Tea Talk 5: Johanna Luz | Traveling Environmentalist

It’s been 9 years since I met Johanna at college. We were both assigned to the smallest dorm on campus, and the memories of that year are some that will stick with me the rest of my life. I remember when I first found out that she wore glasses every day not because she had a prescription, but just because she felt like it. How can you not admire someone with that level of dedication?

Johanna and her husband are currently on the trip of a lifetime, driving down from Oregon to South America while providing medical and environmental help/education in exchange for world knowledge about how to live a more sustainable life. They’re driving down in a veggie bus (aka a bus that runs on used kitchen oil), while simultaneously writing a book about their adventures, and it’s kind of the coolest thing ever. Their blog is an absolute inspiration and I would highly recommend hopping over for a read! But first, here’s an introduction to one of the coolest girls I’ve ever met:

What started your passion for traveling?

I think there was never a time when I wasn’t traveling, so for me it became more about figuring out how to continue to travel. My Mom is from Germany, my Dad is from Oregon, USA and I grew up in Venezuela. Since the age of 1, I was on an airplane flying to visit relatives in different places around the world.

What’s one travel tip you think the world should know?

There are many different ways of traveling. Sometimes people have a fixed idea that it requires a lot of money and privilege, and that therefore, it isn’t accessible to everyone. The more I travel, the more I run into people traveling in the most alternative ways. My husband and I recently made our way down Baja California, Mexico. We ran into bikers, hitchhikers, a family living in a school bus, buskers, and artists, all figuring out ways to travel long periods of time on low budgets. We, ourselves, converted our van to work with used vegetable oil fuel. We collect it for free from restaurants in the cities we travel through and in that way minimize our fuel expense on the road.

What’s your favorite cultural habit you’ve picked up (ex. food dishes, lifestyle changes etc.)

My husband. We met as teenagers but we re-connected when I backpacked through Guatemala years later. It was the beginning of a 2.5 year long distance relationship (Guatemala-Venezuela). I have picked up eating beans, eggs & tortillas every day, saying “chilero” (cool) and much more!

What would you suggest for other women who are thinking about traveling?

Do it. Period. I did my first extended solo trip when I was 19 through Spain and Portugal. It felt extremely liberating and powerful to rely 100% on myself in a place where I knew no one and where no one had a prototype of who I was. I felt truly free and that feeling is something I try to hold on to ever since.

What’s one failure that you learned a lot from, when it comes to travel?

I’m always trying to make sure I don’t fall into a tourist trap or get ripped off in an incredibly stupid way. When I was traveling through Central America in 2012, I crossed into Guatemala from Mexico by land without knowing the exchange rate (not something I recommend). After exchanging some money on the border, I hopped on a tuk tuk (3 wheeled vehicle) to go to the nearest bus terminal. I was charged 150 Quetzales for a 5min ride. Then I rode the bus for about 3 hours and was only charged 15 Quetzales. I realized at that moment the tuk tuk driver had overcharged me. I had paid him$20 instead of $0.50, which was the real price!

What’s one fear that you overcame, while traveling?

During many points of my life, I struggled with being timid and embarrassed about a lot of things about myself. When you travel, you don’t have a choice. You have to put yourself out there, ask people for directions, get to know strangers and look like a total lost foreigner. You also are constantly getting to know people and explaining who you are to others who have very little context about where you come from. Traveling and meeting people on the road has helped me get to know myself better and feel more confident with who I am in the world.

What is your favorite way to travel (ex. plane, train, automobile?) and why?

The road less traveled, whatever that may be. But usually, it’s not by plane. Right now I’m doing an extended trip with my husband called Camino Casamel. We are traveling in our van that we converted to work with used vegetable oil as fuel (Veggie Bus Diaries on Instagram). We began our trip in Oregon and are currently midway through Mexico, collecting used oil from restaurants along the way. We plan on making it to Panama and possibly further South.

Traveling this way has been a lifestyle choice, as we live in our van and have a purpose beyond visiting tourist attractions. We are also learning about natural medicinal practices from the different regions we visit. It’s been very enriching to travel slowly and connect in a deeper way with the people and places we visit.

What is one place at the top of your bucket list that you’d like to visit?

I’ve always wanted to travel more extensively through South America. I grew up in Venezuela and have visited Colombia. I would like to see the rest of the continent and make it to Brazil, especially.

Let’s talk about your current trip! What was your inspiration for your adventure? 

Our current trip is a huge project we began dreaming about a few years ago. We started by thinking about ways of connecting our passions and wanting to begin our lives together in a different way. Our project Camino Casamel (or Veggie Bus Diaries), came about after Aidan had graduated from Medical School in Guatemala and after I worked with community environmental projects in Caracas, Venezuela. Ancestral medicinal practices and more natural lifestyles are areas that drew us together. We decided to travel through different countries where we could learn more about this, using waste vegetable oil as a greener fuel option and living in our van so we could cut on traveling expenses.

What has been the best/toughest part of your current trip?

Getting started was very difficult. We originally thought we were going to start our trip in Spring 2016 but we were delayed a year. We had mechanical issues, a difficult conversion to vegetable oil system, and needed a lot more time and money to prepare.

What’s one thing you’ve learned from your current trip?

We both learned a lot the year we had to wait to begin our trip. At times, we didn’t even know if it was still going to be possible. I definitely learned that sometimes things don’t work out the way you anticipate. That doesn’t mean it won’t ever happen. Sometimes you will have to wait, sit back and re-evaluate. Then, do it again but better. And take your time. Rushing things often will set you back more.

Anything else you’d like to add?

I’ve traveled and lived extensively in Latin America and have a few strong opinions about certain things I wanted to mention J Throughout the years, I’ve met a lot of travelers and been one myself. One thing that I think is EXTREMELY important is learning about the local context and history of the places you visit. Often, travelers from “developed countries” will visit Latin America with very little knowledge about how U.S. political intervention and foreign economic interests have shaped, damaged and are currently still harming the region. This is true not only for Latin America, but for most developing countries in the world.

I don’t say this to accuse or create guilt, but as a means to encourage travel a way of educating yourself about what is happing in the world and how your home country may be affecting lives overseas in ways you aren’t aware. I think this type of awareness also creates a deeper travel experience as you hear personal stories from the other side of history and learn things that aren’t included in classic text books.

For example, in Nicaragua there is the Museo de la Revolucion (Revolutionary Museum) in Leon, exhibiting a civil war the U.S. was directly involved in. Ex-guerrilla fighters give the tour. Our guide shared his personal experience of the war, of the friends and family he lost and how the country was destroyed. I remember the guide told us with a depth in his eyes, “There is absolutely nothing worse than war, avoid it by all costs.”

To follow along on Johanna’s adventures, you can check out her blog, purchase the book they’re writing or check out their Facebook page

Tea Talk 2: Madison McGhee | Travel Videographer

Madison and I met through a Facebook travel community of women called Girls Love Travel. I knew I had to learn more about her travel adventures when saw some of her beautiful videos on Youtube. A West Virginia native she uses video to tell the stories of her travels and of the people she meets along the way. As a story teller in a different sense, I loved seeing another awesome woman traveller taking on the world one travel at a time!

What started your passion for traveling?

I think I’ve always had this inherent desire to see new places and meet new people. As a kid, I was never satisfied with the status quo and couldn’t wait to go to college. I grew up in a fairly small town and I think that had a lot to do with it. I knew everyone and had been everywhere. There was no sense of adventure or newness. Everything was the same. I went to university seven hours away from home and after meeting people from different places and doing some domestic travel with friends during our breaks from school, I knew I had to see more of the world.

What’s one travel tip you think the world should know?

Pack light. My friends reading this will laugh. I am the worst at this, but it really is so important. Not only is it inconvenient to carry around a 50-pound suitcase, but also it can be a pain at airports. You do not need the extra pair of shoes or your entire makeup bag.

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What’s your favorite cultural habit you’ve picked up?

The locals in Australia are really laid back. It’s partly why I love the culture so much – everyone is super chill. They walk around barefoot a lot and I especially noticed how strange it was that people go barefoot in supermarkets. In the United States, that’s not normal. So as simple as that sounds, was really a shock for me. Now I find myself slipping my shoes off when I drive or taking the trash out barefoot.

What would you suggest for other women who are thinking about solo traveling?

Plan and be prepared and be smart, obviously. But go!

What’s one failure that you learned a lot from, when it comes to travel?

Somewhere along the railway from Vienna, Austria to Budapest, Hungary all of my camera equipment was stolen on the train. As a filmmaker over 1,500 miles from home in a foreign country, I felt completely hopeless. It was heartbreaking. It was the biggest challenge I have ever faced while challenging. I learned to travel smart. I keep an eye on my stuff and have found the right suitcases, backpacks, camera bags, etc. that allow me pack efficiently and compactly.

What’s the best and worst part about traveling solo?

Worst: You’re by yourself. You can only share your experience with words and photos rather than share the actual moment with someone you love. Sometimes that’s hard, and other times it’s really cool to share something with yourself or a total stranger.

Best: You find out so much about yourself. I found this incredible sense of independence by traveling by myself. I learned how to live with a carefree spirit and it’s carried over into my day-to-day life.

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What’s one fear that you’ve overcome, while traveling? 

I overcame my fear of being alone. I used to hate it so much – being alone. As an extrovert, I never thought being alone would be my thing. But I’ve slowly become so comfortable with being myself. I think that has come in part with growing more comfortable with who I am. Because I love myself, I love being by myself. Now I have no idea what I was so afraid of.

What is your favorite way to travel and why?

I think all offer a unique way of seeing things and their own level of convenience. Planes are fast and becoming relatively inexpensive. Trains offer the beautiful scenery – places that you’d only see by taking the train. And then there’s that feeling you get driving down a long road with the sea out the window, the windows rolled down, and your favorite song playing. That’s a beautiful way to travel, too.

What is one piece of advice that you wish you could give your past self?

It’s ok if you don’t know what you want to do in 10 years. In fact, it’s normal. Pursue what you love and if that passion changes, let it, and pursue your new passion. Never “half-ass” anything. And always be kind to everyone you meet. There’s a soul inside of everyone.

What is one place at the top of your bucket list that you’d like to visit? 

There are so many places. I would really like to hike the Patagonia or Mt. Kilimanjaro. I haven’t done much “adventure” travel and that’s something I want to start doing more of.

Do you have any upcoming trips? Where to and what will you be doing? 

I’m planning a few trips that I’m really excited about. I’ll be filming all of them – of course. I’d like to do a Canadian road trip to see the national parks because they’re all free in 2017. I’d also like to see more the United States. Cuba is also on my 2017 list. I’m really excited about the opportunity to see more of the world and meet so many new people.

Anything else you’d like to add about yourself? 

Travel has completely changed my life – and my career. I am humbled by everything life has thrown my way and am thoroughly looking forward to what is next.

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Follow Madison along on her adventures on her website, Snapchat or at any of the links below! 

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Tea Talk is a bi-monthly series that is published on the 1st and 15th of each month. Join me again on March 1st for our next feature! – Emilee

Tea Talk 1: Jessica | Travel Blogger, Artist

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Welcome to the very first “Tea Talk”! I’m so excited to introduce you, twice a month, to inspirational women who share my passion for travel. From artists to bloggers to moms to videographers, these posts are meant to highlight the lives of women who dared to strike out and explore the world around them. If you feel inspired, share this post with your friends!

First up: Jessica.

Jessica and I met while working at a childcare center a couple years ago and found common ground around the issues of feminism, social justice and teaching kids the rules of consent. Having worked in childcare for the past 4 years, I’ve always found it interesting how many childcare workers are simultaneously world travelers (whether they know it yet, or not). Last year Jessica set out on a solo adventure around southeast Asia. An epic journey that left her with buckets of stories to tell, and me without her as a roommate (#shameonyou). But now that she’s back, I couldn’t be more proud of her exploits, and adventures. Be sure to check out her blog where you can find stories, travel tips and art!

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What started your passion for traveling?

I have always been a huge book nerd ever since I can remember, and it wasn’t until high school that I really started thinking, “Hey, I could actually visit some of these places one day.” The more I read, the more the wanderlust started to take hold. I began reading more biographies and memoirs and dreaming about place outside of Washington State. I just knew I needed to see as much of the world as I can.

What’s one travel tip you think the world should know?

Give yourself freedom. In that, I mean don’t schedule everything out to a T. Sometimes things don’t always go according to plan, and if you budget in a little flexibility, it usually ends up being okay. Or, you may get to a place that you absolutely love and want to stay longer than planned. If you get so wrapped up in the little pieces, you are more likely to be disappointed when things don’t go exactly “right”.

What’s your favorite cultural habit you’ve picked up?

This is probably less of a cultural habit and more of a “travel habit” but I care a lot less about how I look now. After trekking around in all kinds of weather, meeting strangers you are not likely to see again, it is easy to forget about makeup, smooth hair, and put-together outfits. Now I hardly ever wear makeup at all (my last trip I didn’t bring any with me) and I let my curly hair go free.

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What would you suggest for other women who are thinking about solo traveling?

Trust yourself. I think one of the biggest things holding women back from traveling solo is fear: fear of getting hurt, getting lost, or worse. In reality, those things can happen in any part of the world. What makes the difference is that you are going to a new place, so it’s expected that you will feel less confident and prepared than you usually do back home. If you carry yourself with pride and trust in your own strength and abilities, you won’t have time to be scared and paranoid. Solo travel is such a great experience because this can be a great way for women to realize their strengths and how capable they are.

What’s one failure that you learned a lot from, when it comes to travel?

When I traveled solo for the first time, I tried to make friends with as many people as I could right away. I think it was my own insecurity about being alone and unprepared. I quickly got a reminder that I am not that person – I am an introvert who likes her “Me Time”. I met great people along the way, but I couldn’t pretend to be someone I’m not. I started feeling burned out from trying to be a socialite party animal fashionista. I decided to stick with a few people I got close to and skip the daily bar crawls.

What’s the best and worst part about traveling solo?

Best: the freedom to do what you want, where, when, and how you want. I like being my own boss lady.

Worst: Getting tired and/or sick without your mommy or best friend to take care of you L

What’s one fear that you overcame, while traveling?

On my last trip I tried rock climbing for the first time. I am TERRIFIED of heights. I just sucked it up and did it. Now I love it.

What is your favorite way to travel and why?

I love traveling by boat. I think it is because I grew up on two islands and have always lived closed to the ocean. I love being on the sea. It’s is calming and usually not as crowed at a bus or a plane.

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What is one piece of advice that you wish you could give your past self?

Be patient. Good things will come.

What is one place at the top of your bucket list that you’d like to visit?

Morocco

Do you have any upcoming trips? Where to and what will you be doing?

The next country I am likely going to is Nepal. Otherwise, I hope to go on a longer backpacking trip through South America once I save up enough money. For now, I have a few connections in Nepal and really want to explore more of Asia.

Anything else you’d like to add about yourself?

When I was in high school I planned on taking my first trip to Thailand, but was unable to because my grandma passed away (she was going to pay for the trip). I went on my first trip to Thailand in memory of her.20170127_092943
Want to learn more about Jessica’s adventures? Hop over to her Facebook page or follow her on Instagram!
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