In this Celebrity Travel Addicts Q&A we meet travel blogger Silvia Lawrence from Heart My Backpack. Destined to be a nomad from an early age, Silvia has used travel as a means to overcome difficult times in her life and as a way to live out her happiness. She’s an inspiration to beginner and seasoned travelers alike and I’m very excited to introduce her here on our blog! Without further ado, here’s Silvia dropping some travel wisdom and great tips for visiting Albania.
How did your passion for travel get started?
How do I answer this without giving you my whole life story?
My parents are big travelers. When I was five we lived in Nepal, and when I was six we lived in Japan – at least until an earthquake destroyed our home and we returned back to the U.S.
Fast forward about 15 years and I was finishing university and decided to teach English in Japan. I hadn’t been back since the earthquake, and I think somehow my 6 year-old mind had decided that that whole world had been destroyed forever. So it was really surreal returning and seeing it all built up again. Until the 2011 tsunami hit.
The tiny island I was living on was so far south that the tsunami was barely a wave when it made it to us, but it brought back a flood (ha!) of memories from the earthquake when I was little.
I would dream every night of my neighbors emerging from rubble covered in blood, and my dad disappearing for long days to help dig out bodies. It took me months to be able to make it through the coastal drive home from work without pulling over in tears, thinking about all the lives those same waters had claimed.
I fell into a dark depression, and felt shut out by my Japanese neighbors who didn’t want to discuss the tsunami with me, an outsider. It was awful, but on the bright side, my job paid really well so I finished my second year in Japan with $44,000 in savings. And somehow because that money had been earned under such tough circumstances, I was very careful with how I spent it.
I would ask myself “is this iced coffee worth those difficult times in Japan?” “This phone?” It turned out the only thing that could get an affirmitive answer was travel.
How many days/weeks are you traveling in any given year? What are the types of places do you like to visit?
I was a nomad for a couple of years, but I eventually realized that I needed a stable home base and friend group. Now that I live in Norway I travel about two weeks a month.
I think most of the places I go these days seem either to be Russian speaking or covered in mountains, though I’m not sure there’s been any intentional decision behind that.
What is it that you want audiences to gain/ learn from your work?
Growing up, I always felt like I had to be a really good student, get into a really good college, and then get a really good sounding job, basically following a life course that society had set out for me.
But in Japan I realized that I just couldn’t be happy in that kind of life, so I ditched the resume building in favor of a backpack. And then when the backpack started wearing on me, I moved to Norway to work at a supermarket.
Now I’m a full-time blogger, but I also know that I could be happy returning to working at a supermarket, which is a really nice feeling. I guess what I’m saying is, I hope to inspire people to follow their own happiness, even if it might not look impressive or #goals to outsiders.
And the same goes for travel. I’m super shy and a total scaredy cat, so some people think it’s weird that I choose to spend so much time in former Soviet countries and the Middle East. But I find that I’m the most relaxed off the beaten path, as I don’t have to worry about tourist scams and can benefit from being welcomed as a guest instead of a potential meal ticket.
So I hope that people can see the way I travel and be inspired to choose their own path, however trodden it may or may not be. I’d also like people to see that if someone as uncool, awkward, and shy as me can enjoy traveling the world, they definitely can.
Name your top three destinations you’ve traveled?
Tajikistan, Iran, and Albania
Give us your ‘Top 5’ list for one of these destinations, like a mini-guide or to-do list of sorts
I’ll do Albania, since it’s the best budget beach destination I know and summer is right around the corner.
- Rent a car // Albania is a really easy place to hitchhike, but if you really want to be able to explore its hidden beaches and mountain views, you’ll want your own wheels.
- Head to the Albanian Riviera // the coastline between Saranda in the south and Vlora farther north has some of the most beautiful deserted beaches I’ve seen anywhere.
- Spend time in Dhermi // a small town on the Albanian Riviera, Dhermi is nearby some of the country’s prettiest little beaches.
- Eat all the burek you can, and wash it down with some yoghurt, because yum.
- Go up to Kosovo // okay, Kosovo isn’t part of Albania, but if you’re in the area you simply have to visit.
How many countries have you visited so far?
I know it’s more than 70, but probably still under 80.
Your top three favorite cuisines?
Chinese, Indian, Georgian
Favorite restaurant in the world?
Nice restaurants make me nervous so I’m more of a street food / supermarket kind of girl.
Your favorite travel movie?
Does Paris, Texas count as a travel movie? I think my answer is Paris, Texas.
Favorite international airport?
City with the friendliest people?
Your favorite traveling companion?
My friend Danielle – though we’re sort of more frenemies than friends. We are really different and have epic fallouts every few days, but we also have the best adventures together.
I guess our shared passion for travel keeps us on the road together, while our differences offer up unique strengths as travel companions. Danielle is outgoing, unafraid to ask people tons of questions, and hard-headed, whereas I know lots of languages (to help her ask those questions), can play the good cop to her bad cop bargaining, and remain calm in high stress situations.
Best way you kill time while traveling?
My boyfriend and I play an ongoing game of Cat on our travels, where if one of us calls out “cat!” when we see one we’ll get a point – but if we call “cat” on something that isn’t a cat, we lose all our points.
It sounds dumb, but it’s nice feeling like you have an important mission on your travels! And I still lol whenever I think about that time Dan called “cat!” on a golden retriever, losing over a hundred points.
Though I’m also pretty sure Cat is just a scheme to brainwash me into getting excited about cats, since Dan really wants to adopt one.
What is the most exotic place your career has taken you?
Lazarat, Albania, aka Europe’s biggest supplier of marijuana (and no, I didn’t go there for drugs).
Up until a crackdown in 2015, weed production in Lazarat brought in six billion dollars a year, equal to about half of Albania’s GDP, and the reason why Lazarat is often referred to as “Europe’s wealthiest village.” It’s a tiny village in the mountains, and by far the most bizarre place I’ve ever been.
Like, Danielle and I had coffee at a local shop and when we went to pay they were just like, “you don’t pay here.” It was unclear if they meant that we didn’t need to pay, or one doesn’t pay for things in Lazarat, though I suspect it’s the latter.
I didn’t include Lazarat in my mini guide to Albania because, after some Dutch guys secretly filmed the village, they’re very wary of tourists. Danielle and I got away with visiting because we wore sundresses with tiny purses that couldn’t fit a camera or even phone, and we just acted very innocent, like we didn’t actually know where we were.
We ended up having lunch with some local teenage boys who told as all about life in Lazarat, the setup of the gardens, and how the village defends itself against the police. Come to think of it, I’m pretty sure I’m still Facebook friends with several of them!
Your best bit of travel advice for someone who is about to embark on a life of travel?
There aren’t any set rules for how to travel. So like, don’t worry if you feel burnt out and need to spend a few days alone in a hotel room watching bad tv, if you need to stay put in places for a while, or if you prefer moving to a new place everyday, if you’d rather travel alone, or if solo travel just isn’t your thing.
But most of all, and I guess your question sort of implies this with “life of travel,” don’t feel like you are putting your life on hold while you’re traveling.
For a long time I felt like I was somehow avoiding something while on my travels, and that someday I would have to go back to “real life.” But eventually I found a way to make travel my real life, and I think especially in this day and age there are just so many ways to make that happen, if that’s what you want.
And if it turns out that’s not what you want, it’s still highly unlikely that your travels won’t play a formative role in your life path, so embrace them.
What are 4 things you could never travel without?
I think I might be taking this question too literally because all I can come up with is shoes and deodorant…
Though a dress and my phone would be helpful as well.
What is your ultimate dream destination?
Afghanistan ♥ ♥ I once went to a market set up on the border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan, and talking with the locals and looking out into the stunning landscape made me so eager to explore it one day.
Your favorite travel quote?
Ugh, my memory is not good enough for quotes.
Where to next?
I’m in Morocco at the moment, and from here I’m heading to Lofoten in Northern Norway!
Silvia blogs at Heart My Backpack, where she writes about life as a former backpacker, trying to reconcile her continued need to see all the places with a newfound desire to set up a permanent home in Norway. You can follow her on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and sometimes even YouTube.