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Solo Female Travel: Talking Life On The Road With Lauren Juliff

This month in the SFT series I’ve got one of my favourite interviews to date – an awesome story of taking control of your life through travel and rolling with the punches when the road decides to make life interesting.

On the move since 2011, our interviewee has got a heap of travel wisdom to share and a growing collection of funny stories that will surely give you a laugh or two. Now a full time digital nomad and soon-to-be published author, she’s definitely someone to get familiar with if you’re interested in a life on the road.

Say hi to Lauren Juliff from Never Ending Footsteps!

Lauren Juliff Never Ending Footsteps

Introduce yourself! Who are you?

I’m Lauren Juliff, and I’m a professional travel blogger, freelance writer, author, and full-time traveller.

Tell us a bit about how you started a life of travel. What was your inspiration, how did you make it happen, and what were the hard things you had to leave behind? 

I’ve always wanted to travel, but never believed it was a possibility. When I was a child, I’d head off on a family holiday to the British coast, where it would rain all week and all we did was argue. When it came to leave, though, I spent all day sobbing because I didn’t want to go home. This pattern continued until I finally decided to travel long-term.

I spent five years saving as much money as I could, picking up part-time jobs that I could fit around my studying. I sold close to everything I owned in preparation. I moved back in with my parents to save money. I stopped buying thiings I didn’t need. I made travel my priority, I guess, and every decision I made was weighed up against that.

The only hard thing to leave beind was my family. We’re incredibly close and saying goodbye to them was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do. That’s pretty much it! Quitting my job was a piece of cake because I didn’t care about it, I didn’t have any possessions aside from what could fit in my backpack, and my friends had been unsupportive when I told them of my dreams to travel, so I wasn’t sad about leaving them.

On your blog you put together monthly summaries of your travels, and you often manage to visit several countries while spending under $1,000 per month. What’s your secret? 

Visiting cheap countries – I spend a lot more time in Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe over Australia and Western Europe. I eat street food where I can, as these meals rarely cost more than $1. I take buses and trains instead of flights. I stay in hostels and guesthouses over hotels.

Also, moving slowly helps! For example, when travelling across Thailand, you’re paying out for touristy activities, you’re paying for transport, you’re paying higher prices for accommodation because you’re staying for a short amount of time, food gets expensive because you haven’t had a chance to find the cheapest options. When I hole myself up in Chiang Mai for a few months at a time, I end up spending around half as much as I would when travelling. Accommodation can be incredibly cheap if you’re staying for months at a time in Thailand – I pay around $200 a month for a large room, with gym and pool access, and a weekly cleaner. If I was travelling from guesthouse to guesthouse, I’d likely end up paying $400 for the month, and it would be in basic rooms with just a shower and a bed.

Airbnb is great for long-term stays as well. When I’m staying somewhere for a month, I can usually get a 50% discount on the nightly rate.

A delicious breakfast of Shan noodle soup for less than $1!

A photo posted by Lauren Juliff (@nefootsteps) on

You’ve got a few stories of getting into sticky situations on the road, but you’re still alive with all your limbs, obviously. With safety being such a huge issue in travel, what advice can you share for staying safe on the road as a female? 

While I’ve had lots of mishaps on the road, I’ve never felt like I’ve been in any kind of real danger while travelling. Make sure to behave how you would at home, stay cautious when drinking, keep your stuff locked up when you go outside, stay away from any dodgy neighbourhoods, and don’t wander around alone at night.

What are some places you’ve had to deal with unwanted advances or harassment from men and how do you handle it?

Morocco was the worst I can think of. I love the country but I was harrassed on a daily basis. It wasn’t just vocal, but I had guys grabbing at me, and hissing when I passed. I even had a guy throw a rock at my head at one point! If I feel uncomfortable with male attention, I leave. I walk back to my guesthouse and refuse to interact with them. That’s it, really. I don’t talk, no eye contact, and I leave.

Have there ever been times when you’ve visited male dominated societies and had to be sensitive to “special” rules for women, such as wearing certain clothes or behaving in a certain way? How did you handle it?

The Maldives was probably the most extreme example of this – it’s an extremely strict Muslim country. I didn’t have a problem with it, though, and I’ve never had an issue with it. I just accept that that’s a part of travelling through a country, and respect their culture. In the Maldives, I wore jeans and a long-sleeved top at all times, and I sunbathed and swam in the ocean in a t-shirt and board shorts. No alcohol, no eating pork, keep covered up. It was fine.

Tough day at the office

A photo posted by Lauren Juliff (@nefootsteps) on

Many first time solo travellers are worried about being alone and the difficulty in making friends on the road. What’s your experience and what advice can you give?

I used to be pretty shy and socially anxious before I travelled, and this was a very real concern of mine.

Fortunately, I’ve found it to be incredibly easy to make friends on the road, which is shocking considering how lacking my social skills were at the time! The easiest thing to do is stay in a dorm. It’s impossible not to make friends in one– everyone’s there because they’re looking to meet people, and you already have something in common to talk about: travel!

Share one of the philosophies you live your life by. When, how, and why did it become part of your life?

To leave my comfort zone as much as possible. Before travel, I lived a very sheltered life: I’d never eaten Chinese/Thai/Indian food, and I had never even been on a bus. Everything terrified me because I had no life experience.

Travel took me right out of my pea-sized comfort zone on an hourly basis, and it has been so incredibly transformative for me. I feel like I’m actually able to function in the world without panicking that I’m going to die.

Now, I try to challenge myself as much as possible because I know it’ll help me be a better person. In fact, this year, I’m on a mission to try 52 new things in 52 weeks.

People always think travel is glamorous and full of smiles all the time, but as you know that is far from the truth. Tell me the one (or two or three) things you hate most about the traveller’s life (or miss about a traditional life).

Fortunately, a traveller’s life is full of freedom, so if there was something I hated or missed, I’d stop doing it or go do it. I’d say that my least favourite part of travel is missing my family, but when I miss them, I book a plane ticket home and go see them. So, there isn’t really anything I hate about it. If there was, I’d stop doing it.

One of the first posts of yours I read was a really inspirational piece about your battle with anxiety and how travel helped you regain control of your life (here and here). Could you share some thoughts on why you think travel brought such a positive change to your life? Would you advise others to follow the same path?

It took a long time for me to realise this, my anxiety stemmed from a lack of control. Once I started to have panic attacks, I felt like I had lost control of my life, and I started doing silly things to try and control it: I unintentially developed an eating disorder, for example, and I stopped going outside.

Travel gives me full control over my life. I can go wherever I want whenever I want, do whatever I want (within reason!), and with whoever I want. It’s liberating and it calms my anxiety so much. I used to have maybe 5-10 panic attacks a day at the height of my anxiety, but it’s rare I’ll have one even once a year these days.

I wouldn’t necessarily advise that others just throw everything in to travel because they’re dealing with anxiety. When I was at my lowest point, I couldn’t even bring myself to leave the house or eat more than an apple a day, so leaving to travel would have been the worst thing for me to do. I think if you have mild anxiety (attacks maybe once a week/month) it’s a more realistic option.

A final glimpse of Chiang Mai from the songthaew on the way to the airport. Next stop, Sri Lanka!

A photo posted by Lauren Juliff (@nefootsteps) on

Let’s talk about your upcoming book. Tell us a little bit about what’s inside, your inspiration for writing a memoir, and when we can expect it!

My book is a travel memoir titled How Not to Travel the World. I’m one of the unluckiest travellers in the world – I’ve been assaulted, robbed, and scammed, been caught up with a tsunami, had a boat start to sink with me on board, accidentally ate a cockroach, the list goes on… How Not to Travel the World is about how I managed to conquer debilitating anxiety through having these terrible things happen to me. It’s about following your dreams, no matter how many curveballs life throws at you. It’s about learning to get out of your comfort zone, finding the humour in messed up situations, and falling in love with life on the road. I decided to write it because I wanted to show that travel isn’t all rainbows and sunsets and meaningful experiences. I wanted to show that it can be transformative, and I wanted to share some of the stories I haven’t written about on Never Ending Footsteps. It’s due out in July!

People will look at you and see that today you travel the world full time, work for yourself, and have a book deal to your name. Give some practical advice to the girls out there might aspire to quitting their jobs and following in your footsteps.

Find a way to stand out from the crowd. There’s so many travel blogs out there that you’ll never stand out unless you do something different. Be honest, inject personality into your writing, and don’t be a sell out. If you want to work as you travel, start your business at least a year before you leave the country – some of the most time-consuming aspects are right at the start, and you don’t want to spend eighteen hours a day on your laptop when you want to be out exploring. In terms of travel, don’t plan. Have a rough idea of where you want to go, book a one-way ticket, don’t freak out, and just leave. It’s really that simple.

Exploring the temples of Bagan. What an incredible place!

A photo posted by Lauren Juliff (@nefootsteps) on

Ok, some fun questions. Describe yourself in 3 words.

Honest, disaster-prone, determined.

Who’s your celebrity crush?

Keith Richards.

Which country, in your opinion, has the most handsome men?

New Zealand, because the men are rugged and outdoorsy, and have funny accents.

Imagine a Hollywood movie wants to make a movie of your life. Who plays you and why?

Jennifer Lawrence, because she’s also a walking disaster.

When’s the last time you cried?

Last week, when I emailed my editor the final draft of my manuscript. So many emotions!

Imagine travel has become illegal and you now have to choose one city to live in for the rest of your life. Where do you choose?

Ljubljana, Slovenia.

What’s one of the less popular posts on your blog that you’d like more people to read?

And Then the Brakes Failed – one of my favourite incident posts but it never seemed to gain much traction.

If you could invite any 3 people from history to dinner, who would it be?

Richard Feynman, Syd Barrett, Winston Churchill

The world is about to end in 30 minutes and you have time for one final meal from anywhere in the world. What is it?

Honey and cumin glazed yams from Tasy N Sons in Portland, OR.

Ok, let’s get serious again. Are you a nomad for life? Why? Why not?

I don’t know what the future holds, but for the moment, I have no plans to stop travelling. I recently tried an experiment where I moved to Spain for four months to see if I was ready to settle. I’m two months into the stay and I spend most of my time planning trips for when my time is up.

I’d imagine my travels might evolve until I have a base I can return to for a few months each year, but for now, travel makes me happy.

And lastly, for the girls (and guys) out there still on the fence about their first solo trip, what advice can you give them?

Travel is the best thing I’ve ever done, and I’ve never met anyone who’s regretted it. If you’re wondering whether to take the plunge, try it. If you hate it, you’re only a plane ticket away from home, and then you won’t have to spend the rest of your life wondering what might have been.

Got questions for Lauren? Leave them in the comments below! You can also check out more of her story on her blog at Never Ending Footsteps and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Missed the rest of the series? Check out the previous interviews here.

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