Kickin’ Backpacks Since 2016, Ep.2, Scott And Sylvie Biales, USA

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Scott And Sylvie Biales, 33 and 29, USA

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A man and a woman kissing while in a yoga pose next to a pool with a mountain landscape
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Countries Backpacked: 60+

Years Backpacking: 3

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Sylvie: “Travel was the best and the worst thing that ever happened to me.”

I met Scott and Sylvie while I was volunteering at a zero-waste eco-farm in the southwest of Turkey. You’re easily drawn to them, as they’d be the two people most genuinely interested in learning more about you, your culture and where you come from.

They are the perfect example of cultural travelers. Always eager to learn something new, engage with the locals, try regional food and all that while being respectful and conscious about preserving the surroundings and culture. Scott and Sylvie will inspire you to travel to the edge of the world, with their many fascinating stories. Sylvie’s honesty, kindness and passion for working with children are just incredible. Scott’s diverse skillset, ranging from architecture to photography is truly captivating. He’s also super crazy about figs.

Scott: “Whatever you think travel is, it’s not. Make sure you know the reason you’re going and that you take yourself with you.”

So let’s learn more about this amazing couple and their travels. Definitely go ahead and visit their website full of great itineraries and information at www.ditchthemap.com.

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A Little Background on Scott and Sylvie

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Me: Alright guys, if you could do a small personal intro about yourselves? Scott, tell us a little bit about yourself, how old are you, where do you come from?

Scott: I’m from the United States, Cleveland. I live in Philadelphia with my wife, most recently. I’m 33 years old. I went to school for engineering. I’ve worked in business strategy as a consultant and left it all to travel the world with my wife. We’re getting off the beaten path, as well as staying in cities, and eating our way through it all. Meeting interesting people like you, doing WorkAways. Mostly trying to learn more about hospitality and farming because that’s what we want to do with our lives. We want to open up a B&B and host WorkAwayers as well.edit button to change this text. 

Me: Ah that’s amazing! Sylvie, a little bit about yourself? You’re from Philly?

Sylvie: I’m from outside Philadelphia, I’m 29. I studied to be an elementary education teacher. While I was teaching my views about education changed a lot, shaped by traveling and what I think is right for kids versus societal limitations we put on kids. 

Travel has been really eye opening in so many ways. It’s changed my life path. I really like the volunteering work that we do because I feel like it’s apprenticeships in different facets of life. 

Travel is letting us take little pieces of different cultures, different people we meet, and kinda create this life that we want for ourselves, not a life that was given to us or we grew up with…

Scott: Prescribed!

Sylvie: Prescribed, yeah!

Me: That’s beautiful.

Sylvie: Yeah, it’s been really cool to do it with Scott. We just got married almost one year ago exactly.

Me: So you got married one year ago and for how long have you been together?

Scott: We’ve been together five years.

Me: And now you quit your jobs. At the same time, right?

Scott: More or less.

Sylvie: He quit a few months before me.

Me: I was curious to hear what was the source of your decision to quit your jobs and travel the world? What were the clues that led you to this decision and what was the final push to make it happen?

Scott: I had taken a month off work about four years ago to travel overland in Africa. I met a lot of people there that had a lifestyle I didn’t know existed. I thought “Wow! I want to try real travel.” Which in America, you know, we got two weeks. So I wanted a longer time.

Me: Do you mean that you met travelers, backpackers or the indigenous people?

Scott: No, uhm, people from New Zealand, people from England, people that had jobs that had travelled their whole lives. They had taken two months off here and time there and I knew the only way for me to do that is to quit my job. So I did that. 

The first time with Sylvie, we spent about sixteen months traveling, and during that time we changed. We went back to the states, with anticipation to work there, but very shortly after that, we realized that it didn’t feel like home anymore.

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A girl blowing a dandelion during sunset next to a lake and mountains
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Me: Hm. I guess sixteen months is a long time and enough to shape new and different views.

Scott: Yeah! Long time. We came back and at that point we just had the notion of working, saving money and living very frugally for whatever would come next. We knew we’d travel again and it would be more open ended. And that’s where we’re at now.

Me: Was that a common decision for both of you?

Sylvie: I guess you’d have to separate it between our first trip versus our second trip, beaucase we’ve quit our jobs twice now. Looking back at our first trip, it was so monumentous… Scott really planted the seed for that. He was the one who initiated all of it, but it wasn’t too hard to get me on board. 

I had studied in Rome for a semester when I was in university and before that I had travelled internationally with my family. I knew it was something I always liked. I found myself disenfranchised with work pretty quickly after being out of college only a year or two and teaching. I thought “Oh, this is it… I want more.”. 

So when Scott mentioned travel, I thought it was just this perfect opportunity to see what else there was and go for an adventure. I didn’t even realize the life lessons or how it would change me. It just seemed like something that would excite me and was offering that “more” factor that I was looking for.

Me: So Sylvie’s on board now and here we go! What happened after the first trip of sixteen months? You got back to the States… For how long did you try? To get back to the regular life, I mean?

Scott: We were back for two years. But I would say we’ve been just a handful of months. It didn’t seem right. We came back really positive and optimistic, trying to live a life we wanted to live and trying to meet like-minded people. We just were faced with obstacles… It just didn’t happen… We realized no matter who we met…

Me: It wasn’t the same?

Scott: I mean… There’s diversity but the American culture is pervasive throughout. Everyone is motivated by their jobs and money. I have friends and family who I’d ask what fiction books they read and they’d be like “Well, I’m reading this book, it’s about management of this and that”. So many aspects of their lives are about their careers. And not that that’s wrong, but our life is so much more. When you travel you meet people who have so many interests. We just couldn’t find… I’m not doing it justice, could you jump in?

Me: I guess it’s a shame as the part that when you get back home… Let’s call “home” this particular place where you have the same settlement for a long period of time, the same job… And I guess you’re surrounded by people who do the same. Meanwhile, when you’re traveling you meet so many people who are traveling as well. It’s always like whatever you do yourself you’re surrounded by people who do something similar, you know what I mean?

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A man holding a cute kitten while sitting on the street
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Scott: Another aspect is, we really like the 3rd world countries or developing nations. Where you’re not worried about buying the next Cadillac. You’re just happy there’s food on the table and once that’s there, you share what you have and… It’s the sense of community. It just didn’t feel like we had that in America. We had everything and yet people were closed off just thinking about themselves and wanting more. So it was at that point I knew I wanted to live in a country or area where people were not as wealthy.

Me: So more simple life in a way.

Scott: Simple life!

Sylvie: Coming back after the first trip was a double edge sword. The way I look at it – travel was the best and the worst thing that ever happened to me. Travel changed me so profoundly, I had so many experiences in isolation from the people I knew back home. I felt like I changed SO much and I was coming back to people whose experiences… They couldn’t relate to what I went through… Even if I talk about it, it sounds tripe because sometimes it’s hard to put into words all of those experiences that you had. I felt a disconnect between me and the people back at home.

Me: Do you feel like sometimes people think you’re bragging about what you’re talking about, whilst you’re just sharing your experience?

Sylvie: It’s possible. Or just generally disinterested. Or they don’t know the kind of follow up questions to ask because it’s an experience that’s so different from anything that they’ve had. So sometimes I don’t even necessarily bring it up.

Scott: It’s not fair to say that our experiences were more meaningful or worthwhile than other people’s, but sometimes… Saying how we slept on top of a chicken coop for two weeks while eating two meals a day because the family couldn’t afford more… Or spending six hours a day building stairs in an orphanage in Nepal… And someone’s like “Oh, you know, I just saw a movie last week!”

Me: I do think that it’s a bit more meaningful that spending a day in an office.

Scott: And that’s it! When you do the same thing over and over… You know, you could have a job and pretend that building a career is so important, but your first year at a job is not that much different from your 50th year. One thing to keep in mind is travel can’t be an escape, because you have to eventually settle somewhere. Always traveling is exhausting. You want friends and you want a community. We are travelling but with the mindset of what we want to do long-term.

Me: And finding your perfect place on Earth.

Scott and Sylvie: Yeah!

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How has traveling changed them

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Me: Could you tell me, in a few basic sentences, how has your outlook changed? I know it’s a hard question and I’m sure you can talk about it for days. But if you could summarize it, before you quit your jobs and after you did. How has your outlook on the world changed?

Sylvie: The way I view people has changed. I’ve always tried to be open-minded and non-judgemental, but travel especially, has thought me that everyone has a story. It’s really important to consider that because someone may rub you off the wrong way or say something you may misunderstand. 

But at the end of the day, people are so much deeper than what they appear to be. I’m just trying to understand where they’re coming from because their diverse experiences have shaped the person they have become today. I think I’ve become more forgiving of people because I’ve had so much exposure to such a diverse group of people. My mindset about money and financing has changed, I mean…

Me: About the necessity of it?

Sylvie: Yeah, how much you truly need to be happy. Actually one big shift from our first trip when we came home, was taking a path towards minimizing. We minimized all of our possessions at home because after living out of a backpack you realize…

Me: You went minimalistic. What do you actually need?

Sylvie: Yeah, what is this décor in my living room do for me? Does it provide any value? Is it important? We started questioning the things that we buy and being more intentional about what we allow in our lives… Physically, spiritually, emotionally. I think those are the big things.

Me: That’s absolutely beautiful! And how about you Scott? I guess there’s a bit of an overlap.

Sylvie: We are on this journey together, so…

Scott: I’ll try to take a different spin on it. Before the travel I was a business consultant, so the people I was with… Harvard educations…

Me: Suits and ties…

Scott: Suits and ties, MBAs, people making quarter million dollars… The way I saw the world was that any problem can be solved, certain people are worth more to society. They make more money, they deserved it, they worked hard for it… I was always pretty frugal, I never bought that much, but the idea was that I’d have more money in the future. So I made more money and I’d hoard it. 

Travel broke apart this concept of capitalism which is focused on consumerism. Especially in the States and in the west, where our happiness is so closely tied to consumerism. If I have a good job I can buy a bigger house, I can get a better school for my child and I can get more and more and more. But when you get away from it all, you realize you can be pretty happy without it. You come back and you’re like “I don’t care how much money I’m making at a job.” After I have enough money to feed myself and clothe myself, it doesn’t matter. 

So then I questioned: “Why have any job at all, that I don’t like?”. Because any job is gonna be enough for me to live a life that I want which is… Having a few plants and cooking for myself, going for a walk, going to a park and seeing an occasional movie. The life I wanna live doesn’t cost much money at all, so why am I working at a job that I don’t like, there are so many out there… You could do anything you want, because anything you do is going to pursue enough money to live. It kind of broke the whole system. Does it make any sense?

Me: It does make a lot of sense, and it feels like you had a big internal switch of personalities.

Sylvie: Scott especially.

Scott: Yeah! And then I got home and I’m like: “Why are my friends and family doing this?!” I don’t wanna say that they’re not happy but not to read a fiction book because you feel like you need to always be working towards your next raise or promotion!! And when I would ask people if they like their jobs and they’d answer: “Weeeell, you know, the benefits are good, and I have a family, but I’d like to climb Everest…”. And I’m like “Fuck man, do it! Just quit your job, you can find another one.” But they say “I can’t quit my job because I won’t find another one to make me as much money”. It’s just… the way I see the world is just different.

Me: I’ve noticed that once people start getting comfortable with the place they’re at, it’s very hard to leave. One of the biggest reasons for me to start traveling immediately after graduating university was that I was afraid of becoming one of those people who get comfortable. To find a well-paid job, then to get this boyfriend, then this apartment…It’s gonna become this repetitive routine. And then I’d be truly afraid of getting out of my comfort zone, that’s why I said “Fuck it!” and I just went for it.

Scott: Yeah, definitely. You don’t have much traveling in the states. And I mean traveling, not vacationing.

Me: Yeah, people would go in their 5-star hotels with their all-inclusive deals and stay by the pool without actually meeting people from the area.

Scott: It can be travel, it can be the peace core, maybe even the military for some. Just being away from the society you’re from, being away from conventions and norms and just kind of doing it yourself… When you don’t have anything else to go by, you start thinking for yourself. You start filling in what is it that you want in life and not what you think you want… Or what you think you should be doing because that’s what your culture pushes you to do.

Me: A moment for applause!

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A big man holding and kissing a tiny woman in his hand in the salt lakes
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Their Experience of culture shock

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Me: I have a few pre-made questions, but they’re not necessarily in a specific order. What is the most fascinating cultural experience you’ve had so far throughout your years of traveling? Something like a cultural shock, it could be positive or negative, but something you found fascinating in a way that it almost had no clash with anything you knew before?

Sylvie: What’s been really astonishing for me is the Turkish hospitality. In our past travels we’ve met local people, we’ve done Couchsurfing, but nowhere before has a stranger seen us on the street and asked us into their house for chai to share tea with us. Without knowing hardly any English they were just so welcoming and they wanted us to feel comfortable in their home town. To make us feel accepted and that they’re happy that we’re there. That blew my mind a little because this happened three times in the span of two days.

Me: That can’t happen in the States.

Sylvie: That was shocking, I have never encountered anything like it before.

Me: Even your friends in the states wouldn’t invite you over for tea.

Sylvie: No! And they were absolute strangers. They didn’t want anything from us, it’s not like they were trying to sell us something in their home. It was just from the kindness of their heart, wanting to accept us and show us…

Scott: This happened daily, if not multiple times a day, just walking around.

Sylvie: Especially in Southeastern Turkey, I’m speaking about Mardin in particular. That to me was just incredible, because when someone displays that kind of kindness to you, it leaves a mark in your heart. You think “I want to emulate this, I want to remember how this made me feel and I want to be that person.”

Me: I guess that brings back the hope for humanity.

Sylvie: Yeah! It was just incredible, it was so incredible, and it was a small thing but it really sticks with me even now.

Scott: I’m gonna take a different turn. Mine was not a positive experience, but even the worst ones have positive lessons. We didn’t catch the train we wanted in Varanasi, India and we had to stay an extra day. We had to look for hotels. We were outside the tourist area and we went to four or five hotels, can’t remember. We turned down by no less than 3 hotels, they told us they don’t have rooms for our type of people.

Me: White people?

Scott: Basically they didn’t wanna rent it to white people. I experienced racism for the first time. There’s no law, I mean it’s probably illegal to do that, but they didn’t want white people staying in their establishment.

Me: Wow!

Scott: I experienced racism. “We don’t want your type of people in our hotel.” So we had to go to four or five different hotels until someone finally accepted us.

Me: It’s interesting how you guys took two completely opposite turns on this question!

Sylvie: I could actually bring them back together because my philosophy with travel, is that the value of travel is exposure to different types of people and culture and things you’re uncomfortable or unfamiliar with. I think what Scott gained is deeper understanding of how it feels to be on the other side of that. Because being a white male in America, he doesn’t encounter racism, and I think that gives him greater sympathy for people who do.

Me: Absolutely.

Sylvie: For me, coming from America, we have horrible preconceived notions about Muslim people. And then to be invited into the homes of Muslims in Turkey is just so eye-opening. We have such prejudice, not me in particular, but you know, we’re fed this bullshit back in the States and there’s always something little in the back of my mind. Then you go there and you’re welcomed with open arms and everything you know crumbles. You have the ability to build back up your understanding based on experience instead of…

Scott: Prime-time news.

Sylvie: News, marketing, propaganda, whatever you wanna call it.

Me: That’s fantastic answer guys!

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A couple's selfie in front of Torres del Paine Trek snowy mountains
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How Can They Afford Traveling Full-Time?

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Me: So can you tell me how do you support yourselves during your travels, where does your income come from? Do you rely on your savings, or do you work on the road?

Scott: Maybe 20 years ago I was a paper delivery boy…

Me: That’s gonna be a long story.

Scott: Delivered papers, did architectural site plans, engineering… I always worked… Sold tickets in college and never really spent anything. My friends would go on spring break, I would not because I’d save money. I was always saving money, always investing.

Me: Hm, clever boy!

Scott: I’ve always saved, I had decently high paying jobs and I’d say I lived on 20% and saved the rest. I had friends who had brand new cars and I would buy you know…

Me: A bike.

Scott: …An eight-year-old car. Yeah! If I needed to! I had friends who would take Uber and I would just walk because I didn’t wanna pay four dollars.

Me: Simple things like that add up!

Scott: Twenty years of it adds up! Especially when it’s invested in compounding. It allowed us to have a large savings. So we have the savings and we have money from some investments from selling photographs. We barter, so sometimes we get free tours, restaurants, hotels in exchange for photography. Our equipment was provided by some of our sponsors. If you want I can tell you some of them, they will much appreciate to be named.

Me: Yeah, sure, go ahead!

Scott: Our largest one is Six Moon Designs. Probably our bigger sponsor, providing us with light-weight tents, bags, a lot of our equipment… In addition to that, I tutor online photography.

Sylvie: I don’t think Scott is giving himself enough credit.

Me: Go ahead, it’s always nice to hear others’ perspective.

Sylvie: I can brag about Scott a little bit. Scott has a truly entrepreneurial spirit. It would be impossible for him to not make money. He’s always looking for a way to either get a sponsorship or write an article for someone or to sell something on eBay… He’s just always… I don’t understand how his mind works but it’s incredible and I get to benefit from it, which is fantastic!

Me: Can you guys adopt me?

Sylvie: Scott would tell you that one of his hobbies is finance and investing. He has a great understanding of investments in stocks, and he’s helped me invest my money too. We’re lucky to collect dividends that are also reinvested every month. Even though we are not working, our savings and the wealth we have built is growing and does continue to grow. And not in any exorbitant way but…

Me: It adds up over twenty years.

Scott: Not as much as if we were working, but it… You know…

Me: As for the lifestyle that you have, that’s sufficient and makes you travel comfortably.

Sylvie: And as for me, when I was working, Scott and I talked about our finances. Every month when we were paid, not only we had our individual savings accounts, but we also had a travel fund. Everything had to be paid and what was left was the spending money for the month. It was kind of paying ourselves first, we were paying our travel fund, paying for our rent, and really just being conscious about how much we spend per month on recreational and entertainment kind of things.

Scott: We didn’t want to have money just for travel and then use it and have nothing. Because it has to be sustainable.

Me: Unlike me.

Sylvie: We are lucky not to be those people who have to travel for a little bit, then work for a little bit so we can travel again. We are comfortable for now.

Me: You write a lot of blog posts for your blog www.ditchthemap.com. Woohoo, shout out!

Sylvie: Yeah, I really enjoy writing the blog posts and we’re trying to figure out how to make our blog a little bit more profitable. But even just knowing that we’re helping people is enough. But if we could benefit from it financially that would also be great.

Me: Yea! You got quite a handful of readers and I think everybody benefits. You have some great info on your blog, it’s very informative, and really off the beaten path for some places, that most people probably haven’t even heard of. That’s great because… you’re more interested in going outside the touristic hotspots.

Sylvie: Yeah, and once you do, it’s contagious because you realize the local culture really shines and you think “well, this is what travel is, and I want to see more and have more of these experiences”. Since traveling through southeastern Turkey I think I wanna go to Iran and Iraq and these are places that I would have never thought about before. But every new experience that’s a little bit uncomfortable opens the door just a little bit more to let in more of those experiences. So those off the beaten path places, I think we’re going to be seeing a lot more of those.

Scott: I think so. Unfortunately, I think as our world continues to modernize the amount of off the beaten path destinations will continue to decrease. When I was in Africa I went to see the Maasai tribe and the younger kids were wearing jeans, where the older people wear robes. Every generation even in Bolivia in the rainforest, or Colombia, Cambodia? I don’t know…

Me: In the other part of the world…

Scott: Yeah in the other part of the world, in the jungle. He said how his grandparents used to dress a certain way and now these people have smartphones. It’s just inevitable. But there still are many places that are not frequented by tourists.

Me: Do you find that being something positive or negative?

Scott: Coming from where I’m from, I see it negative. When you grow up and you don’t have stuff you want more. These cultures they want the TV, they want the big house, they want all this. We were fortunate enough to grow up somewhere wealthy. Home is where we grew up with it and after traveling we realized “Fuck man, we really don’t need it.” It’s this quest to have more, but if you’re feeding your family and you can afford healthcare… You have all the necessities, everything else takes you away from what really matters, like family, friendships and being kind to people.

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A couple keeping warm with a sleeping bag next to a cold lake and mountain view
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Thoughts on Intercultural Exchange and Tourism

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Me: How about what you mentioned before about this little places off the beaten path and that they started decreasing. They started becoming more and more popular and more people go there. Do you think that helps intercultural exchange or does it promote tourism?

Scott: I’m not going to answer that. I think you have certain destinations, countries, cities that are largely based on tourism. It’s great that that money is allowing that country to get wealthier. It’s important for governments and communities to recognize how to use that extra money. 

You go to places like Cambodia where, as of 2016, you make 80 dollars a month if you work in a restaurant, if you work as a server. Or if you work as a taxi driver you make 300 dollars a month. Now, these taxi drivers spend most of their day sleeping in their tuc-tucs, in their taxies, waiting for just a couple of rides. So they’re making more money in tourism being less productive. 

It’s important to reinvest that tourist money into other sustainable areas. Does it make sense? So people can become doctors or nurses and be a self-sufficient community and not just rely on tourism. Because then you’re losing your sense of culture, everything you do is for the sake of the tourist. Sustainable tourism is important. I don’t think people practice it. They come to a destination wanting to see a bunch of stuff and polluting their culture.

Me: Yeah, that’s what I’m afraid of. Tourism actually hurts the locals instead of helping people get closer to each other.

Scott: Just go to an Indian beach where you see Indians wearing long robes and then you see a bunch of white blonde women in bikinis.

Me: Or Turkish beaches…

Scott: Yeah. It’s only a matter of time before those Indian women have to explain to their children… Maybe they’re gonna start wearing bikini too, and then all of a sudden you don’t have Indian traditional clothing.

Sylvie: I guess now being an experienced traveler, something I’m conscious about is this concept of cultural pollution. I try to be very respectful and read up on the cultures that I’m entering. Dress more conservatively if that’s what the local people are doing…

Me: Yeah, that’s what I meant when I mentioned you’re always so respectful about your environment, because you do not pollute the local culture. That’s because you’re a traveler not a tourist.

Sylvie: I think it’s really important. My cousin was going to take a trip and my first advice to her was to bring conservative clothing, because the locals there don’t wear shorts.

Me: For example, the day before when we saw this girl and she just had an outrageous outfit… I mean that must be horrible for somebody local to see something like this… I don’t know, I’m not in their head but I can imagine it might be… They might accept it as disrespectful. Which for me it is, maybe for the locals it’s not, but for me it is.

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A woman enjoying her cup of tea while camping in the forest
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Feelings of Regret

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Me: Can you tell me if you ever regretted your decision about quitting your jobs and traveling so far? For sure you get all these positive experiences, but you have very frustrating moments as well, but apart from that… Real regret, could you say that you have that?

Sylvie: I have moments of regret, because I have good days traveling where I feel like everything is aligned and what I’m doing is so purposeful… But then I have down days traveling too where I think “what am I doing?”. Maybe we haven’t met people for a while or maybe it’s just we’re in a city that we don’t like, I’m in a bad mood and I really question things. I think what is my purpose and why am I doing this? 

It’s nice to be with a partner while I’m experiencing all of this because Scott is my support system and often he’s a lot more confident in what we’re doing. I need that reminder sometimes. I could even also have a conversation with a family member or a friend that makes me question what I’m doing because it is so different than what the people I care about back home are doing… I have my moments, but overall I do feel strongly that what I’m doing is the right thing for me at this moment. But I forget that, I weaver…

Me: Maybe you gonna need one of the African tribes to surround you and tell you all the positive things… I think everybody experiences these ups and downs and not only during travel, but during everyday life in general. Imagine yourself being stuck at a 9-5 job all the time, would you not feel the same way?

Sylvie: You’re right, and that’s where Scott comes in handy to knock some sense into me and to make me think about things logically. One of the biggest stressors I feel is not earning money. In the states it has been so hardwired into me to earn an income and save for retirement. You don’t wanna be this old person bagging groceries in Walmart… I have a hard time escaping this mindset of “Oh my god, I’m gonna be a homeless old person, because I’m not earning money now.” We’re so crazy about saving for retirement because our government does a small part in helping take care of us when we’re older but it’s just…

Me: That’s popular in every country I believe, not only in the States.

Scott: Let me interject. If we wanted to we could buy a little ranch in Vermont right now and retire there if we wanted to…

Me: Or rent it out and save all the money coming. And that’s gonna probably be more than your retirement rate anyway.

Scott: All I’m saying is the retirement in America is largely based on this idea of you could do whatever you want when you’re 65, so you take cruises and you go out to eat and this concept of…

Me: Living highlife at old age.

Scott: Living highlife, so you make the sacrifice when you’re young.

Me: Is it worth it to experience all of these things when you’re 70 and not when you’re 30?

Scott: Not at all, I’d be too old. I couldn’t go scuba-diving if I was 70.

Me: Yeah, you have much more energy and you need to spend your time wisely.

Scott: You’re not even allowed to, you’re too old. They will not let you dive.

Me: It’s like the driver’s license, do you have that in the States? That you’re not allowed to drive after a certain age?

Sylvie: You have to retake the test in certain states.

Scott: Yeah, I think it’s at state level. But do I regret it? I don’t regret it like Sylvie. I have a master’s in biomedical engineering, I feel like I’ve worked very hard for it. Sometimes I question whether or not I feel like I wanna be using it… I haven’t found an area I want to use it for. In a lot of jobs, most decisions you make are based on profit. If I’d find an ideal company or organization where I could use analytical skillset towards helping people, I’m all for it. I haven’t found it yet. Even Bilal thought he worked for the UN (United Nations). He said it’s so much politics, it’s not really about the people anymore. When I do think of this, we’re gonna have a job again. The whole idea of a guest house and a farm sounds perfect because it’s a way to make money and be surrounded by people who’re traveling. We had experiences and we could share them.

Me: You’re an encyclopedia of experiences.

Scott: Just being around happy people… the idea of being in an office around people who’re miserable, trying to convince themselves that it’s the right thing… I don’t regret that for a second.

Me: That’s great.

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A man between the trees, hunting for figs
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Best World Cuisines According to a Foodie

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Me: Next question is directed to Sylvie. Best food in the world!

Sylvie: Oh god. Hold on. I really wanna make sure I do this justice. Actually it’s funny because my friend asked me this about a month ago and I said Bulgaria.

Me: Really?! Shut up!

Sylvie: I did! I really love Turkish food but I feel like Bulgarian food was similar but… I just think there’s something so fresh about Turkish and Bulgarian food. Just really honoring the ingredients that are in season.

Scott: Not Taiwan or Vietnam?…

Sylvie: Hold on, I need to get my bearings here, because I do get really excited about food. I can isolate single dishes but in terms of cuisine…Oh gosh! Oh gosh!

Scott: How about southern India? Italy?

Me: Stop it, she was talking about Bulgaria!

Scott: Or Malacca? With the Malay with the Chinese influence?

Me: Stop confusing her!

Scott: I want her to really think this out.

Sylvie: Malaysia had banging food…

Scott: Indonesia? Singapore?

Sylvie: I love the combination of spices that they use, but Vietnam has such fresh food that you want to eat when it’s hot outside. It just feels like it’s so refreshing when they serve you a meal. They serve you a side of all of these different herbs and greens and you can kind of shape the meal. So they will offer you different condiments on the table and you change it according to your taste. If you want it spicier, if you want it more sour, if you want it saltier. I think that’s really cool because you’re all sharing a meal but you get to customize it.

Me: But Bulgaria on top!

Sylvie: I really did like the Bulgarian food. But no matter what country I’m in I will always find a dish that I’m in love with. In Turkey it’s the Çiğ köfte, the raw meatballs, but there’s actually no meat in them.

Me: How about a classic American burger? Like a juicy fat-ass burger?

Sylvie: Yeah, America has a fair-share of good burgers. A burger isn’t what excites me, what excites me is finding food at a really local authentic place on the street… That looks a little bit dirty but the people are cooking with all of their hearts and soul.

Scott: You mean the place that doesn’t care about anything other than the food it serves. You don’t care about the center piece, you don’t care what color are the walls, if they’re painted or if they’re chipping…

Me: Focus on food.

Scott: Only on food.

Sylvie: Often times I’ll drag Scott around the city and look for the perfect hole in the wall place that doesn’t necessarily look appealing. But I can tell by the way the people are cooking in the kitchen or the food that’s on display, it is just about the food. I will pick unattractive or unappealing restaurants without any signage but if you see local people eating in there or they do one dish and that’s all they cook and it’s their specialty… And you know you’re going to find some good food there.

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A hiking couple's photo in front of high-peaked mountain, the Grand Tetons
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Scary Travel Stories

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Me: Can you tell me the creepiest travel story you have? Do you have any odd experiences, either extraterrestrial or whatever? Like proper shiver-giving experience?

Scott: We’ve spent hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of days on the road and it’s…

Me: Hard to recollect?

Scott: Creepy… Probably but after a while I think you just get used to it. Like Eh…

Sylvie: In terms of creepy, no, but scary yes. When we were in Argentina last time we traveled, their economy was doing horribly. They were exchanging pesos for the dollar because the dollar was more stable. They wanted to buy American dollars because the value of the currency wasn’t going to change. They could have $30 worth of their local currency one day and the next day it would be worth 10 dollars. They were all in great fear of this. So there were many shady places on the corner where you could exchange your money. Scott and I needed to exchange our American dollars for pesos. We ended up having to follow this man up the staircase into these back alleys into a windowless room. The windows that were there were taped up with newspapers…

Me: Oh my god!

Scott: Take that elevator up to the room and there’s this guy sitting behind a desk, mafia style with safes there…

Sylvie: Sitting behind the desk, and we were squirted in there with this man and there’s another man at the door way, and Scott and I thought “Oh shit, no one is gonna hear from us again. We’re gonna be kidnapped and cut into million little parts”. That was really intimidating and scary. We had no reason to trust those people, that was just blind faith.

Scott: To be honest we had no reason not to trust them.

Sylvie: Everything ended up being ok, but it’s a reminder that Scott and I are a team at the end of the day. We get into stupid arguments dealing with the stress of travel and we may not be so kind to each other. But then you have moments like this where you’re in genuine fear together and you realize that we’re in this together…

Me: We’re going to die together!

Sylvie: We are going to figure it out together, we can depend on and be there for each other, and I feel that way a lot when we travel.

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A woman with a jacket looking at the steam coming from the ground at Yellowstone
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What Should You Consider Before Traveling?

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Me: Can you give advice to people? Things to consider before traveling? Something maybe that you wish you knew before.

Scott: I’d say, financially, definitely make sure at least enough money to get home in case you need that. If you’re from the States, make sure you have insurance. Other countries you’d just go home and you’re taken care of, but in the States you don’t have insurance, so if you come back and you get sick they won’t treat you. Make sure you have an exit plan, but other than that… Question why you’re going. You can’t run away from things. You take yourself wherever you go. If you are depressed, had a bad break-up, you don’t like your job… And you think traveling will solve it, you’re going to be alone and are going to be the same person wherever you go.

Me: I’d like to slightly disagree with this statement, because the reason for my last trip, my current trip, was depression and trying to escape from it. It turned out with meeting these fantastic people and somebody taking my mind off…

Scott: Travel is a great tool and being away from things could be the answer to what you’re looking for. I just think it’s important to understand what you’re hoping for in travel. You won’t know. I think just go, for anyone, it benefits you. I had a friend who saw I travelled and she wanted to go herself. After a couple of weeks, she went home because she was homesick or it just wasn’t for her. I think she travelled for the wrong reasons.

Me: I’m in a few groups for female travelers and they do tend to…I guess some of them are just trying to escape from something as you said. And then they start feeling lonely and they feel like they made a big mistake and so on and so on. But there’s always this big contrast from those people and those people who actually have THE time of their life.

Scott: If you have the right mentality, if you’re willing to step out of your comfort zone, experiment, try new things, you’re gonna thrive. Traveling does change you, and you won’t be the same person when you go back.

Me: At the end of the day, getting out of your comfort zone doesn’t only mean going to a new place and meeting new people. It’s also getting out of your comfort zone in your head and be willing to grasp new experiences to the fullest.

Scott: What do you think, Sylvie?

Sylvie: What Stef was saying was what I was thinking as well. Don’t get too comfortable with travel, don’t continue to keep yourself within your comfort zone. Take those little steps that put you a little bit over the edge of what is familiar and what isn’t. Then you can continue pushing those boundaries. Being more introverted, sometimes when we travel I have to remind myself to put myself in those positions where I can meet people…

Me: I think you’re doing a great job.

Sylvie: Thank you! Couchsurfing and WorkAway are great for that, staying in hostels… But I hate to say we’re kind of outgrowing that. You get as much out of travel as you’re willing to put in. If every day I felt shy or not talking to people, my experience with travel wouldn’t contribute to very much growth because I’d be continuing to stay in places like this or not really putting myself out there.

Me: I find it funny actually… Quite a few digital nomads, when they started with their blogs or whatever they’d do online, they were these broke backpackers and they would always stay in these dodgy places but they had the time of their life. And as they grow their business they start staying in posh places that they used to despise. It’s kind of a funny loophole that you get there. So I think what you said you still push your boundaries, you still exploring something new, that’s important.

Sylvie: The reason you travel is to escape the familiarity and the routine of home. Don’t fall into that when you’re traveling. You can to continue to pursue those interests or to do something a little bit different.

Scott: I’m gonna come back to what I said and kind of tweak it. I said make sure you know the reason you’re going and that you take yourself with you. 

Whatever you think travel is, it’s not. It’s not vacationing. It’s about saying yes to a stranger who asks you to come to a host party in northern Kurdistan. It’s about saying yes and trying new things. You can’t go traveling and think I’m gonna do this and this to help me get over this. You can’t prescribe travel. It’s the lack of structure and routine. 

When you’re home you know exactly how your day is gonna go. You’re gonna go to work, you’re going to go to the gym for 45 minutes, you’re going to eat your dinner, watch TV and play videogames. This is not what travel is about. It’s about spontaneity. If you go into travel with that mentality, you’re going to thrive. You’re going to grow more. You’re going to have more personal development in an year of travel, than all your high-school and college and all your experiences put together.

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A woman walking on the beach towards the beautiful sunset in Rio de Janeiro
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Planning Trips and Choosing Destinations

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Me: Can you tell me how do you decide on your destinations? How do you plan your trip? Do you spend lots of time on it, or do you go with the flow? Probably you get lots of recommendations along the way as well and adjust your plan as well. But as beforehand, do you have certain top destinations you want to visit and you just go for them?

Scott: We’d go to a country and we’ll break it down. I want to visit this region and this region. Istanbul because it’s a city, and Mardin because America says it’s not safe to go there. And then the Lycian way which is a long hiking destination on the coast. We come in with a couple of ideas and then when it comes to connecting the dots, it’s just recommendations, what people say. Word of mouth.

Sylvie: Our itinerary just continues to grow because people keep suggesting places. We don’t have everything planned out by any means. Sometimes we’re a few days before, we’re like ok where are we going next?

Me: Ok, that makes me feel better about myself.

Scott: When you overschedule stuff it prevents you from that spontaneity.

Me: Question! I guess it has been partly answered already. Do you think that travel is for everyone? To put it in a different way, do you think everyone could benefit from traveling?

Sylvie: It could benefit everyone. However, some people can be a little bit too rigid or too anxious to allow travel to be this powerful force it can be. Depends how willing someone is to open themselves up to these new and uncomfortable experiences. For some people it may be more comfortable to not be uncomfortable. They may not thrive on their traveling. But it really has the potential to change your mindset.

Me: It sounds a little bit like psychedelics. Depending on your mindset.

Scott: Psychedelics and travel go hand in hand. Maybe if you do them together or maybe just the mind-opening experiences. I’d say traveling is definitely for everyone, assuming you’re healthy. I just read it takes several months for a habit to become permanent. Some people may just need to travel longer to go out of their comfort zone. Take the wealthiest person there is, it’s only a matter of time before taking cold showers three times a week starts to feel normal for them.

Me: Push the limits.

Scott: Push the limits. It just takes longer for that person to forget their old ways.

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Advice for Travel Newbies

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Me: My last question. What would you say to people who are hesitant about hitting the road? Who have the urge, who feel the need, they want to experience it, but they’re kind of afraid or hesitant or insecure?

Scott: There’s a quote that goes something like… When you’re on your death bed and you’re going to look back at your life, are you going to think: “I’m glad I spent 12 more months working at this job, in my 80-year lifespan, or I’m really glad that I got that experience to travel for 12 months?” It’s easy to be shortsighted but these are decisions, when you look back on your life, which decision would you wish you had taken?

Me: Thank you guys so much, you rocked this interview!

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A couple hiking on a snowy mountain Fitz Roy in El Chalten
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