This Globetrotting Adventurer Shares Her Profound Realization Of Happiness Gained Through Empathy & Extraordinary Journeys Into The Unknown
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GAFFL
30th Sep | 12 min read

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    At GAFFL, we love to publish inspiring travel stories from adventurers around the world. You can connect with adventurers from 170+ countries on GAFFL, meet up, and explore destinations together. In this article, we are featuring Maya, an adventure athlete, and travel blogger.

    Maya is an adventure athlete and outdoor travel blogger based near the Canadian Rockies. She enjoys stepping outside her comfort zone and writes about it on her blog Travel with the Smile. Get inspired to live an adventurous life and follow along on her Instagram.Running the Routeburn Track in New Zealand

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    How I Met My Soulmate

    We've met in a pub in our hometown in Slovakia. I was enjoying an evening with my girlfriends when Michal walked in, sat down at our table, and talked to our mutual friend. He was supposed to meet his friends, but he never left our table.

    After our friend introduced us, we spent the whole evening together. And then the next day, and then the next. Michal always has been a very sweet and kind guy, and it didn't take long for me to fall in love.Exchanging money in Venezuela

    I knew he was my soul mate for life just a few months into our relationship. In that time, Michal went to Scotland for summer, and I spontaneously joined him a few weeks later. It was our first travel experience as a couple. We spent the whole summer working in Edinburgh and exploring new places together. We both knew this was the first but not the last time we were traveling together.

    My Travel Frequency And Activities I Enjoy Doing

    We travel whenever we can. Neither of us is a homebody, and as soon as we have some time, we head to the mountains and visit national parks.

    Now we travel less often with our 1.5-year-old son but packed quite a lot of trips during the short time he's with us.

    We've been to Europe for a few months, went on a road trip to Vancouver Island, and camping several times in our national parks. Our time in the mountains usually includes hiking, stand-up paddleboarding, and biking.

    Hiking in the Italian Dolomites

    Picking The Next Travel Destination

    Inspiration is everywhere around us – adventure movies, documentaries, and Instagram often spark an interest in an experience or destination first. Whenever I see a photo or a video and feel my endorphins rise, it's an obvious indication that I'd love to visit that place.

    Then it's just a matter of finding accommodation or flights, and we're off. I don't have a list of countries I want to visit 'one day'.

    Instead, I find a suitable date to go and start planning the trip immediately. We only live once, so I try to make things happen and not live a life of regrets.

    San Salvador in El Salvador

    Our trips are always centered around outdoor activities. We make it quick and simple: book flights, accommodation, get additional insurance if it's necessary, pack our gear and go.

    Whatever we'd like to do, we research where exactly is the activity and base accommodation booking off of that. I like to read blog posts about activities I'd like to do as I find they give you much more insight than a caption under an Instagram photo.

    The Packing Manual I Follow

    Traveling long-term taught us how to pack light. It turns out when you're resourceful; you don't need much. For example, I rather find a laundromat or wash my jacket in the sink than pack three jackets.

    First mountaineering experience in Peru

    The weight of the carry-on luggage is limited, and even if we pack a big backpack for a longer trip, we only really pack essentials. My go-to's are a quick-drying towel, a LifeStraw water bottle with a filter to drink from anywhere, a rain jacket, a fleece hoodie, trail running shoes, and of course, my camera. 

    My WHV Experience In Canada

    The first year was amazing and challenging at the same time. We moved across the world to Banff, the oldest national park in Canada, with one suitcase each and our mountain bikes. There's a lot to explore in the Canadian Rockies, and we were stoked to be living in the epicenter.

    We got lucky and secured a job before coming to Canada through our friend. We were both working in a gift shop at the gondola and got staff accommodation. But we quickly learned that living in Banff comes at an expense, everything is very expensive, and salaries are low.

    So on our days off, we visited job agencies in Calgary and attended interviews. When I got an office job in Calgary, we said goodbye to Banff after three months of living there.

    The persistence of browsing available jobs in Calgary and sending out resumes every day after working in a gift shop paid off.

    My Two Year Trip Around The World

    We started in Mexico and headed south to Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina. We didn't have a plan when we went on a trip around the world. I had a vision board with pictures of places I'd like to see and just tried to see as many as possible.

    First mountaineering experience in Peru

    That's the beauty of long-term travel; you don't need a plan. It was amazingly liberating to take it day by day, stay in a place we liked a lot and move elsewhere when we felt otherwise. We didn't have to worry about having a certain amount of vacation days or hurrying up to go sightseeing.  We stayed in each country for 2-4 weeks, so we had enough time to get to know its people and culture and visit the most beautiful places. 

    Lake Hawea in New Zealand

    After South America, we flew to New Zealand, where we secured work visas to top up our travel fund. After 7 months of working, we traveled around the country for about 2 months before moving on to Indonesia, India, and Europe.

    Lombok, Indonesia

    We've visited Slovakia for a few months to see friends and family and road-tripped around Slovenia, Italy, and Austria.

    After being on the road for 2 years, we came back to Calgary.

    Exciting Travel Stories

    Traveling for 2 years has brought so many amazing experiences that they could fill a book. One of the most memorable was hitchhiking on the remote road Carretera Austral in Chile. We've never hitchhiked before, but apparently, that's how locals do Carretera Austral.

    It took us 2 weeks to hitchhike 1,240 km until we reached the Chile-Argentinean border.Hitchhiking through Patagonia in Chile

    We bought camping gear just before the adventure started. We were camping in small villages along the way, each morning was different, and we never knew where we would end up.

    How far do we want to go today? Is anybody going to give us a ride? Each day was a surprise. Sometimes we stayed in a village for a few days and went hiking to a nearby national park.

    With our limited Spanish, we could get to know the locals and drivers who gave us a ride. Since we were carrying camping gear and a supply of food, it didn't matter where we would end up at the end of the day.

    Tough border crossing to Argentina

    I remember how clear my mind was every day, no rush or stuff to worry about. I was falling asleep under the stars, excited about what the next day will bring. It was an open-ended adventure.

    GAFFL’s Role In Finding A Travel Companion

    It's incredible that a platform like GAFFL exists! We've met a lot of solo travelers who were looking for a travel buddy during our trip. I hope the word about GAFFL spreads to every corner of the world so solo travelers can find a friend to travel with! Often I hear from solo travelers that they're on a trip alone because none of their existing friends had any vacation days left or had other commitments. GAFFL can fill this gap to match travel buddies from different parts of the world.

    Inspiration To Start My Own Blog And Its Mission

    I started Travel with the Smile to share our travels in Canada. Many family members and friends asked for our experience and pictures from the Canadian Rockies, and I thought a travel blog would be a good idea. I would share with our close ones and the world to help others plan their trip to the Rockies.

    Travel with the Smile helps travelers find outdoor experiences while providing comprehensive guides and travel tips to plan fun adventures. By showing that an ordinary person can live an extraordinary life, I'm trying all kinds of adventure sports to expand my limits. I hope to inspire others to live an adventurous life and provide tips and tools for your adventure.

    Salt Flats in Bolivia

    Favorite Memories Of Meeting New People And Exploring With Locals 

    Countless kind locals helped us along the way when we were lost or needed help.

    I'm grateful for every driver who gave us a ride while we tried our luck hitchhiking, for every local passing by when we couldn't find a bus station to provide us directions or took time from their day to take us directly, so we don't get lost, for every guide who took our safety as the first and foremost priority when trekking in high altitudes, for every porter who carried our staff through mountain passes, so we don't get physically even more drained, for an extremely kind lady who translated for us at the Venezuelan airport where we got stuck, for every smile and wave from kids and adults alike who made our trip so memorable.

    Walking the streets of Huaraz in  Peru

    Even when we've visited places where most travelers are afraid to go, like El Salvador or Venezuela, we've learned that the news and their scary stories don't reflect the kind hearts of its locals.

    Number Of Countries I've Visited So Far

    I don't know the number of countries I've visited, I've never counted them. I'm more focused on experiences, seeing different cultures, and pushing my comfort zone in the outdoors. That's what matters to me, personally.

    Just because I've been to Venezuela doesn't mean I would cross it off my bucket list. Actually, I would want to visit again.

    We've spent 3 weeks in Venezuela and visited many great places. But the more I saw, the more I wanted to spend more time in each area.

    Trekking Mount Roraima in Venezuela

    As an example, visiting Angel Falls, the tallest waterfall in the world, takes three days. But there are many waterfalls and nature trails to see in the area that staying a week would be much better.

    Right now, my number one choice would be Chile. This magnificent country has a desert, ocean, mountains, and glaciers! You can visit the driest place on Earth, swim with sea lions in the ocean, hike in famous Patagonia and even visit the southernmost city in the world.

    The Great Escape From Venezuela  

    Stuck at the airport in Venezuela was the worst part of our trip. The country has been in a crisis for a long time, and visiting is not easy. I bet you would find Venezuela under advisories not travel to.

    Many travelers we've met in Central America who were continuing to South America were skipping Venezuela because of the unrest and uncertainty. We had local contacts and came prepared but still had to be extremely cautious where we went.

    Just as we were at the airport to leave for Colombia, we were denied check-in because we did not purchase onward tickets from Colombia, which is required to enter the country. Even though we've secured the tickets at the airport, the check-in was closed, no one wanted to talk to us, and we couldn't find the airline's employees.

    Under normal circumstances, we would book another flight or bus out of the country, but it wasn't that easy. It was right before Christmas, the next flight was very expensive, and due to the unrest in the country, the border for overland travel was closing the next day.

    Furthermore, we had a limited amount of cash with us, and because of the insane inflation, we would have lost a lot of money if withdrawing from an ATM.

    When we were sitting on the airport's floor trying to admit our defeat at the flight's departure time, a local lady came to ask if she could help. Then all of a sudden, an airline employee went out of the office, and the very kind Venezuelan lady translated all our troubles. Luckily we were then able to check-in and rushed to catch our flight. The flight was late, and we came to the gate in time. The security guards let us through even though we were carrying some stuff that was supposed to be in the checked baggage.

    I remember when we landed in Colombia. We sat at the airport café for a few hours, playing the day's events in our heads, feeling immensely grateful for the kind people we've met and, of course, a bit of luck that we've had. Everything worked out in the end.

    Advice To Readers Who Want To Travel For A Long Time And Pursue A WHV Program

    Go for it! That's my advice to anyone. It opens your eyes like nothing else in life will. People tend to overthink a lot of stuff. Usually, they worry about leaving their friends and their well-known way of life.

    The good thing is, you can go with your friend or choose a country culturally close to your homeland. Just know that getting out of our comfort zone is where the magic happens. And whatever happens, is a precious life experience.Border control in El Salvador

    Lessons Learned Through Traveling

    I've learned to be grateful for whatever I have in my life. People are living with way less than we have in the western world and are happier. I know it sounds cliché, but once you travel and see it with your own eyes, you'll remember those moments forever.

    I've seen people carrying heavy pots on their heads for several kilometers to get fresh drinking water. I wonder how many people who can drink their tap water are grateful and realize how lucky they are.

    Similar realizations brought us to a very relaxed way of life. We don’t stress over difficult situations but take a deep breath and try to come up with some solutions. Traveling long-term is the best thing that we’ve ever done.

    Tired of traveling alone? Connect with users from over 190 countries to plan trips and travel together!
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