Why the Travelgram is a lie and what's really important

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What's really important when traveling

and why Insta is not

Why the Travelgram is a lie and what's really important

 Me, in Tokyo, after a 10 hour night shift at a bar, getting home when the  sun  is already up #messyhairdontcare

Me, in Tokyo, after a 10 hour night shift at a bar, getting home when the sun is already up #messyhairdontcare

I’ll never be that girl in the pretty dress on Instagram. Sunhats and stilettos get cut from my backpack first. My toiletries bag is minuscule and I stopped shaving months ago. In Canada, I’m fairly average: sandy blonde hair, blue eyes, 5’6”/168cm, double d’s, 150 pounds/68 kilograms, with strong shoulders and multiple visible tattoos. Online, I feel invisible and unrepresented. My full sleeve, messy hair, lack of makeup and curves stand in stark contrast to the typical aesthetic of the travel-blogging Insta-influencers. When I travel overseas, I stand out; if not for my height and build, then it’s my tattoos or the color of my hair, skin or eyes. The Travelgram is a lie, girls! These are a few of the lessons I’ve learned along the way, for those of you traveling without a personal stylist.


The Importance of Learning Languages


In South Korea, I was either gawked at or completely ignored. No in between. More often than not, conversations struck up by strangers were harmless and well-intentioned. My appearance identified me as an English teacher. Or a prostitute. Those conversations, while less-welcomed, became a twisted source of entertainment. I learned my numbers in Hangul (Korean) to know what they thought I was worth, along with a few key phrases I could say to the closest ajuma (grandmother) revealing my identity as a teacher and his ill-intentions. Those lovely ladies always had my back, scolding and screaming at the men, smacking and swatting them away with brooms all while threatening to tell their wives. Good times. 


The Importance of Laughing


In India, I was famous. It seemed like every teenage boy wanted a photo with me. I would learn later that I had inadvertently become photo evidence of their ‘totally real foreigner girlfriend’. I imagine each of those photos now hang framed, proudly, on hundreds of family walls. So without knowing how to navigate this new part of daily life, my travel partner (also female) and I developed a game called “laugh or cry”. Sometimes it was necessary to get everything out, have a beer and cry for an hour. Other times, we would see how much we could charge for the privilege of having a photo with us (for the record: $3-5, $8 if I was wearing a sari, Longhi or salwar kameez, $10 at the Taj Mahal) or strike a ridiculous pose just as the cameras clicked. That's how we made our lemonade! 

 One of these women helped fix our saris prior to visiting the Taj Mahal. The photo session seemed like it was never going to end, individual and groups, people just kept lining up! We eventually decided to hire a tour guide to act as our bodyguard for the day.

One of these women helped fix our saris prior to visiting the Taj Mahal. The photo session seemed like it was never going to end, individual and groups, people just kept lining up! We eventually decided to hire a tour guide to act as our bodyguard for the day.


The Importance of Looking like a Local


Arriving in Europe would have been a welcomed relief. There was no reason to think I would stand out there. Or so I thought. As a woman, I think we get used to getting checked out but in Europe, something was different. I’d get the usual look up and down, but then, instead of getting cat-called or passed over, their eyes would linger in a downwards direction before awkwardly catching my gaze with a look of confusion. A few weeks into my trip, wandering around the old streets of Prague, I had finally had enough. I lost it on a well-dressed family. While the parents whispered, their teenagers giggled in my direction.“Okay, enough!! What is it?! What is wrong with me?! Why are you looking at me like that?!” I yelled. The teens stopped giggling. The mother looked at her husband. He hesitantly replied “Lo siento señorita, tus zapatoes. Ellos son…” Nodding in the direction of my feet, I put it together. It was my Vibram Five Finger toe shoes; so uncommon in that part of Europe people had literally been stopping to stare at them. I wasn’t the issue, it was my choice of shoes. Oops. 

 Not looking like a local here but still: My favorite thing in my backpack is my hammock- it goes up everywhere- beaches, music festivals, airports, waterfalls- and pretty much guarantees my safety as security guards seem to magically appear and usually lingers around while I sleep (totally less creepy than that sounds!)

Not looking like a local here but still: My favorite thing in my backpack is my hammock- it goes up everywhere- beaches, music festivals, airports, waterfalls- and pretty much guarantees my safety as security guards seem to magically appear and usually lingers around while I sleep (totally less creepy than that sounds!)


The Importance of Learning to Love Yourself

 This was at my second Spartan race (8-10 miles) in Tokyo and is also how I usually look when travelling: exhausted, dirty and happy!

This was at my second Spartan race (8-10 miles) in Tokyo and is also how I usually look when travelling: exhausted, dirty and happy!

I joined Instagram less than two years ago and I never started a travel blog. My Facebook profile gets updated far less frequently than it should. I’m still learning how to use a hashtag properly and have recently accepted that I might never understand the point of Twitter. There are no photos of me perched on glaciers, staring up at waterfalls or strolling down remarkably empty streets while wearing a beautiful dress and heels, with flawless makeup and perfectly coiffed hair. That has never once been my experience while traveling, and I’m okay with that. Those pretty dresses in idyllic locations present an illusion of ease that just isn’t the reality for most backpackers. Though I have a deep admiration for the women with thousands of followers and their perfect blogs, I will likely never be amongst them. They’ve cracked the code, figuring out how to live digitally, nomadically, with an amazing wardrobe. I, on the other hand, will continue stumbling around the world, while standing out like a sore thumb; tall, curvy, makeup-free, tattooed, frequently covered in mud, never in five-star hotels, carrying my home on my back and having a wonderful time. The number of ‘likes’ my photos get will not change my appearance or the way I travel, but maybe one day we’ll start seeing another group of travelers represented online- the real majority of us #messyhairdontcare 

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We are a team of four feminist travelers coming together from different parts of the world to share with you what we have learned from traveling, living, loving, and exploring all over the world.  Join us and tell your story about female solo travel, relationships, mental health, city guides, or whatever else comes to your mind.

 Guest Author Alexandra Gwenneth Young describes herself as a travel-addict attempting to escape Canadian winters. Vegan chef, OCR and trail-running enthusiast, inflexible yogi and scuba instructor. Follow Alexandra's journey on  @ontheroadagaingwen

Guest Author Alexandra Gwenneth Young describes herself as a travel-addict attempting to escape Canadian winters. Vegan chef, OCR and trail-running enthusiast, inflexible yogi and scuba instructor. Follow Alexandra's journey on @ontheroadagaingwen

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