This is a very special edition of Wanderlust Friday. We are super excited to feature an interview with a first friend we’ve made on our travels – Courtney Williams of The Yoga Hobo. We’ve met on Trans-siberian train journey, traveling from Ulan Bataar, Mongolia to Beijing, China. Sharing a 4-bunk compartment we fast-tracked our casual acquaintance to friendship in under 24-hours. Since then, we’ve explored Beijing together, traded travel advice over email, had an impromptu meeting on Koh Lanta, and are planning another get together as you read this!
GREETINGS, FELLOW TRAVELER, EXPLORER, SEEKER OF ADVENTURES! TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF:
I’m a certified yoga instructor from Texas with a serious travel addiction. I always say I travel differently, because a quick trip is never enough for me. When I travel somewhere new, I like to settle in and stay a while, get to know the locals, learn how they live and experience as much as I can. There are so many places in the world that have absolutely stolen my heart. And so many places I call home. I’ve lived in Europe and SE Asia and am currently looking for the perfect island to live on. I continually try to find ways to keep health and wellness a top priority, despite the inconsistency that comes with being nomadic. My yoga practice is usually combined with cycling, swimming, freediving, hiking, SUP or TRX (my new favorite fitness tool). Like so many fellow travel addicts, I’m still trying to figure out how to sustain this life on the road. In the meantime, I share travel stories, yoga tips and photos on my blog: theyogahobo.com.
AND HOW ABOUT YOUR MOST RECENT ADVENTURE?
I recently completed a journey around the world on a train. I started this journey over a year ago at the end of the line in England and traveled across Russia, Mongolia and China. Spending two weeks in each of these countries, I really feel like this trip was composed of three amazing adventures. Not wanting the adventures to end, I continued traveling home by train, riding from California to Texas. By that point, there was no way to stop me from taking the final train to Boston to complete my journey around the world, which I did at the end of last year. When I was planning my Trans-Siberian Railway adventure, I had no idea it would expand into a much longer ride, but I sure am glad it did!
In the traveler’s world, connections build and the sense of being home develops. Sometimes people connect with so many different places that the overabundance of homes can lead to confusion of where home really is. I think a vagabond is fueled by these connections, making the feeling of home so plentiful that it starts to disappear altogether. I might be a vagabond, or a hobo, because the connection I feel to the places I visit is what keeps me on the road.
SO, HOW DO YOU APPROACH TRAVEL PLANNING? ARE YOU THE TYPE TO JUST GET UP AND GO, OR DO YOU SIFT THROUGH GUIDEBOOKS, CONSULT MAPS, AND SEEK OUT ADVICE?
I’m a planner, but mostly because I enjoy the process. If I arrive somewhere and the plan completely goes out the window, I’m up for a new adventure in an instant. And I never feel the time spent planning was wasted. I can’t even count the hours I’ve spent planning my trips, friend’s trips or stranger’s trips. For me, it’s one of the most exciting parts! What I love about travel is that once you’ve been somewhere you can revisit that place in your mind as often as you like, but what I love about planning is that you only get to make predictions of what a new place will be like once. As soon as you arrive, all ideas are changed forever, because once you visit somewhere, you know it. Maybe what you imagined was spot on, or maybe you turned up to a completely different world. It doesn’t matter, but at that point, you have to wait for your next adventure to plan and imagine all over again.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE MODE OF TRANSPORTATION?
Train travel is without a doubt my favorite. I would probably travel everywhere by train if I could. A lot of this has to do with my fear of flying, but I think there is something so special about train journeys. The slower pace of train travel always makes me think I will accomplish so much en route, but instead I watch the world go by for hours. And that’s never a disappointment!
TELL US ABOUT A MAGICAL EXPERIENCE YOU’VE HAD ON YOUR TRAVELS:
It seemed like a quiet night, walking the streets of Yangon, until I found myself being led through a crowd to the front of Burma’s first publicly condoned democratic rally held by the NLD. My hand was passed from man to woman to child, leading me deeper into an enthusiastic crowd for a show I needed translated, but the words didn’t matter. I was surrounded by positive energy. The message was clear. It was my first day in this amazing country and I had a front row seat to witness a great moment in its history. This was a proud day for the people of Burma and I was happy to have been welcomed into it. On the walk home, a local teenage girl thanked me for being in her country, while holding my hand as if we had been friends for a lifetime. I felt comfortable. I felt connected. My eyes were opened and my heart was full. (The country is officially known as Myanmar, however the people told me they prefer Burma and I do to.)
QUICK – ONE DESTINATION THAT YOU WOULD GO BACK TO IN A HEARTBEAT, AND ONE THAT YOU HOPE NEVER TO RETURN TO.
Thailand. Koh Lanta more specifically, but really anywhere in Thailand. I love Thailand. I love the food. I love the people. I love the sounds. I love that it truly is the land of smiles and I’m always smiling when I’m there!
And the place I would never return is a place I love as much as Thailand, but a place I’m not sure I would ever be able to experience how I have again. I was lucky enough to visit Burma before it was a popular stop on the SE Asia backpacker’s loop. I had never visited a country so untouched by tourism. There were no ATMs in the country when I visited, so all finances had to be budgeted in advance and cash brought in hand. I have never had such an adventure. I have never felt so connected to people or a country in my life. This was the best trip of my life and I want to remember it exactly as it is in my mind. The country is making changes for the better and I’m so happy for the lovely people of Burma. However, my experience was absolutely perfect and I want to remember Burma exactly as is was.
LIST YOUR THREE FAVORITE PLACES ON EARTH, AND GIVE A DESCRIPTOR.
These are all places I have and still call home. Prague, Czech Republic is magical. I was supposed to stay for one month, but I was put under the city’s spell and stayed for over a year. Koh Lanta, Thailand is spicy and I don’t just mean the food. The people, the parties, the weather… Can weather be spicy? Yes, when it makes you sweat like eating hot chills can. Marfa, Texas is mysterious. I’ve made the long journey to far West Texas countless times and once I’m there I always get it. I’d try to explain, but it’s really something you have to feel for yourself.
HOW DO YOU ENSURE THAT TRAVEL IS A BIG PART OF YOUR LIFE?
To be honest, I’ve actually tried to stop traveling and settle down for a bit, but it just doesn’t work. A simple thought will plant the seed and the next thing I know a flight is booked, bags are packed and I’m back on the road. I think some people are captured by travel and it becomes a way of life rather than a part of life.
HOW DO YOU RECORD YOUR TRIP MEMORIES?
Pictures and words… so many pictures and words. I’m in the process of sorting full photo collections for each of the 39 countries I’ve travelled to so far. And the stories are being organized as well. I probably have as many words as photos. Journals, digital notes, post-it notes, mental notes. Writing has always been part of my adventures, but most of my stories are still untold. I’m transforming my blog into a home for my stories, pictures and memories. Most of my yoga photos can be found on Instagram.
WHAT IS ONE THING THAT YOU ABSOLUTELY MUST PACK?
A battery pack for charging my phone on the go. I take the majority of my pictures with my iPhone and since I’m usually connected to wifi, the battery goes quick. If I’m out all day in a new place, my phone battery will not survive. I can’t imagine how many photo ops I might have missed without my battery pack.
DO YOU HAVE A TRAVEL ANTHEM / SOUNDTRACK?
Not really for travel in general, but I have plenty of anthems for specific places. Float On by Modest Mouse takes me back to Prague in an instant. Swing Bop by Der Dritte Raum makes me feel like I’m dancing at Klappa Klum (my favorite beach bar on Koh Lanta). Wagon Wheel by Old Crow Medicine Show is my Texas anthem and my personal one hit wonder on guitar or uke.
I love the way music can transport me back to an exact moment in time, but I often keep my earbuds out while traveling. I like to be available for new conversations and new sounds. Foreign languages have always been like music to my ears. For over a year, I rode the bus in Prague everyday with only the sound of the city and Czech. I don’t really think it helped me learn the language, but there was something I loved about hearing this language and it made me feel more connected to my surroundings.
Whether it’s the sound of children shouting “mingalaba’ in Burma, the geckos and birds chatting in Thailand or the wind roaring in the Caribbean, I like my travel soundtrack to be a combination of music, nature and life.
YOUR NEXT DESTINATION:
After spending the last couple of years half way around the world, I decided it was time to explore a little closer to home. I’m currently hopping between the ABC islands in the Netherlands Antilles. I spent six weeks in Aruba, taking my yoga practice to the beautiful turquoise waters on a stand up paddleboard and fearing for my life as dogs chased me on my bike. In Bonaire, I’m training with a world champion freediver and learning how my breath can take me to depths I never thought possible. I’ve never felt so in tune with the underwater world. Curaçao is next on the list, but for now Bonaire is feeling very much like home.
After the ABC islands, I’d love to explore Central America, especially Nicaragua and Costa Rica, but I’m planning to head back to the States after Curaçao… I’ll be in Texas to see family and DC to visit friends I met on my train journey (wink wink)!