Applying to college is a challenge within itself. Could you imagine doing it while planning your next big trip and starting up your very own travel blog? Meet Michelle Li, a (very) young woman with no limits and huge plans for herself.
“If you end up with a boring, miserable life because you listened to your mom, your dad, your teacher, your priest, or some guy on television telling you how to do your shit, then you deserve it.”
The above quote by Frank Zappa is Li’s life mantra. An 18 year old from Queens, New York, currently living in Long Island, New York while she finishes up her high school studies.
Li will be attending Carnegie Mellon University for their Design Production program under the School Of Drama in Fall 2015. “I see myself designing stages/sets/props for theatre productions for a couple of years out of university but eventually branching out into the television and film industry,” said Li. “I am currently running Girl Well Traveled as a side hobby but if it takes off and I was given the opportunity to travel-blog/photograph full time, I’d say ‘yes’ faster than the speed of light,” she added.
Here is my interview with Michelle Li, the girl behind Girl Well Traveled.
What interests you most about traveling?
I enjoy going to places off the beaten path that could be seen as “strange” or “weird” by others. For starters, I’m a big fan of taxidermy (never participated in it, although I do want to take a class), bones, and all things macabre so I have that sort of aesthetic going for me.
I’m also big on natural wonders when it comes to traveling. Seeing the city is wonderful and all, don’t get me wrong, but there’s something about being in the presence of Mother Nature that truly humbles you. When you’re in the face of a force greater than yourself, it strips your ego away and reminds you that you’re not all that. I love that feeling.
What inspires you to travel?
I’m a very enthusiastic person when it comes to interacting with others. I sincerely believe that happiness stems from genuine human connection and empathy. Much of that gets expressed when traveling (especially traveling solo). Through travel, you expand the scope of your mind whether it’s through encountering different cultures or seeing celestial-like landscapes. Another aspect that drives my need to travel is my love for adventure and the unknown — you always miss 100% of the risks you don’t take!
Where has been your favorite travel destination, and why?
Iceland, hands down. Aside from being the first European country I’ve ever traveled to, Iceland’s stunning and rugged landscape truly makes you feel like you’re on another planet. The country’s history is rich with viking stories, fairy tale folklore and some of the most interesting people I’ve met. One spot in Iceland that took my breath away was this eerily beautiful whale bone graveyard that we stumbled across while driving through the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. I’ll never forget standing amongst those bones.
Of everywhere you’ve traveled, where is the one place you could see yourself settling down?
I think I’m going to have to say New York City. It’s my hometown while still being one of the planet’s largest cities. What I love about NYC is the fact that:
- The city doesn’t become a ghost town at 6 PM like some other places do
- You can find any type of cuisine you desire at literally any time of day
- There’s always something new happening whether it be a street fair, a gallery opening, or a food festival. There’s no excuse for being bored!
What is your favorite part about traveling?
My favorite part of traveling would have to be the “getting there” part of the journey. There’s something indescribable about being in motion. The anticipation of getting to your destination is almost always expressed in a state of excitement and bliss. It is in those moments that I find myself ready to take on the world.
What do you enjoy writing about most?
I love writing about the places that typical tourists don’t get to see or experience. I’m a die hard fan of the notion that when one travels, one should go off the beaten path and seek the more underground activities. I love traveling like a local and traveling at a slower pace. For example, being in Italy and unwinding with a cup of espresso under a coffee shop awning strikes me more as experiencing Italy like a local than taking a giant tour bus of the city.
What is the one thing you need to buy on your travels?
I always look to buy something specific to the place I’m visiting and something that I wouldn’t be able to find anywhere else in the world. I especially love picking up little trinkets at local flea markets or boutique shops.
How can you afford travel?
Last year, I approached my parents and told them I wanted to embark on a Europe trip during the summer of my senior year. I also made it a point to let them know that if I was going to go, the funds to do so would come out of my own pocket — I wanted to earn my trip. They supported the idea but I knew they didn’t really believe that I was capable of making it happen. Fast forward to now, I’ve got all the plane tickets booked for my next trip!
In order to afford my travels, I’ve been working part-time as a photographer and tutor, bringing lunch from home to school, asking friends and family for housing accommodations abroad, hosting alternative wallet-friendly hangouts and requesting birthday gifts in cash as opposed to material items.
What is the one thing you cannot travel without?
I don’t think I would be able to travel abroad without my camera. I have a Nikon D7000 and it goes wherever I go when it comes to documenting my adventures!
How did you get into travel writing/photography?
My teachers in school always noticed that I had a knack for writing so blogging was something that came naturally to me. Currently, the only travel writing that I do pertains to my blog, Girl Well Traveled.
In terms of photography, it’s been one of my hobbies that I’ve been lucky enough to turn into a source of income. I’ve been shooting for years now and my number one tip for those interested in starting is to shoot, shoot, and shoot some more. If you stop shooting at the 1st photograph and call it a day, you will never realize the other possibilities of the photograph. In an average day of shooting, I’ll get somewhere up to 400 photographs. However, out of those 400, I usually only manage to pull out 150 satisfactory photographs. In the age of the DSLR, it never hurts to overshoot because if you mess up, you can go right ahead and start over.
What’s next for you? What are your future travel plans?
College is what’s next on my plate! It’s no doubt that I will be very busy but I do want to try and plan some travels during my winter/spring breaks. For my future travel plans, I am counting down the days until I depart for Norway, The Netherlands, Austria, and Northern Ireland.
What do you like most about being in a new place?
The first time I was ever truly alone while traveling was when I went to Pittsburgh, PA. Up until that point, I don’t think I truly understood the euphoria and curiosity that arises when you step into a foreign place on your own. It’s that first breath of unfamiliar air that thrills me the most about going to a new place. It’s also the courage I have to muster up when fending for myself in a foreign place that makes traveling so liberating.
What song is always on your travel playlist?
I Got U by Duke Dumont is one of my favorite travel songs! The song has a very summery vibe that doesn’t feel tied down. Whenever I listen to I Got U, images of pink sand, thrill-seekers jumping off cliffs into lakes and cross-country road trips flood my mind.
What other hobbies do you have aside from travel and writing?
One of the first things I tend to tell people about myself is that I love food. I’m not a picky eater by anyone’s standards and I think that’s the best way to live through life. Food is more than just something we eat– we also consume all of the other factors that go along with it. There’s so much culture and history that is transmitted through cuisine that many people tend to forget about. That’s why I always try to keep an open mind about tasting new foods; there have been people before me who ate the same foods and enjoyed them, so it can’t be all bad!
I also create a lot of artwork be it oil paintings, illustrations, sculptures, linocut prints, or watercolors. Growing up I always knew that I had to do art in some sort of capacity. I still remember the day my 5th grade art teacher told me that I had a special talent and to promise not forget her when I become famous. Art has always played a huge factor in terms of carving my interests. I’m currently a volunteer at the Museum Of Modern Art (MoMA) and will also be volunteering at the New York Botanical Garden Frida Kahlo exhibition in May 2015.
I am also currently working as a part-time second photographer/assistant/social media intern for a lovely travel photojournalist named B.A. Van Sise. He has worked as a photographer for Travel+Leisure, Fodor’s Travel Guides, The NYT, and more. He’s also the founder of the wedding photojournalist agency, The Lilypad Agency. I owe a lot to him (especially my insatiable need to travel) because as a traveling photojournalist, he’s constantly zooming across the world! He just came back from Easter Island. Like, what?? Normal people don’t just get to go to Easter Island!
What made you decide to start blogging?
It was a combination of two things: coming across 24 Wanderlust’s blog and wanting to document my upcoming trip to Europe. Jessie Gretener is the 17 year old behind 24 Wanderlust and coming across her blog made me realize that I could be doing what she was doing despite her age!
When did you first start traveling? Tell me about your first big adventure.
My first big adventure was when I went to Alaska with my family in July 2011. I never really thought too much about travel prior to this trip but upon seeing the Tongass National Forest, an incredibly ethereal temperate rain forest, my understanding of travel was forever changed. I used to have such a narrow perception of what travel was like (vacationing in the Caribbean at a luxury resort) but after going to Alaska, I realized that this was only a fraction of what the world had to offer.