Budget Backpacking, Solo Female Travel, Moving Abroad, Blogging. AMA!

Naomi Lai
Aug 28, 2018

Hey, I'm Naomi! I've been backpacking and blogging as often as I can afford it over the last 6 years. I'm 26 years old and have been to 27 countries (soon to be 28 when I visit Tonga this October!)I’ve slept in hammocks and trekked through the jungle in North Eastern Cambodia, survived a Full Moon Party in Thailand, sand-boarded down a volcano in Nicaragua, eaten a raw jellyfish in the Philippines, and worked on a cherry farm in Australia.

Most recently I have moved to New Zealand on a Working Holiday Visa. Last year I volunteered with refugees in Greece, taught English in Barcelona, and squeezed my savings together to backpack solo through Morocco. I adore new experiences and believe in trying everything once. Ask me anything!

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Do you think you will settle down eventually in one place or will you keep traveling and looking for new experiences forever?
Aug 30, 7:32PM EDT0

I'm in the process of trying to create a career and lifestyle that lets me pick up and leave whenever I want. Even if I settle down somewhat, I don't see myself staying in one place for 15 years and going on the occasional 2 weeks vacation to a resort somewhere tropical. That ain't me. I don't want kids, and I'm not too fussed about marriage, so I don't think there's any reason why I shouldn't get into a career that lets me continue to be nomadic. That's the goal!

Aug 30, 7:48PM EDT0
What events made you realize that that backpacking isn’t always a vacation?
Aug 30, 7:27PM EDT0

Oh there have been a few hahaha. Anytime you feel stranded somewhere, have something robbed, are unable to find accommodation, are carrying your gigantic bag on your back in the sweltering heat.... the list goes on. But then you look around and remind yourself of where you are and it's allllll worth it. And it's always better in hindsight...sometimes in those moments you have to give in and just feel sorry for yourself a little. It's a laugh later.

Aug 30, 8:05PM EDT0
How was your teaching experience in Barcelona and what are your thoughts on Spanish people?
Aug 30, 5:06PM EDT0

Loved Barcelona, love Spanish people, love Spanish food....learned teaching isn’t my calling.  It was totally fun for a year and I learned a lot and had fun, but I’m not well suited to it for a career haha. I’d go back to Spain in an instant though. 

Aug 30, 5:09PM EDT0
Clearly your travel adventures don't involve just exploring but working at the destinations you visit. What are some of the different working cultures you have experienced?
Aug 30, 5:57AM EDT0

I think the work culture varies by country but also of course by the industry as well. When I was waitressing in Canada I’d be on my feet for 10 hours, (sometimes in heels! Ugh) no breaks, and at work until 4am. By contrast while teaching, the hours were much shorter... it’s true what they say about Spain and their siestas - I used to be able to go home for a nap on my lunch breaks! I had a friend who taught English in Japan though, and used to get evicerated in front of the whole school if he was even a few minutes late for work. Based on my experience here in New Zealand, even office environments are very laid back. Like we don’t have a dress code in my department and I work for the local government. I like it this way, but it’s always an adjustment to become accustomed and learn what’s expected of you. 

Aug 30, 4:18PM EDT0
Are there extra safety precautions for solo females backpackers that you recommend?
Aug 30, 3:14AM EDT0

I don’t know, I think this is a difficult topic. I’ve read other blogs where women discuss the dangers and list precautions. I wouldn’t want to advise against any of that in case something awful did happen, but I also don’t feel like being a woman puts me in danger when I’m backpacking,

I don’t think I travel much differently from any man, however, I obviously live my day to day life much differently from a man, and I think all the same precautions women have to be aware of daily, apply when you’re on the road too. Avoid looking lost, even if you are. Use the buddy system when walking home from the bar. Don’t get in strangers cars. The usual. 

Aug 30, 4:34PM EDT0
Do you use local travel agents when planning your travels or do you do it on your own? How easy or difficult have you found the process?
Aug 29, 7:45PM EDT0

I almost never use travel agents.  I find the prices end up being higher because it's in their interest to make a good commission. Sometimes I'll book tours through a hostel if it's something that requires a booking (ie. DMZ Tour in Korea, Boat trip in Ha Long Bay Vietnam) and have not had an issue with those. It's more tedious to go directly to the bus/train station to book tickets, or to book your own flights if it requires multiple bookings, but I like doing it myself. I've had a couple misadventures while booking with local tour agenies in the past, when I was new to backpacking and didn't know any better. I have learned my lesson.

Last edited @ Aug 29, 9:19PM EDT.
Aug 29, 9:13PM EDT0
What are the most essential items that every backpacker should always have at hand when traveling abroad?
Aug 29, 12:00PM EDT0

Always carry some USD in cash. It seems unenessary, and you might carry it around for months without ever using it, but when you need it, you need it, and it's usually an emergency situation. I almost missed a flight out of Korea because I didn't have the necessary visa to enter Vietnam. In order to get it all sorted, I had to fork out about $100 in US cash. That's the only currency that'll get you out of any jam, so I always carry some with me. Just make sure you keep it somewhere safe!

Last edited @ Aug 29, 9:32PM EDT.
Aug 29, 9:31PM EDT0
What are the main challenges of traveling solo?
Aug 29, 11:43AM EDT0

Sometimes it's hard to make friends - you have to constantly be "on" and outgoing, which can be a little exhausting even for someone like me who is sociable by nature. It's harder to haggle sometimes too. It helps if you're with someone and you're like "what if we buy TWO pairs of flip flops?" or "what if all SIX of us book a dorm?". When you're alone there's less bargaining leverage, and life becomes slightly more expensive.

Aug 29, 5:34PM EDT0
How do you find affordable accommodation in new places?
Aug 29, 10:39AM EDT0

It depends a little on where I am. If I’m in a more expensive country, I usually check Hostelworld and book something  in advance. If I’m somewhere cheap where haggling is a possibility, I go to a busy area and keep my eyes open for hostels and guest houses. It’s usually worth it to check out 2-3 places (if you’re not off a long flight and exhausted) to get the best price. 

Aug 29, 4:27PM EDT0
What do you do you establish effective communication channels with people with little understanding of your language?
Aug 29, 1:32AM EDT0

I find hand gestures are useful! I’m naturally a very fast speaker but I learned to slow down and do a lot of motioning when I was teaching English - it made a world of difference. 

Aug 29, 4:18AM EDT0

Thanks so much for everyone’s questions! It’s been a lot of fun answering :) 

Aug 28, 8:05PM EDT0
Have your experiences changed the way you view opportunities, money, or just the world in general?
Aug 28, 7:20PM EDT0

Yes, I’m certain they have. I feel like traveling has turned me into a “yes” person. I think I’ve always been somewhat that way but it’s brought out the best in me. I think I’m more open minded and overall just a lot happier. Seeing how other people live gives you a lot of perspective. Doing things you never thought you’d do allows you to realize what you’re capable of. 

I used to be super into expensive shoes, bags, and clothing in general. After my first backpacking trip, I realized how much more I could do with my money than just buying a nice purse. I remember when I came home from Asia, totally out of money, and my Dad gave me $20 cash to go get lunch it felt like $100.

Aug 28, 7:51PM EDT91
What has been the most mind-blowing experience you’ve had on your travels?
Aug 28, 5:05PM EDT0

This is a tough one! 

Basically anytime I’m confronted with just how insane nature is.

One of my fondest memories is of skinny dipping in the middle of the night in Thailand. There were bioluminescent plankton in the water, dancing around and illuminating our skin, while we watched a thunder storm off in the distance.

Most recently, my mind was blown here in New Zealand when I visited Wai-O-Tapu and saw a bunch of crazy geothermal activity casually nestled in a forest.

The world is weird, man. 

Last edited @ Aug 28, 6:19PM EDT.
Aug 28, 6:18PM EDT0
What is one aspect of solo travel that you wish you could magically change or make easier?
Aug 28, 3:37PM EDT0

I suppose when things go wrong or get tough, it’s hard not to have someone with you to sort everything out. But if I could magically make that easier by not having anything go wrong, it wouldn’t be as much of an adventure!

Aug 28, 6:21PM EDT0
What would you say to women who want to travel independently but feel that they can’t because of safety concerns?
Aug 28, 12:29PM EDT0

Safety is definitely something you have to be aware of but unfortunately, as women, we have to be aware of that everywhere, including home. I don’t think fear should ever stop you from exploring. I went to Morocco totally convinced I’d have to be covered from head to toe at all times, but I learned quickly that it’s not as strict or dangerous as it’s made out to be. Of course I had to stay aware, but never once felt unsafe. Keep your wits about you, take general precautions (ie. keep an eye on your bag, respect the clothing standards of where you are) and you’ll be fine :) 

Last edited @ Aug 28, 6:10PM EDT.
Aug 28, 5:28PM EDT0
Is there a particular destination from all the ones you have visited that you are most fond of? Which place is your favorite and why?
Aug 28, 12:06AM EDT0

It’s hard to say because I’ve loved every place for different reasons. BUT if I had to choose, I’d have to say Cambodia. It’s got everything: beaches, jungles, interesting (but tragic) history, temples and ruins. Everything. And it’s dirt cheap! The food is probably the only thing that’s lacking, but even then, so cheap you can’t complain :) i also made some pretty rad travel partners, which helps. 

Aug 28, 1:54AM EDT0
Originally, where are you from and what are the places you love most in your country?
Aug 28, 12:04AM EDT0

I’m Canadian, from a small town outside Toronto (Elora, if anyone knows it)! What I love most about Toronto specifically is how mutlicultural it is! Then of course if you go out west, the mountains  and glacial lakes are breathtaking. There’s lots to love :)

Aug 28, 1:36AM EDT0

How did you start your backpacking journey? What motivated you?

Aug 27, 9:19PM EDT0

I grew up listening to the stories my father told about his childhood, living in Pakistan, Borneo, Denmark, Singapore, Libya, and so many more. I was always in awe and knew I had to go out and live some adventures of my own. I went to visit some European friends over a few weeks on a summer holiday during university, and had so much fun I decided I needed to spend more of my life that way. I dropped out of school, saved up as much money as I could, and left 9 months later. 

Aug 27, 9:30PM EDT0
There are different types of tourists and travelers. How do you define yourself?
Aug 27, 8:27PM EDT0

I definitely consider myself a traveler. I try to immerse myself in different cultures and spend as much time in one place as possible, instead of taking a vacation. Of course, there are tons of great "tourist" activities that "travelers" can and should do, but I feel like traveling is more about experiencing rather than observing. 

Aug 27, 9:25PM EDT0
What were the circumstances that made you eat a raw jellyfish? How does it taste?
Aug 27, 7:30PM EDT0

haha, that was a funny one. Long story short, it stung my friend and our boat guides told us they'd cook it up! The way to "cook" a jellyfish is just to douse it in vinegar, so I can't pretend it tasted too great, but it was certainly worth trying. Picture thicker, white vinegar flavoured jello. Yummm. 

For the longer version of the story you can read my blog post about it :) 

Aug 27, 9:21PM EDT0
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