Interview: Barbara of Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel

In interviewing Barbara of Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel, she gives insight into the advantages/disadvantages to traveling solo vs. traveling with a group.

1) What are the advantages to traveling solo vs. traveling with a group? Any disadvantages to traveling solo vs. traveling with a group?

Frankly, I love traveling alone. I tend to be more of a solitary person to begin with, so it just suits me. However, I do occasionally accept an offer to join a group tour or hook up with other travelers for short periods. While I enjoy the company, I find that when I have a traveling companion I am much less likely to interact with locals. For example, when I am traveling solo via local buses, the empty seat beside me is almost always taken by a local person. This usually results in fascinating conversations and many times I have been invited to their homes for a meal or learned about places to visit that I would never have known about otherwise. Even walking the streets when I am traveling solo is different. When I am with someone I am focused on conversation with them, rather than nodding and smiling at locals. And, there is also the consideration that when I travel alone I don’t need to consult with another person about where they want to go and what they want to see. I have very particular likes and dislikes and much prefer being independent. That way, if I want to wait an hour for the sun to be just right for a photo there is no problem. Can you imagine doing that with a travel companion?

2) How do you celebrate the holidays when you are in other countries?

I always go back to the U.S. to visit my family for a few weeks around Christmas and New Years, so those two are never an issue. As for the rest, I simply ignore the holidays most of the time. When I’m traveling, I focus on the holidays and festivals of the particular country I’m visiting so, for instance, I love to go to Nepal in October and November for the high Hindu religious holidays of Dashain and Tihar. One notable exception occurred last November. I was in Cuenca, Ecuador, where I had been befriended by the local U.S. expat community. One of the couples invited me to their home to celebrate Thanksgiving with a bunch of other expats. It was very nice to be with other Americans on this special day, but I would have been perfectly fine on my own as well. I make it a point to live in the moment and be fully present, so I never feel homesick or alone.

3) What would you do on that day if you do not celebrate the holidays?

I don’t do anything special because it’s like any other day to me.

4) How important do you feel it is to know certain words in another language such as ‘good morning’ and ‘good evening’ when traveling?

It’s crucial. For instance, I’m now in France.I arrived not knowing a word of French but in a week I’ve learned good day, good evening, goodbye, thank you, please, excuse me, where is the bathroom, and a variety of other words referring to food, transportation, etc. Not only is it incredibly helpful, locals really appreciate the fact that you are at least attempting to learn their language.

5) Do you feel it is important to know these words in more than one language depending on how many countries you plan to visit?

Yes. I try to learn enough to get by in every country I visit, but most especially in places I tend to use as bases. Thus, I can say the basics in Thai and Nepali, as I am often in Thailand and Nepal. I had two years of German in college and while I don’t remember a lot of my German, I can get a hotel room, ask for directions, and order meals just fine. I also, I speak fairly fluent Spanish, which I find quite similar to French. I can’t speak French, but I can almost always get a basic understanding when reading French. Same for Italian, and while I have a difficult time understanding the Portuguese accent, I can read Portuguese perfectly. Some countries, though, throw me for a loop. I’ve been to Cambodia twice and can barely say hello and thank you in Khmer. Just too difficult.

6) What are your top ten reasons for traveling?

I don’t think I have ten reasons. I love learning about other cultures, writing, and taking photos; there is really no better way to combine my passions than doing what I do. I find it extremely sad that Americans, as a whole, seem to be so fearful of international travel. Even those that do go abroad tend to stay at all-inclusive resorts or international hotel chains where they are  assured of a comfortable, familiar experience. We seem to be afraid of people who we see as different from ourselves, yet my experience is that people the world over are more similar than different. We may have different religions, eat different foods, wear different clothes and speak different languages, but we all want basically the same things: to have shelter, to be safe, to have food to eat, and to provide a better life for our children. I believe that the better we know one another, the more likely we will not want to kill each other. That’s why so much of what I write about travel focuses on culture and interaction with locals. At the very least, I want to send the message that we don’t need to fear travel.

7) Any advice you can give to someone who would like to travel long term but they are letting their fear stop them from taking that last step from cubicle life to world traveler?

I understand that fear because I felt it myself. For years I denied my true passions because of fear of what my family would think, what society would think of my nomadic lifestyle, how I would earn a living on the road, etc. Fear is a dream killer. Eventually, you just have to take a leap of faith and do it. In my case, a crippling disease was my wake-up call – and thank god I took the call. Anaïs Nin said, “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” In other words, the pain of  staying the same has to become greater than the pain to change. That takes lots of soul searching, honesty, and once the decision is made, planning. But people don’t have to do this all alone, as I did. There are programs and websites that help guide people through this process, including Meet Plan Go and Career Break Secrets