An Interview with Kalena McElroy
Where are you from and what got you into traveling?
Traveling just sort of happened. I grew up in Hawaii and as you know, we are very isolated. Just to fly to Los Angeles takes five and a half hours and isn't cheap. I always knew I wanted to see more of the world. Just within the United States, we're all so different!
I truly began to enjoy traveling when I chose to teach English in the small town of Montecosaro, Italy. Besides learning about Italian hospitality, culture and food firsthand, I spent my days off traveling everywhere I could, from Venice, Pisa and Florence, to Bologna, Naples and Sicily.
How many countries have you been to?
Oh my, I haven't been counting. Besides living in Italy, I moved to Spain, where I live now. It has been a great home base to explore the rest of Europe. I've been to the UK, Netherlands and France multiple times; Germany, Croatia, Hungary, Andorra, Greece, Portugal (soon to be 2x) and I'll be heading to Switzerland this week actually! Outside of Europe, I've visited 7 countries aside from the US.
Do you have a favorite travel story/experience you can share with us?
During a vacation in the Cook Islands, my mom and I decided to go horseback riding. When we arrived at the stables, we were helped on to our horses and they immediately started off at a slow trot. After a few minutes, we turned around and saw that we were completely alone. It was just our two horses trailed by a dog. The man who helped us was waving in the distance. Little did we know, we were in for the ride of our lives.
The dog was the leader and it told the horses when to trot or sprint, when to cross the roads (yup, you heard that right) and when to swim. The rider had absolutely no control and the horses obeyed the dog's every command. We passed waterfalls, rivers, did a full out gallop on the beach and then suddenly the horses took us swimming (scariest thing ever). We had no idea what was going to come next. We were hanging on with one hand and trying to keep our things from flying out of our backpacks with the other, getting ready for the next surprise sprint. We probably looked insane and arrived back at the stables completely soaked and exhausted, but it was a day I'll never forget.
The number one question I get asked, and I’m sure you do to, is how does someone afford to travel the world? Can you tell us a little bit about how you have managed to travel to so many places? How do you make it work financially?
I've realized that travel doesn't always have to be expensive. It really depends on how much you research ahead of time and what you're willing to sacrifice - airfare versus a nicer accommodation for example. Research inexpensive things to do or if you have the time, save some money and take a long distance bus instead. The best way to stick to your budget is to travel on the shoulder or off-season if you can. I almost always do this and the prices for airfare, accommodation and even food is dramatically less. For example, fresh squeezed juice at the famous La Boqueria market in Barcelona costs €5 in summer (although the cup is a little bigger) and just €1 during the rest of the year.
What advice would you give to someone just starting to travel?
Travel isn't always fun and things don't always go as planned, so it's important to be flexible and just go with the flow. This carries over into all aspects of life.
Do you travel on your own or with a companion? What are the advantages and disadvantages of either?
I've traveled quite a bit on my own and I definitely recommend it. I did a month-long tour of Europe and visited Bangkok alone as well. Most recently, I completed part of the Camino de Santiago, a 490-mile (791 km) trek across northern Spain by myself, although there are so many lovely people who become friends along the way. Besides having more freedom and meeting all sorts of people, traveling alone allowed me to learn new things about my independence and myself.
Traveling with a companion is very different but equally rewarding. It's fun to have someone there to create lasting memories with. It's always something you can look back on years down the road.
What is something you can’t travel without? What are things people should not bring with them?
I absolutely can't travel without a bikini and earplugs. Spa, river, hot springs, beach, you never really know when you'll need a bikini and earplugs have saved me from many sleepless nights. Neither takes up much space in your bag either.
I always end up bringing a bunch of makeup, "fancy" clothes and heels that never get taken out of my suitcase. I usually wish I never packed them in the first place.
Any favorite apps or other resource you use while traveling?
I really don't use any, but I would definitely recommend having an unlocked cell phone to use when traveling. Utilizing the podcast app is also a must. It's great to pass the time on a ferry or drown out a noisy hostel dorm room.
When traveling do you stay in hotels, hostels or an Airbnb type accommodations?
I actually haven't been staying in hotels recently, although daily room cleaning is always a plus! As for hostels, I've stayed in my fair share throughout Europe and I really enjoy the communal, positive atmosphere. When I was traveling solo, it was easy to make friends, find a lunch companion or tag along during other travelers plans.
I use Airbnb quite a lot and have had some very memorable stays. Airbnb is really great for group travel or if all the hotels are booked up (this happened to me in Sardinia!). I actually really enjoy camping on vacation as well, as long as I'm able to carry my gear along, or rent a tent of course. Besides being more relaxed and cheaper, people are usually very welcoming and willing to tell you about a secret beach nearby or local places for dinner.
How can people follow your adventures?