When I started off The Blogger of the Month series, my main objective was to bring to my readers the stories of other travel bloggers that have inspired my own journey; to be honest though, the true keyword in there is really just ‘inspire’. While it’s true that I didn’t imagine making an exception to the criteria as early on as this, I think I’ve found an excellent reason to do just that, and it feels seriously justified. For the month of October ’15, I’m going to feature the journey of a girl I met on one of my own quests to long-term travel. Someone I’ve only known face-to-face for a couple of days, but who has gone on to become a good friend, and also someone that I admire for the choices she has made.
Bio: Today’s story is about Julie Berron, a 36 year old girl from Clermont-Ferrand – a little known town in France, near Marseille. Julie has been working with a renowned tyre company for close to 14 years. Although she has been around quite a bit, she almost always travels with friends and family. I first saw Julie when she walked into the guest-house run by a travel company I worked with in South-India sometime in January this year.
At this moment, I had also been staying in the same guest-house – I was yet to find an apartment for myself. That evening, I invited Julie out for dinner, since we were the only two lost-souls in the building. My first impression of her was that of a docile, humble person, and she seemed incredibly intimidated – an impression she corroborates later by describing herself as “a French little blond girl, scared by my (own) shadow, but curious to see the World”. Over dinner, she told me she had taken a 9 month long sabbatical from work to travel the world and get some perspective on her life and I’d already started feeling somewhat jealous of the privileges I thought she had at her disposal. It was only after she told me how her first stop of the nine months in Delhi had been such a scary experience for her that she was already wondering if she was going to last, did I realize what an absolutely brave decision this must have been for a girl who was not very used to breaking out of her comfort zone. Now, without giving away any more of her journey, I’ll let her take over. Here we go. Please note that English is not her first language, and while it wouldn’t have been very difficult for me to clean it up for you, I was loath to make changes to anything she said for fear of reducing the authenticity of her emotions. I also felt that this felt more natural, and more indicative of the sort of broken dialogue we shared throughout our association 🙂
Dusky: You took 9 months off work to go see the world. Can you describe the chain of events or the thoughts in your mind that might have led to this decision?
Julie: I was working for 14 years in a tyre company in Clermont-Ferrand. I used to travel every year in a different country. But getting older, it was difficult to find someone to travel with me…
First, I didn’t like the idea to travel alone because I love sharing experiences. It might be sad to travel alone… But I had no choice. So I’ve decided to try thinking on the idea. I thought I can start to travel alone for 3 weeks. But Noooooooo! I’m too scared and I don’t want to be “the poor girl who didn’t have friends to travel with”. So then I thought of my German friend Christina, who travelled 3 months alone in South America in 2010. So I’ve started getting stronger with the idea of travelling alone. Why not 3 months? I was supposed to change my job; but nothing really interesting (came along), so (I thought) it can be a transition in between two jobs. I had no boyfriend and no child… And just a bit of money to buy a flat (which I never bought)… So why not?
For the 90 anniversary of my grandmother at the end of May 2014; we had a big meeting with my family. So I’ve shared with them my idea to travel alone for 3 months. They were really supportive and challenged me. My sisters asked me: “If you can succeed to fix your fears to travel alone, 3 weeks or 3 months or 1 year might be the same?”. At this time; I’ve realized it was so true…So I’ve decided to take a sabbatical year to travel alone around the World!
So my big issue was not to travel the world, but to travel ALONE!
Dusky: What was your rough itinerary? And looking at it in hindsight now, how much did you deviate from your original plan, and what, if anything do you wish you had done differently?
Julie: I went on internet to check how to organize my journey. I’ve found all the explanation (there)…
I knew that I wouldn’t travel like a student; so because of the money, I’ve decided to travel less but in better conditions than a student. That’s why, I’ve travelled 9 months (and not 12) around the world and then to spend 2 months in Europe with family and friends.
Talking with my friend Laury who was organizing the same type of journey with 2 children, I’ve realized that “like a family” they would like to “spend time together” and didn’t want to spend time searching for a flight or a hotel. So they decided to plan everything.
It was not my case, I didn’t want to plan too much (so as) to have the opportunity to meet people and change my plan. But I also know myself…I would have been able to spend one year in the same country, if I didn’t have a challenge to move. So I’ve decided to book all the InterContinental flights with a travel agency and to organize things by myself (at the last minute: internal flights; buses; hostels…). I’ve chosen Travel Nation because they were efficient and makes me comfortable (nice people used to travel and to give you good advices!).
It was quite hard to decide one year before, the places I would like to visit… So I put a Map of the World in my living room. I’ve decided to visit new countries, and not to go back to a place I’ve already visited. The world is so big… I had too many options… So I’ve decided to go to safe places (from a French point of view: no war, no pandemics…) and to see the most marvelous places in the World. And the last (or the first) argument was the money to decide how long I will spend in each continent…
The travel agency challenged me on the city and the date I would like to be and helped me to find a good compromise with money (and weather). There is a big flexibility to change the flight, but at the end I didn’t need it.
I followed my Road Map: India, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Mexico, United States of America.
Dusky: When you sat there at the airport, waiting for your first flight, what were you expecting out of these nine months? People often advocate travel for travel’s sake, but I personally believe there’s always some goals to the journeys people take, at least subconsciously.
Julie: I had two expectations before to travel. First of all, I would like to prove to myself that I’m able to travel alone and to fix my own fears. Then, I would like to comfort myself that the world is made (up) of nice people! Like that to prove to my friends that are thinking I’m living in “Care Bear world”, that it is possible to meet nice people in all the countries, because I believe that there are nice people everywhere.
Dusky: Of all the places you have visited during these nine months, which were the most challenging for you to deal with as a first time solo female traveller?
Julie: Definitely India! It was the first country I was visiting during my long journey… I didn’t read anything about this country before… I’ve just talked to some friends about their experiences. They all said the same: “Nobody is insensible to India. You will hate it or fall in love with this country…But It is better to start with the South rather than the North”.
Unfortunately, my “cheap flight” arrived in the North, in Delhi. I was astonished by (the) pollution, numbers of cars and people! Also, people follow you on the street to sell you everything. And sometimes they follow you to your hotel! It took me one day to arrive from the hotel to the travel agency; because the receptionist always gave me wrong information to be sure I will go to the place where he’s got a commission… I was really sad, because I didn’t know who I can trust… Where are nice people here?? It is probably the problem with all big Cities… Tourists are seen like pocket money and not like a human being…
But the worst was the noise. I had no idea before about what they mean by noise pollution. You can’t relax during the day and the night (with cheap hotels). So I was exhausted! I had no pleasure to travel… (we feel you Julie – 24 years and still can’t come to terms with it)
Moreover, I was a woman travelling alone… This is a strange concept for some Indian people… So some of them just don’t know what to do with this information “woman travelling alone”. What it means? She is not with her family? Not married? Not with child? Not at home? At the beginning I felt bad and sad, because I thought they are not nice and tolerant, but I was wrong. They are nice, but they just had no idea how to deal with it. It is the same; when you ask someone you don’t know, who seems to be healthy, how is he? And he answers, he is sick and he will die. You never wish him to die, but it is like that… You just don’t know what to do with this information and how to follow the conversation, so you just try to escape…
After a few more days in India, with a private driver, in the South with French friends expatriated from my company in Chennai, and with Indian’s friends in Pondicherry, with The Blue Yonder which organized a lovely trip for me in Kerala… I fall in love with India! I was crying when I left and I will definitely go back to India!
Dusky: If you look back on these months, do you think they changed you? And if yes, then in what manner?
Julie: It is an amazing experience; I’ve seen really nice places and met really nice people. So it changed me in a positive way. All French people are complaining, it is a way of expression for me! But every morning during this journey; I wake up and think how lucky I am!
I’m lucky to be able to make this journey… I’m lucky because 14 years ago I got a nice job; with a nice salary and in a company where it is possible to take a sabbatical year (that assure me to have a salary when I will come back)… I’m lucky to have studied at University and to have good education from my parents… I’m lucky to be born in France, a peaceful country with access to a healthy way of life… I’m lucky to have the support of my family and friends… I’m lucky to be able to meet people from other countries, with other languages, from other social classes, from other religions but so tolerant (??) and proud to share with a stranger their love for traditions and cultures.
I’ve learnt that sharing with a stranger or learning about the difference makes me richer than money.
Dusky: Describe an interesting incident from your journey that was the most rewarding experience of it all. Did it contribute to any of the change you described earlier?
Julie: Before starting my journey, one of my friends, Gerard decided not to give me money to buy a present; but he gave me money to help someone who really needed it on my way.
When I was in Bolivia; I meet people from an association “Condor trekkers” that helps kinder garden kids. They try to bring some toilet paper for kids. For me it was impossible to imagine that little’s kids didn’t have toilet paper… I have a 5 year old niece and 3 year old nephew, so I was really sensitive to this topic. I gave his money to this association. I had the opportunity to go to the local market with someone from the association. He was bargaining; I was paying with Gerard’s money. We bought toilet paper, soap and towels for kids.
Then, a few months later, I went to the United States to visit Sara’s family. I told this story to a friend Ana; she is a teacher and she invited me to her school. It was really interesting to discover the way of teaching in the United States, because it is so far from the French way.
It was an amazing experience, because it was the contribution between lots of people, for the same purpose: to help children to grow up in best conditions!
Dusky: In what ways do you think your experiences over the past few months will improve or make you better at your job and daily routine, if any?
Julie: I’m still not working for the next two months… But I will try at work to use difference like a force! To be more tolerant or more creative!
What I’ve learnt is, when something bad or sad happened, it helps you to see things with a different perspective, and to create new opportunities. Every experience good or bad, helps you to grow up.
I’ve also learned more precisely where are my limits. I met local people, but also other travellers who revealed to me that the strength is inside me.
Dusky: Describe one particular place or sight from your trip that profoundly moved you and will stay with you as a memory for years to come.
Julie: At the end of my journey, I went to Chiapas in Mexico. I met at the hostel a lovely girl, who was working there and invited me to go with her to visit her own town: San Juan de Chamula. She offered me to spend time with her family in Tzotzil Community. This community has a special language, traditional clothes and rituals. They treated me like part of their family. They invited me to see how they are cooking, to eat with them and how to participate in a ritual to thank their God.
It was forbidden to take pictures of people, so all my souvenirs are in my head. I enjoyed every moment, thinking that I was so lucky to have a unique experience with really tolerant people who open the door of their house to a stranger (me).
It was an amazing experience and unique moment, also because I can’t take pictures so I was living the instant without the barrier of a camera.
Dusky: Where do you go from here? Do you think these 9 months will leave some sort of lasting impression on your routine life?
Julie: More travelling you do; more traveller you are! This is freedom!
Aaannnnnnd it’s a WRAP! When I first met Julie, I saw her with great envy. What I saw was a privileged white woman – someone who was living a dream I have wanted for a long time. I saw her for the power of her passport and the great fortune of an accommodating employer. Perhaps some of the biggest obstacles in my quest for a life of prolonged travel are my nationality and my home-currency – both of which put me at a disadvantage in the global context. I’m naturally tuned to looking at somebody from a Western country as a person of privilege. But as I spent more time with Julie and got to know her better, I learned an important lesson. As she mentions, she is aware of the privileges her place of birth and her job endows upon her; but in truth, she faced challenges of her own. Her shackles were inside of her – her own inhibitions, her own fears, her doubts and her questions. She broke free, and she rediscovered herself, and in the process gave us an important lesson – shackles come in different forms and sizes, and not all of them are related to your passport or the exchange rate. We are proud of you Julie for the choices you have made, and we hope this will only be the beginning of your journey on the path of self-discovery.