To many, travelling is a dream to pursue, but it’s a reality that only few could take on. From a teenage girl scared of the world outside of her home, Montol Kasantikul aka “Mint I Roam Alone” has become one of Thailand’s most popular travel bloggers. Along with facing the changes each country comes with, she has challenged the Thai mindset of female vulnerability, having backpacked by herself across seven continents around the globe. As a solo Thai female backpacker, she’s often called ‘brave’ and ‘independent’. Truth is, it was not until the age of 16 that she was sent to England for a three week language course. “I cried the whole time,” Mint writes on her blog. Then again before university, did she take on her first real journey alone to Spain for a three month language course. “I remember crying for the entire first week.” “It was difficult, having to take charge of things myself without the help of my mother – she had no control over the country of Spain.” Despite her difficulty of being far away from home,she pushed through.
My mother would always tell me it was alright to return home if I wanted to – but she knew I wouldn’t.
However, it gave me a sense of assurance, knowing she’d be there for me if I were to return.” “Either you prepare your child to be strong and responsible enough to get through it, or you don’t and your child comes home with broken wings and damaged self-esteem.This type of change doesn’t all happen in one day. In the end, it roots back to how your were raised.” When asked about her mother’s influence on her as a traveller, Mint replies, “I think my mother and I are the same person. She loved mountain climbing, now I love mountain climbing. She likes reading, I like writing. She’s a strong woman, I’m a strong woman.” In contrary to what many may think, being a female traveller doesn’t only come with cons. “Men can be more adventurous on their trips, but women are more helped. Everyone is much more loving – I meet grannies who want to adopt me,” Mint justifies. “Because it is easier for women to approach anyone, our experiences are often more hearty and warm.
I think my mother and I are the same person. She loved mountain climbing, now I love mountain climbing. She likes reading, I like writing.
But at the same time, the downside is not being able to travel unexplored routes or roam around at night alone,” explains Mint. Travelling can be more dangerous for women than it is for men, especially in the views of Thai society. The idea of women wandering alone may not seem new for Western countries, or even oriental ones like Korea and Japan. But regardless of a the increasing gender equality in Thailand, many women are still discouraged from travelling alone. “Our society views women as those to be taken care of, those who are supposed to be sweet and vulnerable.
Being so, travelling is perceived to put us out there, unprotected from any unknown danger. That paranoia is instilled in our minds, making us afraid. And when society tries to keep us away from exploring, we tend to feel that it’s okay to stay inside our comfort zones.”
Fear isn’t a bad thing. Fear is what prevents us from death.
Although Mint has jumped the Devil’s Pool in Zambia and caught an Anaconda in Venezuela, worry and unease still presents itself in each of her trips. “Fear isn’t a bad thing. Fear is what prevents us from death,” she says. In her case, some threats are common merely due to her gender. “Beauty is a curse,” she mentions before describing her worst trip: being stuck in Nepal after the earthquake with a rather vulgar and invasive tour guide, of whom was the one she depended on to return home safely. “Well, travelling always has a bitter side to it.
There’s the sweetness, then there’s the bitterness to remind you how nice the sweetness is.” Another advice she has for fellow female travellers is confidence. Unlike many other Thai women, Mint isn’t considered to be very reserved, shy, or indirect. “I think it’s lovely, but after travelling so much, I know those qualities won’t help me survive a trip.” Her blog, in contrast to many other travel blogs, concentrate on the stories of people she encounters along the way. Being “addicted to human conversation”, she avoids staying in hotels and using private means of transportation in order to truly absorb each culture by engaging with locals. “It’s a learning process. We travel to grow, and we grow through other humans, from what we see and what we receive.”
To do so, she recommends basic phrases, compliments, and banters, explaining how it “breaks down boundaries between people”. Again, being able to approach strangers and form a conversation is easier said than done. It requires somecharisma, as well as self-confidence, which many of us lack. To put into words the mentality she carries with her on each journey, Mint says, “Real confidence is knowing who you are and loving it. For me, travelling alone has definitely helped. When we travel alone.
We know what we like and what we don’t because it’s just us and the world around us. There’s nothing that’s pushing us to doing something or pulling us from doing something. We learn to live with our strengths and weaknesses, accepting them as part of our complete selves. Then when social trends tell us what to be or not to be, it no longer affects us, because we are complete. This is the confidence that people, especially women, should have in order to stand tall in a society without falling victim to criticisms that would otherwise bring us down.” However, there is shown to be an increasing trend in Thai backpacking culture. With technology’s help in a more connected world, more and more people are able to travel overseas with ease and convenience. But when it comes to social interaction, the 28 year old travel blogger believes that “there is a fine line between outgoingness and rudeness.” She subtly addresses touring teenagers and their unpredictable behaviours.
“We need to be careful, because we carry our country’s name with us.” Jokes and teases are great ways to create friendships, but a sense of politeness should always be present. The job of a travel blogger may seem like a career path of paradise. Although exciting, combining work and leisure together can be stressful. “Travelling is to pack your bags andcontinuing to go places that can make you uncomfortable,” says Mint about her 8 month non-stop journey from Mexico, across South America, all the way to Antarctica. Being flexible to change is essential – with a single backpack, she has gone from country to country, from temperatures of a sweating 40 degrees celsius to a freezing -15. “It was all great fun, but after a while, I felt like I wanted to return to somewhere I’d be comfortable. It’s wanting to to be able to let go of everything, to unpack and leave everything cluttered.” To the solo female nomad, adapting to changes may be mandatory, but being homesick is optional. Having globetrotted to more than 70 countries, she has had to leave her birthplace for fairly long periods of time. But when asked where her home truly is, she responds, “I have realised that one half of home was with me. Wherever I go, I consider home. The other half is with my mother.
As long as I could talk to her, I would be home.” But of course, that is emotional and internal. Like many other long term travellers, Mint lingers for the comfort to come with the end of her voyage. “Maybe after eight months of sleeping on couches and tolerating snoring roommates, we might feel the need to come back to what we’re familiar with.” With travel, many things once taken for granted – whether electricity, sunshine, pillows, or air conditioning – then become appreciated more fully. From the pampered only daughter she was as a child, the now internet icon of solo female backpacking has learned to carry her own bags, and also climb a volcano in Nicaragua. “What stops us from our potential is our own fear. Like courage, fear is made out of two things: fear of what you know and fear of what you don’t. So to conquer that fear, we need to know more. Then you’d have to build courage. It’s a leap of faith, but not that kind where you blindly step with no knowledge of what’s ahead. You should be scared and brave of what you know. Once you get past the first step, the second one becomes easier.
The fear doesn’t so much disappear, but the courage grows.” After deciding to share her experiences online as a hobby, her blog “I Roam Alone”, of which she posts personal stories, travel tips, and life lessons, has gained more than 100,000 followers. Adding to her success, she has written two books about her adventures through Siberia and South America. “What I do is who I am. If you stick to your true self, you can never run out of content. But If you try to be like others, it’s like you’re always chasing and comparing. Eventually it will all disappear.” Many travel bloggers face the dilemma of commercial opportunities like advertising and reviews, which of course, is normal for anyone trying to make a living out of what they do best. But while some are able to sustain and satisfy their audience, others lose their hard earned fanbase. “Don’t let them slap money in your face. In the end, what are you left with? Emptiness. It won’t satisfy you or your viewers. You need to ask yourself why you do what you do.” Mint “I Roam Alone” will be working with her film crew to produce a travel series “We Roam Alone” to share their travel stories in Thailand on TV this August.