Meet cheerful, energetic Shannon O’Donnell of A Little Adrift
. An SEO expert by profession, Shannon took up a life of long-term world travels in 2008 with a 1-year RTW solo trip. She’s been traveling and blogging ever since. In today’s in-depth interview, find out Shannon’s favorite countries and cuisines. Discover the important lessons Shannon’s learned from traveling abroad, the joys of solo travel, and how she funds her travel life. Then find out where she’s off to next…
Q1: You kicked off your long-term travel life with a 1-year RTW trip in 2008-2009, visiting 15 countries. What are 3 important lessons you learned from that trip?
Perspective is the biggie for me. I left the cocooned bubble of my life in the United States and saw for the first time cultures and lifestyles so different from my own. It sounds so cliché to remark about the culture and socioeconomic differences abroad, but it really does just hit harder than I thought it would to immerse in such disparate cultural experiences.
I learned to be a better me with all of that time solo too. That means more patience as I waited for trains and buses and when everything went just not as I had planned. More compassion as I volunteered and worked with local communities throughout my travels, and more appreciation for the opportunities life has afforded me.
And I learned that a year is a very long time to travel solo. I loved so many things about my RTW and would not even for a heartbeat consider changing that decision. But that being said, I burned myself out by traveling so rapidly for that full year and I learned to listen to my own travel style and slow down. I still would have done the year, but maybe not locked myself so tightly into the end of the planned route with plane tickets.
Shannon at Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Q2: What were your 3 favorite countries during that trip and why?
This is such a cruel question- to pick just three countries is tough, but my list looks something like this: India, Laos, and Bosnia.
I love because India there are no words to adequately describe the country. It’s chaotic, life rarely makes sense when I’m there, and yet I feel constantly compelled to explore the world around me.
And Laos rates highly because it was the first time I experienced a country with so little Western influence. The people were humble and so sweetly friendly that I was drawn into my travel experience in an instant. I think this is the place where I felt most connected to my trip. It was my third country and I remember thinking, “Oh yes, yes this is why I’m out here traveling.”
Bosnia is an odd addition to my list because it is so far off the typical travel destinations and top tens you read about in magazines, but I felt an instant affinity with the people. Perhaps it’s because I couch-surfed throughout the Balkan states and saw such a welcoming and friendly slice of the culture in that regard.
Q3: Did you have any scary / dangerous / dodgy incidents during that trip? If so, could you share one with us, please.
I have gotten veryscarilysick
, actually in Laos, but that’s about it and I obviously lived through it. I haven’t been robbed or put into situations that have even for an instant make me regret my decision to travel anywhere, nor on any type of transportation. Though I know it is mere luck that has kept me from getting robbed, I find the world a much safer place, on the whole, than I ever thought possible after decades of consuming mainstream U.S. news reports.
Shannon Holding Tarantual in Tikal, Guatemala
Q4: Since your RTW trip, you’ve continued your world travels. Have you picked up any new favorite countries since then? What’s the draw?
Guatemala embraced me warmly the moment I arrived. I speak Spanish and that greatly lowered the threshold for interactions with the Guatemalans and indigenous culture. And beyond that, Thailand (and Southeast Asia in general) tops out my list of countries I plan to return to over and over again in my life.
Q5: Are there any places you dislike / hate / never want to visit again / wouldn’t recommend ? If so, where and what’s the turn off?
Not a one. There is only one country about which I have even remotely felt compelled to share some negative aspects of my travel experience, but the reasons and rationale were entirely personal. Travel is personal, and for that reason I hesitate to trash-talk any country or city. Sure I loved some more than others, but those same places I didn’t love are another traveler’s favorite. So my advice is to read travel blogs, find inspiration in the stories, but always seek out that place you’ve always dreamed about visiting, no matter what another person has said about it!
Q6: Amidst all your travel stories and tips, you write a lot of posts about foods from around the world. What are your 3 top cuisines and why?
I have taken deep, deep pleasure in eating in India, Italy, and Thailand. The riot of flavors in India are never-ending. Just when I thought I had tried every new spice and seasoning possible, a new taste would dance across my tongue throughout my seven weeks.
Italy, on the other hand, wins with comfort food and familiarity and the cuisine builds on traditional dishes I ate growing up, but with fresh and local ingredients, the most delicious cheeses and breads and pairs them with fruity wines grown just nearby. I gain ten pounds just thinking about the foodie delights, the flavorful wines and the tasty gelato that fill travel days in Italy.
Thailand is my stand-by. My dad was a fan of Thai food growing up in the states, so I had a food familiarity that blossomed into love as I sampled dishes earlier this year from street stalls and smiling vendors. All of the Thai street food is prepared to order and customized to your whim and palate if you so choose. How can you beat that?!
|Shannon at the Great Wall of China
Q7: During your RTW trip you partly financed the trip by working as a freelancer in SEO . Can you please tell us about that job. What did you do? Who did you work for?
I work as a consultant and really a jack of all trades where SEO is concerned. I have a background in marketing, so that often creeps into the SEO consulting I do too and my work comes to me mostly via previous clients and long-standing contracts.
Q8: How do you continue funding your travels? From SEO work? From your blog? (And do you make any money from your blog?).
I finance my travels with SEO work, a lot of writing, and other creative projects that come along and crop up mostly based on my travel experience now. As for the blog, yes, I do make some money from affiliate recommendations, but at this point it’s a labor of love and a resume of sorts. I love that it’s ad-free and fully my voice and plan to keep it that way for as long as possible. :)
Mostly I have stayed on the road with budgeting and passion to supplement my online income. I sold everything before I left and had a little nest egg that I then used to supplement mymonthlytravelbudget– which I meticulously tracked to make sure I was on track and at-budget to stay on the road long-term.
Q9: You lived in Chiang Mai, Thailand for 5 months recently. I noticed that several other travel bloggers have based themselves in Chiang Mai. Since I’ve also spent loads of time in Thailand (mostly in the south) I’m aware that lots of westerners settle up in Chiang Mai. What’s the draw? Why do so many westerners and travel bloggers like living there?
There’s a magnate in Northern Thailand and it pulls in the awesome travelers. No joke! My five months in the city were spent with amazingly talented expats living in the city because of the wide array of opportunities. The city’s quality of life is very high for expats and the overall costoflivinginThailandislow
. Some of my favorite things to commend the city: the easy cultural day trips around the city, delicious street foods, affordable housing, fast WiFi, and a community of other travelers and bloggers built into the experience!
Shannon Bonding with a baby camel, Wadi Rum, Jordan
Q10: Shannon, you mainly travel on your own, as do I. What do you think are the best aspects of solo travel? Any downsides? If so, what do you do about them?
Solo travel keeps my eyes open a bit wider to everything around me. I am reliant on my own wits, so I pay attention to more of the little things around me. The people and places I encounter often take on a deeper interaction when I am alone because I have no other option. When I am traveling with a friend, I am often engrossed in conversation as we drive around and a bit less likely to make a new friend on long bus rides.
But there are up sides to traveling with friends. You have someone else there to help figure it all out! I love having a person with whom I can leave my pack when I need to pee. It’s a ridiculous reason to want a friend nearby, but that’s the essence of it. You have someone there you can trust to look out for you, to watch your backpack as you find the right train track, or bus terminal, or even just the toilet.
Shannon at The Monastery in Petra, Jordan
Q11: What’s your current mode of long-term travel? Do you travel continuously? Or do you stop somewhere for chunks of time? If so, where and for how long?
My travel style is a work in progress. After that first year of rapid travel around the world I have slowed down a whole lot, taking it slower and staying for longer in various countries including my hometown. Earlier this summer I came to the suddenanddefiniteconclusion
that five months traveling and three months home is my sweet spot right now, but that may very well change so don’t hold me to it!
Q12: What are your upcoming travel plans?
The “p” word makes me nervous, but tentative plans will see me back in Chiang Mai and Southeast Asia this fall and for another five month stint living and traveling through the region.
Thanks very much Shannon for sharing all your travel adventures and insights with us! Enjoy your upcoming stay and travels around SE Asia. cheers, Lash
Volunteer Traveler’s handbook by Shannon ODonnell
* Shannon is author of the excellent Volunteer Traveler’s Handbook.
If you’ve been dreaming of volunteering out in the world, Shannon’s thorough guidebook will save you a lot of research hassle and help you find just the right volunteer gig for you. Check out Volunteer Traveler’s Handbook here.
(* all photos courtesy of Shannon O’Donnell / A Little Adrift *)