FAQ

What made you decide to go traveling and change your lifestyle? I grew up living what I thought was a pretty “normal” life- went to high school, attended college and studied abroad. I mostly stuck to the normal path, and checked off a lot of the boxes that are on society’s checklist – got a job, moved to a new city, had a steady relationship, got my master’s degree. But over time, two things were happening simultaneously. One – I began asking myself, “Is this it? I feel like I’m doing everything I’m supposed to do, but I don’t feel like what I’m doing is making me happy.” At the same time, the inner voice urging me to go and travel, which is always something I had wanted to do, was growing too loud to ignore. My early to mid-twenties had been sprinkled with adventures here and there, and with each little trip, I was more certain that I was comfortable walking away from the conventional life I had created for myself. An around the world adventure was no longer something I wanted to do, it was something I needed to do. Between a certain amount of diligent planning and saving, as well as a number of professional and personal commitments behind me, I packed up and set out for Southeast Asia.

How many countries have you been to? Around 65 countries.

What are the top 5 countries/places you are dying to get to? Right now – Jordan, Portugal, New Zealand, Cuba and Australia (Tasmania). There are so many more, but these are the ones that come to mind first.

Before going on a trip, do you plan what you are going to see and do or do you just arrive and see where it takes you? It depends on the trip and my budget. There are pros and cons to each way of travel. There’s something so freeing about showing up to a place with no plan and no agenda whatsoever. You have the freedom to take your time, speed up, slow down, or to change your plans on a dime. I find if I have more time and money, I’m more likely to travel this way. However, if time and a padded bank account aren’t a luxury I have, I am more apt to map out a detailed itinerary. The joy of traveling this way is you don’t have to spend a lot of time planning while on the road, because a lot of the work is already done- you can just relax and enjoy. I personally like the happy medium of having a framework that you are ok with straying from if the need or desire arises.

How do you prioritize locations? I do try to keep a logical route and move in one direction without backtracking too much. If I’m going somewhere I’ve already been, I try to add on a nearby country that I haven’t been to. Budget is always a consideration, and sometimes dictates what area I will travel to. Sometimes when the list of places you want to go is so long and not so specific, a simple search on price of airfare or a search for a frequent flyer ticket will help me settle on a location. And lastly, sometimes the desire to go somewhere just pushes that place to the top of my list and I have to go!

How do you plan your itinerary to get the best airline prices? I try to remain as flexible as possible. I often set flight alerts months ahead of time and monitor ticket prices daily. I love Kayak.com’s search engine which allows you to see the fluctuation in price over the span of a month, or if you’re less flexible, plus or minus three days from a specific date. I’ve had great success with the Tuesday myth, but you can’t always rely on that working. I’ve also waited too long thinking tickets will drop in price, and have ended up paying more than I want. It’s sort of a gamble – you win some, you lose some!

I’m a lover of redeeming frequent flyer miles. If you’re embarking on an around the world journey, Instead of costing out individual legs, call your airline and ask about a specific ‘around the world’ ticket. Most of the time, airlines offer tickets at surprisingly low mileage rates if you plan a multi-city trip that moves in one continuous direction. Book the long haul flights on miles, and fill in the shorter legs with overland travel, or budget airline flights.

For expert info on how to accrue endless amounts of airline miles, visit http://chrisguillebeau.com/how-to-use-frequent-flyer-miles-to-go-anywhere/

How do you fund all of your traveling? No, I didn’t win the lottery and I’m not independently wealthy. I fund all of my trips myself. I spend a few months each year working in the US to save money to fund my off-season travels. In the beginning, I generally traveled to countries where my budget would stretch further, but now my wanderlust is taking me all over the planet. The ability to travel comes down to priorities. I live a pretty simple life and I am okay with sacrificing certain modern luxuries and lifestyle components which have become mandatory for some, in order to see and do all that I want and continue this traveling lifestyle.

For more on this, read my blog post, You Think Traveling’s Expensive, Try Staying Home!

How do you assess making calculated risks? — How do you weigh YOLO vs practical concerns (especially being a female)? In hindsight, I’ve probably done some risky things… but I don’t think I’ve ever put myself in a dangerous situation without fully calculating the risk I’m taking. That’s just the person I am. I weigh the pros and cons, think things through, and follow my gut. For me, instinct is my best indicator if something is legit or not.

Do you get lonely on the road? No, not really. It is so easy to meet other travelers if you are open to it and want company. If you want to be alone, you can create that space for yourself as well. I find that I get more lonely at home because I miss being on the road and being around like-minded people. Read my blog post on How to travel alone without getting lonely.

How do you deal with being sick on a trip? It’s inevitable that you will get sick at some point on a trip – whether it’s from the street food, the water, or a number of other things. I keep a stash of emergency medicine (a course of antibiotics, emergency Cipro, a first aid kit, and the like). I hope I won’t have to use it, but if I do, at least I have what I need most of the time. If you don’t have it, most of the time, you can easily get what you need at a local chemist, or find a local natural remedy for your ailments. If I do get sick, I just hunker down in a place and get well before moving on again.

Are there certain areas you avoid? How do you ensure your safety? I make a point to avoid areas where there’s pre-existing conflict, or where travelers are strongly advised not to go. But I won’t rule out a country due to unnecessary fear or the perception that an area or country is ‘unsafe.’

Read Rick Steve’s article on the media and how it increases our fears of the state of the world.

http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-steves-fearful-americans-travel-20141105-story.html

How do you decide what to pack? And how much luggage do you carry? I always carry a backpack that will hold up to 40 lbs (which I do not pack all the way full). I pack a smaller fold up day bag/purse inside that for when I arrive somewhere. I also carry a small KATA camera bag, which holds my camera body, lenses, filters, memory cards, and a small notebook computer. This also can function as a small backpack for hiking – and I’ll take only the equipment I need for that day and lock up the valuables in the hostel.

The trip dictates what I pack. I find myself in warmer climates, which are easier to pack for, and the load is usually lighter. If I’m on a trip that will take me to both warm and cold climates, space bags are my friend! And if I know I won’t need cold weather gear again after a certain point in time, I either leave it at a hostel for other travelers, or ship it home so I don’t have to lug extra pounds around the world.

See the Most Complete Packing List Ever here.

Do you worry about bed bugs? I sure do worry about bed bugs. I think I am one of very few travelers who can say I’ve been lucky enough to avoid any experiences with the pesky mites. I travel with my own sleep sheet and, in cooler climates, a sleeping bag. I think these two things help. I also think that review sites, like TripAdvisor, are holding hostels to higher standards and the overall quality and cleanliness of hostels is getting better every year.

What is your lodging preference? I prefer to stay in hostels and guesthouses. I like the ability to meet other travelers and be around other people. If I need extra space, I will opt for a private room but still like to have access to common areas. If I need a night of comfort, I will opt for a hotel if my budget allows.

How overwhelming is it for you to be in a place you have never been or a place where you don’t speak the language? I find it totally exhilarating to arrive in a place I’ve never been. I have this feeling like a whole new world is at my fingertips. So the only way it’s overwhelming to me is in a good way. I am so eager to experience the culture, food, sights, ways of life, and to meet the local people. Obviously, some countries cater to travelers and backpackers more than others, but sometimes the best stories and memories come from connecting with people in the more remote and foreign places. Language barriers can always lead to hilarious games of charades, and peoples’ gestures and body language are universal and are easily interpreted (most of the time).

As travelers we always talk about our favorite places but what is the worst place you have been to? So many people ask, “What’s your favorite place?” It’s difficult to answer that question, but this might be a bit easier. I can honestly say I’ve never truly hated a place, but many things can happen to cause you not to like a place, or to not have a good experience there. I found myself on a little island off the Southern coast of Vietnam during wet season. Rough seas and the smell of fish sauce and vomit made the journey there enough to make me want to turn around. We arrived with no accommodation and ended up in a bungalow infested with termites and tarantula-sized spiders. We were tired and hoping for some sunshine and R&R, but it wasn’t to be. But, I bet this little place is beautiful in the dry season… bad timing on our part.

How do you know when you’re “done” with a spot? I know I’m done with a spot when either I start to lose energy or enthusiasm or when I get lazy. If I’m spending more time in a café than out walking the streets with my cameral in hand, then I know it’s time to move on, or time to slow down and take a break. See my blog entry on What to do when you hit the travel wall for tips on avoiding burning out on the road.

Do you get tempted to go over budget? I used to be a lot stricter with myself when it came to budget. When I was taking longer trips, I needed to make the budget stretch, and I became quite the frugal traveler. I’ve now got to a place, where I won’t sacrifice an experience because of the cost. The memory of something lasts longer than the amount of money you spent to create it.

Do you prioritizes places where there are people you know there? I never used to, but I have been so fortunate to meet wonderful people from all over the world, so now it’s fun to know that I will either be able to visit people if I’m traveling through their home country, or maybe run into them in some far off land, where we both find ourselves traveling at the same time.

What is your perfect mix? E.g. 50% culture 25% mountain 25% adventure… This is a purely personal question. Everyone’s answer will be different. I have become quite the nature lover, so I spend the majority of my time near water or mountains, and I intersperse this with a couple of days in a city. I love the energy of a major city, access to great restaurants and the odd museum, but a day or two of the hustle and bustle has me wanting space and a slower pace.

What is the longest you think you could go travelling without returning home if money were limitless? In my past experiences, I find that 4 months of backpacking and moving at a steady pace seems to be a good amount of time away for me. If I interspersed that with breaks along the way or worked in more down time in places, I think I could stretch that much longer. If money were limitless, I would probably travel full time, with trips home to see friends and family a couple of times a year. I would also take longer breaks abroad to avoid burning out.

What are some of the ways you have found yourself changed by your experiences?

I have definitely developed more patience- for myself and others, and I’m much better at accepting things that are out of my control without frustration. Taking just one bus ride through Cambodia in wet season helps with this!

I’ve always been an open-minded and understanding person, but I truly believe in the cliché, ‘travel broadens the horizons,’ and feel we can learn acceptance and tolerance by shattering our assumptions and stereotypes through traveling.

I still work on not sweating the small stuff, but traveling definitely teaches you what the small (and big) things are.

I’ve learned to slow down and savor, and live life in the present moment, not in the memories of the past or the plans of the future.

Is it possible to have a family and integrate that into a traveling lifestyle? If having a family is something you desire. For me, traveling has been the best education and the best way to understand the human race and what ties us all together. I want to share this with my family in the future. Since, I don’t touch too much on family travel on my blog or website, here are some wonderful sites created by families who have embarked on long and short-term journeys together.

http://www.argentinaalaska.com/blog/We-are

http://thenomadicfamily.com/nomadic-family-travel-blog-world-travel-blog-with-kids/

http://havebabywilltravel.com/

How is it to be away traveling while birthdays, weddings, births, and special occasions happen? This is a tough one. I’ve been fortunate enough to plan my travels around big events – my brother’s wedding and the birth of his two children, and most of my close friends’ weddings. I make an effort to be at the big stuff, but it’s inevitable you’re going to miss things here and there, especially on the longer term trips. However, we’re able to keep in touch like never before with Skype, Viber, and Face Time. I’ve had friends who have attended their friends’ weddings via Skype. You do what you have to do, and most people will get it… then you always have something to celebrate when you do get home.

Did you encounter any family or friends who tried to discourage you from embarking on such a journey? I’m sure a few people thought I was crazy for quitting my job during an economic slump and ceasing all contributions to my 401K, but the people who knew me best knew this was coming. It’s not as if I woke up one day and said, I’m going to go to Southeast Asia for nine months. I had been talking about and planning this journey for a while. I actually received a lot of encouragement from friends and family, which I’m thankful for. A few people took a bit longer to come around to the idea than others, and I’m sure there are a few out there who think I’m just completely bonkers… each to their own, I say.