Updated: Jun 18, 2020
GLOBAL GIRL LIFE Interview with Travel Blogger, Courtney from Courtney The Explorer
She loves sharing all her travel fails in an attempt to help other women travel the world. She has a passion for low budget travel, long-term backpacking, and storytelling.
Here she shares with Global Girl Life all about her travel adventures, how she got started traveling as a lifestyle, and some of her favorite aspects of travel.
Hiking in Guatamala
How did you get started on your travel journey?
I’ve always had the itch to explore and adventure.
During my senior year of college, I finally took the leap and signed up for a summer study abroad program in Florianopolis, Brazil. I spent 8 weeks on a southern island of Brazil living with a Brazilian family, eating and drinking anything labeled Brazilian, hiking (for the first time in my life), laying on the beach questioning all my life choices, hanging out with my Brazilian lover, and going to class ONCE in a while.
Sometime during those 8 weeks, I had a break from class and decided to take my first solo adventure up north to the loud, colorful, expressive city of Rio de Janeiro. A friend had to help me book a hostel (I didn’t even know what a hostel was at the time). And I took a plane by myself for the first time in my life. I arrived in Rio, scared to death, but so freaking excited.
I befriended an Isreali woman named Talia. She was solo traveling South America for “maybe a year or so.” Talia was in her early-thirties, confident, direct, and carefree. I listened as she told me her story of giving up her entire career, selling all her belongings, and buying a one-way ticket. As we sat in a small corner of the hostel bar, drinking caipirinhas-- she told me “you only live once, you have to live your life to the fullest.”
You don’t always get to hear people talk about that in depth though-- of what living life to the fullest could really look like. That day and the entire Rio adventure started my travel journey. I decided I didn’t want to be a businesswoman working in Human Resources (like my $30K University degree had stated).
No, instead-- I wanted to travel the world!
What steps did you take to start your travel journey?
After college, my vision was still crystal clear.
I got two jobs, one working as a Human Resources Assistant full-time, and the other was working as a server at Chili's Bar and Grille Restaurant. I recruited forklift drivers by day, and served margaritas at night.
I researched South America backpacking tips and printed packing lists and guides at my personal printer at work. I honestly had no idea what I was doing, so I read everything I could to ease any doubts I may have had.
I’m from the Midwest in the US, so solo backpacking wasn’t really a thing. Everyone thought I was either “absolutely nuts,” or “ so brave.”
I worked for about six months and saved every penny. I stored all my belongings at my Mom’s house, and I took my first solo trip to South America in 2014 for 3 months.
For the first two weeks of the first leg of my trip, my Mom and I explored Peru together. Then, my best friend met me in Peru for my last two weeks.
That first trip, I drank way too much, spent too much money, had the time of my life, and came home with zeros in my bank account. I had no idea what I was doing, and I said yes to every experience.
When I got back to Chicago, I stayed with my Mom and started saving more money for my next solo trip.
How long have you been traveling?
About six years ago, I quit my corporate job in the US, and took my first solo trip to South America.
My travel journey has not been a straight, easy road. It’s been more of a one lane highway on the slide of a cliff with lots of rocks and hazardous objects. There have been many times where I’ve gone home with no money and worked three jobs to make my dreams a reality. I’ve lived with numerous family members and slept on friend’s couches (more times than I’d like to admit).
Six years seems like an “impressive” number, but it’s been a rollercoaster of the best and worst moments of my life. I’ve made numerous mistakes; missed flights, got fired from work exchanges, and I was deathly ill from traveler’s diarrhea (way too many times).
However, I wouldn’t trade my life for anything.
I think my purpose is to live a life of passion and adventure and share and inspire others to live their truth.
Hiking in South Korea
What does adventure travel mean to you?
My definition of adventure has changed over the years. At first, I felt adventurous leaving the Midwest and seeing something new. I didn’t grow up camping or hiking or traveling abroad. I went on my first international trip when I was 18 years old to Cancun, Mexico.
When I think of adventure travel now, I think of my experiences of hiking Machu Picchu and drinking Ayahuasca in the Costa Rican jungle.
But ultimately, I think adventure travel is just doing things outside of your comfort zone.
Adventure is what you make it. If you feel free, happy, and your heart is racing a bit-- it’s an adventure.
How do you decide where you want to adventure?
I personally don’t like to plan trips. The act of traveling (bus, plane, or just hurrying to a destination) makes me anxious. So, I choose one city. For example, Antigua, Guatemala (one of my favorites). I research it and figure out where I want to stay, what to do, etc. Then, I stay as long as I like in the first city and move onto my next destination when it feels right or until I meet someone who says, “you NEED to go here.”
For big trips, I have a general idea of what I’d like to do, but I don’t put pressure on myself to follow through with my initial plan. When I flew to Antigua, I thought I’d travel from Guatemala to Panama. But, I ended up staying in Guatemala for 6 months then traveling up to Mexico. I like things to be flexible. You really don’t know which cities and places you’ll love until you’re there. Cities that people love like Cartegena, Colombia was not for me. And cities that no one talks about like Cajamarca, Peru-- I loved.
I like to leave some wiggle room in my itinerary.
Where are your favorite places you’ve traveled so far?
For the first five years of my travel journey I only traveled to Latin America. That region of the world feels like home to me. I was determined to learn Spanish, dance my ass off, and live for cheap which is all possible in Central and South America.
My favorite places I’ve traveled so far are: Antigua, Guatemala; Cali, Colombia; Machu Picchu, and the salt flats in Bolivia.
I’ve been to more beautiful cities, but I fall in love with the energy, people, and food of a place more than the external beauty.
Volunteering in Ecuador
What has been your favorite experience traveling?
I have a lot, but one of my most beautiful and adventurous experiences was taking a boat from Colombia to Panama. Put it on your bucket list NOW! Whether you decide to sail, take a speed boat, or swim, I highly recommend it.
As a budget traveler, I almost skipped the whole experience and flew instead to save money. But, I’m so happy I changed my mind. It was worth every single penny and more.
The San Blas islands are filled with crystal clear water and white sand beaches inhabited by the Kuna tribe. My partner and I did a four day excursion with a group of 12 other travelers. We stayed in a nice private room, ate fresh delicious food, went snorkeling, and laid on the beach. I felt like a queen. I had many of those magical moments where you question, “what is life? Why do I deserve this?” while laying in a hammock overlooking the stars. I love the moments where life sits still. The moments where you question if this is real life or not. Anyways, it was perfect.
Do these kinds of experiences while you’re young and able. And spend a little outside your budget once in a while for a special experience.
What is your favorite aspect of traveling?
I crave a life of adventure and passion, slowly getting to know the world one city at a time.
I have salsa danced in the salsa dancing capital of the world, took a speed boat from Colombia to Panama, couch surfed with locals all over the world, hitch hiked up Mexico, learned a new language, hiked countless peaks, drank Ayahuasca in the jungle of Costa Rica, camped in beautiful national parks, and made friends all over the world.
I like long-term travel, so I can slowly get to know a place and the locals. I like sitting in a cafe all day with no pressure of seeing every single site or museum. Slow travel is my jam. You have to find your travel style and be true to yourself and your nature.
What is your best advice for women wanting to incorporate more adventure into their lives?
I think sometimes we think it’s all or nothing, but it doesn’t have to be. You can start small. I took baby steps by first studying abroad, then taking a three month trip, then an eight month trip, and now, I’m not looking to return home.
I recommend doing a weekend hiking trip, or go on a roadtrip to a neighboring state. I highly recommend solo travel as well. Whether it be somewhere local for you or across the world.
I also recommend reading travel books like “Wild” and “Eat Pray Love.” Keep up with your favorite travel bloggers, and surround yourself with adventurous women. When you do that, travel becomes more real.
"Your life is what you make it.
Don’t live for the weekend or a vacation a couple times a year. You deserve to experience things that fuel your soul and stay in places that feel like home.
We are only on this planet for a short period of time, adventure daily and create a life that fuels you."
~Courtney The Explorer
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