Moving to Cape Town at the beginning of the pandemic, travel writer Megan believes this was one of the best things she has done but also the scariest. This courageous spirit of hers started when she embarked on a voyage to explore twelve countries five years ago. She still remembers vividly the anticipation, fear, and excitement she felt as she watched the lights of Honolulu disappear into the sea, knowing it’d be days till they crossed the Pacific to Japan. Being courageous is what she strives to be!
Tell us about yourself and what did you study?
I’m 26, but I’ll be 27 in March. I got a bachelor’s degree in creative writing. Currently, I’m finishing my masters in creative writing at the University of Cape Town in South Africa.
Why did you start travelling?
That’s a great question… I started travelling when I was 19. It was my first solo trip to India. I think that really opened my eyes to how big the world is, how there’s so much to see. Before that, I never really left my country. I’ve only been to Mexico for a day with my family.
The trip to India transformed me to go outside of my home continent at such a young age. So when I came back from that trip, I knew I had fallen in love with travelling and would like to travel more. I was ready to do whatever it takes to travel further.
When I was 21, I did a study abroad program called Semester at Sea. You basically go to school on a ship and you start travelling around the world. They have the professors on the ship. As you travel from country to country, you study with the professors.
Everything you learn on the ship matches with where you’re going. If you’re going to South Africa, you would be learning South African poetry. I studied travel writing, global media and poetry while I was doing the program.
We went to 13 different countries in that period of four months. I have gone to 12 new countries from this program, so it really expanded my worldview. When I got back from the program, I really wanted to start writing about travel and about different destinations that I want to visit.
Did you encounter any unexpected scenarios during your travels?
Many times! (giggles)
Recently my partner, who’s South African, and I went on a road trip around the country. We went 5,300 km around South Africa but I had a small compact car that wasn’t meant to travel that hectic roundtrip. Some of the roads I went on in remote areas weren’t well maintained, so it took us twice as long to get to different destinations like waterfalls. We had to drive in pitch-black through puddles, and drive through sheep, goats, and cows on the road. We were trying to avoid them and trying to make it to our destinations.
At one of the places called Coffee Bay in the Eastern Cape, we got there at 1 am. It took us a lot of time to get there. Basically, the roads are like on the cliffs, going through the mountains. they’re just hugging the edges of the cliffs.
I feel like a lot of times in travelling things happen that you’d don’t expect. They end up being the most memorable and most rewarding part of travel.
Speaking about your road trip in South Africa, which memory stood out the most?
We hiked up to Tugela Waterfalls. In November they were declared the highest waterfall in the world. We hiked to the top of it on New Year’s Eve, and it took us 7 hours. It was a really hectic hike with rain and slippery conditions.
The path reminded me of being in the mountains of Peru, or something like that. We made it even though it was a difficult journey and got to wake up on New Year’s Day in a really beautiful place in South Africa. On New Year’s Eve, it was cloudy and stormy but then the next day the sun was shining. I was kinda hoping that would be what 2022 would be like, just lots of sunshine unlike the cloudiness of 2021.
Do you have any roadtripping hacks?
A lot of gas stations in South Africa take an hour to get to, so you have to make sure you don’t go below half a tank of gas because you could get stranded. Also, make sure to check the oil and water and everything else.
The best moments I had in road-tripping would be looking at a detailed itinerary guide from a magazine. I was not afraid of not planning the same way and threw the advice out of the window. I planned our own path and it was really memorable. Being spontaneous can create memorable encounters. We drove past stuff and we were like “that looks cool”, “let’s go there”.
Be prepared and don’t stick to your itinerary every time. Be open to last-minute plan changes.
Since you fell in love with Cape Town from your travel expedition and decided to move there, what was it like to move to somewhere foreign? Did you have difficulties moving there alone?
Definitely a big yes! I first moved here in January 2020 and I came completely alone. Although I knew where I was staying, I didn’t have any instructions to get there, so I ended up standing on the sidewalk with all of my bags after travelling for over 24 hours. I think in the first couple of months, I had a lot of “what did you just do” moments and “this is a bad idea” thoughts.
How did you overcome those difficulties?
I fell in love with the place which helped me overcome those difficulties. The homesickness and the feelings of not belonging here started to fade as my love for the country grew.
One thing I’m passionate about letting people know when I talk about my story is you shouldn’t let fear stop you from doing something you want to do. This is because this feeling of being scared is always accompanied by my greatest memories.
The scariest things I’ve done are always the best things I’ve done. People shouldn’t be afraid to feel that fear, it would get you somewhere and get you on the path of where you should be.
There are scary moments on big or small trips. Like on our road trip, I was really afraid at one point because it was hailing and raining, I was afraid of falling off the edge or something like that. I wanted to turn around so many times and I wanted to give up. But if you are persistent and you believe in yourself, it would be so rewarding to make it through difficulties in your trip.
Where in Cape Town is a must-see place for travellers?
An unpopular spot called Kalk Bay. Once you have done the Cape Town bucket list items, this is a must-see place. I hadn’t heard of it before I moved here but it is just a quiet little beach town. You can order fish and chips and take a swim in the ocean while you’re waiting. It is a beautiful and peaceful place and a part of Cape Town that people who are visiting don’t often see.
Have you decided to venture somewhere else, anytime soon? Do you have a travel bucket list?
It is hard to have a travel bucket list now. Things are so uncertain with travelling right now but I try to be hopeful. I’m starting to plan a South African trip, maybe travel from the Cape to Cairo, then to Zimbabwe and other places. I am trying to plan this with my partner and work remotely. There’s just so much to see on this continent, and we’ll come back to Cape Town if we miss it.
Do you think these new travels will prompt new inspirations for your writing? What really inspires you to write during your travels?
I hope these new travels will inspire my writing. Currently, I am finishing a book for my master’s program, it is a travel memoir. I think what started my travel writing was my first trip to India and the Semester at Sea program. It was from these experiences that I want people to experience what I was experiencing. As I started to write, I wanted to share the beauty and knowledge of the world. But also share my feelings during these travels with people who also like to travel.
Do you have any publications you are currently writing for?
I am a freelance writer who writes about social responsibility in travels and culture, interviews, and travel poetry. I also write for non-profit organisations like one.org. However, I hope to write about other places and their organisations as I travel. My life to travel matches with my desire to see people do good things for the world.
What would you advise others who would like to become travel writers? How did you get into travel writing?
A lot of people have been asking this! What I always say to people and what people have been telling me is just to try it. This is frustrating advice because you hear it and you would be like “how”? I figured it out by finding places that I really want to work for, whether it’d be an online website or a magazine. Just google their contacts and send them pitches.
If you never ask, you’re never going to know. If you have a dream and you never act on it, it’s never going to happen. Just try until you make it.
As a courageous female traveller, how would you encourage other women to overcome their fears of travelling solo?
I’m 5 feet tall, so if I am small and I can travel alone to almost 30 countries, you can do it too! I think a lot of it is being aware of your surroundings…And also your mindset and how you tell yourself you are strong, bold and brave. Telling yourself “you’ll be okay” when you walk into an unfamiliar city is the best advice you can give to yourself. Be as prepared as you can be but don’t let your fear keep you out of amazing experiences.
Follow travel writer Megan & her road trips and adventures at @meganthetravelingwriter!