Name & Age? Anna Maria, 29
Where's home? New York City
What was/is your last/current trip? Currently I am living and teaching in Kampala, Uganda. My summer break will start in less than two weeks. I will travel to Egypt for the first time for about two weeks. After Egypt, I will go to Greece for about a month. My grandparents came from Greece, so I will be returning to my roots and homeland.
What got you started? There is no particular moment or incident that got me started. I've always had a desire for travel from a young age. Looking at black and white photographs of my Grandmother as a young woman in her native land, definitely influenced my dreams of travel. Whenever winter rolled around, I would say that I just wanted to move to a tropical island. I started watching the travel channel when I was in high school with my sisters. I also began reading memoirs and travel stories in high school. I just wanted to be somewhere else, even if it was to a neighboring city. I loved exploring food and learning about other's cultures'. It has been in me for all of my life, and now I've found a way to embrace travel as a way of life as opposed to just a dream.
How do you pay the way? Since 2012, I have been teaching or working overseas. I taught English in Indonesia for two years. After that I moved to Melbourne, Australia on a work and holiday visa for a year. I returned to New York City last summer for the first time in three years. I spent six months back home, but the weather grew cold and I grew restless. I found a job teaching at an International School in Uganda and bought a ticket. I save my money while I am working to then use my off-time to travel.
What's always on your packing list? A good book, a journal/notebook and pens, a first aid kit (I have always been accident prone), a hoodie, plenty of socks and underwear, travel towel/sarong, my camera, my laptop and SNACKS. My motto is to never leave the house without food.
What’s the last thing that blew your mind? The source of the Nile River is here in Uganda, in a town called Jinja. The Nile River is something I've always wanted to see and explore. Being able to go to the source of it was surreal to say the least. I don't remember feeling frozen in a moment like that for a very long time. Even reaching my had over the edge of the boat to graze my fingertips across the water was unbelievable for me.
By land, by sea, or by air? Sea. My ancestors hail from the Greek Islands, I've always loved being on a boat and out to sea. When I travel within Greece, I take boats as often as possible. My sisters make fun of me, because once we were in Greece, on my cousin's boat, and I said, "boats are my favorite form of transportation." They got a good kick out of that and still don't let me live that down to this day.
Hotel or hostel? Camp or Couchsurf? Hostel. I love the hostel life. I usually travel solo and when I stay at hostels, I always make new friends. I like bonding with the local staff and getting inside information and travel deals from them. I love the parties and camaraderie that ensues. Every hostel I've stayed at, I've left with more friends than when I've arrived. Hotel's are usually too fancy/expensive for me, I only like to camp if it's on a beach and although I've heard wonderful stories about Couchsurfing, I just haven't tried it out yet. I connect better with folks in the flesh as opposed to over a computer screen. Trying to set up a profile for people to take enough interest in to let me stay at their place is too much effort for me. I'm still pretty old school in my ways.
What's your travel pet peeve? Vegans, vegetarians, gluten frees and overall picky and unadventurous eaters. People who wince at local street carts in disgust. The only forgiveness I bear to these types are the ones who have sincere and radical health issues or religious dietary restrictions. But I've seen a lot of starving people over the years, most of them would love to have a thick juicy steak in front of them, or even a loaf of bread. So for someone to refuse perfectly good food, especially in an impoverished country is one of the biggest sins in my book. Travel for me is very much about food. I was raised in a household where you ate what was served to you. When you visit a person's home, you eat what they give you, no matter what. I find it very rude and disrespectful for people to refuse food of any kind. Especially when you are a guest in someone's home, city or favorite restaurant. Sometimes you just got to swallow it down and take one for the team. Travel is about putting yourself in the unknown and embracing all of the idiosyncrasies around you, most especially the food. I have eaten cows brains, intestines, liver, eyes of a grilled fish and much more. I live for mysterious street meat and whole in the wall spots where someone's grandmother is the head chef. And I have never gotten food poisoning or any other sicknesses from food I've eaten during my travels.
How do people react to you as a solo female traveler? It depends what people you are talking about. I think at this point my family realizes this is who I am and they have accepted it. Some have even praised me for it. Some of my friends get it, others are still confused. When I meet strangers lets say or locals of a country I am visiting, they are usually confused. The idea for a woman who is single, childless and traveling in some random part of the globe is mind boggling to them. People tell me to be careful of course and want me to be safe. My theory is that New York City is just as possibly dangerous to be as anywhere else really.
What scares you? Staying in one place forever. Settling. Settling for a job, a man, a house, etc. Not living my life according to my own dreams and ideals.
How do you overcome fear / anxiety / doubt? Embrace it. I grew up in a family that was very anxious. I spent a long time working towards getting over anxiety that was driven into me from a young age. Travel has helped me a lot with it. Praying, meditating, yoga, being around nature and understanding that everything will be okay, so long as you stay true to yourself and your path. Also not worrying about what others think of you, knowing that you know what is best for you. The only thing I really fear these days is artistic failure. I am trying to nudge my way into the travel writing and photography world, fear is very hindering. So most recently I've been working slowly, slowly to get over it. And doubt. Well doubt doesn't enter my mind at all to be honest. I am pretty rooted in my faith as a Greek Orthodox Christian, and I was taught that doubt can be deadly. So I have wiped it out from my mind and spirit completely.
Worst memory: I had a friend. For a time, I thought he was my best friend. We were always there for each other and he was solid as a rock. He came to visit me in Bali and our friendship was over. He brought a lot of negativity and hostility with him. Bali is a type of place where negative energy can be lethal, no joke. I was surprised to feel for the first time unsafe around him. Some friends in Bali who met him told me I had to separate myself from him. I didn't want to do that. He came a long way and spent a lot of money to see me. I felt it would be the ultimate betrayal. But his negative energy became toxic and I felt I needed to protect myself by removing myself from him. So I did. It's not a decision I was proud of. I spent many months feeling guilty over it and still do to this day at times. But that is what Bali is for. That is what happens in Bali. I've seen so many relationships die there. Marriages and engagements, friendships, business partners, etc. If you want to know if someone is meant to be in your life, take them to Bali. Looking back I feel that my travels have shaped me in a way that I needed to move on from that friend. It was heartbreaking, but necessary.
One unforgettable memory: I had some other friends visit me in Bali. We took a 3-day trip to a nearby island called Nusa Penida. The island is very small. We looked at a map, and saw a waterfall that looked pretty close to us. We drove in circles for hours trying to find this waterfall. We reached a village with some locals, and in my broken Indonesian, I asked them if they knew where the water fall was and if they could guide us there. They did. But they brought us to the edge of a cliff with a vertical, rocky, dirt path descending down. When we reached the bottom there were a bed of rocks that had a dribble of a waterfall sliding down them. But the rocks were on the water's edge. And surrounding us were mile-high limestone cliffs. It felt like we were at the end of the earth, with the clear blue water spread out before us and these cliffs surrounding us. We were not expecting to experience that on that day.
Bravest memory: Moving to Indonesia. I had traveled before, but never long-term and only rarely alone. Moving to the other side of the world, knowing nobody or nothing about the land or culture for at least one year was pretty terrifying. When I first found out that I got the job and would be going, I was terribly excited. But about a month before my trip I was freaking out. Asking myself what I was actually doing and getting myself into. I couldn't believe I was actually doing it. But I did it, and it's the best thing I've ever done.
Culture shock moment: Burning rubbish along the side of the street. I was in complete awe and shock that so many people around the world continue to burn their rubbish, especially plastic. In Uganda people burn their rubbish quite often as well, now when I smell it, I ironically think fondly of Indonesia.
Best reason to talk to strangers: I don't have a reason to not talk to strangers. It's a way of making a new possible friend or connection. It's a possible learning experience. When traveling alone, sometimes it's nice to have someone to chat with. I am not shy and have no problem approaching strangers and striking up a conversation. I've had mostly positive experiences from it.
How are you different while traveling? At this point in my life, travel has become my lifestyle. Even when I returned back to NYC, I still felt like I was traveling. So I don't really notice a difference. But what I will say, is that the only times I've felt entirely free and liberated, is when I am in a foreign land for the first time, I know nobody and I only have myself and God to rely on. For most that's probably scary, but for me it's thrilling.
Is it harder to leave or to stay put? Stay put. I get restless and bored quite easily. I need to keep moving to know that I am still alive.
Three things you've learned on the road:
- Trust yourself. Know that in most cases the answers are already inside of you.
- Don't judge a culture based on how a token few may act.
- Learn as much of the language of the land you are in as possible. Even saying hello or thank you will go a long way and give you much respect from the locals. And always go local. Try to make a local friend as opposed to another ex-pat if possible. Talk to the locals, respect them and embrace their culture even if you may not at first understand it.
What keeps you going? Knowing that there is a whole world out there to explore. I want to see as much of this planet as I can.
What's next? Well in less than two weeks I will be making a life-long dream come true by traveling to Egypt. I will also then return to Greece for the first time in five years. I have been pretty much all over the world over the past few years, so it will be really nice to return to my roots and discover more about my family, history and self.
What would you be doing if you’d never left home? I have no idea. I'd probably still be broke in NY just trying to make ends meet and paying bills. I probably wouldn't be very happy and wouldn't be living life according to my true self. I would be living life according to other's standards rather than my own.
What advice do you have for wanna-be Wild Hearts? Figure out what you want and figure out a way to make it happen. Don't do anything in life that you really don't want to do (with the exception of paying taxes and the like). Know that nothing is impossible, that taking the first step is always the hardest yet most rewarding. And if you have to have regrets, it's always better to regret doing something than not doing something.
Last question: What would make you stop traveling? Honestly, I can't see anything stopping me except for death. And in that case, I will still be on some sort of a journey. I would like to have a family and a home of my own at some point, but I believe you can still travel with a family and kids. I can teach in many different countries and I am aspiring to be a travel writer/photographer. So my work will definitely allow me to still travel.
Follow Anna Maria: http://www.annamariaphotos.smugmug.com/