One of the most inspiring travelers I know is Deah Hester. I first met Deah through my mom when they used to work at the same school together. From our first conversation, I knew she was fascinating. She and her husband have traveled to 107 and 141 countries respectively, and have countless stories to share about their experiences traveling the world. Recently, Deah and I have spent a lot of time chatting about all things travel blog-related and dreaming about far off destinations. She has graciously agreed to answer some of the burning questions I have for such an experienced traveler. Enjoy!
When and why did you first become interested in traveling?
I taught sixth grade world geography for 3 years. We used a textbook that had amazing photos throughout and my students would constantly ask me if I had been to particular locations. I remember one picture of Lalibela, Ethiopia and thinking “I want to go there one day”. (I did, in 2009).
In my 3rd year teaching world geography, my friend Kirsten started teaching internationally in Peru with her husband. She and I had gone to college together. She sent me a link to apply with School Services International (SSI). I just opened the email and started filling out the application, right there at my desk, no hesitation. Six months later I was at a job fair in New York City doing interviews, and landed a job in Haiti.
Do you prefer short-term or long-term travel? Why?
Hmm, tough question. I have done one year long trip and we are soon to start on another. But a year long trip is tough. You get tired, you get homesick, you start to feel like you’ve seen it all. You have to stop and take a day or two to binge watch House of Cards. You have to remind yourself to find the joy in the small things like a street scene, waking, up or a great coffee place.
The problem with short travel is you spend all your time getting there and airfare really adds up. Ideally, I’d travel for a month or two then head back to work but who has that kind of job? (I work in the schools so I do have summers off and I travel for two months every summer).
If you had to pick, what are your top five favorite countries to date? (Or favorite regions if that’s easier)
New Zealand was so beautiful and we took it easy there- we did the Stray Bus so it was planned out for us. We made some fun friends on the bus. We liked Stray Bus so much we used them again in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam.
North Korea was so weird, it stands out in my mind. I don’t regret it now, but when I look back at it, I am so thankful that nothing bad happened to anyone in our group.
I lived in Angola (Africa) for two years but was only subbing at a school, so periodically I’d just pick up and travel to a nearby country or one with a short connection- so I got to go to Portugal, Sao Tome and Principe, Namibia, Botswana. I traveled on my own and just sort of wandered around, no fixed plan. We only had guidebooks then, the smart phone wasn’t really a thing yet, so people were more engaging and less isolated. I always made friends with other travelers and had roomies, companions on bus trips, etc. I started to see a real change in travel after about 2010 when I started noticing at cafes and hostel common rooms everyone was on their device, typing away or watching a video instead of chatting with a new friend. I’m totally guilty of it too, so I’m not blaming anyone, but when I see a solo traveler I do try to stop and say hi to them and ask them about their day.
Can you tell me about one of your most adventurous experiences abroad or a favorite travel memory?
I was arrested in Angola and spent a night in jail, two more days under house arrest, and then had a trial. Happily it all worked out fine and now we can have a laugh about it, but it wasn’t so funny then. It happened over a Thanksgiving weekend, and my number one goal was keeping my mom from finding out until it was all over, but she was still really mad at me.
What are three of your travel “must-haves” that you always pack?
I use ExOfficio travel underwear now. This past summer when I was packing for a two month trip to the Balkans I did a load of laundry last minute, only I wound up forgetting to grab extra undies out of the dryer before I left. So I wound up with only 3 pairs, for 60 days. But they are great- they wash easily, they dry super fast, and it turned out okay.
But really all I need is my passport and a debit card to get some cash. You can literally buy anything on the road now. You can buy toiletries, extra outfits, shoes, etc. I don’t overpack. I take clothes I was thinking of giving away to charity anyway, and as I get tired of a shirt, I just buy a new one, either at a mall or sometimes at a charity shop. Then I’m not too mad if I get stains on it or if it disappears off a laundry line.
What were some of the challenges you faced while traveling long term?
On our year long trip I got sick twice, once with a sinus infection and once with a stomach upset. I needed to slow it down and stay in bed a couple of days so Chris just had to go explore without me.
It can get tiring, and after a while it seems like you’ve seen every museum and every cathedral.
This next long trip, we’d like to experiment a bit with Workaway, try to slow it down a little and connect to some local people a bit more. See what it’s like to work on a vineyard, or help a family start up a B and B. Give back a little and not just “sight-see”.
Where is your next adventure taking you?
We are spending a weekend at the Outer Banks in November, and then in December we will be visiting Qatar and Oman. I need to head back to work but Chris has some extra time, so he’s leaving Oman and going to Jordan and Lebanon because he’s totally jealous that I’ve been there and he hasn’t!
What advice would you give to someone looking to plan a year of travel?
If we are craving some privacy we’ll stay at a hotel, or if we need to do laundry I’ll look for an AirBnB that features a washing machine, but my advice is if you want to travel for a long time, stay in hostels more often than not. First off, they are cheaper. We get private rooms because we’re not exactly 22 anymore and I don’t enjoy bunk rooms, but still most of the time a hostel room is cheaper than a hotel. Second of all, we meet people in the common room or in the kitchen- people that give us ideas on where to go, how to get there cheaply, people that inspire us to add in a country or a city we hadn’t even been thinking of. We chat with people in the kitchen area and find out all kinds of useful travel apps, transportation ideas, accommodation booking sites, etc. Other travelers really are the best source of knowledge; for me, they’ve replaced guidebooks. Most importantly, be open to meeting new people- don’t be so involved in your phone or ipad that you’re not reaching out to a solo traveler or meeting a fun couple that you could share a taxi with the next day.
And finally, why do you travel? What has it taught you?
Travel has taught me how lucky we are to have so many resources at our disposal. But it’s also taught me that our fast-paced, technology-enhanced life in America is not necessarily the best. I love to visit other countries and see how they’ve retained a slower pace, appreciating the small things more. I try to incorporate that into my life, whether I’m abroad or home.
Thank you, Deah, for taking the time to answer my questions. If you are interested in learning more about Deah’s travels, I encourage you to check out her travel blog Palm Tree Musings, and be sure to follow her on Facebook and Twitter. She is a wealth of international information!