Interview: Paper Girls with Becky Finley

Tell us a little bit about yourself!

I’m 22, I’ve spent the last 3 years travelling 22 countries and 20 states in 5 epic vehicles. I love hiking and eating and sitting on a boat in my bikini, and I haven’t experienced a full winter in 4 and a half years. I’ve had 5 tattoos, 2 broken hearts, 14 jobs, and over 100 hours in a plane. I can probably speak like 20 words in other languages.

How do you fund your traveling?

I work like a dog! I work and travel; I arrived in Sydney with around $1200 when I was 19, and my first week was spent exploring and finding a job. I worked at Taronga Zoo for 2 months, and ended up with maybe $4000, which I spent on several months backpacking in Asia. Then I restart and work again. The main thing is I truly believe I can get awesome jobs, so I do. I’ve worked in the zoo, promoting in a bar in Laos, as a rock climbing instructor, an outdoor adventure guide, an artist liaison and music booking agent, renovating a house on the beach in Hawaii… I don’t work for minimum wage because I’m worth more and after a days work my employers believe that.

What would you say are the most underrated and overrated parts of traveling?

The most underrated is the fact that you are only responsible for yourself, and you have so much time to just be whoever the fuck you want to be. You become entirely selfish and it’s really healthy and wonderful. The most overrated is the perception of how expensive and glamorous travelling is. I spend less travelling for a month than most people do at home in a month. Unfortunately, travellers contribute to the glamorous perception of travelling themselves, we all post pictures on yachts, but I’m less likely to take pictures of my hands swollen with bed bugs, or post about shitting my pants, lost on the way home from some dodgy street food. (I always want to post this but don’t want to be overly obscene).

Have there been moments where you have feared for your safety overseas?

In general, no. Mostly I put an enormous amount of trust in foreign strangers, which they totally deserve. I have done same insanely stupid shit though. I only feel scared after when I am looking back at the stories. Like, when I volunteered in Cambodia, it wasn’t through an agency, I just found a handwritten note in a hostel. I got on the back of this boys bike, he had one leg, because he had lost the other in a land mining accident that had killed his brother and sister. The ride alone was over an hour, he could barely balance us both, and he had a helmet but I didn’t. We got to this little village, I had no idea where I was, and no phone. No one had seen a white person for three months, and I was told the road was built on the bodies of those killed under Pol Pot. The boy who picked me up was the only one that spoke English, and when I asked if I could walk through the village, he said yes, but to be careful. The men followed me and leered, and he said some of the dogs were “bad”. I slept in a room in the house on stilts, with a bed frame but no bed, and a rat that scurried up the wall when I entered. The boy said the police came to sleep in a hammock under the house while I was there, because otherwise I wouldn’t be safe. At the time, the experience was really wonderful, the kids were so sweet and all called me ‘teacher’, but looking back, it could have ended pretty differently.

What is your opinion on souvenirs — and how do you regulate the acquiring of keepsakes when you’re backpacking?

I love souvenirs, not so much of places, but of life changing experiences or spectacular people. Regulation is super easy – do I want to carry that? Jewellery and tattoos are my go-to souvenirs. Also little scars and holes in my clothes are always cherished. I do buy souvenirs for other people; a point of pride was managing to bring my brother back a cobra in a bottle.

What is something you have had to sacrifice in order to live a nomadic lifestyle?

This is really hard to put this into words. If you have ever read Paper Towns, you might know what I mean when I say I feel like this lifestyle has made me a paper girl. I guess I feel like I’m often seen as the sum of the crazy experiences I have had, instead of a real life person. I often find myself in relationships where I am put on this adventure-girl pedestal, and expected to do no wrong, because I am just a character. My last ex told me, as I was lying in bed with a broken back after a sky-diving accident, that I wasn’t fun anymore. This sort of thing has been recurring for me; not that I stop being fun, but that I am not allowed to be human, and handle things badly sometimes. I feel like I have to be pretty careful now to select people in my life that aren’t fare-weather friends. Of course, travelling has also given me a family of the absolute best friends I have ever had.

How has traveling impacted your personal identity?

The biggest thing might be the family it has given me. The people I love that inspire me daily to be the best, and feel loved and adored and constantly supported. Travelling allows me to constantly reflect on who I am and who I want to be, as I head to a new place and dream up a new life. I feel like I have lived so many lives in the last four years. I feel like everything is possible, and anything is likely. Functionally, when I left for my first adventure, I called myself a Kiwi, and now I feel like an American. I feel out of place in the land I grew up in, and like I have explored many facets of my identity and found a place and people I want to call home. My travelling also led me to what I am now studying, and I already identify as an anthropologist. I don’t think I knew what anthropology was before I travelled.

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Why I Hate The Word Wanderlust

If we are going to compile a list of travel words that need to go away, then we can start with wanderlust.

Wanderlust is defined as “a strong desire to travel”. The urban dictionary has felt the need to further define wanderlust as “a very popular hashtag used on Instagram by girls who love to show off in all of their journeys”. No comment.

Before I start receiving hate letters from Pinterest users, allow me to clarify that I have nothing against people who like to travel. In fact, if I were, I would be something of an enormous hypocrite. I have read many intriguing articles written by bloggers who feel that wanderlust preaches inauthentic experience. However, my problem lies in the terminology.

We can collapse wanderlust into two words: wander and lust. While I have no qualms with the former, I do hold serious reservations about the latter. Lust – a passionate desire for something – has the implicit connotation that this object one longs for is not within reach. When men describe themselves as lusting after a woman (or vice versa – I’m nothing if not a feminist), they are generally referring to someone they cannot attain. Lust is unrequited, if you will.

If we apply this unrequitedness to wanderlust, we observe well-intending hash-tagging individuals as people whom consume all their time with pining after that escape but rarely take the measures necessary to turn dreams into reality. Am I generalising? Unashamedly so. But one consultation of Tumblr demonstrates my point.

For most people, travel doesn’t have to be something that exists purely in theory. Saving to finance a trip can be soul-crushing and demands sacrifice, but it’s not impossible. I saved up enough money to travel to Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia in late 2016 after ten months of working five part-time jobs on top of full-time university. It was social suicide – and admittedly not the best for my mental health – but it got me those plane tickets.

Wikipedia (everyone’s favourite reliable online source) discusses how wanderlust might “… reflect an intense urge for self-development by experiencing the unknown, confronting unforeseen challenges, getting to know unfamiliar cultures, ways of life and behaviours”.

I like that, I really do. Furthermore, I completely understand where people using the term for this purpose are coming from. But to put it bluntly, I feel like people are abusing the term and using it to make excuses. If you want to travel, formulate a plan and invest your energy into making it come to fruition.

In the words of the Travel Playbook: Start Traveling. Stop Lusting.

Photos sourced from Unsplash.

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This Is Why I Travel

During a philosophy class last semester, I stumbled across a particular term: a posteriori. It means to know something through experience. And as it happens, a posteriori is how I would describe my knowledge of the number one reason I travel.

If you had asked me four months ago why I traveled, the answer to that question would have been simple; I travel to meet new people, to explore new places, to try new food and to learn new things. Whilst that answer isn’t necessarily wrong, there is another reason that now tops that list. I cannot think of one word to describe it; all I know is that I only discovered it through experience.
There we were – my friend and I – strolling through central Hanoi during a walking tour. We had just exited the Ho Chi Minh Museum when suddenly a couple of Vietnamese children who couldn’t have been more than five years old ran smack bang into us. One wrapped his arms around my legs and clung to me like a limpet. I had to shoot my arms out to capture my balance.

“I’m so sorry!” a woman apologised, descending upon us and peeling the child from my legs. My friend and I laughed and reassured her that it was no worries. We made to leave when the woman caught my arm and asked us a question. I didn’t quite catch her properly, but gathered that she was wondering if we would be interested in taking a quick English class with the children. My friend and I exchanged nervous glances; we were predisposed to be wary of scams or getting roped into something dodgy that would result in some form of payment – let’s be realistic, this was Southeast Asia – but in the end our manners got the better of us and we let her drag us across the bridge and to a square where the rest of the group were.

It turned out that she was the teacher of a class of about thirty students from an international language school. The children were all around the age of five and were wearing matching uniforms. I’ll never forget the way their faces lit up when my friend and I walked over. There was another teacher, and she and the first woman divided the children into two different groups and then allocated my friend and I to a class each.

I was given a set of A4 laminated cards, each with different pictures on them, and instructed to ask questions related to the content. The children would then answer in English to practice their language skills. For example, I might hold up a card with an illustration of kids playing outside in a playground, and ask how many ducks were swimming in the pond, or what colour the monkey bars were. The children would collectively shout out the correct answers in perfect English.

The feeling I got from being a part of this short yet valuable activity really made an impact on me. I got a rush of adrenaline every time the children got the answer right and cheered. The teacher asked if they could take a picture with me, and they all scrambled to stand next to me. I couldn’t wipe the grin off my face as fifteen pairs of tiny hands reached out to hold mine as we posed for the camera.

In that moment, I knew. I knew that this was why I traveled. I don’t just travel for the people, the places or the food. I travel for those small, unexpected moments where you’re pinching yourself to make sure you’re awake. I travel for those rewarding experiences that inspire you to flip your life upside down. I travel for the exuberance and utter joy that was on those children’s faces as I took my English class that day in the middle of the bustling Hanoi square. I knew very well that for those children, the memory of the girl with the red hair who asked them about ducks and monkey bars would fade in time, but what mattered was the impression I made in those few short minutes.

I travel for the times where – after rendering myself broke to afford a trip – I feel like the richest person on the planet.

All photos of Vietnam sourced from unsplash.com

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