Thursday, February 25, 2016

Getting my WITS About Me: On Becoming A JourneyWoman


In keeping with my 2015 aim of tackling challenging tasks and reaching forth to grasp everything life has to offer, I booked my way to the 3rd annual Women In Travel Summit in Boston's Revere Hotel in March. This was a challenge for me, both in the financial arena as well as the logistical one.

I wanted to prove to myself that I could be my own travel agent; that I have the research savvy to connect accommodations and transportation schedules, in line with a planned event, in a way that maximized my comfort and enjoyment. What woman wants to be rushed and harried with scheduling conflicts, after all, on her way to a networking event focused on the empowerment of women through independent travel? I was determined not to be lost in the irony of bad planning (pun intended)!

The first task I set for myself was making my small budget work for the total event: meals, vendor purchases, the inevitable social club/bar meetup off-site with my new network friends. I figured whatever costs I incurred would be a tax write-off once I landed that lucrative travel-related job by the end of 2015, a veritable business-machine humming happily along.

I joined a travel writer/blogger group, Go Girl Travel Network (now relaunched as She's Wanderful), and secured a highly enviable discount as a bona fide member of Social Media. Now it was starting to feel real!

Although there was a strong pull to rush order some business cards in time for the conference, I decided to collect them instead and practice my virtual connections. I also wanted to gain some insights on the best way to rebrand myself, so I would not order them until I got those details figured out.

The most fun and rewarding out-of-the-box move I made was to join a book club not just to get more reading done, but as a networking medium for like-minded women travelers like myself. My first meeting with the New York Chapter of Go Girl Reads was held a mere two weeks before the conference,  and we tackled the groundbreaking autobiography by Cheryl Strayed, Wild. Strayed's book was a perfect ice breaker among the women in the book club, since we got to talk about not only our reactions to her amazing tale of determination, but also relate it back to what it means for us as women blazing our own trails.

As I anticipated would be part of the discussion at WITS, we discussed the practical logistics of being a biological woman in a less than ideal comfort zone, in transit. What does one do and use when she's menstruating, for example? What was an acceptable level of sociable connection while going solo, for safety, for preservation of one's mission and integrity?

Another poignant discussion point was the responsibility of being a Western-based female traveler. For me, this was interesting because there is a duality to my own perspective: I am of South as well as North America,  my worldview as a 1.5er very much influencing how I approach the road, and how I expect it to meet me. I am well aware of and learning so much more about the nuances of privilege from a traveler's context, so I strive to keep this sensitivity balanced as an advocate and writer.

Making connections in the reading group came naturally, since about four of us were going to the conference anyway. I made arrangements with on group member for a place to crash with her friends in Boston, and with another as part of her carpool. Eventually the carpool added a few other attendees, but the couch crash fell through. I dealt with it, and that led to my first Airbnb (stay tuned for another post about The Stranger's Couch).

In all of this planning and rearranging,  I learned what my sanity levels could withstand and how to face my travel anxieties. Knowledge is key for preparation, as is the willingness to try a different path than I've tried before. Results may not be guaranteed or predictable, but fueled by my desire to be less anxious and hesitant about stepping outside of my comfort zone, I've become a tad bit more social.

By osmosis, I've also developed more savvy with varying platforms of communication, the immediate benefit being way more connected to women that embody the fearless spirit to wander, seek truth and advocate positive power for and by women worldwide.

Perspective in travel is a valuable noun as well as adjective. I used to think that I could only call myself a traveler if I was leaving the United States. This thought process did not honestly attribute all of the wisdom imparted to me by my family and personal achievements, however. Yes, I did fly to Australia and study abroad for three months when I was 20 years old, but I also embarked on my first whirlwind bus-and-plane journey a year earlier, from New York to Atlanta to Toronto and back!

I appreciate Beth Santos and her team for the originality of such a network of independent and creative women, and look forward to pioneering new paths for women and young girls to go somewhere and do something meaningful!

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