#FBF: Followback Friday is a weekly interview series where we get real with some of our favorite travel influencers. We want to learn what makes them tick, their best tips and tricks, and share stories of (mis)adventures from the road.
Lauren Juliff is a planner, but like everyone else in the world, she can’t always plan for the unexpected. Lauren says she’s the unluckiest traveler in the world, and if you took a look at her track record (she has a complete list on her blog, Never Ending Footsteps) you’d agree the odds do seem stacked against her. Despite the hurdles and setbacks, she says all that bad luck has turned out to be the very best thing to ever happen to her. For more than five years she’s been exploring the world (69 countries and counting), learning from the good times and the bad, and making the most of every moment. We caught up with her to learn more about her travel mishaps and how she manages see the silver lining in everything along the way.
What made you decide to pursue a location-independent lifestyle?
The location-independent lifestyle actually found me!
I originally planned on travelling for a year or two, but didn’t have any plans to keep going to find a way to make money online. I started my travel blog for fun, never believing it would take off like it has — my degree was in theoretical physics, which doesn’t exactly lend itself to a career in writing! Still, six months after starting my site, I received an email from an advertiser who wanted to work with me. Six months after that, I was making enough money to live off of in cheaper regions of the world.
That was eye-opening for me. Once I realized I didn’t have to stop traveling and that I could keep working from anywhere, I couldn’t think of a reason to stop!
Was it an abrupt decision or did it take a few years of planning?I spent five years planning and saving for my trip. I knew I wanted to go to university and get a masters degree before heading out into the world, so that gave me plenty of time to start researching and saving money. I definitely needed those five years to build my savings, as I was working part-time in a supermarket and only making around $50 a week.
What’s the biggest lesson traveling has taught you?
That leaving your comfort zone is the absolute best way to change your life and grow as a person. I grew up very sheltered, so my comfort zone was roughly the size of my bedroom when I first left to travel. Although I hated leaving my comfort zone initially, I soon came to discover that repeatedly doing so was showing me that I was far stronger and more capable than I’d ever believed.
You describe yourself as one of the unluckiest travelers and even have a tab devoted to “the incidents” on your website. In your opinion, what are your three biggest travel mishaps?
I’ve had so many!
The worst was probably my awful 48 hours in Laos. I woman died on my boat and I had to sit next to her body for the next six hours. The room I chose to stay in had a broken door and locked me inside for several hours. The owner hacked off the door handle with a machete in an attempt to open the door. I was moved to a room with a lockable door that was full of cockroaches that ran over my face when I tried to sleep. I decided to sleep outside on the ground instead. I ran into some backpackers who invited me to sleep in their room, and when I did, one of them tried to sexually assault me. Yeah, that one was pretty bad.
A more amusing one happened while I was taking a snorkeling cruise in a lagoon in Aitutaki. When I attempted to slide off the side of the boat, my bikini bottoms got caught on a hook and left me dangling over the side, exposing myself to everyone on the tour.
Finally, my cursed month in Cambodia was pretty crazy. Over the space of one month I managed to contract food poisoning, get attacked by jellyfish, had my entire body covered in pus-filled sand-fly bites, caught a fish in my vagina when I went swimming in the ocean, and fell off a kerb, spraining my ankle and ripping half the skin off my knee, which then became infected. And then I poured a margarita over my brand new laptop. It was not a good month.
What advice do you have for travelers who find themselves in the midst of a travel mishap?
Not to panic. One thing my incidents were great for was showing me that I was far more capable than I’d ever expected, and that nothing was ever as bad as I’d imagined. So, keep cool and calm, and trust that everything will work out okay. It usually does.
How would you describe your travel style? Has it changed much over the years?
When I first started out, I was a strict budget traveler. I had a set budget for my trip, and the less money I spent, the longer I’d be able to explore.
Once I started making money from my site, I relaxed my spending and now travel on a mid-range budget, with occasional luxury splurges. Rather than staying in dorm rooms, I opt for private rooms in hostels or budget hotels around the world. I also prefer to spend more time in places rather than hopping from city to city every few days, as I get to learn more about the places I visit that way.
Do you think you’ll ever settle down in one place?
I’ve just recently done exactly that! At the start of this year, I moved to Lisbon, Portugal. I made this decision for many reasons, but most of all for my mental health. I found that after five years of travel, I was in desperate need of a routine and fixed base to return to between trips.
I can’t see myself ever stopping travelling, though. Even with a home, I’m most likely going to be exploring the world for six months of every year.
What are three places you think every person should try to seek out during their lifetime?
I think everyone’s different and wants/needs different things from their travel experiences, so it’s tough for me to suggest places that will appeal to everyone. I love Vietnam, for example, but can think of plenty of people who would hate it!
But if I had to choose three, I think I’ll go with visiting a desert, a glacier, and a jungle.
How do you decide where to go next? And, on that note, what are some upcoming trips you have planned?
My decision-making process is dependent on so many factors! I love to check Secret Flying every morning and see what deals are on offer – I’ll be visiting Nambia in March next year, because of an amazing deal ($280 return from Lisbon!) I found on that site. Additionally, at the start of each year, I like to set myself some travel goals, like to visit somewhere I never would have considered before, or a place that other people consider to be dangerous, or a place I’ve always dreamed of visiting. And sometimes I just wake up and think to myself, I feel like going to Denmark for the first time, and then book a trip. It’s usually a pretty organic process, no matter what I do.(In 2017) I’m going to be all about Europe and Africa. I have seven countries left in Europe to visit and I’m determined to check them all out next year. Additionally, I’ve been booking lots of trips to African countries recently! Namibia is definitely on the cards, and I’m also hoping to check out Tanzania, Mozambique, Madagascar, Mauritius, and Ethiopia.