Name & Age? Chiara Chiarello, 40
Where's home? Originally in Italy. Nowadays London (United Kingdom) and Los Angeles (USA).
What was/is your last/current trip? I have recently returned from Alaska. I'm going to China next.
What got you started? I've always been interested in the world, its different cultures and destinations. Writing to dozens of pen pals all over the world in my teenager years ignited my curiosity for travels. Then in 1998 I took my first solo trip, from a small Italian town to Australia. While in Coolangatta, on the Gold Coast, I was standing at the Captain Cook lookout staring at the same ocean that he sailed in 1770 when he discovered this area. Inspired by the beauty and the history of this place, it was right there and then that I decided I should work in the travel industry, because in my mind that was the easier way to make travels a constant part of my life! Once back in Italy I started working as a travel agent. Then I left Italy to move abroad and I never stopped traveling since.
How do you pay the way? I'm lucky to travel for work, so often everything is paid for. When it's not, I usually prefer to invest my money on travel rather than in random shopping or nights out.
What's always on your packing list? My camera gear, bikinis (there is always a hot tub or a swimming pool somewhere, even in Alaska!), sunglasses and my iPad to write and upload photos while on the road.
What’s the last thing that blew your mind? Alaska, a place that exceeded all my expectations! Hiking on a glacier and descending inside a ice cave, immersed in its blue walls was unbelievable. The pure and wild beauty I found in Alaska is something I have never seen anywhere else.
By land, by sea, or by air? Traveling by land is probably my favorite as it allows me to see everything on the way and it gives me the freedom to stop anytime to capture a scene if I wish. However, I'm a big fan of island hopping, so boats are on top of my choices too!
Hotel or hostel? Camp or Couchsurf? Hotel. Working in the travel industry it could not be otherwise. I will admit it: I've been slightly spoiled working for luxury travel companies!
What's your travel pet peeve? The only thing that bothers me are inconsiderate passengers on flights: those talking out loud when the entire plane is asleep or those grabbing/kicking/pushing my seat from behind.
Inside a stilt home with a Cambodian family. Their homes, made of wooden boards and palm leaves stitched together to prevent infiltration in the rainy season, are built a few meters above the ground. Official photos from their wedding decorate the wall. Having photos taken is a luxury that most of them can only afford once in a lifetime. #reallife #cambodianhomes
How do people react to you as a solo female traveler? Most people I come across define me as either brave or crazy. It's very easy to meet people when traveling solo and usually seeing a female traveling on her own strikes people's curiosity and can result in newly born friendships in a short amount of time. Most of the times it seems like most people I encounter would love to try go solo at least once, but usually their partners or life conditioning doesn't allow them to take the plunge.
What scares you? Regrets. I have none so far.
I am a woman and I travel alone. Trips don't kill. Men do. (In support of women's right to travel alone following the murder of Maria Coni & Marina Menegazzo, killed while travelling in Ecuador) #viajosola #novictims #sexism #travels #travelphotography #cambodia #angkorwat #solotravel #women #explore
How do you overcome fear / anxiety / doubt? I meditate daily. Traveling to Asia taught me a lot and meditation plays now an important part in my life. Going within, taking some time to center myself amidst the chaos of life is what helps me overcome doubts.
Worst memory: I had only one bad experience traveling solo, when a man followed me from the restaurant all the way into my hotel elevator in Phnom Penh. I tend to be very careful and always look behind me if walking alone at night, but on that occasion I didn't and it could have gone awfully wrong. Luckily I was able to escape and report the stalker. But one thing I learned that night is to follow my intuition. Call it instinct, gut felling, whatever you like. It's that little voice inside you that tells you that something is not right. Well, I had this bad feeling upon entering that restaurant, like a wave of negativity that threw me off balance. I instantly felt very uncomfortable, I should have walked out immediately, instead of staying there. But I didn't follow my intuition. Since then, I don't think twice if I experience the same feeling.
One unforgettable memory: I have too many. But one of my most precious memories takes me back to a small Buddhist temple in Luang Prabang in Laos, when I was invited by a local monk to join them during their evening chanted meditation. I was the only foreigner with 14 monks and I didn't understand a word of Sanskrit. Yet the powerful and life changing moment I experienced that night changed the course of my thoughts forever.
Bravest memory: I was only 3 years old when I went off on my own for the first time. It was summer and my family was on holiday in a seaside town in Italy. It was evening and my parents where in a shop buying some shoes. Attracted by the sound of far away music I decided to go find out what it was and I left the shop, wandering the streets on my own. Later my parents found me in the main square listening to the orchestra and chatting to passers-by. Last thing I remember I was looking up at a nice couple who asked me if I was lost when my mom arrived and slapped me! What can I say: I set my future intentions very clearly at an early age!
Culture shock moment: While in Ho Chi Minh City I explored some of the slums, where the poorest people live. Talking to them and listening to their struggles was a real eye opener. We take so much for granted in our comfortable lives, and seeing different realities makes you question everything. And I believe that should be the ultimate goal of traveling: observing and learning creates understanding among humans. But that is only achieved from those who take the road less traveled, rather than posting selfies from an all-inclusive resort.
Best reason to talk to strangers: Some of these people will become your best friends on the other side of the globe. Some will be your soulmates.
How are you different while traveling? Seneca used to say that, "Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind". There is nothing else that stimulates my brain like being in a new city, ready to discover everything new that is around me.
Having to count only on myself to survive in a new place makes me feel confident and empowered in ways I never feel in my daily life.
Additionally, it's only when you finally step away away from the conditioning of your everyday routine that you can be yourself. Your true self.
Travelling on my own provides endless space for reflection and infinite freedom to do only what I really like. It's finally just myself with my desires and my dreams, nobody else interfering with them.
Is it harder to leave or to stay put? It depends on the place. There are destinations that I have no problem leaving after a few days. But there are some that speak to my soul in ways that go beyond logical comprehension. Those places I struggle to let go. Those are the places I keep returning to.
Three things you've learned on the road:
- You can feel more at home 10,000 miles away than you've ever felt in your hometown
- A smile can open all doors, anywhere in the world, in any language.
- Those who have little, are the ones who give more.
What keeps you going? That little flame in me that deep inside wants me to learn, grow, live and experience life, rather than just exist. That little flame that we all have, and that is lit the day we are born. Lot's of people prefer to numb it with their own fears. I let it grow and sparkle!
What's next? I'm getting ready for China in a couple of weeks. I can't wait to climb the Great Wall and learn how to make dumplings! I love learning different cuisines, I always take a cooking class when traveling to a new country. After China I'm heading to Costa Rica for some serious immersion in nature and beauty (and also to detox from Chinese pollution!)
What would you be doing if you’d never left home? Probably I would have got married to the wrong guy because society wants women to settle down instead of following their dreams. Then I would have got divorced, I would have got a mediocre job that left me unfulfilled and I would be jealous of those jet setters traveling all over the globe, thinking they are lucky and I'm not.
I'm glad I chose to follow my dreams instead!
What advice do you have for wanna-be Wild Hearts? Chances are, your soul has been longing to free itself for a while. Follow the advise of that little flame in you, wherever it wants to take you. Don't numb it with your own fears or other people's expectations. Just do it. Now.
Last question: What would make you stop traveling? A transportation strike :-)