In a lot of ways, Diana Edelman of D Travels Round epitomizes the spirit of a Girl that Goes. She identified a passion, took steps to pursue it, and made the courageous choices to follow her heart and travel the world solo. Read on for travel lessons learned, how we can travel with awareness and responsibility, and more.
GGG: Introductions are at hand. Who are you? How did you get your start traveling?
My name is Diana … I’m an early 30s solo traveler who recently traded life in America for the expat experience in Thailand. I started traveling at a young age with my family and just never stopped. When I graduated college, I quit my job as a server and went backpacking through Europe solo for a month. Then, I started my career, which took center stage. However, just before I turned 30, I treated myself to a trip to Croatia where I was reminded where my true passion is — seeing the world. And, that was it. I quit my job and left.
GGG: Quitting your job not once but twice to travel must have been quite a difficult decision. What helped you make that choice, and what advice would you give others struggling with a similar decision?
I really hated the job I had in Atlanta. It was not for me and I felt trapped. It was late 2009 and at that time, the economy was awful. The biggest fear I had was that if I quit my job and went traveling, when I returned to America, I would have nothing. But, it was simply a fear I needed to overcome. I am a firm believer that everything works out exactly as it should, so I did not let the fear of the unknown hold me back. Quitting wasn’t a difficult decision for me. It was what I knew I wanted, so I did it.
The second time quitting my job was a bit more of a difficult decision. The job I had was very draining and frustrating and taking its toll on me. Fortunately, because it was part time, I was able to pick up some other freelance work. When I finally realized I needed to move on from the job, I reached out to my clients to let them know I was thinking about leaving my regular paying job and wanted to see if they had any more opportunities. Fortunately, they did. Once I knew I had enough money coming in to pay my bills, I resigned. The best advice I could give anyone struggling with a similar decision is to follow their heart and not let their mind bog them down.
So many people tell me they could never do what I did because they wouldn’t know what to do when they came back. I always tell them nothing is guaranteed. They could have a job today and not tomorrow. Better to go after what they love and want than be complacent. Quitting is scary, I know that. It is a lifestyle change to quit work and follow your passion, but in the end, it is worth it. Had I not quit my job, I would have never opened myself up to the opportunity to move to Thailand and work with an amazing organization. You just have to swallow that fear and go!
GGG: Great advice. How did you choose your locations for your first big RTW trip? Are you glad you did it that way?
Well, I played most of my trip by ear. I knew I was flying in to London, so booked that. Then, I knew I was meeting a friend in Ireland, then booked that. After Ireland, I was accepted into a program to teach English for a week outside of Madrid, so that was booked. However, after that, it was all about winging it. The only thing I knew for sure was that I wanted to end my trip in Croatia in September and wanted about a month there.
I am glad I just kind of went with it. There were times when I planned a little — like getting out of Schengen and booking a flight to Istanbul. But, for the most part, I loved the freedom of waking up in the morning and deciding what country I would like to visit next. It also opened me up to meeting new people and getting some travel friends. Some of the people I met and traveled with are still in my life, two years later.
GGG: That’s awesome! In all your travels, where did you see your favorite sunset?
There were months and months of beautiful sunsets. But, the one that sticks out the most is when I was doing the teaching program in Extremadura, Spain. Two of the other volunteers and I stood outside as the sun sank into the green mountains in the distance and turned everything pink. It was magical.
GGG: What do you think was an opportunity you missed while on the road?
I would have liked to have gone to Jordan. I was nearby, but I had heard stories from someone about being a solo female traveler there, and after getting worn down in Morocco and Turkey, I just didn’t have the energy to put myself through that again. It should be noted that I went on one person’s stories, not the general information I have heard since about Jordan. Knowing what I know now about the country, I would go solo in a heartbeat.
GGG: Kind of along those lines, you’ve had some scary experiences while traveling. Which one do you think you learned the most from and why?
When I was in Turkey, I had some run ins with local shop and hotel owners. It was an exercise in standing up for myself and being aware of my surroundings at all times. At that point, I had been traveling four months and was exhausted. There were so many warning bells going off in my head, but I ignored all of them. I was scared. I was emotionally exhausted. And, I learned to listen to those warning bells and if something doesn’t seem right, or seems too good to be true, it likely is.
GGG: How did you hear about the Elephant Nature Park, and how do you think your involvement there has changed your life?
I heard about ENP through Facebook. I knew I wanted to go somewhere for my birthday, and after reading “Water for Elephants” and learning about that elephant’s abuse, I wanted to go and spend time with elephants. I simply posted a question on my Facebook fan page and was told about the park. From the moment I met my first elephant, I fell in love. And then, the more I learned about the animal tourism in Thailand and how awful and abusive it is, I became passionate about educating others. I knew when I left Thailand last year, I would be back. And now, I am working with the park and that is just an amazing thing. It changed my entire life and I wake up every day feeling so, so blessed.
GGG: Nice. So, what are some ways travelers can participate in responsible tourism?
Research. Want to ride an elephant or see an elephant circus? Take the time to read what is out there and how they train them and then decide if you want to support the abusive and exploitative practices. I think arming yourself with knowledge is the best way to be a responsible tourist. But, being a responsible tourist also means missing out on some of those items on bucket lists. You have to be OK with that, and accept that by not doing something, you are actually doing the right thing.
GGG: Is there anything that you wish you had known before you became an expat in Thailand?
I don’t think there is anything … I mean, maybe I should have read some forums on life as an expat so I could be better prepared as to what my life would be like when I am not working. It can get lonely, but I know it is par for the course. It’s just like being the new kid on the block anywhere in the world — there is an adjustment period and time that needs to be invested in order to get into the groove of life.
GGG: What are some things you’re looking forward to seeing and doing now that you’re abroad again?
I cannot wait to check out some non-touristy beaches! And see SE Asia. I have only been to Chiang Mai and there is an entire region to explore!