The Great Escape

Our Friend Gina is this weeks Guest Writer. She writes about her escape from the normal 9-5 life, and how she has become happy as a modern day nomad.

“TRAVEL IS FATAL TO PREJUDICE, BIGOTRY, AND NARROW MINDEDNESS, AND MANY OF OUR PEOPLE NEED IT SORELY ON THESE ACCOUNTS.” ~ MARK TWAIN

Cape of Good Hope, South Africa

I began my solo travel adventures in September 2016. If you meet a lot of solo, nomadic travelers, there is usually a story behind what motivates or inspires this traveler. We are seekers, searchers, hopeless romantics, Vagabond’s; tramping our way across the globe is not only what we do, but it is a way of life. It’s a conscious choice. Seeking a way to spend our days free from the daily norm or what today’s society or even our own family and friends dictate as a “normal way of life.”  Real, deep, true happiness is the primary motivator.

I only ever wanted to be happy; blissfully happy, from the core of my soul, to my skin, JUST HAPPY!

The only way my story is unique compared to yours, is that I took the leap! “Everything you want, is on the other side of fear!” I read this somewhere once and it stuck! It resonates within me and became my mantra.

At the end of 2014, after suffering for over a decade from a debilitating back injury, I was facing a series of spinal surgeries. Not the way anyone would choose to “ring in a New Year,” but it was my reality and also my chance to research and plan for my “great escape” while I was healing. My research and learning became a respite and something to occupy my time and my mind in between various physical therapy, pool therapy, a very intensive pain management program, and countless other medical appointments. It was also a preview of possibility. Was this life of unending travel around the globe possible?

I could no longer envision my days spent in a corporate cubicle life. How much longer would I have the physical capabilities to travel? A voice in my head asked me over and over, “What do you want your life to look like?”

In September of 2016, after being released from my arduous regime of therapies,  I took my first solo trip, a road trip starting  from Eastern Washington, traveling as far east as Ohio, south to Tennessee, across Kansas and Oklahoma to Colorado and down to Utah, Nevada and up the California Coast back to Eastern Washington. With my National Park Pass in hand, my route was planned by National Park destinations. I researched car camping hacks on the internet and Pinterest, packed up my Toyota Rav 4 and away I went. 

My goal by the end of this trip, using November 15, 2016 as a return trip date, was to REALLY choose to A: Go back to corporate cubicle life or B: Sell everything and use the money that I would spend on daily living (car, rent, insurance, utility bills, etc. ) to fund my travel. My lease was ending on November 30, 2016. That would be the perfect time to free myself to travel or extend my lease and go back to work.

I have always been extremely independent, love to be challenged and not really afraid to put myself out there. I march to the beat of my own drum and have a bit of “Gypsy” mixed in with “explorer” so maybe this has always been my destiny. I’m the square peg and it’s ok with me if I don’t fit into “the round hole!” My path and choices in life lead me to having never been married or to having children. (I always get asked these 2 questions so figured you might also!)

My road trip was a gift! It reinforced that solo travel wasn’t lonely, it was exhilarating! Any challenge I came upon, was temporary and I was able to solve it, rise above it and most importantly learn from and empower myself!

After 3 months on the road camping, crossing 20 states, visiting 12 National Parks, and driving several thousand miles, my choice was clear.  I wanted to travel, full time, unencumbered by “stuff” and possessions. Free to live my best life on my terms for as long as my physical health would allow.

I returned mid-November as planned, sent my letter of resignation, gave up my apartment, sold all of my furniture and large possessions and packed a few boxes and put them in storage. (This would prove to be a “test” in case I needed to return and start “over” I’d have some staple items to do this. In 2019, I emptied the storage unit and sold the last bits.)

I flew to Florida and for the next year, lived in Airbnb’s in some of those beautiful Florida cities and near those beaches that I’d dreamed of during those miserable, grey Northwest winter days while I recovered. All the while, reading and researching how I could take my travels globally.

Two huge discoveries would prove to be the tipping point. I came across a book called, “How to Travel the World on $50 a Day”, a book by Matt Kepnes (@nomadicmatt) and a website for Work for Stay called workaway.info. Workaway helps you locate a host, ANY WHERE IN THE WORLD that, in exchange for 25 hours of work per week, will feed and house you and provide a cultural exchange! WHAT??? How does everyone in the WORLD not know about this? 

Ireland

Reading Matt Kepnes’ book was a huge “Ahhh-HA” moment that gave me the confidence to know that I could travel globally inexpensively and smartly. The work for stay, with Workaway.info, would help me to extend my dollar and provide what has been a cultural awakening, priceless new friendships and global networking connections that have opened even more travel opportunities! Through Workaway I have worked at a family run B&B at the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland, tutored English in Poland (3 times in the last 2 years and I’m headed back for the 3rd year April 2020!) and worked at a non-profit for 3 months in Cape Town, South Africa that provides job training for adults with disabilities, like Down’s Syndrome.  I’ve also had the most amazing experience doing Workaway right here in the US, supporting hikers on the Appalachian Trail at a Hostel and Welcome Center.

My most valuable takeaway is that PEOPLE in any country, in any city, town or village throughout this big, beautiful, amazing, diverse world we live in are fundamentally THE SAME!

When you are a guest in their country, city, town or village, they want to share and show you the very best they have to offer. Be it food, music, history or iconic landmarks, people are proud to share or to teach you about their way of life and their culture. They also want to learn from you, to share ideas and stories. Myths are dispelled, friendships forged.

Yes, there is always good and bad EVERYWHERE in ANY PLACE, even in your own backyard, but people around the world are basically true and good, free from agendas. If you look for and expect good, treat all people with mutual respect, dignity and kindness, have a genuine thirst for learning and experiencing new things, your cup runneth over my friends, in the most  profound and life changing way! 

What draws me to travel and keeps me thirsty? THE PEOPLE! I have had the opportunity pleasure and honor to meet and learn from the most amazing and diverse people from over 33 countries and counting!

Siesta Key, Florida, USA

I no longer collect things or stuff! I am a collector of memories, friendships and experiences! I am the sum of my experiences and my sum wouldn’t be as great, had it not been for the people I have met along the way.

What are you waiting for? What do you want your life to look like?

~Junketing Gina 

Be adventurous, always safe!

**A special thank you, to my friend Captain Gary, for inviting me to write this blog post. ~ We go way back to our days as young Airmen, serving together as squadron mates in the US Navy. He has inspired me to live my life with passion and perseverance, on my terms! I hope you are inspired by Aquatramp to live your life the way it looks to YOU! 

An Embarrassment of Manta Rays

French Polynesia, part 1

The loud thump came from the space I had just occupied on the island trail. Before I knew what was happening I heard an army of Coconut crabs running across the tropical floor to feast on the coconut pulled to earth by gravity.

Tahiti, Bora Bora

My travel buddy landed in Tahiti 45 minutes before I did. We would be staying in French Polynesia for just over two weeks and visiting five different islands.


As I walked from the flight line into the Faa’a International Airport in Papeete, Tahiti, I heard music from a band playing local music. I watched dancers swaying in what I, as an American, thought of as hula dancing. The line to customs and immigration curved back and forth through the night time tropic humidity. It seemed forever, and my anticipation to see my partner was making me excited.
Here I was, in French Polynesia, I could not believe I had been able to arrive in one of my dream locations. My travel partner at the time was my then French girlfriend, with her first language being French, it made for more accessible communication with the locals. We had pre-planned our destinations and bought our local island-hop flights from Air Tahiti in advance.
On day two, we flew to Bora Bora.

Bora Bora

Bora freaking Bora!!! The pearl of the Pacific. I was warned to skip this island because travelers told me it was too touristy. But on the contrary, it was terrific. The season was between “tourist seasons.”

The Mai Tai Hotel was what I expected. The property was right out of a travel magazine; two restaurants, two bars, bungalows on stilts out on the water, and rooms on the mountain with a view. The temperature was perfect, and it felt like we had the dream destination to ourselves. We ate, snorkeled, drank Mai Tai’s, and played topless on the beach. Note to self, always pack dark sunglasses to reduce the chance of blatantly getting caught looking at other naked beachgoers.
One night we made the opportunity to make reservations at the Bora Bora Yacht Club for dinner. We were seated at an outside table on the dock, and our timing was perfect. The sun was slowly setting as we had a few pre-dinner drinks and admired the catamarans on anchor.

The next night we ate at the famous Bloody Mary’s. The choices of freshly caught fish are as big as the list of famous people who have enjoyed dinner there at some point. I did not leave disappointed.
The time in Bora Bora set the mood for the rest of the adventure. After a few days, it was time to hop over to the next island on our list.

Maupiti

The flight to Maupiti seemed quick compared to the long trip from LA. Maupiti is the furthest island out in the French Society Islands. The daily flight to the island makes for a pleasant welcome. The landing strip located literally beside the ferry dock was where we were going to meet our boat.

Our quarters for the next few nights were at Le Kuriri, a small Eco-friendly property of four bungalows on the motu of Tiapa’a. Here we relaxed by taking walks on the beach and napping in hammocks. The owners and staff prepared the meals, which were served to guests in a common area, thatched-roof style. The owners joined us for dinner each night. Breakfast was even more casual and served in an elevated lookout with a view of the ocean to envy even the birds perched high in the trees. Everything about this motu was breathtaking, but one thing will always stand out.

One day after breakfast, the owner wanted to take us on a boat ride. We agreed and went to grab our gear. Once in the boat and motoring to a location between the motu and the main island, he stopped and told us of the Manta Rays that seasonally frequent this area. My girlfriend translated his conversation because his English was at the same level as my French. Sadly he said that it was the end of the season, and we probably would not see any manta’s. None the less we were eager to get in and see what was down there.
Moments after we were in the water, I hear him making a commotion from the boat and pointing just ahead of us, grabbing a breath I submerged to see the most majestic creature that I’ve ever seen. If her wingspan were less then 12 feet, I’d be surprised. I’m not sure if the manta was a she, but I’m calling it “she” for simplicity. For those moments dancing with a partner who was obviously aware that I’m a lousy dancer was one of the Top 10 things, I’ve ever done. The manta gracefully allowed me those moments before disappearing into the vast Pacific Ocean to catch up with her friends. Those moments are why I travel.

In Part 2, I’ll write about the other islands I visited were the vanilla grow, the pearls develope, and a shark who got a little too friendly.