Tripper of the Week: Joya Thomas

This week’s Tripper of the Week is Joya Thomas. A member of Tripping’s Travel Writers Network and regular guest blogger, she answers our questions about her former life as a nomad and what’s made her the world traveler she is today…

When and/or where did you catch the travel bug?

As far as I’m concerned, people have an inborn curiosity and desire to discover new things. I traveled out of the country with my family consistently starting at a very young age, so I suppose you could say if there is a ‘travel bug’ I never got the vaccine against it. I realized travel was something very important to me at 18 when I went to Thailand with my sister and cousins to help rebuild after the tsunami in 2004.

Who inspires you to travel?

All of those people who have invited me to their homes, given me rides, shared themselves and their values with me and together shown me a world outside my own. And perhaps even more inspirational are all of those people who will do so for myself and others in the future.

You recently returned from a two-year RTW adventure. Although no stranger to independent travel, how was this trip different from past ones?

In comparison to other “trips” I felt like a complete novice in this endeavor, and not just because I was doing it alone. For starters, I had only a one way ticket to New Zealand when I left, which set the tone of this adventure from the beginning. For me, this trip was in many ways not about the travel. By this I mean that I had other motivations behind it beyond seeing exotic monuments and landscapes, meeting people different from myself and broadening my worldview. I wanted to prove something to myself. I wanted to test myself and discover some kind of limits and perhaps break through them. I wanted to find out what I have to offer the world and what I want from it. As it goes, almost two years of solo-travel later and, sadly, I have not solved the world’s Great Mysteries. I did, however, get to know myself a lot better.

What were some challenges you faced as a solo female traveler? What advice would you give to others contemplating RTW travel?

The first thing that comes to mind is not the actual challenges themselves, but all the warnings and shadows of challenges. As a girl traveling alone you are not only extremely approachable to potential friends, lovers, travel companions and curious locals – but you also have a big sign on your forehead that says, “HELP!” While all of the advice is well-meaning, and some of it is even helpful, it must all be taken with a grain of salt. As someone with the occasional propensity for the risky/stupid, I will say that there is a lot to be said for the difference between something feeling dangerous, and actually being dangerous. It’s the things that feel scary or dangerous but aren’t that can open you up to the most growth and new experience. For example, on the first night of my trip I landed in Christchurch on St. Patrick’s Day, not knowing a soul and having not one reservation, plan, or even idea of what to do next. That night, after much internal pep-talking, I went to a bar in a strange country, in a strange city, all alone. This was terrifying. But not dangerous, drunken Irish aside. Of course I was fine, making friends with some Norwegians and playing a few games of cards before walking happily home. I had gained invaluable confidence in the knowledge that I could exist socially without my usual (or any) group of friends. This gift to myself was greater by far than the risk I took of sitting alone with a beer.

You must have had a million interactions with locals during your time on the road. If there are three people you met abroad that you could host in your hometown, who would they be and what would you do?

I would love to host Carmela, an incredible Kiwi I met in the winter of 2009 in the bathroom of a bar when I was living in my campervan with my sister and a friend at the time (cozy, to say the least). She spoke to us for all of two minutes before inviting us to stay with her in her home in Wanaka. More than that, she invited us into her life; introducing us to friends, taking us to events, and even giving us snowboarding lessons.I would only hope to be able to do the same for her!

Another person I would really like to host is Jack, a Thai guy I met on Kao San Road (apparently Europeans haven’t entirely driven them out!) who showed me a side of the infamous backpacker street I never would have seen without him. I would take him to the beach, and hiking in the hills of Santa Barbara. He’s a true city man who thrives on the chaos of Bangkok and I think it might be fun to introduce him to some relaxing activities.

My last answer is a cheater answer, because I choose an entire family. Due to some mutual friends, dare I say a little good karma on my part and the unending generosity of the Kilpatrick family I was lucky enough to stay with them for almost two weeks in their beautiful home in Perth, Western Australia early in 2010. They provided me with a family when I had been away from mine for so very long, complete with dog walking, family dinners and living room discussions on world events, books, travel and much more. I would be most happy to take them to the farmers’ market here in Santa Barbara as this is a weekly activity at their house, as well as to local art shows and performances. Most of all I would delight in being given the opportunity to offer them even a fraction of the hospitality and warmth I was shown in their home!

What is the one thing you discovered about yourself while traveling that surprised you?

That I love being alone. And not alone, nobody-for-miles, necessarily, but on my own. I have always considered myself a gregarious person by nature, thinking of myself as very good with people. While these things may still be true, I have now experienced the exhilaration of driving down the open road, with no one to confer with about what to do next. I have stood on top of a mountain and known that I have not climbed it with the aid of a companion’s encouragement or helping hand. This means I have also had car trouble and been pulled over by police with no one to laugh or cry about it with, and struggled through hours of rain and snow alone in the woods. But each time I come out of one of these experiences I know myself a little better, and wear my competence and pride a little bit more brightly.

What has been the best and worst thing about returning home after being gone for so long?

The best thing about coming home after so long is the incredible relief of being around people who truly know and love me. It is an exhausting life to be constantly making new friends and developing new relationships only to leave them behind and start all over again a week (or month) later.

The hardest thing about being back is the lack of exciting challenges in my life. I belive this is what people mean when they say they have the ‘travel bug’; the itching to do something, to go somewhere, constantly new and challenging. I am disappointed in myself for not being able to successfully bring this aspect of travel into my life at home. I believe that there is no good reason why we can’t have these kinds of experiences in our daily lives (when was the last time you took a cooking course in your city? toured the history museum?) but our own closed-mindedness keeps us from it. I solidly (and with deep self-loathing) count myself among these unimaginative people.

Where to next?

Horrendous, torturous question. Actually I am currently challenging myself to stay put for a little while, enjoying the benefits of family, friends, and a tempurpedic bed. No current plans (read: tickets) for travel right now, only daydreams and a slowly growing savings account.

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