Hi, Hannah here. I had the pleasure of meeting Tej Patel while we boondocked in the Tetons. She’s currently car/tent camping around the USA as a solo female traveler. She goes for long hikes by herself in bear country (!) and runs off of pizza and chia seeds. I’m so excited to highlight this strong, inspiring woman today on the blog!
Tell me about yourself. Who are you? Who do you travel with?
I’m Tej: a writer, teacher, and explorer. I’m a solo female traveler–by feet, car, van, bus, train, or plane.
How long have you been RVing?
Currently, I’ve been traveling in a car. It’ll be about three weeks today. But I’ve been on the road for two years now.
What was your catalyst for starting the RV lifestyle?
I was working nonstop for almost four and a half years. I was so deep into work that I had little time for my family or friends or myself. One day, I just woke up and I booked a flight to India first thing in the morning because I missed my family. And I went there and the love and generosity I felt around me (from family yes, but also from neighbors and strangers), I couldn’t give that up.
It really opened my eyes as to what’s important and how short life can be. I realized happiness can only be achieved from love and that feeling of unity. I decided to do something I’ve always wanted to do: travel and meet people all over the world to see how they live.
So from there, I went to Thailand. Then, I came back to America, sold my car, put my stuff in storage and took a one way flight to Europe.
What is your rig?
Currently, my rig is a Mazda and a tent.
Did you do anything to renovate your RV? If so, what?
The only major addition I made to the car was I built a mosquito guard out of petticoat lining I bought from the fabric store and velcro strips. I put that over the sun roof so I could leave it open the times I slept in the car.
Some places on this road trip, I knew I would only be there for a day so I put the backseats down and made a little bed so I wouldn’t have to set up a tent each night. Works super well if you’re alone!
What are your “must see” destination(s)?
Right now I’m loving all the national parks and forests we have in this country. But as far as places I’d like to go, Africa is on top of the list followed closely by South America.
What advice would you give to someone considering the RV lifestyle?
You don’t have to plan every single thing on your trip, but at least have a good sense of where you are going on a map and find a few places that you really want to camp in along the way. Be open to changing your plans; if you really like it somewhere, its okay to stay longer.
Other than that, don’t stay in your car, tent, or RV! Get out there and talk to people and listen to their stories. Be okay with not showering every single day. Longest I’ve gone is 13 days but I wiped down with wet wipes and used dry shampoo and it felt almost like a real shower. And my hair actually feels a lot healthier from not being washed everyday.
What are the best and worst parts of life on the road?
I would say the worst part of traveling alone is being away from family and friends, and missing out on birthdays, anniversaries and just normal everyday moments. Sometimes loneliness kicks in; there may be a few bad days. But those days are few and far between and the perks definitely outweigh the other things.
The best parts about traveling is that you feel the pulse of life wherever you go. That constant change of landscape, weather, people, places, animals, accents and languages, food, music–I need that change. The exhilaration you get from the momentum of being on the road, it feels like being born again. Yes, you miss out on your own family’s moments maybe but the people you meet on the road will become like a second family. You get to experience moments in their lives and that love and kindness is no different from the love and kindness your family shows you.
Now, I feel like I have family in different parts of the world I care deeply about. My friend, Olga, has been storing my suitcase for me in Czech Republic for a little over a year now. When her and her husband moved, they took my bag with them. That’s what family does for you.
Does traveling solo get lonely? What has been your experience making connections while traveling?
I think everyone experiences loneliness whether alone or in a group sometimes even. Life on the road does get lonely sometimes, and there’s no avoiding that. But it helps if you don’t allow yourself to feel alone. When I travel, I get to know the people around me and strike conversations with whoever I encounter. I feel more connected to the world when I’m traveling than when I’m in one place. As far as connections, I have friends now in Russia, Thailand, Europe, and across America that I would do anything for should they need it and vice versa. I’ve met people on buses, trains, planes, concerts, restaurants, bars, bathrooms in bars, on hikes and on runs…anywhere where there are people really.
What advice would you give solo female travelers?
1. Plan your route and have a general sense of where you’ll stay. If you’re camping in a free campground, read the reviews other campers have written. If you’re booking an airbnb, likewise, read the reviews. If you feel unsafe to sleep somewhere, don’t think twice just be on your way.
2. Get to where you need to go with plenty of daylight left in case you need to leave.
3. Avoid late nights in cities if you can (unless you know the city).
4. If you’re going to be out of range, make sure your family knows that so they don’t worry.
5. Don’t be afraid to trust strangers. I’ve met more people that are kind and awesome and the bad ones are few and far between.
Do you feel safe when you travel alone?
Mostly, yes. If I don’t feel safe somewhere, I get out. Once, I felt uncomfortable with a male airbnb host so I quickly booked another airbnb and got out of there. Other than that, I haven’t had many bad experiences where I felt my safety at risk.
I try to check the safety of any city I go to and cut down on late nights. I tell my family my general location if I can especially if I’m going on a long hiking or backpacking trip and won’t have cell service.
Do you work on the road? How has traveling changed your day-to-day work life?
Currently, no I don’t. I’m headed to California for a job soon though, and I used to teach English online. My work life is completely different: I went for working 70 plus hours a week to working almost none. Yes, I took a monetary pay cut but I have a wealth of new experiences now, and more importantly, I’m a lot happier and healthier.
I’ve also done Workaway which is volunteering 15-20 hours a week in exchange for housing and food. I highly recommend solo travelers to travel this way–it will introduce you to locals who know all the best places to go, and you’ll meet other solo travelers who are doing the same thing as you. It’s also a lot cheaper to travel that way–once you cut the expense of housing and food. All you really have to pay for is the transportation to get there and whatever else you feel like buying!
Anything else you’d like to share?
I think we are all born wild…all that other stuff: name, parents, country, culture, society, religion, that comes later. We owe it to ourselves to find out who we really are beneath all that…to go out in the wild and find out. To travel and to see the way other people live in the world and to experience what they are experiencing. And once you see it for yourself, you feel the pulse of life and the love that binds the world together.
People everywhere have shown me so much kindness, trust, and generosity that I wonder if I can even repay it. All I can do is pay it forward. There is way more that connects and binds us than there is that separates us. But you won’t truly know that until you travel and see what’s out there. And I don’t mean travel and stay in a lavish hotel and book bus tours and eat continental breakfasts; get to know the locals and hear their stories, eat what they’re eating (if they eat with their hands and fists, do the same), let them show you their lives and tell you about their culture and country.