Traveler Spotlight: Kelsey Johnson / “What did I give up to travel the world?”

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Kelsey Johnson is a longtime friend of mine and has worked with me on award-winning travel television projects in the past (“Chasing the World” before it transformed into a cutting edge virtual reality series).

KELSEY:

It was the Fourth of July 2011. I was sitting underneath a table in our backyard while my college roommates screamed at each other overhead. We were playing a game of beerpong. I’d lost the previous game which meant that I was now “trolling,” a cruel and unusual rule which banished me to stay under the table for the remainder of the game. Even though it was a holiday, the whole scene felt redundant. We did this everyday, and as I sipped my red cup of Coor’s Light I began to daydream about where else in the world I could be at that very moment.

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After four years of college life with my friends, we were all ready to get out and do something completely new.

I’d only been out of the country twice—both times to Rosarito, Mexico but that was back when you didn’t even need a passport to cross the border and I’d been there to do community service only, not sight-see. My friend Champion had recently talked about moving to Australia and although I only had pennies to my name on that day, I vowed that I would move to Australia (or somewhere) too.

I got some art supplies and began decorating a piggy bank which I labeled “GTFO”—my “Get the F*ck Out Fund.” My first deposit was of $7.86 and for several months after that my piggy still did not feed on much more than pocket-change.

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Once I finished with my last semester of school, however, I was able to get a job. I signed up with an environmental organization where I would have the extremely difficult task of converting strangers in the street to monthly donors. I had a weekly quota for how much money I’d have to make—a dollar amount that was just bellow intangible. The pay, on the other hand, was a good deal higher than minimum wage and with these earnings I was able to save.

Alas after several months of moving back in with my mother and living like a monk—no social life and no frivolous spending—I almost had the $3,000 that I’d set out to earn. On one fateful Friday afternoon, though, I didn’t meet quota for the second week in a row and I suffered what I referred to as the “Noble Quota Death.” I had failed to meet the mark and I knew, standing in the cold outside of a Best Buy in Culver City, CA that I’d lost my job right then and there.

I could hustle to find another job and risk spending all my savings to support myself in the interim, or I could take a chance and move to Sydney with what I had. I’d heard it was easy to find a job in Sydney and that the wages were high. Wouldn’t that be better? I wasn’t sure of the answer to that question. All I knew was that it would definitely be a crazy risk, but that weekend I bought my ticket and knew that in less than a month I would be on my way to a world 8,000 miles away from anything I’d ever known before. The over-calculating “proceed with caution” Virgo in me was dying, but the adventurer inside of me was just beginning to breath for the first time.

Was this a good decision? The answer to that is one with mixed realities, including the downside periods of near-homelessness, credit card debt, and homesickness. But on the Fourth of July 2011 I’d only been to one foreign country in my life and by May 2013 I’d been to eleven.  Plus, one of those expensive “vacations” resulted in my helping to make a travel TV show pilot which has connected me to people around the world.

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Traveling on a budget definitely makes things more interesting. We rode in the back of this truck for 2 hours

By no means do I intend to say that this whole journey was easy. Success and failure are two sides of the same coin– different combinations of calculation and risk-taking with no set end. But, the way I look at it, no matter what side a coin lands on—the coin itself still has value. I will tell you what happened to me once I got to Sydney another time. In the interim though you can ask yourself: what would you give up to travel the world?

Traveler Spotlight: Arielle Bowers / “Top 5 Best/Worst Aspects of Traveling Solo”

When it comes to solo traveling - best advise is have a good backpack that can carry all of your belongings so that you are not trying to carry to many separate bags.
Before I set off to create my own virtual reality series, Arielle was the co-creator of a separate travel series TV pilot of the same name Chasing the World. She is one of my closest friends and a very talented producer.

ARIELLE:

Last Christmas I really wanted to go on a trip while I had some time off, but all my friends already had plans to go home and visit their families. I had my eye on Tasmania, Australia, but what should I do? Go alone? Traveling solo seems scary, nerve-racking and a bit stressful, but I built up the courage and went anyways. My trip to Tasmania ended up being on of my favorite trips and I believe it was because I went solo. From my experience, these were the top 5 best and worst aspects of traveling solo.

BEST ASPECTS

# 1 – Flexibility

You can go wherever you want, when you want – on your own time! You can change your plan for the day in accordance with the weather, your mood or a glimpse of something interesting, without the sort of negotiation traveling with another entails. There is so much power in flexibility. Flexibility leads to spontaneity. And the best experiences usually come from random adventures.

Went on a beautiful hike to Wine Glass Bay and enjoyed a leisurely swim.
Went on a beautiful hike to Wine Glass Bay and enjoyed a leisurely swim. (Wine Glass Bay, Tasmania)

#2 – Friendships/ Connections

When traveling alone you are forced to get out of your comfort zone and talk to people you might have dismissed or ignored if you travelled with a friend. These can be life long travel buddies that you can visit on future trips!

First day in the hostel I made some amazing friends, we ended up going on adventures together. We still all keep in touch and go on trips together.
First day in the hostel I made some amazing friends, we ended up going on adventures together. We still all keep in touch and go on trips together. (Cradle Mountain, Tasmania)

 #3 – Long-lasting Memories

Something magical happens when experiencing a new place solo. You pay more attention to your surroundings, using all five senses. There is no one around to distract you from feeling the crisp wind on your face, the sample of gelato on the street or the crazy architecture throughout.

Skipping through the forest on a gorgeous day to the waterfall listening to the birds chirp, smelling the crisp forest air and feeling the earth beneath my shoes.
Skipping through the forest on a gorgeous day to the waterfall listening to the birds chirp, smelling the crisp forest air and feeling the earth beneath my shoes. (Russell Falls, Tasmania)

#4 – Trying New Things

You are already so far out of your comfort zone, why not step a bit further? None of your friends are there to see you fail, or tell embarrassing stories, so if you want to sing karaoke in front of the hostel or try a cultural dance with the locals – go for it!

Had the best day playing on the dunes, making sand angels and having jumping contests.
Had the best day playing on the dunes, making sand angels and having jumping contests. (Henty Dunes, Tasmania)

#5 – Sometimes It’s Okay to be Selfish

When traveling solo it is all about catering to your own wants and needs. If spending 10 hours at the museum makes you happy, then go for it! If you want to eat ice cream for dinner after a long walk down the beach, you can! You do not have to worry about someone else’s feelings, which means you can concentrate more on your own.

Spent a whole day hiking, enjoying the scenes Cradle Mountain had to offer. Didn't have to slow down, or hurry up for anyone. Best hike ever.
Spent a whole day hiking, enjoying the scenes Cradle Mountain had to offer. Didn’t have to slow down, or hurry up for anyone. Best hike ever. (Cradle Mountain, Tasmania)

WORST ASPECTS

#1 – Travel Photos

Yes, you are having a great time, and wow isn’t that temple so beautiful, but damn, how will anyone know I was actually here? It is hard to take photos of yourself in locations when traveling alone. Also, unlike your friends who will take 1000 until they get the jump just right, a passerby will take one – with your head chopped off.

I went on a beautiful solo hike through the Bay of Fires. I wanted a picture so badly of this beautiful location, but selfies on a rock in the wind proves to be difficult.
I went on a beautiful solo hike through the Bay of Fires. I wanted a picture so badly of this beautiful location, but selfies on a rock in the wind proves to be difficult. (Bay of Fires, Tasmania)

#2 – Expenses

Sometimes traveling solo can be more expensive, such as when you have to rent a car alone or take taxis. All of these expenses are much cheaper when traveling with a friend. It is also easier to get ripped off when traveling solo, so it’s important to be aware of your surroundings and prepare yourself with the proper research.

If you are going to take a taxi, do not get stuck behind a tractor like I did.
If you are going to pay for a solo taxi ride, do not get stuck behind a tractor like I did. (Sheffield, Tasmania)

 #3 – Eating Alone

It can be a bit tough when you have had a fabulous day and all you want to do is sit across from a friend and share all the fun adventures you experienced over a big, warm dinner. Instead, you sit alone, probably with no cellphone, patiently waiting for your food as the waiter asks you one last time if someone will be joining you.

If you are going to eat alone, it helps having a view....and a beer.
If you are going to eat alone, it helps having a view….and a beer. (Mona Museum of Old and New Art – Hobart, Tasmania)

#4 – Boredom

Most of the time when traveling, boredom is not a huge issue, but when solo traveling, a long hike or road trip to the next location can feel like years with no one to talk to. For hostel boredom, it’s best to have a journal to write in or a book to read if no one is around for socializing.

Sometimes a book can be your best companion.
Sometimes a book can be your best companion. (Bay of Fires, Tasmania)

#5 – Safety and Hassle of Belongings

Need to go to the bathroom in the train station? Have fun bringing all your bags in the tiny stall with you… It is difficult when traveling alone to always watch over all your belongings while in the airport, train station, bus, hostel etc. Also, you have to double, triple check that you do not leave belongings behind.

When it comes to solo traveling – best advise is have a good backpack that can carry all of your belongings so that you are not trying to carry to many separate bags. (Sydney Airport, Australia)

 

Traveler Spotlight: Patrick Gooing / “How I Left Hollywood to Work in Sydney’s Film Industry”

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Stack dat cheese!
Patrick Gooing has been a close friend of mine since freshman year of college and he is a very talented film, TV and documentary producer.

PATRICK:

Upon graduating from film school, I had already interned at multiple production companies in both film and television in Los Angeles. I knew I wanted to produce and fully commit to my career in film, but I wasn’t ready to settle and plant my feet in LA until I had tried something a little daring and outside the box first.

 

So…I said f*ck it – I decided to move to Australia! Honestly, the way I looked at it, I had nothing to lose – I didn’t have a job, a girlfriend, or any other obligations, and the worst I could do is fail. I knew gaining international contacts and relationships in a foreign film industry would be invaluable and would help me stand out when/if I returned back to the states. Also, Champion was already living in Sydney and he assured me that Australia’s economy was Re-Donkulously better than ours. He said finding a regular job that pays better than most mid-level business jobs in the states would be easy to find. SERIOUSLY, I got a job working at a telemarketing agency making $27 after taxes with two days of looking – HA!

 

So I gathered as many contacts as I could from my colleagues in LA, and I prepared to make my move. It’s crazy when you realize what it takes to move to a foreign country when you have no idea if you’ll ever move back. I had to cancel my cell service, modify my credit cards, and I had to obtain Australia health insurance– which really paid off (I’ll get to that later).

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My documentary filmmaking experience in India was mind-blowing.

 

Right before I was about to buy my ticket, my friend Mike Tacca asked me to produce a documentary in Calcutta, India about a non-profit organization called Operation Straight Spine while also focusing on differences between private and public healthcare in India. It’s an organization run by orthopedic spinal surgeons who perform life saving surgeries for families who cannot afford the treatment. After filming for two weeks, I flew straight from India to Sydney where I started taking meetings everyday with executives in both film and television– it became very clear they were a little resistant about hiring non-Australian employees because of visa restrictions. Within two weeks of being in Australia, I had to have my appendix removed, which was awesome because it was all free and I stayed in the hospital as long as I needed. PLUS if it had been two weeks earlier, I would have been in India. And if it was two weeks earlier, then I would have been in the U.S. where I had no health insurance whatsoever hahahaha for the win!

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Free healthcare hurts so good.

 

It took me a few months of searching to find a job working in film. I reached out to a friend of mine who knew a veteran Australian actor named Jack Thompson #Legend – HUGE FAN (if you haven’t seen it yet, go watch BREAKER MORANT…now!). I read an article the day before we left to start shooting our CHASING THE WORLD pilot. The article informed me that Jack was producing and starring in a film in Sydney and it started production in a week. As I was waiting to board our flight to Singapore, I made a call to my friend and asked him if there was anything he could do to help me work on the film. He came through big time, and he arranged for Jack Thompson to come and pick me up from my apartment the day I returned from Indonesia. He took me to the set, introduced me to the producers and director, and I was working as an Assistant Director for the rest of the film! From that moment on I had consistent work working in film production (commercials, short films, GREAT GATSBY, etc.).

 

My overall goal was to make industry contacts in Australia and everyone thought it was a pretty daring thing to do, so I was happy that I succeeded. I ultimately decided to move back to the states because I had been trying to find an assistant job working for a producer at a production company while I was down there– I had no luck because of visa sponsorship issues. One of my dream jobs was and STILL is working for Emile Sherman at See-Saw Films!

 

Look for my follow up article about transitioning back to life in the states.

Until then, safe travels and…try to break out of your comfort zone every once in a while – you’ll be thankful for it later.

Patrick AKA The Goo

 

A Crazy Adventure on the Back of Obiwan’s Motorbike…

 

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Here goes nothing…

This story is from 2012 when I was a beginner traveler. My lone adventure with Obiwan in search of a working ATM was definitely one of the craziest experience of this first trip to Sumatra.

To tell this story fully, I need to backtrack to when we first landed in North Sumatra at Medan airport. At the time, it was late at night, we were stressed and scared about our safety, so we did not take out too much money at the airport ATM. We could easily find an ATM later on our journey, right? Hahaha…. wrong.
 
 
When we ran out of money a couple days later, Obiwan offered to lend us money until he could take us to an ATM (best guide ever). However, by the fourth day it was time, and of course I volunteered to take everyones debit cards, then proceeded to hop on the back of Obiwan’s tiny motorbike.
 
 
I wish I could have filmed this, but I would have fallen off. It was the first time I had ever ridden on a motorbike, and we sped through the bumpy, twisted jungle roads for 30 minutes. We swerved around oncoming traffic where road rules just didn’t seem to exist until we finally arrived at a village with a single ATM in an enclosed booth.
 
 
Obiwan waved goodbye and entered some sort of shop/cafe, leaving me alone. Every single pair of eyes in the village lingered on me. Some people waved in curiosity… Others just stared. I was an anomaly in this place.
 
 
Cautiously, I entered the ATM booth and secured the door shut. Whoa, it was hot in here. The sweat from my forehead dripped on my wallet as I pulled out 6 debit cards. One by one, I entered the cards and pulled out wads of cash so large that I could barely shove them in my pockets.
 
 
A crowd began to form outside the ATM as people curiously peeked inside. I kept my foot at the base of the door to keep people from coming in.
 
 
I had one more card to go – Katy’s. I nervously laughed to myself at the massive American flag imprinted on the card. I was a walking target.
 
 
The crowd outside the ATM was growing by the second. I had to get out of there. Finally, the ATM spit out the last wad of Indonesian currency. I didn’t have any room left in my overflowing pockets, so I just held it against my chest and shoved my way through the crowd that had gathered around me.
 
 
After retrieving Obiwan, I felt more at ease, so I began to organize all the money and debit cards. And then, my worst nightmare happened. Katy’s debit card was missing. I had left it in the ATM!
 
 
Quickly, I rushed back to the ATM with a frantic look of worry on my face. The card was gone. I had to figure out a way to cancel Katy’s card. Immediately!
 
But then, I felt a small finger poke me on the shoulder. I turned around, and there stood a tiny old Indonesian man with missing teeth. In his hands, he held a debit card with an American flag image imprinted on the cover.
 
 
He smiled, handed me the card, and continued on with his day.
 
 
To this day, I can’t decide if I was a bigger idiot for leaving the debit card in the ATM… or for underestimating the kindness of the wonderful people of Indonesia.
 
 
I smiled and waved goodbye to the crowds of locals as Obiwan drove us back into the jungle. And, for some reason the drive home was not nearly as scary as I remembered.
 
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3 Reasons To Drop Everything and Travel Now

1

It has never been easier to discover new places.

Thanks to the explosion of the internet and social media, it has never been easier to experience adventures that were previously only discovered by word of mouth. The internet is flooded with accounts of personal discoveries made by travelers just waiting for you to follow in their footsteps. While researching where to go for the pilot episode of Chasing the World, we knew that we needed to find a real adventure. We had heard that all the jungle treks in Thailand highlighted in the Lonely Planet books were safe, comfortable and tourist friendly. LAME. So after digging deep into google, we stumbled on a message board where a lone man in the depths of the internet recounted his adventure in North Sumatra, Indonesia with a jungle guide named Obiwan. One month later, we found ourselves stumbling out of a sketchy van in the middle of the Sumatran jungle at midnight, and… well, by now you know the rest.

We all had a panic attack while following Obiwan through the jungle at midnight...
We all had a panic attack while following Obiwan through the jungle at midnight…

New, epic adventures that are truly off the beaten track have never been so accessible. You just have to know what type of experience you’re looking for— and a mysterious man on the dark side of the internet is waiting to help you along the way.

Disclaimer: Please don’t get kidnapped.

 2

The world will never be the same as it is right now.

While the information available due to social media is great, it does have its downsides. One of the greatest joys of traveling is the freedom to spontaneously meet locals and discover secret destinations. The world is changing at an ever-increasing rate, and these secrets are becoming public knowledge.

Some countries such as Myanmar/Burma have just recently opened the door to travelers, and are in the process of going through a lot of changes as they transition to accommodate tourists. When I traveled to Bagan, we befriended a local who took us to a hidden pagoda with an underground system of tunnels. While descending into the depths of the ancient pyramid with no other tourists in sight, I was hit with the realization that this was one of the craziest moments I would ever experience in my life. In 2 years from now, I won’t be surprised if that same temple develops a $20 price tag and becomes packed to the brink with camera-crazed tourists who have just stumbled out of their tour bus.

We explored the Inthein Temple near Inle Lake in Myanmar, and we were the only ones there.
We explored the Inthein Temple near Inle Lake in Myanmar, and we were the only ones there.

The world is still full of plenty of secret adventures—you just have to discover them before everyone else does, and that might not be so easy in the future. After all, once a travel secret becomes public knowledge and the tourists arrive, it becomes less of an experience and more of an attraction.

3

Once you start traveling, the rest of your life will be an adventure.

Seriously, once you make the initial leap into a life of travel, it will free you in ways you never even knew were possible. When living in your home country, you are bound by a certain set of expectations and rules, and this is especially true for the millennial generation. In my case, my life had been relatively structured by society since birth, and now that I had graduated from college, the next logical step was to secure a job and begin my career like everyone else. But, instead I bought a one-way flight to Australia with $3,000 in my bank account, my friends and no plans.

When you embark on a flight to the other side of the world, all your preconceived ideas, biases and societal pressures go out the window. You are free to try new things, work odd jobs and do whatever your intuition wills. It’s liberating.

Arielle had to climb to the top of this cliff to show the world how liberated she's become.
Arielle had to climb to the top of this cliff to show the world how liberated she’s become.

We worked a series of odd jobs in Australia such as Greenpeace canvassers, filling cereal boxes for Kelloggs, assistants in hospitals and temps in random technology companies. Each new job didn’t necessarily look good on our resumes, but we gained life experience that we would have never experienced back home. In my free time, I purchased and learned how to ride a motorcycle, became and advanced scuba diver, tried skydiving and consistently/spontaneously bought plane tickets to various destinations around Australia. Our experience culminated in our decision to purchase a whirlwind ticket to the North Sumatran jungle to film our travel-based reality show pilot.

For the rest of my life, I seriously doubt that I will ever lose the adventurous spirit that has been instilled in me since beginning this journey. Even when I do move home, I’ll continue to push the boundaries of my comfort zone.

I understand that traveling is not a realistic option for everyone. Commitments such as family, relationships and career often get in the way. However, if there is even a remote possibility that you can make it happen, go for it. Life is an adventure. Don’t let it be anything less.

So travel. Now.

Traveler Spotlight: Kelsey Johnson / “5 Things I’ll Change Next Time I Travel”

KELSEY:

Traveling in many ways is like the ultimate sport.
 

There are time changes to deal with, illnesses to avoid, languages to comprehend. Traveling presents you with a load of physical and mental challenges that you get better with over time. I am no travel pro, but there are a few things I would do differently the next time I travel, minor tweaks I’d make to improve my personal experience.

The 5 Things I Will Change the Next Time I Travel:

5) Be More Physically Adventurous

I’ve never been great at sports so doing athletic activities on holiday has always seemed daunting to me. Before our jungle trek in Bukit Lawang, Indonesia, my stomach was a volcano of roaring nerves. I almost considered staying back but after chatting with the locals I decided to go, and going was one of the best things I’ve ever done. Sure I may have been one of the slower members of our group, but that is actually the reason why I had a crazy chance encounter with a  wild Orangutan (more on that later). Plus, you get the best travel pictures in the  places that take the most work to get to. That being said…
 
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Here I am trekking in the rain in the Sumatran Jungle with cameras following me around. Madness.
 

4) Take More Pictures

I really can’t stand when someone has to pause a trip every few moments to take a photo. Like, “A trash can, wow, let me instagram this– just give me 20min to choose a filter.” My disdain for these people has led me to be someone who avoids taking pictures altogether. That, however, sucks when you get home and have nothing to show for your travels. The next time I travel I want to stop being so cool and embrace my inner tourist. Who cares if you slow down the group for a minute to grab moment. Remember the rule: Pics or it didn’t happen.
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Was this an inappropriate time for an Instagram? Okay, maybe… 🙂

3) Pack Less

There’s a part of me that feels like Occam’s razor rules my life. You know the rule that says that if I don’t pack my dressy gown and motorcycle boots, Brad Pitt is going to show up at my hostel door and offer to take me to an evening gala on the back of his bike. Fortunately/unfortunately this has never been the case. Instead I’ve usually ended up lugging around a giant backpack full of unnecessary outfits and styling tools (oh my god, what if I want to crimp instead of flat iron?). I’ve begun practising the Parisian fashion mindset of bringing a few items that can be styled many ways. I know my back will thank me and I’ll have that extra space for anything new I do pick up along the way.

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The Parisian fashion mindset is all you need.
 

2) Take Myself Less Seriously

It was only towards the end of our trip to Indonesia that I finally decided to get my carefully posed hair wet and let the Afro out. I was so worried about what people would think or how I’d look in pictures, but swimming in a natural waterfall washed all those reservations away, along with the makeup off my face… Traveling is the perfect reason to let go of self consciousness, forget about how you appear, and try new things. Who cares if you don’t get the hang of using chopsticks right off the bat… you will feel like a king when you finally reach your mouth without losing a noodle.
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1) Tell Myself Not to Sweat the Mistakes

Getting lost, running off schedule, and booking sub par accommodations are all a part of the travel experience. Things like this can be especially stressful when you’re traveling in a group or running on a tight budget (or are a plan-obsessed Virgo, like me), but mistakes are also inevitable. There are so many times where I’ve looked back at myself and thought “Man, why was I tripping over that?” Remember what Pumba said.
 

Breathe in: hakuna breathe out: matatta.

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What’s your 20/20 hindsight on traveling? Share your wisdom in the comments!

xo Kels