We're thrilled to end the year on a high note by launching our Featured Explorer series, a series that celebrates modern-day explorers! Every other Friday, a veteran traveler will impart their wisdom, talk about some of the most exciting trips they’ve been on, and share highlights from their careers thus far. The first explorer we have the honor of featuring is freelance journalist and photographer Breanna Wilson.
The curiosity Breanna had at a young age led her to leave the small town she grew up in to chase bigger adventures. After she took her first solo trip, her passion for traveling never let up. Her career in travel writing has taken her around the world and to areas where she has experienced the most remote cultures. Now, she splits her time between Mongolia and roaming the world as a nomad. Her writing has landed her features in Forbes, Gastro Obscura, Entrepreneur, Societe Perrier, and more. Her interview is the perfect inspiration you need as we head into 2022. It’s a reminder that traveling doesn’t have to be about how far you go or how often you’re on the move. You can have meaningful experiences each time you take a trip when you slow down and appreciate the journey.
What’s the first thing that drew you to travel?
The word escape comes to mind. I grew up in a small town. I had always known there was so much more out in the world, I just didn’t realize how much. I left home at 18 and moved across the country at 22. I wasn’t running from anything, there’s no dramatic past to uncover or anything like that, I just had this curiosity to experience different ways of living – and to meet new people. Those new people and new experiences changed my life – I began looking at life and opportunities differently. I could see so much more potential in my future and what I wanted to do with it. I think it’s pretty clear things snowballed from there.
What was your first experience traveling solo? What inspired you to take the leap, and what advice would you give to other solo travelers now?
The most memorable experience I have – and one of, if not my first – was traveling to Iceland solo. I was craving an adventure, independence, and a change of scenery, and I was in a relationship at that time. I booked the trip sporadically for the next month, when I knew my partner couldn’t join me because I didn’t want to turn it into a fight. (Not a very nice thing to do – but it’s tough to handle those situations sometimes.) It was weird and scary to embark on a trip that so many people turn into a romantic getaway alone, and I felt like everyone was looking at me when I was alone, but it opened a door to a world that I’ve been traveling non-stop through ever since. (Needless to say, the boyfriend didn’t last long after that, but at least my sense for adventure has.)
Tell us about the biggest adventure you’ve ever been on.
Life, haha. Life is the ultimate adventure. And one that never stops. It’s what you make it, in the circumstances handed to you, and you can choose to spend it being happy or being miserable. I choose to be happy.
What’s the most vivid travel memory you have?
I will never forget – and my sister who knows this story won’t either – walking through one of the nicest hotels in Jerusalem, one of the holiest cities in the world, with my dress tucked into my underwear. Ass totally out. Not every memory needs to be an insane adventure. Sometimes it’s the ones that humble you – and the lessons they teach you – that stand out the most.
Tell me about a challenging time that you had with something while traveling; what was it and how did you work through it?
Most of the adventures I take on are a challenge – I like to put myself into new situations, it’s how I learn what I’m capable of. One trip though that was particularly challenging was the first ride I did with a – I’ll call it vintage – 1989 Ural motorcycle (with a sidecar!) across part of Mongolia. I wasn’t sure what I was in for between the bike and the roads, and it turned out to be one of the craziest journeys I ever set out on. However, had I not done it, I would have never been brave enough to partner with my friend (shout out Erik Cooper) and turn it into a small group experience that we curate in Mongolia.
What’s been the highlight of your career?
That’s a tough one. One thing I am very proud of is to have written about, and opened people’s eyes to lesser-known cities, small businesses, and intriguing locals who otherwise never get international attention. Writing for top tier publications such as Forbes, and to put amazing people doing amazing things in the spotlight on such a worldwide scale always gives me such joy.
What is the most important thing you have learned about yourself while traveling?
The most important thing travel has given me is self-confidence. The ability to set out on an adventure alone, relying on myself in all situations – good and bad – is one of the most empowering things I’ve learned to do. It wasn’t always easy – it was bloody scary at first – but once you step into this feeling of owning yourself and realizing that things aren’t as scary as you often make them out to be, it’s the most incredible feeling in the world. And something I hope I can encourage other women to find for themselves.
What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned on the road?
Life on the road has taught me to look at life with open eyes. I am a much different person today than I was years ago, before I started traveling (almost) full time. I remember being a not very easy going, not very happy person in those days – I was constantly stressed about work, about life, about controlling things I had no business controlling. Traveling has taught me to slow down. To appreciate the little things. To not get overworked or overwhelmed, especially over things I can’t control – the world is a dang cool place if you let it be. But you have to look at it through open eyes to see that. Perspective is everything.
If you could give your 18-year-old self some travel advice, what would it be?
Don’t waste time on being afraid. You’re going to fail. And you’re going to want to quit. And people are going to think you’re crazy for doing what you do. But, it’s going to make you the happiest person in the world. And the best self you can be. So, don’t let any of that stop you or make you hesitate for even one second.
Do you have career advice for any that would want to follow in your footsteps?
Oh man, my career choices aren’t for everyone. I hope that people look at me and see that I’ve been brave enough to go after the life that I wanted – and I hope that alone inspires them to do the same. No matter what it looks like to them.
What have you done to keep your adventurous spirit fulfilled during the pandemic?
Adventure is what you make it. While I love a big, long, grand adventure, even a hike a mile from my house fills my spirit some days. I’ve learned more in those moments, surrounded by new friends, familiar scenery, and unintimidating locals I’ve come to know than I have on some of my bigger adventures. Micro adventures allow you to be more present, without worry of “what’s next” and that’s been the type of travel I’ve needed with everything else going on.
How do you think the pandemic will shape travel for years to come?
There’s no denying the pandemic has made people look at travel differently. They’re slowing down. They’re being more thoughtful in the way they choose a destination. They have more freedom to be able to explore longer and in different, more local ways, thanks to moving to remote working. I love that all of these things are happening – I’ve been an advocate of this type of travel for years. And I hope that this trend, and the way that people are looking at the world with a more open mind – and sense for exploring even deeper than ever before, continues for years to come.
To learn more about Breanna, and to stay up-to-date on her latest adventures, view her website.