Please welcome Savannah Grace author of Sihpromatum – I Grew My Boobs in China, a book which follows to experiences of a 14 year old who went backpacking with her family.
You can read my review of this book here.
I spent a delightful Friday evening with friends discussing travelling around the world in a gap year or as backpackers. Savannah’s book came up in our conversation, so it was a delight when she contacted me, in reply to a universal request for authors to interview.
1) Where did you grow up?
I grew up in North and West Vancouver, Canada. It’s a beautiful place with the city settled between the sea and mountains.
2) Had you travelled much before you set off backpacking?
I’d never been out of North America before we embarked on our round-the-world trip. I wouldn’t say my family was ever typical though. When I was in elementary school I skipped a few weeks of class here and there to go on family camping trips across the U.S. By the age of 7 I’d already visited about 35 U.S. states. We also did yearly road trips down to California to enjoy all the amusement parks. Before leaving we had a small family-run tour company for ESL (English as a Second Language) students doing local adventure tours river rafting, sky diving, bungee jumping, skiing, etc. But the only flight I’d ever taken before, aside from skydiving, was to Hawaii for my sister’s gymnastics competition.
3) Can you remind the readers of your initial thoughts about the trip and being uprooted from family and friends.
The news that we were going traveling came completely unexpectedly. The idea had never been discussed or considered prior so it came as a total shock. My parents had just separated (which inspired mom’s decision to do it) so just when I’d thought my whole world had fallen apart, it got worse. One day she simply announced that we were going to pack up everything, live out of backpacks and travel for a year. I was terrified by the concept of backpacking. I was the most terrified about the food, missing home and having to use a squatty toilet.
4) How far into the trip were you when you finally began to appreciate the adventure? What changed you?
A definite a-ha! moment was coming into Yangshuo on my first sleeper bus, only 5 days into the trip. Looking out the window at the sunrise revealing the bizarre scenery really opened my eyes to the beauty of being abroad. It revealed the excitement travel could bring. Being on the top of a hill in Mongolia at White Lake looking out over the world was another awe inspiring moment, that was about 2.5 months in. Although I certainly had many similar moments that made me stop and think about the unbelievable experience I was being given, I was still trapped within on a rollercoaster of female, teenage emotions. The entire trip was a process of learning and discovery for me and I’m thankful now to have had that opportunity.
5) Can you list 5 essential items for anyone embarking on a similar adventure.
I would say, of course, a passport, vaccinations, visas and camera as those are the basic necessities. A note pad and journal are a MUST in my opinion, along with mosquito repellent and a deck of cards if you’re not travelling solo. We always had a small daypack to carry around during day trips and to carry more important items.
6) Can you think of 5 items that first time backpackers believe they need which they soon discover are useless or a waste of time and space.
Hair dryer, sleeping bag, tent, hiking boots and extra clothes. I know that some backpackers carry around tents and heavy hiking boots. Unless you’re really planning a full time camping trip, these often become nothing but dead weight. Traveling in Asia is so cheap you can stay in hostels and guest houses and not worry about camping to save money. Africa is a pretty difficult place to camp unless you have your own transport. Europe would be a realistic place to use a tent, but during summer time would be best. I personally never used my sleeping bag and instead slept in the dirty ones the hostels/hotels/guest houses provided. If you are in warm weather places I would suggest packing a sheet, which is light in both temperature and weight. People generally pack too many clothes on a long term trip. I consider things like a hairdryer useless as reliable electricity was frequently unavailable in many countries.
7) Toilets would be a big issue for me on any such trip, how did you overcome the western world sanitary comforts?
Oh, you just have to live with it. As far as overcoming, there comes a point where you literally don’t have any choice. It’s either having an accident in your pants, or using the toilets that are provided. It’s amazing what you can and will do in a situation with no escape. I suppose in the end you learn what you are comfortable with and travel within that comfort zone. If you really need the western sanitary comforts, you’ll be paying more and staying in expensive hotels all the time.
8) When I travel I feel it is important to be able to speak a few words in the local language for courtesy and practical purposes. Do you agree? How can travellers avoid being rude and upsetting the local people?
Yes, definitely. We were never in a place long enough to conquer a language, and I can’t say I’m a particular linguistic master. Learning “please” “thank you” “goodbye” “hello” are the bare minimum basics every traveler should make the effort to learn to show that they respect where they are. Avoid upsetting locals by being patient and very open minded. One girl I know, a fellow traveller blogger Bex, says she once helped a local in Greece and in return got spat on three times. “WHAT?!” you say. Yeah, spat on. Anyone of us would think this was a big insult, but in Greece it apparently means, a compliment: to ward off the evil eye of jealousy to such a beautiful person. Being open minded and patient is essential to avoid being rude.
9) Since the first trip which your book is about, you continued to travel, can you briefly tell the readers where you went on to next and how long for.
That is really difficult to sum up. The next installment in the series covers our overland journey through Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Western China, Tibet, Nepal, Maldives, Sri Lanka and India. That is a time frame of five months. From there we travelled west overland through Pakistan, Afghanistan, across the Caspian and Black Seas and finally entered Europe. After Europe we took a crazy turn and nearly circumnavigated the entire African continent, hitting 36 of 54 African countries. That is where I continued alone, ultimately moving to Holland at the age of 18. The rest of the family continued on for another 6 months in SE Asia. The family journey lasted nearly 4 years.
10) Are you hoping to write more books about your adventures?
Most definitely! There will be a few more books in the series to come. I’m currently working on #2. It would be impossible for me to wrap up nearly 4 years and 80 countries in one book. The characters will continue to grow and develop, with the group dynamic ever evolving and fluctuating. New characters are introduced because a few friends from home flew out to join us for a few weeks each at different times. In Sihpromatum #2 readers will experience parts of the silk road, Tibetan monasteries, the strength of Nepali sherpas in the incredible Himalayas then live in the colors and chaos of India and then contrast this with the relaxing beauty of the Maldives. And of course there will be the adventure, humour and excitement that was found in my first book too.
Savannah Grace was born and raised in Vancouver, Canada. Youngest member of a very adventurous family, she’d visited 30 U.S. states by the age of 7 on various camping trips. At 14 she was pulled out of school to travel the world before returning home 4 years later to graduate from high school. Now 22, she’s traveled to nearly 100 countries and completed her first book “Sihpromatum – I Grew My Boobs in China”. She is currently living with her Dutch partner in The Netherlands, where she continues to write and travel
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BOOK: I would love readers to take the time to review my book on Amazon.com once they’ve finished reading it:
All pictures courtesy of Savannah Grace.
I adored this book and Savannah’s wonderful experience which she has shared with us all, thank you for being our guest today and Good luck with the second book, do come back and tell us all about it when it comes out.