Name & Age? Gwendolyn DeSilva, 40
Where's home? Wherever my backpack is. Currently in the Phoenix, AZ, USA.
What was/is your last/current trip? I just returned from a year teaching English in South Korea. I will be going to Las Vegas, Nevada next week and I plan to attend a co-working retreat for digital nomads in Colombia for a month come August.
What got you started? Wanderlust is part of my DNA. But in 2014, I became disillusioned with the corporate world and living an unfulfilling life in London, England. So I quit my six-figure salary career to travel the world. I haven't stopped since.
How do you pay the way? I teach English as a second language online to kids in China and rely on income from a rental property in the UK.
What's always on your packing list? Sudafed. I'm always getting head colds and finding high quality medicine abroad isn't always easy or cheap. You can find most everything else!
What’s the last thing that blew your mind? The Seoraksan mountains in the Northeast province of South Korea. A breathtaking area of natural scenery.
By land, by sea, or by air? By land. By bicycle specifically. It's the best way to explore a country. And I nearly died in a skydiving accident when the engine on my plane exploded.
Hotel or hostel? Camp or Couchsurf? Depends on the journey. Hostel for meeting people. Hotel for a romantic getaway. Camping over couch-surfing though!
What's your travel pet peeve? When people don't silence their phones whilst in hostel bedrooms! It's so annoying hearing constant dinging of messages at 2am!
How do people react to you as a solo female traveler? I always get a favourable reception by locals. I think my blonde hair and welcoming smile is non-threatening. My mom hates it though!
What scares you? Small airplanes. See previous answer.
How do you overcome fear / anxiety / doubt? I overcome anxiety about travelling and arriving into a new place by reminding myself that I've done this before, this feeling is normal and that it will pass. I overcome fear of doing an activity that scares me - like skydiving - by saying a prayer to family members that have already passed away and trying to focus on anything but what I'm about to do!
Worst memory: Waking up to a couple having sex in the top bunk bed parallel to mine at a hostel in Queenstown, New Zealand and then realizing that the guys feet were touching mine. Ewww..
One unforgettable memory: Skydiving over Lake Taupo, New Zealand. Both jumps. My first attempt at tandem skydiving was rather traumatic as the single engine plane caught fire at 2,000feet and we had to make and emergency jump where I saw the plane crash into a mess of mangled metal just seconds after I exited the plane. My second attempt at the same location was full of fear, anxiety, and exhilaration when I was finally able to leap out at the planned 15,000feet and got to free fall to earth for 60 seconds. The memories of that incident and the bond that was created with the other 12 surviving individuals on that plane will stay with me forever.
Bravest memory: My first truly solo trip when I took a weekend break to Seville, Spain on my own and I didn't join a tour group. I remember getting lost in some windy back streets without a map and having to backtrack my steps to get back to my hotel. The feeling of accomplishment of navigating your first solo trip stays with you forever.
Culture shock moment: Varanasi, India. Along the river Ganges in Varanasi, Hindus congregate to bury their dead. Feeling the ashes of recently burned bodies land on my hair and then seeing a bloated deceased man floating down the river with a crow plucking its heart out whilst just five feet away a mourning family were waist deep in the water brushing their teeth, has stuck with me as a moment of deep culture shock. But all of Northern India is a culture shock!
Best reason to talk to strangers: You will learn so much! People are incredibily intriguing. And you will never know where it will lead. I once started a conversation with a mom and her daughter in a cafe in New Zealand. When she left she gave me $20 and said, 'Buy something to remind you of this beautiful country.' I broke down in tears at this unexpected generosity. I have dozens of stories like this.
How are you different while traveling? I'm so much freer when I'm travelling. I can discard the persona I portray to keep up with my friends and families expectations of me. In a foreign place, I can just be me.
Is it harder to leave or to stay put? For me it is harder to stay put. I always love the experiences that I have no matter where I go, but the thrill of something new always lures me away. Staying put just doesn't excite me as much.
Three things you've learned on the road: Always carry toilet tissue and hand sanitizer in your day bag. Making instantaneous friends is easier than you ever could imagine. You will get lonely sometimes, but that is ok and it will pass.
What keeps you going? The thrill of it all. I've always suffered from mild depression, but I never feel down on the road. Always seeing and doing new things and the challenge and triumph of navigating a foreign land on your own, keeps your mind too active to get down.
What's next? I'm head to Medellin Colombia for a month long co-working retreat. I plan to stay on for a few weeks afterwards to trek 32 miles to the Lost City of Ciudad Perdida,
What would you be doing if you’d never left home? If I never left my home state of Missouri after graduating University, I probably would have married a local and have two kids by now.
What advice do you have for wanna-be Wild Hearts? Just do it. Embrace the anxiety and the fear and by a plane ticket. I trust you that it will all be fine and once you've taken your first step, you will never look back.
Last question: What would make you stop traveling? The only thing that would make me stop travelling is if that physically I just couldn't. Otherwise, I'll always be exploring.