International Women’s Day: Leyla from Women On The Road

Welcome to round two of the International Women’s Day series where I introduce you to the three women that inspire me daily! Today’s post goes to Leyla from Women On The Road!

When I first came across Women On The Road I instictively sounded my Old Person! alert. The Old Person! alert perks up when I think I’m about to stumble across a website with outdated styles, perspectives and opinions. I could call it a youthful reaction to a world tumbling into the future at a crazy clip. But in short it’s a prejudice.

And I’m very happy to say I gave it the ol’heave ho the day I came across this blog because the author, Leyla, blew all of my expectations out of the water (and clear across the Internet). Her work is fresh, insightful and entertaining. I could (and did) get lost in her tales for hours!

Leyla is a freelance journalist working to inspire and inform independent female travellers all across the globe. Born in France, she grew up in a nomadic life with an engineer father who kept the family moving. Even before entering adulthood she’d already lived in Canada, Spain and the Middle East! She first travelled solo from Spain to Morroco at 15 without her parents’ permission and since then let the travel itch carry her to 80 countries!

With an eye trained for journalism, a mind expanded from work with the United Nations and instincts honed by years on the road  Leyla will inform you, inspire you and have you dreaming of the world in no time!

All photos contributed by Leyla.

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1)     How would you describe yourself, right now?
In a bit of a rush – time is passing so quickly and I want to see it all!

2)     What is your earliest travel memory?
I’m not sure if I actually remember or whether it was told to me but – a road trip in Canada when I was a tiny tot. My first real memory was of crossing the Atlantic in a jet and being worried about the lack of noise. Until then I had only flown on propeller planes and they made plenty of noise. I couldn’t figure out how the plane was staying up! I must have been 7 or 8.

3)     What has changed about travel since the day you first set out (especially for traveling women)?
The one absolute major change is the Internet. When I first started traveling I would rely on the occasional guidebook, but mostly on word of mouth from travelers heading in the opposite direction to mine. I’d catch glimpses of what awaited me over that far-off border, but no more. These days you can Google Earth your destination, pick a place to stay, choose your restaurant and maybe even order your food before you board the bus. There was something romantic about that unknown that I miss.

4)     What was the most memorable moment you’ve experienced abroad?
It’s difficult to pick just one but some memorable moments include the time I was lost in a minefield in Mozambique and was quite sure I wouldn’t make it out alive. Another time was in Nigeria when my car was charged by a very angry elephant cow and we had to reverse over two extremely narrow planks and across a chasm. There were extraordinary moments too – like my recent unexpected dinner with royalty in Abu Dhabi.

5) What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned?
To say Yes (with forethought, of course). Too often I’ve said no to experiences I wasn’t certain of, because I was lazy or felt shy or out of place. I realize now that I missed opportunities and these days, whenever it feels safe, I say Yes.

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6) Why should women travel?
I could write an entire book about this one question but… here’s the abridged version. Travel – in my case independent travel – makes women more self-confident because it shows us we can resolve issues without anyone else; it makes us more resilient because we have to bounce back when things go wrong (and they do); travel inspires us and introduces us to new vistas, cultures, ways of seeing the world – it opens us up; it teaches us acceptance, as in when the bus doesn’t arrive or things don’t happen the way they were planned; travel makes us more social, especially if you happen to be a bit shy; travel teaches us to trust our senses and our intuition because often that’s all we have to go on; travel makes us appreciate the small things more and realize we need less in order to live well; travel can increase our respect for the environment, especially when we visit poorer places where natural resources like water or land can divide life from death… I could go on.

7) Do you have any tips for women on the road? What’s the biggest myth about women & traveling?
I have an entire website filled with tips, but if I were to try to choose a few of the more practical ones, they would be: do your due diligence before you go; watch your money; watch your drinks; and respect local cultures (it’s not just a question of respect but a question of safety).
The biggest myth I’d like to dispel is this one: Don’t travel! You’ll get kidnapped/raped/killed. Of course these things could happen. You could also be hit by a car walking out your front door. Unless you head to a war zone, walk into a natural disaster or head out into disreputable neighborhoods on your own, the inherent nature of travel isn’t any more dangerous than your everyday life. What changes is your familiarity with a situation and the lack of automatic reactions: be aware of this and you’ll have a good chance of avoiding difficult situations.

8) What does it take to sustainably travel?
If you mean travel in a non-intrusive and non-damaging way, I like the slogan: “Leave only footprints; take only photos.” I don’t know who coined that but I like the idea of affecting a place as little as possible. In the recent past the opposite was the norm: convert and convince, visit places and leave nuggets of your ‘superior way of life’ behind – much colonial history is founded on this model of conquest, which destroyed not only the environment through exploitation, but cultures by appropriation, disrespect or enslavement.

9) Many bloggers maintain an image of effortless production for a blog which generates enough money to be their only source of income. What is it like behind the scenes of Women on the Road?
I’d love to know their secret! It reminds me of a Facebook post recently, two little owls leaning lovingly against one another: “Sometimes I just want someone to hug me and say, ‘I know it’s hard. You’re going to be okay. Here is chocolate and 6 million dollars.’” Most of us are lucky if we get the hug and the chocolate! So behind the scenes is – me. Occasionally I might hire some technical help but it’ll be for a few hours. My website and blog combined have more than 700 pages and posts (only about 10 have been written by someone else), my newsletter has more than 10,000 subscribers (I’ve had to cut it back from every two weeks to every month because of workload), I’m on social media regularly and interact with my readers.
All that takes time. Then there’s travel – I don’t do enough of it because it costs a lot and I don’t do many press trips, but much time goes into planning and making sure I maximize my time and my money. When I’m on the road I barely sleep sometimes; I’m feeding Facebook, blogging, taking photographs and actually trying to see places and meet people. In-between I write freelance because if I were to rely on my blog and website to feed me I’d be delightfully slim.
There is NOTHING effortless about running a blog, and my hat goes off to the handful of bloggers who have had the drive and skill to turn it into a full-time business. Mine is beginning to reap the benefits of years of work but – you need to have a passion for this because some days you’ll really ask yourself… why?

10) Do you have anything else to say to the women of the world?
Remember that not everyone has the same privileges. Not everyone can travel, cross borders, feed their families. We have a privilege that is wonderful: we can see the world and sample its treasures, but if along the way we could try to make a bit of a difference, the world would be a better place.

You can find Leyla on Facebook, Twitter, GooglePlus, Pinterest and Instagram.

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