Ten years ago, I met an Australian girl named Phoebe in my first year at university in Melbourne. This girl was a firecracker who decided to backpack Europe alone for five months when we were 19. I thought it was preposterous because I had never heard of anyone, much less a powerless girl like me, doing such a thing. She was the person who planted the idea in my head of adventures beyond my imagination. I thought – if she can do it, so can I.
In 2012, I embarked on my first solo journey to the United States and Mexico. My parents were terrified when I told them I was visiting a country that is stereotyped as being rife with crime, drug cartels and tacos. To put them at ease and to build my own confidence, I decided to join an organised adventure tour that took us across the southern and eastern parts of Mexico over 18 days. I experienced wondrous things such as ancient Aztec and Mayan ruins spread across lush forests, petrified waterfalls, andcenotes- pools underground where we could swim. We went to a Lucha Libre match – Mexican wrestling where we wore colourful masks just like the wrestlers.
I went on bar crawls and drank copious amounts of local tequila and mezcal that had worms and spiders at the bottom of the bottle. I rode a horse for the first time to an ancient church perched atop a hill in Oaxaca which was a terrifying experience. We had to give the horses instructions in Spanish, and I did not know a single word. We stayed at aneco-resort in the middle of the jungle in Palenque where I watched in fascination as skilled women twirled fire on sticks and balls for our entertainment. I decided at that moment that I would learn fire twirling at some point in my life.
Those two days in Palenque has stayed with me until today for it was the first time I saw people living such an unconventional life. Travellers and nomads from all around the world gathered there, and they radiated an energy that was palpable in the air and so very attractive. I wanted to feel the freedom that they were experiencing.
And then after a number of years, I did.
In 2016, after three years of dreaming, scheming, and saving, I set off to travel the world for as long as possible. My intention was to travel, volunteer and work for two years across Europe, the Middle East and eastern and southern Africa.
I started my journey in Spain and Portugal. In just a week, I settled comfortably into my nomadic life. I stayed in traveller’s hostels where I befriended people from all around the world. In Madrid, I went on walking tours which led me to the most Picturesque public parks with intricately carved water fountains and families picnicking in the sunshine. I accidentally stumbled upon a jamon-eating competition in the ancient town of Toledo. Thousands of people ate the salty Spanish pork, washing it down with beer and attempting to set a Guinness World Book record. In Barcelona, I couch-surfed with a local who took me to an authentic underground Flamenco show. I was mesmerised with the passion and intensity with which the dancer moved. I also struggled in Spain as I realised that barely anyone spoke English and most of the signs and menus were only in Spanish.
The next country on my journey that I loved most was Croatia. I have always felt very connected to bodies of water, and especially the ocean. Croatia had some of the most stunning beaches and islands I had ever seen. I fell in love with a sailor on Hvar and lived with him on his boat for three weeks. To fall in love on an island that resembled paradise was one of the most stunning experiences in my life. We would sail around all day and I would jump off the boat into the crystal blue cool ocean, letting the waves drift over me. It was a period of time in my life that I wish I could have frozen and stayed in for eternity.
In Morocco, I started a storytelling project called Sister Orator where I had intimate conversations with local women from all walks of life and ages. I travelled across the country, from Tangier to Essaouira meeting diverse women and hearing about their childhoods, lives and the challenges they faced as women in their society. Despite the language barrier not being able to speak French or Arabic, I was able to form connections with these women, with the help of translators. This project was so rewarding, I stayed in Morocco for five months, and continued to collect stories of women as I travelled across Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey.
Travelling across 15 countries alone for 15 months is not something my mother or grandmother could have ever imagined, for themselves or for their daughters. We are Nepali women, expectations of our roles in life- the dedicated student, the reserved maiden, the perfect daughter-in-law and the excellent mother have been passed onto us, with minor alterations, through decades. To step outside of these roles in such a radical and unusual way was something that no one in my family had done before.
One of the greatest gifts travel has given me is connection to the shared humanity of 7.6 billion humans. I remember the first time I realised that no matter what tiny corner of the globe I was in, although the people around me did not look like me nor speak my language – we all laughed, cried and loved in the same way. To have this realisation in a village in Morocco while trying to buy vegetables in Arabic was profound.
Over the last few years I have come to realise that I do not want the conventional life society has created for women. The life of stability, marriage, children and a beautiful house. Travel to me was never just about going places; it has been an escape door out of the social paradigm of life that women are “supposed” to strive for.
Travel has let me experience a radically free alternative world where I do not have to be defined by social norms, where my gender does not weigh down on me as heavily. My desire for a life of travel is not as simplistic as Peter Pan syndrome or frivolous hedonism. It is about a road less taken by women that makes possible true freedom.
I did not understand these political motives of my choices ten years ago. Now as I get older, it is undeniable that a life of movement is so much deeper than mere indulgence. A nomadic life is not only about challenging the social expectations enforced on women; it provides a glittering, irresistible example of a life entirely of our design, if only all of us had the privilege of pursuing it.