Meet: Danielle Riffenburgh

Name & Age? Danielle Riffenburgh, 31

Where's home? Cocoa Beach, Florida & South Pasadena, California USA

What was/is your last/current trip? Spain and Italy for Christmas. Half of it was alone.
Mid 2015, Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia (half of Korea and all of Cambodia alone)

What got you started? At 13, my Dad moved our family to Australia for 6 months. That was such a perfect age for me to experience my first international trip and really appreciate other cultures. For my 16th birthday, I was told that I wouldn’t get any majorly extravagant gifts or parties but that I was allowed to pick a part of the world that I wanted to go and my dad would take me there. I chose England, France and Italy. It was during that trip that I knew I was hooked. I fell in love with traveling. It become a huge part of who I grew up to be. I've called 3 countries 'HOME' since then.

How do you pay the way? For a long time I would work jobs that had either cash tips or cash commission. I always tried to live off my hourly paycheck and would save everything cash for travel.  For my current job (which does not have any cash attachments), I have an automatic system with my bank that takes out a certain amount each month.  That along with my glass soda bottle helps. I read somewhere that if you put your spare dimes into a soda bottle that it can add up to $400.00 when full.  Mine is about half way full right now.

What's always on your packing list?

  • My sarong from Thailand - (used as a pillow, blanket, towel, dirty laundry storage, etc.) It has become so handy in so many different situations.
  • Paper maps - I still don't completely trust technology all the time. Anything can happen and I’d rather be overly prepared.
  • A notebook - For when I feel inspired and want to write. Daily travel journals, poems, novels or letters to friends are just some things I use it for.
  • I have a pair of socks with a secret side pocket. I always hide American dollars, a copy of my passport and a credit card there.  When mixed in with the rest of my clothes or even if I’m wearing them, you’d never know that they were special. Again, better safe than sorry.
  • A sleeping eye mask and ear plugs.  If you can close out the world and get a decent sleep, it’s worth everything.

What’s the last thing that blew your mind? Although I have been to many countries, the last thing that blew my mind was the Grand Canyon. I made a promise to myself to learn my own country just as much as I’ve learned about other countries. I took my first ever trip to the Grand Canyon last year and was completely blown away. It was one of the first times I feel in love with a part of my own country. My only regret is that I was only there for 2 days. I could easily stay there a week and keep myself busy with the sunrises and hiking trails.

By land, by sea, or by air? Air for far distances overseas, sea to smaller islands or remote areas, land if it is overnight or less than 5 hours during the day. I have no shame taking an overnight bus or train but will spend the money to fly if it cuts into my daytime activities. It also depends on the country and convenience; some are better than others

Hotel or hostel? Camp or Couchsurf? When I'm solo, I prefer to stay at hostels or to Couchsurf. I love meeting new people, hearing their stories, learning about what I should or shouldn’t do in my next location and have always had such a great time. I’ve met some incredible people and had some amazing Couchsurfing experiences. The older I get the most of a hostel snob I become but I’m still happy to stay there. I generally say that I won’t stay in a room with over 4 people and I prefer a female dorm. I’ll pay a little extra to stay at the better hostels to ensure I get a good nights sleep. I also work in the hotel industry so sometimes I can find great rates through my job. I usually stay in a hotel if I’m traveling with a friend or if it is the last night of my trip and I want to pamper myself a little bit before the sad ride back home.  

What's your travel pet peeve? Snorers, picky eaters, and people who are anti-social. I’m a pretty light sleeper so being around a snorer can really affect the rest of the following day (hence why the ear plugs and sleep mask are vital!). I don’t think I could travel with someone who was a picky eater. I feel like eating is big part of experience other cultures and really taking in and being thankful for the food processes in each country. I also associate eating as a social experience. I tend to meet a lot of locals when I’m out to eat. I don’t think I could travel with someone who didn’t enjoy talking to people and being out.  I’m way too much of a social butterfly. People who are high maintenance of picky. I don’t think I could travel with someone who was a picky eater. Just going with it is part of the story and experience.

How do people react to you as a solo female traveler? I love the reactions I get.
People are so astonished. First off, I’m not even 5’0” tall so people have a hard time that someone so little can do it all alone. I’ve been asked what my parents think and they can’t believe my parents would “let me go.” I try not too laugh too hard. My parents were a little nervous about my traveling alone in the beginning but I think they’ve become very comfortable with it over time and they know I’ll always keep them posted where I am; they also know that they couldn’t hold me back anyway. I think some people are genuinely terrified of what could happen because they think the world is this big, dangerous place.  It just isn’t true! Bad things can happen anywhere and we only live once so you might as well live it up and have a story to tell if you survive. The other half are secretly envious. They want to travel and don’t feel strong enough or confident in themselves to do it. I like to hope that hearing my stories really encourage other women to get out there. If I can do it, anyone can do it.

What scares you? Being alone at night in a foreign city that isn't the safest at night.
I always try to play it safe and use my woman smarts. If I’m alone, I try not to stay out too late and always walk behind or with groups of people. If you walk with a group of strangers and tell them that you’re just going to walk with them a bit because you’re alone, people always understand and they are happy to help.
How do you overcome fear / anxiety / doubt? I have to really trust myself, my gut, and my instinct (which if you know me is very hard to do).  I can also be my worst enemy when it comes to decision making. However, after overcoming many situations, I come out stronger, prouder, more confident and trusting of myself than ever. That is VERY important when traveling alone. If there is something that I’m REALLY worried about then I will Skype or email my dad.  He’s extremely well travelled and has friends everywhere so he is a great person to get advice from in tough situations.

Worst memory: Getting BALI BELLY! I had never been sick before while traveling, EVER! I ate street food a majority of my time in Bali and everything was fine. It wasn’t until I stayed at a super fancy resort that I got sick. I couldn't leave the toilet for nearly 4 days. It was the worst experience I've ever felt. I had no control of where or what was coming out of my body. Taking a 2 1/2 hour bus ride from Candidasa to Denpasar was one of the most difficult bus rides I’ve ever taken in my entire life.

Then the worst part is that I also had my first vacation romance in Bali. We met at the beginning of the trip and spent some time together and then he met up with me at the end to stay with me for a few days in Sanur. He knew I was sick but still wanted to be with me. I felt disgusting but he wanted to take care of me and I wanted to make the most of the moment.  Luckily he was a heavy sleeper so he never woke up to me as I used the bathroom in the middle of the night. Our little room had a shower curtain for a bathroom door so he could hear everything otherwise. It was so gross! He helped me find medicine at a local pharmacy to stop me up for my flight back. It was the longest flight ever from Indonesia—Malaysia—South Korea-- San Francisco--Los Angeles--Orlando. I have never been so thankful for medicine in my life.

Bravest memory:  In 2009 after my 7th vacation to Italy (and it was a terrible trip), I decided I need to move to Italy. I knew it would be a process and was ready to do whatever it took to get there.  My bravest memory was making the decision to move to South Korea, a country that I knew absolutely nothing about, in order to save the money to move to Italy. I had never been to Asia before or anywhere that didn’t use a roman alphabet. However, I managed to find a job, obtain a work visa and I moved myself to a completely foreign country without knowing a single thing or person. I've never been prouder of my commitment, motivation, and strength. Not only did I do what I needed to do to make my dreams come true, I explored such foreign territory all on my own…and yes, after 2 years in Korea, I moved to Italy.

One unforgettable memory: Dressing up like a geisha in Japan. It sounds corny but it meant so much to me. I had been immersed in a lot of Japanese culture growing up. As an adult, I had read books, watched movies and was really curious about the geisha life and how different it their traditions were.  many of their traditions were. I had been to maybe 16 countries when I decided I wanted to go to Japan.  I had heard how expensive Japan was so I was prepared to save for a long time in order to make it the perfect vacation. I had promised myself 2 years prior that I wasn't allowed to take any other international trips until I visited Japan. By the second year I was living in South Korea. As soon as I had vacation time, I went straight to Japan. I had been working and living comfortably in South Korea. That allowed me to save a lot and really take advantage of my experience in Japan. I had the best time! As touristy/corny as it was, dressing up like a geisha, getting the make up done, wearing a beautiful kimono, it all meant so much to me. It was my reminder that once again, when I set my mind on something, I get it done...and all on my own. I was so proud of myself for taking different opportunities that lead up until that moment.


Culture shock moment: Walking into the grocery store in South Korea. As mentioned above, Korea was the first country I had been to that didn’t use a roman alphabet. I had been there for about 24 hours when I ventured out to find a store in order to find some necessities. I couldn't read anything, pictures didn't help a whole lot, I wasn't familiar with the currency and I didn’t know how to ask for help. People must’ve thought I was a nutcase. It probably took me 2 hours to get basics like toilet paper, water, shampoo, eggs and yogurt.

Best reason to talk to strangers: To always have a place to stay in another city. I've met people in so many different places, like on buses, hostels, at restaurants, in bathrooms, on tours, etc. I’d chat with them for maybe an hour, we’d exchange information (which is much easier now with Facebook) and within a few months of years, I would be visiting them in their hometown or country. There is no substitute for traveling with a local. The experience is completely different and you go places you never would’ve found otherwise.

How are you different while traveling? I definitely live a lot more plainly than I do at home. I have no problem rinsing my socks in the sink and wearing them the next day. I also trust a lot more people when traveling than I do in my home country. I’ve had such amazing situations fall into my lap where strangers, whom I met right off the street, have invited me to their house for dinner or offered to let me stay at their house (after they’ve left town). They don’t know me from Adam but they trusted me and therefore I’ve grown a lot more trusting of others… within reason of course.

Is it harder to leave or to stay put? Stay put. I have been living in my current apartment in the U.S. for 2 years... it is the longest I've lived in 1 city for 12 years. I take at least one or two international trips a year and again, I’m trying to visit more U.S. cities as well but I am currently planning another move for next year.  Whether it be stateside or international, I don’t know. But when the itch hits, it gets intense pretty quickly.

Three things you've learned on the road:

  1. Tylenol PM is my best friend... it helps me sleep anywhere (and thank goodness).
  2. I do better with rolling suitcases than backpacks. I'm a small person...the backpacks are as big as I am!
  3. When in doubt, ask for help. I travelled with a friend who would literally stand in the middle of a crowd and say “HELP ME!” if she needed something. Some would come over right away. I admired that. It saves so much time just asking someone for directions or if this is the correct train or bus.
  4. I’m bad ass.  Traveling can be scary. I’m fortunate enough that nothing bad has ever happened to me while traveling. But I also play my cards pretty smart. I definitely take the time to recognize, at the end of a trip, that once again, I survived. I made it all happen by myself. That being said, I also learn so much about myself when I travel alone. You never know how strong or smart you are until you are put into certain situations. And yes, I will pat myself on the back.

What keeps you going? The fact that I haven't seen the entire world yet. 

There is so much to see and so little time. I’m motivated by hearing other travel stories, I’m motivated when I think about how I’m single and don’t have kids yet, I’m motivated every time I get a paycheck.  I’m very fortunate for the life I’ve lived and the opportunities that come my way.

What's next? Since the U.S. and Cuba have recently become friends, I will be spending my Christmas/New Years holiday learning to salsa dance in Havana and drinking Dolce de Leches on the beach.  Next year, I’m planning to go to Africa; I've wanted to go to Ghana, Tanzania and Kenya for awhile. I also have friends in South Africa that it would be nice to visit. After that trip I’ll have been to 6 continents… I’ll make it to Antarctica someday.


What would you be doing if you’d never left home? I have absolutely no idea. I could’ve gone to graduate school and become a school psychologist or therapist… and I still can.  I moved to South Korea and Italy when the economic recession hit the U.S. in 2009 so jobs were tough then.  It was the best time for me to travel so I did.  My life would’ve been completely different if I didn’t.

What advice do you have for wanna-be Wild Hearts? There are no excuses for not traveling right NOW. Every excuse you have will ALWAYS be there and there will always be more. There is never a right time and there will never be enough money. You just have to do it. Booking the flights are the hardest parts but then once you do and it’s done, planning is the fun part. The experience you'll take away and the feeling you get are like nothing you'll ever experience before. Just to say "I've been to places that some people will never see in their lifetime" is an incredible feeling.

Last question: What would make you stop traveling? Being so old that I physically can’t fly or near fatal health issues. I want to incorporate my lifestyle into my future family someday. I want to continue to volunteer abroad any time I am able to help. I don’t plan on stopping any time soon.

Follow Danielle: @Piccolina4 or @ConciergeXplore