Meet: Lisa Owen

Name & Age? Lisa Owen, 31

Where's home? Brisbane, Australia

What was/is your last/current trip? My last trip took me to Central and South America, Iceland and the United States. I discovered the beautiful colonial city of Antigua, Guatemala; uncovered Mayan ruins in Copan, Honduras; hiked an active volcano in Nicaragua; ziplined and bungee jumped in Costa Rica; hiked a glacier in Iceland; soaked in a mud volcano in Colombia; and swam with turtles in Hawaii.

What got you started? I wasn’t a natural traveller. I never travelled as a child. My annual family holiday was always to the same beach at the same hotel on the Gold Coast — just an hour’s drive from home.

I was 23 the first time I hopped on a plane. I was 24 when I went overseas for the first time. One of my high school buddies was in Canada and I decided I would go over and see him. So two weeks after I booked my ticket, I landed in Vancouver for a month long trip with no other plans but to see Vancouver.

About 10 days in I realized I'd overstayed my welcome with my friend, looked at a guidebook, and decided Whitehorse in the Yukon sounded interesting so I booked a flight there. Then I drove over the border to Skagway, Alaska. Then on the way back to Australia – I stopped in at Honolulu.

My first trip to Europe was when I became truly infected by the travel bug. Shortly after returning from a month in Europe, I quit my job and decided I was going to au pair in France and Italy. I didn't even know if I liked children. But then an eight month au pair stint turned into nearly a year in Europe seeing more than 23 countries and countless cities. After I got back, I immediately started to plan my next trip and these days I'm either on a trip or planning on where I'll go next.

How do you pay the way? I work in public relations in Australia in between trips. At the moment, I'm working 6 months on, 6 months off. I house sit when I'm in Australia so my day to day expenses are very low — basically all I buy is food. I travel on a budget staying in hostels, Couchsurfing or with friends I've met on my travels.

What's always on your packing list? I'm a keen photographer so always have my camera in hand, but I also always carry hiking shoes, sunscreen and hat for those outdoor activities, bikini, notepad and pen.

What’s the last thing that blew your mind? Doing a glacier hike in wintry Iceland. I had booked to explore an ice cave but due to unseasonably warm temperatures the ice cave melted and prevented access, so I was offered up a glacier hike instead. The scenery was mind blowing, I felt like I was on another planet. The air was so clear, and the scenery was pristine white and out of this world beautiful. Hiking in crampons across ice and staring down into crevasses was like nothing else I've done or seen before. 

By land, by sea, or by air? I usually travel by land or air. I usually have quite ambitious itineraries and fly to cover distances quickly. But I do really enjoy taking the train — you get to see a lot and it's usually a comfortable ride.

Hotel or hostel? Camp or Couchsurf? Hostel and Couchsurfing! I'm fairly new to the Couchsurfing game but have met a couple of great people through it so far so keen to keep going. I love going to hostels — they are of such high quality these days and you meet so many great people. I made friends from around the world at hostels and I'm travelling with some of them on my next trip.

What's your travel pet peeve? Probably just inconsiderate people in hostels. People who hog the bathroom for an hour or turn on all the lights and have loud conversations in the room at 4 a.m. in the morning.

How do people react to you as a solo female traveler? Most people are very surprised I travel on my own and ask me if I get scared or lonely. It took my parents the good part of a decade to get used to the fact I travel alone and accept that I wasn't going to stop travelling just because I had no one to go with. The more I travel, the more I meet other solo female travellers and spend a lot of time with them in Australia or when I'm overseas. 

What scares you? I am scared of the possibility of getting robbed or worse. But I take precautions and I'm very aware of my surroundings where ever I go. 

How do you overcome fear / anxiety / doubt? Sometimes it takes me a day or two of some quiet time to shake off fear or anxiety. If I'm feeling a bit unsure of myself in a certain place, I'll ask locals for advice on where to go and make sure I know where I am at all times, or make friends with someone in the hostel to come out with me. I don't change my plans - I'll just make the situation safer.

Worst memory: The worst one was when I was au pairing. It was summer in the south of France so even though it was 8 p.m. at night it was still really bright outside. I had only been with this family for a couple of weeks and it was one of my first days off. I was walking home along this dirt path from the bus stop about a kilometre from the house when I came to a house with a guy standing outside a parked car. He started talking to me in French but at the time I didn't know much and I smiled and nodded and kept on walking. As I walked past, he grabbed my arm, opened the back door of the car and tried to push me in. He was holding me hard, so I managed to pull away and ran away and luckily he didn't follow. I then called my host family to come get me. I didn't walk home from the bus stop again after that.

One unforgettable memory: It would have to be hiking the active Concepcion Volcano in Nicaragua. I was about the third of the way up and my calves were burning and I was really struggling to get up the slippery volcanic rock sides. The guide didn't want me to keep going because he was worried about me getting down but I really wanted to summit the volcano and while my legs were sore, I wasn't exhausted. So I persevered, my mind stronger than my body and eventually overcome the pain and made it to the top with the rest of the group. It was sheer determination that got me up and I was so proud that I'd made it. I had wanted to hike Concepcion for a long time and was so glad I made it. The views at the top were simply stunning and we all had a shot of rum at the top. It was a couple of months ago but I remember the feeling of making it like it was yesterday and I recount the story regularly.

Bravest memory: Bungee jumping! I said many time I would never bungee jump — the whole head first thing scared me completely. But on a tour of Costa Rica, a few others were doing it and I ended up coming along — but still not totally committed until I paid. Sitting up on ledge watching two others go before me was terrifying. Then it was my turn but I jumped with no hesitation. I was so proud that I'd done it because I never thought I would be brave enough.

Culture shock moment: Probably a place called Taganga in Colombia. The streets were all dirt, there were packs of stray dogs around and the men stared a lot. It was very intimidating and so foreign and I felt scared a few times walking around, but of course I was fine.

Best reason to talk to strangers: To get to know your fellow travellers and locals and find out amazing places to see. I can be quite shy but I totally change when I travel and want to talk to everyone. I love hearing where people have been and where they're going and what they recommend. It's also great to make friends on the road — because it's likely you'll be travelling in the same place again or you'll be visiting their hometown so it gives you a place to crash and explore the town or city with a local.

How are you different while traveling? I'm a lot more confident, adventurous and patient. While I can be shy especially in a group at home, I find it easy to talk to strangers while travelling and I'll try anything - such as food, adventures, hitchhiking. Travelling makes you very patient and very good at killing time. 

Is it harder to leave or to stay put? It's a bit of both when travelling. There's some places I've really fallen in love with and felt an affinity for and I'm so sad when leaving. But also I love exploring and get addicted to the feeling of seeing somewhere new again so probably it's harder for me to stay put.

You can sleep anywhere if you're tired enough and have a good set of earplugs and eyemask

Three things you've learned on the road: 

  1. Patience is key. You'll have to wait for a lot of things while travelling — wait for the bus, wait for the bathroom, wait to get through security. I don't let it bother me, it's part of the experience.
  2. Travel will change your life. You'll never go back to the way you were after a trip - no matter how short the trip. Sometimes that means that you'll have less in common with friends you had on your departure, but you have a whole heap of new friends.
  3. You can sleep anywhere if you're tired enough and have a good set of earplugs and eyemask.

What keeps you going? There's so much to see. I've been to 45 countries but still haven't scratched the surface of what's out there. I want to challenge myself to live more out of my comfort zone, see more of this amazing world, and make new friends. The more I travel, the more I want to see.

What's next? I'm now planning to travel for at least six months from July 2016. I'll be starting on the US west coast hiking some of the national parks between Seattle and Las Vegas. Then I plan to travel through Germany, Poland, Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro and Ukraine. After Central and Eastern Europe, I will be heading to Jordan, and then hopefully onto India, Nepal and Sri Lanka before exploring South East Asia until I run out of money.

What would you be doing if you’d never left home? Probably still working in public relations and enjoying the outdoors through road trips and hiking. I might have a house by now and material possessions.

What advice do you have for wanna-be Wild Hearts? Just do it. You don't need someone to go with you to travel — you'll meet people along the way. The first step is the hardest but once you see what's out there, you'll be hooked. There's a big wide world out there. It may be uncomfortable at first but you haven't lived and discovered how strong you are until you travel.

Last question: What would make you stop traveling? Probably only injury that prevented me from being able to explore. I love to walk around a city and explore the outdoors so if I couldn't do that it would be hard to really appreciate a place and get a full sense of it.

Follow Lisa: and @_thelittleadventurer