Travefy: How did you find your way into traveling and blogging about it?
Lauren: I’ve wanted to travel for as long as I can remember, so as soon as I started college, I made the decision to take a gap year after graduating. This would give me five years to build my savings up, hopefully to the point where I could travel for an entire year. I took on three crappy retail jobs and worked as often as I could possibly manage, saving every single penny I made and putting them in a savings account. I sold everything I owned, made travel my priority above all else, and even moved back in with my parents during my final year. A few months before my graduation, I bought a one-way ticket to Croatia.
I originally started Never Ending Footsteps to keep my friends and family updated on my travels, never believing it would take off like it has — my degree was in theoretical physics, which doesn’t exactly lend itself to a career in writing! Still, six months after starting my site, I received an email from an advertiser who wanted to work with me. Six months after that, I was making enough money to live off of in cheaper regions of the world. Why would I ever stop?
It’s now been five years and I can’t believe I’m still out here exploring!
Travefy: What is one of the biggest eye-opening experiences you’ve had while traveling?
Lauren: I took a tour to Chernobyl during my first month on the road and it still remains one of my most eye-opening experiences. The town of Pripyat, where the workers at the plant lived, is now a ghost town that’s been reclaimed by nature, and my tour led me through many of the buildings where people lived their lives. Wandering through the abandoned community center, amusement park, swimming pool, and school was an unsettling experience that still shakes me up now. The entire town has been frozen in time and will likely remain that way for a very long time.
Photos from Lauren’s blog
Travefy: Hands down, what’s your favorite place you’ve ever visited?
Lauren: It has to be Taiwan! It’s a country that few tourists chose to visit, but somewhere that’s mind-blowingly beautiful. There’s the stunning scenery (Taiwan has mountains, hot springs, gorges, lakes, rainforests, beaches…), the delicious food, the incredibly friendly people, how easy it is to travel around, and it’s affordability. I’ve spent three months there over the past five years and still can’t get enough of it!
Photos from Lauren’s blog
Travefy: Have you been somewhere that turned out to be totally different to how you imagined? If so, how?
Lauren: Definitely the Maldives! And specifically: the Maldives on a budget. Independent travel is very new to the Maldives — the government has only allowed access to the local islands for a little over five years — so it’s one of the rare places in the world where the locals have met only a handful of Western tourists. There’s little information about the islands online, so you never really know what to expect.
Unlike the luxury resorts most people assume is an accurate depiction of the country, on the local islands, you’ll find a welcoming community that is void of foreigners. On one of the islands I visited, I arrived and was told by the guesthouse owner that I was the only tourist on the entire island! There are no overwater bungalows on these local islands — instead, you’ll stay in comfortable $50-a-night guesthouses, but the beaches are just as beautiful.
Travefy: We know that you have had a lot of crazy experiences while traveling! Is there one that has been the wildest and really important for other travelers to be aware of?
Lauren: I don’t know anybody who has had as much bad luck as I have on the road, so for the most part, there isn’t anything that I’d warn other travelers about. A lot of my experiences are pretty unlikely to happen to anyone else!
My wildest would have to be my traumatizing 48 hours in Laos, where I was convinced I was cursed. Over the space of two days, I accidentally ate a cockroach, slept in the same room as a friend who hadn’t warned me that she sleep-screams, had a woman die on my boat and ended up sitting next to her body and her grieving husband for six hours, ended up locked out of my room in my guesthouse that night, an hour later, was locked inside my room, ended up moving to a room that was full of cockroaches, was sexually assaulted by a backpacker, then spent the night sleeping on the ground outside in tears.
Travel! It’s glamorous!
Travefy: If someone had to pick only one trip to go on, what place would you suggest visiting and why?
Lauren: An overland trip through Southeast Asia! There’s a reason why I keep returning year after year after year. It has great weather, it’s inexpensive, it’s easy to get around, the locals are friendly, it’s easy to meet people, there’s incredible scenery, lots of fascinating history… and the beaches are amazing!
Photo of Luang Prabang from Lauren’s blog
Travefy: What’s the best-kept secret/tip for others planning a trip to a place they don’t know about?
Lauren: One thing I love to do before arriving is searching for the place name’s hashtag on Instagram. As well as showing me what the weather’s currently like there, it helps me scout out cool photo opportunities that I wouldn’t have otherwise come across.
Travefy: What’s the next trip you’re going on?
Lauren: A music-themed road trip in the United States for my dad’s birthday! My family are flying out to meet me in New Orleans, and we’ll be driving from there to Memphis and then Nashville over the space of two weeks. I’ve yet to explore this region of the U.S., so I’m super-excited for it!
Lauren Juliff is a professional travel blogger at Never Ending Footsteps and author of the travel memoir, How Not to Travel the World. She’s been stumbling her way around the planet full-time for five years and counting, visiting 65 countries across five continents in that time. She’s also the unluckiest traveller in the world.