This week’s featured female traveler is Flora, the brilliant writer and perpetual traveler behind Flora the Explorer. Flora’s on a quest to visit every continent twice before age 31, volunteering with local communities along the way! Read more to find out her tips for volunteering with children, safe solo female travel, and more!
GGG: Hi Flora! Let’s start with the basics. Who are you, where are you from, and how did you get started traveling?
I’m Flora (known on the blogging circuit as Flora the Explorer) and I’m a Londoner who’s been travelling most of her life. My parents both worked in theatre and were often on tour in different countries, so I was introduced to the travel bug from a really young age. Spending a summer with Greek family friends in Athens at five years old while my dad directed a play, and a couple months falling in love with sushi in Japan when I was eight definitely made its mark on me!
Since I left school six years ago I’ve been travelling more and more, through Eastern and Western Europe, the Middle East, America and Asia – but being in South America, my current adventure, is the first time I haven’t actually had a return ticket booked. Definitely another step forward into the long-term travel arena.
GGG: You state on your blog that your vague aim is to visit every continent twice before you turn 31-what a great idea! What sparked this aim, and are you on track to complete it?
I write a lot of poetry, and had a phrase in my head – “thirty one distant” – for a long time. It was the original name of my blog but then Flora the Explorer battled its way to the forefront! Basically I thought that just one visit to each continent wasn’t enough, and I love the idea of being cyclical. So going once and coming back around again made sense to me.
At the present count I’ve been to Europe countless times, Africa twice (Kenya and Morocco), and Asia twice (Japan as a kid, then six months in India and Nepal last year) – then North and South America once each (although I spent a year living in California for study abroad). I haven’t yet been to Australia and I wish I’d already done Antarctica!
However, I get the feeling it’d be a lot more interesting if the challenge was to hit all these continents twice AND write about them. So it looks like I still have both Americas, Africa and Asia to see again – and at 25 I still have a good six years to bribe enough people to get me to Antarctica twice!
GGG: Volunteering is a huge part of how you travel, and you write about volunteering as a way to become part of the local community. What was your first volunteer experience? What inspires you to keep giving back to local communities?
My first volunteer work was actually in London, when I was at school – I used to visit an old lady once a week as part of community service for my Duke of Edinburgh Award. It was so inspiring listening to her talk about her life, and she was clearly so grateful to have someone to sit with and chat to. I’ve always found that volunteering opens my eyes to totally new perspectives and experiences that I wouldn’t otherwise have. Ultimately I’m always looking for a story, so I guess you could say I gain a huge amount of my writing inspiration from volunteer work. Plus the more I travel, the more difficult situations I see that could benefit from volunteering help, and it’s become second nature for me to look out for projects.
GGG: I think a lot of travelers want to volunteer, but aren’t sure how to go about finding a reputable agency. How do you choose your volunteer organizations?
It’s been an interesting ride with a few organizations – from extortionate fees to totally unexpected situations! Ultimately, it’s taken me a lot of trial and error, but I now make sure to do intensive research into a company before working with them, and (if they charge a nominal fee) find out exactly where that money goes. The general rule is the smaller and less-known the company, the more likely they are to really be making a difference. If you have the time while travelling to contact local organizations you want to work with, chances are they’ll charge barely anything and are probably helping their community significantly more than a company whose offices are based in London!
My top tips are to make sure you know and understand the incentives of the agency and to research the country you’re volunteering in; to be willing to partake in any kind of work that might arise, however weird; and (particularly if your chosen project involves children) to dedicate a substantial amount of time to a project to really make a difference – both for the people you’re helping, and for yourself.
I’ve actually just published a comprehensive guide to the issues many volunteers face when volunteering with children, as I’ve worked on projects in six different countries and dealt with a lot of problems along the way. I’d still always wholeheartedly recommend working with kids though – it’s undoubtedly changed my life.
GGG: You have a great article on your blog about traveling solo in India. Did you have any reservations to traveling solo? Can you share with us your top three tips to being a safe and successful solo female traveler?
The only reservations I’ve ever felt were sometimes not having someone to talk to. I’m usually ready to start chatting at a moment’s notice to literally anyone – but solo travel has also been a good lesson in that respect, as I’ve learned to take time for myself. It also definitely improves your writing as your date at mealtimes is often your notebook!
My top three tips for safe solo travel would be as follows: always look confident and sure of yourself, as if you know where you’re going even if you don’t! To combat that latter issue, always ask advice from someone local – whether it’s your cab driver, the reception guy at your hostel or a shop keeper – for a couple of tips on where to go. And finally, always trust your gut. There’s no reason to be scared of travelling solo because I’ve always found your senses and intuition get incredibly heightened when you’re the only person looking out for yourself. The times I haven’t trusted that twisting feeling in my stomach have been interesting, to say the least.
GGG: I know a lot of fellow female travelers are extremely inspired by your journeys and tales, and would love to follow in your footsteps. Do you have any tips to making long-term travel financially possible?
I’m very careful with how much money I spend – if you look at my blog you’ll see that a lot of my travels are pretty slow, and I often stay with host families to keep my budget happy. That’s another reason why volunteering is such a great endeavor when you’re travelling: by working and living with local people you end up saving a lot of money in the long run! Plus I’m a great believer in travel karma. What goes around comes around, so if you give up your time and help others out, it’ll help you in some way too.
I find that a lot of people who are travelling think they’re on holiday. Because I spend so much of my travels essentially working, I’ve not often viewed it like that; if I do need money, I can work in a hostel for a while or search out some freelance writing work, and I won’t think it to be a hardship. If you want to travel long-term, as a lifestyle, you need to accept that a lot of your time won’t be as fun and interesting as it could be. But the benefits are a lot greater, in my opinion.
GGG: Your time in Ecuador is coming to a close. Where will we find you over the next coming months?
I’ll be travelling through the Ecuadorian Amazon and then up into Colombia for about six weeks, where I’m going to take some intensive Spanish classes and catch Medellin’s yearly flower festival. Then it’s a flight all the way down to Rio, Brasil, where my cousin has started a healing community in the mountains – I’m going to help her with developing the land a bit – and finally, after a bit of Brasil exploring, I’m headed to Bolivia for a few months of volunteer work with the communities in La Paz and Sucre. After that I have some vague plans for other projects, still in South America, but who knows?!