Name & Age? Olive Zoë Shipley, 28
Where's home? Portland, OR
What got you started? Even though I went on a trip to Europe with my class after high school, I think the first time I really realized I could travel on my own was when I went on exchange to England in university. During my time there, a new friend and I planned a three-week trip to Italy and Spain and I realized how easy it was to make travel happen! I've been hooked ever since.
What was/is your last/current trip? Currently based in Wellington, New Zealand on a working holiday visa and I'm planning on exploring the south island soon!
How do you pay the way? To be honest, I often end up putting travels on my credit card and paying it off afterwards. I don't rack up huge debt, but I'm trying to work on getting better at saving up ahead of time! That being said, I make use of resources like Couchsurfing and HelpX (a farming work exchange) so I can travel on the cheap and I meet awesome people that way. I've also lived in countries where I can get a working holiday visa, which allows me to have a job while I'm there so I'm not just spending money. Working in a foreign country is also an awesome way to feel more integrated into the community! I've also recently started busking to make a little extra on the side — it's not always consistent, but every little bit helps!
What's always on your packing list? Plenty of underwear, a sleeping mask and ear plugs, my hiking boots, a towel, a headlamp, my journal, my computer, and lots of my favourite snacks for when I'm in the airport!
What’s the last thing that blew your mind? I recently went to a festival called Kiwiburn (think Burning Man but much smaller and set in New Zealand). Never have I experienced so much love, joy, generosity, freedom, creativity, beauty and sense of community from such a large group of people! I was completely blissed out for five days straight and was so sad to leave. I've been working on bringing the vibes from that festival back into the "real world" with me ever since!
By land, by sea, or by air? Honestly, I love flying. I always get to the airport way earlier than I need to, partly because I hate being stressed about being late, but also because I actually don't mind just hanging out at the departure gate for a couple hours with some snacks and a good book. I love seeing how airports are different in other countries and how they are the same. I love having an excuse to watch 4 movies in a row on long flights and watching a sunset or sunrise from a plane window. And I especially love watching the scenery change and trying to get a sense of a place as you touch down in a new country.
Hotel or hostel? Camp or Couchsurf? Couchsurfing is always my number one choice — I have had so many positive experiences in various countries and have met amazing people through this website. I even use it just to make friends when I move to a new city.
What's your travel pet peeve? When people say to me: I wish I could do what you're doing. Because most of the time they easily could, but it's just not a priority for them, so they don't.
How do people react to you as a solo female traveler? A lot of people say things like "You're so brave" or "I could never do that" but I don't think they realize how many resources are out there today. Leaving your home and moving to a new city, sticking it out when things get tough, pushing yourself outside your comfort zone — those things definitely take courage whether you're male, female, in a couple, or on your own. But traveling alone as a female isn't as scary as people think and it's often easier to make friends and ask for help along the way when you're alone because you have to put yourself out there more. When you travel with someone, it's much easier to just rely on each other and not push yourself to meet new people. What I can't imagine doing is traveling 30 years ago without the internet making it so easy to make bookings, meet people, find your way around, transfer money, and the hundred other things I use it for while traveling! I'm incredibly grateful for the ease the internet has provided me as a traveler (although I'm certain I would still have traveled just as much if I'd been around 30 years ago!)
What scares you? What scares me most is the thought of living a mediocre life. We have so little time on this Earth and I hate the thought of wasting it doing things that don't excite and inspire me. I don't ever want to stop traveling, learning, creating, and being excited about life in general!
How do you overcome fear / anxiety / doubt? Constantly trying new things has helped me realize how capable and resilient I really am. Remembering that helps me stay grounded when I feel fear, anxiety, and doubt. I'm able to think back to other times when I have overcome difficulties or pushed myself and am able to encourage myself to do the same again! I also surround myself with a lot of amazing people and am never shy to reach out and ask for support when I need it. I couldn't live the life I do without my incredible network of friends and the love I receive from them.
Worst memory: One of my worst travel memories was when my friend Caroline and I were super stressed out in an airport in Spain. We had gotten to the airport early but had to wait in a super long line, the airline had a bunch of fees we hadn't researched, and we almost missed our flight. We got in a fight and ended up separating until we got on the plane, at which point we breathed a sigh of relief, ate Pringles together and made up. Sometimes you end up taking the stress of traveling out on the people you are with and that is never any fun. It's always good to be willing to forgive quickly and recognize that you were both upset by the circumstances, not by each other!
One unforgettable memory: Skydiving in Sydney! I highly recommend this for anyone who enjoys a good adrenaline rush.
Bravest memory: Honestly, I think being here in New Zealand is the most brave I have felt in a while. I feel like I have learned and grown so much in such a short period of time, partly because I've really been putting myself out there, trying new things, persevering through the challenges, and not putting up with any bullshit. I've gone busking and hitchhiking for the first time, experienced amazing festivals, fallen in love, pushed myself to be a better blogger and photographer, and explored polyamoury. It's been a lot of ups and downs but I've never felt more confident and brave in my life!
Culture shock moment: India!!! Visiting India was my first time in a non-Western county and pretty much all of it was shocking. The heat, the men with guns outside the airport, the sick and homeless people filling the streets, the insane traffic, you name it. I also experienced incredible kindness and generosity, delicious fresh fruit, and a life-changing meditation retreat. It was all so much to take in but was hugely eye-opening! After staying with a friend in Delhi for a few days, I headed to a silent 10-day meditation retreat in Mumbai with very little idea of what I was getting myself into. I arrived at this retreat in the middle of nowhere and was one of only two white people in the entire place. I was unfamiliar with the food, the social customs, and even the toilets, but couldn't really ask for help or clarification as we were meant to be silent the entire time. During the retreat, which would have been a big challenge even in my own country, I became incredibly homesick, cried almost every day, and thought several times of quitting. But I stuck it out because I did feel like I was getting something out of it and figured I could do anything for ten days. In the end, I was very grateful that I stayed, not only because I learned a lot from the retreat and became more resilient for it, but because I think it's important to have experiences where we feel uncomfortable and out-of-place, if only to know how others feel when they are in similar situations. As a blonde white girl raised in the states, I have very rarely felt like a minority and it was a very new and very eye-opening experience.
Best reason to talk to strangers: You just never know what you're going to get! Talking to strangers helps me get better at not making preconceived judgements about people based on their appearance. Most of us can't help making immediate judgements when we first see people, but I've been proven wrong so many times that I have learned not to put too much stock in such judgements. Every single person out there has a unique life story that has lead them to where they are today and the more strangers you talk to, the more human experiences you have the chance to learn about and learn from!
How are you different while traveling? Honestly, I don't think I am that different when I travel. I suppose my life in general tends to be a little more action-packed and I feel like I learn and grow at a faster pace while traveling, but overall I think I've reached a point where my travel self and my stationary self are pretty much the same person. I'm always open to meeting new people, talking with strangers, and inviting new friends over for potluck dinners. I use websites like couchsurfing to connect with people both at home and abroad and I try to fill my days with as much adventure and fun activities as possible. I might work a little less and play a little more when I travel, but I try not to make work too much of a priority even when I am working full-time at home. I think when I first started traveling I may have found it as an opportunity to be my more authentic self, but over the years I have learned more and more how to bring that self back into my everyday life, which makes me quite happy.
Is it harder to leave or to stay put? I realized a few years ago that staying put was actually further outside my comfort zone than traveling was. When I signed on to spend a year doing AmeriCorps in Portland, I was nervous about the commitment but figured it would be a good chance for me to experience being in one place for a while. I ended up staying in that position for two years and realized that there was a lot to be gained from remaining stationary and putting down some roots. At the end of that time I was definitely ready for something new, but I realized that both staying put and leaving have value and it was up to me to learn what I could from each experience. I often find that when I'm at home, I crave travel, and while I'm traveling, I crave my home. I have learned to recognize these feelings as completely normal and try not to let them get in the way of me being present and enjoying wherever I am at the moment.
Three things you've learned on the road:
- There are amazing people to be found everywhere in this world.
- I love traveling and seeing new places, but my heart will always bring me back to my home in Portland.
- I am capable, independent, and resilient.
What keeps you going? What keeps me going is knowing that my time is limited and I will never be able to experience everything and every place on this earth, so I'd better get going and see as much of it as I can before my time is up!
What's next? In about a month I'm going to travel around the south island of New Zealand before heading to Nepal and Mongolia, then I'll make my way back home for the summer and my best friend's 30th birthday!
What would you be doing if you’d never left home? If I'd never left home, I might have stuck with my teenage dream of becoming a math teacher and coaching the Rhythm Bs, our high school dance team that I was a part of. I probably would have continued hanging out with the same friends, constantly feeling the need to be prettier, thinner, and more popular but never feeling fully happy in my own skin. I may have never gone off on my own, found my own strength, or learned what it is that actually matters to me in this life. Or who knows, I might even have gotten married and already had two kids by now, though I don't really think that was ever the path I was going to take. I like to think I would have still managed to become the person I am today, but it probably would have taken me a lot longer (and not been quite as much fun).
What advice do you have for wanna-be Wild Hearts? You are stronger and more capable than you think! The hardest part is the first trip you go on and just realizing that you can plan something and go off on your own and the world isn't going to end. Once you learn how possible it is, you'll be hooked.
Last question: What would make you stop traveling?I don't know if anything ever could. I'm sitting here trying to think of worst-case scenarios and what-ifs, but I keep finding ways to get around each of them. Travel is one of my greatest priorities in life and there are so many resources available that I don't really know what excuse I would ever have not to do it. I may take breaks here and there over the years in order to save money or spend time with certain people, but I see traveling as a vital part of who I am and something that will remain important to me for the rest of my life.