Thursday Traveler: Leslie Koch

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Every Thursday, A Dangerous Business will be shining the spotlight on a world nomad, travel blogger, armchair adventurer, or just someone really cool in the travel world. This week, the traveler is Leslie Koch of Downtown Traveler. Leslie is a blogger and freelance writer with a passion for travel. She left a corporate marketing career in 2008 to backpack around the world for a year. After returning to New York City, she founded DowntownTraveler.com, an online magazine for urban travelers who crave arts, culture and adventure.

1. How do you define the word “traveler,” and why would you consider yourself one?

A traveler is someone with an adventurous spirit and an interest in exploring different cultures. If you don’t have the means to visit exotic destinations, you can still be a traveler. For example, I enjoy discovering offbeat attractions in my hometown, New York City.

2. What has been your favorite travel experience thus far?

Many of my best travel memories are from my round the word trip. My fiancé (now husband) Jake and I visited 17 countries and 5 continents in 12 months. I love warm climates and beach destinations, so my favorite stops were Koh Lanta in Thailand, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and Fernando de Noronha in Brazil. I also enjoyed road tripping and camping through the Outback. The landscape is incredible, and you can go hours without seeing another car on the road.

3. How about your proudest travel moment?

I’m proud of the times I got out of my comfort zone and conquered my fears. I’m a city girl at heart and didn’t grow up camping, so I struggled at first with the idea of being so close to nature. Still, I managed to sleep in a hut in northern Thailand that had giant rats crawling across the ceiling. My husband was very impressed!

I’m not fond of heights, but I scurried down a sheer cliff on a chain ladder when I was hiking the Drakensberg Mountains in South Africa. The other women in my group made such a fuss about it that the guide had to help them down. I felt pretty hardcore at that moment.

4. Have you had any travel mishaps or bad experiences? If so, have these influenced how you view the place where they happened? Would you go back?

Fortunately I’ve never been mugged or robbed when traveling, but I have experienced the frustration of being totally lost and not being able to find a place to sleep. When Jake and I were in Laos, we visited a rural area with only a few guest houses. We arrived in town and found out they were all booked. At that point, I was exhausted from hitchhiking and traveling all day in the back of pick-up trucks. When night fell, we ended up crashing in a $3 room by the bus station. After one night there, my clothes reeked of dust and mold! That was the closest I’ve come to a breaking point.

We actually had a savior swoop in and help us in Laos. This kind woman, who was Laotian but lived in the US, picked us up on a highway, bought us food and helped us find our way to the next destination. Days later, she bumped into us again at the opposite side of the country and found a hotel for us at a great rate. Sometimes your best travel moments follow the worst experiences.

5. Name one thing you can’t travel without.

I always bring a bottle of Benadryl with me on a trip — it helps me sleep on bumpy bus rides and cope with musty hotel rooms. If they ever need a blogger to sponsor, I’m down!

6. Name one thing you wish you COULD travel without.

Tough question. I think I’ve honed my packing skills, so I usually don’t bring unnecessary items. That’s one advantage of living out of a backpack for a year. Fortunately, I had LASIK so I don’t have to bring along pesky contacts or glasses.

7. What do you think has been the biggest thing you’ve learned while traveling (about yourself, a destination, a culture, travel itself)?

When I travel, I like to take public transportation — buses, subways or songthaews. It’s a great way to experience the culture and see how locals live. While traveling continuously through Asia, Africa and South America, I realized that people are basically the same everywhere. They work hard to support their families and they strive for a better life. Every country has its own social issues and conflicts; when I encounter prejudice or poverty in another country, it makes me reflect on the issues we have in the United States.

8. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?

During a two month trip to Australia, I fell in love with a little town called Mission Beach. It’s on the Queensland Coast and its main inhabitants seem to be retirees and hippies.  During the week I spent there, we camped across the street from the beach and enjoyed an occasional fire show at night; we also went on an “Extreme Rafting” trip that lived up to its name. I loved the laid-back atmosphere. Actually, I think Mission Beach is Australia’s version of a Florida retirement community!

9. Name one place you’d like to see or one experience you’d like to have before you die.

The Galapagos Islands in Ecuador top my bucket list; I’d also love to see the mountain gorillas in Rwanda or Uganda. Every time someone posts an article about a gorilla trek, I diligently comment and tweet the post. I’m hoping karma will bring me an invite to visit the area, since the treks are quite expensive.

10. If there was one thing you wish somebody would have told you before you started traveling, what would it be?

I wish someone had told me to just relax. Traveling doesn’t have to be a stressful experience! I used to plan out every detail of a trip before I departed, but the RTW trip taught me to go with the flow. I got very comfortable showing up in a new city without any hotel reservations, not knowing the local language, and finding a great little hotel or pousada to stay in. Now that I’m back in the US, I usually book a hotel in advance but wait until arrival to finalize my plans. With iPhone apps and Twitter, it’s easy to find last-minute, local tips.

Visit Leslie's site: Downtown Traveler
Follow Leslie on Twitter: @downtowntravel
“Like” Leslie on Facebook: Downtown Traveler

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Are you a travel blogger who has something to say on these topics? Do you know of somebody really interesting in the travel universe that you’d like to see interviewed? Speak up! The Thursday Traveler needs some interview subjects.

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