Miss-adventures in South America: A Conversation with Author Amy Baker
Watch out for men with too much wooden jewellery, Amy. I know what you’re like…you’ll let them sucker you in with their yoga chat but essentially, they’re unwashed…and you don’t want to put your face anywhere near an unwashed penis, let me tell you.
This gem is just one morsel of the travel advice peppering Amy Baker’s first book, “Miss-adventures: A Tale of Ignoring Life Advice While Backpacking Around South America.” Personally, I was instantly really curious about whether she took it or not.
The book is autobiographical in all the right places and swerves into a social satire amplified by the peaks of Huayna Potosí and the humidity of Amazonian rainforest. After quitting her job as an editor to embark on an adventure of a lifetime, Amy comes face to face with her own expectations, insecurities, and stubborn patterns. Armed with heavy tomes of unsolicited advice and eager to find herself, she uncovers the raw, the fun, and the ugly of traveling solo as a young female.
There are no pretty ruffles in the story, but plenty of majestic scenery. All revelations stem from hiccups, missteps, and calamities that make her trip into an adventure. Amy recounts these events with cozy irony and wit. Her book feels like adventuring with a best friend, laughing, crying, getting high, and falling head over heels, even if only for one night — all while adding unexpected destinations and experiences to every wanderluster’s bucket list.
I got the chance to speak to author Amy Baker about travel, writing, and some very bad advice…
Now that you look back on it, what was the single most important lesson from your travels around Latin America?
That the smile on your face is unlikely to ever be completely genuine unless you commit to following your own path in life. Ignoring advice showed me first hand that other people’s opinions, ideas, and expectations aren’t where you should look for your answers – they’ll only confuse you. I learned how important it is to focus on listening to yourself because then you might just hear what makes your heart sing!
What was the first trip you took?
My parents love seeing the world, so I was very fortunate growing up to be taken to Australia, the US, Asia, and all around Europe. They showed me that it’s there to be explored, not just read about, or seen on TV. My first big trip without them was to Thailand with five of my best friends in the summer between university terms. We had a month to race around the country from north to south, and had a lot of fun. Too much fun. I was well and truly hooked from that trip onwards.
What, in your opinion, prevents people in their 20s and 30s from traveling?
Sadly, a lot of the time I think it’s the fear of what they don’t know. Maybe fear of the world too. Worry that leaving for a little while will mean that your career will be jeopardised. That you’ll miss people, that people will forget you. In your 20s there’s a lot of pressure to establish yourself in a career and to meet a partner, so people may be waylaid trying to do that. In your 30s, many are settling down, so to jet off somewhere might make some feel as though they’re wasting time that should be spent trying to establish the life that everyone thinks you should have at that age.
I feel like a lot of people prevent themselves from doing it. If you’re looking for a reason not to go – there are a billion excuses you can use. Then of course you have the people telling you all the reasons why they didn’t do it. Their doubts and fears. If you listen to that, you might end up thinking it’s too much of a risk.
In the run-up to heading to South America, I had a lot of people telling me all the reasons I shouldn’t go. Lots of scary, crazy ideas about what I was due to encounter. If I’d been any less stubborn, I might have not gone. A lot of my female friends told me how brave they thought I was for doing it alone – “Oh, I’d love to do that but I’m not brave enough”, or “I’m not sure I’d like being alone. It sounds scary”. It made me sad. Women get told a lot of things in life about how we should behave and what we’re capable of – it’s hard not to listen, but I do think these expectations and opinions of what women should be doing, means a lot don’t get to do what they want.
Sadly, I think a lot of people put too much emphasis on what they should be doing, and not enough on what they dream of doing.
How is traveling in your 30s different from, say, your 20s?
I think travelling in your twenties is about opening your eyes. Realising what’s out there and the potential that you have in life. Speaking personally, travelling in my twenties was all about exploration. I wanted to have fun and that was it. I didn’t really give much thought to what I was getting from the experience. I do think it gave me a sense of what was out there, and my place in it all, which made me aspire to find what would ultimately make me happy.
I paid way more attention when I was 30. The constant thought in the back of my head was, ‘what am I learning here?’ Travelling solo also made a huge difference. It finally made me comfortable with myself, and forced me to address behavioural patterns I hadn’t had the headspace or time to examine back home. In your 30s you know yourself better anyway – and then you travel and you learn waaaay more. I can’t wait to travel in my 40’s!
How true are the pieces of advice in the book? What was the best and worse travel advice you received in real life?
I received all of the advice I receive in the book in some way. I may have jazzed up the actual snippets, or combined a couple, but essentially I was on the receiving end of all of them. Some of the most ridiculous: “Try not to fall in love with everyone you meet. I can see it now, bone through your nose, baby on each tit,” and “Over here you know who looks dangerous. Over there, you’re going to have to relearn who’s safe and who might slit your throat…and quickly!” These are word for word exmples. Ridiculous!
The best advice I received was to trust my instincts. It sounds obvious, and sometimes I did the complete opposite, but in general, it served me very well.
The worst advice was probably a lot of the stuff to do with the opposite sex, purely because there was so much of it, and having so many people think they were entitled to an opinion on my love life drove me nuts! A lot of people clearly thought I was travelling exclusively to meet men, and although that was a wonderful perk, it certainly wasn’t my main aim. It’s annoying that such emphasis is put on romance, and on finding love being the ultimate thing for women to aspire to. Love’s bloody great, but it shouldn’t be the only thing we’re taught to pursue relentlessly.
Your storytelling is both hilarious and raw, sometimes to the point of being uncomfortable. Was this intentional?
Absolutely! Most of life is hilarious and raw after all, why cover that up? It was important to me to be a genuine depiction of a woman. We do some stupid stuff, have some crazy thoughts, and behave in many ways we shouldn’t – yet that kind of honesty about what it’s actually like to be an ‘imperfect’ woman has only just recently started being depicted. I wanted to be honest about the thoughts I’d had, and the things that had happened because it’s the real experience, it was funny, and I wasn’t ashamed of it!
Laughter and awkwardness are a fave combo of mine so it was a conscious decision to take it there. When I was creating my first drafts, I was writing how I wanted to come across, rather than how I genuinely am. I was trying to portray a me that didn’t exist, and who was kind of a dick! It didn’t flow and it wasn’t funny, because I was constantly trying to figure out what a cool person might have done in the same scenario – and I didn’t know because I’m not that person! The minute I started writing how I think, how I talk, and how I actually behave, it started to flow. Yeah it’s uncomfortable to read (and embarrassing) but it was comfortable to write because it’s honest, and I think it’s the honesty that makes people laugh, because they can relate to it.
What advice do you have for anyone dreaming about dropping out of the race to travel?
Do it. If there’s even a niggle in your head telling you that it’s something you want to do – you should just do it. You won’t regret it. If you hate it, at least you’ll know that you tried rather than not going and forever wondering whether it would have been the best thing you ever did. Fuck that. The rat race will always be waiting – you can slot back in – chances are you won’t want to though, so be warned.