If there’s one thing I know about travel, it’s that there are so many different ways to do it. Growing up, I always saw travel as a temporary thing. It was something that happened a few weeks at a time, whenever your vacation days would allow.
As I have grown older, I have became exposed to a variety of travel styles. I have met people who travel for a living, people who focus on exploring destinations closer to home, and people who spend years at a time living in different countries around the world. All of these experiences are different points along the vast and diverse spectrum.
Abbie Synan of Speck on the Globe is one Wanderful member who has made travel into her way of life. As a location-independent professional, she’s not tied down to one place, and is able to take full advantage of what this world has to offer (including having visited over 50 countries!).
I was excited to interview Abbie because I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of being location-independent. This trend of working remotely has really taken off in the last 10 or 15 years, and in my opinion has opened up the world to a lot more people.
What makes it so important for women, though, is that it gives us more opportunities to travel on our own. Women like Abbie are paving the way for others who want to travel, and showing us that there’s more than one way to live your life.
Abbie and I recently connected, and she shared with me some of her thoughts and experiences about her travels.
You talk a little about what inspired you to travel on your blog, but can you share some of that more with the Wanderful community? What was the experience that started your wanderlust?
I’ve always had a love for travel — more importantly, a need to explore — whether it was something local or far away. Before I worked remotely, I made a promise to myself that with my limited vacation, I would go somewhere new each year.
That personal pact continued until my dad was diagnosed with Leukemia in 2012. I took my existing responsibilities at my office and, with the help of my boss, reworked them to be able to do my job from my parents’ house in Pittsburgh, while my father underwent treatment.
Once my dad went into remission, I immediately took my remote position on the road by booking a ticket to Thailand. If I could work from a couch or hospital room, I could surely work from a beach or jungle.
With the ability to make my own schedule, I had the opportunity to get back into my writing and was so inspired to see and share more.
Cancer has a way of shaping your future even if you aren’t directly afflicted with the disease. It forces you to reevaluate your existence, to examine your everyday, and it leads you to decide if what you are doing is giving you the happiness you deserve.
I walked away from that year wanting to have zero regrets in any of my choices going forward, professionally or personally.
I was thankful for my healthy, supportive family and it was then when I realized it was important to feed my passion for storytelling, and the platform of exploring our globe was a real motivation.
You’ve been to a handful of countries around the world. Which one has been your favorite, and why?
It comes up frequently in conversation when people find out how much I travel, but it’s so hard to choose just one!
I always joke that picking a favorite country is like making my mom pick her favorite child, I have trouble choosing one place over all the others.
Each city or country I’ve visited has had a special memory or unique experience, making every destination my favorite for different reasons.
I’d have to say, however, that the places I end up loving the most are ones where I’ve made an effort to connect with the community or culture as opposed to just taking a vacation.
I have tried to choose places where I can learn and simultaneously give back, so a lot of my travels have been peppered with volunteering, education, and responsible tourism.
These days, we blog, tweet, and post about our travels almost as soon as they happen. You have a blog, and are quite active on social media. On your travels, how do you balance documenting your experience and really experiencing the moment?
I think everyone — even location-independent workers — struggle with work-life balance. That can easily rear its ugly head when traveling, just like it does in a more conventional work environment.
Being self-employed and having your work follow you around wherever you are makes it easy to never take a day off.
I really try and create an itinerary for each trip, with planned excursions or set locations where I’m going to enjoy myself as a participant in an adventure, and not as a documentarian.
Being a writer means I’m always going to be a storyteller. I’ll forever find joy in retelling experiences, but I need to keep in mind that it’s okay for my exploration to sometimes be just for myself first, and then for my readers.
I’m an avid photographer, and just like planning ahead to have work-free down time, there are days where I force myself to go out without my camera equipment.
Sometimes it pains me when I see a shot I may have missed, but I can always go back to a location later while I’m working to try and capture the feeling I had that day.
I think it’s a great tool in improving my writing to remember to live in your moments as well as share them.
You write a lot about traveling solo, and I think there are a lot of women out there who would love to do this as well. What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned from traveling solo?
I’ve learned so much about myself and others since I’ve been traveling solo. I think the thing that has impacted me the most has been how much more I trust myself and my instincts, knowing more now than ever that I’m a strong, independent individual.
Learning life lessons on the road has helped me to have more confidence in myself and the choices I make.
If you want to grow personally and give back globally, taking a trip on your own is a great way to start that conversation. Solo travel has consistently pushed me outside of my comfort zone, and living in that constantly-expanding space has by far and away made me a better person.
I think that has been the biggest benefit of travel: Learning to be the best version of myself and surprising myself when I am forced to try something new.
The world can seem like a scary place for a woman. What advice do you have for other women who want to travel on their own?
There are a lot of people who will question solo travel for women; don’t let people project their fears on your dreams! I am constantly fielding questions from friends, family, and strangers about traveling alone as a woman.
My philosophy has always been the same: I’m going to be a single woman wherever I am and my location doesn’t change that. So with that being said, I need to be smart, know my surroundings, and make the safest choices I can regardless of what country I’m in.
Unfortunately, we all know that unexpected things can happen anywhere. Hopefully these are more positive than negative, but I can’t let the fear of what may happen deter me from living.
Spending my time thinking about “what if” gets in the way of “what’s next” and I’d prefer to live in the now and look to the future than be controlled by the past.
The best way to make solo travel feel more like the norm is to go out, explore, have adventures, and have fun. Come back and recount your stories to the skeptics, and make your personal experience be the catalyst to change perceptions of women traveling alone.
Abbie’s experience shows that it’s not so hard to solo travel, or live the life that you envision.
She saw an opportunity and, with some negotiation, was able to turn that opportunity into something real for herself.
There is so much that the world has to offer. Even if your vision of your life doesn’t include being fully-nomadic, there are many ways you can make travel part of it.
Take a cue from Abbie and make your own adventures happen!