Quitting a miserable full-time job to go travelling is a dream in the backpacking world made no less powerful for being well-worn.
Amy Baker did exactly that, quitting her safe but unfulfilling editorial job to plot an escape to South America, only to be met with a slew of unhelpful life advice from people who thought they knew better. Deciding to ignore it all, Amy jetted off into a world of crocodile-infested waters, drug dealers, and treacherous crevasses to fall into.
These adventures and more are told in her new book Miss-Adventures: A Tale of Ignoring Life Advice While Backpacking Around South America. We caught up with Amy to discuss her experiences.
Hi Amy! Congratulations on Miss-Adventures! First of all, can you tell us why you decided to quit your job to go travelling?
Thank you! Sure – basically I’d found myself becoming more and more acutely aware on a daily basis that although I was working super hard in my editorial job I wasn’t progressing as I wanted to, or feeling fulfilled by it. It made me question why I was doing the job I was doing, which was only loosely connected with my ultimate plan – which was to write about travel. I realised if I wanted to go after that ultimate aim, I needed to take action that forced me to do it. I also had some savings and no commitments in London – it was the perfect storm!
Why was South America your destination of choice?
It had been top of my list for ages - I’d read loads about it and shared a lot of pints with people who’d just returned who couldn’t stop raving about how wonderful Colombia or Bolivia was. I was excited by the variety it represented, and the fact you could visit a lot of countries in one relatively easy trip. I spoke a little Spanish, which I was keen to improve, and it felt like it was a daunting enough destination to be a bit of a challenge – which was what I wanted.
How much planning did you do before you set off? Were you already an experienced traveller?
Not loads. The decision was quick, and as I’d backpacked a fair amount around Europe, South East Asia and Australia before, I just figured I’d work it out when I got there. I had mates to hang out with in the first few weeks so it took me about a month to realise how massive South America is and that if I wanted to see everything, I’d need to actually plan a route.
The focus of your journey – and your book – is ignoring life advice. Can you tell us a bit more about that?
Of course! Basically the minute I quit the job and told people my plans, I started getting loads of really over-the-top advice from all corners – I’m talking colleagues I’d barely spoken to sidling up to me at the office coffee machine to issue warnings on who to watch out for and where I’d be most vulnerable. Family friends offering opinions on what I should avoid eating, and who I shouldn’t speak to. My mates were really supportive but that didn’t stop a couple of them saying things like, ‘You know you’re 100% gonna die, right?’ as they handed me a Strongbow, or hopped on a bus. I realised that I couldn’t listen to any of this otherwise I’d never go… or probably ever leave my house! I’d also reached a point in my life where I felt as though all I’d been doing was following other people’s advice – about what to study, where to live, what job to do. I realised listening to all of that had stopped me from listening to myself – so I resolved to ignore everything for a bit, and just go and see what happened.
What’s the most ridiculous life advice you’ve ever received?
Oh man – in the run up to going away SO MUCH! It came in so thick and fast I had to start writing them down so I could remember to laugh at them later (handy!). The one that tickles me most though was offered by a lady at my work called Carol, she worked on reception… she pulled me aside one day, took both my hands and asked me very seriously if I promised to do as she said. I nodded, and she came out with this gem - “Watch out for men with too much wooden jewellery, Amy. I know what you’re like - you’ll let them sucker you in with their yoga chat, but essentially they’re unwashed, and you don’t want to put your face anywhere near an unwashed penis let me tell you.” I mean, she had a fair point– but there was no need to deliver it in such a serious manner. I tried to find out her reasons but she wouldn’t divulge!
Stories of people quitting their jobs to travel are usually presented as something to aspire to – the insinuation being that not doing so makes a person boring and unadventurous - when for most people doing so simply isn’t realistic. Do you think it’s an irresponsible narrative?
I mean yeah, sure - if you give off the impression that you can just down tools, desert everyone you know and tap dance your way to the airport with just the clothes on your back… that’s irresponsible. What I don’t think is irresponsible is encouraging people to pack in what’s making them unhappy to go off in search of something that does. I don’t think that not quitting your job to go travelling makes you boring or unadventurous - there are plenty of ways to be adventurous without having to shell out for a plane ticket. Plus, I’d love to feel happy and settled in a job or place – and I respect people who’ve found that. It’s each to their own, isn’t it? People aspire to different things and that’s cool. Plus there are plenty of boring backpackers!
Which of the countries you visited in South America was your favourite?
Colombia - I just completely fell in love with it. The heat, the people, the landscape – everything about it felt exciting. Plus it was where I met the best friends I made on the trip, where I had the most fun, where I realised the most about myself, and where I formulated an action plan. Having said that – it was where I was for the longest period – I’m sure if I’d spent the same amount of time in any of the countries I would have come to love them just as much. Everywhere I went was incredible in its own way – and I only touched the surface of most places.
It sounds like a lot of interesting/exciting/scary things happened on your travels – what’s your go-to travel story to tell at parties?
Is it super lame to say you have to read the book to find out? Haha! Ermm… I like to throw in a casual mention of encounters with wild animals, and the fact that I scaled a mountain. They make me sound the coolest, right?
Congratulations on the book! How did that come about?
Honestly - from a desperate need to have something to show from my trip other than poorly taken photographs and good memories! My aim was to write while I was away, but I was way lazier than I intended to be. At the end of my trip, while I was panicking about what I was going to do next, I realised I had a lot of notes and a lot of funny stories – so I figured, why not put it in a book?
What do you hope readers take from Miss-Adventures?
The main thing I hope people take is how much you can learn about yourself if you decide to pay real attention. Miss-Adventures is about a pretty basic, tried and tested backpacker route – I wasn’t journeying into unseen territory, or doing anything particularly ‘out there’, yet I managed to eke as many learnings as possible out of it. I hope it encourages people to pay attention, and actually go away with the aim of seeing what they can learn about themselves. Before I went, I didn’t have a clue what I was doing or what mattered to me – but a bit of time alone, making my own decisions, observing and confronting my behaviour, changed that completely.
We’re going to ignore the irony of asking you for life advice and do it anyway; what advice would you give to young people – especially young women – who are thinking about going travelling, but may be feeling uncertain or intimidated?
Drop me a line – I’ll give you a long list of reasons why it’s a great idea! I think the main point to remember is that the world is yours to see too. If you have a desire to go and do it, you should do it, or you’ll always wonder. I understand why you may feel uncertain or worried, but by making just a few sensible decisions about how you travel you can put your mind at ease. For me it was simple things that made all the difference, like booking accommodation in advance, opting for buses that arrived into town in daylight, only getting in registered taxis, and so on. If you’re going to South America you should definitely learn a bit of Spanish.
Finally, what’s next for you after Miss-Adventures?
I’m working away on another book already – it’s another funny one about the more unusual spiritual and therapeutic practices I’ve turned to while trying to achieve the specific dream of writing Miss-Adventures. It’s going to explain what’s out there, and how it can help if you’re prepared to open your mind and your heart a little. I’m excited about it!