10 Packing Essentials for Under $10

How you pack can make or break a trip. Being under prepared can set you up for discomfort or way too many desperate searches for the nearest, and likely overpriced, store. It can even have some pretty gross hygienic consequences (you will see what we mean below). But being over packed can mean lots of back pain for backpackers, overweight charges, and even a higher likelihood of getting your stuff stolen. Packing her doesn’t have to be expensive though. Here are our favorite must-haves for any traveler all for under $10.

1. Goop bottles

For everything TSA tries to take away – shampoo, conditioner, lotion, body wash – these bottles are silicone, squeezable, and are durable enough to be used for all your trips. They even come with their own TSA approved clear, reusable plastic bag. While you can find lots of expensive versions of this same product, we have found these little babies are built just as tough and cost more than half the price.

$9.99 usd

2. Toothpaste Tablets

While technically not under $10, these are such good value, we decided it was worth it. TSA won’t let you get by with a full size tube of toothpaste, plus putting it in your checked bag means the pressure changes and tossing of your suitcase could end in a big mess of a surprise when you finally start your trip. Those are just a couple reasons why we love these toothpaste tablets. You pop one in our mouth, chomp around a bit, add a wet toothbrush, and wah lah – you have toothpaste. And unlike traditional tubes, you won’t run out for at least a few trips to come with just one bottle of this stuff. 

$10.95 usd

3. Toothbrush covers

Speaking of toothpaste, there isn’t much use having clean teeth if your toothbrush has been dropped on a hostel floor or thrown in your backpack along with your shoes. Yuck. These silicone toothbrush holders are something we don’t leave home without. We like silicone because it’s more durable and sustainable than plastic and we like this 6 pack because toothbrush covers are not meant to last forever. Do yourself and your oral health a favor and cover your toothbrush! You’ll thank us next time TSA has their grubby hands in your toiletry bag looking for your deadly nail clippers.

$6.58 usd

4. Flip Flops

We have two words: hostel floor. Really though if you are staying in a dirty hostel or in a 5 star hotel, showers and floors are not to be totally trusted. Just ask our team member who got a mysterious foot fungus in Central America that made her skin fall off. You don’t need a fancy pair of Havianas, they don’t take up much room, and they are so important no matter where you go! These flip flops are cute, simple, sturdy whether you plan on wearing them all day long or just as slippers and shower shoes in your accommodation. 

$9.99 usd

5. Clean your whole body bar

Affordable, fair trade, and a charity: what’s not to love? We’ll give you one more reason to add this to your packing list: it replaces almost your entire toiletry bag! This bar is a shampoo and cleans your whole darn body all in a 7 ounce solid bar. We’ll be honest, if you are a body wash snob (we see you, scroll back up to number one) or have fussy hair, this may not be the best solution. It smells amazing and works wonders but it won’t replace your fancy pants conditioner. 

$7.90 usd

6. Infinity scarf with hidden pocket

Keep your purse at the hotel and stash your passport or some extra cash in the hidden pocket of this scarf! While the photos suggest a phone isn’t too heavy to be really obvious, we suggest buying this beaut as a more accessible option than in your bra. It’s lightweight and comes in loads of colors, making it great for even spring days when it’s not too cold. 

$8.99 usd

7. Portable luggage scale

The benefits of a luggage scale are obvious when you are packing for a trip, but if you take domestic flights in your international destination, there are likely different weight rules. If you are a shopper, this little gadget could save you big overweight fees on the way home.  We love this one specifically because it’s cheap, it works, and it’s easy to pack. 

$7.99 usd

8. Collapsable Water Bottle

This water bottle folds up in a little disk that you can throw in your purse or backpack for hikes or city walks. Almost all accommodation has fresh water, and this is an easy to pack solution tat cuts on bottled water costs and environmental impact. Plus, it’s cheap, which is always a plus!

$9.98 usd

9. Laundry soap sheets

These take up almost no space and can save you quite a few bucks on detergent. These are eco friendly, plastic-free, and smell amazing. This is one of those little items we never even take out of our bags when we get home. They some with us everywhere. Imagine popping up to an Airbnb with a bag full of dirty clothes and having no detergent to wash them. These guys are the greatest for all laundry days, especially when a surprise washing machine becomes available. 

$9.29 usd

10. Ear Plugs

We don’t understand the need to assign a gender to earplugs (although there is no pink tax, we checked), but the fact is, we have tried every type and brand out there, and these are by far the most comfortable. Whether you stay at a party hostel or a nice Airbnb, sometimes construction, noisy neighbors, or a loud AC can keep you up. Plus nothing beats the airplane quiet combo than a pair of noise cancelling headphones along with earplugs. 

$8.99 usd

Bonus
11. Little locks

For hostel lockers, keeping your suitcase safe when the hotel desk is holding it, or at airport lockers, having at least one little lock could mean all your stuff stays safe. We like this one because of the flexible ring and how tiny it is – it makes it extra versatile for all situations. 

$4.99 usd

Traveling From Home: The Basics of Google Street View

You know Work from Home, but have you considered Traveling from Home?

From navigating to your favorite coffee shop to taking that roadtrip to the beach to seeing how far that new Tinder match actually lives, you use Google Maps all the time. And even locked down in your house, for avid travelers and world explorers, a feature of Google Maps can offer some respite.

This summer, I was supposed to be breaking down on the side of dirt roads in Kosovo or Turkmenistan as part of the 10,000+ mile overland adventure, The Mongol Rally. Instead, I was utilizing Google Street View to offer anti-depressant effects after that was canceled.

Google Street View displays interactive panoramas of places across the globe. During my web series, Mongol Rally 2020: From The Couch, I used the feature to virtually travel  the route and brought on guests from each country to discuss the best sites to see across Eastern Europe and Central Asia. The above image is a jaw-dropping remote landscape bordering Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. But you can also look up famous landmarks, like Florence’s Duomo.

Google Maps Street View of Florence, The Duomo

I was initially very sceptical about the concept of traveling from home (even though I had thought of it myself!), but the experience was actually incredible. Never in my life have I felt so small, has it been obvious how big and bold and vast the Earth really is. It was so surreal. You’re never going to make it everywhere, so in between actual travel, I’ll continue to spend days dropping into beautiful locations using Google Street View. 

Here are the basics to seeing the world from the comfort of your couch:

Infographic detailing how to use Google Street View to travel from home

To navigate the panorama smoothly, you can also use the arrows on the compass. This is located on the lower right hand corner.  I love checking out the Photo Spheres (the blue circles). Since Google Map users have taken the time to share their photos, you can typically count on Photo Spheres offering amazing views. My biggest piece of advice is just to experiment — bounce around, click all the buttons and pretty soon you’ll be a virtual travel pro. 

If you need a little inspiration to get started, I can suggest Tajikistan and Kazakhstan as amazing beautiful places that caught me by surprise. Also check out the rad story of Jacqui Kenny, the Agoraphobic Traveller, under the Instagram handle @streetview.portraits

Stay tuned for our next part in this series where we dive into some of the advanced features on Google Street View. 

About the author

Bailey Reutzel

Bailey Reutzel

Journalist, writer and traveler, Bailey wears many hats. Amongst her many adventures is a 48-state drive covering money and politics for over 6 months.  Bailey currently lives in Colorado.

2021 Travel Forecast According to Your Zodiac

Goodbye 2020!

It seems counterintuitive to start an article with a farewell, but the past year has demanded just that. But with the change in calendar comes a little optimism. For many of us, travel has been the big reset button – a gateway to heal, reset and reprioritise. Though we have been deprived for months, we cannot wait to be on the road again!

To help us get started, Sarah May Low came onboard with fun suggestions based on our Zodiac signs. Sarah is an Astrologer and Tarot Reader, based in Malaysia. She is currently researching interpersonal communication and romantic relationships for a PhD.  In her free time, she is also an advertising professional, a shoe designer, a model and professional singer (!!!). Sarah’s dream is to be a digital nomad, guiding people with her knowledge of astrology and tarot.

On December 21st, 2020, we moved into the Uranus-ruled Aquarius age. In plainspeak, this means that the planet Uranus signifies a period of change. We hope this fun little guide inspires our fellow solo travel girls into planning their future trips. With a little faith and patience, we can rediscover all the beautiful things, people, culture, food, and sceneries in the world soon!

ARIES

March 21 – April 19

Recommended Travel Locations: Peru or Vietnam

Girl jumping in the air against backdrop of the Inca Trail landscape

Aries is a Fire sign that symbolizes “action and energy.” They are pioneers who love creating something new and are big on making improvements in all areas of their life – career, business, personal life, relationships. They are known to appear childlike, independent, brave, and have leadership abilities.

Aries signs love to move as they have a lot of energy inside them. Hiking the Inca trail in Peru’s Machu Picchu is a great use of that vitality. The hustle and bustle of Vietnam’s cities are also suited for these energetic folks. 

Taurus

April 20 – May 20

Recommended Travel Locations: Italy or Australia

A man and a woman's silhouette against the sydney opera house in evening light

Taurus is an Earth sign, and this Zodiac is connected to materialism, persistency, and sensuality. There is nothing wrong with loving a luxurious life, especially when such individuals are known to work hard. Be you and do you and enjoy the fruits of your labour! 

Taureans can sometimes be guilty of procrastination, be stubborn, and over-indulgent as well. Great food, nature, and relaxing locations such as Italy or Australia are best for the sign of the bull. They do not like to rush and prefer taking their time, staying in locations for an extended period.

Gemini

May 21 – June 20

Recommended Travel Locations: Amazon Rainforest or Egypt

Egypt Female Network Tours

Geminis are Air signs, known as geniuses and famous for their mental prowess. They are daydreamers, which can sometimes make them appear shallow as they tend to live in their minds. Some of the most beautiful and iconic women are known to be Geminis. They are often tricksters, not always grounded, and because they are ruled by Mercury (the planet of communication and thinking), they enjoy talking about every topic on the planet.

Exploring the hieroglyph in Egypt’s pyramids or treasure hunting in the Amazon rainforest like Lara Croft might fascinate them.

Pssst…We are planning tours to Egypt in 2021 – in a small group of fun female travellers and with rigorous Covid-19 protocols. Check here for details!

Cancer

June 21 – July 22

Recommended Travel Locations: India or Tibet

Group of female tourists smiling at a historic monument in Delhi

Cancer is a Water sign, and these individuals are known for their reflective thoughts, intuition, nurturing qualities, and ability to care for people around them. The “mothers” of the Zodiac, they enjoy family life, real estate, and being in an environment where they feel protected – like their home. Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat, Pray, Love, is a Cancer sign.

Cancer signs are protective of their feelings, but they also have the gift of looking within and exploring their spiritual self. Traveling to destinations like India and Tibet can give them epiphanies in religion and spirituality. 

Leo

July 23 – August 22

Recommended Travel Locations: Los Angeles or Safaris in Africa

Kenya sunrise female tour

Leo signs are known to be proactive as they are Fire signs. Many Leos are known to love the spotlight, and adore the poshness of royalty. They are usually goal-oriented and can have high egos.

Because they are ruled by the Sun, they shine when they travel to locations that offer them glitz and glamour, such as Hollywood in Los Angeles. Alternatively, grab a chance to shoot dramatic Insta-worthy  pictures on a wildlife Safari in Africa #DoItForTheGram.

Virgo

August 23 – September 22

Recommended Travel Locations: South Korea or Germany

Smiling Korean girls wearing traditional clothes

If Germany was a person, it would definitely be a Virgo! People of this Earth sign love things to be well-structured and well-planned. They also love efficiency, practicality and seek perfectionism. 

Travel locations such as South Korea, whose people are known for their hardworking “Pali, Pali” culture, which means “Quick, Quick” in Korean. Germany is another excellent travel location for Virgos – things run on time, there is a respect for the environment, and the country’s infrastructure is well-structured. The cities are generally walkable, and you can quickly get around using the country’s well-organized mass transit network. 

Libra

September 23 – October 22

Recommended Travel Locations: Japan or Turkey

Female wearing traditional Japanese outfit with a red umbrella in the bamboo forest of Arashiyama in Kyoto

Air signs are generally known to be emotionally detached, but not Librans. These individuals often believe in fairness and love the idea of love because they are ruled by Venus, the planet of love and beauty. When they cannot balance their emotions with logic, they become indecisive. Librans are imaginative, and they adore the aesthetics of beautiful destinations. 

Many Librans love Japan because of the pretty things that the country offers – fashion, makeup, heritage, Japanese hot springs, and pop culture icons such as Hello Kitty! Cappadocia in Turkey is also a great option,  with an abundance of picturesque views, memorable sunsets and  the whimsical markets.

Scorpio

October 23rd – November 21st

Recommended Travel Locations: Hawaii or Maldives

Scorpio signs are individuals who can feel deep and intense emotions. Many of them can be quite good with reading people, and influencing others to invest in them or their business.  As sentimental people, they may experience powerful transformations throughout their life.

As a Water sign, locations with the sea, river, or lake are therapeutic and help them unwind. Hawaii and Maldives are great travel locations for these Scorpios to enjoy water sports, take a step back, reflect on their thoughts, and dive deep into their psyche.

Sagittarius

November 22nd – December 21st

Recommended Travel Locations: Cambodia or China

Faces carved into the temple of Angkor Wat

The Fire sign, Sagittarius, symbolises the explorer. They are always on to their next adventure, and these individuals are known for their independence and love for freedom. Their motto in life is #YOLOYou’ll Only Live Once, and thus, they can impulsively pack up and travel the globe at any time.

They love embracing new cultures, having various friends from different backgrounds, learning new philosophies, and pursuing new knowledge. The ancient ruins of Angkor Wat in Cambodia could entice Scorpions this year.  Experimenting with new languages and learning about the Shaolin martial arts in China will pique their interest. 

Capricorn

December 22nd – January 19th

Recommended Travel Locations: London or Hong Kong

People walking on the Millenium Bridge in London

Capricorns are the #GirlBoss of the Zodiac and it is easy to imagine them jet-setting off on a business trip. Most Capricorns are ambitious,  determined to excel in life. Capricorn is the sign of the mountain goat, hence, climbing the social or career ladder is often important. They want a decent social life and plenty of cash and material possessions. They are known for their persistent spirit, which contributes to their success.

When it comes to traveling, they would love London and Hong Kong. These two financial hubs are perfect destinations to balance work and fun. 

Aquarius

January 20th – February 18th

Recommended Travel Locations: Dubai or Singapore

Aquarius is an Air sign that symbolizes humanity, friendship, dreams, and desires. Such individuals are creative, generally optimistic, and aspire to be of service and to support humanity. Uranus, which rules Aquarius, is the planet of change, technology, and modern invention.

Modern architectural marvels excite them. Man-made cities like Dubai or Singapore will catch their fancy, opening a portal into a futuristic lifestyle. 

Pisces

February 19th – March 20th

Recommended Travel Locations: Indonesia or Thailand

Woman in a black outfit inside a water body looking towards the greenery around her

Pisces individuals are known to be emotional, sensitive, and have a strong sixth sense. The vibe is everything, and many of them are known to be great musicians and artists. They are also gifted as healers and need many forms of outlets to channel their creativity.

This is an emotional, sensitive, imaginative, and very psychic sign of Water. Popular healing hubs like Indonesia or Thailand would do good for their soul and channel their magic into the world through yoga, chakra healing, reiki, or meditation.

Team SoFe loves Bali! Want to come along for our next Meetup Tour in May, August or September 2021? Click here for a detailed itinerary and reviews of our previous adventures.

We hope 2021 brings you joy, well-being and many memorable experiences!

Share your best travel moments with us on Instagram (@solofemaletravel  #SoFeTravel) for a chance to be featured.

Sarah May Low

Sarah May Low

Sarah May Low is a Tarot Reader, Astrologer & Tea Leaf reader based in Malaysia. She is a Sociologist and currently a second year PhD student. Sarah has been studying astrology and other healing arts since 2011,and offers in-person and online readings through the Sarah May Low Tarot Academy. Her work has been extensively featured in the news and radio. 

How to Care for the Mind and Body while Traveling

Travel can be incredibly eye-opening, and it can also be unpredictable and stressful. 

Traveling can completely change our outlook on life by teaching us lessons that we could never learn in a textbook. That is not because of the beautiful, Instagram-worthy pictures, but rather for the changes that occur in our minds and hearts. These changes stick with us long after the plane touches down at our home airport. These experiences are key to growing as individuals and transforming our lives in the here and now. 

Wanderlust comes with many ups and downs. One challenge is finding time and space to keep up with a consistent physical and mental exercise routine. The mind-body connection is crucial in order to squeeze out every beautiful thing that traveling, and life, have to offer.

The more we prioritize consistent care for our mind and body, even under challenging circumstances that can arise while traveling, the more resilient we grow. Mentally and physically, our bodies get stronger by leaving the excuses behind and putting our health first. We won’t have to say no to that hike with the breathtaking view at the top because we aren’t in the appropriate physical shape for it. We won’t have to miss out on vacations with our grandkids because we can’t keep up with them. We can get the most out of our traveling experience by emphasising on wellness no matter where we are in the world.

Lindsay DeAguila is an educator in yoga, martial arts, kickboxing, and high intensity interval training. In the past 6 years, she has explored 35 countries, and shares some expert tips on building resilience through physical and mental activities on-the-go. No hotel gym or park nearby? No problem! Here are some simple tips to keep you motivated while traveling. 

Prepare Ahead

Woman exercising on top of a rock

First things first: to prioritize wellness, we have to practice making it an intentional part of our daily routine. We are creatures of habit, so carve out a specific time of day to prioritize mental and physical practices. 

A lightweight yoga mat is a great way to squeeze in effective workouts in your hotel room. Bring easy-to-pack equipment like resistance bands. They take up minimal space and can really create a big impact on our fitness. Fun fact: they also double as clotheslines to dry your clothes! 

I also like to download a 10-minute meditation on my phone before I head out – there are plenty on Spotify and Youtube. It is easy to just press play and check into my allotted mindfulness time and keep the routine going.

Walk the Talk

Woman in black and white striped shirt and denim shorts standing in the middle of the road with trees on both sides, smiling

Walking is an easy (and free!) way to explore a new area. Sure, taxis and public transport exist, but get into a habit of choosing health over convenience. Wandering on foot helps us understand our surroundings and learn to navigate the area (hello, mind-body connection!), besides squeezing some more exercise into our days. Good blood circulation is key to our health. Apart from the health implications, this leaves more room for guiltless indulgences—an extra mocha latte, anyone?!

On a related note, get outside as often as you can. Nature is the greatest medicine for the mind and soul, helping to de-stress and refocus our intentions. Even 10 minutes outside per day can create a positive headspace. Plan ahead by downloading offline maps of the area to your phone or purchasing an old-fashioned guide book as you wander.

Join a Virtual Fitness Community

Woman wearing a black outfit sitting crosslegged with folded hands and closed eyes, sitting outdoors

Did you know you could still take a fitness class with one of your best friends while in different hemispheres?

Virtual fitness communities are beneficial for accountability, support, and connection. Being accountable ensures the development of a routine to fit a workout in our day. They allow us to take our workouts and workout buddies (aka, the best support support system) with us no matter where we are in the world. 

There is a community for everyone – Zumba, yoga, running, HIIT, kickboxing – giving you the flexibility to be fit outside of a gym.

Practice Gratitude

When we are traveling and have a packed itinerary, it is important to take a few quiet moments to slow down. Mindfulness can help with anxiety, and lessen the impact of external shifts on our internal environment. 

Gratitude reminds us that we have everything that we need – our bodies and our minds. Making gratitude a daily part of our health routine teaches us to be resilient, makes homesickness more tolerable, and helps us feel more like ourselves regularly. The more we practice gratitude, the more we will be able to maintain a positive physical and mental state of well-being.

Consider starting a gratitude journal or ritual, or reaching out to friends and family while you are traveling to fully absorb and savour the present. 

Attend the Mental Gym

Our minds are always traveling, taking us to different destinations each day. We should never stop learning, no matter where our bodies physically are in the world. Especially if we are taking time off school or work, it is important to continue to challenge the mind and keep it active. We can do this through activities such as crossword puzzles, reading books, or trying to learn the language of the country we are in!

If possible, take a road trip instead of flying, in order to give our brains a good mental sweat through the obstacles road tripping presents. We can also keep our mind body active by learning a sport native to the place we are in. For example, a class in Japan using their Samurai sword “katana” can be a memorable experience!

Listen to your body

Woman with folded hands smiling.

There are several reasons that can prevent us from our daily health practice while traveling: too little space, no equipment, feeling awkward amongst strangers. But, keep in mind that prioritizing our bodies will support the explorer within us for years to come. 

Fuel yourself through the right nutrition and eat fresh and local. Making mindful choices helps us be productive and get the most out of sightseeing without bloat or brain fog.

If you need a break, take one. Rest is also a building block to strengthening our resilience. Whether we are a first time traveler or have traveled around the globe, the most important thing we can do for our adventurous souls is to board the mental and physical health train daily.

About the author

Woman sitting on the floor with resistance bands and hands outstretched

Lindsay De Aguila

Lindsay’s work is driven by the question: “How can one build, hone, and expand emotional and physical resilience?” She is best known for creating opportunities that inspire others to push their mental and physical limits. A National All-Around State Gymnastics Champion, Self Defence Martial Arts State Champion, certified Ashtanga Yoga Instructor, and first degree Hapkido black belt holder, Lindsay is a Resilience Expert. 

Part III: From Angola to Morocco

Jeanette Dijkstra is a fascinating woman. 

In previous parts of the interview, Jeanette shared the impact of her work as the Country Director of a NGO, working for land mine clearance in Angola. In the second part, we peek into her personal life and how a 51-year old is fighting patriarchy with resilience and business skills.

In the final part of this series, Jeanette takes us on a journey spanning Africa,  finally resting in Marrakech. She discusses a post-Covid future and shares helpful tips for solo travelers and why everyone should visit Morocco at least once.

Morocco is home

Man and woman with head gear looking at a sunset over a desert in Morocco.

I love my job, I don’t plan on doing anything else anymore. I don’t plan to move back to my home country, not if I don’t have to. Angola is just where I work. And I have a lot of fun, make no mistake. I have brilliant friends here, but home is Morocco.

That’s where I ended up 10 years ago. I always knew that I wanted to live somewhere on the African continent. I have very limited experience in South East Asia, Latin America or the US. I have been there like 3 or 4 times, but I have always travelled extensively on the African continent. That’s where I knew that I wanted to grow old.

But then, I couldn’t pick a country! I have been to 24 countries on the African continent, and I couldn’t choose where I wanted to spend my old days! I was thinking and thinking and then, 10 years ago, I went to Morocco on a walking holiday through the mountains and the desert for 2 weeks. And at the end of the tour, I arrived in Marrakech. As I was walking into the city I thought, “Yes, this is home!

Then, it took me another 3 years of thinking about it and looking at apartments and I finally bought myself a tiny apartment. So that’s my home.

Managing two jobs

I travelled a lot by myself on the African continent, and I also worked as a tour leader when I was still working as a consultant. I worked 8 months out of the year as a consultant, and then I spent 3 or 4 months as a tour leader. Because I love travelling and organizing, groups comes naturally to me!

So for me, to travel around with tourists was cool, like a free holiday! I still had to manage the group but that was no sweat on my back! There were only 16 people, come on! So I saw a lot of countries doing that and I loved camping and safari for one month in Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia. Eventually, I ended up in Morocco as a tour leader, and I settled.

Tourism & Sustainability

Mother and her baby on a farm, looking away from the camera

I have a business partner in Morocco: I was the international tour leader and he was the national tour leader. We started chatting about tourism and how it can be sustainable. It is so easy to say that sustainable tourism is good and to praise eco-tourism, but how do you operationalize that in the right way? It is not easy.

Because it’s not just about saving natural resources or treating your staff well, it’s also about preserving local cultures and local systems, and being good to the people who work for you, make sure that they can make a living. It’s about working with local entrepreneurs and not with the big hotel chains, working with guides that are passionate about their job, who really enjoy what they are doing and not just doing it for the commission that they can get.

We built ourselves a network of drivers and guides and hotels and restaurants and activities that fit into how we see things. That can be from very basic to a 5-star service. We started doing that 8 years ago and it got bigger and better. We have a website and we post occasionally on Facebook, but it’s mostly with the word of mouth that we get clients.

A tour for sofe

Female walking towards a monument

We organize round trips with everything included, we take care of everything. It’s all custom made tours.

We developed a tour for the Solo Female Traveler Network. We started talking last year but then, when we were ready to start, the Covid pandemic happened. Hopefully, we can start at the end of this year or at the beginning of next year. But at the moment, tourism in Morocco has completely flat-lined because the airports are still closed, so clients can’t get in or out.

Now that I am back to a full time job, I no longer have time to lead groups myself. I still try to do one every year, but 9 out of 10 times, it turns out to be a group of my friends and not clients! I am indeed the tour leader but, as I said, it’s not really work for me.

Safety for solo travelers in africa

Woman in black top laughing in the daytime with mountains in the backdrop

There are not a lot of women travelling alone around Africa. Because there is a lot of nonsense on social media, but it has a lot to do with how people behave. What I mean is, if you are in a Muslim country you need a different approach in what you wear and how you react to people.

If you are constantly trying to be charming and cute, then men misunderstand your body language. In  the Moroccan society, they are super hospitable. But yes, there are guys that are looking for tourists, who unfortunately have the reputation of being a little bit looser in their sexual conduct.

I don’t want people to feel like they have to always wear long sleeves and skirt that goes all the way to the ground, but if you dress what would be considered provocatively in a Muslim society, you will receive unwanted attention. That is very unfair, and people should be able to wear whatever they want. But the reality is, the way that you dress and the way that you behave as a female, you are always sending cultural messages.

The same goes for men, by the way. If men are walking around in shorts and tank tops or with a lot of visible tattoos, that will set them apart. Those things make you clearly appear as a tourist and it seems like you can be taken advantage of.

Rule #1 as an anthropologist: if you are looking for a good informant, you need to go and find them! People who approach you and quickly get very familiar with you, are not being friendly, they want something from you. So if I need to ask for my way – and I still get lost in Marrakech all the time, because I have no sense of direction, typical female!- I will go to a shop owner and I will politely ask him.

a super cool country!

Busy market with stalls and people in the sunset in Marrakech

Women should come and have fun, just be aware of the messages that you are sending with how you dress. You just have to be aware of the cultural difference in that sense. Moroccans are super hospitable but you still need to use your radar.

I hope Morocco opens very soon again and we can have people coming to travel and to be able to show them how cool Morocco is, because it is a super cool country! Especially for people that are interested in the local cultures and the way of life and not the nightclub scene. And then there is the food and the cooking – it’s a super cool country!           

I picked it out of a very stiff competition, but it turned out Morocco is the country that I get to call home.

How is Covid-19 impacting our menstrual cycle?

We live in a strange time, where Covid-19 has impacted our lives in countless ways.

However, this pandemic has not affected all of us equally. Instead, it has exacerbated many previously existing inequalities.

It is worth noting that this pandemic seems to impact women disproportionately. There is one topic in particular which hasn’t been discussed as much as it should have: the impact of Covid-19 on the many aspects of menstruation.

Is Covid-19 affecting your cycle?

Female in grey shirt with dark hair lying face down on a bed

Can the Covid-19 pandemic affect your period? The answer is a definite yes! But the overall situation seems to have a greater impact than the disease itself.

As Mary Jane Minkin, a gynaecologist at the Yale School of Medicine, told the Washington Post:  “Any significant illness can throw the menstrual system out of rhythm, I’d be reluctant to say this is particularly related to the Covid virus, per se; it’s related to being sick in general.” Multiple factors can cause stress and the way you experience your period: fear of the disease, lockdowns, curfews, economic crisis and uncertainty of the future.  These are only some of the factors that can interfere with your regular ovulatory cycle.

In the vast majority of cases, it’s nothing to worry about. If you are worried, check in with your doctor, because peace of mind is exactly what you need now! But if managing your cycle when you are stuck at home can be difficult, doing so as a front line worker is a whole other thing.

Healthcare workers exposed a new problem

Two female healthcare staff wearing masks and protective equipment working

Soon after the outbreak of the virus, all eyes were on Hubei province, and specifically its capital, Wuhan. To fight the disease, thousands of medical workers from all over China were sent to Hubei to support the local staff.      Half of the doctors and 90% of the nurses were female. While the media praised their heroism, there is one aspect of their lives that was hardly ever addressed: how did they manage their period?

The severe lockdown of Wuhan meant no one was getting in or out, and only “essential goods” could enter the city. However, with so many more females in the area fighting coronavirus, the supplies of menstrual hygiene products quickly ran out. As it turns out, those supplies didn’t make the cut as “essential goods”.

Many health workers resorted to continuously taking the pill to avoid menstruating, or wearing diapers to manage their 10-hour shifts. Video footage showed women who kept working despite visible blood stains, for lack of a better option. Donations of menstrual hygiene supplies didn’t seem to be on anyone’s mind. Indeed, according to a South China Morning Post article, the topic was raised on social media: “Does anyone care about female health-care providers’ needs for sanitary pads and disposable underwear? Donations of these items have been rejected.”

After an outcry on social media calling authorities to take action, sanitary pads and pants were finally considered essential goods. Companies and individuals also started donating to the hospitals so the workers could manage their period safely and with dignity.

Menstruation in China, just like in most places, is considered a private matter. Which means that they are not always taken into consideration even in a state of emergency.

The Neglect of female essential items

One female handing over a sanitary napkin to another female's outstretched arm.

The case of the Chinese front line workers was a clear mismanagement of the crisis, but it was certainly not an isolated incident.

In March 2020, the Indian government declared a nationwide lockdown. Several industries were shut down and manufacturing was stopped. The list of “essential goods” allowed some industries – deemed essential – to keep functioning as usual. The problem? There was uncertainty as to whether menstrual hygiene products were essential. Meanwhile, manufacturers stopped producing, shops ran out and the whole supply chain was interrupted.

Finally, after being called out for forgetting the needs of people who menstruate, the government issued a modification for lockdown measures.  This removed obstacles for the production and supply of sanitary products.

In France, the lockdown rules stated that you could only go outside for a few very specific reasons, including to buy essential items. However, several men and women reported on social media being arrested and fined for going outside to buy menstrual hygiene supplies. Police officers seemingly considered this a violation of the lockdown rules. If those products were indeed included in the list of essential goods, this was obviously unclear to the zealous officers.   

Wherever these stories are located, the issue seems to be the same: menstruation is seen as so private that the needs of menstruating individuals simply get overlooked. However, being able to properly manage your period is a question of public health, and should therefore be treated as such.

Covid-19 and period poverty

An image of a tampon, its cover and money.

Menstrual cycles can be affected by situations, and leaders have often failed to take the specific needs of women and trans men into consideration. But there is another indirect consequence of this pandemic: poverty. And poverty leads to period poverty.

Period poverty refers to the inaccessibility to sanitary products, toilets, clean water and soap, education about hygiene during your period, etc. because of financial difficulties. The pandemic is worsening an already alarming situation. The problem comes from the loss of income, as well as an increase in the price of hygiene supplies.

According to Rose Caldwell, chief executive of the charity Plan International in a Forbes article: “We already know that the coronavirus outbreak is having a devastating impact on family finances all over the world, but now we see that girls and women are also facing widespread shortages and price hikes on period products, with the result that many are being forced to make do with whatever they can find to manage their period. This can pose a real threat to their health and may increase the risk of infection.”

According to the International Monetary Fund projections,  the pandemic will push millions of people into extreme poverty. This means that organizations supporting the most vulnerable will most likely see an increase in the number of their beneficiaries. But will they be able to provide enough supplies?

This situation is not just about whether or not you can get the supply you need to manage your period safely and with dignity. It is also about getting the information on how to do so. With lockdown measures and school closures, getting helpful information about dealing with your periods has become increasingly hard for young people.  

Speak up!

Three females wearing masks making a heart shape with their hands

So far, there is no definitive research on how SARS-CoV-2 directly impacts our menstrual health or the pandemic stress. However, the fact that this topic is far too often overlooked generates anxiety. Society still views menstruation as a private issue shrouded in mystery and shame. We need to change this, so the people at the top of the decision making process (who, let’s face it, are seldom people who menstruate!) never neglect this again. 

If you are able to do so, think about period supplies next time you donate to an organization helping the less fortunate.

And let’s talk about our period more freely! The more we talk about it, the more we can manage the stigma around it. There is nothing to be embarrassed about, because this issue is a question of health as well as dignity.

Interested in learning more about this topic? We recommend the following sources. 

Golden Gaze: A Queer and Black-Owned Bed and Breakfast

Are you looking for a travel experience that is inclusive, accessible and sustainable?

Katie and Reigh have a vision to create a Queer and Black owned Bed and Breakfast in the picturesque town of Golden, Canada. While Katie is a certified Life Coach using the Enneagram, and has a background working in nonprofits, her partner, Reigh, identifies as nonbinary, queer, chronically ill Person of Colour, with a love for upcycling things. 

Determined to create a community-centric and affirming space, this couple is currently running a crowdfunding campaign to translate this B&B into reality. We interviewed this dynamic duo to learn more about the property – charmingly called Golden Gaze –  and the obstacles that need to be surmounted. Katie and Reigh also shine light on a topic that is insufficiently discussed: marginalised communities and their struggles in travel. 

Artists rendition of the Golden Gaze B&B, showing Katie and Reigh waving, with two dogs and a cat outside a house. There are mountains and trees in the background.

what is the B&b all about?

With Golden Gaze Bed and Breakfast, we hope to redefine the travel experience, by building a space that values sustainability, accessibility, and dynamic inclusivity for all guests.

Golden Gaze will help our guests prioritize connection and growth during their stay, so in addition to our unique cabins and hearty, homemade breakfasts, we’ll have a yoga, movement, and meditation sanctuary, on-site Enneagram coaching, and a cannabis lounge among other amenities to help folks reconnect to themselves and to our Earth. 

Vacations should be restorative, and full of opportunities to feel treated and cared for. We want to make a place where anyone can feel welcome, which is why we are explicitly affirming for folks often ignored by the travel and tourism industry, such as Queer/Trans, Racialized/BIPOC, Disabled, Fat, and/or Polyam folks, so everyone feels freer to connect deeply to themselves, their partner(s), and the natural world around us.

what inspired you to start an inclusive vacation retreat?

We wanted to create the type of deeply healing, eco-friendly vacation retreat that we have always been looking for as a Queer, interracial couple, who cares about the environment. We have loved traveling together since we began dating in 2012, but have often walked away from vacations feeling disconnected from our values and knowing that we could do better. Whether that was from a lack of recycling stations on the property, a racist piece of art at a vacation rental, or an inaccessible bathroom – we just felt like we could build something that better prioritizes both our environment and those of us often ignored by the tourism industry.

The antidote to so many of those frustrations can be solved by being a place that prioritizes inclusion, accessibility, and sustainability from the ground up. Everyone should be able to take a vacation you can feel good at, and feel good about.

golden - the name says it all. why did you choose this location for your b&b?

The name truly does say it all. Golden, B.C. is radiant!

We are very lucky to currently live just 5 hours from Golden – which is considered within driving distance              in Canada. We have spent anniversaries and weekends there, and have road-tripped through the area –        and each time we have had an exquisite time.

It is quaint, but filled with awesome amenities and an endless array of options and activities to explore the area, without being overrun like some more common tourist destination mountain towns in the area. It’s a gorgeous place to reconnect to yourself, and the world around you. 

could you share more about the focus on sustainability and the 'farm-to-table' concept?

As we started creating our vision, we quickly realized we wanted it to be as eco-friendly as current tech could allow for. If we are living into our values of equity and justice, we can’t do that without making sure we are treating the environment with care and avoiding as much harm as we can. To live in respect and reconciliation with our Indigenous Community members, we aim to partner with them in as many ways as they are interested in, and within their established Land Code for the area we plan to build in. This includes following intentional stewardship over the land, and living in a way that is beneficial to all living things, not just humanity.                    For us, respecting the Land Code meant becoming sustainable and minimising our impact on the planet. 

Some of the sustainability measures we are going to apply are Solar Panels, a grey-water recycling system, an eco-friendly septic system, radiant biomass heating including paved walkways to allow for easier accessibility, in-unit composters, covering the housing units with living roofs and biodiversity that is beneficial to the area, and more. 

We want to grow all of our own produce for our delicious breakfasts on-site using our all seasons agro-tunnel(s) and outdoor gardens in the summer months. Anything we can’t grow in our fields, tunnels, or garden beds will be bolstered by local suppliers in the area to ensure a truly delightful and nutritious start to your day, nourished by the very land you’re sleeping on.

Artist's rendition of the Golden Gaze property, showing a house with green foliage, a canopy and chairs in the front yard and a mountain in the background

individuals with varying levels of disabilities often face challenges in finding accommodations that are accessible.

How does golden gaze aim to be more inclusive for people with different needs?

Traveling as a disabled person can be extremely difficult at best, and impossible at the worst of times.              Our world has not been designed for universal access and it is a human rights violation. Too often, folks with mobility devices can’t even get in the door, or down the airplane aisle, for example.

We want to create a place that takes away the guesswork of if you can even access the space. We want to be dynamically accessible, recognizing that accessibility can be wildly different for different people. Furthermore, we are also committed to being mindful and considerate around weight capacities on all our furniture. Too often the fat community is left out because of poor quality furnishings or equipment that cannot support them in an appropriate way. We want to create a space where all bodies are welcome!

Some of the accessibility features you can expect to see would be: wider hallways appropriate for a turning radius, adjustable beds, roll under sinks, grab bars, ramped entries, and much more. A list of our accessibility measures can be found on our website. 

as a queer and black couple, have you faced any challenges in initiating this business?

how are you overcoming this?

As marginalized folks we have had less opportunity to earn capital than others in our society. We have both essentially run underfunded non-profits on our own and learned all of the skills required to run a successful business, without any of the capital rewards that typically come with those skills and labour experience.            This is the reason, like most marginalized entrepreneurs, we decided to turn to crowdfunding. With our community’s help we can (1) provide a larger down-payment to secure the larger loan needed to build, and      (2) prove market interest in our business concept, and a desire to see more spaces like this exist.

Access to capital has definitely been the biggest roadblock to getting started. The communities who would really benefit from our space are also generally in a position of less disposable income than others, so finding the support within our community also has its own barriers. 

Aside from the financial factors, most of our other challenges have been in convincing folks who don’t share the lived experience of being a marginalized person on why there is a need for such places to exist. There is a lack of safety for our communities in the travel world that should be addressed. If you have never experienced inaccessibility, or feeling mistreated on vacation, it’s hard to understand why spaces like this are so needed,    but for those of us who have had that be a common experience for us while traveling, Golden Gaze is a refreshing vision for the future of the tourism industry! 

a flow chart depicting who can visit the golden gaze property

is there anything you would like to share with our community of solo female travelers?

We cannot wait to host you! Having done some solo-travelling ourselves, we know that your safety, comfort, and well being are critical to enjoying your time. It can be daunting to travel alone, and so we really want to create a space where you know you’ll be welcome and accepted, and free to exist as you’d like.

Traveling is such a rewarding way to learn more about yourself and your relationships to the world and other folks. To deepen that experience even further, you can do on-site Enneagram and Life Coaching with Katie. We are also happy to create safety check in systems with those who prefer to have someone aware of their whereabouts, plus we are hoping to partner with folks like the Solo Female Travel Network to meet other like-minded travelers!

To learn more about Golden Gaze and how you can support such spaces, click here

Are you a travel business owner? Share your stories with our community. Get in touch for a chance to be featured on our website!

How to Dress When You Travel to Cambodia

Every time you are planning for a trip, the question of what clothes to pack lingers.

On one hand, you want to feel comfortable. On the other hand, you want to be respectful of local customs.             If you are a female traveler, the choice of clothes is rarely a trivial matter, wherever you are in the world. 

Let’s take an example: Cambodia. As this Asian country attracts more international tourists every year, the different rules for locals and travelers becomes more apparent.

why is this topic hot right now?

Girl in yellow dress standing on stairs with outstretched arms

In July 2020, the Cambodian government proposed a draft legislation imposing certain limitations on what people will be allowed to wear in public. If this law is passed, women could be fined for wearing clothes which are “too short” or “see-through”. This law would also ban men from going outside shirtless.

The government explained that this initiative was a way to preserve national traditions and customs and “maintain public order”.  It is not the government’s first try. Indeed, measures to prevent women from wearing “sexy” clothing are a common occurrence in Cambodia.

what is the context of this bill?

Female in black bikini sitting on a swing overlooking a water body

Back in 2016, after posting pictures of herself in a revealing outfit on social media, music video actress Deny Kwan was called in by the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts to be “educated”. According to the Phnom Penh Post, Ministry Secretary of State Thai Norak Satya explained that “Khmer culture is about modesty. . . it is not affected because of one or two women wearing sexy dress. But if someone inflates or exaggerates [her dress], it will become a big problem.” Satya then added that the ministry could not make anyone dress conservatively, they can only advise.

In 2018, according to a Bangkok Post article, Prime Minister Hun Sen pointed fingers at online vendors wearing revealing outfits, saying that they were “encouraging sexual assault and disgracing Cambodian culture”. 

In February 2019, a woman selling clothes and cosmetics on a Facebook Live session, was judged for wearing “sexy outfits.” She was sentenced to 6 months in jail for… pornography!

These are only a few examples explaining the context surrounding this draft legislation. 

cambodia may be more conservative than you think

Group of tourists standing outside a temple in Cambodia. Some are adjusting their clothes, some are taking photos, while some are standing under the shade of umbrellas.

If you have already visited Cambodia, you may be surprised to learn about this issue. Indeed, in most touristic areas of the country, it is very common to see women wearing revealing outfits. However, Cambodia remains a conservative country. 

The perception of traditional gender roles in Cambodia is rooted in the Chbab Srey (literally, “women’s code”). This code of conduct, taught in the form of a poem, defines what is expected of Cambodian women. There is also a Chbab Proh, explaining how men should behave.

This poem was taught in schools up until 2007 when the Ministry of Women’s Affairs demanded it be withdrawn from the school’s curriculum. However, this text remains quite influential as it is still passed down from mothers to daughters. This code of conduct is problematic in many ways, as it mostly teaches young girls to be quiet and to obey their husbands or fathers.

This code still remains important in the country, as stated by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women : “While commending the State party for its efforts to revise its school curricula and textbooks with a view to eliminating gender stereotypes, the Committee remains concerned that the Chbab Srey, the traditional code of conduct for women, is deeply rooted in Cambodian culture and continues to define everyday life on the basis of stereotypical roles of women and men in the family and in society.”

However, women are increasingly challenging this traditional vision of gendered roles in society.

my body, my choice

female wearing a short black skirt and a white blouse

While the government seems to be at war with short skirts and crop tops, many women are fighting back.          As a response to the proposed law, women on social media have started a campaign posting pictures of themselves in clothes that could soon become illegal, with the hashtag #mybodymychoice. A young woman even launched a petition asking for the withdrawal of this bill.

Many organizations, such as the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, have protested the government’s policing of women’s bodies and the limitations to their self-expression.

Reprimanding women for their clothing choices serves to reinforce the notion that women are to blame for sexual violence they suffer, and thereby further entrenches the culture of impunity which exists in relation to gender-based violence,” said Ming Yu Hah, deputy director of Amnesty International in the Asia-Pacific region to the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

WHERE DO YOU STAND IN ALL THIS?

So, what does it have to do with your trip?

We are not saying that you should lead the charge against the policing of women’s clothing in Cambodia, or that you have a say on what local Cambodians should wear.  As a traveler, you are unlikely to be summoned to a government office to be “educated”. However, this is a reality you should be aware of when you are choosing what to pack in your suitcase.

The truth is, as a traveler, you don’t really have a say in all that. But learning about those things allows you to better understand the country you’re about to visit, and specifically the situation of women.

There is only one thing that you can do: support your Cambodian sisters in doing what they want, whatever they want to do. Clothes in this country, just like everywhere else, are in fact, deeply political.

How to Be More Eco-Friendly When You Travel

According to a study by Booking.com, 87 % of travelers state that they would like to travel sustainably. But, can tourism really be sustainable? Are your concerns about the environment compatible with your wanderlust? 

The answer is yes. But we do have to travel differently in order to address these concerns. So how can you limit your carbon footprint when you are travelling?

Choosing the right destination

an aerial view of Maya Bay in Thailand with several boats in the water and a crowd on the beach

Trying to travel while being conscious about our impact on the environment starts with proper planning, so take the time to choose the right destination. 

You might remember the movie “The Beach”, starring Leonardo Di Caprio. After the movie was released in 2000, millions of tourists flocked to Maya Bay on Ko Phi Phi Leh Island in Thailand. In recent years, more than 5000 tourists would crowd on the island in a single day! The resultant litter and pollution has reportedly damaged more than 80% of the coral around Maya Bay.

Eventually, the Thai government had no choice but to close the beach down until the environment recovers, which could take years. The same problem arose in many other places, where tourism has been rising too much and too rapidly.

The problem is that even if you are a conscious traveler, some destinations have simply reached their limits.  Thoroughly research each destination on your wishlist and intentionally avoid those suffering from overtourism. Focus on countries or cities which are betting on sustainable tourism to attract visitors. Namibia and Ecuador are both great examples of destinations that advocate conservation as a basic principle of ecotourism.

cHOOSINg the best way to get there

a man cycling past an eatery in paris

Transportation accounts for a lot of the carbon emissions from your trip. Ideally, you would choose a carbon neutral mode of transportation such as walking or cycling. If you have to settle for a less green option, consider trains, which are one of the cleanest modes of public transportation. If you are driving, try to share the ride to limit your impact. And if you must fly, then there are a few things to take into consideration.

First: the lighter the plane, the less fuel it uses, so pack light!

Secondly, the worst thing about flying are take-offs and landings. Whenever you can,  look for direct flights and avoid stopovers. You might also want to consider avoiding first class, because all that extra space is really just wasted space.

Still feel guilty about flying? Before cancelling your plans, you might want to research offsetting your CO2 emissions. Some organizations (such as WWF UK’s carbon footprint calculator) will help you calculate the carbon emissions from your flight.  Once you know the monetary value of those flights, you can donate to an organization working on reducing carbon emissions to compensate for the impact of your trip. 

choosing the right accommodation

Next on your list: choosing where to sleep.

Several countries have some sort of certification procedure to let tourists know if specific companies have high standards for environmental protection. For example, if you decide to visit Costa Rica, you can check for the “Certificado para la Sostenibilidad Turística” i.e. Certification for Sustainable Tourism Stamp. Similarly, hotels in the U.S. may have LEED Certification, which judges properties on parameters such as sustainable site development, materials used, design innovation and energy efficiency.

Once again, the way to make your trip greener is to do the research! Finally, once you get there, if you see something that could be improved, say something. The more clients speak up, the more hotels will realize how important those things are. If they don’t do it by conviction, at least they will do it to get more business!

Stick to your good habits

Just because you are on holiday, it doesn’t mean that you should forget your good habits! So keep following the usual rules : recycle your trash, prefer showers to baths and turn off the lights when you leave a room.                You should also think about packing a few extra things like reusable shopping bags and a water bottle to limit your use of disposable plastic.

Remember to also follow the local rules, which might be different. If you’re not sure, never hesitate to ask. If you need to move around, try to use public transportation, and if you need to drive, try to share the ride.                Finally, when you shop, buy local!

All these recommendations are probably nothing new for you. The point is to be conscious of these habits, even when travelling. Have high standards, wherever you are!

beware of greenwashing

Girl in blue shirt in background holding a green leaf in both her hands in the foreground

Becoming a conscious traveller boils down to doing more research and looking for trustworthy businesses.      But there is an inherent problem with that: should you take their word for it? Our advice is: remain sceptical of any claims.

Hotels, tour operators, airlines and cruises advertise how specific products or services are eco-friendly and benefit the local communities. Amidst tall claims of sustainability, it is quite hard for travelers to judge if an organisation is cashing in on consumer guilt, or is genuinely concerned about the planet.

To avoid falling for so-called “green initiatives,” ask your travel agent or hotelier lots of questions.              Extensive research for a responsible trip may sound like a daunting task, but it’s a worthy price to pay for a guilt-free experience!

The power of the consumer

a digital camera, two polaroid photos, a passport, sunglasses, a film camera and light bulbs placed on top of a brown and white map

You might think that your own personal efforts are just a drop in the ocean, and you probably have a point. However, by joining the growing number of clients demanding efforts from their service providers, you could participate in influencing the entire travel industry.

If enough people stopped flying for very short trips, maybe some alternative offers would develop. If we all asked hotels to stop washing linens every day, maybe they would stop even offering. If most of us asked to eat local food, not only would we support local farmers and allow them to make a decent living, but importing food would become increasingly unnecessary.

In short, consumer demand can force the entire industry to undergo a paradigm shift, so keep asking for more! In fact, many believe it has already started, but the more we are involved, the bigger and faster the change. 

Eventually, these “alternative ways of travelling” will simply become the norm.

Part II: Destroying Land Mines and The Patriarchy in Angola

Jeanette Dijkstra leads the Mines Advisory Group in Angola, a country with a traumatic history of Civil War. In the first part of this series, Jeanette throws light on the magnitude of the problem, the role of women and the effect of continued humanitarian efforts in local communities. 

In this article, Jeanette shares her personal journey in Africa. Her story takes us around the world, with an amazing woman who became the CEO of a pizza business and then the Country Director of a NGO, breaking stereotypes along the way. 

From senegal to the netherlands

Buildings and trees near a water body with boats in Amsterdam

I am an anthropologist by training. I finished my education in the late 1980’s and I came back to the Netherlands from Senegal, where I did my thesis research in a development project there. I needed a job, so I started working in a restaurant serving pizzas and pouring beers for clients.

I’m going to do the very quick version: in 3 months I was managing the restaurant and in 6 months I was managing the hotel above! 15 years later we had businesses in 4 European countries and I was the CEO, so I was basically running the whole show!

But I always kept travelling to the African continent, going on safaris, and I always remained an anthropologist,    I always wanted to see how other people were living. 

taking chances

I’m not afraid of starting new things, or figuring out everything from scratch. I basically learned everything          as I went. But it always kept itching my mind that I never chose to be in the international hospitality industry. Yes, I was good at it, even if when I started, I made all the mistakes in the book and I invented a few new mistakes!

But when I became 30 I thought, “Is it what I want with the rest of my life?” 

I was making really good money, my boss was really happy with me, I worked my ass off, the business was doing really well. But I kept thinking, “I want to go back to NGOs”, that is what I trained for. Somehow, I wasn’t paying attention and 10 years later all of a sudden I’m a big boss in a company I basically started serving pizzas in,  once upon a time!

But then, silly enough, I thought for a very long time, “What do I have to offer to NGOs?” What I have to offer is the fact that I think like a businesswoman, I know how to run teams and solve problems. And I’m not afraid of stepping into something that I know nothing about.

first steps in angola

I started in Angola as a consultant. I got hired by a donor from the Netherlands to go check on the program, more as a crisis manager. It wasn’t going very well and there was money missing in action and they weren’t getting the results that they said they would get. So that’s how I ended up here in 2009. That’s where my previous experience in running teams and getting team dynamics to function kicked in.

So I got here and the problems were big, definitely, I worked with the donors and all the other stakeholders to get them to give us a little bit more time so we could deliver what we said we would.

And that worked really well. It’s about getting the whole team to function as one. Then that same organization kept asking me back to Angola to come and solve other issues. So I began as a program manager for that organization.

I knew the previous country director for MAG in Angola and when she – also female – wanted to leave to go back to the UK, she said “Would you be interested in my job?” and I thought about it for 5 minutes and I went “I know nothing about landmines, other than what I’ve seen on television and read in the newspapers, so I think I can!

So I sent my CV and it clearly shows that I’m not afraid to do new stuff and they thought, “let’s take a risk!” And here we are!

running a ngo like a business

an individual in checked shirt gesturing with their hands with a laptop in the background

And I now obviously know everything there is to know about mines and I can hold my ground. But I got hired because I know how to run an organization. My management skills were more important than any technical knowledge about landmines, because I have other people in charge of that. I’m good at dealing with the Embassy people and the government people, getting our accreditations and this and that and the other.

And that’s what I brought to the NGOs, to look at things as a business. You can spend your dollars only once, I don’t like waste. I’m a process manager more than anything, I think in timelines. I don’t just have the idea, I operationalize it as fast as possible and if I see something that I can’t fix because the timeline isn’t long enough, then either that changes or we stop developing the plan. You can only focus on so many things in a day, so focus on the things that you can actually achieve. 

I can dream the big dreams but what’s the point if I can’t make them happen?

"no" is never the final answer

A group of people with raised hands

Now I am taken seriously. It helps that I’m 51 years old. I think until my forties I definitely had to fight harder to be taken seriously. Because I was too young, and a female. Now, I have established myself and people know me, so now I will come into the room with recommendations from others. If I had to start over in a new country, that would be complicated again. But I have done it before and I would do it again if needed.

This is a position that you have to build, very slowly and very carefully. I lead a very boring life in the sense that I work, and that’s it! If I was going to nightclubs and living the high life, I wouldn’t be taken seriously.

At some point I was writing business plans to go to banks and get massive loans to furnish a complete hotel, and the first five times I got thrown out of the bank. I was 25 years old and I asked for 10 million euros, and the bank manager just laughed at me and told me to get out of his office. But you know, 3 weeks later I was back with a better plan and he threw me out 5 or 6 times, but the 7th time he said: “Okay, sit down and show me”. I am very persistent, I just think “Okay, it’s going to take a bit longer”, but “no” is definitely never the final answer.

I never step back, I got thrown out of banks and whatnot many many times. But I would just dust myself off and make a better plan and go again! You need to be stubborn as hell, that’s for sure!

Working for MAG in Angola is a lot of work, but I love trouble! And I’ve always worked in male dominated organizations. I come from a business background, in the kitchen it’s always a male chef, half the other managers we work with were guys. I’m 51, I’ve been playing the male dominated game for more than 30 years now!