Leyla has been traveling her whole life and took her first solo trip at 15. She hasn’t really stopped for long since. She launched Women on the Road more than a decade ago and is one of the pioneers of women’s online travel. Her goal is to empower women by helping them conquer their fears, step out of their comfort zone, and discover just how amazing the world out there can be when you’re seeing it on your own. Her site is bursting with endless resources to help women plan their perfect trip -- from reviews to checklists to roadmaps and destination guides. Her Facebook community is extremely active and gives her much joy.
Leyla was kind enough to spend time answering our travel questions below.
TA: How many years have you been traveling and what got you hooked?
Leyla: I'm almost 66, took my first trip at the age of 5 weeks and have been traveling solo since the age of 15. So doing the math...
TA: Do you specialize in a particular type of travel?
Leyla: Solo female travel.
TA: What is the best vacation you've ever taken?
Leyla: A 2016 month-long trip to Central Asia. I took in the World Nomad Games in Kyrgyzstan, an event so extraordinary I'm still talking about it. I traveled around the mountainous country and then crossed into Uzbekistan to see its amazing architecture, just what you might imagine the Silk Road to look like.
TA: What's one place you've always wanted to visit?
Leyla: Madagascar. Lemurs and baobabs.
TA: What's one thing you ALWAYS pack when you travel?
Leyla: My mobile WiFi! Otherwise how can we stay in touch?
TA: If you could only give a traveler one piece of advice, what would it be?
Leyla: Research! And not just Tripadvisor or a blog or two: real research that helps you understand the history and culture of a place. I suggest reading novels set in that destination for context, and recent online newspapers (most countries have at least one in English) for more contemporary developments. That still leaves plenty of room for discovery, but it helps me understand things better and faster once I arrive.
TA: Where was the most unusual place you've ever stayed?
Leyla: A brothel in Malawi. It was 'disguised' as a budget hotel but when I woke up to unexpected sounds in the middle of the night, I realized the word hotel had been used somewhat loosely.
TA: What's the strangest thing you've ever eaten overseas?
Leyla: Bushmeat (wild rodents) in Nigeria. As I drove around the country, I'd see bushmeat hanging off long poles along the road in an effort to entice buyers. I did try it, in the absence of any other meat at the time. Or caiman in Brazil during a month-long stay in the Amazon rainforest. I was traveling with local guides who proudly caught and killed this animal, our only source of protein for days.
TA: What's a travel scam travelers should be wary of?
Leyla: There are many but a common one is overcharging by taxis. This happened to me recently in Hanoi, and was utterly self-inflicted. For some reason I ignored my own first rule of travel -- research everything! -- and wasn't aware that Hanoi taxis are notorious for having fake meters, tampered meters, no meters, or plenty of other ways to part you from your money. The only safe way to catch a cab is to have a hotel call one from a reputable company.
TA: What are the best places to travel solo and why?
Leyla: This is a difficult call because there is no place I won't go -- unless it's at war or I'm boycotting the regime for some reason. I would add that if you're a novice traveler, I'd stick to countries where language isn't a barrier. Understanding what's going on around you helps you stay safer and enhances your solo experience by encouraging you to meet and talk to people.
TA: What's something that other tourists do when traveling that drives you crazy and why?
Leyla: Speaking too loudly or yelling. If you tend to be a quiet traveler (I am) this can be quite stressful. I still remember a visit to Japan where courtesy mandated that you take any cellphone calls outside the restaurant, not loudly at the table for everyone to hear. Loved that! On a recent trip to Asia I visited some countries where the sound level was ear-shattering, to the extent that when I returned to Bangkok (which I had once thought loud) I felt blissfully serene, as though I'd been gently cocooned.
TA: Which underrated destination deserves to be more famous?
Leyla: In France most visitors go to Paris, or to Provence. A few might wander off to Burgundy or Bordeaux for wine-tasting. Yet Lyon is a stunning city, manageable in size, with everything from world class art to gastronomic food and Roman ruins. It's a city I never tire of and although its name is familiar to most, many visitors to France can't claim to have visited.
TA: What's one piece of advice you'd give to travelers your age?
Leyla: Do you want to get out there and see the world? Stop worrying about what your children or grandchildren will think. Just do it!