Thursday 11 October 2012

The Blond interviews: Aga Zimny

I can easily say that Aga is my inspiration. She's done something many of us dream of: she quit her job in one of the biggest corporations in the World, went away for a couple of months, traveled solo around South East Asia and then came back and opened her own business. Now, she is a real entrepreneur, a business woman, who is not afraid to take life by the horns.
With less than 3 months to The Trip, I decided to ask Aga for some advice on packing, safety and travelling as a woman.

The Blond: I know that you have traveled a lot. Where did the idea of backpacking trips come from?

Aga Zimny: I started backpacking around Europe when I was at uni. I found out that two weeks of camping in Spain gave me more pleasure than a stay at a luxury hotel in Tunisia. I would take one of the cheap flights and fly every other weekend to another European destination. So I knew that I would be fine in organising a longer backpacking trip. I listened to my work colleagues’ stories, who had been to Asia before, and that was how I got the idea to go there. It turned out that it wasn't impossible to visit SE Asia like many people think.

TB: What made you quit your job and go away for longer? Was it a sudden impulse or was it a slow process?

AZ: I would say that it was a process. It started from a trip to Burma and meeting a few people there. They’d quit their jobs and gone travelling. Their stories were amazing. I thought: ‘I would like to do the same’. But, of course, many of us only think that but not many actually do it.
Second phase was my come back to work after this trip. It was March and it was cold and rainy. I looked outside my window and I saw only one colour – gray. I compared this reality with my memories from the trip. Back then I worked for a corporation and realised that, if I quit my job I won’t lose much: only a job. I could get promoted and then would spend 12 hours a day at work, then answer emails at night and draft presentations during weekends.
I think that people have a tendency to get used to a status quo, even if it is not their dream life.  Apparently, many managers take longer breaks when they are 40 and feel burnt out. I didn’t want to get to that point. Let’s learn on other people’s mistakes! – I thought.
Third phase was reading other travellers’ blogs. I could read their posts for hours. They convinced me even more.
The last phase was a change from ‘I would like to’ to ‘I will do’. It is a short moment, one second, but a very important one. Because if we don’t change our dreams and plans into action, they will always stay just that: dreams and plans.

Phot. by Aga Zimny

TB: Was the decision about travelling alone a hard one? Did you come across some negative opinions? If so, what do people, who warned you against going away, think about it now?

AZ: I knew straight away that I was going alone. I didn't expect anyone from my friends to make a similar decision. I had been to South East Asia before and I knew that many people travel like that and they meet other travelers there. I didn't come across negative opinions. There were more of: ‘I’m really jealous. I would also like to go, but I can’t’ or ‘ aren't you scared? I would be!’ and my favorite  ‘And what are you going to do there?’Most people thought that it was a great idea. After I came back, people who said they would have been scared to go away didn't change their minds.

TB: How long did you go for and how long out of that time did you travel solo?

AZ: I went away for 3 months. It is quite a short time for this kind of travelling, but it was caused by financial reasons. During my preparations some of my friends declared that they would also like to go with me, so at the end, I traveled solo for a month.

TB: Which countries did you visit?

AZ: During the last trip I visited India, Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia and Indonesia. It total, I think I’ve been to around 32 countries, mostly in Europe.

Phot. by Aga Zimny

TB: Why did you choose South East Asia for your last trip?

AZ: I had been there before and I’d fallen in love with the region. No wonder there are so many backpackers there. It is safe, cheap, people are great, food is delicious and the sights are amazing. But for me as a woman the most important was my own safety.

TB: Is there a place which made the biggest impression on you, which you won’t forget, and why? Maybe you have your favourite continent or a country?

AZ: My favourite country is definitely Burma. Before I went away I had read that you wouldn’t meet nicer people than in Burma anywhere else in the world, and this is true. Well, maybe except taxi drivers. Burma is a completely different world, which at the moment is changing dramatically. That’s why it is the last chance to visit the country before it turns into a second Thailand.

Phot. by Aga Zimny

TB: Which countries were disappointments?

AZ: I was a little disappointed in India. They say that you either love it or hate it, but I have an ambivalent feeling about it. The person who made the ‘Incredible India’ advert should get an Oscar for special effects. But to me the worse were the constant ‘lies’ I heard from the local people. Indians seem to say anything you want to make you buy from them, stay at their hotel, take their rickshaw. The men try to chat you up all the time and stare at you, which can be a little tiring for travelling women.

TB: What do you like about travelling?

AZ: That during a few hours you can find yourself on a different continent, in a completely different world. And that many times during a day you can be totally amazed by new things, and during a few days you can live through more great things than during a month at home. It is like a journey to a different dimension, or like a time travel. People would like to go to Mars – I think that one day in Delhi would bring them more excitement.

TB: How did you prepare for the trip? Do you have any tried ways of travelling?

AZ: I started from vaccinations, because you need to think about it a few months in advance. I also read about the places I was going to visit, but not too much. I don’t like to know everything, I like to be surprised. Besides, it is worth changing your plans at your destinations, because the locals can recommend something, which doesn’t feature in your travel guide. I didn’t have any special planning system. I just simply wrote a list what needs to be done before I go and what I need to pack. I packed my bag a day before. It is always worth bearing in mind that if we forget something, there are also shops at the other end of the World. The other thing worth noting is that less is more, so don’t take too much.

Phot. by Aga Zimny

TB: In your opinion what should women who are going away remember about?

AZ: Mostly to check the place they are visiting, because of the safety reasons. If this is your first trip it is good to choose an area where the tourism is organised well. South East Asia is perfect. You also need to remember about the vaccinations and insurance (people under 30 can get a Euro<26 card, which is great as it is an insurance valid anywhere in the World). It is also good to spend a little time talking to your bank – I found out that if I had lost my credit card, I wouldn’t have had a chance to get my money out. So, I got 2 more cards from a different bank. All 3 I kept separately and I actually lost one.

TB: Can travelling solo be difficult for a woman?

AZ: It can because of men, who either stare at you or try to chat you up. But this doesn’t happen that often. Then there is a problem of a very heavy bag, which you can’t leave when you go and look for accommodation. Toilets can also be a problem.
Travelling solo can be difficult when you are not used to being alone. If someone can’t spend a day without other people, then they will find travelling alone difficult.
I don’t recommend this kind of travel to women who are not independent and always rely on men. But I don’t think that they even consider such a journey.

Phot. by Aga Zimny

TB: During your trip, did you have any unpleasant situations, which were caused by the fact that you were a woman and how did you get out of them?

AZ: Once, in a hotel in India where I stayed, at 2 am, a gentleman from the reception called me and offered a massage. Of course, the hotel didn’t offer these kinds of services, and it was a private initiative of that man. I hung up the phone and made a big fuss about it in the morning.

TB: Do you use couchsurfing? If so, would you recommend this form of accommodation to other women? Is there anything one needs to remember before contacting another couchsurfer?

AZ: During my trip I didn’t use couchsurfing, because it isn’t very popular in Asia – if you have a spare room you rent it to tourists – every penny counts. Besides, I never knew where I was going to be in the next few days and the accommodation is very cheap there. But I actually ‘rented a couch’ to other people once. It was a couple from France, who drove to Japan by a motorcycle. It was really nice.
I think that if you want to use couchsurfing for the first time, you need to look at the amount and types of recommendations other people leave. If you are invited by a man without any recommendations, then I would suggest you think about it. I think couchsurfing is great because you not only get a free accommodation, but also meet local people – and this can bring some amazing experiences.

TB: If you go away you need to limit your packing list to an absolute minimum. What was your list like? Were there things that you had taken and then didn’t end up using? What do you think is absolutely necessary?
AZ: I recommend taking light things. Change your jeans into those made of a lighter material and your towel into a microfiber one. I hated my trainers, because they had these thick rubber soles. I gave them to my sister when she, after a month of travelling with me, went back home. There is a method of packing where you spread the things you want to take in front of you, divide that by two, and then again by two.
Take things you feel comfortable in – if you don’t wear it at home, you won’t wear it on your holiday. Besides, you will want to buy some new clothes or suveniours at your destination, so keep a free space for that.
If you go away during winter and come back in spring or summer, then buy a winter jacket in a second hand and then give it away, or throw it out, at your destination.
I took a laundry line, which I didn't end up using.
I can’t imagine travelling without ear plugs, which I use during a flight, or at night in a hostel where there is a big party going on.

Phot. by Aga Zimny

TB: What is your best memory from your trip?

AZ: I can’t say that I have one favourite memory. I loved the scuba diving course and coral reefs. I also once met an Indonasian family on a bus. I asked them where I should get off so it’s not too far for me to travel to the airport the next day. They offered me their apartment (it was all for my own use while they stayed in a different one), in the evening they brought me a McDonald’s meal, just in case I was hungry and at 6 am they took me to the airport.

TB: What are you plans for the nearest future?

AZ: I’m opening my own business. Of course I am planning a little trip, but at the moment I can’t afford it, but I hope that in few months I will be able to get away.

Phot. by Aga Zimny

TB: Would you like to go away for a longer trip?

AZ: I will definitely do everything so my last trip isn’t my last one.

TB: What countries would you like to visit?

AZ: Bolivia and Salar de Uyuni, Australia, Cuba, Jamaica. I would like to go back and visit the US again, which is incredible. And I will go back to Asia.

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