Awesome Female Travelers

This week’s awesome traveling lady is the woman behind La Viejera. Read on in this week’s Girls That Go! to find out what travelers are missing in the Netherlands, her favorite place to watch a sunset and more!
GGG: Hola, welcome to Girls That Go! Let’s start off with introductions–who are you, where are you from and how did you get your start traveling?
I’m Ellen Keith, the face behind La Viajera is Spanish for “the female traveler,” a name which captures my love for languages, Latin culture, and perpetual wandering. I’m 25 years old and originally from Alberta, Canada, but I’ve spent most of the last three years abroad. Travel has been a huge part of my life since an early age. I took my first major trip at age 10, when my parents pulled my younger brother and me out of school and took us on a six-month camping trip through Europe. After half a year spent touring WWI battlefields, admiring art masterpieces, and sharing the cramped rooftop bed of a VW camper with my brother, I had a good sense of the ups and downs of long-term travel. And I was hooked.
GGG: What an origin story! We hear there’s a certain tulip-y country that is close to your heart. Can you share with us one of your favorite memories of your time in the Netherlands?
For the past year, I’ve been living in Amsterdam, but I’ve considered the Netherlands to be my second home since that first visit at age 10. Even aside from the scattering of extended family that resides here, there’s something about the culture, the landscape, and the lifestyle that calls out to me. Over the years, I’ve been fortunate enough to visit often, but some of my most treasured memories of the country stem from the six months I spent in Tilburg (a city in the south) as an exchange student. Studying abroad is one of the most valuable university experiences you can have, and I urge students to seek out the work/study abroad opportunities at their own institutions. But for an experience that people of all ages can replicate, you really should make a point of being in Amsterdam for King’s Day on April 27. I think it’s the best time of year to be in the country. The tulips are in bloom, the weather is warm, and you’ll be surrounded by tens of thousands of Dutchies decked out in orange. Join one of the countless street parties; shop at the children’s flea markets; drink along the canals (or in a boat, if you’re lucky); and then congregate in one of the main squares for concerts by superstars like Armin van Buuren. It’s a wonderful, exhausting, unforgettable experience.
GGG: Sounds great! Along those lines, what are a couple of your favorite secret spots in Holland?
Much as I love Amsterdam, it’s really a shame how many people come to the Netherlands and see little more than the Red Light District and the city’s coffee shops. Explore neighborhoods like de Pijp or the Jordaan, and cozy up in a traditional bruin café, such as the 400-year-old Café Papeneiland. Better yet, spend a couple of days outside of Amsterdam. For a pretty student city sprinkled with canals, head to Leiden. For something off the beaten path, rent a bike and tour Zwolle, Kampen, and Deventer: small, quaint cities that still retain sections of the medieval walls that once surrounded the historic centres. Essentially, the best way to see the country is by train and bike. Get out of the cities and explore the countryside.
GGG: You’ve also traveled through South America. What was a highlight going through that continent?
In the 10 months I spent in South America, I felt like I was falling in love over and over again. Each time I entered a new country, I doubted it would be able to top the last, but there were always stunning landscapes, incredible food, and warm-hearted people waiting for me. So many highlights stand out: touring Iguazu Falls by helicopter, hiking in Patagonia, trekking to Machu Picchu — not once, but twice — and following the footsteps of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid on horseback. Yet, really, what sticks out most is all of the friendships I formed during my travels. Speaking Spanish opened so many doors for me, and I was constantly blown away by the kindness and generosity of South Americans.
GGG: You’ve written about the 7 items all backpackers should pack. What might be an 8th, if you had to choose?
You caught me there; I couldn’t remember what those seven things were and had to go back to check. Apart from what I’d already listed (locks, ziploc feezer bags, liquid laundry detergent, flip-flops, a hanging toiletry bag, a travel towel, and a penlight), I’d suggest two more things. The first is something to read. Even if it’s just a magazine, it’s great to have something for those days at the beach or long bus rides. Don’t worry about lugging heavy books around, as you can always leave or trade your book at any hostel along your route. Next, bring one nicer item of clothing. Backpackers are quick to only pack what can get ripped and dirty, but you never know what type of situation you’ll encounter. The last thing you want is for a local to invite you out for a nice dinner or family celebration if you have nothing but grungy t-shirts along.
GGG: Quick fire: favorite foreign dish to eat? Favorite place to watch a sunset? Longest bus ride you’ve ever taken?
Foreign food: anything spicy, especially Mexican. I could live forever off enchiladas verdes and tacos al pastor, both doused in as much hot sauce as I can get my hands on.
Favorite place to watch a sunset: That’s tough; I’ve seen some stunning sunset across the world. If you can find a place away from the crowds, Santorini is a memorable spot, but there’s something truly magical about watching the sun dip between the Rocky Mountains on a frosty winter’s evening, so maybe I’d have to choose Canada for that one.
Longest bus ride: Without a doubt, the bus ride between Rurrenabaque and La Paz in Bolivia. What was supposed to be an 18-hour ride turned into 30 hours, and ended up being a harrowing, near-death experience on washed-out roads along steep cliffs.
GGG: Whoa! Glad you made it. :) What’s up next for La Viajera?
I’m pretty busy right now between work and school (I’m working on my MFA in creative writing), so my major travel plans are on the back burner for a while. There are a lot of weekend getaways coming up for me in the next couple of months: Germany, France and possibly Portugal or Morocco. My visa is about to expire, so I can’t stay in the Netherlands all year. I’ll spend a couple of months in Argentina in early 2015 to research my thesis, and will then either return to Amsterdam or move to Vancouver, Canada.
Sounds like some great adventures are ahead of you. Good luck with your degree, and thanks for talking with us! To stay caught up with La Viajera, follow her blog, tweet with her or find her on Facebook!
All photos in this post courtesy of Ellen Keith.

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