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Adventure Meets Culture With Laura Wozniak

Meet Laura Wozniak, a colorful travel photographer based in Dubai, UAE.

Laura has experienced culture in a rare form. She has traveled extensively these past five years; 9 months in South America, 12 months year down under and 4 months camping and snapping her way through Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Botswana, Zambia, Namibia, and South Africa.

Now that she is based in Dubai, it’s a bit of an adjustment. Opulence and champagne lifestyles are prominent but there is so much more to this place – you just have to find it. Dubai is 90% expat. It’s a real melting pot of nationalities which means a vast range of authentic cuisines and cultures to discover. 

The Fox Magazine had the pleasure to interview Laura about her journey as well as some advice on how to travel the world.

Where have you traveled that is a place you can always go and feel or be happy?

Corsica, where my mother is from. I’ve been going every year since I was born. No matter where I am in the world, I’ll always find the time to make the trip back in the summer. It’s a hidden gem in the Mediterranean. It’s managed to avoid the hyper-tourism that other islands succumb to and has the most amazing landscapes to rival the Maldives or Thailand. A must-visit!

You can read more about Corsica here – https://bit.ly/2NPTKvN

What is one of the worst travel experiences that you have encountered?

I don’t believe in bad travel experiences. Fortunately, I’ve never been mugged or held at gunpoint but I’ve met people who have but when looking back always find a silver lining – a lesson learned or the plan changed for the better.

If I had to pick one though it’d be my first ever trip. It was San Francisco in the summer of 2001. I went with a friend from university. We had 3 months off so decided to head to California to make a bit of money. We heard the tips were great. We stayed with her friend in the Mission District. Back then this area was notorious for gangs which we didn’t know at the time.

One day a taxi driver took us home (we couldn’t walk anywhere) and told us we really shouldn’t be staying there, it’s too dangerous. We couldn’t actually find summer jobs either because we’d arrived too late in the season, so we decided to pack our bags and took the greyhound for 11hrs down to San Diego. We were broke so we had to work as housekeepers in a hostel in return for free accommodation. I eventually found a job selling snow cones at San Diego’s baseball ground Petco Park. I was the only female vendor. I quickly made my way up to become the top seller thanks to my British accent.

It turned out to be the best job ever – amazing tips and I watched the biggest baseball games in the world including the game where Barry Bonds from the San Franc Giants was about to hit the most homeruns in history during the midst of a doping scandal. That was one hell of a game!

We eventually moved out of the hostel and into a small flat above a sex shop in the Gaslamp area. I was only 20 the time so couldn’t go to bars so we’d end up going down to Mexico and partying in ‘TJ’ Tijuana at weekends. It was only 30mins away. We also went to Hawaii for a week before heading home to the UK. Looking back it all worked out great but it was a rocky start!

What part should travel play in our lives?

I honestly think travel is the fast-track to the university of life. You’ll learn all your life skills and most importantly about yourself at an accelerated pace. When you’ve traveled you’re more self-assured and more adaptable to change. You learn patience, budgeting, people skills, and your instincts are sharper. It’s perfect for the CV too. I think it makes you far more employable.

For me, travel is also about taking time out from the mundanities of life to explore and enjoy yourself. Everyone has a bucketlist but alot of people get bogged down with the social pressures of big careers and buying the dream house. They think travel can wait until you retire but I don’t think it can. A lot of my parents’ friends love what I do and actively encourage it citing they wish they traveled more when they were younger. Generally speaking, you’re more stuck in your ways and less physically abled at 50 than in your 20s or 30s.

I’ve always been fascinated by great white sharks so the main item on my bucketlist was to see them. When my African camping trip ended in the home of the great white shark (Cape Town) so I took the opportunity to sign- up for a month-long volunteer project. I was on a boat every day collecting data and getting up close & personal with these majestic beasts. That month will stay with me forever. Those 4 brick walls can wait!

How do you determine where you travel and do you research the places you visit before you immerse yourself in that place?

Well after my San Fran adventure I quickly learned to do some initial research  -at least where to crash for the first few nights, but I’ve equally learned not to be too influenced by what you read. Given it’s history, my mum was terrified when I was in Colombia but as it goes I felt safer there than in Rio – South America’s most visited city! I’m based in Dubai now which gets a bad rap in the media.

All you read about is the opulence and champagne lifestyles which isn’t me at all but there is so much more to this place – you just got to find it. Dubai is 90% expat. It’s a real melting pot of nationalities which means a vast range of authentic cuisines and cultures to discover. It’s also a great base for traveling. I’ve been here 1 year now and have already been to these places which are all a short 4hr flight from Dubai – Lebanon, Maldives, Sri Lanka, Nepal.

What do you enjoy or appreciate most about traveling?

I love Interacting with the locals, uncovering the local culture and doing the unusual activities on offer like cage diving with crocodiles, climbing a volcano, attending the worlds most dangerous football games, or sleeping rough in the outback of Australia. Travel can be really challenging but it’s so rewarding. There’s no better sense of accomplishment than getting from A to B by yourself via 4 local buses where no-one speaks English.

I mostly travel alone but it’s great to share travel experiences with friends and family. I love getting my parents to come and visit me. I see myself as a good excuse for them to see a bit more of the world. They’re from a different generation so I feel it’s important to get them out of their comfort zone. It took a bit of convincing to get them to meet me in South Africa but we did an incredible 2-week road trip down the western cape, staying in unique Airbnbs on the way. They’ve come to Dubai a few times and we’ve done a roadtrip to Oman.

Obviously, the best is travelling with a native. When my Lebanese friend invited me to hers back in February I jumped at the chance. We had a night out in Beirut (the party capital of the Middle East) then spent 4 days in the mountains skiing and visiting her family. You see a completely different side of a place with a local host.

When you travel do you look more at the affordability or comfort?

I’m not adverse to the occasional splurge – last weekend I took my sister who is visiting to a luxurious desert resort. It was exceptional but a one-off. I’d rather travel more than blow cash on just one vacation. I find cheaper places are usually more authentic too. I went the Maldives a few months ago which on paper would cost an arm and a leg but we found a local budget-friendly island called Maafushi. Our beachside hotel was $70/night, fresh fish dinners cost $10 and snorkeling with mantarays cost $30. I personally don’t understand why you’d spend 10x the price to be in a resort. It’s the same ocean after all!

Road trip or staycation? Which is your favorite and why?

Roadtrip all the way! You experience so much more on the road. I did a camping trip through Africa in 2016. Over the 3 months from Kenya to South Africa, we clocked up 6300km and 170hrs on the road. You did question your sanity on the sweaty 17hr legs or unnecessary 6hrs border controls but looking back, these were also the fondest memories. As Ralph Waldo Emerson famously said, ‘it’s not the destination, it’s the journey’. I also chose to do a 30hr bus journey through Argentina (from Patagonia to Mendoza) over a 5hr flight. The scenery was utterly mind-blowing and I spent hours playing bingo with the locals. Priceless.

What are some of the travel necessities that everyone should have?
  1. Vaccum Insulated water bottle – this was a lifesaver on the African camping trip where cold water was rare!
  2. Bag of washing up powder to wash as you go. But please don’t try crossing the Colombian border with it. I learned that the hard way!
  3. FlexiRoam SIM card – put this sticker for your SIM card and get access to cheap local data package across the world. No need to faff with swapping different SIM cards
  4. DSLR camera. Camera phones have come leaps and bounds but the quality is still inferior. I have a Nikon D5300 which is relevantly light and compact.
  5. VPN – you’ll be logging onto a lot of public wifi’s that not are secure. A VPN will provide an additional wall to protect your data.
  6. Pack light! If you’re backpacking, keep your bag under 15kg. I know it’s difficult but trust me you still won’t wear everything!
Do you think the role of a travel blogger will change or evolve as technology expands?

The combination of next-gen smartphones, cheap flights and affordable accommodation platforms like Airbnb essentially mean anyone can be a travel blogger these days. This however also means the industry is saturated so you need to stand out. I worry bloggers will go to extreme lengths to sell themselves. With the demand for authentic travel comes to the rise of ‘dark tourism’ (travelling to places linked to death & suffering) and I don’t see this ending. It provides a great read but the blogger shouldn’t put themselves in danger in order to get themselves noticed.

What travel tips do you have to offer readers?

Be conscious of the history

In 2013 I spent 1 month in Colombia. Who’s the main guy you want to know more about when you arrive in Medellin? Pablo Escobar of course. So I signed up for an Escobar tour. As we were standing in front of the building where he was shot dead, a local lady starting screaming at us  ‘He wasn’t a hero, he was a murderer!’ She was in her 50’s so would have lived through the mayhem he caused in the early 90s. It really hit home. We were by no means celebrating him but I guess some the locals want to see the back of him. I went years before Narcos was aired on Netflix. I’d hate to know how many tours there are now and subsequently how much tension it causes between tourists and locals.

You can read more about Escobar’s legacy on Medellin here – https://bit.ly/2OvWLP5

Learn the local language

Jott down some key phrases. Attempting to speak the local language will go far with the locals. But be aware of ‘false friends’. On my final day in Chile, I realized I’d spent 1-month telling locals I was horny today rather than ‘It’s hot today’.  At least I made them chuckle!

Don’t feed into the system

When traveling to poorer countries, give the kids food or pencils instead of money. $1 is a lot to them so many ends up skipping school because it’s a quick easy fix. Sometimes their parents will even make them skip school because that $1 will feed the family for a week. As an NGO worker pointed out, this isn’t a viable solution long-term – the younger generation need the education to acquire skills and in turn be self-sufficient, not live off tourist donations. Africa is synonymous with ‘poverty porn’.

Yes it is poor but it’s not the Aids torn continent it was in the 80’s, yet this perception lives on and it’s essentially holding them back. Also be careful when volunteering with kids. The rise of ‘voluntourism’ is problematic. You might think you’re helping the kids in that orphanage by showering them with love and affection for 3 weeks but what happens when you leave? Is it more detrimental moving forward? You’ll see the kids are happy with nothing because they know no better. Your intentions might be honorable but it’s a double-edged sword.

Short but sweet – Money will grow back, memories will not!


Follow her journey!

 

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