On this week’s “Meet an Indie Traveller,” I’m talking with Audrey Bergner of That Backpacker, an independent traveller who has been wandering around the world since her late teens in search of the planet’s best foods and most interesting cultural experiences. Today, Audrey gives us a little taste of what her travel planning looks like after years of practice and how she first started on her journey…
1. How would you define independent travel and how do you feel it differs from how most people view travel?
Independent travel can be liberating, but it also brings along its own set of challenges; there will be days when you’ll connect with other travellers and have someone to explore a city with, but there will also be days when it’ll be just you wandering around town. I think solo travel can often be glamorized a bit, but having gone at it solo, as a couple, and as part of a group, I have to admit that I do prefer having (good) company.
2. Could you tell us a little about your first independent travel experience?
My first solo trip was to Lisbon, Portugal. Prior to that I had always travelled with friends or family. I think Lisbon was a great destination for a first time solo traveller because it wasn’t intimidating and it was fairly easy to navigate. It also helped that I could get by with a combination of Spanish and very basic Portuguese. If you’re thinking of going travelling solo for the first time, I would recommend choosing a destination that will be stimulating but not shocking to the senses.
3. How has your trip planning changed since you first started travelling?
I am currently on the 8th month of my backpacking trip, and during that time I’ve learned that I prefer slow travel. Back when I was in university and my trips were only 2-4 weeks in length, I was okay with switching cities every few days because the countdown was on. I now have more time than I did back then, but I also have to juggle working remotely, which means I am not out sightseeing and snapping pictures every minute of the day. It’s a tricky balancing act that I still haven’t mastered, but travelling at a slower pace – 1 country per month with visits to a maximum 4-5 cities – seems to be ideal.
4. What do you feel is the number one travel planning pitfall for first-time travellers to avoid?
You don’t need to plan every single detail in advance! I know people who have their guesthouses booked, their activities planned, and their restaurants picked out before they even set foot in their destination. Part of the beauty of travel is the people you meet, the suggestions they give you, and the invitations you accept. I’m not saying you shouldn’t plan anything at all, but do leave a bit of room for spontaneity; if there is one thing I’ve learned over the course of my travels is that the road will reward your flexibility.
5. What is the number one lesson you’ve learned through your travels? How has travel changed the way you view the world?
The world is full of genuinely good people and not everyone is after your money. I’m not saying that no one will try to rip you off along the way (that may also happen), but don’t let those experiences close you off from the rest of the world. This is a lesson I had forgotten until I came to the Middle East and was blown away by the hospitality I received from complete strangers.
6. After spending time in South Korea teaching English, are there any tips you can offer to travellers looking to teach abroad? What are some things one should consider in choosing a country or ensuring the job and employer is right for them?
I know it sounds like common sense, but if you don’t want any surprises with your job, you need to do the research!
Ask the school director lots of questions: What will the hours be like? How does vacation time work? Will you be required to work overtime on the weekends? Will you be following a curriculum or planning your own lessons? Will there be any other foreign teachers at your school?
If the school is providing you with an apartment, ask to see photos of the place (you are going to be living here for a year after all.) Also, ask to be put in contact with a current teacher so that they can give you the inside scoop!
I chose Korea because it was a great place to save (the same can be said about Japan and the Middle East), however, there are countless jobs available from rural placements in Central America to positions in major European cities. It all depends on what you’re after.
7. You’ve recently starting writing more frequently about street food and exotic cuisine on That Backpacker. Was there any one cuisine that inspired you to hunt down new favourites or have you always been adventurous and open-minded in regards to food?
I have always enjoyed food so once I started travelling, sampling new dishes became a way of experiencing the local culture. I can’t quite pinpoint when my foodie side took over my travels, but it must’ve been somewhere between the spicy curries in India, the hot bowls of pho in Vietnam, and all the dim sum in Hong Kong.
8. One of your other main focuses on That Backpacker is adventure travel. How would you define adventure? What are some of your favourite adventure activities and how has undertaking them enhanced your travel experience?
I wouldn’t say I’m adventurous in the sense that I’m willing to go bungee-jumping or leap out of a plane, but that being said, I do enjoy straying from the city and finding adventure in the countryside. One of my favourite experiences to date was going on a 2-day trek through the hill tribes of Sapa in Northern Vietnam. It was a physically exhausting journey, but the landscapes we got to see and the people we got to meet made it completely worthwhile!