Adventurous Accounts

adventurous accounts : rachel ridings

observant nomad | adventurous accounts : rachel ridings

Adventurous Accounts is a semi-regular feature that gathers the experiences from adventurers to learn what travel has meant to them. My good friend Rachel has found herself in the strange, beautiful, unique and sometimes difficult position of traveling a ton lately. And during her travels, she finds herself spending a lot of time on her own. So I asked her to share with us a little bit about her experiences and how seeing the world has shaped her. 

First off, thanks for sharing your experiences! Now tell me, what’s your favorite kinds of trip? Solo, family, significant other, or gal pals?
Almost all of my travel has been by myself. My boyfriend is a touring musician, so I’ve spent a ton of time flying around the world to see him for a few days and then I go off on my own. I think having a travel buddy would be my ideal way of traveling though. When you have a friend to go with you feed off each other’s bravery and do more. When I travel alone I force myself to get out and have fun, but I think shared experiences are the most lasting ones and the ones I cherish the most.

How did you inherit the ‘travel bug’?
Honestly, I didn’t. My family has never been on a single vacation. It’s definitely something I found all on my own. I think I’ve never been one to settle for the mundane and that characteristic has driven me to being one of the most avid travelers I know!

What motivates you to get out into the big blue yonder?
Weirdly enough, photography and blogging have really motivated me. Seeing my boyfriend is another big one that’s unique to my situation. I’m just that kind of person though; I really can’t sit still for long.

observant nomad | adventurous accounts : rachel ridings

How much planning do you do before you go?
Depends on the trip, but for big ones or ones where I go alone, I do quite a bit. I book all transportation tickets and sleeping accommodations before leaving and bring two copies of every ticket. I always leave time for unplanned exploring too. It’s good to take care of the essentials before leaving though, especially when you’re on a budget.

So, what are some ways you balance touristy things with an ‘authentic’ feeling trip?
I think it all comes down to being open to new people. I have so many examples of this. In Amsterdam I met some Australian girls in my hostel. We signed up to go on a very touristy bar crawl and ended up making good friends with our tour guide. At the end of our tour he asked us if we wanted to see “real” Amsterdam and we ended up in some outrageous goth club until 8am away from all the tourists.

Another good one happened in NYC, I went out in the middle of a snowstorm for some ramen. I was the only person in the whole restaurant until a pair of middle-aged British investment bankers came in and asked to buy me a drink. One drink turned into the three of us hopping around all of NYC together. They took me out for a 5-star dinner and paid for my cab back to my hotel. Use your instincts and be smart, but don’t avoid adventure out of fear!

observant nomad | adventurous accounts : rachel ridings

observant nomad | adventurous accounts : rachel ridings

What is your all-time favorite trip? why?
It’s definitely difficult to choose because I have traveled a lot, but the most pivotal trip for me was when I traveled to Peru for an entire month right after college. It was my first experience seeing a place that really had nothing in common with my everyday life. I got to take photos on an excavation dig of ancient bones, see an oasis, stay with a host family who had never seen an iPhone, crawled in aqueducts. I traveled by boat, plane, train, bike, motorcycle, car and bus. It was surreal, humbling, and so inspiring.

Any secret tools you use when planning/ researching a trip?
Hmm, none too secret, but I do have a little toolkit I use. It looks something like this:

  • Flights: Setup a price alert on Kayak before I leave. Book roughly 2 weeks before I go for in-country, one month before out of country. I’ve noticed that prices hit a low around those times. Buying really far out is the safe median though. The prices are average and you know you have your ticket.
  • Accommodations: READ REVIEWS. Always. Please don’t stay at a place without doing a lot of research. Yelp is your friend. And if you’re staying in a hostel for the first time, make sure to bring a lock.
  • Download apps: transportation, flight tracking, etc. I personally love Foursquare because I check into places I like and save them to lists.

observant nomad | adventurous accounts : rachel ridings

Besides reviews, how do you pick places to eat when traveling?
It’s usually a mixture of Yelping, pre-planning and complete spontaneity. In NYC, I ate at what is still my favorite restaurant because it was off of Central Park. I also love asking friends for reviews. My friend pointed me to all the best restaurants in Santa Fe and I was so thankful for that. On road trips I have always just pulled over at whatever looks interesting.

Are you more of an itinerary person or do you figure it out when you get there?
I believe in a healthy mix of both. I make a list of all the places I want to hit, but I leave it open ended. When I traveled to Florida by myself I went without an itinerary and ended up discovering a tropical island with a lagoon all because my server said it would be fun.

observant nomad | adventurous accounts : rachel ridings

observant nomad | adventurous accounts : rachel ridings

How has traveling shaped you as a person?
Travel has shaped me more deeply than I could have ever anticipated. I live with minimal possessions because I’m always waiting for that opportunity to leave at a moment’s notice. I’m also super aware of other people and feel like I have come to appreciate where my money goes, what I am eating, what I am looking at so much more. It’s also made me really value my time at home because I have traveled so much.

So tell me then, what does ‘adventure’ mean to you?
It means doing things you wouldn’t normally do. To put yourself outside of your comfort zone. When I was in Berlin by myself I walked into a tattoo shop and got a tattoo. Stuff like that. Just live.

Amen sister. So, do you have another example of that?
When I was at Machu Picchu, the two girls I was traveling with decided that we should climb this incredibly huge mountain. All of the people in our group decided to climb the guided smaller mountain, but we went off on our own. Little did we know that it was a four-hour climb and all we had were a bottle of water and I was wearing flats.

There were parts of the mountain that were so steep that we had to hold on to vines and crawl on our stomachs to avoid getting vertigo and falling down a cliff. When we got to the top of the mountain the three of us started hugging and actually cried a little. We were looking down over the whole Macho Picchu ruins but were in the clouds at the top of the Andes mountains.  Sometimes I wonder if we would have done it if we had known what we were getting into…

observant nomad | adventurous accounts : rachel ridings

And finally, if you had to write a little motto for your travel style, what would it be?
“Do now, process later.” My professor told me this my first time abroad, and it’s so true. Don’t try and reflect while you’re there – just go out and keep making those experiences!


If you want to learn more about Rachel’s worldly travels (seriously, from Amsterdam to Nashville) check out her travel posts.
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