind of in my nature to want to be outdoors and on the mountain.

What do you like the most about hiking?

I like that it’s something that can be done almost anywhere there is a dirt path and that there’s minimal equipment required. After all, a hike can be nothing more than just a walk in the woods. You can make it as extreme or as easy as you want just by varying the terrain.

Rebecca shares with us her most memorable hiking experience to date.

A few years ago a group of my Mom friends and I decided that we needed a break from hiking at the pace of our toddlers and young children. So we planned a quick trip to Colorado where we climbed four 14ers in one day. Mt. Democrat, Cameron Lincoln and Bross. We showed up at our campsite late at night on a Friday after working all day and then woke up at 4 am to begin the climb. It was a long day, with breathtaking scenery and lung-busting ascents. The whole adventure lasted maybe 24 hours but it was exactly what we needed to do something a little bit challenging and have some fun together.  

See the full story here.  

14er trip/Democrat: Twice/year the moms in our hiking group plan a girls-only trip where we leave the kids at home and do something epic. Mt Democrat was our first 14er together.
14er trip:The entire group.

What are some lessons you’ve learned from hiking?

The biggest lesson that I’ve learned lately is how to slow down. When I’m on the trail my email isn’t buzzing, my phone isn’t ringing, my to-do list disappears. It’s just me and the trail with nothing to do except enjoy the beauty that surrounds me and become lost in my own thoughts. My best ideas don’t come when I’m busy, they come when I’ve taken a few minutes to slow down, breathe and walk.  I’ve also learned to listen and just be at peace with who I am.

What advise would you give to those new to hiking?

Just lace up your boots and go. The hardest part for me is getting out the door, so I have to put hikes on my schedule so the space doesn’t get filled up with work. If you’re new to hiking find an experienced friend to show you what to pack and where to go. If you’re a new Mom and looking to start hiking with your baby don’t wait, hiking is so good for children of all ages.

Rebecca shares with us some of her favorite family photos while playing on the trails.

3 year old Finn
5 year old William
We don’t shy away from difficult trails as parents because we like to push ourselves. This is the summit of Medicine Bow Peak at 12.016 feet.

What treks do you have on your bucket list?

Definitely Kilimanjaro. I turned down a trip there last year and totally regret it. I’m also planning to do Rainier in a few years to celebrate my 40th birthday.  But yeah, if there’s a big mountain I want to climb it.

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

This is an interesting question, because after all I do have a website called Hike Like A Woman. But honestly, I  grew up in a family where all of us hiked. I live in a place where I see just as many women (if not more) on the trails as I do men. I feel really comfortable and safe on the trails, and I’ve never experienced any sort of gender discrimination on the mountain.  I guess I’m lucky, not all women experience that.

You have a hiking group called Little Laramie Hikers in Wyoming. What is it about?

Shortly after my husband and I left our careers to move to Wyoming I noticed a few things. First, I noticed that my entire town seemed to hibernate for the winter. I rarely saw any women and children on the trails once the snow started to fly. Second, I noticed that occasionally I’d see a family on the trails but only on the weekends. There were a lot of outdoorsy women in my town who love the outdoors but weren’t comfortable taking their children on a hike without their spouse. I wanted to change this culture so I started a family-friendly hiking group.

The friendships that my children are developing with other children in our hiking group are invaluable. I think they will explore with this group of children for a long time.

What made you decide to start this group and tell us what activities does the group do? 

I started the Little Laramie Hikers because I’m passionate about connecting women and children with nature and local trails. I also wanted a way to make friends who had similar interests (like the outdoors) and I wanted to provide a fun way for parents to meet up and hike.

Right now, we hike together every Friday morning. We alternate between different trails, we have a lot to choose from and sometimes we throw in other activities or environmental education lessons. Our hiking group went to look at dinosaur bones and fossils with a paleontologist last year and that was amazing for the adults and the children. We’ve also learned about pikas with a wildlife biologist, tadpoles, hiked with a senior citizens hiking group, hiked in Halloween costumes, had picnics, learned about wildflowers, and sometimes we hike deep into the woods and read our favorite children’s outdoor books. We’re fortunate to live in a college town so grad students are always looking for fun ways to come out and hike with our group.

The kids in our hiking group love hiking to a place and then stopping to read outdoor stories. I like combining literacy with the outdoors, it’s fun.
This was a joint hike with the Little Laramie Hikers & a local senior citizen hiking group. It was a huge group, we had so much fun. Multigenerational hikes are great.

Do you have other folks organizing?

Right now it’s pretty much just me. There are 200 families in the group, but someone always steps up to lead if I can’t make it to a hike or to help plan a fun outdoor adventure for the group. It’s really a sub-community of outdoor families within our larger community and I like that.

Where do you hike with the group?

Everywhere! We try to keep the driving distance to less than an hour but we’ve hiked all over Southeastern Wyoming and Northern Colorado.

What do you like about being a trail leader?

I feel like one of my goals as the leader of the group is to make sure that I get to know everyone who hikes with us and to make sure they feel comfortable and welcome. I like meeting new people who who up for a hike the first time.

What are some of the challenges of being a trail leader?

Naturally I wish I could do more for the group. I wish I had more time to find us gear sponsors for our lending library, or more time to coordinate hikes with other groups but that’s just life. I do what I can.

Also, our hiking group is really family-oriented but since we usually hike on Friday mornings we tend to attract the work-from-home and stay-at-home spouses, so it’s usually a big group of Moms and children. Once we got mistaken for a daycare! I actually love having the support of a good solid group of outdoor women and mom’s and I’ve found that they have developed into my closest friends. My biggest challenge is being able to lead hikes on weekends so I can get more women who work during the week involved.

What advise do you have for women who are interested in starting a group?

Go for it, set up a communication platform that is easy (we have a private Facebook page to communicate) and tell your friends to come out. For the first 6 months only 2 women joined me on hikes and sometimes no one would come at all but that’s okay, we kept on hiking and planning hikes and eventually the group grew. Now I think our hiking group is one of the best things going on in my town for families.

Name 3 qualities that will help to be a successful a trail leader.

Patience, kindness and organization.

You started an enterprise called, Just Trails. What is it about? 

In 2012 my husband and I left our careers are Army officers. We had deployed to Iraq a bunch and had a new baby and just needed some time to decompress. We also loved to hike, cross-country ski, mountain bike and explore so we wanted to combine our love for the outdoors with a small business that we could pursue while deciding what to do with the rest of our lives.

What is the purpose of Just Trails?

Our goal was and always will be to help people explore. We had noticed that wherever the Army sent us we had a hard time finding accurate and useful trail information so we spent our precious weekends researching where to go instead of actually exploring. So our goal was to map out every single trail in Southeastern Wyoming and Northern Colorado to provide a mega data base of local trail information.

What made you decide to initiate this enterprise?

Honestly I think we were just in this weird transition phase after leaving the Army where we just weren’t quite sure what to do. We had saved some money and wanted to work for ourselves so we just went for it.

How has it been like for you running this enterprise?

It’s been amazing. It’s been hard and we’ve learned that it’s not a sustainable business model, so we made a lot of mistakes financially. But at the same time everyone in our local area knows that they can find reliable trail information on our website so it’s quite popular locally. I don’t really know what the future looks like for Just Trails but we really enjoy it.

What do you enjoy about your role in running Just Trails?

I like working closely with my husband on a project. I think it’s been good for our marriage, it’s taught us both how to communicate with each other better.

What are some challenges?

The biggest challenge is funding Just Trails. After a few years with my husband and I running it together we decided that he needed to go back to school and find other employment, so for the past 2 1/2 years while he’s been in law school the bulk of the work has fallen on me. As a result we haven’t been able to put up any new trail maps, or launch a few other projects we have brewing on the back burner. But we’re hoping to hire a few employees someday to help us expand and grow. There’s interest in it, it’s just a matter of being strategic with our funds.

How did you overcome them?

I think it helps to have a long term vision and strategy. We’ve built the brand, we have a solid reputation, the next step is just growing smartly. We’ve cash-flowed the business and are committed to keeping it debt-free. Because we want to keep the risk low it limits the speed by which we can grow and expand.

What 3 tips would you give to outdoors women who are thinking of starting an outdoors-related business?

Chose your business partner wisely. Have a plan. Don’t go into debt, it’s just not worth it.

How do you define success as an entrepreneur?

Do you work hard to provide a good service that helps people? If so then you are a success.

What keeps you motivated in running a business?

I guess it’s selfish but I really like being my own boss, I don’t really want to work for someone else.

How hard is it for a female to run a business in this niche?  Any challenges?

Since it’s been a partnership from day #1 I haven’t noticed any challenges related to being a female. I like to think that if you want to pursue your passion and work hard nothing will stop you.

As I met Rebecca through her organization, Hike Like a Woman, I definitely had to ask her about HLAW, its beginnings and  how she envisions it evolving over time.

What inspired you to start HLAW and tell us about its mission?

A few years ago I felt like I needed to find my own voice in the outdoor community so I started HLAW.  The mission of HLAW is to build a community of outdoor women inspiring each other with stories, tips and advice.

Where do you see the group heading in the future?

My ultimate goal is to have all-women guided trips and tours. I’d especially like to start something geared toward helping female Veterans, because as a Veteran myself I know that there’s a huge need for that.  But HLAW trips, tours, retreats –  it’s on my horizon. For now, however, I just want to keep building the community, sharing experiences and providing good information for outdoor women.

You have successfully launched a community for women in the outdoors.  Can you share what factors led to the success of HLAW?

Bringing a group of women on board as Ambassadors & Contributors to help share their experiences is the first thing that comes to mind. It helps the website feel less about me and more about the community. The next thing would be partnering and collaborating with other outdoor bloggers, especially my friend Amelia with Tales of a Mountain Mama. I love bouncing ideas off of her and a few others. The last thing would be to know your people, I have a photo shared by one of my readers. She’s a heavy-set middle aged woman who hikes in a blue jeans, she’s a real woman. Her photo is printed off and I look at it when I write blog posts and record podcast episodes. She reminds me to speak to her when I write and podcast. It’s not about her, it’s about the thousands of women just like her who read my blog and listen to my podcast.

Rebecca then shares with us some of her favorite moments through HLAW

Since it’s a visual community one of my favorite moments was the first time when my group of Ambassadors hopped on a google hangout. It was like meeting my readers for the first time, I couldn’t stop smiling.  

See the article HERE.

What have been some of the challenges along the way in running HLAW?

Sometimes I get haters and everyone is always pointing out typos. I do my best but I’m not perfect. If someone wants perfect I’d prefer the they didn’t read my blog 😉 If someone wants honest and real, then they are in the right place.

Tell us about some of the upcoming projects for HLAW.

I launched the podcast earlier in December, 2016. Growing the podcast and getting to know my readers is my goal for 2017. In 2018, I’d like to take the show on the road and maybe travel across the country hiking and interviewing inspiring outdoor women.  Maybe a kickstarter is in my future.

You have expanded the HLAW community through the creation of the Ambassador program. How does it work?

Last summer I took Darley Newman, the host of Adventures With Darley, a show on PBS on a hike when she was in town filming an episode of her show. I noticed that while the show had her name in it, it wasn’t about her. It was about the areas she was exploring and the locals who were guiding her. At the time I decided that I needed to change HLAW, it needed to be a place that wasn’t about me, that’s boring. It needed to be a place where others could come and share their stories. So I invited my community to apply for a chance to be an Ambassador for HLAW, basically someone to contribute to the website and be more involved with planning on the back end. I thought no one would apply but 118 women did! I selected 35 of them from all over the world. Since the program is new I’ve decided to add a group of contributors, as well.

How can women get more involved with HLAW?

Definitely follow along the website and hang out with us on Facebook 🙂

This is a photo from a trip last winter where we skied or snowshoed into backcountry cabin for the weekend. There was wine, chocolate and a lot of fun.

You also write yourself.  To date, which piece of writing by you is your favorite? 

Speaking of haters, a few years ago I published a post about hiking with kids on HLAW. One women freaked out about it in Facebook, she said something about how it was dangerous to hike with kids. Her comment got me all sorts of fired up so I wrote a post called, “Why I Put My Babies At Risk By Taking Them Hiking” it’s been my most popular post to date. And while I wrote it out of anger, it was super honest and I think that’s why people love (or hate) the post.

What advise would you give to female bloggers who are new to writing or blogging?

Find a blogging mentor, someone who has been around that you can throw ideas at or find a blogging group that is supportive and fun.

Share with us your favorite quote that keeps you going whether on or off the trail.

“What if you fall, but darling what if you fly?

                                                      -Erin Hanson

How do you see yourself in 5 years with HLAW, Just Trails and Little Laramie Hikers?

I hope I’m just still getting outside as much as possible, encouraging others to get outside and having fun.

I love camping with my family and just being able to unplug and focus on what’s most important in my life, them.

On that note, I think it’s clear that Rebecca’s passion for the outdoors will continue forward for a lifetime and is easily a calling for her.  Not only does she create the world that is safe and supportive for us women hikers but also she lives life true to her passion for trekking.  That, in and of itself, is the real inspiration that she sheds on all of us.

Going back to my initial thoughts before discovering HLAW and knowing Rebecca, I’m happy to say that they have dissipated in my mind.  After all, the hiking world turns out to be pretty darn amazing for women!  I’m no longer the only insane person who is obsessed over hiking and neither am I alone in my continued pursuit of my own calling and commitment to living an authentic life.

Thanks, Rebecca!  I look forward to seeing you flourish in your momentum of empowering women.  I can’t wait to see your creative ideas come to fruition as you forge ahead to inspire the hiking community.

You can follow Rebecca via Hike Like a Woman and Just Trails.

Hike Like a Woman is one of the collaborators for BGT’s Film Project, Don’t Date a Girl Who Treks.  Learn more about the project here.

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

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The Top 5 Camping Ideas for Couples

A Guest Post by Isabella Beck

Do you want to improve your relationship by camping? Are you aware of the best camping ideas for couples that you should try? If you are planning to camp as a couple, then you must know ideas that would work best for you.

Making the right choice will always make you happy together as you enjoy these unforgettable moments. Here are the top 5 camping ideas for couples to try on your next vacation:

1. Understand their misgivings by preparing for them 

For those couples who have zero desire to camp, it is important that you prepare well to ensure that you enjoy your stay after making a decision to visit the place.

Why is this important? You should ensure that you carry luggage as well as issues that you are likely to experience once you make a decision of camping in your preferred destination.

In addition, it will help you to work together by strategizing on ways to avoid encountering these issues. For example, you must put a working plan for both of you especially if you want to enjoy your stay in the camping as a couple.

Couple tent camping in the wilderness

2. Incorporate activities you already love together 

Camping can be hard if you lack activities that you enjoy both together. Why is this important? You must ensure that you come up with list activities that would keep both of you together while having romantic moments.

For instance, you can come up with list outdoors activities such as place for photography, biking, painting, camping game, swimming in nearby pools, cooking, sketching, craft cocktails to enjoy your camping.

Couple in a camping site playing guitar and singing – Lovers on a wekk end vacation in the nature

3. Cooking with fire

Having a good campfire can inspire a visceral response. How can do this? Maybe it is your cave people roots, however, breaking out the cast iron, roasting marshmallows and roasting a bunch of veggies or a big slab of meat just feels right. With fire, you will be certain of experiencing such amazing moments by creating moments that you will remember together as a couple after camping.

This tactic may work mainly well on a husband who is obsessed with cooking or kitchen toys. You might also have to listen to a debate on merits of different types of fireside meat preparations during your vacation stay. You will be certain that you would be in a place where you can have unforgettable experiences with your spouse by celebrating life.

Portrait of a couple making coffee on the bonfire in the forest

4. Snuggling

Having outdoor snuggles is always something romantic that you can try as a couple. From an inspiring sunset to “catching” shooting stars, you will get into this romantic mood.

In addition, you can zip two bags as a couple together. This will give you an opportunity to have endless jokes at the same time discussing things that inspire your love significantly together.

This will create unforgettable moments together when camping as a couple. Never forget to share light moments with your partner by reminding one another the best and worst days of your relationship as a couple.

The Love story of young people outdoors.

5. Make sure you have the right gear

There is nothing worse in this world than going camping when you are unprepared. Why say this? It is worth the effort and time to either rent or buy an appropriate gear before traveling with your partner.

The absolute worst case is getting cold especially in the tent camping—talk about that romantic buzzkill. What should you do? Make sure you have sleeping bags, which are rated for the given temperature range that you expect to encounter during your vacation. You should also check the temperatures on the listing before you head out.

Another pro-tip to remember is to make sure that you have sleeping pads for insulation. Why is this important? When you have what you need before traveling, you will always be certain that you will enjoy your moments in your preferred place for vacation.

It is important that you get help from traveling experts who will give you an overview of the place where you would love to visit, thus helping you to prepare psychologically. If you are not sure what you need, make sure that you include a checklist of the things that you need in your preferred destination.

In conclusion, the above are the top five Camping Ideas for Couple to try on your next vacation if you want to enjoy an unforgettable experience.

About the Author

Isabella is a hiking enthusiast who has an in-born love for nature.

She is the editor of MadOutdoorist.Com, a blog that provides crucial information about outdoor adventures.  You can follow via Twitter & Instagram.

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The Holy Pilgrimage Trek: China’s Yading Nature Reserve

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The Discovery of Yading

How I feel about Yading is incomparable to all the other trekking or travel experiences I ever had.  It was in many ways the highlight of my trekking experience in China and I cannot express in words how relevant Yading has been in my life.  Yading is within the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) and is part of the Sichuan Province.

Let’s start from the beginning.  How in the world did I find out about Yading or to be complete, Yading Nature Reserve in Sichuan Province of China?  It was due to a blog that I ended up making my way to this part of the world with determination.  I had no idea about this place until I read this blog.  In fact, the discovery of the blog was accidental which happened during my research on treks that I could do in Sichuan province.  As it was venturing into an off the beaten path, I wasn’t so sure how I could make it materialize itself into a real trek.  The blog contained such astounding photos of Yading that I couldn’t resist.  Could it be that this place looked THIS stunning in person?

But not only was I captivated by the beauty of the place.  It was the notion of walking around mountain peaks on a trail known as a kora or holy pilgrimage trek.  The local Tibetans treat this place as a highly spiritual place.  Along the trails, you’d see evidence of their wide-known respect of the nature that can be found here.  The mountain peaks, the lakes and everything else were treated with respect the way mother earth intended.  Prayer flags abound in some portions of the trail which signify the depth to which the local Tibetans show their lasting connection to this land.

On a more practical level, Yading lured me for the sense of adventure that it brings.  Simply put, “How does one get to this heavenly place alone without speaking a word of Mandarin?”  From Chengdu, it is a 24 hour bus ride.  However, one can split the travel days by going to Kangding, another town in TAR, from which you take a 12-13 hour bus ride to get you to Daocheng and from Daocheng you take a bus to Riwa where you pay your entry fee and then from there you take the final bus to take you to Yading Village.   The bottom line is it takes a significant amount of time and effort to get to Yading, that is, if you are lucky enough to manage the transports as a solo traveler who could hardly speak the language.  I took the challenge, so to speak, and had not regretted it one bit.

So fast forward to the days leading up to my arrival in Yading.  It is important to note that my adventure in this place entailed meeting a lovely soul in the form of a solo traveler who had once trekked the Himalayas in Nepal.  Her name is May.  She is from the northern part of Thailand near Chiang Rai.  May was on the bus with me along with other travelers who were leaving Rilong town where people stayed to visit the Four Girl Mountain National Park.  I expected no English speakers on this bus en route to Kangding where I had to catch the next leg of the trip.  In fact, May’s English is perfect and later I learned that she is an avid learner of foreign languages.  What a treat, I thought to myself.  How did I get lucky (yet, again)?  So, May told me she had been traveling solo in China and had just a few more weeks left.  She had been to China before but mostly for sightseeing.  I told May about my plans to trek Yading.  She didn’t plan on going to the same place but upon hearing about my crazy intention to do an overnight trekking to complete the kora trail that was 30 kilometers long, and with the altitude being no lower than 4,000 meters, she excitedly asked to join me.  Other than her noting that she trekked in Nepal before, I didn’t really know anything else regarding May’s experience with hiking.  I figured that for safety reasons, having someone join me on this adventure was more beneficial than not.  Also, May happened to speak Mandarin as well! So, I took the risk and hoped that with  my new found trekker friend, we would be lucky enough to rent a tent and other trekking gear upon reaching Daocheng, the biggest town before heading out to Yading.  After all, based on my research, I was told gear rental is possible in Daocheng.  Well, that turned out to be false.  More on that later.

Meanwhile, May and I had a smooth ride to Kangding where we were fortunate enough to find a couple of spaces at a hostel.  Upon arrival at the hostel, we quickly walked to the bus station to get our tickets to Daocheng.  It turned out there was no such thing as a scheduled “bus” to Daocheng.  It was more of hiring a personal driver.  We ended up having to bargain hard and after a few minutes of haggling, we secured our ride for the next day.  The next day came rather soon as we had to be up so early to catch the ride.  It was an SUV with a few other passengers and most of them were Tibetans.  Interestingly, we had to transfer to another SUV at about midpoint in Litang.  The second ride was unusually slow, so much so, that one of the passengers was fuming mad.  It had been a long day of being cramped in a car and when we were nearing night fall, tempers were starting to flare.  May and I were astonished at our predicament but didn’t wish to create any tension with the driver so we remained quiet.  When we got to Daocheng, the originally chosen hostel turned out to no longer be in existence; hence, May and I had to decide at the last minute on our hostel for the night.  We ended up finding a basic and crowded hostel that was able to arrange our private transport to Riwa.

The next morning was so much better as we were able to have a bit of rest the night before.  I was also getting excited to finally enter Yading.  The ride was not that long and on the way, the scenery of the mountains just got better and better.  When we got to Riwa, we had to buy our tickets and from there we hopped on a big tourist bus.  At that point, we were finally entering the outskirts of Yading village.  I already could tell that we were going to have a magical experience with the views.  We also arrived at such a perfect time as the fall colors were in full showing and the peaks had snow on them.

Upon arriving in Yading village, we realized we didn’t book any accommodation but thought it should be easy.  We quickly learned that we came during peak season; hence, the accommodations were almost at full capacity.  The hostel we wanted to stay at was full.  We were then advised to walk around the village to find spaces.  After about 40 minutes or so, May and I settled on a guesthouse with a Tibetan family.  The room was shared with a few others but we did get our own beds.  That night the guesthouse was full and the next day we all had to experience the unwelcome aftermath concerning the condition of the toilets.  Of course, as usual, they were the typical Chinese toilets where water runs gently through a hole on the ground.  Certainly, this was effective enough to wash away #1 but not #2; hence, I opted to avoid the toilet the entire time we were there.   I had managed to deal with the toilet situation in China up until now; this was when I finally found myself reaching my tolerance limit of the so called “Chinese” toilets.

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Pillow!

Moving onto much more pleasant thoughts, a sweet black cat resided at the guesthouse who chose my company and bed that night. The cat showered me with affection and warmth as it snuggled with me all night.  It was a nice reminder of how I missed my furry roommates back home after being away for almost three months.

Yading village appears to be a hub for tourists as opposed to it being a natural village.  The area is owned and ran by Tibetans and no Han Chinese can own and operate any business in Yading.  It is quite a remote area apart from the tourists visiting at certain periods during the year. I can only imagine how quiet it can get during off seasons.  But for now, we have to brave the influx of Chinese tourists.  As always,  the sight of a western or non Chinese tourist was uncommon, which makes the experience great in its own way.

During our first day, we decided to take it easy as we were already at a significantly high altitude.   We decided to use up the rest of the day by visiting the reserve.  As usual, the reserve had very well marked trails and they had golf carts moving people up and down the park and to different platforms to view the surroundings.  We managed to get as far as the starting point of the kora trek that we planned to do so we had a clear idea where to go.  Despite the cloudy weather, the views were spectacular, nonetheless.  See the photos –  Yading Nature Reserve Photo Gallery.

The next day, we managed to get beds at the originally chosen  hostel.  After dropping our bags and breakfast, we did a practice hike to Frog Lake.  It was again a superb hike with gorgeous views and the lake was pretty.  Hardly did we see people on the trail.  This was also an opportunity for me to assess May’s hiking abilities especially given the altitude.  It turned out quite well for both of us.  I did notice on my end that at that point in my China trip, I was very much well acclimatized which tremendously helped with raising my level of enjoyment on the trail.  See the photos – Frog Lake Gallery.

Back at the hostel, the manager, Andy, was very helpful in planning out our kora trek.  So going back to the gear rental – well, I was wrong again.  Andy told us the only tent he had was an old and simple one. He even refused to let us use it for its lack of utility.  When we told Andy about trekking the kora, he looked at us like we lost our minds because most people only hike up to the famous Milk Lake and then turn around.  Andy advised that as a day hike, it can take more than 12 hours to do the 30 km kora trail so attempting to do this in one day is insanely risky given the low temperatures at night in the event of hiking in the dark, the lack of people on the trail and the lack of easy access to getting help.  The other problem is the fact that the last bus leaves at sunset so we were very limited in terms of time.  The only saving grace is the fact that there is a guesthouse near the park entrance to which we can walk should we miss the last bus.

With no gear at all to use for overnighting, May and I had a tough decision to make that evening.  Do we push through with doing this so-called kora in one day?  Or do we do the usual hike to that Milk Lake and back?  I was, however, so convinced that the best part of the trail was what lies beyond Milk Lake.  We had come such a long way and to not even give it a try just felt downright unacceptable.  So, May and I decided to go against Andy’s advise.  We were going to complete the kora in a day but depending on the weather, our pace and our physical condition,  we allowed ourselves to revisit this decision once we got over the first pass beyond Milk Lake.  That night we prepped our gear and made sure to get to bed earlier than usual as we had to take the first morning bus in order for us to have the maximum time possible to finish the kora before dark.  I was very excited and nervous all at the same time.   Finally, the trek was materializing despite the hurdles along the way.  It was a cold night so I didn’t have the best sleep and the excitement also contributed to the sleeplessness.

The Kora Experience

Early morning we were aboard the bus to enter the Reserve.  From the entrance, we decided to take the golf cart to Luorong Grasslands as our starting point.  From the starting point, we were already afforded views of the three holy peaks – Chenresig, Chana Dorje, and Jampelyang, even if behind the morning clouds.  We started hiking at sunrise at which time the temperature was rather low and I felt my hands and feet semi-frozen, even feeling numbness at some point.  I had to just remind myself that as the morning progresses, the sun will be up and all will be heavenly.  An hour more and that became a reality.

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The hike started with trying to get to the first highlight, the Milk Lake, at 4480  meters from Luorong Grasslands (4180 meters).  Even if our trek that day had to end at Milk Lake, I would have been satisfied as Milk Lake was a phenomenal sight to see.  It was such a gorgeous lake that deserved more time so we decided to eat our lunch next to it.  Next to the Milk Lake was the hill that took us to the nearby lake, 5 Color Lake at 4530 meters.  It was a pretty sight, as well, but not as wonderful as Milk Lake.  After lunch, we proceeded to walk further to hike up the first pass.  As we walked further away from Milk Lake, it became increasingly apparent that there were only the two of us now trekking on the trail.  This was to be the case for the rest of the time for we didn’t see a single soul from that moment onward.

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We successfully made it to the highest point,the first pass, at 4700 meters, without much delay and observed the place to be filled with prayer flags complemented by the 360 degree view of the peaks including the southwest face of Chenresig.  At that point, we decided given our pace and the decent, albeit cloudy, weather we were going to move forward with our trek.

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The next couple of hours consisted of walking a very gradual descent and then ascent with more lakes to be enjoyed along the way.  The clouds moving in fast worried me as May notably slowed down her pace.  We were walking for about 6 hours at that point and we just made it to the one and only shelter along the way that was made of rocks.  At that point, May and I had to assess how we wanted to proceed as the clouds above us seemed to indicate potential for snow.  She reassured me that she was doing fine and could continue on.  So we did.  The hardest part of the trek was just about to start.

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As we trudged along up a number of uphills and false summits, I was relying on the blog write up that I had on my phone to remind us of the landmarks and how far along we were on the trail.  I was also concerned we have yet to make it to the second pass which was only a few meters lower than the first one and after hiking for about 8.5 hours at that point, the trek was starting to feel rather slow going.  Eventually, we came around a bend and the trail became more downhill with another hill for us to climb.  I suspected at that point we were nearing the second pass.  At times, we were also losing track of the path as there were some snowy patches on the trail which made the path harder to decipher.  May reminded me that the trail was a loop so we need to keep the range of holy peaks to our right side at that point.  We eventually rediscovered the actual path and from there it was just a straight steep uphill.  I felt more difficulty with my breathing which signaled that we were gaining a much higher elevation and that we were nearing the highest point of our trek.  At that moment, snow flakes started coming down upon us as we reached the second pass at 4665 meters.    The pass itself was a much smaller area than the first one, almost just an opening between two hills or rocks.  But on top, it was filled with prayer flags. May and I were ecstatic that we made it this far even though we still had a little less than one third to go.  May and I snapped our photos and off we went down to the other side as we worked our way down with mostly a downhill trail the rest of the way.

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At that point, we still had clouds above us but the flakes were short-lived.  The sun came out intermittently which allowed us glimpses of the holy peaks as we descended at a regular pace.   Soon enough, we were below the treeline and inside a pristine forest.  We were making our way to the next landmark, Pearl Lake, which alerted us that we were close to the end of our trek.  After Pearl Lake, the last stretch took us back to a trail near the main entrance which then led us to the steps where the usual Chinese tourists are usually seen; but as it was late in the day, the place was deserted.  May and I were fortunate to have made it to the last bus with just a minute or two to spare.  We were exhausted after 11.5 hours of trekking at such high altitude.  But we did it.  And as the bus rolled out to take us back to our hostel, May and I smiled at each other contently.

At the hostel, Andy was so delighted to see us back and made sure to prepare us our meals to recover from the grueling day.  We learned that Andy was awaiting our return and that he intended to send for help in the event we didn’t make it back to the hostel that night.  We were delighted to hear that gesture but glad it never headed that way.  At dinner, May revealed to me that she trekked Nepal years ago and that she had not done much high altitude hiking since then.   Had I known this, I might have decided not to do the kora with May. I would have second guessed the idea because I prefer not to put someone in danger.  In some ways, I felt responsible for May’s safety the entire time as it was my plan to begin with.  But she did exceptionally well, and I was proud of her achievement as I quietly thanked the world for our safe journey.

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We were such strong trekkers that day and for sure it felt like such a feat!  But the truth is the highlight of the experience was the golden moment we had to ourselves as we enjoyed nature’s finest.  In many ways, that moment captured the essence of life, which we were reminded of every step of the way.  We were in perfect harmony with our natural surroundings and ourselves that day. I knew then that Yading was a life altering experience as I forged an everlasting friendship with my new friend, May.

And YES.  Yading is hands down gorgeous.

Yading and the Kora Aftermath

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May and I left Yading the day after we completed the kora.  We took a photo with our kind host, Andy, and bid him farewell as we hopped on the bus to move onto our next destination.  In Riwa, we managed to get a private SUV to take us to Daocheng where we spent the night before parting ways.  May wanted to go to another town, Soda, in TAR to witness the sky funeral, a local Tibetan tradition, while I had to get myself to Daocheng airport, the highest one in the world (and the coldest), to get back to Chengdu to meet my American friends for the start of our journey to Lhasa; and then Nepal.

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Coldest airport I have ever been…better to be hiking in this temperature than waiting for the flight.

That night we stayed at a different hostel and indulged in traditional Tibetan cuisine which consisted of their traditional bread, yogurt and grilled meats.  We spent sometime chatting about life and where we envision the road leading us from there on.  We were delighted at the spontaneity of our adventure – two female trekkers/travelers who crossed paths to do one of the most amazing hiking experiences ever.  I knew my heart was heavy to say goodbye yet again, especially this time because I connected with May in many ways as a hiker and a friend.

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Simple but delicious! Bread, yogurt and yak millk.

But as life goes, I woke up the next morning earlier than my friend to catch the taxi to the airport.  I bid farewell to May and suggested she meet me in Chengdu after her adventure in Soda.  After all, I was curious about the sky funeral and a bit dismayed at not having extra days to join her.  My journey was shifting yet again.  The next chapter would entail having to reconnect with people back in the U.S.A. which felt at that point in my travels a bit strange.  It was something to have to get used to again after months of traveling alone and meeting random people along the way.  Truth be told, the notion of  this shift scared me a little because I was fully enjoying the time spent alone and the spontaneity of my experiences; hence, I didn’t feel I was ready to give that all up.  This was the first time that I completely grasped the beauty of solitude.  Having to part from it was scary for the first time.

Travel bloggers can be heaven sent and that became evident in my case.  For that, I am grateful.  For full details on Yading and the Kora Trek, please visit the website, The Land of Snows, which I used as my personal reference for this journey.

Without further ado, here is the gallery of photos on our Kora Trek in Yading Nature Reserve:

Read also: FILM PROJECT: Don’t Date a Girl Who Treks, which was launched based on BGT’s trek in Yading.

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