In this week’s ¨Who’s Out There Now¨ feature, we bring to you Katie, who runs the travel site, KatieGoingGlobal. I’ve been following Katie’s adventure through Twitter as she’s been traveling through Russia and what she calls her Soviet sojourn. She’s chosen to take her journey through the former Soviet Union, a part of the world not visited much by career breakers. Here’s more about her experience.
1. So, where in the world are you answering these questions?
I am in Chisinau, the capital of Moldova – a small former Soviet republic sandwiched between Ukraine and Romania.
2. So, the former Soviet Union is not as well traveled by career breakers. How did you decide on your itinerary?
It has been an area that has fascinated me for a long time. I fell in love with Russian history in high school, majored in Russian & East European Studies for a while in college and studied Russian language for 3 years. While in school, I assisted a professor with a study about the development of democracy in Ukraine and wrote a research paper about ethnic conflict in the Caucasus. As a law student, I wrote a law journal article about the prospects of the Baltic States joining the European Union. That was in 1999 and it seemed unlikely!
3. I have to know, why oh why would you stick around during the winter?
You certainly aren’t the first to ask that question! First of all, I grew up in Minnesota and have lived in Chicago for the last ten years, so I am no stranger to cold weather. I have traveled in Europe in the winter before and it typically is slightly milder than Chicago – and it was fairly mild this year until I got to Ukraine in mid-January. I suppose it’s ironic that I’m here during one of Europe’s worst winters while back home they are having one of the tamest. That being said, I am looking forward to warmer temperatures!
4. What made you decide to take a career break? Was there a catalytic event that finally moved you to action?
It developed gradually. I practiced law for six years and then changed careers to work in alumni relations and development for a law school. After a couple years, I found I wasn’t really satisfied with my work and I thought more and more about pursuing a career in my true passion – travel. I researched how to start my own travel business and took an online travel agent course. At the same time, for personal reasons, I started thinking about leaving Chicago and moving back to Minnesota. I initially envisioned a three-month break but when circumstances forced me to put it off a year, I decided to stretch my trip out to ten months or more.
I really see it as a career transition – I don’t know if I’ll still end up trying to start a travel business when I return, but I do hope that my experiences will help me transition into a career in travel, whether it is working for myself or for a travel agency, tour company or tourism board.
5. You talked about the issue of safety at home versus travel safety. How safe have you found the world traveling as a single woman?
I have felt incredibly safe. Although people warned of issues with pickpockets in Moscow and petty crime in Kiev, I never felt uncomfortable or threatened in the least. There were a couple times when, out of habit, I subconsciously questioned the motives of good Samaritans but they turned out to be just that – friendly strangers willing to help. I can only think of one incident when I felt nervous – I was sitting on a couch near the elevator bank in my hotel in Brest, Belarus (the only place where I could access wi-fi) around 10:00 p.m. and a very drunk man came up to me and started talking to me, actually leaning over and cornering me in my chair. I shouted at him loudly in Russian (figuring someone would hear) and stood up and walked away – luckily he didn’t follow. After that, I did my computer work in the lobby with a lot of staff around.
6. Career break, nomadic adventure, backpacking, how do you characterize your trips?
I definitely consider this a career break or, as I mentioned above, a career transition. I don’t see myself becoming a permanent nomad – I already kind of long for the stability and routine (and paycheck!) that comes with being home and having a full-time job (crazy, I know!). I also kind of cringe at the term backpacker – this is the first time I have ever stayed in hostels or really traveled on a tight budget and only the third time I have traveled with a backpack. I guarantee that after this trip I will return to my old style of suitcases, hotels and shorter trips – likely no more than a month at a time in the future.
7. What are some of the secrets to travel that you’ve discovered that you think more people who aren’t traveling should know?
Using social media in my travels has been amazing. I have met up with people I “met” on Twitter and have had other followers suggest activities to me or introduce me to locals. It’s a great resource. Also, my Kindle is my new best friend – not just for the 3G, which makes for easy internet access when wi-fi isn’t available, but because I download a ton of guidebooks to it and have them handy at all times. Finally, one of the things I have started doing on this trip is trying to buy maps for my upcoming destinations ahead of time. I feel so much more comfortable arriving in a city with a map in hand, it has saved a lot of headaches!
8. What was your first ¨We’re not in Kansas anymore¨ moment?
When I first arrived in Russia! I spent my first two weeks in Finland and Estonia, which felt very much like any other vacation. Then, I got to St. Petersburg, where I was scheduled to live with a local family and tutor them in English for a month. I found myself in a rundown house under renovation far outside of St. Petersburg, in a chilly bedroom with a broken window, an outhouse for a bathroom and getting eaten alive by flies and mosquitoes. It was definitely not what I pictured when I signed up to volunteer in Russia’s second largest city!
9. What’s been your most ¨local¨ experience so far?
Taking the Trans-Siberian across Russia from Vladivostok to Moscow. While it is a tourist trip for Westerners, locals simply use the train as a way to get around because flying is either inconvenient or too expensive. I didn’t encounter another foreigner during my entire journey and got a lot of insight into the train habits of the locals.
10. What has been your most embarrassing moment?
Sorry to be boring, but I don’t think I really have one. I can’t think of anything that has happened that’s been even remotely embarrassing.
11. What’s your secret for getting the most out of your journey?
I realized the need to slow down as I travel. There were times early on when I felt like I needed to be out sightseeing all the time and then I realized I just wasn’t enjoying it. Since then, I have factored in off-days to my traveling so I don’t get burnt out.
12. Finally, our lightening round.
- Best dish you’ve found so far –Russian “homestyle” potatoes
- Most exotic food eaten – ummm, borscht?
- Most breathtaking moment – Seeing Lake Baikal for the first time.
- Biggest disappointment – So far my attempts at volunteering have been a big letdown.
- Most memorable place – Again, Lake Baikal.
- Most memorable person – Alevtyna, the crazy babushka I lived with for 2 weeks in Kiev
- Best thing to have on a long bus ride – snacks and something to read
- Worst thing to have on a long bus ride – the urge to pee
- Best thing you packed – Kindle with 3G
- Dumbest thing you packed – a black pencil skirt that I tossed within the first month.
- Funniest travel habit you have – when I take an overnight train, I like to be the first person into my compartment so I can get settled before the others board.
- Place you wish you could’ve stayed longer – Latvia.
Every week, Career Break Secrets profiles a different traveler or traveling couple who are embracing the ¨Because Life Is Out There TM¨ travel spirit. These are people who have taken the plunge to embark on a career break and are currently traveling the world.
Tags: Who´s Out There Now