Meet: Cayla Sanderson

Name & Age? Cayla Sanderson, 24

Where's home? Page, Arizona USA

Throwback to Arizona sunsets. #tbt #home #missmyfamily #arizonasunset

A photo posted by Cayla Sanderson (@caysand814) on

What got you started? I am not sure if it was all of my dads maps or my bachelors degree in Geography. Something in me has always wanted to see the world and recently I have been making that dream a reality.

What was/is your last/current trip? The past eighty-eight days have been a whirlwind of adventures through SE Asia for me. I have nearly two months left and could not be more excited. It all began in Bangkok where I headed up north landing in Chiang Mai for a couple weeks. Taking the slow boat to Luang Prabang and staying there teaching English to preschoolers for a month. Continuing on to Vietnam I found some of the best people and most incredible adventures as I traveled from Hanoi and Saigon. What I did not realize when I first arrived in Vietnam is the impact it would have on me and the small piece of my heart I would leave there. I am currently sitting in Kampot, Cambodia enjoying the ceiling fan, while eating chicken Amok.

How do you pay the way? During the summer in the U.S. I work as a river guide on the Lower Salmon saving nearly as much as I make. I am on a very tight budget but it SE Asia I still seem to live in a kind of luxury. I volunteered at the preschool in Laos saving money on accommodation and food

What's always on your packing list? A few pairs of breathable undies that are super easy to wash, my notebook, a couple pens, Chacos, my climbing shoes and harness, a frisbee, cards, and yes, my space phone.

What’s the last thing that blew your mind? I think the fact that I can walk up to a random stranger, start up a conversation, ask them to join me for food and see if they want to share the cost of a room. I would never do that at home but here it is second nature to talk to every stranger and make friends.

By land, by sea, or by air? All of it! Busses are long but cheap and you get to see so much of the scenery from point A to point B. Boats, unless you get sea sick, who would not like the breeze in your hair?! Rivers are great form of transportation as well. Airplanes bring me so much excitement. I become all giddy inside when I think of the adventures waiting for me at touch down. Please let me have window seat on any of these forms of transportation though!

Hotel or hostel? Camp or Couchsurf? If it is cheap, anything? Hostels are great as a solo traveler to meet people, hotels are great when you have met people and need a cheaper option. Camping is a blast whether on top of a mountain or on the beach and I have never Couchsurfed but I have hosted others and would love to try one day.

What's your travel pet peeve? When people say a place is "too touristy". Places are touristy for a reason and that should never stop you from seeing the city or sights. Sure make your own adventures with locals but do not complain about other travelers being in one location.

How do people react to you as a solo female traveler? From older folks I get shock, from locals I get concern, from young men I get respect and from other solo female travelers I get the casual "hello!" I have created friends with many other female travelers and we bond super fast

What scares you? I am scared of people hating me especially before they know me. That is why I try to learn some of the language each place I go and connect to locals on a different level. Of course I also have the fear of a thievery encounter. If it was not always on the back of my mind I would be much more careless and that would be bad.

How do you overcome fear / anxiety / doubt? Sometimes it is much harder than others. If I find myself getting in to a rut and hiding from the outside world, I let myself take some alone time but I continue to tell myself that I have already come so far and can do anything! Just because one person may dislike me does not mean everyone does. I encourage myself to go on an adventure and find something beautiful that day.

Worst memory: While walking through Phnom Pen at 11:30 PM with 3 other travelers from the bus station to a hostel I became a near victim of moto thievery. Walking around like the 'pregnant' backpacker (big bag on my back, little one clinging to my chest) on the side of the road, dogging the obstacles on the sidewalk I watched a motorcyclist come closer. Before I knew it his hand was extended for me grasping my bag. Luckily, I had a death grip on it and he was forced to let go just as I was growling "HEY!" Definitely not a way to start of Cambodia but always a learning experience & I still have my passport and money! Thank goodness!

Bravest memory: See above.

One unforgettable memory: I have too many to count but the last best one was probably in Saigon, Vietnam. My friend Shane had met a couple up north who lived near Saigon. So when we arrived we contacted them and made a time to eat dinner. We followed them through the insane traffic on the motorcycle zooming in and out of other motorists heading to dinner. For dinner we are all types of seafood and talked to each other using Google translate. Then we zoomed back through the city, grabbing drinks at a popular Vietnamese place with a live band. Such a blast!

Culture shock moment: In Luang Prabang I had been learning the do's and don'ts for a month from my host mom at the preschool. On the very last day we had a Christmas party for the children. I felt right at home when Santa Claus showed up and passed out all of the gifts. After the kids had opened them I started cleaning up the wrapping paper and taking dishes to the kitchen. It was a habit and I was just trying to help. However, half way through I remembered one lecture about how rude it was to clean while others were enjoying their time. It tells the Lao people that you want them to leave and sure enough they were. They also do not confront you so when I went to apologize to my host mom she just awkwardly laughed it off.

Best reason to talk to strangers: To make friends and to learn their culture. When everyone around you is a stranger you have so much you can learn from them! If anything, maybe you will get free ice cream out of it!

How are you different while traveling? I am much more open and ready to strike up a conversation. I have always been incredibly shy growing up and even though I can still coil up in my shell I force myself out of my box often.

Is it harder to leave or to stay put? To go or not to go that is the question. It is always hard to leave friends you have met and really connect with. It is also hard to be stuck in the same place with same routine, not seeing new beauty or gaining something from your day.

Three things you've learned on the road:

  1. Just go for it, what do you really have to lose? From talking to strangers, practicing your Vietnamese, abseiling off waterfalls or hopping on the back of that motorcycle.
  2. Everyone's experiences are different, it is okay if you don't get the same feeling out of a place someone else did.
  3. The squat toilets really are not that bad. They are actually easier to use sometimes!

What keeps you going? The unpredictability about the next place. Not knowing who is going to come in to your life, what you're going to learn at the next place and of course the food. It is all so exciting to me!

What's next? See other parts of Cambodia, explore eastern Thailand then either Malaysia or Indonesia. Ending back on the islands of Thailand with my best friend for our very own 'friend wedding'! Super excited to see her!

What would you be doing if you’d never left home? Probably still struggling with rent in a cool town with cool people still enjoying my weekends in the outdoors. At least that is what I would like to think I would be doing.

What advice do you have for wanna-be Wild Hearts? Do it! The biggest steps are buying the plane ticket, not over packing and saying hello to that first person you meet in the hostel. It is always a learning experience, you do not need to come with a plan. Just set out with a happy heart and the rest will fall in to place!

Last question: What would make you stop traveling? Not to be morbid but the only thing that would stop me is death. Even if I lost a limb or had a child I would still travel. Even funds come and go, you can usually always find work to help you eat. It is a great big world out there; so much to see!

Follow Cayla:  @caysand814 and