Her name is Eliza Massey. She’s 57 years old and she’s riding her motorcycle around a good chunk of the world over a period of 18 months…all on her own. I met Eliza while in Palolem, Goa, in the south of India, just a couple of weeks ago. Her mighty BMW G650, complete with a “USA” sticker on the side and a license plate from the state of “Maine”, had caught my attention when I first saw it and after trying to locate the owner for a couple of days, I finally tracked her down.
And it turns out Eliza was nice enough to sit and chat with me for a couple of hours on the balcony of my beach hut one evening. We just sat there talking travel, about our lives, about what it’s like to be a solo female traveler in much for the world (which I knew little about of course), and the more I heard her speak, the more I wanted to share her story right here.
So, for those of you afraid to travel on your own, for those of you who think that it’s impossible for a solo female traveler to truly get out there and explore the world, for those of you who think that there’s no time left for you to achieve your travel goals, this is one post you might want to read.
Who Is Eliza Massey?
Eliza smiles often. She loves people and she’s clearly intent on enjoying her life to the fullest. She also loves the fact that while she’s traveling the world, her daughter is backpacking around Australia at the same time.
From what I could tell there are only two things she doesn’t like about travel. The first is the reduction in genuine human interaction these days due to our obsession with technology, with travelers always on their phones and tablets when they could be looking up and enjoying a new experience. The second, which I’ll talk about more in a moment, is when travelers complain about, instead of appreciate, their travel experiences.
Eliza began her journey some 14 months ago in the town of Camden, Maine and has so far driven her BMW motorcycle throughout the US, Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama….then crossing into South America via the San Blas Islands before continuing on through Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Argentina….and then…..she shipped her bike across the Atlantic and rode through South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Mozambique, Malawi, Kenya and Tanzania….at which point she shipped her bike to Mumbai…and started riding south. She hit Goa, threw her stuff down and planned to relax for a couple of weeks before riding around India for four months, at the end of which she will finally return to the USA.
As I listened to her tales, which included biking through tribal battles in Kenya, meeting mayors and dignitaries, invitations to camel races, being interviewed on South African television, random radio appearances, riding along empty roads lined with government snipers in the drug-cartel controlled north of Mexico, getting lost over and over again in Central America, meeting incredible people who helped her out when she needed assistance in the middle of Malawi and on and on, and all of which she told with that trademark smile on her face, I couldn’t help but find myself even more inspired than usual.
“You’re never tool old to do a trip by yourself,” she told me. “You just need to get up and make it happen. One day I just woke up and realized, ‘Sh*t, I can go’ and so I did.” Hell yeah she did.
Travel Is All About The People
The reason Eliza travels is quite simple. It’s all about the people for her. Sure, there are certain destinations and sights that she would like to see but at the end of the day, she just rides along the roads of the world with the sole goal of interacting with new and interesting people as much as she possibly can.
She believes in a “we are all one” philosophy (which she talks about on the ‘About Me’ page of her blog) where travelers should celebrate the human spirit by going out into the world and meeting its people in order to bring back those experiences and share the positive lessons learned with those at home. And every time Eliza travels overseas, she comes home with another bundle of such positive lessons to share, with even more love for her fellow human beings and with an even stronger belief that despite our differences, people all around the world are the same.
And if you’re ever in her presence, you’ll instantly notice that she puts her words into action every moment of the day in the way that she treats the people she comes across. “The way we treat our fellow human beings is extremely important,” she said at one point and she’s not joking. She is always polite, interested, understanding and so culturally aware no matter who she is speaking with that it’s no surprise everyone around her tends to be smiling as well.
In fact, she takes her cultural awareness quite seriously, which leads to her feeling of frustration when other travelers start complaining about certain things. Her typical reaction when she overhears complaining is…
“What are you complaining about? Who cares if your hummus in India doesn’t taste 100% authentic or that there is no electricity for an hour or the wifi isn’t as strong as you want? Have respect for locals…you’re in a different part of the world, surrounded by a different way of life, a different culture…so don’t complain, understand how your fellow human beings, those who are living in the places you are visiting, live their lives. Don’t complain just because it’s not what you expected or you are unable to live the same as you do back at home. Just love and respect others instead, appreciate and experience and share in their culture.”
As for Eliza, she never gets upset, simply because “there is never a reason to. If I get lost, why get mad? If my bike breaks down? There’s no point in getting angry. I look at every situation I face as an opportunity to meet new people and to have new, educational experiences. As a result, nothing is ever worth getting upset over.”
Safety Advice For The Solo Female Traveler
Eliza tells me that she’s definitely “pro-solo female travel”, something she feels is “very safe on the whole, but you can’t get drunk and walk around late at night.” Like many solo female travelers, she believes that common sense goes a long way, and without it, you’ll be in trouble. She also believes that you need to act responsibly when in new surroundings and that females on their own do need to be a little more cautious before trusting people they meet.
Of course, given her vast travel experiences, and given the destinations she has visited and the fact that she always travels solo, I knew that Eliza would have much more to say about safety, so I asked her to share some more of her own advice. And this is what she shared…
- Safety is about how you present yourself to other people. If you walk into a restaurant alone, don’t just walk straight in blindly or else you’ll look lost if it’s not what you expected. Scan the situation before going inside, make sure you feel confident before walking through the door.
- Ask yourself questions while moving around each day. Is the street dark? Are there other people around? Do I know what’s on the other side of the park? Are there potential trouble spots ahead? Taking one minute to think things through is always a wise decision.
- Don’t rush while traveling. Walk slowly, have patience and relax. Every now and then stop and turn around, look all around you, make sure you know where you are, where you’re going and make sure nobody seems to be following you.
- Pay attention to your intuition. If someone you see or talk to seems a little ‘off’, or a particular place doesn’t seem right, just change course. Always listen to your intuition because it’s usually right. Either way, it’s still better to be wrong but safe than to be right but in a bad situation.
- You can’t be shy or worry about hurting other people’s feelings – again, if you feel that something might be wrong or you just aren’t comfortable, you need to get out of the situation without worrying about how the other person might feel. Stay polite, don’t get angry, just be firm and get away.
- When communicating with strangers, always make eye contact and display confidence, giving sure answers when asked questions. You want a person you meet to immediately understand that you are a confident individual who cannot be taken advantage of.
Clearly, Eliza feels that being aware of your surroundings at all times is the key to safe travels and I absolutely agree. Bad situations often happen when we temporarily forget about common sense and we rush into some situation without taking a moment to observe where we are or what we are getting ourselves into.
Of course, Eliza also understands that at her age, she often earns automatic respect in many countries, respect as a mother, as an older woman, and that she might not have to deal with all of the same challenges that younger female travelers might face. However, her advice should not be ignored. It’s all based on real experiences, the kind of extensive and diverse travel experiences that most of us can’t even imagine.
And the fact that when I met her, some 13 months into her trip, she was still loving every single minute of her adventure, just shows that she knows what she’s talking about. I for one would listen to anyone who can hop on her motorcycle alone and roll through regions of the world that even the most intrepid travelers wouldn’t dare visit and who can come out the other end with nothing but a smile on her face and tales of wonderful experiences to share.
As our conversation came to an end that evening in Palolem, Eliza stared out at the Indian Ocean before us and, with a slight, yet serious, nod of her head stated, “women should travel more and not listen to the negative stories out there…the overwhelming majority of females have absolutely positive experiences…don’t listen to the negativity because the reality doesn’t match all that bad stuff…just get out there.”
She then stood up, took one last swig of her Kingfisher beer and, before parting ways, decided to share one final thought with me. “But no matter what,” she said, “you do have to love people to make your travels a success.”
And I don’t think anyone would disagree with that.
Any solo female travelers have your own safety advice to share? Any thoughts on Eliza’s story, travel style or tips?