When We Met: October 2014
Where We Met: Chiang Mai, Thailand and Siem Reap, Cambodia
Occupation: Travel Writer, Digital Nomad, and Creator of The Happy Passport
How long have you been traveling for and where have you been?
I’ve been traveling since the end of November 2013 so I guess a full ten months. I left Los Angeles and went to Nepal, after that I went to Laos for a month, Vietnam for a month, Cambodia for a month, then I went back to Vietnam for six months and now Thailand for a month…I hope that adds up to ten months.
What were you doing in Vietnam for six months?
Falling in love. No, well yes, but after four months of traveling which felt to me like very fast travel and I was also working on a book about my time in Nepal so I wanted to stay in one place and finish the book. I was in Hoi An which is a really peaceful place on the central coast of Vietnam it seemed like a good place to do that.
Did you finish the book?
I’m almost done. I was suppose to be finished in September!
What is the title and what is it about?
It’s called ‘My Week with Deepak‘. The book is a travel memoir about my month in Nepal and some very crazy characters I met during my time there and all of the deception that happened to me there.
How long were you traveling by yourself?
I was traveling by myself for the first 7 months.
You write a blog called The Happy Passport about solo travel? Can you tell us some of the pros of solo travel?
I think the best part of solo travel is the people you meet. When you are on your own you’re much more open and aware of meeting people. You sort of crave it because you’re by yourself. It’s easier to meet locals when you are on your own. If you’re in a group or your with a partner people sort of assume you’re with that person and they don’t really bother you. I think there were only a handful of times that I’ve been to a restaurant by myself and someone didn’t come up and start talking to me or invite me to their table. It’s a good way to meet people. And you get to do what you want. You don’t have to compromise ever, so you can leave, come, go, stay. There is that freedom.
How about the cons to traveling solo?
I guess the stock answer would be that you get lonely except I never did.
You can’t share costs of anything and you don’t always have someone to share the experience with. It’s really great if you’re doing some soul searching and you want to be introspective. Once you move beyond that, which you probably will when you travel solo, it is nice to have someone to say, remember that time in Athens, or isn’t that sunset amazing.
Have you run into any dangers traveling solo?
No, actually since I started traveling with a partner we’ve had a lot more problems. The most dangerous thing I’ve encountered solo, and this is what the book is about, was a sort of psychological scam. Basically, part of the book is ‘is it a scam, or isn’t it’. In Nepal any female traveling solo there will probably experience men wanting to marry you when they first meet you. And the difficult part is if you actually fall in love and are dating someone and trust them, how do you know if it is true or real. Or could it be real and a scam at the same time?
What kind of things have you run into while traveling with a partner?
The biggest thing that comes to mind, and we’ve had a few, was when we were on a highway in Vietnam and were unfamiliar with the area. We were on a motorbike and a man came up behind us, flagged us down, and told us to get off the highway. At first we thought we better listen but then my suspicious brain started to wonder why the guy cares where we are going. My boyfriend just thought he was helping us but I made him turn around and when the guy realizes we are no longer following him he turned around. My boyfriend and I were still arguing about the guy’s intentions and the guy pulled up beside us on his motorbike, he started to drive really, really close to us where he could reach his hand over and grab the key from the ignition if he wanted to. It felt like a spy movie.
Then I noticed a van on the side of the road. I thought it was just abandoned but as we got closer we could see it was full of dudes waiting to jump out or do whatever they were going to do. As we got closer to the van, the guy on the bike started to reach out to grab our bike and I start yelling ‘GO! GO! GO!’ just like in a movie. My boyfriend had prepared the bike to gun it if we need to, because he had decided at that point something dangerous was going on. So we swerved outside and as we did we were flanked by guys coming out of the van…they were are shirtless by the way… and I made eye contact with the man on the bike and he gave me this look like he was going to come for us. So I told my boyfriend to gun it again and thankfully we got away.
Do you think this would have happened to you if you were alone?
Well, I think if I were alone I would have been more suspicious. So, if I was on the highway in the dark and someone came up to me I would have just immediately sped away.
Do you have a favorite place you have visited?
Vancouver, in Canada. I love Vancouver. I think it is the one city I have been to that has absolutely everything I value. It has nightlife, it has that city feel, but within walking distance from that you can be in the forest in Stanley Park and be surrounded by nature and near that you have a white sand beach. I was only there for four days and can’t wait to go back. It is the perfect city.
Have you ever been any place you hated?
Yeah, I hated Laos, I really didn’t like it. But the reason I didn’t like it was because I was in a bad place in my life, I was in a bad state of mind. If you’re in a bad place in your life and in the most beautiful place in the world you will hate it. People told me how horrible Vietnam is, how awful it is but I ended up staying for seven months. I think the lesson from that is don’t listen to anything anyone tells you. You have to go see it for yourself.
How much did you pack for this trip and what have you thrown away or realized you should have packed?
I have about the same amount of volume. I have one big backpack and one laptop case. I have lost almost all of my clothes on this trip. At one point I had no shoes. They had all been lost, stolen, or swept away by the ocean. The one thing I didn’t pack that I wish I would have is toiletries. For women, if you have face creams or lotion that you love try to bring that with you because it is really hard to find.
Any advice for people who feel like they really want to travel but don’t for whatever reason?
Since we’ve been traveling I’ve met people with every kind of reason not to travel. They have a full time job, debt, children, a spouse, a mortgage. None of it is an excuse unless you want it to be. If you have a house, a mortgage, you can rent it out. If you have a full time job you can talk to your boss. I’ve met people who have told their boss that they would really like to travel for four months but they like the company and still want to have their jobs when they return and their boss says yes. I think a lot of the time we create these things to say “I can’t” in our minds because we are afraid. But if you actually do it, if you actually give it a try people are accommodating. Also, it is not expensive. I have money in my savings account for the first time in my life since I’ve been traveling. I spend 60%-70% less a month than I did when I was living in Los Angeles. Just get there, get the one way flight and once you get there it is cheap.
Also, for women, the world is a really, really safe place. I think we are led to believe that the world is scary and we’re just going to get raped or whatever. Most places are really safe and people are willing to help you out. You just have to use common sense.
Can you tell us about budget? How do you plan it?
When I first started traveling I was hired to work on a series of travel books. I got an advance and was able to travel with it. Once I realized I wanted to keep traveling when I was done, my budget became really small. I can spend about $600 – $700 a month on food and drink and hotel. I also have student loans and other debt I have to pay but if you don’t have any debt, in Asia at least, you can live that cheaply.
How much time and preparation did you put into planning for this trip?
I had about three weeks to get ready. I was writing the travel books from LA, researching them from there and said to the client, why don’t I just go there. Just pay me up front instead of every week, and he agreed. So I had about three weeks to figure out the visa situation, get the flight, and vaccinations. Luckily I was just subletting my apartment so I didn’t have to deal with that.
How do you research places and figure out what you want to do, what you want to explore?
I try to avoid Lonely Planet because it has steered me wrong on multiple occasions. I’ve lost a lot of money using them because of bad transportation information or it will say that this village has just gotten wifi but I get there and there isn’t any. So not Lonely Planet. I like Wikitravel and how it breaks up neighborhoods in places so you can get a good overview of where you are going. It shows accommodations based on budget. It’s pretty accurate.
Can you tell us how your blog The Happy Passport will evolve in the future?
Yeah, I see it moving in two different directions so it might split into two websites in the future. One is about Digital Nomads, how to work abroad without having to teach English or work in a regular job because I’ve done that and you may as well just be back home. Then I’m moving more to a story based travel blog where people are sharing their tales. So it is focused on great writing, emotions, and stories about travel rather than practical information about travel.
Can you talk about what you want five or ten years down the line?
I’m working on Abroad Abroad Foundation. My dream is to help underprivileged women, in any sense of the word, travel and have the amazing experiences that I’ve been able to have. I have a friend in Cambodia who has never been outside of her village. When I asked her where she would go if she could go anywhere in the world she said Phnom Penh…the capital of her own country. So I want to create an organization that gives the gift of travel to women who don’t have the means.