Authors: Faren Rajkumar @faren_wanderer ; Aleka Mayr @alekamayr
Aleka is a self-declared positive thinker, mother widow, and adventure seeker who is guiding & teaching her kids though travel! Aleka and her children were drawn to exploration after the challenge of a loss in their family. BIPOC mothers on the road are the ultimate power symbol! Big thanks to Aleka for sharing an inspiring glimpse into her family’s vanlife journey.
1. Tell us about you & your journeys, and how you balance work life with travel & adventure!
“I started traveling with my kids after my late husband took his life in Autumn of 2015. I realized I couldn’t maintain the life I lived before Ray died, so I decided to pack up whatever fit into a metal cube and drove my kids across the country from Georgia to Colorado. I had never been to Colorado prior, but my sister lived in Boulder and assured this area was a great place to start over, with plenty of places perfect for healing my heart.
After our first big exploratory road trip to the Sand Dunes, Durango, Mesa Verde, and Ouray, I was hooked! It felt so freeing to bring my family to so many thought provoking locations, and see so much out of the car windows along the way. We had everything we needed in the car with us, so there was never a concern of an emergency I couldn’t handle.”
2. How do you feel about the movement to increase diverse representation in the outdoors?
“I was born and raised in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and was surrounded by many shades of tan and brown folks leading community driven programs. Even school event posters were always printed in at least 10 different languages so all families were included.
My father started the Fourth Street Photo Gallery in the early 70s, and would take groups of photographers of color out into the forest surrounding Bear Mountain on exploratory camping trips to learn nature photography techniques, and also to examine how grounded we all are and bring that connection back to urban centers. Unfortunately, documentation of the work that people like my father were doing never made it to mainstream media. So the portrayal of POCs deep connection to nature and our independent ability to teach others was muted. It’s important to broaden the media’s portrayal of diversity in nature, not only to just show brown faces, but to recognize that brown faces are already out here and capable of spearheading and supporting community initiatives.”
3. What does community mean to you?
“To me, community means people brought together by a combination of physical proximity, virtual proximity, and common interests. Together we form a web of support through advice, opportunities, education, and encouragement.”
4. What are some challenges you face as BIPOC mother who loves to travel?
“Safety is always our number one concern. On top of being an LGBTQ+ couple, we are also an interracial couple. There are several intersections of who we are that make traveling challenging “I have to keep in mind the route we are following to get to our destination and where I will feel comfortable stopping along the way. On one such travel day, the cabin we were headed to ended up being at the end of a very rocky 5 mile long forest road. In fact, the road was so rocky, I decided to turn around after a rock scraped the bottom of our vehicle. It was then that my plan had to change, and I had to quickly find a replacement accommodation because the sun was quickly setting by the time we made it back to pavement. We ended up at a small family run hotel in a tiny canyon town in an area I was previously planning on driving through without stopping. The hotel caretaker was welcoming, but the blatant stares from the locals that my kids and I received while walking along the sidewalk to get groceries was very unsettling. Sundown towns are very real. We left at 6 am the next day.”
5. What are your top three adventures, to date?
“I loved our road trips that included destinations in the Hoh Rainforest, Yellowstone, and Hell’s Canyon.”
6. How do you practice joy while on the road?
“I practice joy by feeling comfortable in my own body while positively experiencing the sensation of my surroundings. The way the wind feels and sounds, the way the trees sway and smell, and how the ground feels beneath my shoes on a hike – changing between pavement, rocks, and different soil compositions. It’s all amazing, and brings me immense joy.”
7. What message(s) do you want to share via your stories + content online?
“I want to share the activities that bring me joy, and to show folks that a widowed parent with three kids can still find opportunities to be joyful as an individual. This includes not only travel, but also volunteering in initiatives designed to bring together community through gardening and cooperative food justice.”
8. Anything else you want to share with the community, about yourself?
“In the beginning of our travels, all I had was my sedan and a roof rack. Over the years I slowly learned the best practices of travel – what made things easier, and what made them harder. I didn’t need a lot to set out on our first trip, and the biggest obstacle I worked through was the idea that I could do it.”
Be sure to follow @alekamayr on Instagram and be a part of her journey!