Friday, October 18, 2013

Interview (3) - let me introduce you to Joanne

My name is Joanne Hendrickson.  I was born in New York, and attended college in Wyoming.  Growing up I lived only a few minutes away from JFK airport, but I did not start to travel internationally until 2003, when I did a study abroad in Italy and England.  Two years later I did a study abroad in Japan, and the following year right after I graduated college in 2006 I returned to ‘studying abroad’ and attended school in Denmark.
 It was when I was living in Denmark that I really started to ‘travel’ – travelling on my own and around to anywhere and everywhere.  When I travel my friends and family know me as “The Backpacker in Flip Flops” because I often only travel with a backpack and will wear only flip flops – even in the cold weather!  Since I started travelling in 2003, I have visited 55 countries!  My travel philosophy was to visit ’50 countries before I turn 30’ – and I have gone to 55, and turn 30 in 7 months!

1.         What was your inspiration or the event/idea that made you want to travel?
My first international trip was an honors-level study abroad about Shakespeare.  Having not traveled internationally before, and believing that Shakespeare was indeed a foreign language of itself, I figured this study abroad was the best opportunity to face my ‘fears’ directly and overcome them.
After that I did two other study abroad, and it was during my last study about in Denmark that I really was inspired to travel.  I found out about EUrail travel passes and hostels, and decided that while I was in Europe I should see Europe!  I had classes from Tues-Thurs, which left me Thursday night to Monday to travel to a different country or city.  Once I saw how easy and cheap it was to get around, I was on the go!

2.         What was your first travel experience?

My first travel experience was a study abroad to England and Italy.  It was a summer class hosted by the University of Wyoming Honors Program.  We spent three weeks studying Shakespeare- sightseeing and attending plays. 

3.         Have you ever felt lonely travelling solo?
Only once.  I decided for Christmas 2007/New Years 2008 to backpack around Europe.  I visited 7 countries in 8 days.  I was in Vienna on Christmas Eve and thought it would be nice to attend midnight mass in Vienna.  I sat in the church for about ten minutes before mass started, before I felt so homesick not being home for Christmas that I left church, found a payphone on the street, and called my parents to tell them that I missed them and loved them.  Ever since then I have always been home for Christmas!

4.         Do you have any fun stories of things that happened to you that you realized even at the time, “This never would have happened if I had been traveling with someone else?”

I visited the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam.  I was in Amsterdam with a few other people, but I was the only one to visit the house.  At the end I asked at the desk if Miep Gies ever visited the location.  The employee was so excited to talk to someone and asked if I would like to see a picture of her.  He took me back through the museum, behind a roped-off area, and showed me Otto Frank’s private office, which still looks like it did during the war.  There was a picture of Miep from a visit she had to the house.  The employee also showed me ‘the Anne Frank tree.’  The employee told me that the area was too small for tours but because I was travelling by myself he could show me these areas. In the upcoming years, Miep Gies would pass away and the tree would be torn down, and so these things I got to see, alone, will always remain a treasured memory of mine.

5.         What was your best travel experience?
I was travelling around Ireland in 2011.  My late grandmother was very proud of her Irish heritage and had made a visit during her lifetime to kiss the Blarney Stone.  I decided I wanted to re-create this cherished memory she had, after she passed away.  I wore her favorite necklace and grabbed my backpack and headed to Ireland and within a few days was on a tour bus headed to the Blarney Stone.  Walking around the area I kept thinking how special it was that I was making the same memory with the same images as my grandmother had made many years before.  Getting to share something with my grandmother, even after her death, was wonderful.  What made the day even more special was that as the tour bus was heading back to Dublin, the bus driver stopped playing Irish music cds and let the radio play, and on the radio, in the middle of Dublin, was an American country-music song by Tom T. Hall called “Watermelon Wine” – not only was it out of place since I was in Ireland, but it happened to be my Grandma’s favorite song..   

6.         Is there anything you would have done differently/ any regrets, if you could do it over again?

I wish I spent more time where I was.  I felt the need to rush back to ‘real life,’ and in the end what really matters is the memories I had outside of the classroom or workplace. 

7.         What was your worst travel experience?

I was in Vietnam last year on a cruise.  The air quality where we went was very poor and quite a few of us got really sick.  When I got back on the ship I rinsed out the dress I had wore, and the sink turned black… and then I realized, while I was coughing, that my lungs looked the same as the sink did.  I spent the rest of the trip sick.  I pushed myself to see as much as I could in the other ports of call but was too sick to really enjoy any of those other locations in Asia that we went to.  One day in one location cost me many days of happiness.

8.         What’s the strangest situation you have found yourself in?

I did a backpacking trip around Europe.  I flew into Zurich, and when I did, my passport never was stamped.  I was able to travel to Austria and Slovakia fine, but once I took a train to Hungary I was stopped by Border Control.  The officers could not speak English, and I could not speak Hungarian.  Before I knew it, there were six police officers in my train car and about another 20 outside of my train car, all looking through my passport trying to find anything.  They found expired Danish and Japanese visas, and many other passport stamps, but none from the last few months.  Finally after about twenty minutes of my passport being passed around like a hot potato, an English-speaking police office showed up, I explained my travels and where I had been the past few days, the situation was handled, and I and the train were finally on our way to Budapest.  

9.         Where will you never return to?
Due to how sick I got there, I would not return to Vietnam.

10.      What advice would you give women traveling solo to your home country?
Be smart, but don’t be afraid to be a little stupid.  Plan before you go.  Some places, like NYC, are expensive, so do your research and figure out what you want to do and see.  But, don’t worry so much!  At the end of the trip you will regret not visiting an attraction just because it was expensive.  Make the most of every surrounding you see.  And don’t be afraid to talk to people – locals will be happy to speak to you!

11.       What are your future travel plans?

I would like to visit Greenland and Iceland.  Right now is not the time of year to do that, but I would like to start planning now so next summer I can have a wonderful trip there.  Tours there book up fast and there is a short tourism window, and every summer for the last few years I have not planned out visiting there as advanced as I should have.  I am hoping Summer 2014 is the lucky one!

I also would like to go to Africa.  Aside from Antarctica, it is the only continent I have not visited yet.  My father used to work in Nigeria, Niger, Ivory Coast, and Cameroon, and I would love to see some of those places – ideally with him!

12.       What are your top three tips for women traveling solo?

1)      Don’t risk your life for fun: If you would not do it in your own country by yourself, do not do it abroad by yourself. 

2)      Bring a cell phone with you: The bill may be expense at the end of the trip – but being able to call a loved one, a hotel you cannot find, or the police is a comfort that is worth it.

3)      Do not being a lot of stuff with you: Travel as light as you can.  It is harder to be one person trying to fit into a jammed train than if you have two people pulling the same bag in.  Plus, with fewer things it is easier to move more and see more!

13.       What would you tell women who are looking to travel alone but worry about their safety?

Research where you are going before you go.  I use Wikitravel and government warnings to find out what scams or violence has happened to tourists in the area before I go.  This should be the rule for everyone who travels – alone or with others.    

14.       Couchsurfing..what do you think about that?
I have not tried Couchsurfing yet.  I really enjoy hostels as I get to meet other travelers and find that they know tours based for backpackers-on-the-go.

15.       How do you pay for a life of travel?
I use travel credit cards for my everyday expenses so when it comes time to travel, I have air miles allowing the flight to be free.  I also use – for every 10 nights I stay I get 1 free night.  For hostels I use to find the best deals at the best time.  I try to group as many trips together as possible so as to keep down expenses.  Wikitravel helps me figure out what I want to see and also discusses the cheapest way to do things. 

I save money from each paycheck specifically for travels.  Also, for holidays or my birthday people know how much I love to travel and they often give me travel products, travel-related gift cards, or money that goes towards future travels.

16.       Tell us about the best food you have ever eaten on your travels?

It sounds silly but the best food I have ever eaten abroad is McDonalds.  The reason that I find this to be the best food is that it is the easiest to order (in some countries I have had to settle for holding up a certain number of fingers to show with menu item, or even just pointing to a product), but it is also a bit of an experience on its own to see how one meal in one country may be different than the same meal elsewhere.  The chicken sandwiches in Germany had berries on them; the fries in Japan did not have any grease on them…   While having the local food is great, seeing a local twist on an everyday meal is an experience as well.

17.       What is the most breathtaking view you have ever witnessed on your travels?

Sunsets from cruises are absolutely breathtaking, but the one site that truly stands out for me is Helsinki Cathedral.  It is a gorgeous white building, on top of a series of steps making it appear even taller and grandiose.  When I saw it, it had snowed only an hour before, so the stairs were white with snow and the sky white/gray with the sun trying to come out.  When I saw it I thought ‘this is what Heaven must look like.’

18.       What do you miss about your home when you go traveling?

I miss my dog the most.  I talk to my parents on the phone and my friends over the computer, but I miss my dog.  I miss knowing he is there is protect me and listen out for any weird sounds.  Material possessions are nice, but I miss the feeling of comfort that comes from home.   

19.       What item will you always carry in your backpack?

A tiny notepad.  I like to write down where I was or what I saw (because the memories do blend together), have paper to exchange contact information with a new friend, write down questions or commonly used phrases to get around despite language barriers, and to jot notes for future travel ideas.

20.      Who was the kindest or most generous person you met on your travels, and what did they do?
I have also been very fortunate to have had friends take me in to their homes and experience local culture and customs firsthand.  I have been able to do homestays in Japan, Belgium, and Denmark, and having these friends welcome me with open arms into their homes was extremely generous, and gave me a different experience than hotels and tour companies could provide.  These individuals gave their time and resources to allow me to have an incredible memory of their country, and their generosity was much appreciated.

21.       What have you learned from travelling?

I have learned how to be proud of myself.  I have seen more of the world than most people will see in their lifetime.  I have been able to communicate with others despite language barriers.  I have been able to book hotels and flights for myself by myself.  I have been able to talk to complete strangers.  I have been able to navigate around places like a native.  I am proud of myself! 

22.      Who inspires you? What other travelers do you look up to?

I am inspired by anyone who has gone somewhere that I haven’t been.  If I meet someone who has only visited one country, but it is a place I never have gone to, I will talk to them and learn as much as I can about that place.  I recently met a waiter at a restaurant, who was from Peru, and I spoke to him for a half hour about Peru – he inspired me! 

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