Every month, The Traveler Series shines a light on the many talented writers, bloggers, photographers and editors within the travel community and asks them to share their story. Each interview has offered up priceless advice on travel and blogging from pioneers who have paved the way to success. This month, I’m thrilled to interview Becky Kivlovitz O’Connor, one of my newest writers to join The Pin the Map Project team! Becky is a freelance writer currently based in Maryland, working on travel/lifestyle pieces and writing fiction as a hobby. Becky has worked in the editorial departments of magazines and publishing companies in Austin, Texas; Boulder, Colorado; and Baltimore, Maryland; and is now pursuing writing and traveling full time! Here, Becky shares her travel style, best piece of travel advice and favorite destinations.
What inspires you to travel?
When my world becomes too familiar, I forget how good this life is. It takes going, seeing, and hearing stories from people different than myself to remember the beauty that surrounds us. I love being in awe of it all.
For those who don’t yet know you, can you explain your travel style?
My ideal travel entails my pack, a tent, and the backcountry of a region I’ve yet to explore. While swanky dives and urban bright lights host undeniable appeal, I’m most charmed by small villages embedded along a trail, miles and miles away from Wi-Fi and cell service.
How do you afford your travels?
My first paid writing trip came by way of an assignment for a college professor’s magazine, Texas Music. Before that assignment, I was entirely unaware of paid travel writing. I set off for West Texas where I was able to stay (for free!) in a teepee in Marfa, watch the alien lights flash across the desert horizon and catch a handful of gritty folk concerts. So, needless to say, I set my sights on making paid travel a habit. I’ve since partnered with various magazines and tourism departments to sponsor or severely discount my travels in England, Ireland, Scotland, Colombia and various locations within the US.
Where has been your favorite destination and why?
Jerusalem. I’m fascinated with faith, what people choose to believe in, and why. Jerusalem abounds with conflicting faith systems, hosting holy pilgrimage sites for Christians, Jews, and Muslims. They say it’s hard to breathe in Jerusalem because the air is full of conflicting prayer—and it’s true. For a religion junkie like myself, very few places hold greater promise for just the right kind of adventure and conversation. Don’t forget the colorful Mahane Yehuda Market, epic pub crawls, and the greatest hole-in-the-wall used book store I’ve ever explored.
If you had to settle down in one location forever, where would you choose and why?
Colorado for its endless offerings of mountain adventures or off-the-grid somewhere on the coast in South America for the reflective, yet festive, slow-paced living.
What’s the funniest or weirdest cultural idiosyncrasy you’ve either witnessed or experienced while traveling?
In Israel, there are religious beaches where women swim fully clothed; and there are secular beaches where the women can swim naked. The two are separated by a thin wall. Also, in Colombia I drank cheesy hot chocolate and was offered Donkey Porn on the street.
What keepsake do you have to get at all your destinations?
I keep topographical maps from all the longer trails I’ve completed. The maps end up soaked or stained from whatever weather I encounter en route.
How about the one thing you cannot travel without?
My rain jacket. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve found myself lost and alone in the rain…and of course, a journal.
Have you ever traveled solo? If yes, what was the experience like?
I primarily travel solo. My family made me promise to bring a friend when I went backpacking in Colombia—but there were plenty of solo females along our route to Cuidad Perdida. Traveling alone is half the game for a journalist, looking for a story. I’ve learned I appear more welcoming for conversation when I’m alone and from those opportunities, I find my greatest stories and life lessons.
What are your go-to travel apps?
Google Translate. Thank God for Google Translate. Also, if traveling with a friend, Trip Splitter is crucial so that you don’t have to worry about who got what until the end of the trip. WhatsApp is great to reconnect with people you met along the way, and, of course, to call back home.
What is the best piece of travel advice you’ve picked up over the years?
“Always choose to go. You know happens when you don’t go—nothing. But you never know what awaits you when you go.” Sometimes it’s hard to get up for that 3 a.m. sunrise trek but the unknown is out there! You never know who you’ll meet or the experiences you’ll share—so go.
Do you have your own travel site? If yes, tell us about it!
I post articles I’ve published on www.beckykivlovitz.com, and I’m now a proud writer for The Pin the Map project.
What is your best piece of advice to budding travel writers looking to start a blog or website?
Don’t wait for a publication to approve your pitch. Just go! Find the best spots, the wildest tales, and the rest will fall into place once you’ve got your content.
What’s next for you in 2016?
I head for the Middle East in a few days. In April, I’ll peak behind the Iron Curtain to Germany, Austria, Slovakia, and Hungary and (hopefully) I’ll have the opportunity to check out Skellig Michael Island from the end of the new Star Wars movie, off the coast of Ireland with my avid Star Wars fan of a husband.
Stay tuned for upcoming Traveler Series interviews from my other talented writers, Elisa Fourt and Christine Stoddard; and make sure to follow Becky and her adventures on her Instagram and Twitter!