Credit: Sun-Times Print Collection

“When you travel a lot,” says Kathy Pulkrabek, one of the hosts of the podcast XX Will Travel, “and you tell people about it, you kind of see their eyes glaze over.”

Pulkrabek doesn’t go on typical vacations, however. One of her most recent trips was a sojourn with a friend to Sundridge, Ontario, to go dogsledding. “It was 20 degrees below zero—without windchill,” she recalls.”We were like, ‘Are you going to cancel this? Even the Canadians are staying home!'”

The trip went on as planned. “This man owns one hundred acres and he had thirty gorgeous sled dogs. And he loves them so much—we were asking him about the dogs and he took this thing out of his back pocket and it was a keychain and it was made out of dog hair from his favorite dog!”

When her cohost Ines Bellina began traveling on her own, she says, “What I got a lot of was, ‘Aren’t you scared?'” And I just sat there thinking, ‘Why are these people so terrified of women out in the world?’ If I’m not terrified, why are you terrified?”

The worst travel emergency Bellina, 35, has ever experienced was when she needed to have a toenail removed during a trip to Cusco, Peru. “They had to call in a doctor to actually remove it and the only place to do this was in a hostel. It was a whole series of unfortunate events,” Bellina says.

Bellina and Pulkrabek, who have previously performed in live lit and comedy shows including Is This A Thing? and The Kates, started XX Will Travel in May, 2015, so there would be a place for women to find support for their journeys, be they solo or with a friend or partner. Since then, the show has been downloaded all across the U.S. and in 91 other countries.

But both women think the judgment surrounding women traveling is lifting somewhat. “There are more resources now to kind of alleviate it,” Pulkrabek says. She and Bellina cite Facebook groups targeted to women travelers as another way women support each other in their adventures.

Kathy Pulkrabek
Kathy PulkrabekCredit: courtesy Kathy Pulkrabek

Another travel myth that Bellina, a communications manager with Northwestern Law School, and Pulkrabek, an editor and product manager for the American Dental Association, want to erase with XX Will Travel is that only young, white, affluent single women and Instagram influencers travel heavily. “You’re seeing married women who want to do this, women with children who want to do this,” Bellina says.

“Some of the feedback from our podcast has actually been from moms who used to be big travelers,” Pulkrabek says. “Our ethos is basically you don’t have to go to France or to Chile to be a traveler. People from Chicago can go to Michigan for the weekend.”

“We want to reach the people who are intimidated or overwhelmed by [traveling] and see that traveling is for them too,” Bellina adds.

Over the past three seasons, topics of discussion have included both the existential (travel epiphanies) and the practical (how to handle travel disasters and healthcare tips for women travelers.) Guests have ranged from storytellers from Chicago’s live-lit and comedy community to Eliza Reid, the former first lady of Iceland. “We feature a really diverse range of travelers,” Pulkrabek says.

Travel has changed the women for the better, they say. Bellina and Pulkrabek hope their listeners will travel and also feel transformed. “When I’m on the road, I feel more daring, more creative and more inspired than I ever do at home,” Pulkrabek says. Bellina quotes the journalist and travel writer Martha Gellhorn: “Traveling gave me faith in my own strengths and abilities.”

Episodes post every other Wednesday. Today’s episode is about traveling while sober, while future episodes include How-To Guides to sojourns in Belize and Belgium.