Jacqueline Smyth | Traveling Mats

I couldn't think of a better way to start the New Year than introducing you to the ever inspiring Jacqueline Smyth, yogi behind Traveling Mats. I met Jacqueline a few years ago and she never seizes to amaze me with her courage. Just this last year she found out she is to become a mother in January of 2014. So she picked up, six months pregnant, traveled the world solo and plans to birth her son abroad. Meet this insightful guru. 

HOW DID YOU DECIDE TO TAKE THIS SOLO TRAVEL

For me, this trip had been about 2 years in the making. It had been dreamed up, talked about until I was blue in the face, and finally planned out. My ticket was bought and my life had been totally arranged to leave (with a one way ticket, no less) when I found out I was pregnant. I instantly cancelled everything with the thought that it would be utterly insane to go. And I spent a period of time trying to create a new vision for my life, trying to dream up a new reality when I had a few revelations. First, I realized that I was miserable, and that I wasn’t fooling myself. I would be no good to myself not to mention a new life coming into the world. And I had also realized that if I were to become a mother, how could I tell my child to follow his dreams if I instantly stopped following mine. It’s not the norm, for sure, to run around the world in your second and third trimester but if it provides my son with a sense of adventure and instills the mindset of following your bliss, than I feel there’s no greater gift that I could give as a mother.

TOP TEN TRAVEL TIPS TO JUST GET UP AND GO

1. There will never be a perfect time.

You will ALWAYS have things to do. Work, bills, grocery store, apartment stuff, boyfriend stuff, girlfriend stuff--whatever stuff. It’ll be there. But you’ll be surprised how your life will open up when you make the time for yourself.

 2. You’re not going to miss a thing.

Believe me, I know the feeling. Especially the lovely LA dwellers. Angelenos naturally inherit a curse. It’s called the ‘if I leave for 5 minutes who knows what opportunity could’ve come knocking?’ Now, while we live in an incredibly fast paced city and this is a thought process for a reason, what is also true is that opportunities are presented wherever you are. Who knows what kind of amazing adventures you could find yourself in if you loosened the reigns and stepped into the unknown?

3. You have options.

There is no sight too big or small when it comes to travel. It doesn’t have to be major, or cost an arm and a leg. From backpacking around Thailand to taking a day trip up the coast, Anything goes. Dream it up!

4. Don’t be afraid to go alone.

Traveling with loved ones is amazing, but just once in your life take the plunge on your own. Traveling opens your eyes to things you’d have never seen otherwise. It tests you and it provides room for growth--if you let it. Sometimes friends and family cast a safety net from really going for it. Be your own best friend on your travels. It will without a doubt change your relationship with yourself.

5. Focus on just the broad strokes.

Translation: Establish your parameters. Make a plan including budgets, the time you can take off, and any other limitations that come into play.

6.  Pack. Then repack. Then repack again.

Think light. You’ll save yourself a lot of annoyance that way. Most likely you won’t use about 2/3 of the things you put in your suitcase, and you’ll want room in that bag just in case you score amazing finds during your travels.

7. EAR PLUGS.

There will most likely be a time when you need them. Take my word for it.

8. Allow the adventure to lead the way.

Again, translation: Don’t plan. This is the most hardcore tip, but I also think it’s the most beneficial. From hotels, to activities, to food, you’re going to hear about the best spots from the locals. This tip allows for you to be in the present on whatever trip you take and it forces you out of your comfort zone. My best advice is this, book your first night somewhere, if you love it, stay! If not, ask around. Not only are you bound to find sweet secret spots, you’ll also probably get a better deal than you would’ve via the interwebs. The most exhilarating part of exploration, hands down.

9.  Expect at one point or another to be uberly frustrated.

Not so different from every day life, you’ll hit a wall somewhere. But also know on the other side of that wall is a sweet, sweet reward. Roadblocks cause us to reassess, and a lot of the time (if you’re open to it), you will be given a new perspective that will be worth whatever upset was had. Find beauty in the unexpected. Take a deep breath and go with the flow. And by the way, this is usually the most memorable part of the trip!

10.  Be honest with yourself about what kind of traveler you are.

And I mean, really honest. I’ll give you an example. I have always been comfortable traveling in the backpacker sort of way. I don’t mind a smaller room, I can rough it in locales that can be a bit buggy. I can even sacrifice having a big comfortable bed if it means it’ll provide me with more money to travel with. So of course when planning for this trip I, in all my 6 month pregnant glory, planned as I usually do. BIG MISTAKE. I overlooked my own needs in the process.

Maybe you can do hostels, but then again maybe you need a bit of cushy in your life. Don’t try and convince yourself that you don’t need the amenities if you do. Realistically evaluate your intentions for the trip and where you’re at in your life. There is absolutely no shame in providing yourself with what you need. No matter where you go, whatever kind of traveler you are, we all have one thing in common: to enjoy ourselves. So go ahead, take the leap, run away and let your wild heart roam free. Even if it’s just for an afternoon.

FAVORITE TRAVEL SITES OR APPS

I spend a lot of time researching beforehand and, in my opinion, nothing works better than good ol’ fashioned Google. The most popular articles and sites pop up at the top for a reason, I must say. But overall with any site I look at, it doesn’t matter how great the photos or however many stars they have acquired, I go for the reviews from other travelers (make sure there’s at least 5 reviews, it’s easy for places to post reviews about their own establishments). The most straightforward info is also found here.

ANY FINANCIAL TIPS IF YOU'RE ON A BUDGET

Most of my financial blunders on trips were caused, as much as I hate to admit it, by myself. Pay attention to detail. Be aware of dates, bank fees, and exchange rates. Do your homework. It’s the little things that add up the most quickly.

This is also where the ‘don’t plan’ rule comes into effect. The area you’ll save the most with is your lodging. You’d be so surprised at how many places will have better prices in person. Inside the US ask if they have any deals. Outside feel free to barter. Wherever you find yourself may have extra rooms that they just want to get rid of,  will lower the price if you stay longer, or maybe just have construction on a part of the hotel during the day (that you probably won’t be around for, but if you are, you luckily have that pair of ear plugs you slid into your bag at the last moment). Just ask around. If you have a clear idea of what your budget is, barter low, and you may have extra cash to spend in another area of your trip.

WHY GO

You will always, and without a doubt, have all the whys in the world to keep you planted right where you are. But you will never realize the multitude of why not’s until you actually take the plunge. I’m a big believer of the universe providing, but you gotta ask. One thing is always for sure- you will without a doubt feel refreshed, rejuvenated, and come back to your life with a new set of eyes.

WHERE DO YOU FIND YOUR STRENGTH

What a stumper this question is. I don’t know that I ever thought of any of the steps that I’ve taken as strong ones. I do know that I’m a dreamer. I want to live a life of adventure and I find the unknown fascinating. I believe that a step in any direction on any given day can create an entirely new reality, and I suppose it’s that curiosity about life that keeps me drawing me in. It keeps me on the path of exploration, that’s for sure. 

BIGGEST OBSTACLES DURING THIS TRAVEL | AND HOW YOU'VE GROWN FROM THEM

The biggest lesson I’ve learned this trip is not to compare myself with anyone else. This is an insanely unique experience. One I wouldn’t change for the world, but everything has it’s ups and downs. It’s been a daily reprieve to remind myself that I’m on my own journey, to keep myself in the present moment, and to remember it’s all part of the process--especially when I don’t know where that process will take me. But again, that’s the fun part.

ADVICE YOU WISH SOMEONE HAD TOLD YOU

Not often does a question actually make me giggle. There are millions upon millions of things I would have loved to hear. But if I’m being honest, I know that I’m not the advice taking type. No matter how much I hear I won’t believe it until I see it. And in the end, if mistakes give you knowledge and experience, I’d prefer to make them--then not.