From waking up in strange countries to munching on tarantulas, Michelle Della Giovanna lives her life doing a whole bunch of daring things. We were instantly intrigued by her blog fulltimeexplorer.com, especially this: ‘Now, I spend half the year living in the lap of luxury in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. I’m talking hot showers, flushing toilets, high speed internet, the works! I spend the other half of the year living in Nepal where the only thing guaranteed is one hell of an adventure.’
A quick exchange of emails rewarded us with this fabulous interview:
How did the journey from a fashion firm to backpack traveling pan out? Your top advice for someone trying to do the same?
Going from a demanding job in the fashion industry to traveling out of a backpack was a really big change at first. I hadn’t traveled outside of the U.S. until I was about 22 years old, and I’d only been to Europe a few times. I was always with an experienced traveler, so going off for a year alone was exciting and terrifying at the same time. In New York City, I was used to having a closet full of clothes, a nice apartment, and a stable job that paid well. It was pretty glamorous, but I also worked extremely long hours which led to being burnt out.
Then, suddenly I had a backpack, all the time in the world, and a major budget to live on. For anyone who is looking to give up their job to travel, the best advice would be to work really hard and save up as much as you can before you leave. Make sure you have a safety net of money so that when you return you aren’t broke. Having a safety net made me feel secure so that when I returned, I’d have time to find another job and I didn’t have to worry while I was traveling. Most importantly, don’t let fear stop you. It’s scary to leave a job and take off, but it’s the best decision I ever made. I learned so much about myself in a year of traveling solo.
How easy or hard was it to adjust to the somewhat basic environs?
It’s both easy and difficult. I think the first week you end up in utter shock. But, then everything seems normal. I spent two weeks in a silent retreat in Thailand where you lived in a plain cement room, slept on a cement bed with a wood pillow, there were lizards and tarantulas on the walls, the shower was a bucket of cold water, and honestly it wasn’t that bad. I think we can adjust to anything if we have to. Living out of a backpack was actually a relief. I worked as a fashion stylist for a few years and had to create at least 70 outfits a day. By the time I had to dress myself each morning, I could barely pick out a matching pair of socks. I only had five outfits with me on my first year of travels and it was amazing! I realized how little stuff I need to be happy.
All that being said, I am known to have meltdowns over tiny things every once in a while. I think when you’re in a country where everyone speaks a different language, the food is different, and everything is done in a different way, you manage to deal with all the major differences easily. But then, when you want one small thing and can’t have it, you end up having a tantrum like a toddler. My husband has had to deal with meltdowns over things as little as a Caesar salad. It’s become a common joke between me and my ex-pat friends about what little thing we’ve had a meltdown over even though we are all really low maintenance 99% of the time.
I’m passing by Nepal for just 36 hours. What 3 things or experiences would you recommend for me?
First, I would recommend you extend your trip! Just kidding. If you only had 36 hours, I’d recommend a helicopter flight to Everest Base Camp. I haven’t had the chance to do this yet, but it’s high on my list and it’s the best way to see the mountains on a time crunch. You get to fly over Base Camp and have champagne and breakfast nearby. In the afternoon, you’d be back in Kathmandu, so I’d recommend getting a traditional Thakali dal bhat set at Jimbu which is one of our favorite places to get Nepali food. Then, you should head to Durbar Square to see the ancient temples and palaces with their famous wood carving. Nearby, you can walk through Ason Market which is the ancient local marketplace where you can find lots of fun treasures from spices to brass dining wear. From there, you’ll end up in Thamel where I’d recommend visiting the Garden of Dreams which is in the back of an old Rana Palace. For dinner, I’d go to Momo Hut to try Nepal’s famous momos which are like Nepali dumplings. If there’s time, check out the nighttime Arati at Pashupatinath which is an offering of lights to the gods at one of Kathmandu’s most sacred temples.
On day two, you should start your day at Boudhanath Stupa which is the largest Buddhist Stupa in Nepal. The area surrounding here is inhabited mostly by Tibetans, so this is a great place to try all of the Tibetan foods you can. My favorite is shapale which is a deep-fried dough wrapped around ground meat. If you didn’t have time to see Pashupatinath Temple last night, then you should check it out on your way to the airport since it’s right next door!
There’s a mention of eating tarantulas in your blog. To be honest, we shuddered a bit. Tell us more!
I also shuddered a bit when eating it. Tarantula is a specialty in Cambodia along with crickets, snakes, scorpions, and other bite-sized creatures. A friend and I decided we would try a different item each night we were in Siem Reap. The crickets were actually pretty tasty. They were deep-fried in some kind of soy sauce and tasted like seasoned French fries. The scorpion was hard. Like really hard. It felt like I was chewing on bones and there was no meat, so it was just weird to eat it. The spider left a lasting impression. I wanted to put the whole thing in my mouth in one bite because I knew if I took a small bite and saw the inside of the spider I’d never eat it. But, tarantulas are kind of big and it seemed a leg was always sticking out of my mouth which was hilarious and gross. I made such an awful face as I was eating it that a bunch of tourists started taking my picture. My mouth was full and I couldn’t ask them to stop, so I started laughing and had to try not to spit it out. Its legs were crunchy. The body was soft in a bad way. Just thinking about it now makes me cringe.
Your top tip for aspiring travel bloggers.
I jumped into travel blogging with no experience and I made a lot of mistakes. I just sort of went for it and learned as I went. I think if I had taken the time and done classes beforehand it would have been a lot easier to turn it into a proper career. I wasted about 2-3 years just hoping it would work before I got serious about it. Then, I had to go back and correct all of my old posts because they weren’t done properly the first time. So, I’d recommend that anyone looking to start a travel blog take classes, do research, and learn about SEO and how to get views on Google. You can write the best content but if no one reads it, you won’t be able to make any money and it will just be an expensive hobby.
Online courses and travel blogging conferences seemed expensive to me, but if I had invested in them earlier I would have been able to make money on my site a lot faster. I think it’s important to think of your blog as a business that you are investing in, so it’s better to spend a little money in the beginning and do it correctly than to take years doing it wrong before you figure it out. I would recommend Make Traffic Happen which focuses on SEO and google search as an online course. I’d also recommend conferences like TravelCon or TBEX for networking and for a wider range of talks about travel blogging.
Tell us one Nepal travel secret you haven’t told a soul yet.
Something I’ve barely mentioned on my blog was my trip to western Nepal on the back of a motorbike to the Jarjakot District. It’s way off the beaten path. It’s hard to get to. There are almost no accommodations. But, it’s the best trip I’ve taken in Nepal. I went with a group called Clean Drink Adventures that delivers chlorine makers to villages in Nepal where water-borne illness is high. They handled all the logistics and I don’t even know how to explain to a tourist how to get there or where to stay, so it’s remained a bit of a secret that it’s my favorite trip. If anyone is able to go there, I’d highly recommend it. The people are amazing and the hospitality in that part of the country is beyond anything you could imagine.