Saturday, April 19, 2014

Interview (28) - Emma from Argentina

To travel is to move around the world, until the world starts moving you.”'

My name is Emma. I am 29 years old and I am Argentinian. I have a bachelor’s degree in Social Communication and I work at an NGO called La Flecha (
I have never had any trouble leaving places. “To go” has always captivated me, no matter the destination. Airports give me butterflies. The rattling of trains soothes me. Unfamiliar streets excite me. For some people it’s all about climbing the highest mountain, surfing the biggest wave, making a million dollars or buying their first house… For me, the one thing that challenges me to be better and leap out my comfort zone is to travel. I guess it’s a natural inclination for someone curious that enjoys learning, exploring and expanding her universe.

It took me some time to discover the beauty of travelling solo; but when I look back and I recall my early travelling experiences, I realize it was only meant to be.
What was your inspiration or the event/idea that made you want to travel?
A few years ago I was trying to figure out what to do on my holidays when I realized I couldn’t find anyone who would come along with me. I had recently cut loose of almost everything and everyone that -up until then- had given me a false sense of security: university life, old friends and a very long relationship. I realized that I was pretty much alone, but I wasn’t feeling lonely. By emptying my life of things and people who belonged to the past I’d made space to fill it with new things; things that made me feel happier, better and braver. That is when I decided it was time for me to embrace this feeling of solitude and emptiness and start exploring the possibilities it offered.
I took my three week annual vacation to go on my very first trip completely on my own.
I saw this sign on my first day in London: a good motto for the adventure ahead.

What was your first travel experience?
My very first solo trip was to the UK and Ireland, in 2013. But I guess the first time I went on an adventure on my own was when I went to live in the US as an exchange student for a whole year. I was 18 and I still remember the excitement I felt as I said good-bye to my mom and dad and got on a plane alone. I landed at a very remote, strange and completely different place, where I had nothing but hope and a big smile on my face. I lived with people I knew nothing about and who knew nothing about me for 12 months. I felt liberated, freer and full of opportunities. Every day was a new challenge, and every day I felt stronger and more comfortable in my own skin. I came back home totally transformed: I’d become a woman who likes to travel alone.
The art of taking selfies.

Have you ever felt lonely travelling solo?
Not really. I’ve learned that I am much better company than I had imagined. Of course I’ve felt tired, bugged and a little blue at times. At first, I was very hard on myself for feeling that way and letting those emotions ruin my day, my week or my whole trip!
Until one day I understood that feelings are part of who I am and decided I wouldn’t fight emotions anymore, even if they become a bit overwhelming at times. Instead, I learned to embrace them and give myself time to just feel whatever I feel. And then, I just start again. 
You are who you are. Be nice to yourself.

Do you have any fun stories of things that happened to you that you realized even at the time, “This never would have happened if I had been traveling with someone else?”
Everything changes when you travel alone. You usually become a nicer, more open and available person. When I was in Edinburgh, I came across the Edinburgh University. I was tired and hungry, but I decided to make an extra effort to take a look around inside that gorgeous building. When I tried to get in, the guy at the entrance stopped me, asked for my student ID and sent me directly to a certain classroom where they were having some sort of luncheon. I had no idea what was going on (I think it was kind of an open house event for high school students) but since no one stopped me, I had no shame in walking around the place in my tourist’s outfit, serving myself to some sandwiches and a piece of cake and sit at a corner for a while, drinking a glass of wine. When I finished, I left as quietly as I had come in, only feeling less tired, less hungry, much happier and a little bit mischievous.

Hidden treasures. Dublin.

What was your best travel experience?
When I started planning my trip to the UK I began feeling a bit worried about whether I was going to be ok with being alone for so many days. I decided I needed a preview of what travelling completely alone was going to be like, since I hadn’t done it in a while. So, at the end of that summer, I went to the beach for about a week, completely alone.
The town I went to is usually very crowded during summer season, but it’s almost a ghost town once summer is over. When I got there I realize that I was literally alone everywhere I went: the house, the building, the beach, the streets, the whole city was empty! There was nothing but silence and emptiness everywhere I went. I had the beach and the cold waves all to myself. The skies were so clear and blue. To be completely alone made me realize I usually feel a lot lonelier when I am surrounded by people. I felt a strong connection with nature and with myself. I enjoyed every second of that trip. It wasn’t the most adventurous, but it was definitely one of the most important ones.

Is there anything you would have done differently/ any regrets, if you could do it over again?
No, not really. I am happy with the decisions I have made for myself, even when they were bad. Every life experience, good or bad, has taught me something new about myself and what I am capable of. If I think I made a mistake I’ll try not to repeat it again, but I won’t regret it. I believe that if you manage to learn something from your mistakes, then they were not mistakes at all.
I’ve been a U2 fan for ages. Being at their studio’s door was a beautiful day indeed!

What was your worst travel experience?
I’d say it was when I almost missed my flight to Ireland because of London’s horrible rush hour traffic and my underestimation of how far the airport really was. It was one of the most exhausting, expensive and stressing situations of my life. I felt like I was in a Mission Impossible movie: everything that could go wrong went, well… worse. The first sign of things going very badly was when the coach to the airport became delayed and the driver told me there was no chance I was getting to the airport on time. After considering all options, and realizing that the delayed bus was still my best choice, I jumped on hoping the odds where on my favor. They weren’t. By the time we reached the outskirts of London and started to move at a decent speed, the bus driver informed us that he had scratched a car so he was stopping for a few (indeterminate amount of) minutes. I got off to find an alternative route, but I couldn’t find a single taxi willing to take me to the airport (not even for a £100) Not really sure about what I was doing, I left the bus and took a train back to the city center; then I switched to the subway system, made two other connections and finally paid for yet another (very expensive) train to the airport. Since I was already super late I knew there was no chance I could check-in my bag, I spent every minute of that train ride trying to shove everything I had in a tiny hand bag and wear everything else on top of the clothes I already had on. Imagine the scene: I was late, stressed, money less and oh so hot from all the clothes I was wearing.
Somehow, after having arrived at the airport only 20 minutes before my plane departed, I managed to pass through security with all my belongings (which included a pair of scissors, two bottles of wine, a pocket knife and ten extra kilos of luggage that I should have checked in), get to the gate barely 2 minutes before it closed and jump on the plane 2 seconds before it departed. When I finally sat on my seat I started laughing so hard that people sitting next to me had no doubt I had lost it. I was just happy that I hadn’t had a heart attack after running around the airport wearing two sweaters, two pairs of pants, a skiing jacket while carrying an overloaded backpack on my back.
Probably because everything turned out ok (and I didn’t die trying), it ended up being one of the funniest stories of that trip.

What’s the strangest situation you have found yourself in?
Walking back to my apartment in a very dark Berlin, all alone, at 3 am, on a very cold night… and getting there safely. The strange part was realizing that I had nothing to worry about. I am just not used to feeling safe walking alone at night.

Where will you never return to?
I’d probably never go back to Las Vegas. But, who knows?

 What advice would you give women traveling solo to your home country?
To women traveling solo in Argentina I would advise them to do what they should do everywhere else: be smart and careful.
I know some people don’t like to plan their trips in advance, but I think it’d be a lot safer to at least gather some information before visiting a new place. Also, if possible, I’d advise them to contact some locals beforehand so they know who to call in case they need help. Always let someone know where you are and where you are going next, and don’t give away any specific details about yourself to strangers.
Don’t miss the opportunity to travel along the Pampas (Great Plains region) and enjoy the most amazing sunsets.

 What are your future travel plans?
Next June I am going to Germany as an exchange student and then I’ll spend a week in Barcelona as a second-time-visitor. Looking forward to being on a plane again!

What are your top three tips for women traveling solo?
Get prepared (know your basics). Be prepared (for anything). Feel prepared (to enjoy whatever may come).
Trust your instincts and allow yourself to trust others. It is a wonderful and empowering feeling.
Live up to your own decisions so you don’t have any regrets.
Enrich your travel experiences by using all your senses: see, touch, smell, taste and listen. The world is multidimensional.
Every now and then, leave your camera behind.

What would you tell women who are looking to travel alone but worry about their safety?
You can always minimize risks, but there is no way to guarantee safety. So, the first thing I’d tell them is to stop worrying about it.
The second thing I’d tell those who prioritize safety is that feeling “safe” can actually be dangerous: the truth is that the safer we feel the more relaxed and inattentive we usually become; therefore, we take more risks and expose ourselves to dangerous situations. Whenever we are in an unfamiliar place, however, we tend to be more careful, more instinctive and more responsible. As a result, feeling a bit worried can be a good way to stay safe.
Finally, I’d tell them that worrying about safety sometimes means that we are scared. But that is OK. It is good to feel a bit scared: it means you are leaving your comfort zone, it means you are learning. So, use that fear for your own benefit. If you are scared or concerned, you can do research, ask around, have a back-up plan, read a lot or find friends that walk you through it… As long as you don’t let it paralyze you, fear is your best friend.
I never felt so out of my comfort zone as when I was in Berlin. That amazing city was my biggest challenge, and probably because of that, one of my favorite

Couchsurfing... what do you think about that?
I think it’s a great concept. I used it both for meeting travelers in my own city as to surf when I was traveling. I actually surfed twice (both at single men's houses) and I had very good experiences. To me, it is a lot more than just free accommodation: it is a great way to explore different cultures and a fantastic way to put your own limitations to the test. I recommend it.

How do you pay for a life of travel?
Working and saving every peso I make. It is an expensive and not-very-efficient way to do it in our economy, but it is all I can do right now (and the reason I am not travelling as often as I would like).

Tell us about the best food you have ever eaten on your travels?

Oh, this is a tough one! Food is an important part of travelling for me, and a tasty way of learning about other cultures. Just to name a few, I’d say southern midwest barbecue with fried okra was a memorable surprise I enjoyed in the US. In Brazil, I loved the fruity breakfasts. Irish “Guinness” is famous for a reason. In Cordoba, Argentina, I had the best chivito asado ever. In Berlin I had the most exquisite piece of poppy seed cake. I never thought a cake without chocolate could be so freaking delicious. Everything I ate in Madrid was pure perfection. And I could go on, and on, but… I am getting hungry.

What is the most breathtaking view you have ever witnessed on your travels
I have an endless list: the icy surface of the Perito Moreno glacier (Argentina), the breathtaking sunset in the Pacific Ocean (Chile), the endless skies of La Puna (Argentina), the infinitude of the Grand Canyon, the astonishing Cliffs of Moher (Ireland), every single Brazilian beach I have been to, the magnificent Sagrada Familia cathedral in Barcelona, the I-can’t-believe-what-my-eyes-are-seeing Iguazú waterfalls (Argentina). The world is simply beautiful.

What do you miss about your home when you go traveling?
Not too many things, really. Unless I run out of yerba: then I would miss drinking mate every morning.
(If you know to know what I am taking about look for articles like this:
Mate: my best travel buddie.

What item will you always carry in your backpack?
Apart from the obvious (passport and money) I carry a pocket knife, a headlight, my ipod and my mate kit.

Who was the kindest or most generous person you met on your travels, and what did they do?
I have met nothing but generous people in all my travels: my host families when I lived in the USA; all the couchsurfers that let me stay at their homes or made time to go grab a beer with me; the bus driver that took me from Doolin to the Cliffs of Moher and back, and became my personal travel advisor; the construction worker from the London tube that gave me £5 so I could go back to my place when the tube broke down at midnight, or the security guard, also from the tube, that lend me his smartphone so I could call my host and tell him I was running late; the two strangers that in two different opportunities (very late at night and very early in the morning) helped me get to my destination when I got lost in Berlin; the many locals everywhere that stopped and made time to give me directions and advice; every single traveler I shared a room with and happily engaged in conversation or wandered around with me just because… Once again, the list is huge. I know it seems hard to believe at first, but people are as generous as the world is beautiful.

What have you learned from travelling?
I think travelling has taught me all the important lessons in life: to trust myself and others; to be kind; to seize the moment; to follow my instincts; to assume nothing, expect nothing and let life surprise me.

Smiling in Ireland.

Who inspires you? What other travelers do you look up to?
I admire those who are aware of their own fears and still go for it and those who dare to change themselves and learn something new every day. I admire those who understand the difference between solitude and loneliness, and are ok with both. I look up to all those brave women out there who know that it is not brave if it does not scare you.

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