For my latest instalment in the Travel Bloggers who Rock! series I interviewed Hannah from Caravan of One. This girl really rocks and I can really identify with her story. Like me, she struggles to fit into conventional life and suffers from a major case of travel addiction. What’s really cool about Hannah is she has visited places that many people might view as risky. On her travels she’s traveled solo to Syria during the Arab Spring, and Couchsurfed her way through Palestine. If you’re a female traveller who’s interested in visiting the Middle East but you’re a bit unsure about it, then Hannah is the one to talk to!
[quote]I had just gotten a new job and taken out a one-year lease on an apartment. I felt like I had just trapped myself in my own cage. Consequently, I immediately wanted out.[/quote]
I’ve loved traveling ever since I was a little girl. But if I had to pinpoint a time when I knew definitively that traveling is an addiction for me, it would have to be when I got back from my three-month trip to the Middle East last year. I couldn’t get travel off my mind no matter what I did. The library pretty much became my home for the next year or so; I think I must have checked out 15 books about travel every week.
You say you fail miserably at trying to follow a ‘conventional life’, what is it that gives you itchy feet?
When I think about all the places out there in the world that I have yet to discover, it’s hard to justify just staying in one place. I have a constant hunger to break my comfort zone, to meet new people, and to learn about different ways of life.
Can you remember a particular moment or trigger that made you finally decide to leave everything behind and travel the world?
It’s strange, but I think I finally made that decision in September 2011 after I had just purchased $1500 in new furniture for my apartment in Austin, Texas. It had been more than a month since I had returned from my trip to the Middle East, and I was trying to put my life back together and ignore my burning desire to get back on the road. I had just gotten a new job and taken out a one-year lease on an apartment. I felt like I had just trapped myself in my own cage. Consequently, I immediately wanted out.
You speak a few languages, including Iraqi Arabic, where did you learn that and are you a natural at languages?
I wouldn’t say I’m a natural at languages, but it’s something that I’ve always loved and put a lot of effort into. I took Modern Standard Arabic classes in college as part of my degree in Middle Eastern Studies. But I wasn’t really able to speak Arabic very well until I traveled to the Middle East. Then, almost three years ago, I met my boyfriend who is from Iraq, and we have only ever spoken Arabic together. I think that’s what really pushed me to become more fluent.
Can you give us any tips for language learning?
The only real way to learn a language is to converse with native speakers on a daily basis. And the best way to do that is to go and live in the country where the language is spoken. If you can’t do that, the next best thing is to surround yourself with the language. Constantly listening to music and watching movies in the language you’re trying to learn is a good strategy.
Some of the destinations you’ve been to would be considered a little more off-the-beaten-track such as Syria and Palestine. Tell us about some of your experiences.
Well, visiting Syria during the Arab Spring was definitely an interesting experience. Much of what I saw was different than what the news was reporting at the time. It opened my eyes more to how fickle and unreliable the media can sometimes be. Visiting Palestine was also an amazing experience. I used CouchSurfing several times while I was there, so I got to experience things from a local first-hand perspective. During my trip, I got a personal tour of Nablus by a Palestinian activist, and I stayed on a rural farm with a Palestinian family. The family made their own goat cheese, bread, and olive oil, which I was lucky enough to eat every morning for breakfast!
Have there any moments where you have felt unsafe traveling alone, or has everything mostly been positive?
Almost all of my experiences have been positive. However, bad experiences are inevitable when you travel by yourself for long periods of time. I remember one time in Egypt in which I was followed by a strange man in a car. He kept insisting that I get in with him. When I refused and tried to ignore him, he stopped the car, came running after me, and grabbed me by the arm. I think that’s the scariest thing that ever happened to me. However, I’d say that most negative experiences can be avoided by using a little common sense.
I tried to set up a travel blog several years ago, but wasn’t really motivated to keep the site updated and maintained. Now I know that to be successful at blogging you have to be completely committed and consistent. Actually, before I started Caravan of One, I didn’t know much about blogging or the internet in general. I’ve had to teach myself nearly everything, and I’d say the learning curve for blogging is quite steep. But I feel really proud of how far I’ve come and what I’ve achieved.
Where are you at the moment, and what’s next for you?
Right now I’m in Dublin, Ireland. Soon, I’ll be heading to Wales. After that, I plan to travel around mainland Europe for about two months. I also have a burning desire to return to the Middle East, so I’m planning to hit Iran and northern Iraq by the beginning of next year.
What are your hopes and dreams for your blog?
Like most travel bloggers, I would love to be able to make a decent living from my blog. I realize that it’s a long and uphill journey, so I’m prepared to keep at it until I see some success. I’d also ultimately like to become an authority on travel in the Middle East. I love the region so much and I want to share that passion with others.