Many can relate to the feeling of being trapped in a life that isn’t your own. We make decisions for family, friends, for work, for life. Constantly making sacrifices and compromises to live a good life, but not exactly a full life. Those of us who are able to make the decision to travel or to live someplace new, become open to the possibilities of being the kind of woman we are meant to be.
Andrea Zekis, has been able to do exactly that, thanks in large part to her journey of self-discovery through her travels. Andrea speaks to Girl Gone International about her transformative journey.
“My first foray into international travel was through the sister campus to the University of Evansville, in Grantham, England. I was 20, in my last year of university and presented then as male. Studying abroad in England gave me the opportunity to dig into the local history and geography that I had loved and read about since my youth. Instead of country hopping and collecting passport stamps across Europe like my classmates, I dug into the nature, geography and history the UK provided. This opportunity also gave me the freedom to truly explore my gender and sexuality.”
“In the States, I always worried about what people thought. Abroad, no one cares about who you are — you become more open to self, to the person you want to be and who you are.”
In her 30’s, travel for Andrea was a way to build comfort with transitioning into being the woman she had known herself to be deep inside. With the support of her family, Andrea started the hard work of working with her health providers on the counseling and medical care she needed for her well-being. A significant moment in her transitioning period was camping with her then partner. Camping allowed for Andrea to live as a woman, build confidence and gave a sense of freedom to be herself. To be in nature and embrace the beauty of the earth fostered self-acceptance and courage on the road to becoming more herself. There was freedom in hiking and being one with the earth.
“It’s fairly easy to be a stranger and leave all of those fears – you can be someone else when you travel.”
Trans Activism and Travel
As Andrea began to live her life fully, travel provided opportunities for activism and community building. Her journey took her all over the US, Arkansas, Oregon, Alaska, and Washington, DC in various capacities, lending her voice and her energy to awareness of representation. She focused on raising voices of transgender people within the LGBTQ+ activism movement. In the process of her work and undergoing major surgery, Andrea realized that she was losing a bit of herself to the cause. But another affirming change happened at the age of 40, when she traveled to Nepal, her first journey abroad as herself.
Andrea spent two months working with a humanitarian aid agency. The opportunity to explore the Himalayan culture’s embrace of nature, and seeing the country’s laws changing to support more LGBTQ+ populations, was another life-changing moment. By the end of her time in Nepal, Andrea had regained the spirit of adventure from her 20’s, appreciation for nature from her 30’s, and confidence of knowing she was in the right space, place and body in her 40’s.
Nepal gave her the opportunity to immerse herself culturally, connect to the growing movement of LGBTQ+ young people in the area and explore the natural wonder of the Himalayan region. While there, Andrea participated in their Pride March. She has kept her flag to this day as a reminder of her participation in this beautiful political action. It gave her an inside look at how the young people of the area were treated, and made her feel a part of the growing community.
Andrea is currently living in the US and although the pandemic has curbed international travel for now, her experiences affirm who she is and, most importantly, her belief in self-discovery and the transformational power of travel. A recent move to the Atlanta, Georgia area allowed Andrea to explore state parks every weekend and reconnect to nature – the one place where she could always be herself.
Andrea’s Advice for LGBTQ+ Travelers
When planning your first major trip:
- Find a place that has structures in LGBTQ+ rights, thus allowing more freedom and experiences.
- Learn about civil rights in potential destinations to understand how people are treated.
- Respect the culture and its customs – don’t expect the culture to conform to you.
- Research prior to your trip – find information to build connections with locals in advance, like Girl Gone International.
When it comes to travel, Andrea suggests:
“Do something new every day. Trust in people’s experiences. And do something that scares you.”
More About Andrea
Andrea Zekis, 42, works in policy and communications within the governmental sector. She graduated from the University of Evansville with a degree in communications and subsequently received Master’s degrees in broadcast journalism, geographic information systems and the study of public service.
Originally from the Chicago area, Andrea has lived in 10 states and the District of Columbia in the United States, as well as Nepal and Great Britain. She has held various titles in media, advocacy, non-profit and governmental fields. She’s most known for her past work advocating for the rights of transgender, gender non-conforming and gender non-binary persons both nationally and in her adopted homestate of Arkansas.
By Christina mcdade
Christina McDade is a writer, school counselor, social worker and a Spotify playlist curator who still plays Angry Birds and Candy Crush. Born and raised in Gary, Indiana, Christina has lived abroad, primarily in the Middle East for almost 10 years. You can follow her on Twitter, Clubhouse and Medium @mscdmcdade