We’re back! This series was sparked by a question from a female reader of mine and it’s suddenly taken off – I’m losing track of the interviews in the pipeline and I’m even receiving emails from bloggers requesting to be featured. I’m very happy about this – it makes my life a whole lot easier 🙂
Today I’m welcoming to the blog Christina Gmyr from Fleeting Life (love that name, don’t you?) Christina has a refreshing outlook on life and after reading her About Page I knew I had to interview her. She’s certainly well travelled and shares some great insights here, including one nifty travel tip for girls that I’ve actually never heard before.
Introduce yourself! Who are you?
Hi! I’m Christina, a 24-year old freelance writer, dancer and total goofball. I’m the founder of www.FleetingLife.com, a website designed to empower readers to create the fullest life possible. To me, a full life incorporates travel, humor, good food, freedom, and love.
What was the first trip you took abroad by yourself? What was your inspiration?
The first international trip I took alone was in 2010, when I spent a month living in Costa Rica. I’ve always had the itch to travel, but I didn’t have much of an opportunity to do so while I was growing up. In 2009, my childhood best friend died suddenly, which made me very aware of the fleeting nature of life (hence the site name!) and I realized that if I wanted to travel, I was the only person who could make that happen. I started planning my first trip and took on an extra job during college to make my dream a reality, and a year later I spent an incredible month in Costa Rica. It’s safe to say that trip turned me into a total travel addict (no, really, I might need an intervention…)
What is the biggest thing you have learned about yourself while travelling solo?
There’s no greater rush than feeling like you’ve conquered a city all on your own, especially in a foreign language. That exhilaration tends to fade a bit over time as you get used to traveling to new places alone, but I try to remind myself of it every so often – it helps me to not take the experience for granted.
The biggest concern for travelling solo as a female is safety. How do you get over that fear? What steps do you take to make sure you stay safe while on the road?
I grew up with a classic worry-wart mother, so I have a safety-awareness sensor hardwired into my brain. I’m always aware of my surroundings and, if I’m perfectly honest, I’m leery of most men who approach me on the street, especially at night. I have a knack for attracting some strange characters, so while I always try to be friendly, I rely on my instincts and good judgment of character to tell me who to trust.
Luckily I’ve had no real issues so far! (Note: Do not trust anyone in the NYC metro that approaches you while singing about Twinkie conspiracies, telling you that they’re your crazy uncle, or yelling at you for any reason. They probably won’t harm you, but if you give them any attention, even a chuckle, they will not leave you alone.)
To be specific, I do research online and ask local women if it is safe to walk around in certain neighborhoods at night. Women will usually have a better awareness because, unfortunately, this tends to be more of an issue for young females traveling alone than for the average traveler. I also wear a ring on my wedding finger (Bren’s comment: That is genius!), and take cabs whenever I feel unsafe.
I think looking confident and certain of where you are going (even if you don’t) is essential. If I feel uncomfortable and need to look at my phone for directions, I’ll usually pop into a café or store for a minute so I’m not standing on the street looking dazed and confused.
What is one place you have been that was completely different to what you expected it would be?
I’m actually going to say Paris – as an American you hear references to how classy the French are, and I bought into the notion that Parisians were going to be stuck-up and overly sophisticated.
I heard many people complain that the French were rude and unhelpful to non-French speakers, so I was really worried before my trip because I knew only three sentences in French (one of which was “I am a pineapple head.” Yeah…not so useful.)
I was shocked to find that almost everyone I met was super friendly, down-to-earth and very patient with my poor French skills. Of course there is something sophisticated & classy about Paris, but I enjoyed it and didn’t find it stuffy or overbearing at all.
What tips do you have for packing light as a female?
I’m not sure I should answer this – while I pride myself on being a girl who isn’t crazy about shopping and who doesn’t care much about fashion, I somehow always manage to have too many clothes and my suitcase usually barely makes the cutoff, so I might be fooling myself!
Last year before moving to Europe I focused on packing mostly black and white clothing so I could mix and match everything, with some colorful jewelry to spice things up. This was probably the only thing that kept me from an overweight baggage fee!
Many people are reluctant to travel solo because they feel like they’ll be alone and won’t meet anyone. What’s your experience?
I was worried about this too, but I haven’t found it at all! Honestly I think it’s easier to make friends while traveling than it is if you move to a new city in the U.S. after graduation.
Being a traveler means you have a bit of a build-in friend network because you’re likely to bond with any fellow traveler you meet! Chances are you’ll find you have more in common with other travelers than many of the people you grew up with. Staying at hostels is a great way to meet people, but you can also look for expat groups on Facebook and Meetup.com. Couchsurfing.com is also a nice way to meet locals, even if you don’t stay with them.
How do you afford your travels, and what tips can you share for keeping costs down while on the road?
When I first moved to Spain last year I was living off of my savings from working in finance in NYC for two years. Now I make money from my website and a little freelance work. I plan on teaching English next year to have a more stable income and health insurance. My biggest tip for keeping costs down is to try not to eat out for every meal (at least in Europe). Lately I’ve been trying to make most of my own meals, and only eating out a few times a week, and I feel healthier and have saved a significant amount!
OK, a couple of fun questions – who’s your celebrity crush?
My one and only celebrity crush since I was 12 is Heath Ledger. And no, that’s never going to change.
And, which country have you been to that, in your opinion, has the most handsome men?
Oh jeez, I’m gonna have to go with Brazil – probably because of the diversity!
Brazil is a serious melting-pot, meaning that you’ve got some very diverse genes blending together to create gorgeous trait combinations. But it might be hard to compete with the women there, who are also notoriously beautiful!
Imagine a Hollywood studio wanted to make a movie of your life. Who would play you and why?
It would have to be someone seriously goofy, so possibly Jennifer Lawrence, although I don’t think she’s quite as goofy, she’s definitely got some quirk going on.
Are you a nomad for life? Why? Why not?
Not exactly for life, because I like having a home space to come back to and I love puppies more than anything, but unfortunately puppies don’t travel well!
For the next few years I’ll continue my nomadism, but I prefer to stay for a long time in each country I visit so I can create a bit of a home-base and develop meaningful friendships, without feeling rushed or overwhelmed. Ideally after that I will create a life that involves very frequent travelling, while still having a home somewhere to return to.
At the beginning of this interview I mentioned that freedom is an essential part of creating a full life. The catch is that freedom is whatever you make it to be. At the moment that means the ability to bounce from country to country, soaking up the sights and writing about it along the way, but in the future it could mean the ability to work from home while cuddling the crap out of my 3 puppies, or being able to visit with my girlfriends from college every weekend. Freedom really means embracing everything that life throws your way, and making the most of it while you can!
Lastly, for those planning or considering their very first trip alone, what advice do you have for them? And where would you recommend they go?
Do quite a bit of research before you leave, because you’ll be less stressed once you’re actually travelling. I tend not to do much planning or research anymore, but it was very helpful before my first trip because it freed up the mental energy I needed to cope with the everyday excitement and stress that comes with living abroad for the first time. But make sure to leave your schedule open, because you’ll get great advice from other travelers and locals once you arrive!
In deciding where to go, I’d say just to follow your instincts. If there’s one country that always pops into your head, but you don’t know why, just go for it! I always had a seemingly strange desire to visit Ireland (I say strange because I love Spanish music and culture, so Ireland isn’t a natural fit), but once I finally went I loved it more than I ever expected to, and I constantly dream about going back.
Christina Gmyr is a travel addict with passion for great food, healthy living, languages and international human rights. You can follow her adventures on her blog Fleeting Life, or connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.
Female? Travel solo? Share your experiences in the comments below!