Go Ahead traveler Amy has been exploring the world since she was a teenager. Just about six months ago, Amy packed up her life in New York and decided to start traveling the world full-time. Some of her most recent adventures include a Go Ahead tour of Cuba, where she had the opportunity to drive antique cars and smoke cigars. We recently caught up with Amy while she was in Kiev, Ukraine to ask her more about her travels and her experience with Go Ahead.
What is your earliest memory of traveling?
My family and I used to take long road trips to Indiana and St. Louis to see my grandparents. I remember listening to cassette tapes until my dad’s favorite talk radio show came on and reading library books until it got too dark to see the words.
What prompted you to start traveling with Go Ahead?
My aunt has traveled with Go Ahead for many years. When I was fourteen, she invited me to travel with her on an EF Tour of England, France and Italy. We’ve traveled together ever since–I’ve been on five more Go Ahead tours with her!
As an experienced solo traveler, why do you like group travel?
I like the mix of independent and free time. I also really like having everything planned for you. It can be a lot of work to plan out all the logistics when you’re on your own, so it’s nice to have all of that taken care of, especially transportation between cities and attractions. The Tour Directors and local guides are also invaluable. I learn a lot more on tours than I do while traveling solo.
Tell me more about your trip to Cuba. What was your favorite moment?
It’s so hard to pick one! Some of my favorite memories are from dining in the paladares, or private restaurants. Private restaurants are still relatively new in Cuba. Until recently, they had to actually be in the owner’s home, they couldn’t hire anyone from outside the household and they could only seat twelve people. We went to a fantastic paladare in Sancti Spíritus, which was still in the owner’s home. It was crammed with tables! Some of us sat in a tiny dining room, some sat in the hall. In Havana our Tour Director arranged a surprise for us—we went to dinner in those famous classic cars! And one evening, when we had a free meal, a group of us went to an up-and-coming paladare in Havana. It was very chic and I really felt like we were experiencing changing Cuba.
What advice would you give a solo traveler looking into group tours?
Deciding how to travel is all about knowing what you want. Even if you’re typically a solo traveler, group tours have a lot of benefits—I have a blast getting to know people, usually they’re less stressful, and I always learn so much from the guides. Don’t feel like you have to do everything on the itinerary either. In many destinations, you can break off from the group if you’ve got something you’re dying to see that’s not on the schedule.
What are some of the lessons you’ve learned since branching out on your own to travel?
Do your research! I forgot to print out the Cambodian visa application and then I sweated straight through my flight from Singapore to Siem Reap. It was fine in the end, but I should have been better prepared! Also, eat wherever the locals eat. Some of the best food I’ve ever had was in Mexico from this taco stand by the side of the road. It looked like nothing, a hole in the wall at a busy intersection, but the tacos turned out to be amazing and fresh. And don’t worry about not knowing the language! If you eat where the locals do, all you need to do is point your finger and smile—chances are, you’ll end up with something amazing. Oh, and this one is from my aunt: bring lots of hand sanitizer. A lot of times people get sick, not from the food or water, but from touching everything.
Do you have a favorite destination? Why?
It’s so hard to choose! I loved Croatia. Stunning architecture, beautiful landscapes, friendly people. Tallinn is also a destination that’s about to explode in popularity. I totally fell in love with it when I visited in September. And Transylvania is the total opposite of the vampire-land people expect—it’s full of cotton candy-colored houses and stunning scenery. All three destinations are perfect for travelers looking for something a little bit different than the standard European vacations.
How did you make the decision to pack up and start traveling the world?
I’d been thinking about it for a while, and everything just seemed to fall into place. I had saved some money, had skills that could support me on the road and was finally getting a little tired of living in New York City. It’s definitely not always easy or fun, but I’ve never forgotten how lucky I am to be able to do this.
How do you decide where to go next?
It kind of depends on what I’m interested in and where I think I can live comfortably. I’ve been teaching in Ukraine and with prices here, I’ve had a very comfortable life. I also like exploring ‘next step’ destinations, places beyond the typical tourist hotspots. That allows me to keep costs down as well. But there are also places that just have an irresistible pull! I went to Santorini mostly because I kept seeing pictures of it on Pinterest!
What’s next on your travel radar?
I’m slowly traveling through Europe this summer with a very flexible itinerary! After Kiev, I’ll spend a week in Budapest on my way to Novi Sad, where I plan to settle for a month and get some work done. It’s the second biggest city in Serbia with a strong European influence from the Hapsburg Empire. In July I’m going to meet up with my family in Paris to do a river cruise and explore our Norman roots. August is unplanned, so if you have any suggestions feel free to pass them on! I might head to Sarajevo to explore more of Bosnia or travel through some Central European countries. I’ve never been to Germany, which is a problem that needs to be fixed. And in the fall it will be back to Kiev for a year to continue teaching.
Would you ever consider traveling full-time? Do you have questions for Amy? Share in the comments below!