Lola Left Her Job as a Senior Manager in NYC to Travel the World Full-Time!
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16th Jun | 11 min read

Lola Méndez has been traveling full-time for five years. She is a full-time traveler and freelance journalist. She left her job as a senior manager at a fashion PR agency in New York City to satisfy her thirst for travel. 

She has explored 64 countries so far and does not plan on stopping anytime soon. Lola travels to develop her own worldview and understanding of the different cultures of the world. She is passionate about sustainable travel and seeks out ethical tourism experiences that help the local communities.

You can connect with Lola on GAFFL, or through her amazing blog Miss Filatelista

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Why I am so passionate about sustainable travel

I learned about sustainable travel after I started traveling. When I traveled to Thailand, it was my first time in Asia. I was really eager to take a cooking class but I didn't want to take it with a hotel or tour company. I wanted the chance to learn directly from a local family, ideally from a local grandma, who has had these recipes passed down to her from generation to generation and are using ancestral methods to make Thai Cuisine. I had some trouble finding an opportunity like that. However, through my research, I learned about which at the time was the first marketplace that was helping charities come up with tourism experiences. So I found a cooking class and then went on to work for I was helping recruit Charities and helping them develop tourism activities that were relevant to their causes as I was traveling. I had the chance to visit different charitable organizations and social enterprises and help them develop that. It was really exciting.

I started traveling at 25 and left my job as a senior manager in NYC to see the world

I started traveling when I was 25. I left New York City and left my job as a senior manager at a fashion PR agency because I wanted to see the world. 

I knew there had to be more out there and I was eager to get to know different cultures, food, people, and really experience this planet. So I initially moved to Spain and started living in Madrid. From Madrid, it's very easy to travel to different countries whether it's through plane, train, or ride-share.

I spent many weekends going to know different cities across the region and over the last five years I've been maintaining the habit of solo travel. I had a partner that I traveled with for about six months but I’d say that I traveled alone to the majority of the countries I have been to. 

The majority of my close friends that I have now are people that I have met while traveling. I have friends in Costa Rica, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, and the United States

The majority of my close friends that I have now are people that I have met while traveling. At first, it was really difficult for me to get to know someone that I knew I would only know for a few days. It made me sad investing in that time but then when I started to stay in places for longer periods, like for a few months, I started to form a community from really meaningful relationships. Fortunately, I've been able to see a lot of those people in multiple countries.

I have friends in Costa Rica, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, and the United States. It's just amazing when you find people that are in this travel community and their lifestyle is also traveling full time. You tend to cross paths or at least take into consideration where your friends might be when you organize your next trip. 

I've currently been to 64 countries

Between all the countries I have been to, I do not have a favorite. It’s an impossible choice for me to make. If I had children it would be like asking me to choose my favorite child. There are some countries that I really really adore for particular things. Whether that be the culture, the music, the clothing, the food, the landscapes, the ocean, or the wildlife.

How I choose my next travel destination

I've been back in Latin America for about a year now but before that, I was in Asia for about three and a half years. I traveled from country to country and used buses and trains to travel. So it was just like, “what was the next country over the border?” 

The majority of my work focuses on travel journalism, so I get invited to a lot of countries and I go on press trips where a country essentially hosts me for a period of time in exchange for writing crystalized story ideas about that region. As a result, these opportunities are presented to me. So when I get an offer for a press trip, I make an educated choice about whether or not it aligns with my belief and if it is within the region that I want to explore. 

In 2020, I was really expecting to spend the year getting to know the Caribbean more and Central and South America. Clearly, that is on hold for the best, but I do hope that at least by mid-2021 I'll be back on track. I am currently in Uruguay which is where my family is from and I've been here since March.

I spent six months in India, six months in Vietnam and Thailand, three months in Costa Rica, two months in Mexico

I've been traveling full time for five years. In the beginning, when I had a base in Spain, a lot of my trips were for 3 days to 2 weeks in different countries around Europe, and then around mid-2016 I had a lot more freedom. I was no longer tied down to a location-dependent job. I had a job previously in Madrid, Spain, and then in Florence, Italy. From July 2016, I started full-time freelancing and then spending one to three months in most destinations. I spent six months in India, six months in Vietnam and Thailand, three months in Costa Rica, two months in Mexico, and so on. I prefer longer trips especially if there is a particular city that I am drawn to or that I know has a good community of like-minded people. I'd make that my base for at least a month and then do some side trips to nearby villages and towns that interest me.

My scariest travel moment was a near-death experience when I faced Rhinos

The first one that comes to mind is the Chitwan National Park which is in the south of Nepal. On the border with India and the park, there are rhinos, tigers and I believe perhaps wild elephants. There are also some monkeys and deer and crocodiles since it is a really diverse ecosystem there. I went there in search of rhinos and I was determined that if I reached into their Turf, I had to do it on foot. I was not comfortable taking a jeep since it would make lots of noise and pollute the area with gasoline, fuel and sound. I was firm on not riding an elephant either. These were the two options that I could use to get to the park, and since I didn’t want to do either, I decided to go on foot. 

At the time, I was traveling with my ex-boyfriend and I convinced him that this was the way to do it and we hired two local guides from this amazing echo hotel we were staying at. We were staying in a treehouse which was just a few pieces of wood hammered together and our guides told us at night that a rhino or an elephant could come anytime. But the day we went to the park, it was me, my boyfriend and the two guides. One guide stood in the front, while the other guide stood in the back and we walked in a single-line because if a tiger were to attack, they would attack from behind and hit your neck. 

Our guides knew we had no idea what to do if that happened. So we were put in the middle and immediately we started to see rhinos. As the day went on, at one point we were walking along the path and our guide stopped us, looked in our eyes, and whispered, “get into the tree”. And we were like, “What do you mean?” The tree that we were next to was maybe like eight inches in diameter, and it was not a thick one. The shortest branch was a good two and a half meters off the ground. I was quite sure that I could not reach that because I’m 5 feet 3 inches in height. Fortunately, my ex-boyfriend was taller so he boosted me up and somehow I wiggled my way up to this tree branch, and then he followed, and the guides followed after. 

All of a sudden, there was a rhino walking towards us. Once we looked down from the tree at the river which was beneath us, there was another rhino minding his business and taking a bath. But male rhinos are extremely territorial so he was not happy to see another rhino on his turf and they started to fight. We were sure that we were going to die because if this rhino were to hit the tree, it was going to be game over right there. The tree would fall in an instant. We were just trying to stay calm. We were there for hours and then eventually got rescued. It was a near-death experience. It's not something I would do again or even recommend to people, because it's quite risky. 

When my gut tells me a situation is dangerous, I get out of it

As a solo female traveler, I’ve had some very unpleasant experiences with men being aggressive towards me, and even getting physical with me. Those experiences have absolutely changed the way I travel. When I was assaulted, I really felt shattered. My confidence was broken and at that point, I had been traveling for about two and a half years. I was confident with solo traveling and I trusted myself, but that experience shook everything up for me, and it took a long time for me to regain my strength and my trust. From then on, I have become very firm in listening to my gut. When my gut tells me a situation is dangerous, I get out of it. I also don’t take selfies with anyone. Firstly, no one needs to have a photo of me on their mantle place, and second, when you take a selfie with someone, they get in your space and that's what happened to me. That’s why I decided that it's my prerogative to keep a distance between me and other people. I’m always extremely respectful when I take a portrait of someone when I’m traveling.  I ask them first and I explain to them that I'm a journalist and if they say they're not comfortable, I respect it. They also have the right to refuse the photo.  

Some things that prevent me to travel more

A challenge for working and traveling can be finding the time. I usually organize things based on the weather. Whenever it's going to be a beautiful day, I do not want to be on my laptop. Instead, I want to be out experiencing the place I am at. So I try to schedule tours, day trips, or outings on beautiful sunny days. Usually, when I'm on the road, I work a lot at night. 
As a journalist, my schedule is pretty flexible. I try to space out my deadlines in a reasonable way so I can get other things done in my life. I like to have some form of work-life balance which can be challenging for a lot of so-called digital Nomads. I don’t really like that term. I limit myself to working 30 hours per week because I want freelancing to be traveling full time, not to be working all the time. 

Advice for new solo Travelers who want to work and travel 

Take a look at your job and see if you can do it remotely. If you've been successfully working from home during this time of pandemic that we’re in, then you essentially have the skill to work remotely. If you have the discipline to work well from home, to keep a schedule, to meet your deadlines, and to get your projects done on time, then you're ready to work and travel full time. 

Before I became a journalist, I was in fashion. I wasn't in travel, I wasn't in sustainability and it took me a long time to really gain the courage to get over that imposter syndrome of going into not only a new industry but to a new field and to a new topic that was foreign to me except as a consumer. I had to learn different skills to work in PR and marketing. 
Analyze the skills that you have and see how you can put those towards a different career or make changes within your career that you have now, in a way that would allow you to be able to work from anywhere.

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