Traveler’s Spotlight Series: Liz Groeschen
- Where are you currently?
Currently I’m in Northern Peru in a little town called Mancora right on the beach with the most excellent ceviche available in nearly every restaurant!
- Where is “home”?
“Home” is wherever my backpack, my boyfriend, and myself are. In other words, I don’t really have a home. Home used to be Seoul, South Korea. Home will be New York City.
- Who are the main characters in your day to day life?
Andrew, my boyfriend and travel partner extraordinaire is the main (and mostly only) character in my day-to-day life. Aside from him, I probably communicate with my cousin Amy, and my mother the most.
- Tell us a little bit about what a typical day looks like for you?
There is no such thing as a typical day for me. There hasn’t been since the day this trip started (on September 4, 2012). Some days are full of adventure; waking up early to explore the Taj Mahal, Petra, a safari through the Ngorongoro Crater, or to climb up Huayna Picchu and explore Machu Picchu afterwards… Other days can be quite the opposite. We’ve spent entire days camped out in coffee shops planning and blogging. We’ve also spent entire days on a bus from one city to another, as well as entire days sleeping after an uncomfortable overnight bus ride. Some days are in between, we may have breakfast and then stroll around town and spend an afternoon in an art museum… It really depends on where we are, what there is to do, and how tired we are.
- Where does your income come from? How do you afford your lifestyle and make it work? Do you have a job title?
I currently don’t have an income. I saved up for this year of travel (by way of teaching English in South Korea for several years) and have budgeted accordingly. I don’t have a job title. If I did, I would find it hard picking just one title. I don’t necessarily think of myself one who fits into just one category or label. I’d like to be one of those “artist-photographer-philanthropist-director” types… One day…
- How many countries have you visited?
Before this trip, my students were curious about this as well and I humored them when they asked me to list every country I had visited. We counted 25, I think. On this trip, my partner tells me that we’ve been to 30(ish) countries. There has been some overlap. I’ve probably been to about 50 give or take a few. (Honestly it kind of turns me off when people keep track. It makes me feel like they’ve turned travel into a competition and it’s one that I don’t want to compete in.)
- What is your next destination?
- What is your favorite destination?
Naming just one is impossible. I think I’m most familiar with and comfortable in Asian cultures after living in South Korea for five years. I love Southeast Asian food. I really loved Myanmar because it was so incredibly untouched when I went about three years ago… Yet I love Italy, France, and the Czech Republic because I studied or lived there, and have left a part of my heart in each country. I am currently enjoying Peru for the incredible variety that the country has to offer in environments and landscapes to things to do to food to eat… Maybe my favorite destination is somewhere I haven’t even been yet!
- What are the advantages and disadvantages of your chosen lifestyle?
The disadvantages involve the loneliness that creeps in when you least expect it (regardless if you’re traveling with someone or not). We miss close friends and family members often. It’s not being able to have a good cup of coffee for breakfast (the world unfortunately loves instant, and I don’t). It’s wearing the same clothes over and over again. It’s the constant struggle to find a solid wi-fi connection. It’s staying at a hostel when you suddenly remember you’re not in your 20’s anymore. It’s getting off an overnight bus at 5 in the morning and not being able to check into your room until noon. There are a lot of disadvantages to this lifestyle, just like there are to any lifestyle if you choose to focus on them.
But obviously, I’m going to insist that the advantages far outweigh the worst 14 hour bus-ride. The advantages are eating really really amazing “foreign” foods that you won’t be able to find in your American hometown. Sit down for some Cau Lao streetside in Vietnam and you will know what I’m talking about. Who needs the perfect latte when you can enjoy some Nepali tea on a rooftop in Kathmandu. Taking pictures- and then printing them out of my Polaroid camera to give to a Hmong woman who has never seen a picture of herself before is just ONE of the amazing feelings you remember, not the countless uncomfortable bus/train/plane rides to get there. I’ve (we’ve) explored Angkor Wat, paraglided over the southern ridge of the Himalayas, sat in front of the Taj Mahal, walked through Petra, watched seven lions take down a water buffalo in the Ngorongoro Crater, talked about life with Masai warriors, road-tripped through South Africa, spent a day at the Acropolis in Athens, learned about Gaudi in Barcelona, ate apple tarts on the lawn in front of the Eiffel Tower, checked out Stonehenge, Notting Hill Carnival and then toured Peru with my Mom! Since we’ve been on this continent, we’ve flown over the Nazca Lines, spent the day at Machu Picchu, and our trip isn’t over yet. The advantages to my chosen lifestyle are pretty unbelievable.
- Many people fear being abroad and getting sick or needing medical care. Have you ever gotten ill or hurt abroad? What happened or what would you do if this ever transpired?
Of course I’ve gotten sick! Pharmacists around the world are helpful. That’s all there is to it. Charcoal tablets are to be taken on every trip you find yourself embarking on. Doctors in foreign countries are just like doctors at home- they just might speak a different language. But that doesn’t mean they don’t understand the human body and how to take care of it. After our bus crashed in Tanzania, we ended up at a doctor’s office in Mozambique because my partner, Andrew’s leg kept swelling up. After a day in the doctor’s office (spent mostly waiting, because they didn’t understand why we were there in the first place) we found out he had an infection. We got some antibiotics, rested for a few days, and then we were good to go! He has travel insurance, but the cost was minimal- especially compared to that of American heath care costs these days! Now, I would rather get sick outside of America- in my experience, the care has been exceptional (better bedside manner for the most part as well) and the cost has been so low, that I prefer to self-insure rather than rely on obtaining receipts and records to get reimbursed from my travel insurance company several months later!
- Can you share a wacky travel story?
Wacky is a pretty broad adjective. I’m not sure where to start! There was the day we inadvertently crashed a Vietnamese funeral and a wedding – complete with me being pulled onto the dance floor and beers handed to us after dancing. I’ve lost count of how many bus rides have been delayed because our bus broke down, ran off the road, or got stuck in mud for several hours… One of these days resulted in a group of excited men running towards our bus with giant machetes. There was one night when we were dropped off on the side of a highway well after dark in Mozambique, about 15 miles away from the town we thought we’d get dropped off in. Andrew pulled out bug spray and a lighter in case the men ambling towards us were up to no good. Luckily we didn’t need to use it and a kind woman with a baby strapped to her back came to our rescue. We’ve been fortunate to meet another couple traveling around the world for more than a year and have since met them in four different countries… I don’t know if any of these stories are technically ‘wacky’ but they’re stories we enjoy sharing.
- Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
In five years, I’d love to have a home and studio space in New York City, but a job that allows me to travel often. If I’m extra lucky, I’ll have an MFA under my belt, will be working intimately with a (local and/or international) NGO, and will be teaching a university class or two on the side.
- What advice do you have for others who’d like to pursue your chosen lifestyle?
Don’t let anyone talk you out of it, or sway you into doing what’s “normal” instead. If it’s something you really feel like you want/need to do, then do it. Originally I wanted to move abroad immediately after I graduated from university. I let myself get talked out of it and spent a year doing things I wasn’t passionate about. Of course I wish I would have listened to myself from the start, but I eventually got to where I wanted to be. I suppose my advice is twofold, as I believe it’s never too late, and you shouldn’t either.
- Any recommendations on packing light? What do you normally have in your carry on?
Resign yourself to the fact that you’re going to wear the same things over and over again. You don’t need, nor will you want to carry things around. It also takes up time re-packing everything into your bag! I have yet to find the perfect carry-on bag, but until I do the one I have is packed with my camera and additional lens, my MacBook Air, 2 external hard-drives, a little emergency bag with band-aids, anti-biotic ointment, medicine, eye-drops, and an eye-mask, and tissues and a scarf. Also, my Kindle and an i-pod.
- What do you normally wear on a travel day? Have you found a perfect travel outfit that is both comfortable and polished?
Typically I prefer to wear leggings or loose cotton pants and I layer my tops. Even if it’s hot in some countries, women don’t wear shorts, and if they do, they get a lot of unwanted attention. My favorite travel outfit is a pair of cotton leggings, an extra long tank-top with a very thin cardigan sweater and a scarf layered on top. This ensemble has worked on every continent- sometimes I’m warm, but it guarantees my legs, shoulders, upper arms, and chest are all covered up, and if need be, I can pull the scarf up over my head (if entering a mosque) or over my mouth if I’m on the back of a pick-up truck on a dusty road. Also it can be dressed up with ballet flats (or in my case, sparkly Toms) and jewelry or dressed down with gym shoes or flip-flops.
- Any other comments or suggestions for our readers?
Pack light. Budget accordingly, but don’t stress over unplanned expenses. Plan as much as you think necessary and then plan some more, but be prepared to throw that plan out the window if necessary. In other words, be flexible. And keep in mind that long-term travel isn’t a vacation.
- Please share with us a quote that has significant meaning to the way you live your life.
Usually I glean inspiration from song lyrics that speak to me at a certain time in my life. The latest is from Special Education by Goodie Mob featuring Janelle Monae. While the whole song is awesome, the hook probably speaks to me the most:
I don’t wear the clothes you wear
I’m just different and I don’t care
It’s kind of sad and it’s a shame
Everyone wants to be the same
If you are listening here and now
I’m sure I can show you how
It’s okay to be afraid
Don’t you want to be special
If you’re interested in connecting with Liz and/or following her adventures, she blogs at This Kentucky Girl.
Update: Liz and I connected for this interview several weeks ago and I reached out to her just a few days ago to get an update on where she was at. This is what she said:
As for an update: Right now, I’m looking for an apartment and a job in New York City. (The two most fun things a girl can do upon returning from 6+ years abroad!) My partner, Andrew and I have been back in the states for about five weeks now, most of which was spent visiting our families and many friends. It hasn’t been easy. It has been really great to reconnect with so many loved ones, and celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas in America with all of the familiar comforts… But it’s been a different kind of holiday because in between Christmas parties and meeting up with friends for lunch/dinner/drinks/etc. I’ve been unpacking, then repacking, running errands to the bank, setting up an American mobile number, redesigning my blog, updating my Linked In profile, editing my resume… The list goes on. Hopefully by the time this blog post goes up, we’ll be somewhat settled in our new home, hopefully will have at least one interview lined up, and I’ll be hitting the ground running on my “I’m a New Yorker?” project; where I’ll chronicle what it’s like to not only readapt to America, but adapt to New York City through personal anecdotes, and a videographic/photographic exploration of the city by way of subway stops in the greater metropolitan area.