Attempting to tell the Bag Lady origin story and how I managed to adventure to all 7 World Wonders, solo, is challenging. Believe it or not, writing from a place of vulnerability remains a struggle for this experienced storyteller. But this past (almost) decade has shed some luminous light on the importance of telling this particular part of my story.
Let’s back up to the catalyst, shall we?
Nearing the completion of 2.5 years with the U.S. Peace Corps in (North) Macedonia it was already well into 2017. I found myself fluent in another language, and more fulfilled in my work than I’d ever been. Not to mention that I’d (mostly solo) traveled to over ten countries in and around the Balkans.
With my contract rapidly coming to a close, my time living abroad was seemingly coming to an abrupt end. As I observed my fellow Volunteers scrambling to get back to “life in the States”, I challenged myself with one question, instead.
What exactly was I rushing back to?
Do I stay or do I go?
“I can go visit my friends in Spain!” No…
“I should get lost on several breathtaking beaches in Greece!” Nah…
The inner dialogue played out like this for months with me lacking all desire to go back to the States and “properly adult”. Having zero urge to throw myself back into a 9 to 5, rushing to-and-fro, there’s-never-enough-time-to-breathe, American lifestyle. A lifestyle that I was all too eager to escape from in the first place, I reminded myself.
The untimely passing of my Mother and best friend during my service cemented the weight of my inevitable existential fork in the road. But the time would ultimately come when I needed to make a choice. A choice that would give me space to properly grieve the unexpected loss, offer direction for this new motherless type of existence, and to follow my heart. No pressure!
My heart wanted to race to the countries and continents my Mom and I always wanted to see together. And I deliberated for months for a resolution that would grant me reprieve from my ambivalence. But I started simply by booking a trip to my number one (at the time) dream destination; India. I thought to myself, what better place to face my grief, explore a new culture, and meet new faces from around the globe?
I prayed that my poetic voice—temporarily silenced in the depth of my heartbreak—would find a muse in the fulfillment of traveling to this bucket list destination. The itinerary of the adventure tour was 3.5 weeks with stops including Varanasi, Mumbai, and the Taj Mahal. Tapping away on the keyboard one afternoon whilst researching these destinations, an ad for the New 7 World Wonders found me.
Queue the inspirational wanderlust dust
I read on about the global voting system allowing anyone anywhere to nominate and then vote for the wonder of their choice. Fascinated by reviewing the nominees on the website, I saw that the newest seven were chosen in 2009.
The wheels in my methodic brain began turning and my adventurous heart started pounding. Having visited Rome, and by default, the Colosseum earlier that year, an idea began to formulate. I was suddenly reminded of a standing invitation to visit a friend living near Beijing—a stone’s throw from The Great Wall, also on the winning list of 7.
Light bulbs exploded in my head. The lofty travel goal of adventuring to all 7 World Wonders, solo, was born. Aiming to globetrot to all 7 in a singular year’s time no less. That’s one heck of a gap year for this (then) 35-year-old, Black-American female. Electing to document my journey using only my iPhone, the content captured there later served as the foundation for my adventure travel blog.
Now for the good stuff. The recap of each of these World Wonders in the order that I witnessed them from August 2016 to August 2017.
Italy; Colosseum #1 of 7 (August 2016)
I spent the majority of my time in Itlay on the Amalfi Coast. My days were spent mesmerized by secret swimming holes, ancient history, and men with chiseled faces straight out of fiction novels. I gorged on fresh seafood dishes, and pasta/pizza, and marveled at the sheer size of the lemons.
Adventuring onward to Rome, I did all of the things tourists do: visited Vatican City, and the Pantheon, and lunched by Trevi Fountain. I filled my belly with prosciutto-wrapped melon and sweet white wines sharing internal dialogue with my Mother who was always with me in spirit.
I’ve vivid memories of jubilance staring at the massive structure of the Colosseum; always a looming presence in the distance when in the heart of the city. I approached it slowly, passing Basilicas, and wandering through ancient alleyways. My smile grew wider with every step. The happiness in my heart was preemptive to the then, unknown goal of witnessing all 7 world Wonders, solo. The teeming mass of people conjugating around the ancient amphitheater seemed to be the heartbeat of the entire city. Encouraging my own heart to beat stronger for the consummation of adventure via solo female travel.
India; Taj Mahal #2 of 7 (December 2017)
My time in India was everything one would expect; spiritual, disgusting, colorful, challenging, spicy, and an all-around olfactory experience to remember. I was introduced to the Taj Mahal at sunset from the gardens just behind the grounds. It was a peaceful exchange surrounded by nature; warm breezes and bird calls. Distorted pastels danced across the white marble as birds flew overhead in flocks of ten or more.
Easy winds blew the dust in my hair, but I couldn’t take my eyes away from this monument—a tomb for a loved one lost. At this point, 1.5 years had passed without my Mom on this earth… My shattered heart sang many a sad song on this journey and I tried too hard not to shed tears. Desperately clinging to happy memories and relishing the reality of the adventure before me. It became overwhelmingly clear that my first step in overcoming the power struggle with my grief lay in my inability to embrace vulnerability.
Read more about how it felt when my spirituality and grief collided in The East; Part 2 (Uttarpradesh)
Jordan; Petra #3 of 7 (February 2017)
Snowfall—yes snowfall in the desert—followed a day behind each tour stop. The unanticipated cold temps forced me to bundle myself in no less than four layers to stay warm. Loathing the cold, my temperament often matched my tolerance in the long desert days of my expedition through Jordan.
The biblical history of the region I found to be both inviting and contradictory at once; standing in places of both war and glory. Petra, made of stone and remarkable by design, inspired silence from within me. I was highly introverted and reflective walking the snow-soaked stone steps and contemplating the sophistication of the civilization that carved this place.
The desert was vast and calming, an ideal combination at just the right time in my grieving process. Highlights of my time in Jordan, besides visiting Petra itself, included floating in the Dead Sea and crossing the Israeli border on foot.
The deafening silence of inner reflection is captured in Wadi Rum (The Sound of Silence)
China; The Great Wall #4 of 7 (April 2017)
The honest truth is that I never wanted to visit China. The hazardous air quality, the density of the population, and the lack of hygienic tact are personal justifications as to why. Setting the travel goal to see the New 7 World Wonders, solo, though brought me to the country. All in order to witness (and climb) three different sections of the Great Wall.
Although my bias too often dictated my mood, I often searched—as I do—for positives when the negatives overwhelm me. I made time for plenty of quiet walks and sampled many mystery meats on a stick. But it was the opportunity to reunite with a Peace Corps buddy that was the true highlight of the trip. My time adventuring with her granted me several handfuls of great memories to take away from this otherwise superfluous destination.
History and mucus unite in First Impressions Are Fragile Things.
Peru; Machu Picchu #5 of 7 (May 2017)
Llamas and food are my most poignant memories of Peru. Ancient boulders from temples long ago appear in road medians. And the Spanish colonial architecture almost had me apartment hunting. The altitude took immediate hold and the heart flurries were enough to worry me sick. Still, I was not deterred from my quest and set out on the three-and-a-half-day trek on the Lares Trail through the Andes.
No amount of training could prepare you for the impact of the altitude here. Trust me because I didn’t train at all when I decided to visit this place, no. 5 of 7 World Wonders, solo, and it hit me. A man who’s competed in Iron Man races was also on my group tour, did train for this, and couldn’t get to the top… You either do or don’t make it, basically.
It was with frozen snot and tears stuck to my face, I focused on putting one foot in front of the other to reach the top… Then practically ran to get back down! The beauty of the ancient ruins did more than take my breath away, it navigated poetry from the depths of my being to the surface as I stood in awe of the majestic landscape wrapped in mist.
Read the travel story come to life in Old Mountain.
Brazil; The Redeemer #6 of 7 (June 2017)
More often than not I was confused for a local and had several one-sided conversations in Portuguese that filled me with glee. Stomping through the tiny walkways of Rocinha while soaking in the hustle of this culture gave me Rio served on a platter.
Witnessing art through dance, on canvas, in textiles and jewelry, and even in baking was an extraordinary experience. The cool temperature of the sea along the Tropic of Capricorn on my toes. Walking the beachfront of Ipanema humming the famous melody sharing the same title. Guttural laughs of witnessing sand artists make thongs out of seaweed for their artistic displays of the female backside. All of it feeding my memory bank like quarters in slot machines.
Loving my body on Copacabana where all body types were fitted in bikinis. I sipped caipirinhas and chewed shrimp grilled fresh on the beach. All while I soaked my chocolate skin in the delicious sunshine of the Southern Hemisphere. The Redeemer sitting high on the hillside with an ever-watchful eye and inviting embrace.
Get to know Rio de Janeiro in the River of January.
Brazil highlighted my internal ambivalence around the idea of needing “roots”. This peripatetic life began to catch up with me forcing me to question how long I could keep living out of my backpack. Doubt was becoming more and more common in my internal dialogue revealing the necessity of finding a balance, and quickly. Running parallel to my depression, living in the moment was my biggest challenge at this point in my travels. Writing feverishly, trying to grow my skills along with my vernacular, I found myself creating material that made me proud. Indirectly unlocking the importance of writing less for everyone else and more for myself.
Yucatan; Chichen Itza #7 of 7 (August 2017)
Saving the best for last, Chichen Itza was a homecoming of sorts being the first time in a long time that I was back in North America. Born and raised in San Diego, the Mexican culture has been ever-present in my upbringing and day-to-day existence. Having visited several Mexican cities in the past, the region of Yucatán had escaped me thus far.
Mayan ruins and ancient sports at my fingertips, I was mesmerized by my final World Wonder and was filled with vast emotions of accomplishment. Exploring cenotes, geographical wonders in their own right, and gorging on frijoles con queso (beans with cheese) while practicing my broken Spanish filled my heart with glee.
Travel goals come to life in written form in No. 7
***For more information on the New 7 World Wonders and how they’re voted visit their site as found by clicking here: New 7 Wonders
It’s all too exciting seeing readers from around the world supporting/following my travels. It’s a fond reminder to continue to travel, write & inspire. As I debate where to next don’t forget to follow Meredith San Diego on social media, all of the links can be found on the website header.
Which two of the 7 World Wonders were your favorite?
Hard to say! My most memorable would be the Taj Mahal considering the time in my life that I traveled to India. The most challenging and by default, the most rewarding was undoubtedly Machu Picchu. Trekking three and half days to an elevation of 47,000 meters above sea level had me fearing for my life on more than one occasion. It cemented the beauty of the smallest of pleasures, i.e. a hot shower, and warm/dry clothing. And the reality is that Incans did/do this trail like the back of their hand often and at a MUCH quicker pace in either beautiful or inclement weather.
Which of the 7 World Wonders you experienced as a solo female traveler would you recommend?
Machu Picchu will unequivocally be my suggestion. It is a life-changing experience that, sadly, is rumored to be coming to an end in the next decade or so. The country wants to greatly reduce the amount of tourism on the mountain in order to preserve the site. The journey itself can be done by train, bus, or trekking/hiking so you can get out of it as much or as little adventure as you please.
What did you discover about the culture of those two countries and about yourself?
India reinforced my gratitude. To have been born a female in a free nation granted me countless opportunities for education and employment. A country that has an established institution to monitor animal and child cruelty. Witnessing oppression and widespread poverty changes you in an instant. So does the smiling faces and kindness of strangers, which were in equal abundance among the chaos.
Peru is a nation rich with ancient history tangled in modern contemplation. Incan ruins are all around and the country’s effort to preserve history and educate visitors was astounding. My time in the Amazon along the Madre de Dios River poured nature into my thirsty soul and I lapped it up like a dehydrated animal presented with fresh water. I had always known the impact of nature on my person, but the Amazon awakened the humanitarian in me. Making me an instant advocate for the preservation and rehabilitation of the rainforest and the indigenous people that depend on it.
What would you say is the 8th Wonder of the World?
I’m an adventurer and a globetrotter, yes, but I am in no way qualified to decide such things. I can say that the South Island of New Zealand has some of the most breathtaking views of nature I have ever seen. Further still, a little spot called Fergburger in Queenstown. These burgers gave my classic double-double, protein style, and animal style fries from my favorite burger joint on the West Coast, In N Out, a serious run for its money!
Solo Travel Tips from Meredith
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The Devil is in the details
Travel discount sites are not a saving grace, but you can use them to your advantage and get the most out of what they have to offer. I have navigated whole pathways of adventure tours based on travel deals on airfare to one region of the World.
I personally utilized G Adventures for this journey. But there are various tours offered at discounted rates on my favorite go-to site, Tourradar.com.
The Devil is in the details
Being impatient while travel planning has bitten me on the booty more than once. Do your best to avoid booking travel details like flights and hotel stays when you’re exhausted. You miss one detail in a time zone change and welp… Though there’s a quick learning curve on this mistake it’s a reminder that spontaneity is your friend, yes, but that organization is your best friend!
Put everything you think you’re going to need for your trip in front of you. I recommend doing this by outfit. Now cut that pile in half. Then take three more clothing items out of the lineup after that. You DO NOT NEED the majority of the stuff you think that you do! The rest of the things you’re convinced you can’t live without, obviously not including prescription medication, etc., you can! You REALLY can.
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Traveling as a solo female traveler can be massively intimidating. Trust me, I get it. I was in your shoes once, too. Now, after 8 years of living abroad, this avid traveler is prime to assist you with whatever your travel needs may be.
- Is there solo traveling backpacking routes on the African continent?
- Which airlines participate & support sustainable travel practices?
- What are the best ways to prepare to move abroad as a solo female?
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