Welcome to my first travel Q&A! I had this idea because I didn’t want EVERY post on YOLO Travel Experiences to be about me and my family. I want to tell travel stories from other people who have inspired (or completely sold) me on new destinations for my bucket list, or travel ideas to keep in my back pocket .
This first Q&A is with a rad travel duo (well, trio) I know right here in Kelowna, Canada where I live – Kelsey and Artur Gajda. They have visited a combined total of more than 70 countries and can’t imagine a life without travel. After exchanging travel stories in person over drinks a while back, I heard Kelsey was pregnant with their first child, so I was especially curious to learn how having a baby may affect their future travel plans.
Check out some of their best memories spanning six continents… and what the future holds now that baby makes three.
Is there a special place or country you travelled to that gave you the travel bug?
Kelsey: I travelled across Canada with my family at age 11 in a school bus from Vancouver Island to Newfoundland. I met people I kept in touch with for years and this trip likely planted the seed. At 18 I headed to Australia and New Zealand where I spent eight months exploring, and have been itching to travel since.
Artur: My first international trip outside of visiting family in Poland was a backpacking trip through Europe in my early 20s. My time in Turkey was probably the turning point for me – I had never experienced anything so foreign or out of my comfort zone. I had preconceived notions of what to expect but it was much different. I was blown away. This inspired me to research more countries and eventually visit them.
What is the most memorable place you’ve travelled to and why?
K: There are parts of every trip that are memorable and I never have a straight answer for this. But our trip to Namibia and South Africa last fall was unforgettable. We saw amazing wildlife that you only dream of seeing. We visited a tribe in the middle of the desert that I thought I’d only ever read about in National Geographic. The Toyota Landcruiser/camper we rented and slept in allowed us to set up camp anywhere. Waking up to elephants, oryx and giant porcupines wandering through our camp, and hearing lions roaring in the night was pretty amazing.
A: I agree with Kelsey on Namibia, but a place that has left a lasting impression on me is the Democratic Republic of Congo. I’m an African history nerd, and that in combination with the gritty and raw atmosphere, and beautiful landscape of the countryside will forever last in my mind. I’ve been three times!
Thinking about visiting Namibia? Check out this post from Adventures and Sunsets with 50 photos to inspire you to plan a Namibia trip.
Do you have any experiences with local people in another country that stand out?
K: While in Guatemala in the early 2000s, we wanted to get to Semuc Champey from the remote town we were in and the only way to do so was to thumb it or backtrack. Us two young girls in our 20s were picked up by a big truck with sacs of cargo piled high and some local men on top of the load. We enjoyed a bumpy truck ride while using the Spanish we learned to have broken conversations and show postcards of where we were from in Canada. It was an empowering experience to trust these strangers who were nothing but kind to us.
A: We spent two days visiting a very remote village of Himba people in Northwestern Namibia last fall, which was amazing. The tribe was very welcoming and really took a liking to Kelsey. Their minimalist existence combined with the super bleak and arid region they were living in was striking. They showed us traditional dances, invited us into their huts, and let us wander around and hangout for as long as we wanted. They were happy and smiling, eager to spend time with us even though we couldn’t verbally communicate with them.
What’s the craziest thing you’ve done while travelling?
K: In the middle of the Amazon is an area commonly known as “Tres Fronteras,” where the borders of Colombia, Brazil and Peru all meet (only accessible by plane or boat). We were fortunate to get set up on an excursion with a local man and his son here, where we spent the day exploring the tributaries of the Amazon. We spotted birds and monkeys, and had lunch and a hammock siesta at his family home, a hut on stilts that we paddled to. As the late afternoon set in, we went to a small lake where we fished piranhas near the reeds, pulling them out one after another. This was followed by the most amazing bright pink sunset I have ever seen.
Once it was dark, our guide paddled us out about 25 yards and encouraged us to jump in for a swim. We looked at him and then at each other and laughed, only to realize he wasn’t kidding. Next thing you know, he jumped in. Not wanting to miss the opportunity for a crazy story, we dove in after him. He laughed away while still treading water as we clambered back onto the boat as quickly as we hit the water.
What’s the most intense place you’ve been to and why?
A: Africa is often really intense. Certain parts are fairly tourist friendly with safaris and such, but I’ve found myself in scenarios that seem much more serious in retrospect. Like the time I got stuck in three kilometres of “no mans land” between Zambia and Congo. My first attempt to cross into Congo to explore Lubumbashi ended with me being the only white guy among thousands of Zambians and Congolese at an unlikely border crossing. I had my passport seized, my bag pillaged, and white skin in a place full of truckers, corrupt soldiers, prostitutes, con men, and drunk people.
I couldn’t go back to Zambia and I couldn’t continue into Congo without a passport in a place where law does not exist and anything goes. After the better part of a day I bought my documents back and everything somehow worked out. I later learned that the only reason for this was that the Zambian president was travelling through that particular crossing and agents were placed in the vicinity to keep order. I got lucky.
How has traveling together changed your relationship with each other?
K: I can’t imagine our life without it. We’ve travelled since the beginning of our relationship – around the province exploring our beautiful parks, across Canada, and trips overseas. How you are in everyday life versus working out the details of getting from one country to the next are very different. Having these travel experiences together has allowed us to learn a lot about one another and grow so much together.
A: I think it’s our glue. We have a great relationship, but honestly, exploration and travel really keeps us on our toes. You learn a lot about one another, and you learn together. We each have our strengths and weaknesses, but travelling together forces these characteristics out into the open! Sharing a passion for travel and making it a goal in our lives strengthens our relationship.
Your family has grown recently. With the arrival of your baby boy, Wyatt, do you plan to travel with him? If so, where?
K: We’ve travelled a lot in the eight years we’ve been together. Artur a lot for work, but we try to take a good trip together every year as well. Now that Wyatt is here, we are passionate to keep travelling. We plan to travel Eastern Europe this summer when he will be about six months old. Artur is going to be in a wedding party in Poland in August and from there we hope to cover another dozen or so countries and end up in Georgia.
That’s what I like to hear! What is your biggest fear about travelling with a baby or kids?
K: I think not having the comforts of home is going to be the biggest challenge of traveling with a baby. Along with different time zones and sleeping in new places all the time. Most of my friends already have children and very few of them have travelled much, other than to visit immediate family. However I know a couple who has and I trust that we can too. My perhaps very naive perspective on parenting is that it will be good for our kids to adapt and be flexible and as they get older and become excited about new experiences. Over the past few years I’ve taken note when I see couples enjoying their trip with a baby strapped to their back and hope we can be just like them.
A: Poopy clothing and no washing machine. We’re going to do it anyway because everybody poops; it’s just a part of life.
YTE COMMENT: Kelsey – not naive at all, I completely agree! And Artur – AMEN to that!
If you could describe international travel to those who want to do it but are holding back, what would you say?
K: Some people would argue that we live in a beautiful place here in the Okanagan Valley of B.C., so why leave? The part that always surprises me is that no matter how breathtaking a place is, or how amazing the experience is, it always puts home into perspective. I need to travel to be re-grounded, to step back and realize how thankful I am to live such a fortunate life. I think everyone should travel to a developing country to see how happy people can be without the material items we all feel we “need.”
A: I would say that without travel, you have a very small chance of understanding the world and humanity in general. Travel is not only about stepping outside of your comfort zone, it’s about connecting all of the bits and pieces of information, experiences, and emotions you take in through pop culture, school, social media, friends and family. It’s about filtering biases and misconceptions surrounding people and the world. Through travel, you gain understanding through exploration and interaction. More importantly you begin to drop the defences you’ve acquired over the course of your life, and start to see things in a different light; you truly begin to live.
Travel truly changes you, in so many ways. Beyond our bubble is a huge world waiting to shift our perspectives and change our ways of thinking. Thank you, Kelsey and Artur, for sharing your travel experiences and insight. I can’t wait to hear how your travels go with Wyatt, but I’m quite confident they’ll be amazing.
Now… who wants to go to Namibia with me?!?!