Being a female writer and photographer in the travel industry has pressures outside of deadlines and pitching to editors. Even though much of my job is behind the lens, there's an expectation to be ready for my own personal photoshoot to promote my personal brand on social media.
For a while I tried to keep up with the “authentic” Instagrammers and bloggers who looked stunning everywhere they traveled. These girls could hike up Acropolis in cute dresses and greek goddess sandals, and pose in front of the Parthenon with not a bead of sweat on their foreheads. And then there was me — the sweaty girl, whose makeup was melting off her face — a face framed with frizzy curls that had admitted defeat to the Mediterranean humidity.
That’s why I always came prepared. I was the girl who would pack extra t-shirts on a day hike because I sweat more than the average human. I would be the backpacker weighed down by hair products and make up. I was the traveler who would pack a second suitcase full of the shoes and outfits that I might wear — alternative options, just in case I didn’t want to wear what I packed in my primary suitcase.
Then I destroyed my heels in Athens, Greece — and on this trip I didn’t pack an extra pair. What's more, the flats I had already met their watery grave earlier on my trip in a puddle in England. Horrified, I submitted to the fact that I would be forced to spend the remaining month traveling Europe with only a pair of men’s hiking shoes. But as I tossed my broken black pumps into the hostel trash can, I threw out something else: my giving a shit about fashion while traveling.
It was one less thing to carry. It was one less thing to worry about. And for the first time, I embraced myself for the rugged traveler I truly am. I’ve always admired trailblazers like Nellie Bly, Amelia Earhart, and Jane Goodall — all unconventional women who, no matter what outfit they wore, looked fabulous to me. It was their pride and their strength that were the most gorgeous of their features. These were women who exceeded the expectations of their supposed feminine roles and barreled through the walls that society built, paving the way for other bad ass babe travelers like me. That is the style I want to travel in.
My grit is my badge of honor, and my sweat, a testament to my hard work. I get more excited about cargo pants and gear with functionality than trendy travel accessories. For me, the romance of travel is wading waist deep in a river, holding my equipment over my head during a trek through the jungle, not wearing designer clothes and posing in front of monuments.
Bly’s success isn’t measured by her ability to travel around the world in 80 dresses. Earhart isn’t celebrated as a pioneer for women wearing slacks. Goodall won’t be remembered for how fabulous her hair looks after it gets tussled by a gorilla. Their legacy is their work and the fact that they were able to do it regardless of their appearances. So why should I treat my legacy any differently?
Kae Lani Kennedy, while heel-less, is still the travel world's version of Beyoncé. She's Matador Network's social media guru, has written for a million actual places, and does her own thing over at A Travel Broad. Check her out and love her — we do.