This week Meet the Travel Bloggers highlights travel blogger Lisa Egle of ChickyBus.
How did your travel blog, ChickyBus get its start?
While traveling through the Middle East in 2010, I kept an unofficial blog—I posted short stories and photos on Facebook as ‘notes’—and my friends and family loved it. After my trip, I felt the urge to share even more and with a larger audience. Meanwhile, I was planning to publish a book (a collection of travel tales) and I knew I would need to put myself out there in the Blogoverse to connect with others and build a following. For these two reasons, I set up my blog.
[Editor’s note: Lisa’s book of travel tales, Magic Carpet Seduction: Travel Tales Off the Beaten Path is available for sale. There’s a link to it in the bio below]
How did you get that name and what does the name mean to you?
ChickyBus is the name of one of the stories in my book; it’s about a 12-hour journey on a Central American ‘chicken bus’—an experience that I’ll never forget. Not only did I rub elbows with cheese smugglers and turn down a marriage proposal (from a soon-to-be-illegal immigrant), but I also had epiphanies about being in the now and enjoying life.
ChickyBus, however, is not just about chicken buses. That particular style of transportation is just one of many topics covered. The term ‘ChickyBus’ is actually a metaphor for the experience of being in the moment, usually while off the beaten path, and the serendipity and self-discovery that tends to occur. The concept is a major theme on my site.
What is the thing that keeps you the most jazzed about blogging?
It’s definitely the feedback I get from others, especially via comments on blog posts. One of my main goals is to provide vicarious experiences for readers of the blog—aka ‘passengers’ on the bus. Therefore, nothing makes me happier than when people say, “Thanks for taking me along…I felt like I was right there with you.”
What excites you about travel?
When I’m on the road, I feel like I’m changing a channel on a TV screen—the one known as ‘my life’—and it’s very exciting. No matter where I go, an adventure always awaits me. I’m quite spontaneous and never know what’s going to happen, so I feel giddy each time I take a trip.
What is your travel style?
I think I’m somewhere between a backpacker and a flashpacker. I go low budget when possible, but recently, I’ve moved up to the lower end of mid-range. I love hostels for the excellent information and inexpensive tours they offer, but I tend not to stay at them unless I can get a private room. I often splurge on nicer rooms in large cities and especially after roughing it for a few days.
I like traveling this way because it means I can stay in a destination longer and, more importantly, it usually allows me to meet the real people of a given culture. At pricier hotels, the locals I meet see me as wealthy (which I’m not)—and the odds of us truly getting to know each other are slim.
On the road, do you seek out some experiences more than others?
I believe I do. I seek two things—peace/solitude and cultural connection—two somewhat paradoxical experiences.
For the first one, I make sure that I include time at a beach or in the mountains, somewhere beautiful and quiet, so I can relax and enjoy solitude and tranquility. I prefer to plan this for the end of a trip, but I’m open to it anytime. For the second—cultural connection—I put myself in situations where I’m more likely to meet others. I love to hang out in town parks and plazas, for example and to chat with the local residents—and I almost always talk to strangers wherever I am.
Having said this, I believe that many of the experiences ‘find’ me. So many random and quirky things happen to me when I travel, and sometimes it’s a bit inexplicable. Most often, I just go with it—and ‘ride the magic carpet’—even if I have no idea where I might land.
Is being in your comfort zone important to you?
Because I take risks (nothing too crazy, of course)—and have an open mind and a go-with-the-flow approach—I have some unique encounters and experiences. I’m often welcomed into locals’ homes and become part of the family or community temporarily. This allows me to experience a culture first-hand. I also find myself in some offbeat situations, such as sleeping in a cave or meeting a hermit on the side of a mountain. For me, this is what travel is all about—those once-in-a-lifetime moments, experiences and connections. It makes me feel alive in a way that nothing else can.
I’m pretty good at being out of my comfort zone when I see it as part of an adventure and/or cultural immersion. I had this experience in Indonesia last year, when I spent nearly a month with a family in a small village in Western Sumatra. The people are devout Muslims and members of the Minangkabau tribe, and their way of life is very different than mine. At times, I struggled with the loss of privacy and longed for time alone. Also, the plumbing was limited, which meant that I had to use a squat toilet and bathe with pails of well water. It took time to get used to it, but it was totally worth it because of the special connections I made with the family and the rest of the community. They accepted and welcomed me into their world—and I loved it despite the challenges I mentioned. It is an experience I will always cherish. I have no doubt I will return in the future.
What’s your most memorable travel experience or favorite trip ever and why?
I’m not sure I have a favorite trip, but I’ve had many memorable travel experiences. A tour I took back in the 1990s—a metaphysical journey to Ecuador—was probably one of the most powerful/important in my life. The trip, which included shamanic experiences in the Andes and the Amazon, challenged me more than anything ever had and led to some major life changes. I ended up moving to Ecuador and discovering a new career—teaching English—and I came to understand my adventurous spirit.
Other unforgettable experiences, some of the best moments of my life, have occurred while traveling. Hiking the Inca Trail and then watching the sunrise over Machu Picchu was incredible. So was going on safari in South Africa; there’s nothing quite like seeing so many exotic animals close-up in their home environment. And I’ll never forget what it was like to sleep in Wadi Rum in Jordan—not in a tent, but on a small mat right on the sand. I can still see the star-filled sky and remember what it was like to be ‘out there’ in the desert…
But it’s also the people I’ve met along the way who are memorable…quirky characters who have taken me on impromptu tours or tried to sell me a carpet, loving families who have welcomed me into their homes and other people I’ve met along the way. I embrace and appreciate each of these experiences. To me, it’s all good—whether seemingly minor or obviously monumental.
What’s your favorite place on earth?
I’m not sure that I have just one—and maybe it changes from time to time. For now, I would say that it’s Gili Meno, a small, idyllic island in Indonesia. It’s the closest I’ve ever come to being in paradise and to feeling truly blissed out. The water is a dreamy shade of turquoise, the sand is soft and white and the vibe is peaceful. Only 400 people live on the island and there are no motorbikes or cars. I hope to return in the future and stay for a few weeks.
Where are you off to next?
Good question. This winter, it could be somewhere warm. I’d love to go to Colombia since I’m into salsa dancing; or maybe Argentina, which has been on my list for a while. Or perhaps Myanmar; I keep hearing so much about it and am definitely curious. Next summer is wide open. It could be anywhere…
What’s the biggest fantasy on your bucket list and why?
Papua New Guinea! I think it would be the ultimate journey and ‘channel change’ for me since I would be transported to another world. I think the uniqueness and cultural complexity of the various tribes would blow my mind.
Lisa Egle is the founder/publisher of ChickyBus, and a freelance writer. She’s also author of Magic Carpet Seduction: Travel Tales Off the Beaten Path a memoir of journeys to 9 countries around the world. Lisa’s writing has been published on BlogHer and Matador Network, and one of her stories was featured in an article on the Oprah.com blog. When not traveling, she works as an ESL professor at a 2-year college in New Jersey. In her spare time, she enjoys hiking, mountain biking and hand drumming. You can find her on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest.