From an early age, we women are taught that we can’t (or shouldn’t) do certain things in life. Whether these warnings are explicit (“Girls don’t climb trees!”), implicit (Grandma’s look of disapproval), or even more specific (“Women shouldn’t travel alone”), the feeling of holding back from our dreams large and small stays with us. Despite how much progress we have made over the past 30 years, traditional gender roles constantly are reinforced through mainstream media.
As a result, many of us (women) talk ourselves out of doing what we want before the seed of an idea begins to sprout. We may have an inkling of a dream trip (or dream job, home, or career), but before we allow ourselves to consider the what-ifs, we already have convinced ourselves we can’t.
I grew up with three older brothers, so it was inevitable that I would be a bit of a tomboy. But my brothers are so much older (seven, nine, and 11 years older, to be exact), that it was almost as if I was an only child since, after the age of 10, I was alone much of the time.
Viewfinder Tip: No matter who you are, no matter where you come from, you can do anything to which you put your mind. Especially travel.
I believe these factors, as well as having a mother who told me I could do anything to which I put my mind, set me on my trajectory of independent travel. It’s never crossed my mind that I couldn’t do something because I was a girl. Yes, I understand that sometimes I have to be more careful, and that there are some places where women aren’t as accepted or welcomed as men, but that hasn’t stopped me from doing things like riding a motorcycle solo from Seattle to Panama.
Expedia has given me an extraordinary opportunity to develop my own storybook adventure. As part of this campaign, the online travel agency gave me a stipend to create my very own dream journey. So what do I plan to do with a world of opportunities? I will fulfill my interest in philanthropy, challenge my physical abilities, and tie it all into travel.
First, I am starting a non-profit. I’ve been involved with non-profits for the better part of the last 20 years because, as a traveler, I’ve seen what even small amounts of money can accomplish in developing countries.
Me with a little girl in India
I’ve raised funds to build playgrounds at orphanages in Vietnam. I was a Big Sister to a young Vietnamese girl for 10 years in Seattle. I co-founded an organization that raised funds to build homes in India for the dalits (untouchables), water wells in Haiti, and a school in Cambodia.As part of WanderTours, the tour company that I run, there is always a philanthropic component to our trips: the WanderTours Giving Program. Through this program, we make donations (they’re not tax-deductible because we’re not a non-profit) and visit organizations that help local communities (we often focus on groups with programs for women and children). This is a way to give back to the people we visit.
Starting a non-profit is expensive and time-consuming, and, until recently, I have felt that it was not feasible as I would be responsible for all the startup costs. With Expedia’s help, however, I’m now working on creating the WanderWorld Foundation, which will take the WanderTours Giving Program to the next level. In setting this up as a non-profit, we’ll be able to accept donations from individuals and businesses. Donors, in turn, will support worthwhile programs that we’ll visit during our travels. And they’ll get a tax deduction for these contributions.
WanderTours participants in Mynamar
So that’s part one of my storybook adventure.
Part two? Later this year, I’m embarking on the Snowman Trek in Bhutan. This is considered the most difficult trek in the world. It will take 25 days. It spans 220 miles in the Himalayas. Elevation will range as high as 18,000 feet, many of the 11 mountain passes measuring in at more than 16,000 feet. In short, the expedition will be tough. While I’ve been doing weight-training and cardio for the past nine months to get myself in better physical condition, I also need some high-altitude training.
Which is where my storybook comes in. In the coming months, you’ll be able to read here about my trips to Hawaii Island to hike Mauna Kea (14,000 feet) and Bali to hike Mt. Batur (a mere 5,600 feet). Having the chance to hike these mountains (as well as others in New Mexico and Colorado) will be invaluable to my training for the Snowman Trek.
Me at the Costa Rica border
Doing these hikes will give me the chance to test gear and make sure I’ve got the right equipment for this 25-day adventure. They also will give me an idea as to how my body will respond to high altitude, and how I need to eat for such a strenuous journey.
So my storybook begins with a nonprofit and the ultimate trek. Two very different aspects of my traveling future; two of my biggest passions. This journey not only embodies what I dream for my travels to be, but it also will set me on a path to give back to the parts of the world that have fostered my adventures over the past 25 years.
As I train and test my limits in preparation for the Snowman Trek, I look forward to expanding my mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional capabilities. In my opinion, there is no finer way to show the world that a woman can do anything.