Travel has long been Dyanne Kruger's number one passion. Dyanne has lived in five different foreign countries and has traveled the globe on her own for more than 30 years.
At 30, she dragged her two young daughters to Europe to study in France and Italy. At 40, she started her own adventure tour company specializing in travel to Belize and Costa Rica. At 60, she backpacked solo across South Africa and Mozambique (and got her first tattoo). And a few years later, she dropped everything and bought a one-way ticket to Vietnam to teach English. From there, she traveled across Asia to Mongolia, where she spent a month milking yaks and hanging out with the eagle hunters of the Altai Mountains. Since then, she's switched hemispheres and has settled in Cuenca, Ecuador, with a huge, new continent to explore.
Dyanne's personal mantra has long been "This ain't a dress rehearsal!" and she doesn't plan to slow down any time soon. Since 2004, she has been chronicling her ongoing travel tales of doddering derring-do on her blog, TravelnLass.
TA: Where are you from?
Dyanne: I'm originally from Seattle, but I've been living abroad (first in Vietnam, then in Thailand, and presently at the tippy top of an 8,000-foot mountain in Cuenca, Ecuador) for the past 7+ years.
TA: How many years have you been traveling? What got you hooked?
Dyanne: Pretty much my entire (long) life. In short, about 40 years -- the last seven as an expat on two different continents.
What got me hooked? Though my family never traveled beyond camping trips to nearby states (nobody else in my family has ever been outside the United States!), I honestly think I was born with wanderlust running through my veins.
As a newly minted single mom, I dragged my two daughters (then aged five years and eight years) backpacking for a summer in Mexico. It never even occurred to me that such an undertaking was a tad unusual back in the '70s. Later, we set off (this time for nearly a year) on a study-abroad through the University of Oregon to France and Italy. The rest is history.
TA: Do you specialize in a particular type of travel?
Dyanne: Yes, indeed. Though I've traveled pretty much my entire life (ever solo), seven years ago I retired, sold every blessed thing I owned (save what fit into a small rollie and a rucksack), bought a one-way ticket to Vietnam, and -- I guess you could say I now specialize in dodderin' DIY solo budget travel.
By the way, my TravelnLass blog tagline is "Proof that you're never too old to slap on a backpack and follow your dreams."
TA: What is the best vacation you've ever taken?
Dyanne: As a DIY, off-the-beaten-path budget traveler, "vacation" isn't exactly the word I would use to describe my travel style. And I've had so very many amazing travel experiences that it's nearly impossible to narrow the list down to a single best. Suffice it to say that my fondest travel memories generally include simple, serendipitous experiences with the locals wherever I happen to be: downing vodka shots with the elders at a community ger-raising party on the remote plains of western Mongolia; hunting truffle mushrooms (with dogs that sniff them out) amid the forests of Croatia; hitching a ride with monks in the back of a pickup truck in Nepal; and yes, a "best" indeed: witnessing a total solar eclipse at noon on a beach in Costa Rica ("El Día de Dos Noches").
TA: What is the best place to travel solo?
Dyanne: The best place to travel solo? Well I must say, from my point of view, that could be anywhere. I honestly don't believe that traveling solo should limit where you travel at all. I've traveled solo quite easily to some of the most remote corners of the Earth (the wilds of western Mongolia spring to mind, as do my memories of hitching a ride in the back of a pickup truck going along the backroads of the Himalayas in Nepal -- with a bunch of monks!).
That said, what's the best place for an inexperienced, first-time solo traveler? Granted, I didn't start out with a solo romp through Mongolia. That came only after years of solo travel through many countries -- each trip incrementally more adventuresome than the last.
So yes, if you've never traveled solo, I'd definitely pick a more conventional place for your first solo explore -- maybe even just a weekend solo in a city in your native land that you've never before visited. But don't rule out an international solo trip completely -- just try one to, say, Belize, where the national language is English (the country used to be a British colony called British Honduras), or to any well-trodden corner of Europe or Mexico.
TA: What is one place you've always wanted to visit?
Dyanne: I've pretty much explored most every country I've ever longed to visit (50 countries and counting!), and I don't really have a bucket list. Nowadays the next destination on my radar is usually a sudden whim or some place or event that someone mentions in passing (like the Michoacán forests in Mexico, where you can witness the annual monarch butterfly migration -- millions of butterflies literally DRIPPING from the trees!). Next up for me will be a month or more in Ethiopia (and if I can afford the permit, a glimpse of those fabled mountain gorillas in Uganda).
TA: What is the strangest thing you've ever eaten overseas?
Dyanne: Strange eats? Bring 'em on! As an ardent lover of all things street food, I've eaten my fair share of exotics. Indeed, I've often gone out of my way to track them down. In South Africa, for example, my research turned up mopane worms as a seasonal "treat," and in my six-week solo skip all over that huge land, I finally found some -- surprisingly, at one of the most renowned restaurants in Johannesburg (Nelson Mandela used to eat there). I've also grown fond of roasted crickets, and once, while visiting a small silk-weaving village in Thailand, I managed to choke down a single boiled silk worm. Then there was the fermented mare's milk in the Gobi Desert in Mongolia, and most recently the fugu, or blowfish or pufferfish, in Tokyo (1,200 times more poisonous than cyanide!).
I guess you could say I've eaten a few strange foods during my travels.
TA: Have you ever taken a class in a foreign country?
Dyanne: I've taken plenty of great cooking classes and such in my travels, but there's one class -- the course of instruction that verily changed my life -- that I enthusiastically recommend to anyone who loves to travel.
For anyone, young or old, who dreams of traveling the world and doesn't happen to have an unlimited trust fund, I highly recommend taking a recognized course in teaching English as a foreign language (EFL). And don't just take any old online EFL course -- take the month-long Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults (CELTA) course that is offered in most every large city in the world. The CELTA is accredited by no less than the University of Cambridge, and it is the gold standard of EFL teaching certificates. With it, you can pretty much write your own ticket -- teach English absolutely anywhere in the world -- and at top pay. The moment I completed my CELTA course in Vietnam (at 60+ years old), I immediately had my choice of jobs offering $20+ per hour.
I've now taught EFL in three different countries. You can choose to teach full time or part time, and you can pretty much take as many breaks between teaching gigs (to travel, of course!) as you'd like. But even better, I've found that teaching English in a foreign land allows me to be much more than a mere tourist or even a retired expat. Though (as a dodderin' boomer) I've got a small pension, so I don't have to teach English to survive, I've found that teaching keeps me in touch with the local community (and, of course, the extra rubles help buy just that many more air tickets to new corners of the globe!).
TA: Have you ever met someone while traveling who changed your life?
Dyanne: Honestly? Too many to count. Most every small encounter I have with a local touches me personally, and I take a little piece of that interaction with me after I leave.
One of the most life-changing travel experiences I ever had happened 40 years ago, when I made an impromptu trip to Belize. This was back in the early '80s when few had even heard of that lovely little country. There was no guidebook on Belize back then, no “You Better Belize It” T-shirts for sale, and the jungle lodge I stayed in (one of a total of two in the entire country at the time) offered kerosene lanterns for light and cold-water outdoor showers. The young couple who ran the place (which was built from scratch out of the jungle near the Guatemalan border) had two tiny tots and had landed in Belize with their backpacks just a few years earlier.
Long story short? Though I was nearly 40 at the time, had just finished a master's in HRM [human resource management], and had a cushy job in Colorado, those two young adventurers inspired me. I thought, hey, I can do ANYTHING I choose -- even start a jungle lodge in a backwater country like Belize!
I didn't start a jungle lodge. But shortly after I returned from that fateful trip, I quit my cushy job and started my own international tour company, guiding small groups of intrepid travelers to the islands and jungles of Belize. Later I added several other countries -- Costa Rica, Honduras, Thailand -- and even a photography tour to my Imagine Travel Alternatives trip roster. I didn't get rich, but for the next 20+ years my "office" was often a tropical hammock, and I enjoyed a job that many people dream of.
TA: What is something other tourists do that drives you crazy?
Dyanne: There are as many different styles of travel (and kinds of travelers) as there are snowflakes, and it's not up to me to judge what tickles your particular travel toes.
But if there's one thing that I simply can't abide, it's tourists from fully developed countries (like the U.S., the UK, Canada, and Australia) who drop in to some far-off, developing corner of the globe for a laughably brief visit -- and then proceed to judge the local people, look down on their way of life, and turn up their noses at their food, their hygiene, and their "strange" customs. Oh, and perpetually complain about every blessed little thing that's "not like what we have at home." Not only is such behavior rude, arrogant, and utterly ignorant, but I dare say that it's a complete fluke that they were born in a modern hospital in the U.S. or UK and sheer luck that they weren't the eighth undernourished child of a mother living in a dirt-floor thatched hut in Mozambique.
In short, the one thing I can't abide in a tourist is ungrateful privilege.
TA: What is one thing you ALWAYS pack when you travel?
Dyanne: Beyond my trusty earplugs (oh-so-handy for long flights across the Pacific and for dealing with snorers, wee-hour partiers in hostels and thin-walled hotels, 4 a.m. calls to prayer in Muslim countries, the inevitable dawn rooster, packs of barking dogs, etc.), my must-haves are the twin essentials of an open mind and a smile. The former will ensure you'll have a much more rewarding trip, and the latter will invite all manner of serendipity, lively interactions, and invites to local homes for tea, dinner, and sometimes even witness to a marriage!
TA: What are some of your favorite travel blogs and communities?
Dyanne: Unfortunately, many of my favorite travel bloggers over the years have gone silent due primarily to burnout in being constantly on the move. I've found that having a solid base (for me, first in Vietnam, now in Ecuador) mitigates global glut by providing a true sense of home (knowing your neighbors, shopping alongside the locals, etc.) while also affording easy access to neighboring foreign lands for exploration.
When I'm researching my next trip, however, you'll find me clicking my way to most any specialty blog on that particular corner of the globe. And I'm a big fan of the up-to-the-minute, honest info to be gleaned from the veterans in the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree forums.
TA: If you could only give a traveler one piece of advice, what would it be?
Dyanne: One word: S.O.L.O.
No doubt sharing a magical sunset at the Taj Mahal with a loved one or chum has its merits, but in my book the benefits of solo travel are not only numerous and unique, but virtually unattainable when you're perpetually focused on yapping with your travel partner. Furthermore, when you travel with a partner (let alone a group), the locals will view you as closed off, with no need of their help or friendship. You will be just another tourist, to be fleeced at worst or ignored at best. Ah, but as a solo -- if you’re the least bit open and smiling, local folks will break their necks to offer assistance and kindness.
Indeed, especially for women travelers -- even if you have a partner or bestie to travel with -- I emphatically urge you to strike out on your own at least once in awhile. I promise that you'll return home with your self-confidence in the stratosphere, along with a boatload of new friends and amazing, unique experiences.
TA: What is one piece of advice you'd give to travelers your age?
Dyanne: That's easy: just do it! I've explored more than 30 different countries -- all solo -- just since I turned 60! And let me tell you, this wondrous blue dot we all call home is chock-full of the most amazing sights and experiences. And even better, it's full of the most wonderfully kind people -- people just like you and me, but with fascinatingly different cultures, foods, and customs.
In short, there is without a doubt nothin' to be afraid of -- so just do it! After all, this ain't no dress rehearsal, yes?