Meet: Kalena McElroy

Name & Age? Kalena McElroy 26

Where's home? I'm originally from Hawaii, but right now Barcelona is where I call home.

What was/is your last/current trip? Lisbon, Portugal - April 2017

What got you started? The first trip I did alone was to Bangkok, Thailand when I was in high school. I started out with my mom and when she had to leave for work, I stayed on to explore a bit more. It was the first time I experienced a culture so different to mine and I loved every minute of it!

How do you pay the way? I save up what I can and I always try to find the best deals on flights and accommodation, which usually determines where I'll visit. When in the city, I hardly ever opt for organized tours and try to see if there are free museum days, or local public events going on.

What's always on your packing list? 

-Backpack over a rolling suitcase any day! I've learned the hard way that it's just so much more convenient to take on the plane, boat, train, and uneven roads.
-Sunglasses and lip balm with SPF.
-A compact fold up bag that can be used as an easy day pack or for all the extras that you buy and need to carry back home.

What’s the last thing that blew your mind? I was mind blown, when I discovered the extent of the social problems in Hawaii today. Although I grew up there, I haven't lived in the islands since 2009 and oh my, the times have changed. Homelessness is now an epidemic, traffic is the worst in the US and housing costs are off the charts. Ultimately, the high cost of living has persuaded local young adults and families to move out of the state.

By land, by sea, or by air? Whichever's cheaper and fits into my travel plans!

Hotel or hostel? Camp or Couchsurf? I love camping, but it can be really expensive and difficult to bring all the gear along. If I'm alone, I usually stay in hostels since it's a great place to meet fellow travelers. If I'm not traveling solo, I normally rent an apartment or book a hotel.

What's your travel pet peeve? It's easy for some travelers to get caught up in seeing and doing as many things as possible on a trip, but it is so much more rewarding to take it slow and really get a feel of daily life there. Instead of cramming in as many countries as possible in a single trip, why not take the time to explore that enchanting backstreet or local hangout and create a real connection.

How do people react to you as a solo female traveler?  

Many people just look puzzled and ask "but why?"


What scares you? 

How do you overcome fear / anxiety / doubt? This is a hard one because there will always be feelings of fear, anxiety or doubt either upfront or in the back of your mind. The best thing to do is remind yourself about all the amazing things that worked out in the end, things that you've already accomplished. There wasn't ever a reason to doubt yourself to begin with.

Worst memory: I'm lucky enough to say I don't have so many bad travel memories, but one does come to mind. I was in Naples with a friend walking along the waterfront path when a man with a child started trailing us. We didn't feel threatened and decided to check out the Ovo Castle. There he approached us to take his photo and asked for a photo with us as well. We were feeling a bit creeped out and decided to leave. He continued to follow us for another 30 minutes until he disappeared.

One unforgettable memory: My first time in Europe. I'll never forget arriving in Italy and seeing the things I only read about in books. Venice, the Colosseum, St. Peter's Square, places that seemed so distant from life in Hawaii that they were just imaginary.

Bravest memory: Moving to a new country that I didn't know the language. And guess what, I haven't left.

Culture shock moment: Bangkok is an amazing place and my first trip outside of the US. The noise, street life, crowds, haggling culture and etiquette were all new to me.

Best reason to talk to strangers: You really never know who you're going to meet.

How are you different while traveling? I really don't mind traveling without many of the comforts that I have at home. If I don't have a pillow or conditioner, it's not a big deal. I also dress much more practically. I'd rather be comfortable without blisters!

Is it harder to leave or to stay put? Both can be hard at times. Monotony can make staying put difficult for me, but leaving, especially for a long time can also be a challenge.

Three things you've learned on the road: 

1. Never underestimate a great pair of shoes.
2. Learning is endless. There's so much you just don't know.
3. Things almost always don't go the way it was planned to and that's okay.

What keeps you going? Seeing more of the world made me view life differently. I love to see similarities and differences between what I'm used to and what others are. There is just too much to see and do to stop now.

What's next?  I'm going to be walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain within the next few weeks and I'm planning to climb Mont Blanc in the Italian and French Alps soon.

What would you be doing if you’d never left home? What a difficult one and something I've never given any thought. I'd be a completely different person than the one I am now, that's for sure.

What advice do you have for wanna-be Wild Hearts? Just go for it! Don't be afraid to fail, get lost somewhere or do something you've always wanted to despite the challenges. You won't regret it.

Last question: What would make you stop traveling? Nothing!

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