“My name is Heather, I’m from Long Island, NY and I currently live in Queens (the best borough in NYC in my totally biased opinion).
I’ve been in my neighborhood for almost 8 years, in the same apartment – a rarity in NYC. I love the diversity of NY. I love being surrounded by different cultures and types of people. Queens is one of the most diverse urban spaces in the world and the neighborhood I live in, Astoria, is the most diverse part of it. It’s big enough that you can be anonymous but small enough that the local business owners know you and wave hello when you walk by. The food is delicious and I love being able to get that food at any time of the day or night. I was recently in a part of Montana where all the restaurants closed around 9PM, it was awful!
I went to college in Boston. I loved Boston but it’s a college town and I knew when I graduated that I didn’t want to stay there. Plus I’m a die hard NY Giants fan, so you know that wouldn’t work.
Every year my family would take a 2 week trip to the northeast – New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine and sometimes Canada but that was the extent of our vacationing – not that I didn’t love it! I didn’t get on a plane until I was 21 years old – to go to Disney World to run a marathon. After I graduated college, I went on one trip/year during the winter to escape the cold (Bahamas, Mexico, etc.). It wasn’t until I went to Berlin with my best friend that I started really getting the travel bug. My friend and I couldn’t decide where to next so we wrote down all the places we wanted to go, put them in a hat and chose Berlin. It was still winter so we found a cheap flights and hotel and went for 5 days. After that I no longer wanted to use my vacation days for “staycations” or visiting my parents (oops, sorry mom! you’re only a 40 min train ride away) so I started researching solo travel. When a coworker told me about Contiki – a tour group for 18-35 yr olds, perfect for solo traveling. I was sold, I booked my next trip right then.
Technically Canada when I was little but that was back before you needed a passport to go there. The first time I used my passport was in Los Cabos, Mexico about 10 years ago with my best friend. I’ll be going back there in November to celebrate her wedding!
My favorite place is Japan. I’d go back in a second. I felt like everywhere there was a mix of traditional values with modern/technologically advanced culture. The bookstores were still crowded with young people. There were so many stationary stores and cute shops. I knew I’d love Japan before I got there. Vietnam probably surprised me the most. I heard horror stories before I left for my trip of people getting ripped off, experience hostility from the people but I didn’t have any of those experiences. Most people were very kind, especially after they found out I was American. Most of the guides were interested in finding out how the US perceives the Vietnam War and the people of Vietnam. Waiters asked me about Queens, saying they had family members living there. It’s a beautiful country.
I’m lucky that I’ve not had too many bad or scary experiences while traveling…hold on a minute while I knock desperately on the wooden table next to me. The most scared I’ve been on vacation was in Alaska while hiking (the “easy hike” no less). Though it was June, the mountain still had snow leftover on it and one part was particularly narrow, along the edge of the mountain and covered in snow. We saw a man in front of us run down to rescue his dog who started sliding down the side of the mountain. I just froze in complete panic. My entire body was shaking, I started imaging what its like to fall off the mountain or actually live on the mountain since I’d never be getting back down. I started crying and cursing at my friends around me. Finally I made it across by getting on all fours and then sliding my butt down a steeper side. I recently went to Glacier National Park and I was dreading one of the longer hikes my friend wanted to do because of that experience in Alaska but this time I wasn’t scared at all. I’m not sure what changed between then and now, but I’m excited to do more hiking (though I definitely need to get my lungs in better shape).
People might be surprised to learn that I have a lot of anxiety, especially when talking to strangers. I get really self conscious when I ask people questions or when I’m trying to photograph something. I start to feel like people are watching me and judging me. I miss a lot of good photograph opportunities that way. Sometimes I’ll even skip going someplace if I’m not sure how it works or if I’m at the right location, etc. because I’m too nervous to ask someone. It’s lessened a bit the more I travel, but not by much. It’s a struggle every time but I try to push through it. I need to remind myself that even if someone is judging me or staring at me, most likely I will never see that person again. Google is also my best friend. I always look up how public transportation works, prices, maps and images of the places I’m about to visit so I know I’m in the right place.
I sometimes use group tours like Contiki and Intrepid, but after a bad experience with one group in Italy, I started traveling solo. As I said earlier, sometimes it’s tough because of my anxiety but overall I love it. The hardest part of traveling solo for me is eating all my meals alone. Growing up in NY, you become very guarded around people – any stranger talking to you is either trying to hit on you or scam you or both. So it’s hard for me to sit at a bar and strike up a conversation with the person next to me. I’m trying though!
Travel definitely made me more laid back. The world is not as bad as you see on TV. There are kind people everywhere and you definitely meet them while traveling (along with the occasional creep..)
My camera – and not just my smartphone camera. I use an Olympus Pen E-pl7. I used to have a larger DSLR but I like the small Olympus because it fits in my purse. I also just recently got what I refer to as a “faux-pro” it’s an Akaso and it’s only $75 but to me it works just as well as a go-pro – and it uses all the same mounts/equipment. I do wish I was better at photography though. I take classes and a week later completely forget everything I’ve learned.
I’m lucky that for the past few years I’ve had 4 weeks vacation at my jobs (If you’re not from the US that might not seem like a lot of time, but most of my friends only get 2 weeks) and bosses that don’t mind me using up all of my time off. I like to fully disconnect from work when I’m away – no checking emails or slack messages.
I’ve been saving money for about a year now and I’m leaving my job to take the Fall off. I’m doing a little bit of traveling but mostly I’m working on my first novel. The novel is based on some of my own travel experiences. I’m hoping to also start freelance writing and eventually making traveling and writing full time my life.
WHERE TO NEXT?!
As I mentioned I’m going to Mexico in November for my friends wedding, but I think I’m going to extend the trip to visit a few different places in Mexico. I wanted to go to Estonia this fall but I’m not sure when/if that will happen this year.”
-as told by Look at the World Around You