So, some time two years ago, May 28 to be precise, I wrote a post about my ‘road romances’ or ‘sexcapades’; however you want to call it and it caused quite a buzz in the blogging community because at that time, no one talked about ‘it’. Sure, we all did it and we told our friends in private but no one (as in a blogger) actually wrote about it. Which surprised me for a couple of reasons. Firstly, how can someone who writes a blog about solo female travel not talk about sex when everyone knows it’s a part of solo journeys? Secondly, why isn’t anyone being honest about it? It’s the humungous elephant in the digital room; we all know we’re doing it (and enjoying it) but no one’s talking it despite us supposedly writing ‘blogs from the heart’. Well, last time I checked, blogging from the heart means sharing both the good and bad (and occasionally naughty) times because life isn’t a bunch of roses, it’s a rollercoaster.
And so I wrote a cheeky but pretty innocent (possibly naïve) post about ‘road romances’, saying how much fun they were and that they helped make my journey the amazing time that it was. I didn’t mean for the post to go ‘viral’; I just wanted to be honest with myself and my readers and have a giggle. What I got in return was a resounding ’round of applause’ for being so honest because no one else, up to that point, had been despite everyone admitting that having ‘road romances’ was a huge deal for so many people. So we all cheered, I bowed (naked, of course) and thanked everyone (yes, I’m joking…I never cheered 😉 ) but secretly I was taken aback by everyone’s appreciation of honesty when, naively perhaps, I thought everyone always wrote honestly.
Fast forward a couple of weeks and the guys over at TravelSexLife.com (who were new to the community) asked me to guest post and so again, I wrote about the sexcapades I’d experienced in South East Asia, relishing in my ‘new found fame’. But then, something happened; I got a reputation. I’m a ridiculous flirt at the best of times but add this to the post and suddenly I was the Queen of Road Sex despite having only slept with 4 men in 3 months and knowing (privately) people that were sleeping with about 4 partners a WEEK. However, I reasoned that I only had the reputation because, at that time, I was the only one talking about it.
Fast forward another 18 months and, just like a journalistic story that gets picked up 3 years down the line and goes viral (when it didn’t the first time), TNT magazine got in touch and offered me an amazing opportunity; to be a guest speaker at their travel show March 10 to talk about solo female travel!
For a few hours, I pondered over the question; I know I come across as a confident person but am I really brave enough to talk to an entire room of people who are only there to see me and hear me speak? Am I even qualified? But I quickly realised that despite being terrified of the unknown, I should accept exactly for that reason; to face that unknown and see what I think about it. So I accepted and began immediately dreading it.
Weeks passed and friends and family asked how my preparation was going; I told them I had a rough idea of how I wanted to break the talk down but that I would finalise things closer to the time; that never happened. I made an online presentation, wrote bullet points and left it at that figuring I would ‘wing it’ on the day. It’s not that I didn’t want to plan it, I just had so much going on in my life and head that over-thinking it was doing more harm than good. But I had, at least, come up with the name of my talk; The Good, The Bad and The Bumping Uglies. I wanted to talk about everything that solo female travel encompassed and above all else, remain honest.
In the meantime, the editor of the TNT magazine contacted me and asked if she could interview me separately (for the magazine) about my one night stands. How to make the most of them, how to keep yourself safe etc etc and instead of getting excited, I found myself really angry that I was getting a reputation in the travel industry of being ‘free and easy’ in the sex department when nothing could have been further from the truth. I couldn’t help feeling that this was the only reason I was being asked to talk at the show. It felt like all my other posts didn’t mean anything because they only wanted me for the sex talk. And sure enough, when the interview questions landed in my inbox, I read them open-mouthed. I knew TNT were upfront and ‘in your face’ in their tone but the questions made me feel like a whore with no principles when I am completely opposite to that! So after a couple of hours of talking to my friend wondering how I was going to answer these questions, or even if I wanted to, I got to work…I was determined to remain myself and make sure that I came across the way I wanted to. After a couple of edits, I was ready to send the answers back and when I re-read them to myself I realised that I came across as a romantic, sober backpacker who is always prepared with a condom in her purse and that suited me to the ground.
I anxiously awaited the interview to be published (which you can read here) to see how my answers would come across and overall, I was happy. I managed to get the ‘safe/sober sex message’ across and I sounded like a romantic at heart instead of a backpacker seeking her next ‘conquest’. However, they took me out of context on one of the most important aspects of the interview; my talk. The title of my talk, as I said above, was The Good, The Bad and the Bumping Uglies with the talk description of; solo female travel and what it means on the road, in your mind and between the sheets. I would discuss sex but it wouldn’t be the main stay of my talk and yet the interview insinuated that my entire 30 minute slot would be all about sex. However, I let it slide, telling myself that it was probably my own fault getting this reputation because what do you expect when you’re the only one being honest about it in their writing? I consoled myself that after the talk, I would retire the ‘sex honesty’ on my blog and would never mention it again (despite only ever writing about it once).
And sure enough, when I did the talk on Sunday, I met my reputation face to face. I met a friend, who works in the travel industry, who had spent some time talking to travel reps since he knew them; he told them he was going to see his friend do the ‘solo female travel talk’ and they replied with ‘oh yeah, the sex talk’. No what I wanted to hear at all! I wanted to scream ‘one post! I wrote one post eighteen months ago, this reputation isn’t fair by a long shot’. But I let it slide hoping that the ‘real people’ would come to my talk for my perspective, not a verbal strip show.
I walked into the seminar room and was told that the previous talk had been cancelled because no one had turned up. ‘Great!’ I thought; ‘if no one turns up, I won’t have to do this at all!’ And then, the first two people came in and sat down. And another 2 and before I knew it there were over 30 pairs of eyes staring at me, anticipating my words. ‘Oh God. This is it. You can’t back out now Toni.’. And so I stayed. I decided against using the media presentation (against advice), put down the microphone and stood in the aisle amongst them to begin my talk and what happened was truly amazing…
The first third, by both I and my friends’ opinion, was that it was filled with nerves and a little incoherent but that I had then found my footing, grew more confident and sounded more natural. I didn’t talk about over half of what I had planned (which I both regret and don’t regret simultaneously); I didn’t use photos; I just let the words come out. Sure, maybe they didn’t make sense all the time but I figured that even if I completely tanked and there was tumbleweed rolling around the room, this was an experience and a steep learning curve. Whatever happened, I would come away with mistakes made and lessons learned which isn’t always a bad thing.
So I talked about why you should travel as a solo female. I told them that yes, some days it really is shit and you want nothing more than to cry, give up and go home but that those bad times were the exact reason we travel in the first place; to find our comfort zones, push beyond them and learn invaluable lessons about ourselves. And against a lot of advice, I ended up talking about safety in an unconventional way. I explained that the world was an incredibly safe and loving place despite what the media would have us believe but that you should listen to your gut instinct just like you would at home. I told them to accept invitations from strangers but listen to your ‘sixth sense’ and have fun!
And then, as we were talking about risks; I began to talk about sex. The part of the talk I had been dreading ever since the interview. Would I be able to pull it off without sounding like a whore? Would it embarrass people enough to leave? Who knew but talk about sex I did. And I actually only spent about 5 minutes talking about it. I explained that getting to know someone beforehand is the absolute key even if it’s just for a few hours because everyone was more honest and open on the road. I explained that people told me things on my travels that they confessed they had never told another soul; not even if their best friends or family. So I suggested getting to know the person, talking about their travels and making sure that, not only did they carry their own condoms at all times but that they stayed tipsy or sober. I explained that good decisions were rarely made when ‘off your face’ and that the one time you’re incredibly drunk is the time you realise you have no condom but decide to ‘do it anyway’ resulting in a trip to the clinic or the maternity unit. I got my safe sex message across and I was very pleased with it!
It was at this point that I realised we were overrunning by about 10 minutes (the talk including questions should have been 30 minutes); turns out that I DID have something to say and, the fact that only 3 people had left the room, told me that people felt what I was saying was important to them. And when I asked if anybody had any questions, expecting there to be none, people raised their hands! They wanted to know simple things about me, my blog, my travels or travelling in general and I loved it! Interactivity; the thing that any decent blogger appreciates the most. I had made them giggle throughout, I had got them asking questions and at that end, they approached me to THANK ME! Me! A young woman ‘from the country’ who had simply started blogging to keep friends and family informed whilst on her travels. They called me an inspiration, they told me it was great to ‘finally feel I relate to someone’ and one even said I ’embodied everything physically, mentally and spiritually that a solo female traveller should’. To say I was blown away would be an understatement.
In a room that had felt so cold and scary not an hour before suddenly felt like home and what a truly humbling feeling that was.