This site began in response to a question (or command) I heard alongside excitement and encouragement from friends and colleagues when they learned that I was going travelling for a while: “you have to start a blog!” This was 2014, the year I started leveraging my privileges in order to visit places unfamiliar to me in an open-ended manner.
My Canadian passport made this nomadism a far more achievable goal. That said, it was inheriting lots of money that really quieted the excuses that might have otherwise kept me from getting on the road when I did.
I became a full-time tourist. New to travelling alone and quite nervous about the risks I thought my gender would exacerbate, I chose to start backpacking in Taiwan. Bloggers blogged that it was a very safe country for female travellers. Indeed, even cautious me happily strolled late into the night in Taiwanese cities I didn’t know.
I made my way west towards Central Asia, where a woman taught me how to travel on a bicycle. This happened because I was saying yes to new opportunities, and because she was tired of travelling alone. Ilona charmed me, not because she assured me that none of my fears would come to pass but because she spoke frankly about the lows of her bike travels.
These moments had included a big spider in her hat, bananas forgotten in her bag in the sweltering tropics, and a monk mistaking her for a sex worker…and not being that open to changing his mind.
I gave away my backpack and rid myself of many of the fourteen pairs of underwear I’d been packin’ (in my culture one generally doesn’t gift their old underwear to someone known to them). Taking their place were panniers and plastic jugs, a tent and stove, a mattress and cooking pot, and a bicycle. Well…that’s an abridged list.
We rode together through parts of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Due in large part to Ilona’s guidance, I learned how to organise my life around bicycle travel after she returned home.
Especially in the first year or so, this focus was extremely engaging for me, though I was never a purist. From day one, “Stan The Bicycle” was loaded onto trucks, buses, boats, taxis, trains and planes when the need or desire arose. Here are two favourite posts about learning to bike travel:
Given that my very first blog post confesses to slacking off while my canoe partner paddled steadily, it’s perhaps surprising I chose to travel in a manner that’s more physical than moving from hostel to hostel by vehicle. I was not a cyclist. Between huffs and puffs I asked Ilona what gear I should use as I climbed the first hill I’d ever pedalled up.
In fact I appreciated that this new style baked in a bunch of exercise. Here was a way to see the world WHILE sitting on my ass, WHILE ALSO addressing the consequences of my deeply entrenched snacking habit.
So, yes, now my tourism came with aches, chafe and helmet hair. Perhaps more compelling were other changes, like having to rely more on others for help. Wherever I visited on my bicycle, the norm was to cross paths with people who offered me notable tolerance, kindness and hospitality. I learned to be more trusting and patient of women and men, of kids and adults.
Simultaneously, bike travel forced me to rely more on myself. I sharpened my intuitions through plenty of trial and error. I felt largely like I was having the time of my life. If stories of my gaffes and delights from bike travelling alone interest you, here are two stories from that time in my life:
I’d happily settled into my new label of “solo female bike traveller” by the time I met someone who was into his equivalent label. Evan fascinated me. He demonstrated such dedication and curiosity to whatever he decided to do or learn about.
We decided that we’d travel together for stints of time, “my tent or yours?” Ok, it wasn’t like that. We slept in one tent but continued to lug around both as we cycled and talked through corners of Georgia, Armenia, Nagorno-Karabakh and Kyrgyzstan.
Travelling together was living together. We had to compromise our treasured independence and agree each day about how we’d approach money, exertion, eating, sleeping and interacting with other people…not to mention where we were going! There was enough common ground between us, which surprised me. I had wanted to try travelling with “Extreme Evan,” but thought I’d be too slow and too mellow.
The common ground was our shared conviction that the “numbers”—speed, distance, country counting—often didn’t correlate with being present and engaged in the places we were visiting.
Living this conviction was—is—easier said than done. Evan had the speed readout of his bike computer taped over. That helped him slow down…a bit. Then he bravely removed the computer entirely, installing it on my bike. I never used it.
I had different vices that interfered with being the visitor I aspired to be. Many an evening I’d scroll Instagram or Facebook or others’ travel blogs, instead of choosing to mentally be wherever I happened to be physically. And then, of course, we were both caught up in the cocoon of infatuation that tunes much else out, even if dating is taking place in places both of us had changed so much in our lives to be able to visit.
Oh dear…these hindsight stories. They tend to smooth the rough edges of complex decisions. I liked Evan the traveller for so many reasons. What’s more, I really liked Evan the human. He felt similarly. Gradually we entered into a relationship, becoming partners who lived together on the road.
We thought we’d remain on the Asian continent, but that didn’t happen. Both of these posts about Evan record my partner through my eyes in African countries.
In 2016 I started sharing most of my travel writing privately via an email list. It’s tempting to say that I did this to broaden the scope of meganjamer.com beyond travel blogging. In truth, I’d become afraid of writing in public.
We had recently relocated from Asia to Africa. I was grappling with my own views and actions relating to privilege, racism, tourism, volunteering, humanitarianism…the list goes on. That they confronted me more in Africa was probably part of the problem or perhaps a symptom of it.
I didn’t know what I wanted to write, or how. Not wanting to stop writing entirely, I began emailing private travel updates to friends, acquaintances and family.
Writing privately helped me find the courage to once again write publicly. This wasn’t the intention, but I’m so glad this happened! A while after I started using TinyLetter to send my travel updates, I decided to make the archive and sign-up form public. When we met people in our travels and they asked if I was writing about our travels, increasingly I’d direct them to sign up for the TinyLetter.
For so long in my mind these travel updates have been public—the more the merrier—but back when I started writing them, private was all that I could bear.
Here are two TinyLetters that I am particularly proud of:
I tried harder to follow my curiosity and convictions in my writing, both in my travel updates and in blog posts for this site. These three posts were particularly difficult and rewarding for me to write. They either demonstrate my ability to wield very long-form writing into a coherent whole, my tendency to ramble, or maybe a bit of both.
- A few things that happened after I inherited a quarter of a million dollars
- On what we call wild meat
- On photographing people
Why do I keep blogging if I started simply because others asked for it? Well, thanks to them, I discovered that I really like writing! It’s fun and engrossing, at times daunting and sometimes a slog—but what worthwhile activity isn’t?
A sense of obligation wouldn’t have been enough to keep me or anyone motivated to blog for long. I’m driven to continue blogging by a love of writing, plus other convictions:
On the one hand, I aim to share thoughtful and vulnerable writing about what I choose to do in my life and why. I don’t write down to my readers—I aim to challenge and explain, ideally without sacrificing clarity. In the process, I challenge myself.
That said, going forward I also wish to be more permissive with myself with what I share here. It’s important to me that meganjamer.com is a place I feel safe to create and share writing that’s not always the output of a month or more of writing and revising. As well, I want to publish more posts that simply record what I’ve been reading and learning about. Sometimes, I just want to write something fun.
Since 2014 I’ve published over 80 blog posts on meganjamer.com and 26 travel updates (13 are in the TinyLetter public archives). I’ve also written a few blogs elsewhere:
- “Rolex” on Atlas Obscura
- Geoscience’s role in addressing fluorosis in Tanzania, on the GfGD blog
- I told the story of how I started bike travelling on Tom Allen’s TomsBikeTrip.com
And I continue to write, both travel updates and blog posts!
Continuing to write travel updates about the West African countries we visited recently affords me the opportunity to think of places that now feel very distant. And it’s never been more useful for me to see this blog as a living thing that grows with me, because we stopped travelling at the end of 2019.
It was a magnificent luxury for us to travel without future plans. We were moderately open to taking different paths as they presented themselves, paths that couldn’t have been predicted or didn’t even seem compelling at first.
One example of these “paths” was the choice to turn around once we reached South Africa from Kenya, to start cycling north up the west coast of the continent. Another unexpected path was stopping bike travel earlier than we’d had planned, to the extent that we had our lives planned out at all.
Neither of us were new to the feeling of something nagging at us that wouldn’t go away, even if we wanted to set it aside to address later. To varying degrees, we both wanted more of a stable home.
At the moment, we’re applying for Evan’s Canadian permanent residency. I’m starting over with work. I’m currently taking my very first steps with online English teaching, and the editing profession—editing words, definitely not videos.
It’s been over five years since I worked for pay, and there’s a variety of reasons I’m revisiting the “career” part of my life right now. That’s mostly a topic for (perhaps) another time.
I will say that emotionally, one goal that compels me to resume paid work is to take the GWWC Pledge. The pledge asks its members to donate 10% of their income to effective charities.
I feel both excitement and responsibility to use my opportunities for the betterment of others. One thing I’ve learned while travelling is that “others” and “betterment” are each wildly complex concepts worthy of careful discussion, research and reflection. I am not saying that I have mastered it.
If you’ve made it this far, you now know quite a bit about me and this blog’s evolution. If you’re interested in where things go from here in my life or in my writing, I invite you to subscribe to my newsletter. I send it when I publish something new.
Or you can just check back later here at meganjamer.com to see what I’ve been blogging. Finally, you can always say hi using my contact form.
Regardless, I hope you find something here that interests you.
Thanks very much for reading,