Dear Dame Traveler, on the eve of 2020, I write this… heart filled with memories, gratitude and a few lessons learned. I know many of you sit and read this with the same thoughts. As a new year approaches, we often sit and reflect on our hopes for a new year. New goals, new horizons, new adventures ahead… I write this to you, dear reader, if your 2020 resolution is to see the world this year.
This is your time. This is your year to go see the world. This is your wake up call to write your intentions down (…after all, a resolution or goal without a plan is just a dream)…. and plan to go collect those passport stamps and lose yourself in a new, foreign place. Consider these next few paragraphs your pep-talk.
To travel is to learn the art of observation. To travel is to invest in and humble yourself all at the same time. Truly, to travel is to witness the world’s diversity, it’s beauty and its age… and to recognize your small, small place in it. Travel the perfect algorithm of empowering and humbling.
What passports and pictures don’t show you about travel is the intentional, reflective time it brings. We stop, we ponder, we observe, we push ourselves, we rest our heads in unfamiliar homes. We’re endlessly on edge and the dance and the balance of it all is the most strengthening thing a woman can afford herself – the opportunity to grow.
Travel challenges as much as it delights. It presses on our nerves and our anxieties, it channels us towards tests of the mind and of the spirit. Travel will make you question every little thing. And through all of this, we are able to realize our privilege, our biases, our false assumptions.
To the woman reading this needing this pep talk, to the woman reading this who’s heard a thousands reasons not to go get on that plane, to the woman reading this wondering what a new decade and a new chapter 2020 will bring – go further, seek more, see new horizons. It’s your time, dear heart.
Years ago, you could find me daydreaming during my early morning classes. Quite like many high schoolers out there, I particularly found history courses boring. Foolishly, I’d call these classes old, antiquated, unimportant. “Why study the past? We should be looking into the future!” (Oh how much I regret those days!) No matter how engaging the professor was, or the relevancy to modern politics… I was jaded.
Flash forward 10 years later, and I’m studying to become a world history teacher. Yep, you read that right! This former history-hater is en route to becoming a teacher of the world’s past. What brought about this complete change of heart? I’ll tell you – travel.
Travel completely transformed my love and admiration for history. It wasn’t until I saw the world’s ancient relics, its weather-worn battle fields, its monuments and temples with my very own eyes… that I realized just how crucially important historical education is.
I never realized the impact of war until I had heard the stories of locals, sharing their parent’s plight. It wasn’t until I witnessed a tea ceremony first hand to find beauty in its ancient practice. I’d never considered my own privilege or freedom until I walked through another form of life.
You can sit in lecture upon lecture discussing The Great Wall of China or the Taj Mahal – but until you see their grandeur, it’s all a game of imagination. You can read books on Vikings and seafarers – but until you see their massive ships and epic, native fjord lands, it’s all a figment of your imagination.
It’s a selfish and ignorant thing, isn’t it? It wasn’t until I gained my own experiences out there in the world… then I found importance in historical events. But, I think it’s important to acknowledge that in order for some people to grasp history – they need to observe, soak in and explore. And guess what provides all of those experiences? Travel does.
Classes Today Include A Traveler’s Perspective
What excites me about becoming a history teacher one day is the idea that I can bring experiential moments to students. Virtual reality, 3D glasses, Google Earth, explorations via immersive maps. 21st century history education is changing. And it’s becoming more immersive. It’s an exciting time to be teaching the world’s history because we can finally have students experience the world right in the classroom. (Even though, as travelers, we know that seeing something up close and personal is complete and utter magic! Baby steps, right?)
It’s my hope to create curious, compassionate, open minded, educated travelers of tomorrow. In my wildest dreams, I hope that my students leave my classroom eager to see the world. It’s my hope that they leave my doors knowing that the world is a wondrous, ancient place – an open book to read and learn from. They just have to go out and see it.
Has travel transformed your perspective on history? Or have your interest in history driven you to see ancient sights? I’d love to know!
There’s no doubt that travel around the holiday season can be anxiety inducing. With the large amount of people commuting to and from home, on their way to a winter escape or en route back home – holiday travel is overwhelming. Even as a seasoned traveler, I’ve found myself completely stressed midway through my journey back “home for the holidays.” Today, I’m sharing the simple, yet effective stress reducing tricks I use to deal with holiday travel.
Noise Cancelling Headphones
Music on, world off. Even after I’ve hustled to my terminal, I find that other’s stress levels increase my own! To escape the madness and ignore the arguments and tension, I always pop on my noise cancelling headphones and zone out to a peaceful playlist like this one. Nothing changes my mood quite like music!
I can’t tell you why exactly, but something about printed tickets and itineraries with all my information on it does wonders to my stress level when maneuvering through holiday travel! Having a physical ticket in my hand assures me that everything will be okay. Does any one else feel this way?
Invest In Travel Insurance
With traffic galore around the holiday season, it’s important to plan for the worst. Should you miss your flight or need to make arrangements to change your plans, investing in travel insurance is a good idea. Peace of mind is worth the few extra dollars, if you ask me.
Get There Early
Just do it. Plan to be there early to avoid major lines and the headache of battling through security. Giving yourself a buffer of time to make your way through to your terminal alleviates the pressure to go-go-go! Getting to the airport early is a step towards breathing easier and lowering your stress level an enormous amount.
Wear Your Cozy Clothes
There’s absolutely no point in wearing constricting, uncomfortable clothes to the airport during the holidays. No matter if you’re the ultimate fashionista or on your way to meet up with friends you haven’t seen in a long time… trust me on this. There’s a way to look chic and put together while also being cozy. A comfortable, non-restricting outfit can soothe a stressful mind.
Acknowledge Your Lack Of Control
Truth be told, travel can be the ultimate form of “letting go.” With the lack of control we all have as travelers during the holiday season… the biggest take away I’ve found is to embrace the unknown. It may be seamless, it may be a complete mess… but you’ve got this.
You can’t control the delayed flights or the missing crew members. You can’t control the weather or the enormous security line. But you can control your response to the madness! Deep breathes, positive self-talk and using the tips mentioned above mindfully will pull you through.
How do you cope with holiday travel stress? Comment below with your biggest tips!
Olga Chagunava is a London based travel photographer creating romantic, lush captures of landscapes and intimate moments from near and far. Olga (who you may know as @LiolaLiola on Instgram) is a true citizen of the world. Born in Germany, she called seven other countries home before settling in the United Kingdom. After following @LiolaLiolaon Instagram and YouTube for many years, we’re very excited to share her story with you!
Hi LiolaLiola! Could you tell us a little about your back story?
Since I was a child, traveling was a big part of my life. I was born in Germany and grew up in seven other countries. London has been my home for the past twelve years. Last year, I quit my full time job at YouTube/Google to pursue my dream to travel and explore the world through photography and videography.
Amazing. Did you always want to travel the world? Where do you think your curiosity for adventure came from?
I can’t imagine life without travel. I’m so used to it, I find it strange when I don’t leave London at least once a month, even if it’s escaping the city to the countryside! I believe that’s because of the fact that during my childhood I was always on the road.
So, what has been your favorite destination so far and why?
I always find it so difficult to answer this question. There’s no such thing a favorite destination, in my opinion. Different destinations offer different experiences and it all depends what experience you crave at this moment of your life.
I really love Georgia, partly because it’s a wonderful country that has so much to offer. From breathtaking landscapes, delicious food and the most welcoming people – I’m partial because I’m ⅓ Georgian and I have a huge sentiment for this country.
Queensway, Australia has my heart, especially Byron Bay. There’s something truly magical in this place. It’s hard to explain what exactly. Maybe it’s the ocean and nature. Maybe the feeling of freedom and never ending summer. I guess you can only understand it, when you go there and feel it yourself.
I’m forever in love with English countryside. Wherever you go, it feels like you are taken back in time and you are stepping in sort of magical fairytale. Yorkshire and Cotswolds are my favorite.
All of those sound so dreamy. Where did your first taste of adventure begin? Did it leave an impact on you?
My first big trip was to Brazil in 2008. I used to train in capoeira (a physical discipline and movement originating in Brazil, quite like a martial art and dance form) and I was very lucky to be taught by a capoeira master, Mestre Caboclin who is originally from Fortaleza, Brazil. He founded Capoeira Ceara school in London and invited his London students to join him on the trip to Brazil to train in capoeira with local teachers and masters.
I remember how fascinated and excited I was during that trip. Everything was so different compared to what I knew before. I had never been outside of Europe before, so it was a true adventure for me. While training in capoeira with local students we had a chance to explore Fortaleza, Salvador de Bahia and Canoa Quebrada. I remember how amazed I was by hospitality and kindness of people in Brazil. I would love to return to Brazil and explore more of this beautiful country. Hopefully soon!
What lessons have you learned from your experiences traveling?
That regardless of culture and religion, we are all the same. Love, happiness and peace are universal languages.
Alright, this is a hard question. Olga – why do you travel?
Traveling is good for your soul. It makes you humble, it makes you kinder, it makes you seeing the world differently. The more I travel, the more compassionate and less judgmental I become.
We so agree. As a woman, why do you think it’s important for other women to explore the world?
There are two things that girls should remember, when traveling, especially solo travelers.
The world is not that scary as it is being portrayed in the media, but always use common sense and intuition. Trust but double check. Don’t be scared of traveling and exploring the world, but make sure you put safety first.
Do you know any travel hacks or tips?
To avoid jet lag, drink lots of water before and during the flight. Switch your clock to the time of your destination, this way you will be able to adapt to the timezone quicker. Try to avoid airplane food, as it contains lots of sodium and chemicals. Instead bring your own food. If you can, right after reaching your destination do something active – maybe a yoga session, a quick run or a swim. This will make your blood floating and make you feel good.
Amazing tips. Is there anything you’d like for other Dame Travelers to know?
Thank you so much for taking the time to share your story with us, LiolaLiola… we look forward to seeing your adventures to come! Be sure to follow her on Instagram and YouTube so you won’t miss her epic travels.
Kalyani Lodhia is a hard working photographer based out of the United Kingdom. Kalyani’s detailed, humanistic shots, as well as her landscape drone and aerial work are astounding. She truly elevates familiar landscapes to new heights (pun intended!) and we love seeing her photos pop up on Instagram. We really can’t wait to see all the amazing things she’s sure to accomplish with her craft! Today, we’re excited to introduce her work to you all. Without further ado… here’s Kalyani!
Thanks for sitting down with us today, Kalyani! For those readers who don’t know your work – could you tell us a little about your story and what you do.
Hi, I’m Kalyani! I’m from a pretty small, industrial city in the UK called Leicester. I did my undergraduate degree in bio-veterinary sciences because I’ve always loved science and animals but I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do (I just knew I didn’t want to be a vet!). After that and my MSc, I now work in TV as a researcher on a show called “How the Universe Works” and I’ve even worked as a runner on the Great British Bake Off! I often work 7 days a week, weekends too, sometimes as a runner or doing bar work, to be able to afford all these trips and the gear.
We admire your hustle! So, you’ve been a lot of places! Do you have a favorite destination?
India will always have a place in my heart. As a kid, we used to go often to visit my grandma. The colors, sounds, smells and tastes, the extremes of everything: silence and deafening noise, nature and metropolis, ancient temples and modern architecture – it’s a sensory overload but everything seems a bit bland after visiting, like there’s a spark missing. It’s an extraordinary country that’s just indescribable and so vast. It’s also my second home, where my heritage and culture is from and where my grandparents grew up and that makes it really special.
Everyone’s got to start somewhere. What was your first big trip abroad?
My first big trip abroad was when I was 19 years old. My parents sent me to an ashram in India for 6 months and at first I thought: what on Earth am I going to do at an ashram for THAT long?! Being 19, fresh out of school with no idea what I wanted to do with my life, it seemed like it was going to be boring and that I’d have to be well behaved. It turned out to be the opposite. I could honestly write a whole book about my time there. I was very naive, innocent and everything was limitless. I learnt so much about myself, about people and the world around me – I definitely lost some of the rose tinting in my glasses and not necessarily for the worst. That trip is what made me first realize that travel was a thing and that I could do it, all by myself. It also made me realize just how good I am at defying others’ expectations of me and that’s always fun.
What lessons have you learned from your experiences traveling?
I wouldn’t say I’ve learnt many particular lessons. I think you just develop with each trip. I’ve been lucky enough to be blessed with a disposition suited for travel – patient, curious, trusting (enough), resourceful and good at being in my own head for prolonged periods of time.
But one thing that I keep learning over and over again is just how beautiful our planet is – from the people to the landscapes and the weird and wonderful animals. It’s all well and good watching ‘Planet Earth 2’ and these movie-like documentaries, but I don’t think you can ever truly appreciate it until you’ve seen it yourself; like holding the smallest chameleon in your hand after finding one in the rainforest or diving with thousands and thousands of hammerhead sharks. It’s so hard to put these quantities into words or get them across on screens. It just makes you realize how lucky we are to have this planet as our home with everything packed inside this tiny blue marble, whizzing around space, and how important it is to protect it all.
We love to ask this question… did you always want to travel the world?
Not at all. I grew up in a very conservative Indian family. I was always expected to act a certain way, like certain things and had a clear path that I should have followed: study, get a good, stable job, get married and have kids. I was always told off for playing football with the boys and ruining my clothes and made to feel that liking animals was wrong and somehow disgusting. Leicester is quite grey and industrial and it has a pockets of small communities where you can’t really see much outside of what you know. I had no idea what was out there and I didn’t grow up with any role models who went outside the norm – it just wasn’t done.
In immigrant families, a lot of emphasis is placed on being safe – both physically and financially. It’s completely understandable considering everything my family has been through but I just knew I wanted more and I never knew what that was. I was always climbing the few trees there were, collecting snails, questioning all my teachers and playing football or cricket with my brother.
Luckily, my parents were never quite ‘normal’ and they’ve always had an open mind. I think my curiosity for adventure came from them encouraging me to look outside the box and just be the best version of me I could be; whether that was taking the traditional path or something a little different. They really nurtured my inquisitive, fiery spirit and I’m so grateful for that – otherwise I might not be doing what I am today!
Why do you think it’s important for women, specifically, to explore the world?
Apart from the obvious answers that it’s incredibly empowering or just for the thrill, we have a worldwide narrative of seeing everything through the male gaze and I think that it’s time for that to change. Everyone has blind spots in their understanding of the world around them. We’ve been viewing the world from the perspective of cis white men for so long, who probably all come from similar backgrounds that are very different to mine or yours. I think we need to put our own stamp on the world, and share experiences through our lens – and I’m particularly speaking as a woman of colour too.
As great as all of that is, I generally don’t think it’s important for anyone to do anything. Just do what makes you happy. You don’t need a reason to go out there. Our narratives tend to be those of the broken woman, out to find themselves – think ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ or ‘Wild’. Whilst those have incredible and valid stories, I think we’ve been limited to that. I don’t travel because I’ve recently been through a bad break up or to escape something, actually the opposite. I travel for the same reasons white men throughout history have traveled: because I love it. And exploring doesn’t mean battling your way through overgrown plants and giant bugs in the jungle. Even if it’s just a day trip out of town, with someone or alone, it’s about the experience. Jumping on the tube to a new part of London is an adventure for me!
Well said! So, have you faced any struggles traveling as a woman?
Of course – I don’t think any woman hasn’t! I’ve been so lucky not to have experienced anything particularly bad. It’s mostly the staring, especially traveling alone (and on top of that being a woman of colour alone), people not taking you seriously, men giving unsolicited advice on how to use your own camera – just the usual really. I hate people looking at me in any setting so that’s what I struggle with the most – and I draw attention to myself more with all my camera kit, which doesn’t help. It’s really stopped me getting the shots that I want to because I don’t like drawing attention to myself. I’m still not quite over that yet but on every trip I try and force myself, at least once, to ignore everyone and just take that photo that my brain tries to stop me from taking.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I think the #DTBehindTheLens series is fantastic. Instagram has become a clone machine, where it seems like the goal is becoming about getting the perfect selfie. The idea of hiking up a mountain, getting changed into a beautiful, flowing dress and then taking a photo of myself just seems a little impractical and extremely time consuming.
Whilst I admire the creativity and the patience to get those shots (and I honestly think they’re beautiful), I think showcasing the ‘female gaze’ is really important; I guess, personally, it’s about women looking not just being looked at.
For me, travel photography is about capturing what I see and the editing process is about staying true to what I saw whilst also trying to get the feeling of being present in that final image across. Travel photography isn’t about me, it’s about the journey and the world outside of my little London bubble – I’m just the vessel, looking at the world through my unique pair of eyes. I really hope these blogs inspire women to go beyond social media engagement and to create something new and know that what they create is really, really valuable.
Thank you for sharing your story with us, Kalyani… be sure to follow her on Instagram to catch a glimpse through her eyes!