Filatelista – (n.) a person who collects passport stamps.
Meet Lola Méndez, a full-time traveler sharing her adventures on her blog Miss Filatelista. She’s been on the road for over three years now and has explored more than 50 countries. Passionate about sustainable travel she seeks out ethical experiences that benefit local communities.
What are the crazy things you experience while traveling for so long? How can we easily make our own trips more ethical? What does one dream of after spending so much time on the road? Here’s what Lola shared with us in a special interview with 203challenges.com.
– Who is Lola Méndez and what are her dreams?
– Wow, this is a loaded question! There’s so much to unpack here. Maybe I should ask you for a word count? To be brief I’m a recovering New Yorker with Uruguayan heritage. I’ve been traveling full-time for three years and work as a freelance journalist. Through my travels and my work, I focus on sustainability both environmentally and socially. My dream is that either through my eco-luxury blog, Miss Filatelista, or the articles I’ve published on various media platforms, will encourage others to take small steps towards being more responsible as they travel. A great place to start is my monthly series of responsible travel challenges. Each month I tackle one topic in depth with sage advice about how to make small changes that will make a big difference for the communities you visit and our precious planet.
– Share three of the craziest things that you’ve experienced on the road!
– Fortunately, the crazy things that happen on the road end up being the most memorable! I don’t usually run into too many hardships but funnily enough, yesterday was one of those ‘omg what is HAPPENING’ kind of days. I went to sunrise yoga at 4:30 AM on the beach in Hoi An, where I’ve been living for two months. I stupidly left my iPhone 6S in the taxi but miraculously the driver brought it back within 15 minutes and would only accept the equivalent of 3 USD from me. I was feeling incredibly lucky and that perhaps I had good karma after all.
Later that afternoon I got a reminder to check into my hotel in Hanoi today, when I thought my flight was in two days! I almost completely missed my flight and had no idea that the day I’d just spent in Hoi An would be my last day in this city I love so much. I was quite frantic when I was about to cross the road and then saw a girl I knew from Spain whom I hadn’t seen for three years, I called out to her, checked for traffic, then as I crossed the road I was hit by a motorbike for the first time ever!
To continue the chaos of the day when I got home my house was completely unlocked and all of the lights were on. But nothing was missing. I only have a bruise from the accident. I didn’t miss my flight. I got my phone back. My lesson here is that I had gotten way too comfortable and need to stay aware of my surroundings, something everyone can use a reminder about every once in a while. All in all, the crazy day turned out fine, nothing is missing, and I’m not injured. But I hear the universe loud and clear that I need to be more aware!
– What are some myths that need to be busted about ethical and sustainable travel?
– There’s a lot of judgment in the responsible travel community which is counterintuitive and doesn’t help encourage people to be more conscious in any way. There is no such thing as a perfectly sustainable traveler. I don’t aspire to be a completely ethical traveler, because I don’t believe this is a possibility. Instead, each and every day I am learning new ways that I can limit my waste, reduce my negative impact on the places I travel, and new methods to support the people and places that I’m so fortunate to visit.
Another major thing to be aware of is that the term ‘eco’ is widely misused, especially here in Southeast Asia. Eco is often simply used to describe something that is outdoors in nature. I’ve visited eco-lodges that serve water in plastic bottles and gone on eco tours that destroy nature instead of nourishing it. Learn from my mistakes!
– What are a few easy steps we can make to travel in a more ethical way?
– The series of responsible travel challenges on Miss Filatelista is a great place to start traveling in a more ethical way. There have been seven detailed dedicated posts so far that discuss topics such as ethical wildlife viewing, overseas volunteering, respecting local culture, and plastic-free travel.
– What’s the best tip you’d give a novice traveler?
– The most important thing I’ve learned while traveling is how to be open-minded and not judgemental about things that seem unusual to me based on my western upbringing. As travelers and world citizens, we must remember that there are a million different ways to live a life, and one is not better than the other. If you come across a situation that you deem less than ideal it is important to put your privilege in check and not make assumptions or project your unwanted opinions. Just because you wouldn’t be comfortable in someone else’s living situation didn’t mean it’s wrong or bad. Instead be gracious for this learning opportunity and do your best to emerge yourself in a culture. I guarantee you’ll walk away as a more well-rounded, understanding, and worldly person. Also, don’t travel for the photo opportunity. Aim to be a meaningful traveler, not an influencer. If the internet disappeared tomorrow and you couldn’t document and share your experiences, would you travel? If you have to consider this question then it may be time to reevaluate why you’re traveling.
– What’s the one thing you never travel without?
– As a dedicated sustainable traveler, I always bring my reusable water bottle and neck pillow on flights. Doing so helps me cut back on wasteful plastic packaging consumption, (although cardboard packaging is also an environmentally eco-friendly product). Airplane pillows are always wrapped in plastic and water is usually provided in a small plastic bottle or plastic cup. It’s quite simple to cut out this single-use plastic waste with long-lasting eco-friendly alternatives.
– What’s the first thing you do when you arrive at a new place?
– Food. Anything food related has to be the first thing I do when I arrive in a new place! Especially because I’m vegan. So, heading off on a locally-led food tour or a cooking class helps me get a grasp on what traditional foods are veggie friendly and gives me a chance to learn the local lingo for terms I’ll need to know in order to eat! As I’ve just arrived in Hanoi a few hours ago I’ll actually be headed off on a vegan food tour with responsible tour operator Backstreet Academy for lunch. I’m already so hungry and can’t wait to taste northern Vietnamese dishes and compare them to central and southern specialties.
– What’s your next great travel challenge?
– This is going to seem a bit odd coming from someone who has traveled continuously for so long, and often alone, but my biggest challenge at the moment is readjusting to solo travel. For quite a while I was traveling with my ex-boyfriend and got very comfortable due to having a large male companion to protect me, drive me around, share costs, and take my photos. I know those all seem so superficial but those comforts made traveling so much easier. I’m slowly making my way back to being a confident solo traveler but I’m very apprehensive about being alone again especially after enduring several sexual assaults while traveling alone. I have to remind myself daily that I thrived alone in India for 6 months and can handle any situation on my own.
– Share something inspiring with everyone reading this!
– I get asked a lot about what has inspired me to travel and what keeps me motivated to keep exploring. After giving it a lot of thought I think my upbringing prepared me to be a globetrotter. My father escaped the military junta in Uruguay by walking for four months across South America. He traveled out of necessities but spun his adventures into my bedtime stories which sparked a fascination with the world from a young age. My father’s plight also developed my sense of understanding, compassion, and eagerness to explore remote corners of the globe. Growing up in an international Uruguayan-American family exposed me to travel at a young age and resulted in my compulsive sense of wanderlust which has percolated throughout my life.
My desire to continue gallivanting is simply powered by the unknown. I’ve seen so little of the world. There are endless cultures that I hope to have the chance to get to know. So many more people I hope to meet and or meals I want to eat! There are so many more places to go, there is so much more to learn. This is my greatest motivation in life and my biggest source of encouragement to keep on traveling.
All photos: courtesy of Lola Méndez/Miss Filatelista