Welcome to a new edition of Spotlight On!
It is my pleasure to introduce you to our guest Cristina Luisa, a.k.a. Chronicles of a Travel Addict, a happily addicted world traveler!
Let’s learn more about her!
Could you please tell us more about your background?
Hello and thank you for inviting me to be featured on “Spotlight On”! I am an avid follower of Traveller Soul on various mediums, and very excited to contribute to your site.
My background is very eclectic, any which way you look at it! Ethnicity-wise, I am half Mexican American and half Caucasian. I grew up in a lower middle class (or upper lower class?) family and attended public schools on the east side of San Jose, CA. At UCLA, I studied American Literature and Culture for my college major, with a minor in Biological Anthropology. I took several writing and language courses in San Francisco, CA, and finally ended up receiving my Master’s degree in Latin American Studies at San Diego State University. I focused mostly on Political Science and Art History, writing my thesis on the effects of La Violencia in Colombia on local artists.
In the work field, I have been everything from a badminton stringer to a make-up artist to an administrative assistant. Currently, I am a freelance writer transitioning into travel writing.
What motivated you to start traveling?
My oldest brother is nine years older than me, so when I was young and he was out traveling to Spain and Ecuador, it inspired an extreme curiosity within me. What was the world like outside of my comfortable parameters? What was there to be seen, heard, felt, and experienced away from my hometown?
It wasn’t until I finished college that I first left the U.S. I took a couple short trips to Mexico, and then planned to move to Argentina in order to become fluent in Spanish. Buenos Aires was a wonderful place where I made many friends and learned a great deal about the world, and myself. Although their version of Spanish, or castellano, was very different from what I’d learned in school, I did eventually become fluent.
After traveling for a while in South America, my eyes were opened to a completely new way of life. The ever-changing landscapes, idiosyncrasies of culture, and endless learning opportunities sparked a passion within me I had never before known. I loved being on the road. Once my wheels were set in motion, there was no possible way to stop my wanderlust.
Among the many countries and cities you have visited so far, do you have any favorites?
This is always the most difficult question for me to answer. Certainly, many places have left an impression on me, and for very different reasons. Every single city, in the many countries I have visited, have all shown me a particular version of culture, architecture, art, and humanity that I will never forget.
That being said, I will leave you with a few favorites, with no rhyme or reason:
San Francisco, CA, USA; Guanajuato, Mexico; Cahuita, Costa Rica; Woolong, China; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia;
Sao Paulo, Brazil; Machu Picchu, Peru; Siem Reap, Cambodia; Tambillo, Ecuador; Jigokudani, Japan; Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo; Bangkok, Thailand; New York, NY, USA; Koh Chang, Thailand; and Ha Long Bay, Vietnam.
In 2013 you taught in Thailand, tell us more about that great experience.
Yes! This past year I had the opportunity to teach not only in Trat, Thailand, but also in ChuPei, Taiwan.
I started the trip in Taiwan volunteering for a two-week English summer camp, which is what brought me out to the East to begin with in July. Alongside two other volunteers from Los Angeles, CA, USA, we collaboratively taught a group of about 30 Taiwanese students. We were able to create our own curriculum, so we covered fun topics like cuisine, geography, music, architecture, and other cultural differences between Taiwan and the USA. The summer camp was wrapped up with a talent show, in which the school principal, local English teachers, and parents attended. The students put on a great performance that included poetry recital, dance, singing, and a play. It was great fun and the students really enjoyed themselves!
I had a few days to explore Taipei, and then I was off to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to meet up with Cyle O’Donnell, a fellow travel blogger, international photographer and documentary maker. Together, we flew out to Malaysian Borneo to explore and film Sarawak, Brunei, and Sabah. It was my first time behind the camera, and also writing for a documentary. Borneo is an amazing, magical region if you love nature and animals.
The opportunity to teach in Thailand was a serendipitous one. After filming in Borneo, I returned to Kuala Lumpur and wanted to spend more time exploring Southeast Asia. Since I hadn’t necessarily planned to travel to begin with, I was running low on funds. There was an option to teach in rural Malaysia, but something drew me to Thailand.
After stopping in Penang, Malaysia, where mosquitoes found my blood to be a foreign delicacy, I headed to Phuket, Thailand. At this point, it was either I get a job or return to the States. Granted, I was still freelancing, but my outcome was greater than my income. So, while enjoying the craziness of Patong and the serenity of Kata Beach,
I was also scouring the internet for options. I sent out an application via Craigslist for a one-month substitute position in the southeast of Thailand. A day later, I was on my way to Bangkok for interview, and two days after that, I was on a bus to Trat for the teaching position.
The actual teaching part of my time in Thailand was a bit disorganized. I was handed a folder with the names of over 600 high school students, of various mastery levels, that I would be teaching within a given week. Since this was a substitute position, finals were approaching, and the prior teacher left me with no list of what had been covered so far. Honestly, I was a bit puzzled.
The students were super friendly, talkative, and loved to laugh. When it came to academics, however, they weren’t so interested. I made the most of the situation and tried to instill some important grammar, vocabulary, and geography lessons while I was there.
My five weeks in Thailand were fantastic mostly because of the people I met. Not only did I become friends with other English teachers from around the world, I had the chance to meet several Thai people throughout the town of Trat. Whether it was at the laundromat, café, the local 7/11, or on tuk tuk rides, everyone was very warm and welcoming. Aside from that, the food was delicious (warning: too much Pad Thai will make your pants tight!), the massages were cheap, and the landscapes were stunning. Also, I temporarily adopted a cute little street cat, whom I named Buo (buho means owl in Spanish), after her owl-like eyes. She was super friendly and loved to sit by my laptop while I wrote. Luckily, she found a more permanent home down the street.
After you finished teaching, you traveled to nearby countries. Which ones were they and what did see & do?
While I was teaching, I had a five-day weekend, so I took the bus over to Cambodia to discover Siem Reap and the infamous Angkor Wat. Ironically, the ticket I bought from a tour agency in Trat sent me to Sihanoukville, which is on the opposite side of the country! The trip took the entire day, so I decided to enjoy the beach town the next day and head out to Siem Reap at night.
I was relieved to finally arrive in Siem Reap the next day, and immediately bought my three-day ticket to Angkor Wat. I spent the following days exploring the ancient Hindu-Buddhist temples, including Angkor Thom and Bayon. I lucked out and got an amazing tuk tuk driver, who told me all about his family, his desire to speak better English, and a bit about the economy in Cambodia. He was also nice enough to stop whenever I got a whim to take a photo.
Siem Reap was amazing! Even if Angkor Wat weren’t there, I still would have had a great time. Almost everyone I met, whether they were a traveler or a local, was super nice, and there were good vibes everywhere. One day after coming back from exploring the temples, a man asked me if I wanted a drink. He was standing by a small little outdoor bar called 1979. We started chatting about the end of the Pol Pot regime, his birthday which was also in 1979, and the bar. I wrote a review about the experience on my site, which you can read here.
After I was finished teaching in Trat, I headed back to Bangkok that Friday night to catch a flight to Ha Noi, Vietnam the next morning. I’d wanted to visit Vietnam for quite a long time. My dad was drafted into the US Army to fight in the Vietnam War just after he and my mother had married. He was only 20, and my mother 19. I have no doubt that his year in combat left a lasting impact on him, and in turn, on his future family. I wanted to visit the country where his life had changed, feel the energy of the cities, visit the Cu Chi tunnels, the station where he had been posted, and see the War Remnants Museum.
Up until this past summer, I hadn’t visited Vietnam because of my fear of motorcycles. It’s the main mode of transport over there and possibly because I was afraid of what I would discover when I got there. I was admittedly very nervous about how people would treat me, knowing that I came from the U.S. Nonetheless, I booked a flight to Hanoi. I hadn’t really heard much about it, but I knew that it was the starting point for Ha Long Bay, a gorgeous emerald cove comprised of caves, surreal rock formations, and more than 2,000 islands and islets.
My introduction to Vietnam was on the back of a motor taxi, early in the morning, weaving in and out of the frenzied traffic. Blurred faces, buildings, and colors passed by at a whirling speed. A motorcycle ride through the streets of Ha Noi’s Old Town will wake a person up far better than any kind of coffee, even in Vietnam.
This was the first country throughout the trip that gave me any kind of culture shock. I don’t know if it was the fact that motorcycles were an imperative long-distance mode of transportation, that crossing the street was a leap of faith at any corner, or because life was so damn hectic. Every block you crossed, there were people making or selling food, selling knick knacks, asking if you wanted a massage, and so on. The chaos I experienced was similar to pre-Olympian Beijing, but on a smaller scale.
Within a couple of days, I got used to the craziness. I explored Halong Bay, did some shopping in Hanoi, and celebrated my 32nd birthday in the snake village of La Met. I stayed longer than I initially planned in Hanoi, so I didn’t have much time in Ho Chi Minh City. I was able to visit the Cu Chi Tunnels and the War Remnants Museum, as well as a couple other places, but that was about it. Most of the time I spent writing at the hostel room, and debating if I really wanted to return to the U.S. or find a job in Vietnam. I ended up going home, but I could have very well stayed a few more months in Southeast Asia.
You have a way with words! Your posts are very funny & full of energy! When did you start writing?
Thank you so much for the compliment! I try to make my posts as honest, informative, and relatable as possible. I don’t really aim to be funny, but I’m glad if you find humor in them 🙂
Sometimes I try to give travel tips, but mostly I just share my inner thoughts and reflections while on and off the road.
Before blogging, and way before traveling, there was always writing. I started keeping a journal when I was in elementary school (I have no idea what experiences I had to write about at that point!), but it wasn’t until my freshman year in high school that I started penning short stories and poetry. The British and American authors I read in English class inspired me to express myself in a similar way, and it also helped to get my thoughts out of my mind and onto paper.
I started writing my first (eh-hem, unfinished) novel at the age of 17, and just kept writing journal entries, poetry, short stories, and essays throughout my undergraduate degree. I began traveling just after I graduated, and continued with my journaling and short stories in the meantime. It wasn’t really until I finished my Master’s program that I started to write about my travels. I’d say I’ve only been seriously writing about travel for the last year and a half.
Tell us a funny anecdote that happened during your travels.
If being sent to the opposite side of Cambodia weren’t enough, when I got to Sihanoukville, I wanted to book my ticket to Siem Reap right away. I went to the travel agent down the road and inquired about the overnight buses. For $15 USD, I could get the reclining seat, but for $20 USD, I could have a space on a “hotel bus,” which had a flat-bed. I decided I would splurge on myself since I’d had a frustrating trip being sent to the wrong place.
However, when I boarded the bus, I realized exactly what I had signed up for. I had purchased one seat, or bed, that was about two feet wide, snuggled up right next to another bed of the same size, complete with a curtain for privacy. I had paid more to sleep in a tiny bed right next to a complete stranger. Yikes. Cambodia had bamboozled me again.
There was an older Greek man who kept on coming over to me and saying that his ticket was for the bed next to mine, but I looked at it and it was for a different space. Nonetheless, as more people boarded the bus, he returned again and again to see if he would “have to” sleep next to me. Luckily, an Australian girl in her twenties, also a backpacker, eventually came onto the bus and became my bed buddy. It was quite awkward for sure, but she was really nice, and it was a relief to have her there instead of the creepy Greek alternative.
Do you prefer to travel solo or with someone?
When I began traveling solo, I only did so because I couldn’t find anyone to come with me. Even though I was nervous about it, I wasn’t going to pass up the experience just because I had no company.
Many countries later, I’ve discovered that I actually prefer to travel alone on longer trips. Sure, short vacations and road trips with friends (and some family) can be super fun. However, when I’m backpacking, I like the freedom and flexibility of being alone. I can see what I want, get up when I want (I’m a night owl, and this has been a problem when traveling with others in the past), eat wherever I want, and so on. No sacrifices or compromises have to be made, so I never come away from a destination regretting not having done or seen what I set out to. If I have missed something, it’s my own responsibility.
Aside from the personal freedom, I love the ability to sit in complete silence, observe the changing landscapes of my surroundings, and contemplate the beauty of the world. Traveling alone allows me to get closer to myself and my inner thoughts. There’s something gorgeously liberating about being alone in a foreign land, where no one knows you or has any idea what you’re about.
This brings me to another factor why I like to travel alone. I love strangers, and whenever I travel alone I find it much easier to make friends. Maybe it’s the desire for companionship, and so I’m much more willing to talk to just about anyone. I have met so many beautiful people from all over the world, in seemingly unlikely places, and I consider myself very, very fortunate in this regard. Some people have become good friends over the years, and many more have become fond memories. Nonetheless, I believe that traveling alone makes a person much more open to cultural immersion, mind-expanding experiences, as well as a deep sense of self-awareness and self-reliance.
How does 2014 look for you, any exotic destinations in sight?
I started the year off by relocating from the Bay Area, California to Portland, Oregon, U.S. on January 2nd. For the time being, I will be discovering my new city, as well as surrounding hiking paths, waterfalls, mountains, and so on.
Come March, there is a women’s conference in Isla Mujeres that I would love to go to. I have been to Isla Mujeres and Cancun, Mexico before, but I would love to go back for this three-day gathering to meet other female entrepreneurs and travelers. After, I would visit Chichen Itza, which I missed out on the first time. I’d also like to visit one of my good friends who lives in Toluca, Mexico- about an hour southwest of Mexico City- see her family, and meet her new baby.
In August, there’s a one-week outdoor festival called “Boom” in Portugal that I’d love to attend. I’ve never been to Europe, which is somewhat of a tragedy, so I’d love to stay for a while and explore Spain and Italy as well. I was thinking of moving to Spain late last year, but I’m really enjoying Portland so far, so we’ll see. Either way, none of my plans are set in stone (yet), but I’m quite positive that I have a year full of adventure ahead of me!
What is your favorite travel quote?
There are so many travel quotes being shared on the internet! Of them all, my favorite was written by one of my most beloved authors:
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowline. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain
How can we contact or follow you online?
If you’d like to contact me directly, please send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
To follow me online, I’d recommend going to my main website: www.chroniclesofatraveladdict.com.
You can also connect with me at the following sites:
Google Plus: https://plus.google.com/+cristinaluisa
Travel Dudes: http://www.traveldudes.org/user/chronicles-travel-addict
Thank you so much Cristina Luisa for taking the time to talk to us at Traveller Soul.
We wish you all the best and many happy travels 🙂