Meet: Rachel Cunningham

Name & Age? Rachel Cunningham, 31.5 ;)

Where's home? Uh, a lot of places. I was born in Australia, but grew up in New Zealand. I've since lived in seven more countries since I was 18. I have many "homes".



What was/is your last/current trip? Just had a month off work — went to Dominican Republic on a road trip, Trinidad for Carnival, Jamaica to relax, Haiti for something different, Miami as a base, and Chicago to visit a friend. It was snowing. I only had summer clothes, needless to say, I didn't stay there too long!

What got you started? the desire to explore and see what else was out there. I grew up in a small town in New Zealand, I knew there had to be more to life. I packed my bags and booked a one way ticket out of there. It took me 13 years before I went home again!!

How do you pay the way? A lot of savings!! I didn't buy new clothes or spend money on much else, every cent I make tends to go into travel. After a few years I got a job working as a travel agent, that certainly helped with adding to my country count. Now I work on a private yacht and spend my year travelling between the Med and the Caribbean.

What's always on your packing list? laptop and plenty of bikinis. I can buy everything else when I get there if I have to.

What’s the last thing that blew your mind? Carnival in Trinidad. Never before seen so many people giving out good vibes, dancing, looking amazing, and being so positive. It was an intense couple of days, I still can't get over it! 

By land, by sea, or by air? That's a tough one... I love all three, depending on where I am and where I am going! Road trips will always be close to my heart, I have driven from Dublin to Yerevan through Scandinavia, all over Patagonia, Jamaica, Palawan in the Phillipines, Vietnam, Dominican Republic. The worse the condition the roads are in, the more fun the trip will be! 

Hotel or hostel? Camp or Couchsurf? I actually like to mix up styles of travel. A few nights in an all inclusive, with a few nights in a guesthouse, a dorm room at a party hostel, and then a nice self catering AirBnB. It means you get a good grasp of the destination and meet a wide variety of people.

INDONESIA - The Villas Seminyak on Bali

INDONESIA - The Villas Seminyak on Bali

What's your travel pet peeve? People who don't know how to pack their hand luggage before going through security. It's really easy to pack so that it takes 30 seconds to remove your laptop, shoes, and jacket and walk straight through. Those queues kill me every time!

How do people react to you as a solo female traveler? Mostly confused. I tend to travel to off the beaten track countries, and I stand out. In Haiti I had trouble, but it was the first and only time to date out of 88 countries that people have been worried for me safety as a woman. That concerned me... I wasn't allowed to go anywhere by myself, needless to say, I didn't stay in Haiti as long as I would have liked.

What scares you? Water. I don't swim. Not much else gets me worried when I'm travelling, but don't expect me to swim!

How do you overcome fear / anxiety / doubt? I don't get this... Why would someone fear what could be the ultimate trip?! Just dive in, you might surprise yourself!

INDIA - Second class sleeper train. Pay the extra and book a First class ticket if you are on your own!

INDIA - Second class sleeper train. Pay the extra and book a First class ticket if you are on your own!

Worst memory: One of the many long night bus trips in South America on chicken buses. The locals just didn't believe in sleeping, and would play loud music 24/7, I was close to snapping so many times. To this day, I still refuse to catch long bus trips! Scared for life!! 

One unforgettable memory: Breaking down in Albania, the locals who came to help us were so friendly and gracious. We were in the middle of nowhere with no communications and they towed us for 2 hours to the next town along a gravel road getting 2 flat tyres on their own car in the process. We got the cars fixed, and tried to give the men money. They wouldn't take a cent, but luckily, we had some cigarettes and whisky in the car that they eventually accepted. The worst day turned into a great afternoon.

Bravest memory: As silly as it sounds, completing my PADI in Thailand with Crystal Dive. It took me a week to even get in the water, but the dive instructor was so patient and pushed me through it. I was so pleased to complete it, but I've never dived again!

Culture shock moment: Haiti. The first time I have experienced culture shock. It was just so different from it's neighbor (Dominican Republic). The devastation from the earthquake is everywhere in downtown with many buildings still standing as rubble and half burnt out. It was strange to see so many UN cars around, and feeling so on edge. It came as a shock because I wasn't expecting it at all. I thought it would just be a more impoverished version of Dominican Republic. It was nothing like it!

Best reason to talk to strangers: You never know when you can help someone, or when they can help you. The hints and tips you can share are invaluable, and you might just make a lifelong friend out of it! I was chatting to a girl in my down room in the Amalfi Coast one year, and after a lot of wine, we made a drunken bet to move to Spain together the next year. Believe it or not, three months later I actually did move to Spain, unfortunately she wasn't able to make it, but she planted a seed for me to make the move.

How are you different while traveling? Im more laid back and chilled out. I take things a bit slower and chat to more people. I feel like me personality changes for the better, but my liver may disagree

Is it harder to leave or to stay put? I'm not sure. I love change, I live for it. But after 13 years on the road, I am starting to yearn for a home base. A place to call my own, and a group of friends who live in the same city.

Three things you've learned on the road: 

  1. 99% of the people you meet are amazing and gorgeous inside and out, very few are actually trying to hurt you or rip you off. Give them the chance to chat and show themselves to you, you will be surprised how many amazing local friends you will make along the way.
  2. You don't need to take half of what you have packed. Stop, remove at least half of what you have in your pack, and zip it up. You will be fine with just 3 tops and 2 bottoms. You will never wear those "going out shoes" anyway.
  3. Take a chance. Be fluid in your travel plans, and allow for change. Some of the most amazing places I have seen because I have heard about it while on the road and quickly changed my plans at the last minute. I've never regretted it yet.

What keeps you going? The desire to live a different life. And I want to hit 100 countries! 

What's next? I'll be working around the Caribbean for the next month, then sailing back to France for a few months. After that, who knows!

What would you be doing if you’d never left home? I don't want to think... honestly, I'd probably be dead, a drug addict, or have several kids to several deadbeat fathers. I didn't come from a good place, and I made the positive choice in my life to leave it.

What advice do you have for wanna-be Wild Hearts? How many lives do you have? One? Yep, the same as every other person on this earth, make your ONE life the best ONE life YOU can possibly have. 

Last question: What would make you stop traveling? I'll never stop per se, but I would slow down or change my travel style slightly if I had a family. For one, I would have to return to all of my other homes around the world to show my family my life around the world, then I would have to explore new places with them... who am I kidding. My life wouldn't change much!

Follow Rachel: @ihatesunsets2 and