Tag Archives: backpacking

FREEDOMPRENEURS: Alex & Sebastiaan of Lost With Purpose

Iran. Afghanistan. Pakistan. Kyrgyzstan.

These are places that not many travelers go to and given the political instability that is happening all around the world, many adventure travelers are disheartened with the thought of visiting such places.  It takes plenty of research and courage to navigate such countries and experience travel at its finest.  As travelers, we’re behooved to exercise our innate nature to roam the world freely but what happens when political and cultural views get in the way?

I must admit that I have yet to go to these countries. In particular, as an avid mountain trekker, I’m highly interested in the trekking opportunities in Iran, Kyrgyzstan and Pakistan.  As an American, the recent change in the political and cultural climate towards predominantly Muslim countries have posed a mental challenge – despite what have been presented on the  news, would you allow this to compromise your desire to see the lesser known parts of the world, the ones that are especially known for warm and friendly locals (despite politics) and rich in history, as well as, stupendous landscapes?

In light of the world’s despair over varying political views on the state of said countries, reading travel stories from bloggers who have been to the places in dispute provide a hint of hope and connection.  It is more important now than ever before to continue sharing travel stories from these countries that are constantly berated on the news as being “dangerous” and “unwelcoming” to the rest of the world.  (Read this Matador article on bloggers’ roles in promoting humanity). For us, travelers, we are now faced with the difficult question as to how to delicately balance safety versus our desire for freedom to roam.  If we do manage to venture into these countries, it would be incumbent upon us to share with the world the beauty and generosity of the locals and the world-class sites and nature that abound within these countries.

I’m delighted to feature two travelers who have done exactly that, whose mission is to tell the world about the wonderful experiences they’ve had in countries that remain unjustifiably questionable to the majority of travelers.  Perhaps the negative perceptions will dissipate one day, even if takes years or decades or more.  Regardless, bloggers and travelers have a critical role to play in that process.

Alex and Sebastiaan of Lost with Purpose

Alex (short for Alexandra) is a 25-year-old American girl, and Sebastiaan is a 28 year old Dutchie.  They’re full time travelers and bloggers over at Lost with Purpose.  They’ve been on the road for nearly a year, traversing the Caucasus, Iran, Pakistan, China, Central Asia, and Afghanistan. Currently they’re in India, alternating between sweating profusely, devouring curries, and basking in brilliantly bizarre culture.

Hitchhiking near the Kolsai lakes in Kazakhstan.
Sebastiaan

Sebastiaan grew up in the Amsterdam, the Netherlands. At age eight, his family moved to the Caribbean island of Curaçao.  After two years of island life, they moved back to Zandvoort, a beach town in the Netherlands. He continued to travel, both with family and without (in later years), and took not one but two gap years in Australia and Southeast Asia after high school.

Alex

Alex grew up in an “international” household in Pennsylvania; her mother is Filipino, and her father is English. Her father was also a professor, and the family often tagged along when he went to international conferences. Their travels took them to comfortable destinations such as Hungary and Denmark, as well as far-flung locales like Mongolia and the Philippines.

Their paths crossed on a university exchange program in Bangkok, Thailand.  They hit things off, had a stint of awkward dating-not-dating while traveling around Southeast Asia for several months, then decided things were meant to be and suffered a year of long distance post-travel while they finished their bachelor degrees. After graduation, Alex got a British passport (thanks to her father) and moved to the Netherlands so they could be together. Now, almost five years later, they’re on the road backpacking once again!

What are your interests and passion in life?

Our passion is what we first bonded over, and continue to explore today: traveling!

We both love traveling, especially to uncommon destinations. Once off the beaten track, meeting new people and exploring new cultures becomes much easier and more organic. It’s what motivates us to travel to more “difficult” or unconventional countries!

At a shrine to Hazrat Ali in Bamiyan, Afghanistan.

Aside from our shared love of travel, Alex is addicted to ice cream, and I spend a good part of my waking life devouring manga.

Are you still working a 9 to 5 job? 

Nope, we’re jobless—and homeless—bums. We quit our jobs before we started traveling and blogging.

Before adopting a life of vagrancy, we both worked in Amsterdam. I had a marketing and sales position at a food-related company, and Alex both freelanced and worked as a designer and occasional web developer.

 How was the process like to quit something so stable?

It was surprisingly easy. We knew we wanted to do this for a while, and never really thought about it as something difficult to do. We’re used to change, thanks to my multiple gap years and Alex’s relocating for school and to the Netherlands.

The most difficult part was figuring when to tell our bosses. Luckily, it wasn’t too bad—we both had very encouraging, understanding bosses. We ended up telling them about three months in advance so they had ample time to find and train replacements.

 What are your current projects/business/plans?

We’re mostly focusing on monetizing our blog, Lost with Purpose.

The blog is a combination of photo-heavy storytelling, as well as practical information and advice for other travelers. The focus is on covering less visited destinations such as Afghanistan and Pakistan; i.e. places lacking in up-to-date information for travelers. To supplement our direct income from the blog, we sell articles to publications, and Alex does a bit of freelance writing if an opportunity arises.

I’m curious to know more about your project.  What led you to start this blog?

When planning our trip, we were surprised to see how little useful or up-to-date information was available for the places we wanted to visit. There are hundreds of blogs covering Europe and Southeast Asia, but hardly any covering Georgia or Iran or Pakistan. We decided we could fill that gap.

The blog’s name, Lost with Purpose, comes from our tendency to get lost. We find the most memorable experiences occur when lost… so instead of bemoaning it, why not savor it? Our purpose: enjoy getting lost.

Getting lost in Georgia’s Truso Valley.

When did you launch your blog?

We officially launched when we started traveling: February 24, 2016. The blog was nearly empty though, and the only people reading it were our mothers.

What is your blog’s mission?

It started out as helping other travelers find their way in uncommon destinations.

However, the purpose of the blog shifted since its inception. In our travels, we visited several countries struggling with terroristic stereotypes such as Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Despite the negative connotations, we met so many people who were ecstatic about our visiting, and were eager to show off their country and mind-blowing hospitality. We wanted to give the world a chance to see what people in these countries are really like.

Surrounded by crazy friendly locals in Lahore, Pakistan.

Now, we write to show people how awesome the world and its people are. People are fundamentally similar no matter where you go, and most will greet you with a friendly smile if you let them. In today’s polarized society, this is often forgotten or purposefully suppressed. We hope to be a voice of positive reason, one article at a time.

With a friend we met through Couchsurfing in Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan.

We still give plenty of practical information (how-to guides, budget reports, transport information, etc.), but many of our stories focus on the human element.

What hurdles have you faced thus far with this project?

We’re on a perpetual hunt for working wi-fi! Seriously, we’ve probably spent more money on coffee and drinks while attempting to find wi-fi than anything else.

The wi-fi in Iran was terrible, and to top it off, many major websites are blocked by the government!

Another problem: traveling full-time and trying to start a business don’t play well together. You want to fully experience your surroundings and meet new people… but you also have to write articles, maintain social media, answer emails, etc.

Another hurdle is monetization. No matter what those articles peddling travel blogging as an instant source of money or free travel may say, making money from a blog is not easy. At the moment, most of our money is made from writing for other publications, not our blog.

How did you overcome these hurdles?

Whenever we find a place with decent wifi, we take over. Sometimes we’ll stay an extra day or two if it’s working really well. Other times, it’s impossible to find any connection. In Pakistan, for instance, some places only have working electricity for a couple of hours a day! Good luck getting any work done.

The Hunza Valley in Pakistan: gorgeous, but connection-less.

That plays into finding our work/travel balance. No wifi = focus on travel, and offline tasks such as writing and editing photos/video. We’ve learned to focus on doing what’s possible at the time, which saves a lot of stress and misery!

As for monetization… we’re still working on that one! Most of our money comes from selling articles, but more sponsored opportunities are coming in as we become more established, and we’re currently focusing on better integrating affiliate sales into our existing content.

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

The blogging community has been a great help to us! There are several travel blogging Facebook groups that we frequent, such as We Travel We Blog and Female Travel Bloggers. They’re filled with (mostly) good-hearted people willing to help each other out and point each other in the right direction.

We’ve also developed a relationship with a couple of other bloggers in our niche, and they’ve pumped us full of all kinds of useful advice and tips.

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

Full time! We quit our jobs, stopped renting our apartment, and sold all our stuff, so we don’t have anything in the Netherlands to go back to. Our travels stop when the money stops, but we hope to indefinitely postpone that date with blogging.

Waiting for a (potentially nonexistent) bus in Armenia.

Before this big trip, we tried to travel at least three times a year, money permitting. Traveling to foreign countries wasn’t particularly difficult or expensive when we lived right in the middle of Europe.

How does your project complement your passion for traveling?

We travel the way we like, and we write about it so that others can do the same. It’s pretty straightforward!

Alex and Sebastiaan share with us their favorite travel moment. 

There are so many moments… where to begin? We’ve been taken in by complete strangers who gave us food and a bed, we were almost killed by Georgian hospitality (AKA alcohol), and we were treated like movie stars in Pakistan, stopping every 10 meters for selfies and chats.

Our favorite moments are the ones with people we didn’t expect, like when a stranger helped us and fed us in a train station in Pakistan during Ramadan, or when were invited in for tea, melon, and loads of hash by some shepherds in Afghanistan. We’ve met so many brilliant people that have given us the world and then some in our travels—it would be unfair to choose just one!

Chilling with some shepherds in Balkh, Afghanistan.

How do you define success for your project?

Success, for us, would mean our blog is regularly making enough money to fund our travels. The way we’d travel, we’d need to make about $1,500 – 2,000 a month to comfortably carry on, plus put away some savings.

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

We’ve learned all kinds of things! I, for one, have learned that I hate taking pictures… but you’ve gotta do what you gotta do, right?

Alex’s discovery has been a bit more positive. Blogging has proved to be a combination of multiple things she enjoys: photography, web design, and marketing. She’s definitely addicted to it, but in a good way.

How do you manage to afford traveling? 

Before we started traveling, we saved money for about 1.5 years, and ended up with around €12,000 each. We’re traveling on those savings, and supplement them with income from blogging and freelance writing. Our money stretches far because we try to travel cheaply. Previously, our budget was $25/day per person. In India we’ve lowered it to $15/day.

Being hosted for free by a family in Shush, Iran.

Blogging has also helped save a lot of money. When people get to know us through our blog, they often invite us for dinner, or host us in their home. This happened particularly often in Iran and Pakistan, and we’re getting plenty of invitations in India as well, though we haven’t been able to meet up with anyone yet.

Do you have other future projects in mind?  

We’ve tossed around several ideas, such as selling Alex’s photography, offering some kind of consulting services based on our skills, or writing guides to some of the places we’ve visited. The blogging world tells us offering some kind of digital product for sale is the way to go… but we haven’t decided on one yet!

Travel gets in the way of productivity more often than not. Not that we’re complaining!

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

Make sure it’s something you really want to do. A lot of travel bloggers preach about how easy it is to quit your job, leave everything, and start a career on the road. Well, it’s not.

There are plenty of things travel bloggers don’t tell you. Many don’t actually travel full-time, but rather live in foreign countries for most of the year. In our opinion, not living in your country of birth doesn’t equal traveling.

Others make most of their money from secondary sources, such as writing for other publications or working part-time while on the road. They make their blogs look glamorous and profitable, which is, in those instances, a lie.

We’re not saying you shouldn’t do it—just don’t believe the hype. Quitting your job and traveling the world for free isn’t real. You have to work hard, forego the luxuries of home, and ultimately be stationary for long periods of time. Besides, it’s okay to have a 9 to 5 and pursue your passion. There’s nothing wrong with stability.

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

Blogging has turned out to be more work than we initially thought it would be. We thought we could just post quick how-to guides every once in a while, write a story or two a month, that sort of thing. Far from.

No digital detox for us!

There’s writing, editing, social media, promotion, affiliates, pitching, networking… the list goes on. We spend just as many hours traveling as we do sitting in the glow of our laptops. We’re more glued to our phones now than we were before we left. But, it’s a challenge we enjoy, and if it can fund future travels… so be it!

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

Of course. We travel where we want to, when we want to. We can work late at night, or early in the morning. We write articles in cafes, do social media on trains, and edit photos from the comfort of a bed. If we want to stop working and go off and explore something interesting, that’s fine—it’s all part of “the job”. I’d say that’s more freedom than traveling to and from the office during the week!

Laptop? Check. Beer? Check check.

The only limiting factor is internet. We could travel to the furthest edges of the earth… but we’ll need to rush back to find internet eventually!

To wrap up, I asked them a few rapid fire questions.

How many countries have you been to?

We don’t really keep a close count, but Alex has been to around 50, and I’m in my 40s. Our current backpacking adventure has taken us through 10 countries so far.

What other countries are still on your list?

The offbeat islands of Indonesia beg to be explored, but we’d also love to explore more of the Middle East—think Iraq and Lebanon.

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

Cheese. Real, delicious, properly aged cheese.

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

Alex is a nature girl—she’s happiest when she can relax in some sunshine to the sounds of birds chirping (and she’s averse to humans). I, on the other hand, love cities for their endless opportunities and architectural marvels (and I don’t like hiking much).

Alex in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan.

Describe the word, FREEDOM.

To do what you want, how you want, when you want.

Name 3 things that are important in pursing one’s dreams.

Motivation, persistence, and creativity.

Thanks Alex and Sebastiaan for a wonderful overview of your experiences in off the beaten path parts of the world.  I hope this will encourage some of us, travelers, to take that leap of faith and visit a lesser known destination despite the negative perceptions being promoted on the news.  Having said that, safety is always a priority so as travelers we all have to learn to find the balance between that and our freedom.

You can continue to follow Alex and Sebastiaan via their blog, Lost With Purpose or via social media: FacebookInstagram, Pinterest and Twitter.  They’re always happy to get messages from readers, and do their best to respond to every comment and message… or you can just say hi!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feature Outdoor Woman’s Voice

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

How did you discover hiking?

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

What is your most memorable hiking experience to date?

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

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

What do you like the most about hiking?

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

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

Do you enjoy hiking solo or with others more?

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

What are some lessons you’ve learned from hiking?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is your favorite hiking gear and why?

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

Andrea shares with us 3 favorite trails.

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

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

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

What was the toughest hike or trek you have done?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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OUTDOOR WOMAN’S VOICE: Jessica of Bravely Wild

Self discovery goes hand in hand with hiking.  You may not even realize this is happening but it’s inevitable the more you immerse yourself in the outdoors.  Sometimes self-discovery can be frightening; however, if you stick with it, you’ll soon realize how wonderful the process is.  The latter rings true for our feature, Jessica.  With life’s twists and turns including the breakdowns of relationships, we gradually emerge to be the stronger and more adventurous versions of ourselves.  And when you least expect it, hiking may surprisingly turn out to be one of your passions in life.

I can totally relate to Jessica’s story as hiking crept into my life right after an important relationship came to an end.  The loss hit me hard and left me feeling confused.  But that painful moment led to taking small steps, literally on the trails and in real life.  The next thing I knew, I discovered this new kind of love for life and myself.  Jessica’s story takes me back to that moment in my life when I first encountered my love for hiking as part of my self-discovery.  What was once a bitter experience has now turned into a pivotal moment in my life that I will be eternally grateful for.  I hope by reading Jessica’s hiking story, you’ll feel that same gratitude towards all challenges, whether big or small, that enter your life.

Feature Outdoor Woman’s Voice 

 Jessica Guth is from Naples, Florida.  She’s most definitely a busy bee!  A single mom of two, she works and attends school full-time.  Florida is where she hikes locally but she spends every 6-8 weeks to take a bigger backpacking/hiking trip elsewhere.  When not on the trails, Jessica loves to write, fly-fish, shoot archery and attend concerts.  She’s also learning the ins and outs of hunting small game.  Her love for the trails includes trail running which involves doing trail half marathons.

How did you discover hiking?

I first started hiking after I separated from my husband, about 2 years ago.  I’ve always had a passion for the outdoors. I was not in a healthy marriage and he discouraged me from doing things I loved. I would always ask him to go camping/hiking/do outdoors things, but he had no interest, so I never went. Once I separated from him, I did a lot of soul-searching – it was a journey of self-discovery and empowerment. During that journey, I discovered a lot of things about myself, including just how strong and adventurous I really am. Since this discovery and pursuance of my love of adventuring and hiking, I have greatly involved my 2 kids (ages 6 and 10) and they have developed a great love of it too.

What do you like the most about hiking?

Hiking brings me a sense of peace, self-awareness, and connection. I feel so very connected to myself, to whoever I’m hiking with, and to nature.

Below, Jessica talks about some of the places she’s hiked.  The photos definitely look amazing! Well, minus the alligator!

A local trail that I hiked in April 2016 was in Myakka River State Park in Sarasota, Florida, which is just about 1.5 hours away from where I live. My daughter and I backpacked 13 miles over 2 days and spent the night in a secluded area. We had an alligator come join us around dinner time! He walked right up to our tent, and plopped himself down for over an hour!

 In September 2016, I took a trip to California. I took a ferry out to Santa Cruz Island which is part of Channel Islands National Park. I camped 2 nights on the Island and did a lot of hiking during those 2 days. We hiked to the highest point accessible to the public, called Montanon Peak. The views along our hikes were breathtaking! 

In April of 2016, I hiked up to Lava Lake near Big Sky, Montana. Armed with bear spray, I attempted this hike while I was quite sick with a bad cold. About 2 miles into it, I turned around and headed back because I was just not feeling good at all. 2 days later, still sick, but feeling better, I tackled that hike again. It’s an out-and-back trail that is 8 miles total. The last mile was interesting… It was fairly steep, the snow was about knee deep, and there were steep drop off’s on the side of the trail. I didn’t have snow shoes or hiking poles, so I had to very carefully take each step as to not slide off the side of the trail. I never thought the trail was going to end and it made me grouchy. When I was least expecting it, we came across an opening to the frozen lake – I could hear angels singing as I took in the view… All I could keep saying was “wow! 

 I’m going to add one more because I love the pictures from this hike. This hike was also near Big Sky, Montana and is called Storm Castle Peak. This was a beautiful 10 mile roundtrip hike. The views along the entire trail and at the top were stunning! At the peak, I lied down on a big rock to just take in the 360 degree views. 

What are some lessons you’ve learned from hiking?

I have learned to take the trail more traveled (or end up lost otherwise), and to connect with the people you come across on the trail, you might just get some trail magic from them like I have in the past. I have also learned that hiking is essential to my well-being.

Do you enjoy hiking solo or with others more?

I really enjoy getting to share a hiking experience with someone else. When I hike with another, we generally don’t talk much, we just have a shared understanding of the specialness of what we’re doing.

Jessica shares with us the most memorable hiking experience for her to date, which I hope to experience myself one day!  Her photos from the trip look very magical indeed.

My most memorable hiking experience, so far, was hiking thru White Sands National Monument in New Mexico. It was like being on another planet. The hike to the campsite where I was camping for the night was only 2 miles long, and all through sand. The sand (it’s actually gypsum) is so buttery soft and cool that I hiked barefoot and didn’t even bring any shoes with me. That night, we hiked up to the top of a dune and had dinner as the sun was setting. And then later that night, the sky was so clear and the moon so full and bright – it was an experience I will vividly remember forever.

Jessica has some great advise for first time hikers:

Thoroughly enjoy it – enjoy the sounds, the smells, the feeling (inside and out) that you get from being on a trail. Also, be smart – be aware of your surroundings, carry some kind of self-defense (pepper spray?), and always tell someone your plan before you head out.

And here’s her favorite hiking gear:

I love my boots – Keen Marshall’s that I got brand new on eBay in an attempt to save money. My “P” Thing (a silicon funnel to aid woman in peeing while standing up) this allows me to pee without taking my backpack off and while standing up. It’s something I will never hike without because it is just so convenient! My Resq Link beacon – this is a lifesaver, literally. I won’t ever hike without this either, especially when I’m with my kids.

Jessica’s favorite hiking photos below depict wonderful memories for her that are quite personal to her.

It was so difficult to just choose 3! I love the picture above because I am genuinely happy. This picture was taken at a trailhead, right before trekking to the top of a mountain to spend the night. I was so happy to be there in that moment, starting off on a trekking adventure.

I love the picture above because, well isn’t it obvious – it’s my babies hiking! We were hiking on the Appalachian trail that day, on our way to a waterfall where we had lunch. This was such a beautiful and special day.

If you could only read my mind in the picture above… This was the devil’s backbone trail leading up to the summit of Mt. Baldy in California. It was the toughest hike I’ve ever done and I am wickedly proud of this picture because of that reason.

What treks do you have on your bucket list?

The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu (which I will be doing in March and will be my first hiking trip outside of the US!), Storm King trail in Olympic National Park in Washington state, some 14’ers in Colorado, Mt. Whitney in California. I would love to hike in Norway and Iceland, and also do the Gibbon Experience in Laos. (This is just a sample of my never-ending bucket list!)

I asked Jessica about her toughest hiking experience and she notes that to be Mt. Baldy.

In September 2016, I hiked to the summit of Mt. Baldy, right outside of Los Angeles. This was a 15-mile, steep, grueling hike. The descent was tougher than the ascent because of the steepness and so much loose rock (I fell a few times!) We went the route of Devil’s Backbone trail and it definitely lived up to its name. We ended up taking a wrong trail to get back down the mountain, which made us lose elevation that we had already gained – that frustrated me, but I knew my only option was to just deal with it and put one foot in front of the other. It was both mentally and physically tough.

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

Yes – At times, when I’m either hiking solo or with just my kids, I often get a little leary of people I come across. I think if I was a man, I would not get that feeling. I addressed these challenges by always being aware of my surroundings and hiking with a sense of confidence.

In overcoming challenges, Jessica shares her favorite quote when it comes to being on or off trails:

 I’m not telling you it’s going to be easy, I’m just telling you it’s going to be worth it.

                                                     -Art William

Jessica chronicles her adventures via her blog, Bravely Wild.  She launched this blog a little less than a year ago as an outlet for her self- discovery after her separation from her husband.  She’s a huge advocate for women and loves to write about different issues facing women.  Hence, the blog has evolved into a means for her to express her thoughts on various subjects and hiking tips to encourage and inspire others.

But the most important aspect of being a hiker for Jessica is to spend time every year, as a tradition, with her kids.  The three of them go for an 8-day camping/hiking trip through the Blue Ridge Mountains in Georgia and the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee/North Carolina.  They hike every day (and on parts of the Appalachian Trail) while on their annual trip.  While recognizing that every hike she does is special, the ones that are the most special to her is when she gets to hike with her mother and daughter – that’s 3 generations of strong, powerful, badass women tackling the trails together!  As you can see, Jessica is so passionate about getting outside and encouraging others (especially women and children) to do the same.

You can follow Jessica via her blog Bravely Wild and her social media account via Facebook and Instagram.

Is the Classic Inca Trail Trek on your bucket list?  Check out the upcoming treks & adventure tours through BGT’s social enterprise, Peak Explorations. Also, read more about why you should trek the Classic Inca Trail HERE.

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.

OUTDOOR WOMAN’S VOICE: Sarah D. Tiedemann

Often, as hikers, we hit the trails to clear our minds, to connect, or to reflect on our daily lives.  We also hike to create stronger bonds and lasting memories with friends, families and pets.  Our hiking experiences fall under any of the above categories.  Today’s feature is about creating memories with people that matter the most and cherishing the memories of those who are no longer with us.   Either way, hiking is about love for the activity itself, for those around us and for ourselves.  I’m honored to be touched by Sarah’s hiking life. I hope she touches your life the same way by reading her story.

Feature Outdoor Woman’s Voice

Sarah D. Tiedemann is from Trenton, NJ.  Off the trails, she works as a paralegal, writes on the side and enjoys hibernating for the winter.  Sarah spends time in North Jersey and Adirondacks for her hiking adventures.  In addition to hiking, she enjoys crocheting and crafting.  Sarah’s love for hiking started at the age of 17.  Let’s hear more from Sarah directly about her hiking life.  Enjoy!

Sarah’s discovery of hiking appears to be inspired by the location she was in at the age of 17.

I moved from New Jersey to Hawai’i when I was 17. The beauty of Hawai’i encouraged me to get on my feet. There was so much to see and I wanted to see it all.

What do you like the most about hiking?

The quietness. I’m an over-thinker and being outdoors quiets my nagging, obnoxious inner voice.

Do you enjoy hiking solo or with others more?

Though I can appreciate the merits of hiking solo, I’m in the “strength in numbers” camp. I’m a scaredy cat and it feels safer for me to hike in a group. I typically hike with my husband and we mostly have a “together but separate” experience. At first, we’re abuzz with excitement and conversation, then we slowly quiet down and it becomes a more intrapersonal experience.

What are some lessons you’ve learned from hiking?

The biggest lessons I’ve learned were about myself. I’m much stronger, tenacious, and more capable than I give myself credit for. I’ve learned to appreciate what I can accomplish and to not be so hard on myself.

Sarah shares with us three places that she’s hiked accompanied by photos.

Mt. Marcy, Adirondack Mountains, New York: This was my husband and my first high mileage hike and we were total noobs. It’s pretty funny to go back to the pictures from that day and look at what we were wearing and what “gear” we had. Aside from my bloody blisters that soaked through  to the other side of my boots, it was a great trip!

 Kalalau Trail, Kauai, Hawai’i: I was totally sure I was 100% prepared for this hike. It often makes lists that detail the world’s “most dangerous hikes”. I didn’t take that lightly- I was prepping   physically and mentally for months beforehand. We ended up taking a wrong turn at a trail junction (in retrospect, it was totally obvious) and long story short, we hiked back to the trailhead in the dark, rather than spending 3 nights at a secluded beach.


Sun Fish Pond, Worthington State Forest, New Jersey: My husband’s family has been hiking this  trail for decades. It’s their “power spot” and where we spread my father in law’s ashes. It’s the perfect hike for a quick jaunt in the woods.

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

There are certainly things that are different for women when it comes to hiking, but I think a general rule for those who are just starting out would be to plan for the worst and hope for the best. A lot of times, feeling apprehension is a normal reaction to something we’re inexperienced in. The best remedy for that is both physical and mental preparation.

Sarah takes us to her view on hiking as a female and any challenges that it entails.  Curiously enough, the challenge doesn’t come from the outside. 

Honestly, the biggest challenges I’ve run into have been self imposed and internal. Whether it be a big scramble or a feat of upper body strength- I consistently question my ability as a woman. And, every time I question myself, I pull myself up by the bootstraps and make it happen.

Any gear recommendation?

Smartwool base layers. They are absolutely amazing in any weather. You stay warm, dry, and comfortable.

What treks do you have on your bucket list?

Kalalau Trail 2.0- We’ve got to get back and finish what we started. The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. I had originally gone to school for anthropology before life got in the way, so now it’s just a fun hobby.

For the most memorable hiking experience, here’s one of hers.

Cascade Mountain in the Adirondack Mountains of New York in the winter. I was terrified to hike in the winter- I was imagining all the things that could go wrong, and coupled with the cold, I was sure it would be a disastrous experience. We prepped to the gills and I was pleasantly surprised- that was the best hike I had ever taken. It was a perfect winter’s day- sunny, still, with plenty of snow on the ground. The stillness of the woods was incredible. We’d hiked the same trail in the summer and it wasn’t an easy one. Blanketed in snow, it brought you up the mountain on an easy slope. It was not what I was expecting at all!

Check out below Sarah’s favorite hiking photos.  Favorite doesn’t always mean the “best” shots from a photographer’s standpoint.  At times, it means the photos that depict the most meaningful memories in our lives.   I tend to agree with that as some of the most important photos in my own life remain tuck away for now.   Photos exude their own power of allowing us to relive moments, whether it’s a feeling of joy or sadness.  Sarah’s candidness in sharing her personal stories behind each photo is certainly appreciated.

This is a candid shot of my husband and I dancing upon our summit of Algonquin Peak in the Adirondack Mountains. It was such an incredible day that I think back on fondly. My sister-in-law was with us on the trip, so she made sure to take some photos of us without us knowing. It was a nice treat to look through them!

This is my father in law on our last hike together to Sun Fish Pond before he passed. He just exudes happiness in this photo. It means a lot to us!

This was from a trip to Yosemite when my husband proposed – that speaks for itself

Sarah graciously shared her toughest hike yet that was closely intertwined with her life off the trails.  At times, that happens.  Our lives on the trails coincide with some moments in our lives off trails.  Usually, nature provides the comfort or extra layer of meaning that we seek.

There were countless hikes wherein I had to push myself both physically and mentally, but the one that stands out the most is the hike we took to spread my father in law’s ashes at Sun Fish Pond. He died as a result of a work accident- he was still young and vibrant. The whole family, ranging in age from 20-70 made the trip up there to say goodbye. Coincidentally, my husband’s uncle had died years before and his father still had his ashes. We spread both of their ashes at the top.

Dad’s death felt final and real that day. It was a surreal experience, but we did it to honor him and his wishes. It was something we had to do and that made it a little easier to handle. We haven’t been able to get back up there since.  It’s far too painful- but we hope to be able to make the trek in the future.

To get her through daily challenges or any moments of fear on the trails, Sarah reminds herself of these two quotes, the latter of which re-energizes her spirit:

“Everything is true just as it is. Why dislike it? Why hate it?”

“When plans fail, blaze new trails.”

Sarah’s philosophy has led her to expand on her own creativity.  On an outdoor-related project, Sarah recently wrote a book about hiking and the outdoors for those who experience fear and anxiety when adventuring outside.  The book is called, Traveling with Baggage: A Guide for the Hesitant Hiker.  She notes that the book was written partly based on her experience growing up in the city where opportunities to get outside were scant.  It’s also based on Sarah’s experience of venturing out for the first time.   Sarah adds the book also has a  specific section that addresses how to be prepared mentally and physically as a female hiker.  Make sure to check it out on Amazon. You can also follow Sarah via her website: www.sarahdtiedemann.com

Thanks to Sarah for sharing her hiking life and personal journeys.  Her feature is a great reminder to never take anything for granted, be it on or off the trails.  Hiking is one of the most effective ways to create and maintain bonds with people, however short lived any hiking moment may be.

For more hiking stories & inspiration, read Why I’m Not That Superficially Hot Gal on the Trail.
 

To prepare for your first solo adventure, see 8 Ways to Mentally Prepare for Your First Solo Adventure.  

Is the Classic Inca Trail Trek on your bucket list?  Check out the upcoming treks & adventure tours through BGT’s social enterprise, Peak Explorations.

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.

Follow Brown Gal Trekker via:

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HIKER’S PARADISE: Colorado

Welcome to HIKER’S PARADISE!

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

COLORADO

by Logan & Kallsy of Pages of Travel

Upon arriving in Colorado you will be instantly welcomed by a beautiful skyline and lush snow capped mountain ranges just begging to be climbed. With approximately 58 14ers, four U.S. national parks, nine national forests, four national historic trails, 42 state parks, and one national recreational area – Colorado is an outdoor junkie or hikers dream come true! Colorado parks offer a variety of trail lengths, difficulties, and scenery.

Dream Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park.
Storm Mountain, Estes Park.
Hanging Lake, Glenwood Springs.

In Estes Park, you will be surprised by the scenery and wildlife of all 350 miles of trails that weave throughout Rocky Mountain National Park; while in southern Colorado, Great Sand Dunes National Park will make you feel as if you’ve glided into the Arabian Desert with it’s golden sizzling hot sand that delicately touches the outline of the mountain ranges behind it.

Great Sand Dunes National Park
Red Rocks Ampitheatre.

Thinking of living in or near a city? Popular Denver even has it’s own trails near Red Rocks Amphitheatre, a hiking and yoga area by day, concert venue by night and nearby Boulder has the challenging, yet astonishing, Flatirons. In Colorado Springs you can enjoy free admission to a local favorite, Garden of the Gods, or prepare to ascend a well liked 14er, Pikes Peak. Whether you’re a seasoned hiker or a beginner you won’t have a problem finding a trail to hit in Colorado!

Maroon Bells, Aspen.

 

If you have a place that you wish to be featured, read THIS for submission guidelines.  

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Peru’s Ausangate & Rainbow Mountains: A Hidden Gem for Trekkers

When I had the opportunity to do the Classic Inca Trail in Peru with a group of 30 people, I decided to add a more off the beaten path trail to the experience.  The Inca Trail is a classic for a reason and you can read about the reasons why you should go HERE.  However, I wanted to also experience more remoteness and a wilder trekking adventure that is opposite of the experience from the Inca Trail.

My nature of being such a curious hiker ultimately led me to discovering Ausangate.  BestHike.com, which is  a website that compiles the best treks in the world named Ausangate along with Pacchanta (also known as Rainbow Mountains) as one of the top 10 hikes in South America.  The great thing about it is that it only takes 5-7 days to do so combined with the Inca Trail, you can do a decent 9-11 days of hiking, which makes for a solid two-week trip in Peru.

To get to Ausangate, the starting point is Cusco.  There are many flights to Cusco via Lima.  You can also opt to spend a few days in Lima and book a local flight from there to Cusco.  Either way, the flight costs are quite reasonable.  Once in Cusco, it’s recommended that you have a day or two of acclimatizing to the altitude.  Cusco is at an elevation of 11,152 feet, which is high enough to experience the symptoms of altitude mountain sickness.  For tips on how to prepare for altitude mountain sickness (AMS), read THIS.  Spending time in Cusco is heavenly anyway so you should take a day or two to enjoy the cobbled stone streets and its historical sites.  Typically, people visit the Sacred Valley nearby to see the ruins as  an easy day trip.

To do the Ausangate trek, one must book a reliable tour operator who will provide a guide, an assistant guide, cook and horses to carry the gear.  The price includes tents, basic sleeping mats, all the meals while trekking, dining tents, toilet tents and transport to and from the trail.  The starting point is at  Tinki village, which is only a few hours of a bus ride from Cusco.  We did the 7 day itinerary.  You can do a 5 or 6 day variation of the trek.

How difficult is Ausangate?  It’s a REAL trek.  When I say that, despite the fact that you only need to carry a day pack, it is a much harder trek than the Inca Trail.  Here are the things to keep in mind about Ausangate:

It’s freezing cold!

It’s often below freezing at night from the first day until the end.  While the Inca Trail trek is a pleasantly mild experience when it comes to weather, think “extreme” for Ausangate.  Every night, we all struggled to keep our water bottles from freezing, to no avail.  We huddled in the warmest part of our campsite – the dining tent or our respective sleeping bags.  Campfires are not allowed for good reasons, of course.  Due to the cold, we didn’t manage to stay up too long which meant long nights in the tent.  You wait eagerly for the sunrise each day as that’s the only source of heat you can rely on.

It’s very high right from the start

You start at a high elevation of about 12, 500 feet and it doesn’t go below that until the end.  The highest point is the pass at over 17,000 feet.   Plus, the challenge is to go over a few passes, four in our case, that ranged from 15,000 to 17,000 feet  in altitude.  This is the exact reason why I combined this trek with the Inca Trail.  Doing the Inca Trail first allowed for some way to acclimatize.  Even though my group still dealt with some symptoms of AMS, I’m certain that the symptoms would have been far more severe had we not trekked the Inca Trail beforehand which went up to almost 14, 000 feet in elevation at its highest point.

It’s remote

It’s remote, as in when my group of 15 people did it, we did not see a single hiker on the trail.  It’s beautiful indeed to be in the middle of nowhere.  That’s what attracted me to do Ausangate in the first place.  But as hikers, we all know that the more remote a trekking destination gets, the more safety issues you’ll potentially deal with.

It’s easy to get lost

The trail is unmarked and there is no clear path.  Hence, you really should have a guide.  Some hardcore hikers have done this without a guide but you better be an expert on navigation as there is nothing up in those mountains that will give you a hint of where to go.   To do this alone is risky as there’s hardly any locals in the area.  Although you will see villages at the start and end of the trek, there are no locals to be seen in-between except for one or two shepherds and their herds of llamas; therefore, help will be difficult to get if you do it without a guide.

It’s roughing it

There are no facilities during the trek.   No showers for sure or warm streams to bathe in.  You set up camp in the wild like a true wilderness backpacking experience.  You rely on the natural water sources for drinking water.  Everything must be carried in and out, which is done by the use of horses. Going to the toilet means searching for a spot in the wild or there’s the infamous toilet tent.  The toilet tent will be your source of privacy but it can be an unpleasant experience if you have 15 people sharing it.  It sounds petty but it can get mentally  challenging to deal with this aspect when you’re actually there.  The problem is compounded by the fact that most of the time there are no bushes or trees given you’re up at a high altitude so you’ll need to resort to the use of the toilet tent.  The best approach is to do your business as much as possible without having to use the toilet tent. It’s not that sanitary as you can imagine.

Having said all this, I don’t want to discourage you.  Avid mountaineers know this universal truth:

Mountains make you work hard so you can enjoy their magnificent beauty to its utmost level.

Frankly, I still blush and glow with a smile when I think about Ausangate and Pacchanta.  This part of the Andes is rather spectacular and less visited compared to the nearby treks that take you to Machu Picchu due to reasons noted above.  However, the toughness of the trek undoubtedly adds more value to the experience.

Now, enters the best part – You immerse yourself in a spectacular and unique mountain scenery that only a few souls can ever see in person.   See below for yourself, and always remember:

Mountain trekking is not meant to be easy.  Facing challenges is what we do because while we’re in it, nature always has a way to remind us that we can conquer just about anything with persistence and determination.

Photo credit: Flavio H.



Photo credit: Flavio H.
Photo credit: Flavio H.
Photo Credit: Flavio H.
Photo credit: Flavio H.

Brown Gal Trekker’s social enterprise, Peak Explorations, has a join-in group set to go in May, 2017 for the Ausangate & Pacchanta Trek.  To join, see THIS LINK.

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HIKER’S PARADISE: Slovenia

Welcome to HIKER’S PARADISE!

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

SLOVENIA 

by Maja of Mexatia

Slovenia may be one of the smallest countries in Europe, but it is absolute heaven for hikers! The Alps, glacier lakes, and valley create beautiful sceneries a hiker can only dream about. When we decided to organize our first hiking trip, we were a bit skeptic because we were total beginners (with a small dog), but Slovenia proved us we were more than capable doing it. 

slovenia-4

There are thousands of hiking trails, adjusted to all the levels so literally everybody can find something for themselves. If you are in the mood just for a walk around the lake, lake Bled is your perfect destination. If you feel a bit more adventurous, you can proceed to the Bohinj region and take a cable car up to Vogel mountain. There is plenty of mountain hiking trails, with spectacular views Triglav and the Julian Alps. They say every real Slovenian must climb Triglav, the highest peak of the country, during their lifetime.

slovenia-2

In the same time but in the other part of the country, there are stunning Logar Valley and Robanov kot, two glacier valleys with plenty walking and hiking trails as well. They are perfect places to enjoy the nature without crowds and admire the views to the high alpine peaks. If you are picnic lover, your heart will be full as well – there are some cute picnic tables along the way.

slovenia-1

Need a little more convincing about Slovenia?  See more HERE.

If you have a place that you wish to be featured, read THIS for submission guidelines.  

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FREEDOMPRENEUR: Mayra of Crossing Lines, Finding Love

I wanted to start out the FREEDOMPRENEURS segment of Brown Gal Trekker with the ultimate topic in life – LOVE!  It can’t get any more passionate than talking about travel and love.  If you haven’t read up on what this segment is about, you can check out the introduction HERE.

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Brown Gal Trekker Meets Mayra

Of all the people I met on the road, one passionate individual continues to garner my respect and admiration – Mayra.  We met at the Old Town Kotor Hostel in the old town of Kotor in Montenegro.  Kotor is full of adventurous souls including those traveling solo.  Mayra happened to be one of them.  I was well into my 10th month of traveling and trekking when Mayra and I crossed paths.  My stop in Kotor was brief as a layover before I hit the mountains of Durmitor.  Nonetheless, Kotor is a great place to visit with its historical roots and the gorgeous views of the lake and the mountains surrounding the town.  With this as a backdrop, who wouldn’t fall inlove?

kotor-mdj-photo

As it turned out, both  Mayra and I were already inlove even before Kotor.  Mayra and I were both in pursuit of our passions.  While I was busy with my love for the mountains, in Mayra’s case, she was in Kotor to meet couples and talk about love.  I was intrigued by Mayra’s purpose on her travels so I asked her more questions from which I learned that she had been photographing couples on her travels for months at that point while documenting their love story.  For Mayra, the ultimate goal is to publish the photos and their stories to share with the world the universal truth – that love can overcome any boundaries, both physical and otherwise.

In her quest for completing this project, Mayra wasted no time as she ventured into various cities in Europe to meet, photograph and interview couples.  While many of us travelers are busy taking our time enjoying the museums, Mayra’s focus is on her project and will only venture to do sightseeing, if time permits.  Her fast-paced approach to traveling resonated with me because when I met her, I was speeding through cities and towns, just to get myself to the next mountain trail on my list.  In some ways, Mayra and I shared a unique similarity – intense focus on our object of passion – for Mayra it was LOVE.  For me, it was my beloved MOUNTAINS.

Since our initial meeting in 2015, Mayra and I have kept in touch as friends on Facebook.  Mayra is a photographer.  She is currently in New York City but is originally from Arizona.  Mayra’s photo series is called Crossing Lines, Finding Love.  I’m very ecstatic to feature her and share with you her unique endeavor.

MAYRA FERRA of  CROSSING LINES, FINDING LOVE

What inspired you to start the project, Crossing Lines, Finding Love?

This photo series was inspired by my  last relationship.  We met in New York City while we were both living here in 2012.  The chemistry between us was almost instant.  The more we got to know one another, the more we liked each other, and the more we realized we could never marry because of our cultural background.  He is from  Jordan and I’m not.  That was unacceptable to his family.  Coming from a very open-minded family, I had a hard time understanding this but came to terms with it.  Instead of falling apart, I decided not to give up on love.  I decided to combine three of my favorite things: photography, travel and love. Crossing Lines, Finding Love was born.

As we can see, out of an experience of love comes more love.  When did you launch your project?  

In December of 2012, this lovely project came to mind.  I didn’t actually begin my series until June of 2014, probably out of fear, though I decided to blame it on money 🙂  All that matters to me is that I finally had the courage to do it, eventually!

Yes, fear is a culprit in most cases where we try to pursue our passions.  I can totally agree with Mayra on that.  I then asked her how far along she is in the process of completing her project.  

The plan is to travel to 196 countries.  I have completed 25% of that!

That’s already an accomplishment in and of itself.  When I asked Mayra as to the ultimate goal of her project, she noted:

To show that everyone should be allowed to marry the one they love regardless of cultural differences, and everything in between.

Mayra’s goal is noble indeed.  The purpose itself can easily be a point of contention, even in modern times.  So, I asked about the challenges she faced along the way in making this goal a reality which she continues to work on overcoming just like all of us. 

I was lucky to experience kindness in every country I’ve visited so far.  I think the biggest challenges are almost within – the fear that I won’t accomplish  my goal.  The fear that I won’t have enough  money to do it.  I feel we are always getting in our own way.

What is your favorite part of this process?  

Oh my gosh!  Listening to love story after love story is amazing!  I love the happy feelings it gives me.  It just proves that I am right and everyone does have a right to feel those emotions and those awesome butterflies in the belly!

Diving into some of Mayra’s favorite moments on her travels, she then shares with us four of them through the following photographs:

Mayra’s couples

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my-couples-2

The beautiful views of the Eiffel Tower in the early morning sunlight
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The food in almost every country

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food-2

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food-4

Petra, Jordan

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What lessons have you learned from working on this project about relationships?  

This probably doesn’t answer the question but I feel that with all the advise I was given last year from each couple, my next relationship will be a success…haha!

I think Mayra might have left us out on the secret of successful relationships!  It’s a good thing we captured some of the wonderful wisdom on love through Mayra’s guest post – click HERE.  

On a different note, I asked her what she discovered about herself as part of the process? 

As a solo female traveler, I have learned to trust myself, be more aware, have more confidence in myself, as well.  It was extremely empowering.  I’m not going to say I didn’t miss a familiar face every now and then.  It was hard at times but that would last only a few minutes before the strong, empowering feeling would sink in even deeper.

How do you manage to afford traveling? 

I saved as much as I could while living in New York City.  I couchsurfed, stayed in hostels, never refused a meal that was offered (except for shark), I took the cheapest form of transportation , whether a train, car, bus, or plane.  

For a comprehensive list of ways to save money for travels, read THIS ARTICLE.

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

I say don’t let yourself stand in the way.  Go for it!  Remember, if it wasn’t what you thought, no harm.  You tried and now you can go back to whatever you were doing or try something different.

solo-traveler

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

What type of travel do you like the most?  Solo traveling for sure!

How many countries have you been to?  I have been to 50 countries. 

What other countries are on your list?   I want to visit all the countries in the world!

Name one thing you miss the most when on the road?  My family and close friends.

Do you plan ahead or are you spontaneous?  Both. I’m very spontaneous but also like to check off lists at times.

Which country do you think is the most romantic for couples?  Oh boy, that’s a tough one!  I can tell you the city where I wished I had my partner by my side – VERONA, ITALY.  I loved it very much…I mean Romeo and Juliet were from there, as well 🙂

Mountains or city life?  I love both very much.  It depends on what my heart desires at the time.

Name one word that describes the word LOVE. Support.

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

But there’s more!  Mayra was gracious enough to share with us some of the couple stories she documented on her travels.  To read about them, see Photos & Stories of Love.

There you have it.  Now, you know why I’m such a fan of hers.  Mayra has taken that jump off the cliff that I dreaded for a while myself and now she is soaring and living a life full of love.  Ah, the life of a freedompreneur!

Follow Mayra via her website: MAYRA FERRA & her instagram: @crossinglinesfindinglove

For tips on how to prepare for your first solo adventure, see 8 Ways to Mentally Prepare for a Solo Adventure.

For more, read I Told My Fears to Take a Hike & This is What Happened

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

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I Told My Fears to Take a Hike & This is What Happened

My life these days seems reminiscent of the law school days of the past: intense, highly motivated by caffeine and filled with self imposed anticipation of what is to come next alongside the constant questioning of whether I’m cut out for this or not.

There’s a redeeming difference, however, this time around.  As much as I wish I could say my attending law school was a true desire,  I’d say it was partly a desire; and partly a peer pressure induced move in my life.   This time around what I’m pursuing is completely part of every inch of my existence and further beyond I have ever imagined to behold my dreams and creativity.  In the real world, it’s called ENTREPRENEURSHIP.  In my world, I deem it as FREEDOMPRENEURSHIP.

Coming back from a one year sabbatical from my legal career in 2015, I must admit I was a complete mess.

Sure, I quickly adapted and retrained my brain to function yet again as its legal minded counterpart but deep within the core of my being my peace was disrupted by the rallying of new age thoughts that developed while in full access to a life of freedom on the road.  Mind you, the thoughts were not harmful in anyway.  They were life-changing.  They were the voices that I have successfully pushed aside all these years because of one thing:

FEAR

So, as I walked back into the house I have lived in for a decade on my first day back in the U.S., the familiar sense of home I once knew was no longer there.  I became a stranger in a space I called home for ten years. I discovered that my path was changing.  I didn’t have a clue as to how, when or what.  I knew, however, that I had no choice but to follow the flow.  For the first time in a long while, I saw a big sign on the road telling me to go a certain way.  It was loud and clear.  There was no way for me to push down on the brakes.  There was no way out of it except the exit door that life was presenting before me. There were no more excuses to keep me from unlocking the door and walking through it.  I dove right in without pre-planning anything or everything.  I was free and yet completely lost in the midst of this  pool of creation and energy, the physical built up of which was the formation of a social enterprise.

Peak Explorations, which is Brown Gal Trekker’s virtual mountain home, didn’t materialize out of boredom or the need to partake in a lucrative endeavor.  

It all started because of a burning desire to impart on every person that manages to join a trek the notion of freedom – the way I experienced it on my one year away.  To speak truthfully about this, the freedom they will experience on a two week trek in Nepal will merely be a fraction of what I have experienced, but good enough to afford them the idea that there’s more to life than the status quo that we created in our respective lives.

Peak Explorations aims to put in the forefront of the trekker’s mind the meaning of fear.  Fear is an illusion. But our desire to travel is real.  The nagging voice that tells us to take a break from our job to explore or to quit our job altogether to pursue our passion is your voice in its most authentic form.   Drowning it any further is futile.  It’s our inner being finally  grabbing a hold of that microphone to be heard loud enough by your ego.

Life is about freedom, joy, love and inner peace.  

Since being back to the U.S., people have asked me repeatedly about the lessons learned on the trails and unequivocally seek for words of wisdom based on my love affair with the world and the mountains.  So, I tell them my best guess and hope that they instead search inwardly for the answers they’re looking for.  In a chaotic world where our lives are mediocre at best, it is up to us to recreate and refurbished the complexities of our lives and transform them into a much more comprehensible and simpler version of living.  I know it can be done. I have met the people who have executed this premise flawlessly and now living the life that they initially pushed away because of fear-based excuses.

Entrepreneurship has a way to pave the path towards freedom.

By this, I mean in a broader sense, we should never leave the major decisions in our lives at the discretion of our bosses or mates or friends.   The lifelong questions of where we go and who we are lie solely within our sole capacity as humans to address, understand and accept in their entirety.  That’s part  of coming face to face with true freedom.

As to entrepreneurship, by transforming myself to becoming my own boss, I know I’m half-way there.  The second half would merely entail the grunt work that the  outside world often gets to witness.   Mind you, the process is scary as hell as I worry about safety of my clients all the time.  After all, mountain trekking is a serious endeavor with some serious consequences in the event of mishaps on the trails.  This is when faith is crucial – faith in that everything will work out.  That your passion outweighs your doubts.  That your mission is noble enough to render the risks minimal.

You tell yourself, YOU GOT THIS! Yeah, YOU GOT THIS!  Soon enough, you will believe it and the world will, too.

It’s been overdue.  But, finally, every step of the way, I’m telling my fears to take a hike.

In my traveling life, I have figured rather quickly that as humans we crave freedom more than we care to acknowledge.  As a new entrepreneur, freedom turned out to be everything that I always wanted for the sake of creativity, self-expression and actualization of  the authentic version of myself.

For more, see also

Freedompreneurs

She Becomes a Judge and I Become a Mountain Nomad

Trekking Has Taken Over My Life But I’m Ok With It

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I Hiked Bolivia’s Isla del Sol and Saw Gorgeous Landscapes

As part of my trip to Bolivia, I decided to spend sometime in Isla del Sol, which is a two hour boat right from Copacabana in Bolivia. The island does not have any means of transportation. You’ll have to go by foot via its walking trail that circles the island. Guesthouses abound the island so you can easily pick the one that suits you with amazing views from all directions. There’s no internet and the use of electricity is limited. It’s one special place for a serene experience where you can easily leave behind the usual chaotic pace of city life from the moment you first set foot on the island. Here are the views including the snow capped peaks of Cordillera Real and the stone ruins that I captured on my hike around the island. I’m still at awe at the beauty of this island even to this day. Enjoy!

To learn more on how to get to Isla del Sol, the accommodations, activities, etc. :  Click HERE

On getting to Copacabana: Click HERE

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