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. 

Why Is It Harder for Women to Travel Solo?

“Aren’t you afraid?” If you have ever mentioned solo travelling to your friends and family, then, chances are that you have already heard this sentence! And maybe it got you worried. “Should I go on my own?”. Yes, solo travelling as a woman still seems like an act of bravery, and even sometimes transgression. However, nowadays, women are travelling solo more than men. According to  a study made by, 72 % of American women have already travelled without a partner. 

So, why does the idea of a woman travelling alone still raises eyebrows? Why do we still question the ability of women to travel on their own?

The issue on everybody’s mind: gender based violence

woman alone in Marrakech

The main reason why women might hesitate to travel alone, is the question of safety. This constant reminder that women won’t be safe when travelling on their own can be very intimidating. Women have been taught since childhood that the world is unsafe for them. But this isn’t news to any woman who has ever had to walk home alone at night. Of course, it also applies to traveling. This idea of constant danger has forced most women to think about this issue a lot. But the danger is not always where we think it is. 

Indeed, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, sexual assault is a lot more often perpetrated by someone the victim already knows. When we look at rape, the fact is that 51,1% of the victims report being attacked by an intimate partner, and 40,8 % by an acquaintance. 

This doesn’t mean that you are perfectly safe in the streets. But this idea that women are more likely to be victimized when they leave the house is not an accurate representation of the situation regarding Gender Based Violence. 

However, we are taught to fear the outside. The responsibility of our safety falls on us as women, as if we were putting ourselves in danger by simply leaving the house unaccompanied. And fear makes it hard to break free from this injunction to stay put.

Are you in more danger when you travel abroad?

Saying that there is no danger out there for women would be totally untrue. 

According to a NY Times article, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, executive director of UN-Women says, “We have evidence that shows that women face risks that men don’t face in public spaces, at home, wherever they may be.” And the important thing here is: “wherever they may be”. That is the point, wherever you are you will have to face risks that men simply don’t have to bother thinking about. 

The fact that you have been careful about your safety for your whole life actually gives you an advantage when it comes to traveling. Because you have been taught to be “careful” whenever you are outside, you most certainly have developed a sort of sixth sense, an internal alarm that will warn you whenever you start to feel unsafe.

So, always listen to your instinct, it’s the best way to stay safe during your trip. According to Kristin Addis, solo female travel expert, “Staying safe on the road is all about trusting your intuition, behaving abroad like you would at home”. You already have the tools you need to stay safe! Indeed, according to Janice Holly Booth, author of: Only Pack what you can carry, “travelling solo calls for the same daily safety considerations you employ now”. 

The idea that women are unsafe everywhere can deter women from embarking on a solo adventure. But, don’t let anyone tell you that travelling alone is reckless! Just because you are a woman does not mean that you should stay home!

Confidence is key

woman taking selfie in nature

The question of safety is not the only thing that can deter women from taking the leap. When compared to men, women have a tendency to lack confidence. And this is no coincidence. Since childhood, boys are more encouraged to be brave and girls to be obedient. And this difference in our education can have consequences all throughout our adult lives. 

According to a study by Ypulse, the level of confidence in girls drops by 30% between the age of 8 to 14. Another troubling data this study shows is that boys aged 8 to 14 are far more likely than girls to describe themselves as confident, strong, adventurous and fearless. 

The problem is, this lack of confidence often persists through adulthood. And when you don’t have enough confidence, it can be hard to take risks, to dare to do the things you really want to do. 

But here is the thing: travelling on your own is exactly what you need to do in order to gain confidence. According to Addis: “The freedom it afforded me, the way it grew my confidence, and all of the new friends I made were huge benefits that wouldn’t have happened if I went with a group of friends.”

How to actually take the leap

woman on rooftop traveling

Traveling on your own can be very intimidating. And people around you will always remind you that the world is unsafe, and maybe you will think that you are not up to the task. Instead of limiting yourself because of your gender, use the experience you already have of an unsafe world to keep you from danger wherever you may be. Because in reality, this kind of statement discourages you from breaking free of gender norms.

And if you need a few extra tips to put your mind at ease, you can always follow the recommendations of the State Department on solo travel for women.

And if you are too scared to go, just remember that all solo travelers are scared. The confidence comes from solo travelling, it is not a prerequisite! Which is why very often, the hardest part is to actually book your ticket! You will soon realize that this adventure is not out of reach for you, and it will empower you and give you the confidence you need, on and off the road. 

So, instead of waiting for that someone to embark on this journey with you, take the leap and book your ticket!

And if you still have doubts, think about what Koty Neelis, writer and advocate for female solo travelers says in a Thought Catalog article : “You should never let other people’s opinions over gender roles dictate what you do in life or where you should go. If you’re afraid of traveling alone or afraid of travel in general that’s one thing, but don’t be afraid to travel alone simply because of your gender.”



Understanding Cultural Appropriation

In the last few years, you have probably heard of cultural appropriation. But do you really understand what this debate is all about? From Victoria’s Secret models walking the runway wearing Native American headdresses to you wearing a piece of traditional jewellery acquired from your most recent trip overseas, where can we find the line between what is acceptable and what isn’t? 

If the basic concept is quite easy to understand, the difficulty in grasping what it really means lies in the details, and even more, in the context. You are not entirely certain how to navigate this sensitive issue? You want to make sure you’ll be able to avoid any pitfalls during your next trip? Here are a few things you should know about cultural appropriation.

What is cultural appropriation?

man dressed in kimono with fan

If this photo makes you cringe, then we are off to a great start! Let’s start with some definitions. The Oxford Dictionary defines cultural appropriation as: “the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc. of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society.”

If you want to be thorough, here are a few more definitions which will help you understand the whole debate:

  • Cultural exchange: a mutual exchange or sharing of some elements between two cultures.
  • Acculturation: a process during which a person or a group of persons adjust their own culture/traditions/beliefs by adapting or borrowing traits from the dominant culture.
  • Assimilation: when a person absorbs elements from the dominant culture, to a point where this person is indistinguishable from the dominant group. It is the most extreme form of acculturation.

In the end, in order to know whether borrowing an element from another group’s culture is acculturation, exchange or appropriation, you need context.

According to Maisha Z. Johnson, cultural appropriation refers to a “power dynamic in which members of a dominant culture take elements from a culture of people who have been systematically oppressed by that dominant group”. In other words, to understand cultural appropriation, you need to understand the power dynamic at play.

Cultural appropriation vs. acculturation

To understand the difference between cultural appropriation and acculturation, let’s take an example from the same author, about the use of the English language “When the last living survivors of massacred Indigenous tribes are fighting to save their language before it dies when they do, and Native students are suspended for speaking in their own Indigenous languages, mirroring the abusive US boarding schools that tried to wipe out Native American cultures up until the 1980s, it’s clear that not every person who speaks English does so by choice.

Usually, when elements of the dominant culture are absorbed by minorities, it is seldom by choice.

cultural exchange vs. cultural appropriation

Cultural exchange becomes cultural appropriation when the people whose culture is being “borrowed/appropriated” is left out of the discussion. 

For example, it’s when Valentino uses traditional African hairstyles for their new collection, while having no black model on the runway. It’s when Urban Outfitters uses Native American inspired designs, without any regards to the significance of such designs, and without giving credit to the people who originally created them. 

Basically, it boils down to taking without asking, dismissing the possible meaning of the elements being appropriated, and most of all, forgetting the creators.

Why is it such a big deal nowadays?

woman wearing Native American headl dress

According to PBS, “The concept of cultural appropriation may seem, at first glance, like yet another way we are constructing barriers between people at a time when we desperately need to be building bridges. But, as we look more closely at the entrenched inequality in the history of cultural exchange, it becomes clear that the term “cultural appropriation” is simply giving a name to the exploitation that has always existed and continues to this day”.

Cultural appropriation is about naming a phenomenon that is not at all new, but has been going on since colonization. Whether we are talking about objects stolen and now displayed in European museums or aspects of the culture, the logic behind it is the same.

Nowadays, discussions about power dynamics (whether it’s about gender, class, race, etc.) have left the sole reign of the academic world and made their way into the public debate. Basically, it’s become a mainstream issue. Nowadays, more and more people get called out for doing something that has always been done, but has now stopped being acceptable.

How to avoid cultural appropriation

woman dressed in Mexican clothing

When you’re travelling things can get a little complicated. Because you are immersed in another culture and you probably want to engage in that culture. Therefore,  it might seem hard not to borrow, and thus, appropriate from this culture. But you need to be mindful in order to appreciate, and not appropriate.  

Here are a few practical situations which can seem sensitive:

I want to take part in a celebration or cultural tradition:

Taking part in a traditional or religious celebration can be acceptable depending on whether or not you were invited to join. If you were invited to participate by locals, then by all means, take part! Many people you meet throughout your journey want to show you their culture and traditions, and it can sometimes be rude to refuse.

But just because you were invited doesn’t mean that you can do whatever you want. You might not know the rules, and you definitely don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable. So, engage as a humble guest, with respect for the traditions and never as a joke. And if you want to take a few pictures, it is essential that you first ask for permission.

I want to buy a souvenir:

First of all, try to only buy from local artists or artisans. You want to support the local population and not big corporations making money using traditional symbols without giving back to the communities they originated from. If you want to be respectful and support locals, then spend your money accordingly!

Be mindful of what you want to buy. You want to buy a traditional outfit to wear as a costume? You want to buy a sacred object to use as decoration? You might want to rethink those choices!

I want to engage in the culture:

If you truly want to engage with the local culture, then first, try to learn as much as you can before your trip. This will allow you to understand a few rules and avoid offending anyone. You want to be as respectful as you can be, and you can never guess what the cultural rules are going to be. If you engage respectfully, then you have the possibility of having  an equal exchange.

Outside of these practical examples, there is a risk of cultural appropriation in many other situations. In order to appreciate without appropriating, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Has the culture I want to borrow from been exploited? Have the people from this culture been discriminated against, been at a disadvantage because of their ethnicity? Are there stereotypes about this culture?
  • Before using an element of another culture, try to understand it first. Learn about its sacredness, its history, etc. The more you know the more respectful you can be.
  • Consider your motivations: if you want to use something from a culture that is not your own, consider whether or not you are going to benefit from it. Are you honoring or are you perpetuating stereotypes?

If you are able to ask yourself the hard questions, then you will be able to navigate cultural exchange without appropriating. And when in doubt, either ask, or just refrain. Avoiding cultural appropriation doesn’t mean that you can only experience your own culture, it means you respect others and their traditions enough to view things from their perspective, and yes, sometimes, abstain from doing certain things.

If your first instinct is to be defensive whenever you hear mention of cultural appropriation, that’s probably a sign that you should question your motives. Most people have already made at least a few mistakes along the lines of cultural appropriation, I know I have! 

The main advice that I can give you is, learn and next time, do better, because in the end, it’s never been about you. According to Maisha Z. Johnson, “It’s about a centuries’ old pattern of taking, stealing, exploiting, and misunderstanding the history and symbols that are meaningful to people of marginalized cultures. The intentions of the inadvertent appropriator are irrelevant in this context.”

So let’s educate ourselves, and eventually, we will collectively manage to do better!

The First Woman to Travel the World

This is the story of Jeanne Barré (also spelled Baret or Barret), the first woman in recorded history to complete a circumnavigation of the globe in the 18th century – and she did it disguised as a man.

The early life of Jeanne Barret

old drawing of Jane Barrett

Jeanne Barré was born in 1740 in a village in Burgundy, France. Her father was a daily agricultural worker, and as such, amongst the poorest members of society. Her mother died 15 months after her birth. There is little known about her childhood, and records of her and her family are scarce. But at that time, no one could have predicted such an extraordinary future.

What we do know is that early on, Jeanne develops a fascination for plants, and learns about their medicinal properties. But it is her meeting with Philibert de Commerson that will change the course of her life. At 22, she is employed by the famous botanist as a housekeeper, close to her hometown. The two develop a special bond, most likely over their love of plants, that would last until Commerson’s death.

According to a biography written by Glynis Ridley: “She was an herb woman: one schooled in the largely oral tradition of the curative properties of plants. Herb women were for centuries the source of all raw materials to be prepared, mixed, and sold by male medical practitioners, and as botany crystallized as a science in the eighteenth century, a handful of male botanists did not think it beneath them to learn from these specialists.

In 1764, Jeanne became pregnant, probably with Commerson’s child, even though she refused to name the father on the official documents. At that time, and possibly to avoid a scandal, she and Commerson move to Paris, where unfortunately, the child dies soon after the birth. At that time, the two start socializing with prominent intellectuals, and eventually, Commerson is recommended to take part in an expedition around the world led by Louis Antoine de Bougainville, as a botanist.

Jeanne on the Étoile

At the time, the French navy strictly forbade women from being on board. But that wasn’t enough to deter Jeanne from accompanying her partner on the Étoile, one of the two ships of the expedition. Who came up with the plan? No one can know for sure, but chances are the two were partners in crime.

Therefore, on the day of the departure, Jeanne showed up dressed as a boy, using the name “Jean”, to be employed as Commerson’s assistant. Commerson, because of the large amount of material necessary to collect and preserve plant specimens, was granted the captain’s cabin to share with his assistant. This detail was actually key to shield Jeanne’s secret, as the cabin had a private toilet facility which allowed privacy.

At this time, Commerson suffered poor health, and a long lasting leg injury made the presence of Jeanne even more crucial, as she was acting as much as a nurse as she was her assistant in his scientific work. In fact, she is probably responsible for most of Commerson’s discoveries, even if she was never credited. She is most likely the one who discovered the Bougainvillea vine, named in honor of the expedition’s leader. At every stop, the pair would disembark and explore the land to collect plant samples, still unknown in the West. Much of their collection is still displayed in various museums worldwide.

During the expedition, Jeanne experienced very hard work, having to carry the heavy wooden plant presses used in the field to preserve the specimens they encountered. She was involved in collecting about 6000 plant specimens. She even often led the expeditions herself, as Commerson’s health sometimes prevented him from going out in the field. Her tireless work had Commerson refer to her as her “beast of burden”.

During 2 years, Jeanne shuts down rumors about her gender by pretending to be a eunuch (a man who has been castrated for social purposes). But eventually, her secret is exposed. There is still uncertainty about how her true identity was revealed, as there are contradictory tales about the event. According to Bougainville, her gender was revealed by the local population when the expedition reached Tahiti in 1768. Other members of the expedition refer to sexual assaults by crew members.

After the unveiling of Jeanne’s secret, she and Commerson decide to leave the expedition and disembark in the Isle of France, a former French colony now known as Mauritius.

Jeanne’s life in Mauritius

Jeanne and Commerson continue their work as botanists on the island of Mauritius, exploring the land and collecting and identifying plant species.

While Commerson has named many plants in honor of friends and family members, it is only at that time that he decides to name one after Jeanne. However, by the time the sample reaches Paris, the plant has already been named, and is now known as Turraea.

Commerson passed away in 1773, leaving Jeanne in a difficult situation, as her resources have become scarce. But if there is anything we know for sure about Jeanne Barré, is that she is a resourceful woman.

Left on her own after a life spent alongside Commerson, Jeanne has to find another way to make a living. She decides to buy a license to run a tavern in Port Louis. Records show her establishment receiving a 50 livres fine for serving alcohol on Sundays!

In 1774, she married a French soldier, Jean Dubernat. Before marrying him, Jeanne has him sign a prenuptial contract, stating that she would keep control of 2/3 of her fortune. After sailing around the world for several years and running her own tavern in Mauritius, Jeanne had not only become a businesswoman, but an independent woman, or at least, as independent as could be at the time.

Jeanne becomes the first woman to travel the world

Jeanne and Jean Dubernat finally decide to go back to France, most likely in 1775, thus completing her journey around the globe, and making her the first woman in recorded history to ever sail around the globe!

After applying to the attorney general, Jeanne receives money from Commerson’s heritage, which allows her and her husband to buy various properties including a farm. Dubernat signs a document stating that he and his wife will share the properties equally, which is again, a very uncommon thing, and speaks volume on Jeanne’s character.

In 1785, Bougainville pleaded for Jeanne to receive a royal pension for her contributions on board the expedition, even though she was never supposed to be on board. The document granting her pension states:

Jeanne Barré, by means of a disguise, circumnavigated the globe on one of the vessels commanded by Mr de Bougainville. She devoted herself in particular to assisting Mr de Commerson, doctor and botanist, and shared with great courage the labours and dangers of this savant. Her behaviour was exemplary and Mr de Bougainville refers to it with all due credit…”.

Even after her secret was discovered, she was still considered with high regards for her contributions to the expedition. She was never punished, but instead, ended up being celebrated for her hard work.

Jeanne passed away in 1807.

Jeanne’s legacy

It is still hard for historians to find details about Jeanne Barré’s journey, as she was seldom credited for her work. Some members of the expedition did, however, acknowledge her hard work, such as The Prince of Nassau-Siegen, a nobleman who was a paying passenger on the ship: “I want to give her all the credit for her bravery. She dared confront the stress, the dangers, and everything that happened that one could realistically expect on such a voyage. Her adventure, should, I think, be included in a history of famous women.”

Her story is amazing in many ways: her fearlessness, her independence at a time when women were merely considered as children as well as her business acumen, make her a truly extraordinary woman.

In 2012, a newly discovered plant species was named after her: the Solanum Baretiae. The credit for her work might have taken a long time, but finally, credit is given where credit is due!

So, next time you feel afraid of taking the leap (whatever the leap may be), think about her and try to channel your inner Jeanne!

Feature: People Call Me Ocean

At the Solo Female Traveler Network, we want to create a community that celebrates and empowers women. In 2021, we want to recognise the women amongst us – those who lead, inspire and leave a mark in their own unique ways. 


Presenting the story of Aušrinė Pudževytė: a painter, interior decorator and muralist who wants to leave her artwork in every country.

Ocean standing near a mural of sea waves

I was thinking back to where my story starts, and when it actually became a story that everyone wants to listen to… Let’s start by saying that it was the day I was born. It is much more important is to mention that art was born within me that day too.

So, a woman full of colors was named Aušrinė, translated to the morning star or dawn from my native language – Lithuanian. My little hands tried everything: a sheet of paper, canvas, brushes, pencils, and other tools before my main focus became different walls around the world.

I remember one of my first trips abroad – Finland. There I had the opportunity to do  decorate one of the school walls, where I was interning. I forgot to mention. At that time, I didn’t speak English, but I had confidence like I was using this language for more than 20 years of my life. I am still trying to figure out where all this confidence came from!

Ocean sitting on the floor near a wall painted with blue and purple cacti

I painted a huge plantation of cactuses – in glorious shades of purple and delicious green. On the last few days of my project, visitors started seeing the final results. They would scratch the walls and ask me questions, wondering how I painted it. 

One stranger observed me cleaning my brushes and said, “I have been working in this school for more than 15 years. Everyday I see the same, empty, plain wall. You have made more than an artwork. You brought the sun to our school”.

That day, I found my life’s purpose: Travel around the world and bring that sun to people’s apartments, restaurants, schools, hospitals, hotels and any other places that need art. I wanted to help people feel happier and my art was my superpower.

4 women painted on a wall, with blue and yellow chairs in the foreground. A painting by ocean.
Ocean painting on a wall, holding paint in one hand and a paintbrush in the other hand.

Now one country brings me to another one. One stranger brings me to another, and this grows into love, family, real friendship and mentorship. You can find my murals, paintings and illustrations in 14 of the 17 countries I have traveled to: Lithuania, Spain, Finland, Indonesia (Bali Island), United States (Chicago), United Kingdom, Zambia, Tanzania (Zanzibar Island), Botswana, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Lebanon, Sweden and South Korea. 

Do you think the next country could be yours? Let’s make it happen! To learn more about Aušrinė’s work, check out her portfolio through the links below. 

Have you read the story of Jeanette Dijkstra, all-round superwoman destroying landmines in Angola? No?     Read here!

Do you have a story worth sharing? Apply to be featured on our global community!

How To Deal With Post Travel Blues

Just had a great vacation, but feeling a little down and out after getting back home?

Looks like you may have the post-travel blues. 

Most people spend months looking forward to their next vacation. This downtime allows you to finally relax, spend time with family and friends, or even your much deserved alone time without having to worry about your usual routine. In fact, a vacation actually improves your health in several ways – physically, emotionally, mentally. 

However, there is a downside: going back home! It can feel like this peace of mind suddenly vanishes. It is very common to feel low when the holiday is coming to an end, and it can even last for a while after you’re back home. If you’re feeling blue after a trip, don’t worry, you’re not imagining it. 

So, how can you beat the post-holiday blues?

Why do you feel down after a trip?

Woman with red hair wearing a plaid shirt working at her desktop

Feeling down after a holiday is a feeling many of you already know. After a memorable vacation, a regular routine may seem mundane and pointless. Even though things may objectively seem fine, one can feel miserable and hostage to trivial things.

Post-holiday blues can feel a little bit like Monday blues, when the thought of facing the work week seems daunting, and leaves you missing the weekend, sometimes before it’s even over.According to Dr. Gerhard Strauss-Blasche from the University of Vienna’s Department of Physiology, in an NBC article: “It’s called “contrast effect”. Vacationers cease to be used to stress and thus react more strongly when confronted (with it) again.

This post-vacation blues can also stem from taking a step back from your ordinary life, allowing you to see it more clearly. Author Shannon Thomas says: “We often don’t notice certain negative aspects of our lives while we are in the middle of it, but taking a step back during a vacation brings more clarity to things we may need to change in our lives and coming home is often a splash of cold reality.

This feeling often translates as being tired, lacking energy or focus, having difficulty to sleep, lacking appetite, irritability and stress. Of course, not everyone is affected the same way. Some people might never experience it, but that doesn’t mean that what you’re feeling isn’t real or valid.

How to get rid of the blues

Dates of a month listed out in a diary

Prepare for your return

The first thing to do really needs to be done before you even go: prepare for your return.

First of all, try to plan at least one day off before you need to be back at work. It will allow you to ease your way back into your usual life. This gives you time to complete pending chores such as unpacking, laundry and grocery shopping. Start your work week with a refreshed state of mind. 

Another thing you should remember is to declutter your work desk and clean your apartment. Coming back to a mess will only worsen your already low spirits. At least you won’t have to deal with tidying up. That’s one thing off your mind!

Bring a little of your holiday back home

Once you’re back, Try to bring a little piece of your vacation back into your life to ease the transition.  Maybe recreate the recipe of something you loved eating during your trip. Remember those photos you took? Frame and hang your favourite pictures or create an album to share your memories. 

Essentially, the point is to incorporate something that will help you remember the feeling you had when you were away. It’s a little reminder of good times that will help you feel better every time you feel nostalgic.

Picnic basket, book, hat and flowers laid out on a red and white cloth

Plan for something exciting

Give yourself something to look forward to. This doesn’t need to be something big or expensive. A concert, trip to the museum or a picnic with friends can feel like a mini-vacation too. Plan ahead by marking your calendar or purchasing tickets to keep you motivated.  This will shift your focus: instead of looking back, you will look forward to the next exciting event.  

Just because your vacation has ended doesn’t mean you can’t have something really fun to anticipate.

Be a tourist at home

Why not bring the sense of wonder you have while on vacation to your everyday life? Try to integrate the same level of excitement at home. It is not uncommon to skip on all the tourist attractions in our own home because we think that there will always be time to do it later! Stop delaying, and start -or keep on- exploring museums, restaurants, going on walks or seeing a play.

You could rediscover the place where you live and manage to get excited again about it!

Girl looking at an art exhibit

Take it easy

Be lenient with yourself.

Avoid scheduling important meetings or catching up on mails on your first day back. This advice will help you from feeling overwhelmed. Try not to overload yourself to make up for the vacation time. If you’re not up for it, you probably won’t be able to do it well anyway. So, as much as you can, try to take it easy, at least for a few days.

What if the feeling lingers?

Woman airing out a green bedsheet

Use this time to check-in with yourself. If the feeling of sadness is very strong, maybe it’s a good opportunity to take a look at your life. Start listing the things that you would like to change. You can start by decluttering your home (Marie Kondo style!), to see things more clearly.

Perhaps the reason you are dreading coming back is because there is something deeply dissatisfying about your life: a problematic relationship, an unsatisfying job or a lack of social activities. Take a look at what is missing, and start planning for adjustments.

If you go from feeling nostalgic and anxious about coming back, to a long-lasting feeling of sadness, it might be a sign that something bigger is at play here. This might be a sign of depression, burnout, or anxiety – and those signs are never to be ignored. If the feeling lasts for over 3 weeks, you should talk to your doctor or therapist about it. These feelings are not to be taken lightly. 

Post-holiday blues will usually fade quite quickly. So if it doesn’t, it might not just be post-holiday blues. You should never postpone taking care of your mental health, just as much as your physical health. If this happens, go to your doctor, and begin the healing process.

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.

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 Be More Eco-Friendly When You Travel

According to a study by, 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!