This week we talked to Dani Blanchette, the kick-ass lady behind Going Nomadic. Check out Dani’s tips of how to get a local experience while traveling, the (second) stupidest thing she’s done on the road, and more in this week’s Girls That Go!
GGG: Howdy! Welcome to Girls That Go! Kick us off with the basics – What’s your name, where are you from, how did you get your start traveling?
My name is Dani Blanchette, I’m from the USA (New England, but I live in Las Vegas now), and I started traveling young. I moved 5 times by the time I was 7 (around New England), hitchhiked to Florida at 17, and took my first international trip when I was 25 to the Balkans for 5 weeks, by myself. I also spend almost 5 years “voluntarily homeless” traveling the USA building stadium concerts, and spending no more than a month and a half in one place at a time. That was awesome!
GGG: Part of your travel philosophy is to go guidebook-less. What’s your favorite part about traveling without one? Does it ever make travel tricky?
I love guidebooks/guidebook websites, and think they are a great resource tool when researching a place, but I refuse to travel with them. I see too many people with their nose glued to a guidebook when they are traveling, and they miss a lot of really great experiences. (I’ve actually seen people walk by a street festival because they are too busy trying to get to get to that one museum the guidebook says you should visit).
My first trip, 10 years ago to Croatia, was a little tricky because it wasn’t a thing to travel with laptops and there weren’t as many guide websites, so I relied a lot on pages I had printed out and glued in a notebook, and lists of things I had made that sounded interesting. But I also met lots of people that had already been places, had great recommendations, and it forced me to talk with locals to find out things that were happening locally. I think this helped shape my view that making friends with locals and other travelers is one of the best ways to really get to know a place.
Nowadays, with the ease of Wifi and online guides, it is no big deal to jump on a computer and find things to do. But I still am constantly following a delicious smell, or (literally) running after the sound of music while I’m out wandering. I’ve been able to have some really great experiences because I follow my senses and talk to strangers. It also helps that I am very extroverted, so traveling this way is easy for me.
GGG: Sounds like a great travel tactic! Speaking of sound – music has factored into your travel a fair amount. How has attending concerts in other countries changed your cultural perception of those places (especially when hearing something like Dixie music in Colombia!)?
I love music. I grew up in Boston where you can find a concert happening on just about any corner any night of the week. I also am a stagehand/rigger for concerts so it is easy for me to fit into that world no matter where I am.
I definitely feel music is one of the key ways to understand a culture. All cultures have music, and learning the sounds of a culture really helps me feel that culture. Like food lets you taste a culture, and art lets you see it.
I think for me, because I have been so ingrained in the music industry for so long, I feel more comfortable around musicians and people in music. Hanging out at concerts and music festivals has allowed me to meet people with similar interests, make friends, and I’ve been invited to small local events by the new friends I’ve made, able to see things that the normal traveler wouldn’t.
If I was a chef I’d probably hang around other cooks and restaurant owners more, or if I was an entrepreneur I would probably hang around other business owners when I travel. I think if you find the common thread you have with others, you can use that to your advantage when traveling, to meet local people and really get to learn about a place.
GGG: You’ve dished to readers/viewers about the stupidest thing you’ve ever done while traveling. What’s the second stupidest?
Hahahaha….you mean sneaking into the back of a zoo in Belgrade to pet a lion? Yea, I have no misconceptions on how stupid that was, but it was also awesome and I would do it again in a second.
Another really stupid thing I do, which I repeatedly do, is get into cars with strangers. Usually they aren’t total strangers, but I have definitely gotten into cars with people I don’t know (or barely know one of them) because I have been invited to go see something somewhere (and yes, I have had exactly that much information about what I am about to do before). But most of the time, these ‘strangers’ are musicians, and where I end up is at a band rehearsal, or like I mentioned before, a local festival in a tiny town in the mountains an hour outside of Quito, Ecuador. Once I ended up driving across Ecuador and staying in the house of the mother of a guy I had met once, a week before, for about 2 hours. I spent 4 days over my birthday on the beaches in Manta, Ecuador being shows around by my (now) friend’s mom who barely spoke English (and my Spanish still sucks) and had the time of my life.
Yes, we are taught to stay away from strangers, but really, sometimes you just have to throw all caution to the wind and see where you end up. It makes for some of the best times I’ve had traveling!
GGG: You split your time between Vegas and Colombia, two places travelers often stereotype. What are your favorite ways to help visitors to either/both see past those preconceptions?
One of my favourite things to do, especially when traveling, is play “Ask Me Anything” in which I let people ask me whatever question, no matter how racist, or prejudiced it may seem, and I give them honest answers. Because often, we only hear of the cultural stereotypes and don’t know anything about a culture other than those misconceptions or exaggerations. And I’ll ask people from other countries about the stereotypes I hear of them, because sometimes I too am just ignorant of their culture.
I actually find this is a great way to promote cross-cultural learning, and to make friends. Especially when you play this game over drinks. Because inhibitions lower and then we all just get silly about what we ask. And we all end up talking about all the amazing stuff there is to do in our own countries. By the time we are done playing, everyone has learned about other cultures, and we all usually want to visit each other’s countries.
Never have I played this game and either been offended or seen anyone else get offended. Because we are all honestly just being curious!
GGG: Quick-fire: Favorite cocktail/country to drink it in?
The Colombian Prostitute and in Colombia. It’s a drink we made up at the hostel, which now has this whole tumultuous history to it, but its simply just a damn good drink!
Place that has most surprised you?
Venezuela. 1. I never thought it would actually be as dangerous as our state travel warning says it is (because honestly, the USA says EVERYWHERE is dangerous). 2. I didn’t think it would be such a gorgeous country! And yes, there is danger, but most people are also extremely nice. It’s a very strange mix of fear and love being in Venezuela.
Favorite country for public bathrooms?
Canada! Nowhere else have I been in the middle of the woods and found a wooden shack bathroom that was clean AND stocked with toilet paper! Although using the outdoor bathrooms in the middle of the Maasai Mara in Kenya was a trip too!
Most memorable spot to watch a sunset?
OK, this is weird, but Texas. I may not like Texas too much (mostly because it takes so long to drive through it!) but man do they seem to have amazingly vivid and colourful sunsets every evening. I don’t think I’ve spent an evening in Texas yet where I wasn’t blown away by the spectacular sunset!
GGG: Where are you going nomadic next? Any exciting travel plans in the works?
Actually I’m doing this interview from Panama! I started the New Year housesitting in Boquete, Panama and then I head down to Medellin, Colombia to go spend a couple months there and see my friends and husband. After that I am hoping to have enough money to go to Suriname (I recently discovered that you can fly from Colombia to Suriname for less than $1000 RT now!)
After that I’m not sure, but I am planning on doing a USA roadtrip this spring/summer and would like to go back to Croatia this fall. Other than that we will see where the world takes me. I spent 2014 mostly at home, working on stuff I needed so I could travel more in 2015, and so far it has paid off. So hopefully there will be even more great plans in the future!