Social media is a great way to connect with people from around the world. And with that, I love to check out photos of people traveling around the world as either a thing of expanding my bucket list of destinations, or as a way to wanderlust in my consistent mundane life (dramatic). With the snap of a finger or photo in this case, Instagram has been able to create a bridge to otherworldly destinations with people taking photos of luxurious and beautiful destinations. One of my favorite Instagram follows is Ariel Lee better known around the web as Cult of Lee.
I first discovered Ariel’s Instagram feed one day with her photo from Antelope Canyon in Arizona (photo here). I instantly thought to myself, this place is added to my bucket list, and man isn’t this a cool photo? As any person would do, I continued scrolling through her feed eyeing beautiful destinations like: South Ari Atoll (Maldives), Hong Kong, Big Sur and more.
Ariel is currently globetrotting, right now from Hong Kong and I got the chance to ask her a few questions for what I hope will become a full fledged and complete travel series. Check out the interview below, and make sure to check out Ariel on Instagram and her website.
I know you were the co-founder of Boomrat but what else were you doing before you started to travel full-time?
I was in college at USC when I started Boomrat. In college I was doing freelance creative jobs in web design, branding, and graphic design. I also helped launch a restaurant called the Daily Dose that’s in DTLA.
That’s pretty cool. What initially got you into traveling, and how were you able to make it your full-time career?
I’ve always loved traveling, since as far back as I can remember. My mom was a stewardess for Cathay Pacific back in the day, and my dad grew up moving around as well, so I guess it’s in the genes
I wouldn’t call traveling my full-time career.. more like my lifestyle. You can live anywhere you want to.. I’ve just set it up so that right now my homes are tropical islands in SE Asia. For money at the moment I consult on creative direction and branding remotely, live off my savings, and am putting pieces together before I start my next venture.
I’ve always heard that when people travel alone, they really learn a lot about themselves because you’re forced to be with yourself. With exploring the world, what are some of the biggest things that you have learned about yourself while traveling?
I’ll be the first to admit that I have many deeply rooted patterns that I’m working on letting go of.. pieces of the Ego I’m trying to break down. This is a constant lifelong process, and the more I travel consciously the more I let go of. The most important part of travel is to push your boundaries. The further you push, the more you realize how strong you really are, and what you’re capable of.
Also I know that you recently took a 4-day hiatus in the jungle in one of my bucket list destinations of Bali. How was that, and how was it to really unplug for that long?
I did a 4 day silent meditation retreat with an awesome teacher, which involved 10 hours of meditation, pranayama and asana a day. No eye contact, no internet, no phones, no talking, but luckily on this trip we were allowed to journal. This was an awesome little preparation for more hardcore retreats like 10 day Vipassana’s that I’ll do when I go back to India. It’s a beautiful experience to not just unplug but to actively work on and explore your internal state. It’s more than beautiful.. it’s necessary!
How do you choose your destinations that you will travel to and how do you locate experiences that are unique to each of those destinations?
I just go with the flow. I don’t make plans, I just let things fall into place. I’m flexible and I book one way tickets! That’s the best way to ensure an amazing experience… just go and experience!
How important are the relationships with locals you make along the way for exploring and finding local gems?
This is essential. I almost always have local friends ready to take me around when I fly into a place. Either friends or friends of friends that I’ve never met before. Helps immensely.
How important is it for you to build or find a community in the places you visit?
This is not so important for me – as long as I’m enjoying a place, I’ll stay. I also met my boyfriend Tristan in Bali last year so we’ve been traveling together since. Whomever we meet up with… that’s our community.
Another question about relationships, I know that with traveling, it may be hard to keep and stay connected with everyone from back home. Is it hard to stay consistent with those relationships, also how is dating since you’re gone a lot?
When you’re gone for a long time, you realize who your real friends are, and who your proximity friends are (people you just hang out with because it’s convenient). It’s easy to keep in touch with the ones that matter.. I whatsapp them all the time (or when I have wifi / 3G). I probably talk to my best friend in California at least once a day. I’ve been lucky with dating – I’ve been in a relationship for the past 8 months.
What have been the best cultural experiences thus far?
Living in India in itself is a cultural experience. That’s been the most rewarding and transformative one yet.
What are five tips you could give to anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps and travel full-time?
1) Stop buying things you don’t need to fill a void you don’t have.
2) Stop working a job that you hate to buy things you don’t need to fill a void you don’t have.
3) Cultivate skills that you can use abroad. People tutor online, or consult remotely, work in farms, bars, teach, etc. Make yourself useful.
4) Figure out what’s important to you. What kind of places do you want to visit? What are you trying to learn? Why do you want to travel in the first place?
5) Just go!
Are there any places that people should look for or into for traveling deals, or work while they are traveling?
I heard about http://www.wwoof.net/ lately and it seems like an awesome alternative.
Last question, which is kind of a greedy foodie question, but how has the food been while traveling? Do you have a favorite dish from a country and if so, what was it?
There’s amazing food everywhere in SE Asia, which is where I’ve been based recently. The hardest place for me in terms of food was probably India.. a lot of amazing Indian food but not a lot of healthy options. Forget about kale salad. But they do have my favorite drink… Masala Chai tea. Nothing beats a good steaming cup. Dishes I can’t pick there are so many!