Q & A With a World Traveler
Updated: Oct 29, 2020
Your top backpacker questions- answered! A helpful Q&A to calm your nerves and inspire you to get out there and travel! Questions by my good friend @brandonwillloughby, whom I met on Maui, & answers by me:
Brandon: How did you know that traveling was for you? The want to go somewhere is great, and also common; so is looking at plane tickets. But how did you know that it was something you were actually going to do? Were you Terrified? Excited? A little of both?
Lauren: To be honest, at first, I didn’t know that traveling was for me. I saw all these people living incredible lives on instagram and youtube; being their own bosses and living their dreams. I wanted it- but I wasn't sure I could make it happen. That life just seemed so far off for me. Around the time the travel bug bit I was enrolled full-time in a university pharmacy program; I was dealing with a crippling fear of flying on planes as well as social anxiety. Not to mention the fact that I couldn't imagine leaving my family; I had never been away from home for more than a day. Regardless, I knew exactly what wasn’t for me. If I wasn't finding satisfaction by sitting cooped up in a classroom, leafing through a chemistry textbook, I certainly wouldn’t find it when I jumped into a 9-5 after school and gave up my dreams of seeing the world. I wasn’t about to let my fears control me or hold me back.
I held to the mantra that you have to jump for the net to appear; you just have to take the first step. I started researching, watching videos, figuring out how I could make it happen. When I did finally book my ticket, I had a rushing fireworks display of emotions. I actually screamed when I hit the “book” button, equally out of excitement and utter amazement- I’d actually done it. I’d committed to my dreams. The ticket was a one-way, as to allow for freedom (and at the time, as a safety net in case I wanted to come home sooner than expected lol). The plan was to stay for a month, two at the most. I ended up staying six and returning two months later for another adventure lasting nearly a year.
What did your friends and family think about you leaving? Were some excited? Jealous? Concerned? How did their input make you feel? Was it their opinions, and the lifestyle that you had been currently living, that made you want to escape in the first place?
I had been talking about travel for so long that I’m not sure anyone really believed I was going to do it. So I think the initial reaction was shock. Then concern came shortly after. Everyone had a worry; a story to tell you they heard on the news or some irrational fear they'd been harboring in their own minds that they felt they needed to project onto me. It's not as though I wasn’t already nervous enough, I certainly didn't need everyone else's concerns piling up on top of mine. But I think the concern, the resistance, the desire to keep me complacent - they were all catalysts that drove me to achieve my independence. I wanted to get out into the world and figure out who I was, without the constant influence of everyone else around me.
Despite the inherent negative reactions however, I was also greeted with plentiful support and optimism. Plenty of people told me they were jealous; that they were proud. These reactions only multiplied once I came home bearing stories and pictures from around the world. I now often hear things like “I wish I had done what you’re doing when I was your age” and “You’re doing it right”.
What were your first thoughts of solo traveling? How was it contemplating traveling solo as a female for you? Were your friends and family worried? Were you worried? What was your thought process when it came to meeting friends?
I didn’t have any intention of going solo at the beginning of my travels. I love sharing my experiences with others and I thought it would be so much fun to have someone else by my side; someone to push me and encouraging me to go through with it all. However, I reached a point where I thought solo travel might be my only option. Its not the easiest feat finding someone who’s willing to drop everything and travel the world with you in your time frame.
I did however manage to find a travel buddy through a facebook group designed for female travelers looking, specifically, to move to Hawaii. Neither of us were quite ready to “move” per-say, but were equally interested in taking a month-long trip to the islands. We met in person for the first time in the Chicago airport, the day we were flying to Hawaii (crazy right?). She ended up leaving after a month and I ended up staying for quite a bit longer, meeting other friends and planning even more travels. Staying at hostels gives you the opportunity to meet so many like-minded people and plan further travels with them as well (the kind of opportunity you don't quite have back home).
I never really feel alone anymore. I know that wherever I go in the world, I have friends nearby and many more that I haven't even met yet. It was definitely nice having a friend straight away when I got to my destination, however I did find that once she left, I opened myself up more to meeting other people and making more friends.
You have to remember as well that none of these people have met you before and none of them have any pre-conceived notions of who you should be or what you should be doing with your life. This is a fresh start.
What was it like working a full-time or 9-5 job for you? Was what you were doing before you left something you were actually passionate about? What was it like leaving your comfort zone?
I wasn’t working a 9-5 before I left home, but I was in university. About a year before I left to travel, I had a realization. I was finally starting to see what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to start my own business, travel the world, explore photography/videography, and create some sort of online income where I could support myself from anywhere in the world. I realized I was passionate about natural healing, not the western medicine practices that were being preached in my pharmacy school classes. I knew that in order to find happiness, I needed to start aligning my actions, and my life in general, with what I was passionate about. I later dropped out of school, started an online course in Holistic Nutrition, and made plans to travel the world. Once I made these adjustments and got myself aligned with my passions I finally started to feel alive.
Do you have to be Rich To Travel? What did you think was enough money when you left? Was money a stressor when you were traveling?
You definitely don’t have to be rich to travel; you can make it work with any amount of money. It all just depends on how you want to travel. When most people picture “traveling” they’re envisioning more of a “vacation”. I’d like to call what I do more of “nomadic living”. I work while I travel and choose to live as a local at my destinations rather than a tourist (meaning I don't spend all my days going on tours or eating out, I rather hang at the beach and cook my own food). It’s all about making it sustainable.
I left home for the first time with only $5,000 USD and I’m still traveling 2 years later. I remember stressing about how much money I would need to have saved up before I left. I just never seemed satisfied; no amount of money felt like enough to carry me safely into the unknown. But my mom made a good point before I left. She said “you’re never going to have the ‘perfect amount’ because there is no perfect amount”. No amount of money is going to take away the nerves or the uncertainty. You just have to get out there and prove to yourself that you can do it.
I think the key to being frugal is making a plan. As fun as it is to wing it when you travel, it does make sense financially to have some things in place. I often try to set up a “work for accommodation” position (in which I work at a hostel in exchange for free stay) before I change locations which gives me the chance to look for a proper paying job without having to worry about rent while I search. Getting a hostel position is often as easy as sending an email inquiring about available work along with an attached resume, a bit about yourself, and preferably a photo.
Running out of money has definitely been a concern of mine at times. But I found that somehow, there’s always a way to make things work and everything eventually falls into place. The closest I got to running out of money was in Brisbane Australia. I had been applying to jobs for weeks and didn’t hear back. I got down to $4 in my Australian account when I finally heard back from a position on an island just off the coast. It happens, but you have to remember that you can always find a way and your situation is only temporary.
What were some of the sacrifices that made it hard for you to leave? What were the hardest things for you to mentally conquer while being hundreds/thousands of miles away from your home and your comfort zone? What kept you going on days where missing home made you almost want to buy a ticket back?
For me, the biggest sacrifice was losing out on time with my family. I’ve always been so close to them so it's no surprise that this came hard for me. I missed countless birthdays, graduations, holidays, and get-togethers. It’s always a give and take. I'm often at war with myself, attempting to cultivate some type of balance between family life and freedom.
That being said, one of the hardest things for me to mentally conquer while being thousands of miles away from home was homesickness. It definitely hits you at some point. At first, I didn’t think much about it. I was too busy living my “best life”; enjoying my new-found freedom. The first time I felt genuinely homesick was 3 months into my travels. It hit me out of nowhere, like a ton of bricks. I just remember feeling really sad and and wanting nothing more in the world than to be at home in my own bed. I called home and talked to my parents, making me feel loads better. That is one thing you have to remember when you're traveling- your family and friends are just one phone call or FaceTime away. And if you really wanted to go home, you'd just be a flight away. But what kept me so many times from booking that flight was the realization of what I was doing. I was out here, living my dreams. I could go home whenever I wanted, but I realized, even when I was homesick, I wasn't ready to give up the adventure.
What was your opinion on hostels before you went compared to your actual experience? Are hostels places for introverts too? What’re your pros and cons of hostels in your honest opinion and experience?
Before I started traveling, I had no idea what a hostel even was. I had heard this word countless times in travel videos but still wasn’t sure what I was getting into. I ended up finding that hostels are like college dorm rooms but for travelers! You’re usually in a shared room with anywhere from 3-19 other people and you’re all living in bunk beds. There are typically lockers to store your things and other than that, you’re living out of a suitcase. As horrific as that might seem to someone who is used to having their own space with a full sized closet, I think the vibe of hostels fits the whole “travel life” feel pretty well. You’re a nomad. You’re bouncing from place to place and living out of a backpack or suitcase. It’s minimalist living for a minimalist lifestyle.
I find that hostels are often very affordable and also very safe. I’ve only had one instance of having something stolen (an outlet adapter when staying at a party hostel) but other than that I’ve not had any issues!
If I were to give advice to anyone going to a hostel, I would say to get involved! Hostels often host loads of free activities for guests. They have free breakfast most times, tours (some of which have to be paid for), and activity nights like beer pong, karaoke, and trivia night. Even if you don’t want to play the games, it’s still always a good time to hang out with everyone.
There’s definitely going to be times when its hard to sleep though! Hostels can be very loud at night time (especially if they’re party hostels) so make sure to read the reviews before you book. And it’s definitely ok to only book one or 2 nights at a hostel to see if it’s the vibe you’re going for or not- they’re all very different! Lastly, I would recommend downloading the Hostel World app on your phone! It will come in handy when finding/comparing hostels.
What were some of the pros and cons of traveling with your significant other? Was it too much time together and you noticed the little things about each other? Was it amazing and care free?
I was actually lucky enough to meet my boyfriend while I was traveling. Given that we’re both travelers, we share a sense of adventure and get each others life decisions in a way most people wouldn’t back home. After we officially started dating, we started traveling/ making moves together as well. Being limited to hostels for the majority of our travels, this essentially meant “living together" from the beginning of our relationship.
Spending 24/7 with someone is definitely a lot. We've gotten to know all the little quirks and habits of the other; living habits, thought patterns, and preferences. I'd say all-in-all, the experience has brought us much closer and has given us a solid foundation to build our relationship on. Traveling together means making decisions together and working as a team. It means compromising and communicating.
There are a couple cons for sure, though not many that I’ve found. One con for me is that I’ve found it harder to keep in touch with friends/ make new friendships when traveling in a relationship because I tend to spend most of my time with my partner (making me feel like I don't need to reach out and socialize as much). The other con I think would be a slight deduction in the amount of freedom I feel when it comes to decision making. I now not only have myself to thing about, I have someone else as well which, no doubt, adds another layer to the decision making process.
All in all though, it’s been an amazing experience and I’m so glad I’ve gotten to share so many memories/experiences with my partner. I think traveling has made us a stronger couple and I'm so thankful for that!
What would your best advice be for someone who has just had a rough break up and wants to get away but doesn’t know where to start? What were your pros and cons of traveling after your breakup?
I had never actually been in an official relationship before I started traveling but I had dealt with my fair share of heart break before I left, so I know how it feels to go looking for freedom and liberation in your travels. I’ve met plenty of girls along my journey as well who were using travel as a sort of post-break-up therapy. It definitely helps, in every way. You learn to function on your own, meet new people, and establish an identity for yourself independent of relationships. It’s quite honestly one of the most therapeutic things you can do. New places, new faces, new experiences, and a hell of a lot of growth. So my advice to anyone going through a breakup and looking to get away- do it. Pick somewhere that calls to you- somewhere you’ve always wanted to go. Book a hostel, talk to people, go out, and enjoy yourself. It's not going to be easy and it's not a magic pill for healing. You might feel distracted at first but the feelings will still creep back. You just have to keep going and use the experience to see how much more is out there; how much you were holding yourself back before you left. In many countries it’s very normal to travel right after high school (GAP Year) or before pursuing a master program/advance program. In America it could be seen as very uncommon and abnormal. What is your advice to that stereotype? What did you parents and friends feel about it? Your friends? Were they supportive or resistant to the idea? Did it have any decision factor in what you chose?
I would recommend a GAP year to absolutely anyone who has just graduated high school (or even anyone who has started university and feels lost). Before I left to travel, I didn't value my education. School felt like something I “had” to do but it was far from something I wanted to do. I hadn't explored myself yet; my interests, passions, and therefore had no idea what I wanted to do with my life or what would fulfill me.
Now that I've traveled however, I have a far greater sense of who I am and what I want to devote my time to. I value learning now; I crave it. I feel like travel has been it’s own form of life education and it’s left me wanting to know more about everything. I feel like I have a greater sense of direction now which is so important for incoming university students who are about to put themselves in debt for an education.
In my opinion, there’s no rush. We’re pressured by society to do certain things and achieve certain things at/by certain ages but in truth, there's no timeline. You can do things at your pace. That being said, if you want to take a break before making any rash decisions that are going to impact the rest of your life, I think you should.
My parents were actually extremely supportive of my decision to travel and take a break from school. My friends and extended family, on the other hand, didn’t quite understand and I often felt anxious talking to them about my decisions because I would always be faced with so many questions that I didn’t necessarily feel like answering. It’s definitely hard to make decisions like this when you feel like everyone else's opinions are weighing in but you have to remember that the only opinion that matters is yours.
It’s one thing to travel to another country you haven’t been to, but what is the mental process in the beginning of actually planning to live in a country for more than just a couple week? What were your fears? Were you scared about finding a place to live or excited about it? Was it about finding a job? Or finding friends? What were the pros and cons of moving to a country you’ve never been?
Along the course of my travels, I’ve made many “moves” and faced a multitude of relocations. I feel like what I do is sort of “nomadic living”. I move from place to place with my belongings packed up in a few bags and start completely from scratch in every location. I don’t usually sweat too much about finding a place to live because there's always the option of staying at a hostel. Hostels are relatively cheap and most will let you stay for extended periods of time, giving you a chance to find a job, get your feet on the ground, and search for alternate place to live. Many hostels also offer work-for-accommodation exchanges in which you are able to work a set amount of hours each week at the hostel in exchange for free stay (which can often times be arranged before even arriving at your location via email).
Finding a job is sometimes tricky and I think that’s usually my biggest concern depending on how much money I have saved up at the time. If money is an issue, I would definitely recommend doing a work-for-accommodation so you don't have to worry about the cost of rent while you job hunt.
I’m definitely a bit worried about making new friends each time I move as well. I often get tired of re-introducing myself and generating small talk every time I meet someone new; it's exciting at first but after months of travel you definitely get tired of trying to make friends! I also have some introverted tendencies so pushing myself out of my comfort zone to socialize with strangers isn't always the easiest feat! I typically find that its easiest for me to make friends with people I work with so doing work-for-accommodations always helps me in this area. This also guarantees that the people you make friends with won’t all be leaving in the next few days (as is the case with non-staff hostel guests)
I have found that the biggest pro of moving somewhere vs just traveling there is that you get to experience the location as a local rather than a tourist. This is something really special because you get to be completely immersed in the culture of a place and see what it’s really like behind all the attractions. The only con then, is that when you live somewhere, you do have to work and lead more of a normal life with routine rather than getting to fully explore like a traveler.
Do you think it’s possible to have it all? The ability to travel while also make money? How important do you think work life balance is?
I do think it's possible! This has been my dream ever since I started getting into the idea of “living the travel lifestyle”. With today's technology, I think it's possible to turn anything you have a passion for into your way of life and do it online from wherever you're at in the world. It will take work, determination, and drive, but if you put the work in, you can make it happen for yourself. I also think it's possible to find jobs that align with your passions while you're traveling.
I do think work/life balance is extremely important though as well. You should always prioritize health and happiness no matter what, even if it's tempting to do otherwise. Just set goals for yourself and work on moving towards them one day at a time; you aren't going to create your dream life overnight.
Money is only a piece of the puzzle. If you’re able to combine your income stream with something you love to do, I think that is the magic combination. But if you find that you haven’t quite gotten there yet, there are still ways you can make money and enjoy yourself. I haven’t quite figured out this magic combination for myself yet but I'm always working towards it. I try to always make time for projects I'm passionate about without putting any pressure on them to amount to monetary gain. From my perspective, if I’m able to turn it into a living- great. If not, oh well. I still enjoy doing it and there are plenty of other ways for me to make money while still doing things I’m passionate about on the side.
How’s life coming back home after traveling? Were things the same? Were things different? Were you different? Coming back home was, I found, one of the craziest aspects of the traveling experience. The whole week leading up to my return, I fantasized about what it would be like… I just felt so different; so changed and I wasn’t sure how that was going to impact my relationships. More than anything, I was excited. I couldn’t wait to show off the “new me”. I felt liberated; I had traveled thousands of miles from home, established my independence, and best of all- I felt like I had proven myself.
When I did get home, everything felt familiar yet oddly foreign. It was like traveling back in a time machine. My bed was still there; all my things. My family was all still living their lives and continuing on with the way things were before I left. But somehow, I felt like a stranger in my own home. Everything felt luxury, which I think was the funniest part. I finally had a proper bed (not a hostel bunk bed), I had a closet, and a clean full-sized kitchen at my disposal. I wasn't sharing a common space with loads of other travelers… It was a heavy contrast to what I had been experiencing in the past months.
Everyone noticed a difference in me when I got back. I heard comments like “You seem so much more sure of yourself” and “It's like night and day, you’ve changed so much”. The changes they noticed were all positive, mostly about how outgoing I had become and how confident I seemed compared to when I left. Everyone also noticed how much happier I was and how much I was “glowing”. I also noticed that my interactions with family, relatives, and friends were so much more special, given how long we had been apart.
This “glow” didn't last forever though. I’d say that after about 2 weeks it wore off. People stopped asking questions, everyone returned to their normal lives, and the fact that I was back home really started to hit me. I was no longer surrounded by friends 24/7 and the ones I did have back home didn’t quite seem to “get” me on the level my travel friends did; I just didn't have much in common with them anymore. I wasn't constantly going on adventures and exploring. I was back in the same place I was before I made any of my travel dreams a reality. I found that I slipped into a few old habits again and even started to notice myself slide back into old behavioral patterns. This, quite honestly, scared me and it made me realize how eager I was to get back out and start traveling again.
I could go on forever about my experiences being back home but I would honestly just say it’s a mix of emotions. The best way to sum it up is that you’re like a fish returning to a pond after you’ve experienced the ocean. Some people will be curious, others will be jealous. But you just have to remember that this experience is about YOU and nobody else. No one else can quite understand the experience you’ve just had and there’s no way you can make them. But you can hold the memories dear to your heart and keep the wanderlust fueling in your soul until you can plan your next trip :)
I hope this was helpful! Comment below if you have anymore questions!
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