I am pleased to introduce my friend and fellow New Yorker Vanessa Benitez as our very first interviewee to kick off our new monthly Traveler Interview series. We met while working at the American Cancer Society in Brooklyn several years ago. We stayed in contact over the years and I’ve enjoyed watching her worldwide travels on Social Media. I especially enjoyed following her trip to Japan a couple of years ago. Check out the interview below for a little travel inspiration and some valuable tips that have helped Vanessa through her travels of 20 countries thus far!
TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF. NAME, OCCUPATION, WHERE IS HOME?
Vanessa Benitez. School Counselor. I reside in Queens, New York.
WHAT IS THE FIRST TRIP YOU REMEMBER TAKING?
Growing up, my parents, brother, and I would spend summers in Mexico City from as far back as I can remember. This is where my Dad’s side currently lives. We would take road trips out of the city to the beaches of Acapulco and visit the pyramids in Teotihuacan. We also saw some creeped out looking mummies in Guanajuato. It was great experiencing the culture there and spending time with extended family.
WHY DO YOU TRAVEL?
Traveling takes me to a mental and spiritual place that I haven’t been able to find in any other activity. Once the plane touches down and I’m in a new place, the New York City bubble bursts wide open. Traveling gives me a real life understanding, more real than any news report. You’re knee deep in the culture and it begins to make sense why people are the way they are and act the way they act. It humbles me and reminds me that America is not the be all and end all of how people could or should live their life.
Also, when I’m standing on top of a mountain or surrounded by sparkling city lights or swimming in a new body of water far far away it gives me a sense of wonder and awe. I feel an immense sense of gratefulness. Those are the moments I feel connected to my higher power more than ever.
WHICH COUNTRIES HAVE YOU TRAVELED TO?
I have been to 20 countries so far. They include Mexico, Canada, Tobago, England, Amsterdam, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Italy, Vatican City, France, Spain, Gibraltar, Greece, Barbados, Monte Negro, Japan, and Australia.
WHICH IS YOUR FAVORITE DESTINATION YOU HAVE BEEN TO SO FAR?
Trick Question! How could I ever choose! I can say the last place I visited which is freshest in my mind is Japan. Such an amazing place! It has everything one could dream to experience. I started out my trip flying into Nagoya for the July 2017 Sumo wrestling tournament. Nagoya itself is beautiful and I spent a few days going to a museum and sightseeing. After 2 days I took the bullet train to Kyoto where is was 1000 degrees with no shade and humid. There were dozens upon dozens of temples and castles and you could see many women dressed as Geishas. I am told that most are not the real thing – they just buy the costume to take pictures in it.
I visited a beautiful bamboo forest in Arashiyama and Nara Park which is filled with deer that you are able to feed and later take pictures with — with caution as some are known to ram you. Later I went to a monkey park on top of a mountain. The monkeys are mischievous and you need to feed them through a screen as they are known to scratch and steal things.
Later I traveled to Tokyo which is such a trippy place. Akihabara is a gamers paradise and I was able to see the Mario Kart guys driving around. There are tons of shops that sell Manga or Japanese comic books. I also went to the Robot Restaurant which has neon lights everywhere. People in funky costumes and singing and dancing robots are everywhere. It was very hyper stimulating.
I also did a day trip to Mount Fuji. Luckily we had clear skies that day and I was able to get a very decent view of the mountain top. I didn’t climb it though because from what I hear it can take somewhere along the lines of 15 hours up and down! I ended my trip by flying out to the beaches of Okinawa and snorkeled in the amazing emerald blue waters of the Kerama Islands. Best 15 days of my life!
ANY UNIQUE EXPERIENCES YOU WOULD LIKE TO SHARE?
I took a wrong turn in Athens and got to experience what most tourists may not ever see. It was incredibly run down and poor and I could not find anybody who spoke English in the area. That, coupled with the fact that I find their alphabet unreadable, left me scared out of my mind. I was surrounded by torn down buildings and graffiti. Rows and rows of homeless beggars lying on the ground with their hands out.
What saved me is that I had a map that the hotel had given me. I went up to a man on the street, who I think was homeless as well, and with pointing, arm motions, and nodding of our heads I was somehow able to find my way back to a main road. That is definitely one thing that I have learned from my travels, language isn’t always a barrier. When you encounter people who are genuinely trying to help and understand you, you find a way.
WHAT DESTINATION IS ON TOP OF YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET LIST?
I’m dying to spend some time in the Maldives. While I am there I would like to travel over to Sri Lanka to visit an animal sanctuary.
WHO’S YOUR INSPIRATION?
Gloria Steinem is a kick ass woman! If it wasn’t for her spearheading the second wave of the women’s movement I wouldn’t be so free to travel the world whenever, wherever, and on my own terms.
IS TRAVELING A HOBBY OR SOMETHING YOU DO FOR A LIVING?
Neither. It’s part of my lifestyle. Live, love, learn, travel.
WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED FROM YOUR EXPERIENCE WITH TRAVEL?
I feel a bit guilty saying this as a native New Yorker but people are way nicer in just about any other place in the world! Outside of NY and the country people have much more of a sense of caring for the community and family over thinking about themselves first. This makes it a much more pleasant experience overall being in the outside world.
DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE OR TIPS FOR ASPIRING OR FIRST TIME TRAVELERS?
If you really want to experience the culture of a new place, stay away from cruises and all-inclusive resorts. Why would you spend all your money to go to a new place to hang out with a bunch of Americans and other tourists? Also, while being pampered is super nice, if you want to understand how another culture lives you are going to have to get a little or a lot uncomfortable. There is no way around it, but it’s totally worth it.
If you go with a friend or partner and you just can’t agree on certain activities or excursions, don’t feel guilty about going your separate ways for a few hours then meeting up later. You’ll probably regret more not swimming with the dolphins or going zip lining as you’ve always dreamed than trying to please your travel partner.
Do some research into the countries rules and culture and please respect them! Not only because it’s the decent thing to do but also because the laws in other countries could get you fined, penalized, embarrassed or worse – in jail abroad. Not trying to scare anybody but this is easily avoidable with a little research and some respect to abide by a countries rules. Don’t be “that tourist.”
Lastly, don’t wait. If you have been dreaming of going to that country and all your prospects bail, go anyway! They will be wildly jealous after they see all your pics and hear all the stories. You will make friends and memories along the way, promise!
PLEASE TELL PEOPLE HOW THEY CAN FOLLOW YOUR TRAVELS ON SOCIAL MEDIA.
Leydy_wanderlust on Instagram. I also post a lot of food, fitness, and inspirational quotes on there too.
Thank You so much Vanessa for being our first interviewee on our Traveler Interview Series. We hope you enjoyed it and have been inspired to be On Travel Mode! If you or someone you know would like to be interviewed for one of our future editions, please let us know. Additionally, if you have any questions that we should pose to future interviewees we’d love to read them. Please comment below or email us at email@example.com.
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