Name & Age? Sydney Meredith, 25
Where's home? Hometown: Nashua, New Hampshire; Current Location: Thuwal, Saudi Arabia.
What was/is your last/current trip? 10 days island-hopping in Thailand.
What got you started? My first travels were family trips. We RV'd 1,000 miles to the Calgary Stampede from Squamish, BC; took atrip to Scotland to find our family roots and search for Nessie in Loch Ness; and we've flown to Costa Rica to witness our first exchange student get married.
My first job allowed me to travel the world as an event planner for global leadership seminars. The experience was amazing, but I wasn't really able to spend any time site seeing.
A year ago, I put all my things in storage and moved to Saudi Arabia for a job as an event producer for the only co-ed university in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. During the school year I travel the Kingdom and the Middle East. During my six weeks of vacation I travel the world.
How do you pay the way? One of the perks of working in Saudi is the paycheck. I was able to pay off mystudent debt and able to afford my travels. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have been able to see so much of the world at just 25. To celebrate 25 countries in 25 years, I've booked a week-long safari to Botswana.
What's always on your packing list?
- Because of Saudi, I always need to pack my hijab and abaya when I travel to and from the airport in Jeddah.
- The usual electronics: iPhone, laptop, underwater camera, regular camera.
- Charging Packs: I probably bring 3 or 4. They are SO helpful.
- Outlet convertors.
- My Kindle, fully uploaded with some page turners to make the layovers and flights go faster.
- My Priority Pass Card: I used to despise long layovers, even though they were usually cheaper. With the card, I'm able to check into over 800 airport lounges around the world. Free food, comfy couches, even showers!
- People usually laugh at this, but I always pack a roll of toilet paper. (You never know.)
What’s the last thing that blew your mind? Attending the Half Moon Festival in Koh Phangan, Thailand, which is basically a huge rave in the middle of the jungle. The power went out and so did all the lights as well as the music. The DJ saved the night by playing his saxophone and the thousands of us gathered danced in the dark.
By land, by sea, or by air? Ugh, so hard! For long distances, air. For short distances, I love a good train ride.
Hotel or hostel? Camp or Couchsurf? When I travel in Europe I usually stay in an AirBnB , particularly if I'm in a big city. For places I'm not very familiar with, I stay in a hotel, especially when staying in the Middle East.
What's your travel pet peeve?
- In airports, when people stand on both sides of the escalator or moving walkway.
- When I find the place for a perfect photo and immediately 50 tour busses unload and my person-less photo is now full of people.
- When travel agents in airports have zero sense of customer service.
How do people react to you as a solo female traveler? When I told people I was moving to Saudi Arabia, a lot of jaws dropped. Saudi isn't usually the place that young, female professionals decide to move to. Their reaction is usually based on what people see in the news or read online. I'm not sure I always fully convince people that Saudi is a great destination, but I enjoy answering people's questions about the country and the region.
I usually travel solo because it's difficult to find people to travel with. But, to be honest, I love traveling alone (except for always needing to take selfies).
What scares you? I usually don't tell people this, but I've struggled with severe IBS for over seven years. My biggest fear is not knowing where the nearest bathroom is. Sure, you can mug me and take my passport but at least tell me where the bathroom is!
When I am traveling with friends, I always find it difficult to tell them I need a bathroom urgently, or that I need a little more time in the morning before leaving for a day trip.
How do you overcome fear / anxiety / doubt? To be honest...drugs. And I mean this seriously. I would not be able to travel comfortably without Imodium and small doses of Xanax. Also, I always pack toilet paper.
Worst memory: Gosh, this is a tough one. I always consider myself extremely lucky that I even get to travel so worst memories are usually just slightly imperfect memories. I've never lost luggage, I've never been mugged, I've never misplaced my passport.
I think the worst part of any trip is going home. The longest and most uncomfortable trip home was when my mother and I were returning from Santorini to get back to the Athens airport. First, we had to take 2 buses to the port of Oia, then we took a very wavy 8 hour ferry to Piraeus; waited an hour for a city bus to drive us an hour to the airport; we then we slept on the airport floor for another 5 hours; followed by a 5 layover in Frankfurt before finally arrived back in DC.
One unforgettable memory: I was in charge of coordinating a seminar in Cape Town, South Africa, in December, 2013. As fate would have it, Nelson Mandela died the very morning I landed. Here I was, planning a seminar on leadership, when one of the greatest leaders in South Africa - and the world - had passed away and I was in the center of it all. The day of his funeral, my group toured Robben Island, where Mandela was imprisoned. In the port of Cape Town, I watched as President Obama eulogized the great leader at the funeral. It was completely life-changing.
Bravest memory: When I was six, my family housed an exchange student from Costa Rica for 6 months. During those 6 months, Melissa became a big sister to me.
When I turned 16, my family and I decided that I would spend 6 months with Melissa (then 27) and her family. During a drive in the mountains in Grecia, we spotted a bungie jump spot off a rickety old bridge. All of a sudden, I became obsessed with the idea of bungie jumping. I begged Melissa's parents to turn the car around and let me jump off the bridge. (This was clearly before my IBS or otherwise I would have pooped my pants.) I stood on the bridge all suited up but was way too scared to jump. After 45 minutes, the guide pushed me off. Does that still count?
Culture shock moment: Easy, arriving at the Jeddah Airport and being surrounded by completely veiled women and men dressed in the Hajj clothing. The oppressive heat of 105 degrees and 60% humidity that hits you when you walk down the plane's boarding stairs. Also, the drive from the airport to the compound was 100% flat desert and camels grazing. I was not in Kansas anymore.
Best reason to talk to strangers: They offer the best knowledge of the place you are visiting! I only talk to strangers outside the kingdom as usually women are forbidden to speak to men they aren't married or related to.
How are you different while traveling? Since moving to Saudi, I think I've become a different traveler. Many things are forbidden here and living on a compound can be very routine.
Now, when I travel, I enjoy basking more in the freedom of life outside the Kingdom and leave my abaya in my suitcase. Mojitos taste a little better, as does bacon.
In another way, I've also realized what it's like to be "the other" when I travel. When I traveled to Dubai with a friend a few years back, we were included in the very small minority of women in the mall not fully veiled. Now, when I travel outside the kingdom and see women dressed like back "home," I feel a sense of empathy. Not many people get to live and experience the Middle East. They are left just watching TV and reading the news and so they only know things based on second-hand opinions or stories. They see women fully covered and men in traditional garb and may feel uncomfortable or unsafe because of stereotypes. For me, that is the new normal and it's simply an expression of religion and not something to fear or find strange.
Is it harder to leave or to stay put? It is extremely hard for me to stay put. When I browse other travel blogs or website, all I can think of the is next place to go, the next food I want to try, the next museum I want to visit.
Three things you've learned on the road:
- Even if things go wrong, remember, you are on vacation. Don't waste time on a trip upset about something that might have gone wrong, or bad weather, or a delayed flight. You only have X number of days here. Don't waste them!
- Make sure you charge your electronics before you leave your room/hotel/tent. Nothing is worse than your camera dying at the same time you find the perfect shot.
- Being by yourself is okay.
What keeps you going? My children and future grandchildren. I mean, I don't have them yet. But sometimes I like to imagine telling them about all the adventures I took when I was their age. How I moved halfway around the world. How I bungee jumped off a bridge. How I as given a tour of a palace in Udaipur, India by the prince himself. How I watched President Obama in Cape Town. That I looked for the Loch Ness Sea Monster. That is why I keep traveling.
What's next? In terms of trips? I've got quite the list. Next, I'm going on a Safari in Botswana. In August I'd like to spend my 26th birthday someone other than Saudi. In September I am surprising my father with a road trip through Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium and to Omaha Beach in Normandy for his 75th birthday. In November my family and I will be celebrating Thanksmas on a cruise through Portugal (we celebrate a new tradition of combining Thanksgiving and Christmas since I can't go home twice). I hope to spend New Year’s outside the kingdom as well, I just don't know where yet.
Long term? My goal is to stay in Saudi until next fall. By then I will have saved enough money to spend the year traveling throughout Europe and dedicating myself to blogging and writing full-time. Thanks to my Canadian citizenship through my father, I'm able to spend up to one year in Europe on a work holiday visa. I've been looking at the cost of living for the countries that allow me this visa and my top choices are: Poland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Greece, Czech Republish, and Slovenia. Who knows?
What would you be doing if you’d never left home? If I had never moved to Saudi I would probably still be just barely scraping by on a non-profit salary dreaming of places I wish I could go to and drowning in student debt.
What advice do you have for wanna-be Wild Hearts? Don't let anyone dissuade you from traveling. Don't be that person on their deathbed who wishes for things that they could have done when they had the chance.
Never stop taking photos.
Last question: What would make you stop traveling? Like, forever? Nothing. Right now I'm still young and free with no responsibilities (Well, I DO have a dog. But she stays in Saudi.) Once a husband and family come into the picture, I might slow down. But stop? Never!