What is your professional / educational background and how did that
enable you to achieve your work / travel balance?
I grew up in a suburb of Denver, Colorado in a very outdoors-oriented family. I've always had a keen interest in travel that began when I discovered National Geographic magazines as a kid. After my first trips to Spain and the UK in high school, I continued to search for ways of working travel into my life. I spent a summer in St. Kitt's for school project in college, another summer in California studying earthquakes, a month in Hawaii studying volcanoes, volunteered for a program and road trip throughout Mexico, and spent a year studying abroad in the Netherlands. In 2007 I received my a Bachelor's of Science in Geophysical Engineering from a small local engineering college, the Colorado School of Mines.
Finding ways to travel while staying ahead in such a rigorous engineering program was difficult, but if you want something badly enough, it will happen. After undergrad, the typical 'career track' sounded like death to me. I decided to become a bartender instead because it would allow me to work infrequently enough an take off large periods of time to travel. I was also somewhat shy at the time (classic engineer) and decided the only way to get over it was to force myself to be social for a living. My friends and family thought I was crazy and told me "I was throwing away all of my hard work". According to them, no one would hire a bartender for a 'real job' in the future.
I'm glad I never listened to any of them. While bartending, I decided to start studying archaeology as a Masters degree at the University of Denver. This allowed me to spent multiple summers in Ecuador studying and excavating a pre-Incan civilization. During this time, I also visited Egypt and Colombia.
After being hired as a geophysicist in my current job (which I explain in the following question), I've had to balance traveling 30-40% of the time with being at home. My dog and garden probably suffer most from the lack of attention. Luckily my boyfriend and friends understand that travel is a passion of mine. I try to work them into travels in any way possible, often having friends or family come stay with me in hotels and sightseeing in my free time on weekends. It would be pointless to visit without taking the time to enjoy or learn from some aspect of the local culture.
How did you end up in this career / role?
One day, after my second degree was completed and I'd been bartending and working service industry jobs for 5 years, I decided I was ready to look for my 'real job'. I applied for a few positions online, but none of them really seemed like anything I'd be interested in anyway. Then, a near surface geophysics conference was being held in town. I volunteered as a student (even though I was long out of school) and attended because I was interested in the research being presented.
A company there had a flyer posted on the job board that said something like "lots of international travel" within the first few lines. I did some quick research on the company, what they did, where they are located, etc. I had no experience doing this type of work- well logging equipment, so I introduced myself to the owner at their exhibition booth. Luckily he was very nice and din't ask too many in depth questions. Later, after going through a three step interview process, I was hired. I was told later that I was hired for 2 main reasons: I could speak Spanish and I had customer service abilities from bartending. Thus, even with a great educational background, I would never had landed the job I currently have without my unconventional prior travel and work experience.
What's your favorite place to travel? Why do you find it appealing?
My favorite place to travel is my home. Too few people take the time to explore where they live and it's a lost opportunity. In Colorado, I have an entire playground in the Rocky Mountains and the deserts around Moab located nearby. I could spend a lifetime discovering new places, views, and trails and still never be bored. I love it because after growing up here, I feel like these mountains are a large piece of my soul.
Outside of Colorado, I'm happiest in the Andes of South America. This is also likely because there are climactic and geographical similarities to my home state (dry, hot summers, cold winters, high altitude, etc.). I've also fallen in love with the local indigenous cultures, stories, and food. Speaking the local language and knowing the archaeological history of the region has fostered this connection I feel with the people and traditions of the altiplano. If I were to permanently move anywhere, it would be the high Andes of Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile or Argentina.
What's your worst travel experience?
I learned early on in my traveling that 9 times out of 10, if you take the chance and roll the dice on doing something you're unsure of, it works out in the end far better than I could have predicted. Human nature is to help. If you can stay positive and flexible to changing plans and comfort levels, things will likely work out.
For example, this happened even on my recent trip to Indonesia. I discovered I had very little cash after traveling 3 hours by bus to a remote village on the edge of a caldera. I had planned to stay 2 nights, but without enough to pay for a room or food, I was looking at having to leave early the next morning. Luckily, a British guy I'd met 2 minutes earlier offered to cover all my cash for the next 2 days if I paid him back we left the caldera (we were leaving at the same time). Two days later, there was no ATM at end of the bus ride and a kind, local man offered to give me a ride on his motorcycle to the ATM a mile away- free of charge. It all worked out and I was able to pay my new British friend back. This a a simple example, but things like this happen all the time. If you believe it will work out, it generally does.
Any advice or tips for others looking to bring travel into their lives?
I think most people fail to travel out fear. Sometimes it's a fear of the unknown, equating the unknown with danger, and other times it's a fear of leaving a routine or place in which they're comfortable. But fear has never made sense to me. Life is just too short to worry and put limitations on ourselves and our experiences.
That being said, my advice would be take steps to stop being afraid. If you're afraid a place will be too dangerous to travel alone, start by taking smaller trips alone nearby. Build up your confidence. If you're afraid you don't have enough money saved up to take your dream vacation (an idea I generally disagree with because most people don't understand how inexpensive travel can be), start educating yourself about budgeting and how you can make that happen.
Take a good, long look at your life and imagine getting to the end of it without doing any of the travel you currently picture yourself doing "someday". Now, that is something truly frightening.
Lia transitioned from a quiet lifestyle in Denver, to a role as a traveling Geophysicist, furthering her career and gaining the opportunity to travel the globe. Feel free to reach out to her with any questions.