- Age: 33
- Occupation: Postgraduate student in cognitive science at University College Dublin
- Location: Dublin, Ireland
- Starting a new degree can be overwhelming for many people, let alone doing it in a foreign country on your own. How has your transition been? What strategies have you used for coping?
What has helped me adjust most is trying to embrace the similarities and even the disparities in a positive light. The similarities increase my comfort level, and the disparities I look at as something new and interesting and something worth trying.
I joined several groups on Meetup. I didn’t hold back, either. I joined almost everything… everything I was interested in from horse riding, to yoga, to board games and movie groups. It’s given me a great opportunity to meet new people and try to build relationships with locals with similar interests. It’s a really great way to feel less like an outsider in a strange land when you find someone else who is just as obsessed with Doctor Who as you are.
I also tend to chat up everyone I meet and take my time. I think it’s easy to be insular and retreat inward when you go on such a big journey. You’re busy trying to settle in and feel at home—but people are usually what make places feel like home. When I feel homesick, I don’t miss my house, I miss my friends, family, and all the circles of people that make me feel welcome and loved. So I started looking for coffee shops and restaurants near my new flat and would introduce myself to the waitstaff and chat with them for a bit. I still do that, and so now I find myself procrastinating away almost an hour in my local coffee shop just chatting.
I also found a website and service that is almost like a dating site for dog lovers! You sign up either as an owner or a borrower, and you can pair up with a pup. I’ve taken a few dogs for walks, including the most gorgeous puppy, who has become a weekly play date. Animals matter a lot to me, so it has made a massive difference.
5. In addition to Ireland, you’ve traveled a lot. When did that start? Where did you go?
Well, the start to my traveling life began when I was two years old. My family was constantly traveling. Almost every summer was spent in Europe. By the time I was 12, I had been to more countries than states in America.
My parents and I moved to Kuwait, which then opened up traveling to other countries in the Middle East, as well as China and Hong Kong. We moved back to the U.S. for a few years before my dad was transferred again, this time to England. We travelled quite a bit when we lived there, not only within England and Scotland but to France, Spain, and more.
While my parents lived in London for a little over a decade, I moved about quite a bit starting halfway through high school. My personal travels that didn’t involve my parents started around then, as well.
For spring break one year, I went on a sailing trip with school mates to Ibiza and Mallorca. I also went to Nashville on my own for songwriter conferences during high school, as I was pursuing my singing and songwriting quite fervently. I spent my last two years of high school in California before then moving to Colorado for about a year. I was back in England after that, this time in the Cotswolds, just outside of Oxford.
At 18, I went to Australia for about a month on my own. I went to Melbourne, Sydney, and spent several days in the High Country.
6. Personally, I know that venturing out into the world has greatly impacted who I am, my priorities, and my goals. How do you think traveling has informed who you are?
One of the greatest gifts I was given from all the traveling my family did is not just how I view traveling itself, but also culture and the world we live in. I believe my exposure to so many different cultures throughout my life has been the biggest of blessings. It devastates me that things like racism and sexism and prejudice exist, a lot because I feel like a great deal of prejudice and hatred comes more directly from fear—fear of the unknown or “the other.”
But it’s a learned fear that seems to come with lack of exposure, or maybe the wrong kind of exposure? I’m definitely generalizing here. I am not afraid of the other, of what is different. I am intrigued by it. I want to learn from it. I want to know why someone on the other side of the world does something differently than I do. What motivates them to, how did they learn, what is it that ultimately makes us seem so different when we are really just the same. My goals and priorities are constantly reshaping the more I travel. I learn more about what I value and what to fight for, what to fight against, what matters and what doesn’t. It’s a massive learning experience when you grab a suitcase or strap on a backpack. Not just of the world, but of yourself.
7. Despite seeming like an ideal lifestyle, immersing yourself into unfamiliar cultures requires one to adapt and find new thresholds of discomfort and growth. How does traveling challenge you? What has been the results?
My biggest challenge is exactly that—learning to adapt. When I was younger, it happened much more fluidly. The older I get, the more I like what I like, want what I want, and like familiarity. I thought that with the traveling experience I have, it would get easier, but I still struggle. My biggest challenge tends to be myself and how I set expectations for myself and my journey.
Traveling challenges me to go with the flow more, be more forgiving of myself and circumstance, which isn’t always easy. It’s difficult to have an expectation be disappointed, and sometimes building a trip or location or experience up in your head can be a disservice because of that. I’m always reminding myself that I can’t control everything and sometimes it is better that way. Getting lost is an adventure not a mistake or inconvenience.
8. What has been your favorite trip and why? What is a memorable experience that has really stuck with you?
I have gotten so much out of so many trips, but I still think that my Australia trip will keep its slot at top for a while to come. It was my first major adventure on my own with a set goal in mind. It had been such a built up lifetime goal of mine, that to be able to accomplish it was an immense experience. I climbed the Sydney Harbor Bridge to look over the city from its windy summit, explored Melbourne with locals, but most importantly trekked into the High Country on horseback.
We rode up and out over several days through the forest and the mountains. We sat around a campfire at the mustering hut and told stories. The horses were corralled in a small log holding yard and while people opted for sleeping inside the hut or under tents, I stayed in my swag out under the trees and stars beside the horses. We rode along ridges and the mountains rolled on in the distance like waves in towering blue peaks. Through rivers, a forest of snow gums. The imagery and emotion evoked in me struck so many chords due to how I’d grown up on the films. In this instance, expectation didn’t matter. I felt like I was on a muster with Clancy from the overflow, riding a mountain brumby. I don’t know if anything will ever come close again, but I travel in the hopes that I will find more and more moments like that.
9. How far in advance do you start researching your trip?
I tend to start researching trips well in advance and often without really knowing it. A trip will sort of accumulate as an idea in my head over time. The bigger the trip, the more I research ahead of time what I should consider must-sees or -dos. I try to work out the big details like accommodation and transportation months in advance and worry about the smaller details closer to my departure.
10. What kind of content helps you? Stories and interviews about individuals’ personal experiences, how-tos, itinerary suggestions, etc.
I take it all into account when I make my own travel plans. I love to hear personal experiences, especially when it has to do with using particular tour companies, businesses, etc. Personal experiences can really add color to a trip and influence whether or not I may visit a place. If someone raves about their experience and what they saw and got out of it, I’m more likely to make an extra effort to include it if it wasn’t on my original plan.
How-tos and itinerary suggestions can be great when you’re facing time restrictions on a trip. It is easy to under- or overestimate how much time you may need or want somewhere, so suggestions really help.
My crazy two days driving around Ireland are a perfect example. I built our itinerary based on 1. drive time, 2. the information I could gather about the locations we were going, and 3. how long we wished to spend at each. But there were details that I didn’t know that lengthened our stays, and sometimes we found we simply wanted to stay longer. Having more details or personal information about this kind of thing would have helped.
11. Where do you look for the information? Blogs, magazines, books, tourism boards, etc.
Books are a great go to for me. Especially when they are comprehensive and consider food, nightlife, tourist spots, and anything you can really think of. I love having all the options presented and organized in such a convenient way. I like being able to carry it with me, as well, and as great as ebooks are, sometimes batteries run out and that isn’t an option.
Blogs have been helpful in discovering places and adventures that may not have been on my radar before, places I never considered or couldn’t visit.
The personal experience of friends and word of mouth often comes into play, as well.
Interestingly enough, I have recently been exploring Instagram more for travel inspiration. I love the photographic platform and the visual it provides inspires me the most.
12. Do you have favorites that you go to? Or does it vary?
It does vary. I tend to ask friends and family about their experiences first and foremost, as I know quite a few travelers, especially my parents. I like to think they know me pretty well, so they’re particularly helpful at telling what I may or may not enjoy if it’s somewhere they’ve been before.
I do particularly like lonelyplanet.com, and when it comes to books, I usually look at their collection. They have a wide selection of locations, as well as smaller guides for when you’re trying to pack light. Their books are pretty comprehensive, which can help me really make my trip my own.
13. What problems do you run into with research? For example, is it hard to get answers to your questions, are websites insufficient or inaccurate in their information, etc. What would you like to see?
I do find that websites tend to be insufficient more than anything. Having comprehensive information helps me greatly. When using a tour group to visit any sites, knowing group size and itinerary would be helpful, as would knowing what sort of footwear might be required.
For example, the website for a tour I took with friends made no mention of how many people typically go on one of their tours or the size of the bus. They only mention pick-up and return time, along with the stops on the trip. But little mention was made of how long we might spend each place, whether the walking we would be doing would be on any terrain that might be better suited with boots than sneakers, etc.
I find many sites do not update pricing or hours frequently enough, which can definitely have some ill results. Another problem is that sometimes websites provide contradictory information. It would be ideal for any location to have an agency or tourism board that owns the information for that tourist location. Especially when it might be somewhere off the beaten track. Also, many tour operators provide information in ways to sell a particular vacation or package. There needs to be a way to verify that what they are selling is accurate.
14. Any other info you want to add about traveling that you want tourism boards and location vendors to know that will make your and other ATs travel experiences better?
It would be great to compare categories (e.g., car rental, hotel, restaurants, costs, weather) across various places. For instance, when a policy is uniquely different in a location from perhaps a multitude of other locations. As travelers, we sometimes generalize what we know about something from one place to the next. But baggage rules, car rental policies, etc. vary tremendously across countries, and it would be really helpful for either a website or the tourism board to point out that in this given location, the rules or practices are very different.
I think that another key factor to AT also can be the safety aspect. I think tourism boards should provide more truthful information regarding water, food, health facilities. We realize that it may be adventure travel, but at the same time, if we have more accurate information, then we can pack and prepare better. I think there should be less hype on how great a place is. It should be tempered with truth. I know for those running these sites and vendors, the goal is to increase tourism, but a balance of honesty is definitely needed.