As someone committed to empowering other women to explore and adventure meaningfully around the globe, I always love to get to know other bloggers who seek to do the same. Enter Heather, founder of Free-Spirited Foreigner, fellow adventurer, and writer of more hilarious stories of travel woe than even I can compete with. You seriously need to check out her blog: she’s hilarious.
So when she got in touch and suggested we might want to make some sweet, sweet, travel blog magic, of course I agreed. And here’s just the beginning: Heather chatting about how people who you meet around the world are innately amazing, that Australia made her the person she is today, and why you should take that first step and travel.
Q: What tips would you give for others who want to travel adventurously?
We all have fear. It’s natural to fear the unknown, to wonder what might go wrong, even to imagine the worst. Traveling adventurously requires you to acknowledge and accept your fear. But the essential next step is what trips most people up. You need to also have the strength, the confidence, and more importantly, the blind optimism to push past it.
I very much believe that your perspective of the world shapes the type of world that you live in. I’d say I’m an optimist-realist mix. I feel that I skate this line.
When I am in a new place, I have confidence that if I need it, people will be there for me. People are good. This is what helps me travel adventurously.
It’s good practice and it’s good fun to ‘lose yourself’ sometimes. That’s what makes adventure so fun. It’s a game we like to play. On my recent travels in Costa Rica, I decided not to book anything ahead but ventured day-to-day, feeling out where I wanted to explore next. Sometimes I’d even stroll into town and just see what I could find. Did I get myself in a bind? Yes. Did I get myself out of it? Yup …with the help of local people? Right again. And do I regret it? Hell no!
Each little adventure leads me down a path I would never discover otherwise. Instead of later trying to imagine an alternate reality in which I did take that risk, I just dive in. A belly flop is no reason to quit swimming!
Escape the walls your own fear is keeping you in and live a little! Since when does anything good come without a little risk?
Q: Have you ever volunteered abroad and if so where? If not, would you want to?
Unfortunately I haven’t volunteered abroad yet. For a time I was interested in the Peace Corps, thinking it would be a good opportunity for me to live abroad, be truly immersed in a culture, help support a community in need, and walk away with a one-of-a-kind life experience. However after hearing more of people’s experiences as Peace Corps volunteers, I began to think that this would be an experience I might appreciate better with a significant other. While that may appear to go against my solo-female travel ways, the drastic cultural differences between American culture and the often remote, impoverished communities where the Peace Corps operates caused me to rethink. This cultural divide can create a context where safety and culture shock may be concerning. Thus, I’d want a partner in crime on that two-year journey!
However, I would really like to volunteer for a program where you can really make some kind of lasting impact, which I feel is done best over time. I have looked into programs but what I have found in my little research appears to be quite expensive for my teacher’s budget!
Are there any resources that you recommend if people are interested in volunteering abroad affordably?
Steph: Yes! Check out my ultimate guide to volunteering in South America for tips on how to get started.
Q: What are the three best and worst things about travel?
Best Things about Travel
Worst Things about Travel
- Beaches littered, sites destroyed, and cultures commercialized for tourism.
- Having too high of expectations will (almost) always disappoint.
- Bus rides in South America…no, just kidding. But close; being sick abroad
Q: Where was your first travel trip and how did it change you?
Australia. Enough said! I studied abroad in Perth in 2009 and it was the beginning of the end, as they say. I drank goon on ‘Cheap Tuesdays’ (and every other night of the week too), studying here and there, awestruck that all my lessons were recorded for my convenience. I ogled at unrefrigerated eggs in the K-mart (a grocery store chain in Oz) and felt disgust towards the racists’ free-flowing slurs towards aboriginal people on the public bus. Cars on the other side of the road, friendliness everywhere you went, and the modest, egalitarian culture made me all the more curious.
I wanted to know all the parts of Australia; to understand what Aussies thought of the world, of Americans, of me, of their politicians, and even of their Southern Cross bearing “bogans.”
Overall, Australia made me feel like the world was sitting there waiting for me.
The ease of booking a flight with my debit card thrilled me (as did not running the idea past my parents first). I had a favorite country for the very first time.
I was fascinated by everything. That fascination has yet to be satisfied. The more I see, the more I am fueled to see more.
Even seven years later, though my memories of Australia begin to fade and feel more like a long lost dream, I am reminded of how Australia gave birth to the ‘me’ I am today:
“A single journey can change the course of a life.”
Q: Where are you planning for your next trip?
Ireland! I’ve wanted to go to Ireland since before I considered myself a traveler. There’s something about the images of lush, green hills that roll on forever that just feels romantic. I expect it has something foreign and something homey about it that pulls people in.
Plus, for the record, I have yet to meet an Irish person I haven’t liked.
I’ll be spending two weeks there, one week with my good, Czech friend and the other week solo, hopefully avoiding crashing while driving on the left side of those narrow, country roads, holed up in an adorable village in some cozy, little cottage.
Q: Which travel bloggers do you admire and why?
I admire travel bloggers who have made travel their lifestyle and dream of one day enjoying that freedom to roam as I please. I value slow, authentic travel. I admire the bloggers who write about experiences, people, issues, and the ‘wrong turns’ of travel. These real experiences don’t come with an Instagram filter… I really want to hear stories about navigating a language barrier, getting through an awkward moment caused by cultural difference, or laughs, drinks, and a beautiful meal shared with newly made friends.
I have so many travel bloggers who I follow but lately I’ve found myself returning to Jessie’s blog, Jessie on a Journey. She is a true traveler and shares her honest experiences and tips. You won’t find her baring it all in a neon bikini in a Canadian forest solely to produce a sexy Instagram photo. Her writing is unpretentious, her personality, charming and uncomplicated. Like her unique voice, her photos draw me in. Jessie is my kind of girl.
Here is a list of some other travel bloggers I enjoy and support in no particular order:
– Gran Tourismo http://grantourismotravels.com/
– Twenty-Something Travel http://twenty-somethingtravel.com/
– Lee Abbamonte http://www.leeabbamonte.com/lee/travel-blog
– Tourist 2 Townie http://tourist2townie.com/
– Stop Having A Boring Life http://stophavingaboringlife.com/cats/travel-blog/
– Expert Vagabond http://expertvagabond.com/travel-blog/
– Johnny Vagabond http://johnnyvagabond.com/
– Adventurous Kate http://www.adventurouskate.com/
Q: What helps you to decide where you want to travel?
Wherever I feel pulling me most…Maybe I’ve read a blog post about an authentic rural village where you can stay with a family overnight in Namibia or maybe I’ve seen a travel photographer’s most recent Instagram photos taken in the snowy alps of Nepal. I’m always exposing myself to other people’s travels, feeding my unquenchable wanderlust. Of course I appreciate beauty, but the places that interest me most are the ones where I’ve read the people are friendly and open, where you can access the culture directly.
On trusted recommendations
For a while I have felt torn between whether to rush to my last continent or whether to save it. That was up until I met Lee Abbamonte a month ago, I wasn’t really interested in Antarctica. You should know I hate being cold. Hate. It was great chatting with this inspiring ‘Nutmegger’ about his biannual trips to the poles over our Cuban brunch. He couldn’t say enough about the nothingness, the beauty, and the sheer vastness that makes Antarctica unlike any other experience in the world. (He should know) And just like that, he changed my mind. I thought Africa would be my final continent, but it turns out I have two left! Sharing travel experiences with other travelers and hearing others rave about a particular country definitely piques my interest.
To follow travel bloggers is to have friends giving you travel advice from all corners of the globe!
On seeking meaningful travel
I don’t want to rush the world, but we only have so many hours on this Earth! I’m always torn by this desire to ‘see it all’ and simultaneously by my desire to connect on a meaningful level with people and places. But since I found my personal travel identity as a slow travel girl, I’ve only gotten better and better at limiting myself instead of biting at every temptation. I’d rather come to know and love one place then stop by six new places.
Q: What’s been your proudest travelling moment?
It was my last week after three months spent backpacking in South America. My then-boyfriend landed there in the tiny airport in Cusco, Peru and we went to find a taxi. Airport taxi drivers with fake, schmoozing smiles quoted prices four and five times higher than what was fair. I had to force “No. No, gracias” and “No, tenemos un taxi” a few too many times, avoiding eye contact to emphasize my disinterest. I confidently took my ex-boyfriend’s hand and guided us away from the crowd, away from the airport. I hailed a metered taxi on the main road less than a minute later.
As the taxi driver began to ask me a run of questions, I answered without faltering.
I could feel the ease of Spanish and it came gushing out of me.
I could understand! I could speak! My having urged my then-boyfriend to learn a few basic phrases like “Donde esta el baño?” and “Me gustaria…” now came full circle as he looked at me wide-eyed. “I didn’t know you were that good at Spanish.” Let it be known that I’m conversational, but nowhere near fluent in Spanish! My grammar may have been terrible, but I could communicate with local people authentically- and I was excited and proud! When I first arrived in South America three months earlier, I wasn’t able to string six words together. I spoke in phrase groups, gesturing and hoping to be understood, flapping my hands more than saying anything substantial. How good it felt to see my growth, to connect with a local person, and to show off my travel style to a newbie traveler. That week was a peak in my language life. I had never spoken a language so freely as I did that last week in Peru. That’s something I’m truly proud of and I hope I can trump it. The future goal is Spanish fluency. All in good time!
Q: Why do you write a travel blog?
I was interested in travel, but what breathing human isn’t? Studying abroad in Australia sent me down a new path, going on to spend a few years in Taipei and Prague, backpacking South America, and visiting more than 20 other countries across this earth. I want to find ‘my people’; those who would love nothing more than to talk travel for hours like I would.
Inspiration is the goal. It IS possible to travel. I want to inspire people to hold their breath and take that first plunge. Travel bloggers are NOT a special breeds of humans.
I was raised on mac and cheese and baseball in a lovely, suburban town like any other American girl might have been… I just took that first leap and never wanted to get off the ride. So get on with me!
Or tell me how your ride is treating you. 😉 I love hearing from the equally travel-obsessed. Email me if you’re in New York!
Heather Richards is a free spirit who fell in love with slow, meaningful travel when she studied abroad in Australia in 2009. She has lived on 4 continents and has traveled in 27 countries (so far). Heather openly shares her stories of stumbling through misadventures, connecting with sometimes the most unlikely characters, and of learning so much from and about the incredible people she meets along the way. Being a foreigner is an exciting thrill for Heather and she lives to soak up one culture at a time through her slow travel. Heather hopes to inspire other people to get out there and explore this beautiful world. She also hopes to send the message that anyone can travel, you just have to want it bad enough.
You can find Heather’s inspiring or embarrassing stories on her blog, The Free-Spirited Foreigner, or reach out to her to talk travel on her social media channels: