I’m excited to announce that today’s post is an interview with Brenna Holeman from This Battered Suitcase. Originally from Canada, Brenna traveled the world solo for ten years and has visited nearly 90 countries. She is currently living in London pursuing her writing career. She has an absolutely wonderful blog that exists to inspire others to live life to the fullest and get out there and explore the world.
You can check out her blog and read all about her adventures at www.thisbatteredsuitcase.com
Hello, Brenna! I’ve been a fan of your blog for quite some time, so I’m excited to be actually interviewing you! For those readers of mine who haven’t yet visited your blog, can you let everybody know a little more about yourself and what your blog is about?
I’m originally from Winnipeg, a city in the Canadian prairies. After I finished university on the East Coast, I went backpacking through Europe, which led to living in Europe, which led to living in Asia, which led to South America, and so on. Over the past ten years, I’ve been to nearly 90 countries on six continents, most of them on my own. I now live in London where I make my living writing about travelling, and go abroad once or twice a month. When I’m not travelling, I’m writing about it, either for my blog, my job, or my book.
My blog isn’t just about the how and the where of travel, it’s about the who and the why. I write long-form stories from the road, including thoughts on wanderlust, travel romance, and everything in between.
What made you decide to travel long term?
There was never any doubt that I would travel long-term; my parents did it, my older sister did it, and I always knew I’d do it one day. I figured I would save up enough money to do a few months in Europe to satiate my wanderlust, and that would be it… but it obviously didn’t work out that way, as it turns out that wanderlust is something that grows even stronger the more you travel. I fell in love with travelling solo when I backpacked around Europe that summer ten years ago, and have been travelling (or dedicating my life to travelling/writing about travelling) ever since.
What inspired you to start blogging about your travels?
I’ve always loved to write, and so when blogging became a “thing” in the early 2000’s, I started writing all of my thoughts and life observations online. In 2006, when I started travelling long-term, it made sense that I wrote about my travels. I’ve been blogging for 13 years now, six of them on This Battered Suitcase, and I’m really glad that I have so many of my travels recorded like that – I still go back through my archives from time to time and read posts from years and years ago.
What was it like traveling solo for ten years?
Really, really amazing. I’ve learned a lot about the world but I’ve also learned a lot about who I want to be. Travelling solo has given me a lot more confidence and it has allowed me to meet people from all walks of life, and for that I’m very grateful.
How did you manage to afford to travel for so long? Any tips for the rest of us?
I’ve worked a lot of jobs that I knew weren’t career-making – teaching English, for example, or bartending – to save up as much as possible in between travels. There’s no denying that privilege had a lot to do with it as well, as due to scholarships and financial help from my parents, I graduated university without any debt. Now, at 32, I do not have any dependents, so everything I save can go toward future travels.
I’ve written a lot more about how I’ve saved and spent my money over the years in this post, How to Save Money to Travel the World.
It’s incredible that you’ve visited nearly 90 countries! It may be a tough question, but which one was your favorite?
It is a tough question! I often say Colombia is my favourite – I spent six weeks there and really fell in love with the culture, the landscape, the scuba diving, and the dancing. I also love Thailand, Bhutan, Italy, Portugal, Cuba, Argentina, Japan, Botswana, and, of course, Canada.
What is the hardest part about being on the road long term?
That’s an easy question: not seeing my family as much as I’d like. They’re all in Canada, so I try to get back as much as possible, but in an ideal world I’d spend a lot more time with them.
What was the most surprising thing about your travels?
Probably that I could do it all on my own. I was a pretty anxious child and teenager, so taking that first step and going abroad on my own was scary, but since then I’ve become very self-assured and much more relaxed. Solo travel is actually a great way to meet people; I often say that even if you’re travelling solo, you’re rarely alone (unless you want to be).
Most memorable moment on the road?
I have so many wonderful memories, but these ones always stand out: stepping into Moscow’s Red Square for the first time, sitting on a rooftop in Istanbul and hearing the call to prayer echoing around the city, listening to live music in India under a big desert sky, scuba diving in the Galapagos with giant manta rays, riding a motorbike alongside monks at sunset in the Cambodian countryside, seeing the Tiger’s Nest Monastery in Bhutan, sailing from Panama to Colombia, and taking a small boat along the coast of Cinque Terre, Italy.
Biggest culture shock you experienced while traveling?
I had to learn a lot about cultural norms when living in Japan; I’m sure I made quite a few mistakes in the beginning.
Any funny stories from the road?
It’s never funny at the time, but I’ve been sick a lot when travelling. I wrote about it recently here: http://www.thisbatteredsuitcase.com/the-travel-mistake-i-keep-making/
Any memorable “out of your comfort zone” moments?
I tend to just go with the flow when I travel, so not much rattles me. I really felt out of my comfort zone while shopping in the markets in Cairo, though, as I faced quite a bit of harassment. I wouldn’t like to relive that experience!
Any challenges you had to overcome?
To be honest, not really – part of the reason I love travelling so much is because of those challenges, like language barriers, making new friends, getting lost, etc. I find it all very exciting.
What do you love the most about traveling?
I love meeting new people the most; I’ve made friends from around the world, and talked to people I would have never met had I never left my hometown. I also love trying new food. There are few things I like more in life than sitting in a beautiful Italian square with a glass of wine, just watching the world go by.
Anything you just didn’t love?
I have used some very, very suspect toilets around the world. Let’s just leave it at that.
Any tips for those who might want to travel solo?
The first day will be the scariest, but you’ll be amazed at how quickly you’ll start to figure things out, meet other people, and get into the groove of travelling. If you’re unsure about going solo, try some short trips first in destinations close to home and see how you like it.
What about tips for those who want to hit the road long-term?
Don’t plan too much, or too far ahead. You’ll inevitably hear about a lot of really cool places when you’re on the road, so it’s better to have a fairly flexible schedule to allow for new adventures. If you really love a place, stay. If you really don’t like a place, leave. Don’t get stuck into hotel bookings made two months in advance.
One item you can’t travel without?
A journal and pens… I don’t like to rely on my laptop or phone all the time.
Any destinations you haven’t yet visited that you’re hoping to see?
Too many to list! My dream trips are Antarctica, the islands of the South Pacific, Eastern Africa, the Balkans, Central Asia… the list goes on and on. Right now I’d love to visit Montenegro, Jordan, Mozambique, and Fiji.
Any upcoming travel plans?
I’m headed to Canada to see my family soon, and then I’m returning to Italy for my fourth time this year (I just can’t stay away!). I also have a trip to Amsterdam and Utrecht in November. Then, in 2017, I have some pretty exciting travel plans… but I’d like to keep it under wraps for now!
Why should people travel?
To learn about each other. I think a lot of the world’s problems occur because of miscommunication and a lack of understanding for each other, so if people traveled more and met others from different backgrounds, it may help foster better relationships between countries, religions, and so on. I firmly believe that the majority of the people in this world are good; 99% of the people I’ve met while travelling have been helpful, kind, and happy to have me in their home country. I’ve written more on this topic in the post People Are Good, as well as Why We Need Travel More Than Ever.