28 Sep Featured Intentional Traveler Interview: Roaming the Americas

 We’re excited to introduce you to another intentional traveler, Naomi Liz – a writer, photographer, and creator of Roaming the Americas. Her values and travel style align well with our commitment to transformation travel, and we love what she has to say. Without further adieu, here’s our interview with Naomi:

Please introduce yourself!

I’m Naomi Liz, the coffee-loving, crazy-about-Latin-America girl behind Roaming the Americas, a travel blog that seeks to help socially conscious travelers plan travel that engages with culture, supports local communities, and protects the environment. I am a small-town girl from Maine, transplanted to the Philadelphia area, and I’ve been traveling around Latin America for the past 15 years whenever I’ve had the chance. I’m absolutely enamored by language, and I’m forever chasing down my somewhat elusive goal of becoming fluent in Spanish.

At various points in my travels, I’ve picked up my camera and my pen to not just document what I’ve experienced, but to communicate something about what it felt like to be in those places. So although it’s not what pays the bills, I identify as both a writer and photographer because those are the ways that the stories flow out of me. I can’t not do these things when I travel.

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What over-arching goals or values drive you?

I don’t just want to see new lands; I want to meet the people who make places unique, to be changed by them, and to carry their stories with me throughout life.

One of my foundational values, which for me is informed by my faith, is that travel isn’t all about pursuing what makes me happy. Sure, I do get enjoyment out of it, but I truly believe that authentic connections and human stories have the power to bring peace and positive change. That’s a big statement, and I don’t have visions of some kind of utopian paradise if we all just traveled more–it’s much more complex than that.

I love the way that Maya Angelou expressed this belief: “Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.” Through my writing and photography, I hope to communicate that travel is about building relationships across the globe.

What’s your style of travel?

I try to seek out authentic connections with locals whenever possible, as well as sustainable options like farm-to-table restaurants and supporting locally-owned businesses. I’ve also taken volunteer trips (like doing photography work for a non-profit in Guatemala), road trips, and educational trips. I like to learn about a destination before (and during) my trip, and I try to go where the locals go.

Overall, my style is pretty laid-back and I try to stay away from the tourist path as much as possible. Sometimes I stay in a hotel, other times it’s a hostel or room rental.

In 2004 I studied abroad in Costa Rica for a semester, and it was a catalyst in transforming the way I see travel. Aside from the experience of living with my Tico family, I was pushed out of my comfort zone continuously with assignments that required me to dig below the surface of my assumptions. I had to approach strangers on the streets in Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Cuba, and Guatemala to ask them about current events, race relations, immigration, and more–in Spanish.

It was terrifying for this shy, introverted girl from a small town in Maine. But it also empowered me with independence and confidence while traveling. Most of all, it was the genesis of my philosophy on travel–this learning-focused, relational travel style that I find to be the most enriching way to travel.cuba-travel

If you could give one piece advice to others interested in travel to Latin America for the first time, what would it be?

I think the best starting place is to learn about the place you’re traveling to. I don’t mean finding out what the best restaurants are or the “top 10 places to see,” but learning something about the history, current events, and language.

This doesn’t have to be boring or feel like you’re reading a college textbook–trust me, I’m a former history hater and topics like politics or current events used to bore me to tears. But as I’ve traveled in Latin America and had the opportunity to learn history simply as the story of a place and what has shaped its people, it has brought so much richness and depth to my experiences.

What are people talking about on the street corners with their neighbors? What are they discussing at the dinner table? Those are the things that help us really understand local life when we travel. Getting curious and asking questions is one of the best ways to dig below the surface and experience culture. If you’re overwhelmed by where to start because there are so many resources out there, just start small. Read the national or local newspaper for a few weeks before you go, watch a documentary about something that interests you in that country, or read a book that’s set there.

Anything else you want to share?

Authentic and responsible travel doesn’t have to be hard, and it’s not another thing to add to the list of “All the Things You Should Be Doing.” It’s simply a mindset of traveling to connect, learn, and share experiences across cultures, all while seeking to minimize our negative impact on the local culture, economy, and environment.

If you feel overwhelmed because you’re not sure where to start, know that it doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing. Find a local tour guide, carry a reusable water bottle to cut down on plastic, or purchase from artists in the market who are selling their own work. It’s a journey and it’s okay to start small.

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