In today’s interview, I’m talking with Alexis Grant. Alexis is a travel writer with an interesting work history and current working on a book about travel memoirs as well as busy with her other travel-related projects. I love all her practical travel tips and advice – some great stuff here.
Can you briefly introduce yourself?
I’m a journalist now making a living as an entrepreneur and social media strategist. I’m cobbling together an income doing a variety of work I enjoy: writing, helping small businesses with social media and blogging, and creating digital guides and courses. A big part of the reason I’m doing this is to create a flexible lifestyle that allows me to travel. I share my transition from working for an employer (my last day job was with U.S. News & World Report, where I covered job-search strategies) to working for myself in a weekly newsletter, Solopreneur Secrets.
You’re working on a travel memoir about backpacking solo through Africa. What made you choose Africa as a place to travel solo? Any major comparisons/contrasts from when you started to how you felt when you finished?
I like to travel to places that are different from my home because I tend to learn more, which puts developing countries at the top of my list. When I decided in 2008 to leave my reporting job to travel, I figured Africa would be just one stop on my itinerary, but the flights I strung together turned out to be way beyond my budget. My trip advisor — I used Airtreks — suggested I stick to one continent to bring down the cost. I wasn’t ready to give up Madagascar or Cameroon, so Africa became my destination; I also spent time in Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Ghana and S. Africa.
Two other factors went into that decision, too: I’d spent a semester abroad in Cameroon during college and wanted to go back, and I wanted to go to French-speaking countries so I could improve my language skills.
In terms of how I changed during the trip, Africa always reminds me how lucky I am to have so many opportunities in life. And when you recognize that, I think you’re far less apt to let those opportunities go to waste. I returned to the States even more determined to make the most of my education and to really pursue a life that will make me happy, knowing not everyone has that choice.
What’s your advice for someone who is a little unsure whether independent travel is for them, or someone who is eager to try it but totally unsure where to start?
Try a short trip first. It takes some getting used to, but soon enough you’ll probably realize that you actually meet more people while traveling solo than when you’re with a partner or group. That’s because you’re forced to talk to the people around you if you want conversation!
Then just go for it. You’ll never feel entirely ready; for most of us, traveling solo is a bit outside our comfort zone. But you’ll likely be glad you did it. And if you don’t feel that way, what’s the worst that can happen?
I know you used to live in Houston. Any tips for travelers heading there?
You know, no one has ever asked me that before! I tend to think Houston is a better place to live (cheap, great restaurants, awesome news to cover if you’re a reporter) than to visit, but three suggestions:
1. Go to the rodeo. It’s a month long, usually in March, and if you’ve never been exposed to this type of entertainment before, it’s totally eye-opening. I covered the rodeo two years in a row for the Houston Chronicle, which means I hung out with cowboys and ate fried oreos for an entire month rather than typing away in the newsroom. Awesome experience.
2. Check out Lakewood Church. It’s the biggest mega-church in the country, and the service you want to hit is Sunday morning. It doesn’t matter whether you’re religious or not, this is for the experience! The service is in an old sports stadium, and it’s more like a concert with a few motivational speeches than the church you might’ve attended growing up.
3. Eat a meal at Goode Company — either seafood or barbeque. That’s about as Houston as you can get.
What’s been your most inspirational travel experience?
During this last backpacking trip, I returned to the village in Cameroon where I’d lived for a few weeks as a study abroad student six years earlier. The polygamous family I stayed with there has no running water or electricity, but man, they have spirit! The four wives were so willing to teach me about their culture even as they barely had enough money to send their children to school. My relationships with those wives takes up a good chunk of my book.
What are you looking forward to crossing off your bucket list next?
My next Big Goal is to streamline my business enough so I can travel for a month at a time without totally fretting. I want to be able to keep up with my client accounts and other writing projects at the same time as I see the world. My next trip will probably be to East or southern Africa, but I’ve also got a ticket to Nicaragua that’s begging to be used.
I’m also super excited to launch my first course: How to Use Social Media to Make Your Own Luck. I write a lot on my blog about making your own luck, so I’m psyched to teach readers practical tips for how to actually do it.
Thanks for having me, Andy!
Thanks for joining us, Alexis – really great advice. Safe travels!