I have the strong feeling Melissa Burovac and I could spend many enjoyable hours swapping travel stories. After reading her excellent memoir, Wandering, I was struck by the similarities between our experiences on the road, as well as how we – as women traveling solo – reacted to the people and places we visited.
One of the things I love about Wandering is how Melissa was able to stay ‘in the moment’. After reading her article, ‘How Traveling Abroad Turned Me into a Writer’, I now understand how she did it!
How Traveling Abroad Turned Me into a Writer
By Melissa Burovac
My first experience of living in another country was a somewhat spontaneous RTW (Round the World) trip, beginning with a one-way ticket to Mexico and a pocket full of margarita money from selling my truck. I had long been wanting to travel, but gifted at birth with an awful sense of direction and a giant helping of anxiety, I never imagined I could make it work. My soon-to-be best friend moved to Kauai, where I live, and brought with her tales of exotic countries and fascinating people, and a house full of beautiful artifacts purchased around the world from her years of travel. She persuaded me to face my terror and take the leap — life is short, she told me, get out there and see how much more there is. With her help, I found a place to live at a school in Mexico, a very safe first step until I could get used to being abroad and so far outside my shoe-box-sized comfort zone.
Around this time blogs began to gain massive popularity with ease of use for regular folks, and I thought a simple blog with pictures and short descriptions of my travels would not only serve as an electronic memory book, but would assure my mother that I was safe and did not die in drug cartel crossfire — which was the assumption of most people when I told them I was moving to Mexico.
My travels began with high hopes and expectations; I had instant friends at the school where I lived and this allowed me to explore without too much trouble. I detailed my adventures each evening on my blog, usually at a café or bar while sampling the locally made alcoholic beverages. Life carried on this way for a few months, and it was pretty darn pleasant.
Over time I became worn out being in other countries by myself and talking to other people I’d only see for a day or two; the newness and excitement of each place was not enough to mask my growing anxiety of being lost and alone. I tired of introducing myself over and over again to dozens of people every day — I am normally an introvert and a bit shy — and speaking to so many strangers just so I had someone to talk to was starting to take a toll on my mental energy. Don’t misunderstand, though; I love people, but the need to talk to friends who already knew me was growing, and my desire to make small talk was exhausted.
Instead of cutting my experience abroad short, I spent more time writing in near solitude. Everywhere I went I searched out an uncrowded, quiet spot where I could safely use my computer, and it gave me an excuse to observe and listen to people while not inviting conversation. I felt a part of the culture and scene while not directly being involved; my social anxiety eased and I learned a new way to exist while my mind was screaming to go back home.
Eventually, though, I did go home, and was unprepared for the feedback from my blog. My mom was happy I kept in constant contact through writing; my friends were delighted by the places I visited and the adventures I had; women expressed amazement at doing the entire year abroad solo and eagerly read how it was accomplished — many had never imagined braving the unknown without a man as a travel companion. Most of the time I spent writing was time spent drinking as well, and apparently I’m funny when I’m drunk — adding a bit of comedy to travel tales doesn’t hurt. The comment I heard most often was “You should write a book.” The material was already written, all I had to do was clean up the grammar and random intoxicated rants, and stitch the individual posts into one coherent story. I didn’t know if I could do this, never having written much of anything previously, but getting a job after a year of travel depressed me and I began to dream of a career as an author and traveling more, but in shorter bursts.
The project was not easy; I spent months working 80-hour weeks to create my first book. I worked 40 hours as a bookkeeper to provide myself food and shelter, and spent an additional 40 hours writing, usually sitting on the tailgate of my pickup truck while parked at the beach. I wrote on a $200 laptop with sticky keys, once writing several chapters without the letter ‘m’ until I figured out a small pebble had lodged itself in the keyboard.
My first travel book, Wandering, was published in June, 2014 after what seemed like an excruciatingly painful mental effort. Even though it did not become an instant best seller, or even provide me with enough income to quit my day job, I am proud of the book and what I learned by writing it. I developed a new kind of discipline — skipping social events with friends, or even watching TV, so I could make time to write. I developed a real love of writing and have since published another novel, Sylvie Writes a Romance, and several short stories and articles on a variety of topics. As a result of blogging, I also began a personal journal to help myself when life gets more complicated than normal.
My first adventure abroad created my habit of writing, and it has changed my life for the better. I hope I continue to create new work, and am able to use what I’ve learned about all aspects of writing, editing, and marketing to help other authors fulfill their dreams of publishing.
About the Author
Melissa is a writer and photographer on Kauai, Hawaii. An avid outdoorswoman, Burovac enjoys outrigger paddling—both one-man and six-man—SUP, running, surfing, sailing, and scuba diving, as well as yoga.
She is always up for adventure and loves doing things that scare her a little. She is the author of Wandering (2014) and Sylvie Writes a Romance, “a feel-good romantic comedy with a resilient heroine” according to Kirkus Indie Review.
Traveling solo as a woman certainly has its ups and downs, but Melissa Burovac will be the first to tell you to embrace the adventure as you encounter it.
Facing her fortieth birthday as a single woman in a job she was tired of, Burovac decided to “do something.” Always keen for adventure, she chose to buy a one-way ticket to Mexico-and quit her job, sell her beloved Jeep, and store all her belongings.
Though she’d gone on trips abroad before, Burovac didn’t feel like she’d ever earned the title of “traveler.” But that was about to change.
“Wandering” relates the adventures, and misadventures (she encounters so many major weather events that her friends start predicting where the next disaster will strike based on her next destination), of her nine months traveling through Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Cuba, Australia, Cambodia, and Thailand. Her stories will crack you up-and they will inspire you. As someone with no sense of direction, no ability to plan, and plenty of social anxiety, her experiences prove that anyone who wants to travel “can”!
Enjoy this post? Check back Monday to read another travel-related article, this time by international educator and long-time expat Jille Dobbe.