Meet: Nikki Vargas

Name & Age? Nikki Vargas, 28

Where's home? New York, NY

What was/is your last/current trip? Morocco (August '15), Jamaica (October '15), Dominican Republic (November '15)

What got you started? I was living on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, working a full-time advertising career and was engaged to be married. My life was rocketing in one direction and then I did the unthinkable, I boarded a flight to Buenos Aires to go solo traveling, confront myself and then came home to call off my wedding, quit my job and move out of my apartment. I flipped my life upside down to pursue travel writing and today I am a full time travel writer and blogger because of it.

How do you pay the way? Due to the recent growth and success of The Pin the Map Project, I am now able to switch from a full time career to freelance. I earn an income from my blog and various partnership and will work occasional freelance projects in-between trips.

What's always on your packing list? I always bring my camera bag with my Nikon DSLR camera, camera lenses, GoPro, iPhone and collapsible tripod.

What’s the last thing that blew your mind? I rode camels into the desert in Morocco and spent the night in the Sahara at a Berber camp. It was such a surreal, dream-like moment that I tried to remember every single detail — the color of the sand, the feel of the camel, the taste of the tagines. The whole experience blew my mind!

By land, by sea, or by air? By air! I prefer to get to the destination quick and take it slow once there.

Hotel or hostel? Camp or Couchsurf? I like hostels for how social they are and easy to make friends at (although at 28 I am past the point of staying in dorm rooms and so always opt for a private room) or I'll stay at small, boutique hotels. I like to avoid corporate, hotel chains as I feel they take away from the cultural experience.

What's your travel pet peeve? As a travel writer and blogger, I am tasked with capturing my travels and live sharing images from the trip; so when there is no wifi access it's a huge pet peeve. On a recent press trip (and this is a trip designed for journalists!) we had an internet black out in Death Valley, CA and were unable to e-mail editors, send social updates or do anything we were tasked with doing.

How do people react to you as a solo female traveler? I'm often met with a mix of awe and admiration, or raised eyebrows and hesitation. People find is inspiring that I will solo travel but also scary when I head to destinations like Morocco or Mexico on my own.

What scares you? Admittedly, I am a hypochondriac so I get very scared at the idea of getting sick abroad. While in Morocco, I contracted a stomach virus and flu and was very anxious about feeling out of sorts, avoiding dehydration, and not having access to medication I am familiar with.

How do you overcome fear / anxiety / doubt? Thankfully, in Morocco I had the help of a fellow traveler who was a nurse! Usually, I will do my best to calm myself down and call my family for reassurance.

Worst memory: Getting sick in Morocco and being too weak to explore the tanneries and medina in Fes!

One unforgettable memory: Besides spending the night in the Sahara, one of my favorite memories was traveling to Paris with my boyfriend for the first time last November. Our trip was the type of romantic whirlwind one hopes for when visiting Paris.

Bravest memory: Venturing into the locals-only market, Bazurto, in Colombia while on assignment for VICE.

Culture shock moment: While roaming the medina in Marrakech with a fellow traveler, it was sweltering hot and so we pulled our scarves off our hair to cool our necks. Not even a minute later, an angry local man started yelling in Arabic at us and spit in our direction for showing our hair and shoulders!

Best reason to talk to strangers: Traveling is supposed to push you out of your comfort zone and the best way to connect with a destination and discover a new culture is by connecting with locals.

How are you different while traveling? I feel that I live each day to its fullest while traveling. I lose track of time and simply enjoy each day.

Is it harder to leave or to stay put? Harder to stay put.

Slow moving #gondolas pass though a colorful #Venice #canal 💕 Another turn, another picturesque moment.

A photo posted by Nikki Vargas ✈️ (@pinthemapproject) on

Three things you've learned on the road: 

  1. Traveling is unpredictable and I find that it's better to just roll with it than try to stick to a rigid itinerary.
  2. Traveling is also very serendipitous, so I keep myself open to meeting new people and having adventures while also remembering to be safe and wary of my surroundings...
  3. ...which brings me to my biggest learning from the road: intuition is key!

What keeps you going? Both the thrill of exploring a new destination and the joy of sharing my travels with Pin the Map readers and inspiring them to see the world.

What's next? Mexico (February '16), Italy/France/Netherlands (March '16), Nicaragua (April '16)

What would you be doing if you’d never left home? Likely still working at an advertising firm, day-dreaming about doing something else.

What advice do you have for wanna-be Wild Hearts? There is no better time to chase your dream than right now. There will always be reasons not to take the plunge and book that trip, start that blog, quit that job, or write that story. You'll convince yourself that if you wait you'll have more time, more money, more freedom — but the truth is that life always gets in the way so don't wait and just do it!

Last question: What would make you stop traveling? Nothing. I love traveling and although I'm not in a committed relationship, I travel with my significant other when I can.

Follow Nikki: thepinthemapproject.com