Category Archives: BGT Features

VPODCAST EPISODE 4: On My Way! From a Lawyer to a Mountain Nomad

Episode 4: How to Approach Money

How does one handle the finances to live a nomadic lifestyle? Tune in for the next upcoming episodes as Brown Gal goes over the approaches, challenges and ways to address the financial part of her journey.

Read also Trekking Made Me Lose Things to Gain More

To learn more about this series, see VPODCAST INTRO.  Also see

Episode 1: Why I’m Leaving My Career

Episode 2: What Am I Afraid Of? Solitude.

Episode 3: Am I Too Old for a Grand Adventure?

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.

VPODCAST EPISODE 3: On My Way! From a Lawyer to a Mountain Nomad

Episode 3:  Am I Too Old for a Grand Adventure?

In this episode, Brown Gal Trekker tackles the fear of aging. Is it a factor when it comes to going after your dream? Yes and no. Tune in for this special Mother’s Day Episode.

Articles referenced in the podcast:

I Turned 40 and Became a Superwoman

Why Your 40s is the Best Time to go on a Grand Adventure

Accepting Myself Through My Mother’s Eyes

To learn more about this series, see VPODCAST INTRO.  Also see

Episode 1: Why I’m Leaving My Career

Episode 2: What Am I Afraid Of? Solitude.

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.

OUTDOOR WOMAN’S VOICE: Susan Elliott (aka Hadija)

The universe at times can do its wonders and connect people who share similar aspirations.  In this case, the shared aspiration happens to be Jordan Trail.  If you happen to be following the Outdoor Women’s Voices series, you’d remember one of our features, Vix Harris, who planned to trek the Jordan Trail.  Shortly after her feature was published, I met Susan who has done the Jordan Trail herself a few years prior.  I was delighted to find out that both women knew of each other before my knowing either one.  It further amazed me to learn that Susan happens to be the oldest female hiker to complete the Jordan Trail at the age of 65!

I’m beyond honored to have the opportunity to meet Susan.  Ever since we first chatted about her being featured on the Outdoor Women’s Voices series, she’s been hiking non-stop.  To me, Susan’s life and her dedication to hiking serve as the ultimate inspiration because her relationship with hiking entails challenges including her own unique set of physical challenges that render hiking a much more difficult pursuit to her as compared to most of us.  What impresses me the most about Susan is her determination to do it anyway.  Her “can do” attitude is contagious.  In my world, she has impacted my level of self-confidence in that no matter what difficulties come my way in my pursuit of becoming a mountain nomad, there’s no other way to handle it but to forge ahead.  I also appreciate her ability to break the norms by showing the world that age should not deter you from pursuing your passion.

Feature Outdoor Woman’s Voice

Susan Elliott aka Hadija was born in Port Stanley, Falkland Islands and grew up in Mbabane, Swaziland from age 7 to 16.  Circumstances require her to divide her time between Maui, USA; Kent, UK; and Jordan, Middle East!  Currently, she’s looking after her health and giving aromatherapy massage in Maui; working in UK as a healthcare assistant in a psychiatric hospital; visiting her daughter and three grandchildren, who are between 1 and 5 years old, in their Bedouin village in Jordan…and hiking in all three locations.

When and how did you start hiking?  

You could say I started hiking, together with  my love of the outdoor world, when I was inside my mother who was five months pregnant and who, with my father, was hiking for a week across the Falkland Islands camping and carrying equipment and  food in big heavy old fashioned rucksacks! Once I could walk, I was struggling through peat bogs to a beach for fishing with my parents.

Who or what inspires you to hike?   

My parents definitely inspired me, although as a teenager, I did not appreciate going on long hikes in Swaziland’s mountains every Sunday! Thank you so much my school friends, Yda Gibbon and Cynthia Hooper, for coming on some of these hikes. Then, as a young adult, I just took for granted my love of the outdoors and hiking. Only when I got older did I realise what a gift my parents had given me. Sadly, they had both died before I thought to thank them.

What do you like the most about hiking?  

The solitude and beauty of the natural world and being free of the daily complexities and troubles of our world. Some may say escapism but for me crucial renewal time and space.

What do you like the least about it?  

Nowadays, the pain and fatigue which comes with having fibromyalgia and arthritic knees, but overall hiking still rejuvenates me!  

What is your most memorable hiking experience to date?  

Definitely hiking the Jordan Trail! Not only because I accomplished this not inconsiderable challenge at 65 years of age,  but also because for the first time in my life, I had the opportunity to hike a long distance trail – one of my dreams. The Jordan Trail gave me everything I needed and at exactly the right moment when hiking – miracles of iced water, sweet energising tea, thick coffee; beautiful flowers to focus on when the way was long and tiring; soaring wheeling birds of prey uplifting me from the rain; camping spot surrounded by mountains alive with animal bells and distant adhans; nourishing food prepared with love by strangers and their unconditional kindness;  mountain rock colours soothing my tiredness; space to allow my inner intuition to find the route and to be safe; making new friends when I joined the Jordan Trail Association technical thru hike for the final trail sections.

My tent at remote Wadi Gsieb, November 14, 2016.

What are some lessons you’ve learned from hiking?    

“Mindfulness” and extra discipline since, in remote areas, one has no choice but to keep going to the end of the hike! Truly, hiking teaches the importance of being mindful and in the present, without wishing it were different and without fearing it will always be this way.

What advice would you give to those new to hiking?  

Set realistic goals taking into consideration your physical stamina and strength, distance, difficulty of terrain and climate, availability of food and water, nearest assistance. Plan thoroughly with a back up plan or two for changes which are guaranteed to happen in the natural world – such as  a weather change or delay in finding the way. Take blister care items and support bandages for twisted knees or ankles. Better to start with modest goals and enjoy your hiking than try to do too much too soon and end up in difficulties. When you go to hike, communicate your plans in detail to those close to you.

Susan shares with us her 3 favorite hiking photos.

(Alas, I have only taken digital photos over the last three years so cannot depict my wide range of hiking. Also, I didn’t have a camera/ smart phone for my first Jordan Trail trip.)

The quintessence of an English right of way for walkers on the 1066 Trail at Winchelsea, Kent! Beautiful stone stile, clear waymark signpost, nearby bench, information board for ancient ruins, no rubbish, well-maintained, December 7, 2016.

Skyline Ridge Trail at 10,000ft,  Haleakala, Maui. One of my recent hikes on January 22, 2017, for my WALK 1000 MILES 2017.

A surprise on a Maui neighbourhood walk – part of my WALK 1000 MILES 2017 challenge, February 10, 2017.

What treks/trips do you have still on your bucket list?

Sinai Trail   

Lebanon Mountain Trail   

Turkey –  the Sufi Trail   

Turkey – Lycian Way   

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

A real challenge has been finding other women among my friends  to hike with me due to factors such as terrain, distance, speed, elevation.  Also, as the years went by, I became more wary about hiking alone in Maui in remote areas in case I fell – bodies of fallen hikers have been found from time to time in Maui! Hiking the rural and new Jordan Trail as a solo woman was especially challenging since rural women do not hike, although some women will be out alone grazing their family’s goats or sheep. Indeed, hiking, in general, for Jordanians seems a new concept. Everyone felt responsible for my “plight,” and drivers wanted to “rescue” me and take me to a town. Others were reluctant to help me find a taxi driver to take me to my daily start/end locations! The taxi driver in turn would be reluctant. I was repeatedly warned of the dangers such as wild animals, the cold, finding my way, and once of bad men!

One of the wild animals! The two side-winder snakes didn’t hang around long enough for a portrait. November 13, 2016.

How did you overcome these challenges?

In England, I made new friends who had a similar hiking style – one from a yoga class and the other a sponsor for my War Child hike in Jordan. In Maui, I joined a Sunday Meetup Hiking group whose key members are strong hikers and who explore new territory. I’m challenged to keep up at times, but they always wait for me! In Jordan, since I was a woman in a Muslim country, I kept my arms, legs, and hair covered, and when the trail sometimes followed small roads, I hiked with my eyes down when vehicles passed. This worked really well. Only cars with families stopped, a couple of police cars, and two trucks with secret service agents.  All along the Jordan Trail, I showed those whom I met a laminated card with information in Arabic about the newly developed Jordan Trail, who I was, and why I was hiking. Not everyone could read, but the card still seemed to help allay concerns.

I proceeded to ask Susan about her Jordan Trail journey.  She happens to be the oldest female hiker to have completed it.

I hiked the Jordan Trail which tracks 650 km (405 miles)  from Um Qais in the far north of Jordan to the Red Sea not far from the border with Saudi Arabia in the south of Jordan. The trail crosses rolling fertile hills in the north, plunges into 1000 metre wadis, climbs steeply back up to the plateau overlooking the Dead Sea, meanders through the fabulous ancient city of Petra with its carved pink sandstone facades, winds through spectacular remote canyons, and crosses over the deserts and multi-coloured mountains in the south. At 65 years old, I am the oldest person and the oldest woman to have hiked the Jordan trail, although it took me two trips to complete.

November 21, 2016, I finished the 650 km Jordan Trail for War Child at the Red Sea south of Aqaba!

When did you do it?   

February 23 to April 1, 2016 and November 3 to 21, 2016.

What was the itinerary?

Since my first trip was in the spring with unpredictable rain and cold, I first hiked from Ais to Petra.  I rested and then moved north to the beginning of the trail at Um Qais, skipping the Dead Sea Wadis, and finishing at Ais. On my second trip, I tackled the tough Dead Sea Wadis, and then completed the Jordan Trail by hiking the final sections from Petra to Wadi Rum to the Red Sea south of Aqaba.

A total of 42 hiking days: 27 days in February/March and 15 days in November. 30 days solo finding the route solely by GPS (which I had never used before!), 3 days with a guide between Feynan Ecolodge and Qbour Al-Wahdat,  and the last 9 days with the Jordan Trail Association technical thru hike and walking 18 to 30 km (11 to 19 ml) a day.

Have you done something like this in the past? 

No, but in spring 1980, my husband and I spent two months travelling among the mountain areas of Spain, camping and hiking along the way.  Also, when growing up in Africa, I travelled widely with my parents camping and hiking every long school holiday.  In 1962, we drove by car all the way from Swaziland to Alexandria in  Egypt. Then, we caught a boat to Lebanon and continued by road through Europe, finishing in England.

Tell us about the logistics of this trek.  

Originally,  I planned to hike the Jordan Trail camping and using the excellent Dixon Roller Pack to carry my equipment,  food, and water.

Pulling my Dixon Rollerpack after Ma’tan Siq on Day 3, February 25, 2016.

Photo by Leon McCarron, adventure traveller and filmmaker.

Unfortunately, much of the terrain turned out to be vastly more rugged, rocky, and steep than anticipated! Consequently, on my first trip, I only camped a few nights. The rest of the time, I stayed in family home stays along the way or stayed at a basic hotel for 3 or 4 days and hiked along the nearby Jordan Trail, using local buses or taxis to my daily trail start and end points.

My room at Rocky Mountain Hotel, Wadi Musa, near Petra, November 10, 2016.

I was bitterly disappointed to abandon camping, but even with today’s ultra-light equipment,  I couldn’t backpack the weight with my arthritic knees and fibromyalgia. On my second trip, I joined the Jordan Trail Association technical thru hike for the final nine days of remote hiking with camping at night. Thus, solving the problems of food and water, since we had support vehicles to bring supplies and carry our bags.

My tent – near Jebel Kharazeh, November 16, 2016.

Did you receive any help or support from anyone or any organization to accomplish this?

I  relied totally on information from the Jordan Trail website. Indeed, once I got to Jordan, I was very strongly discouraged from continuing after only three days. My ability, organisation, planning, and experience were severely questioned. I think perhaps because of my age and the unsuitable Dixon Rollerpack! So I abandoned pulling the Dixon, pressed on, and kept a very low profile.

On my second trip, the Jordan Trail Association took the risk of allowing me to join their technical thru hike for the final nine days which are impossible without support for food and water. I will be forever grateful for the team’s openness and welcome, in spite of their reservations. I feel very honoured to have had this opportunity to hike with the three Jordanian women, Dinah Aqel, Duha Fayyad, and Karmah Tabbaa – the first women to accomplish the thru hike – and with Olivia Mason, talented researcher.    

Practical essential help in the UK came from a great friend, Jill, who trained with me every week through miles of mud on English footpaths, and from her husband, Paul, who loaded all the GPX files on my Garmin eTrex 30x and lent me a power charging pack. My grateful thanks to you both and to Minnie, who sent me off with a kilo of super healthy flapjacks!

How did you come up with this idea  for a trek?

I have always wanted to hike a long distance trail but life, work, job, health, and family responsibilities did not give me enough space until recently. My daughter and three grandchildren live in Jordan, so when I heard about the new Jordan Trail, that was the  perfect choice, especially as I don’t like the cold and rain of the UK. Then, War Child found me, and their work in Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan became the final piece of the puzzle.

What inspired you to do this?

I like challenge, and the Jordan Trail became a personal challenge in memory of my parents who planted the seeds for my love of hiking in the wild. My father, Frank K Elliott, who lived to 103, was an extremely accomplished rock climber and Antarctic explorer as well as, along with my mother, a life-long traveller and hiker.

What was the purpose?

My journey, in a small way, was also about helping to create positive understanding about this part of the world. I wanted to give some hope and support via War Child to children of our future and do something beautiful for God in our troubled world.

Did you do it solo or with others?

30 days solo; 3 days with a guide Feynan Ecolodge to QbourAl-Wahdat; 9 days with group Jordan Trail Association technical thru hike.

Have you hiked solo before? 

I often do solo day hikes and am looking forward to some long weekend hikes this year as part of my WALK 1000 MILES 2017. Although I very much enjoy hiking with a friend, I also like the freedom of being on my own, pausing when I want, and  not having any thoughts concerning my companion’s needs. Indeed, I can be gloriously selfish!

How did you decide to do a fundraiser for this trek?  

War Child found me! I was travelling through London with a big backpack when I was stopped by a War Child volunteer. I had never heard of this organisation,  but when I did my research and discovered their work with children in Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan, I knew this was the perfect cause to motivate me on my Jordan Trail challenge. Since I work in a psychiatric hospital, I was delighted that post-trauma counselling was available for the children from war-torn Syria. My commitment to the Syrian children, who were given hope and the tools with which to live positive lives, helped to keep my legs moving forward since the Jordan Trail was a tough challenge for me, physically,  mentally,  and emotionally.

So far donations total £2,691/$3,560(53% of my goal of £5,000).  This money will be used by War Child for their work with Syrian refugee children in Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan. War Child focuses on mental health first-aid, trauma counselling, creation of ‘Safe Spaces’ and provision of informal education to help the children heal from their traumas, as well as training of local staff in psycho-social care.

The money I have raised will make a real difference to children like Nour, whose lives have been devastated by conflicts around the world. After Nour fled her home in Syria, she was withdrawn and aggressive, lashing out at her younger sister. With War Child’s help, she’s beginning to recover – she’s making friends and is a lot calmer. It’s just the start and War Child will continue to help Nour and her family cope with their experiences. Through “I Deal” counselling sessions, I have helped War Child reach the most vulnerable and traumatised children like Nour, and their families, to help them better cope with everyday life after conflict, bringing happiness and hope back into their lives. It’s not a simple or quick fix and it’s down to people like myself that War Child is able to provide long-term support to children and their families.

War Child is the only organisation dedicated to delivering this kind of specialist support for children affected by conflicts around the world.  

What were the challenges you encountered on the trek?

Every day in the north, I had to deal with groups of stray dogs. Often they would be asleep in the bushes and wake up when I was almost on top of them. However,  I just had to pick up a rock, and they’d mostly run, not knowing my aim was useless! Once some men watched me walk up a long hill. When I got closer, they went into the house and left me to the mercy of  a pack of very fierce dogs. Some of the dogs were loose and others bouncing around in a frenzy on huge chains! Wielding my pointy trekking poles helped me feel a bit safer! Thankfully, the Bedouin shepherds always called their well-trained dogs off me.

Dehydration was a constant struggle most days, as I just didn’t seem to be able to drink enough to counteract sweat loss on the steep hills. This meant I only needed one toilet stop, but oh what a challenge as there always seemed to be a village in view, or a farmer or a shepherd somewhere on the surrounding mountains, and no cover. One day my kind taxi driver had bought me cardamon coffee so in time the bathroom break became all consuming. Then, when I was finding my way down a mountain with no trail, I found a perfect deep grassy pit where I was completely hidden! So often the Jordan Trail gave me exactly what I needed!

My almost total lack of Arabic made me very sad as most people I met had little English, so our communication was very limited. A language miracle was when a policeman  stopped his car when he saw me at a bus stop in a village and phoned a number I had and arranged instant transport,  with price, to my accommodation with a driver with no English.  

My first trip was also bitterly cold at times, especially on the high plateau.  One night in a small hotel, I needed two extremely heavy thick woollen blankets from Iran. My thick socks regularly took 2 days to dry after washing. The cold probably contributed to my loss of 12 pounds in weight, in spite of forcing myself to eat more than usual!

How did you overcome them?

I was so happy to start walking each day and leave behind everyone’s worries and could just concentrate on finding the way and not falling down! Each day was spectacular and full of interest. Miracles occurred when I needed something in particular.

Susan shares with us her 3 favorite moments along the Jordan Trail.

Elegantly scattered black rocks – so beautiful.

Miracle of crocuses bursting out of the rocky ground. 

Surprise of new friends! Dina Aqel is one of the three warrior women who were the first women to complete the whole 650 km Jordan Trail in the technical thru hike. 

I was unbelievably touched when just before we got to the Red Sea, the thru hike team waited for me – I was lagging behind with horrendous blisters on blisters. We had to go under the road by a tunnel, and as I went through, one of the Mohammads played his flute and everyone clapped and sang. For me, that was the ultimate recognition for finishing the Jordan Trail!

What did you hope to accomplish from the trek?

Simply to hike the 650 km from Um Qais to the Red Sea, taking as much time as I needed to be safe and to enjoy the experience, and to raise £5,000 for War Child’s Children of Syria Appeal. The first goal was accomplished, but I am still working on my target for donations!

How did it impact you as a person?

The Jordan Trail touched my soul. On the trail I felt whole, no fragmentation, deeply at peace, and in awe of the beauty of creation. The Jordan Trail experience made me feel more confident again. I realise now that gradually and subtly my confidence had lessened over recent years. Probably due to a combination of increasing age, three bouts of early breast cancer with surgery and radiation, and onset of fibromyalgia and arthritic knees. I had to give up my Hapkido training and rethink my limits. My world seemed to be shrinking, especially as friends died. Not only did  the Jordan Trail broaden my horizons – literally, as well as physically, mentally, and emotionally – but the trail also introduced me to some wonderful new friends!

How was it like interacting with the locals along the way?

I had such heart warming experiences.  For example:

Day 1: The one man who did not seem alarmed by a lone woman walking down the road heading for wilderness was the driver of a minibus with special education children and their staff. I stood at the window in the rain near Ais and was introduced to the ladies and children, and he cheerfully said that he would see me in Aqaba at the end of the Jordan Trail, on TV. He beamed so much positive energy, and I thought someone who works with challenged children understands more is possible than most of us can imagine – I smiled.

Day 4:  Not far from Feynan Lodge, a woman’s  voice called me, literally from inside some bushes! Nearby, another woman and a young boy were squatting by a tiny fire and offered me shai. An old cup was rinsed and tea poured for me. We tried to communicate and the voice in the bushes joined in, but all I could understand was the Shahadah. I was offered a donkey ride to my destination, but had to refuse since I had to walk the whole Jordan Trail. I left some money with the child for the shai – somehow they seemed extra poor.  The voice in the bushes remained a puzzle.

Day 10: A few miles north of  Little Petra, at the start of the day, some children and their Aunt invited me into their traditional goat’s hair Bedouin tent for shai. These tents are very strong and last for years, but this one had holes in the roof and the recent rains must have poured through onto the family and their few belongings. Of course,  I am again hampered by my lack of Arabic, so I gave the twelve-year-old girl my explanation sheet. In spite of its complexity and the unfamiliar material about War Child, she read the piece aloud so beautifully and with so much energy and expression. Her Aunt looked so proud of her, and I was really moved. When I left, to thank them for my tea and the reading, I gave the girl 5 JOD. Alas, I cannot remember her name.

Are you currently trekking or doing a project?  

Yes, I have joined the WALK 1000 MILES 2017 challenge to continue to raise funds for War Child’s work with Syrian refugee children and young people in Jordan.   

 Tell us about it!

The aim is to walk a 1000 miles in 2017. I am challenging myself to walk on planned walks beyond my usual everyday running around. I am motivated by the well publicised health benefits of walking. I am continuing to raise funds for War Child’s Children of Syria Appeal to reach my target of £5000/$6500. I’m excited to return to the beginning of the Jordan Trail on March 31, 2017, for some of the first public Jordan Trail thru hike –  an historic event.

WALK 1000 MILES 2017: Waikalai Ridge, West Maui Mountains, February 19, 2017.

WALK 1000 MILES 2017: Iao River close to my apartment in Maui and good for the daily walks, February 13, 2017.

WALK 1000 MILES 2017: Another neighbourhood for daily walks – Sugar Cove, Spreckelsville, Maui.           February 7, 2017.

WALK 1000 MILES 2017: Bewl Water, Kent, UK.  A 13 mile circuit, March 10, 2017.

Susan then shares with us her favorite quote on and off trails.

“Breathe and Believe.”  A friend of almost 50 years who is now severely limited in her own mobility courageously and generously gave me these wise words before my Jordan Trail hike. The many long steep ascents were “breathe and believe” moments! I send my utmost respect to this friend and to whom I dedicate this piece of writing.

To wrap up, Susan noted the following gratitude for her life-changing adventures:

I cannot say enough about how honoured I was, in the final nine days of my Jordan Trail journey, to meet and hike with some of the pioneers of the long and difficult development of the world-class Jordan Trail, especially Amjad Shahrour,  Mark Khano, Bashir Daoud, David Landis, and Nasser Tabbaa. Not forgetting Mahmoud Bdoul, Zaid Anwar Kalbouneh, Ali Barqawi, and Mohammad Al-Homran and Mohammad Al-Zaeadeen – the first two Jordanians to complete the thru hike, October, 2016.

One day, I hope to meet Tony Howard and Di Taylor, cornerstone pioneers of the Jordan Trail over many, many years!

Finally, my heartfelt thanks to all my sponsors so far  and for all the words of encouragement from friends, family, and strangers which keep me going as I walk towards my £5,000/$6,500 target for War Child’s  Children of Syria Appeal.

Thanks, Susan!  I wish you more amazing trail journeys and hope to hear from you as you forge ahead!

You can follow Susan via her fundraiser page through Just Giving.   

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

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

V-PODCAST EPISODE 2: On My Way! From a Lawyer to a Mountain Nomad

EPISODE 2: What am I afraid of?  SOLITUDE.

In this episode, Brown Gal Trekker tackles one of the fears with going for an unconventional dream of traveling for a lifetime.  She shares her thoughts on what solo traveling means from a “fear” standpoint and some ideas to mentally conquer it.  Would you add anything else?  Questions? Thoughts?  Feel free to share them!

For more, check out 8 Ways to Mentally Prepare for a Solo Adventure

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

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Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest

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

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

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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:

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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.

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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.

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 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!

CHECK OUT THE EPISODES:

Episode 1: Should I Stay or Should I Go?  Reasons to Leave My Career

Episode 2: What Am I Afraid Of? Solitude

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

 

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.

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