Interview: Elona Karafin, Elona the Explorer
Name: Elona Karafin, Elona the Explorer
Profession: Financial analyst/philanthropist/travel blogger
Packing only what you need is the best travel remedy. I’m not saying wear the same outfit every day, but try to plan out your outfits before you leave. Bring only what you plan to wear (and maybe a couple “just in case items”). When you have less decisions to make before you leave your hotel, you’ll be able to focus more on your daily activities in a foreign land. It really works. I also strongly suggest bringing a portable charger with you at all times so you’re always able to recharge your phone, camera, etc. When buying a power adapter, be sure it also converts voltage. I’ve ruined things because the voltage in other countries was too high.
Favorite travel memory?
In November 2015, I visited Al Ain Desert in Abu Dhabi — it was one of the most culturally moving experiences I’ve had so far. I was absorbed in activities that are part of daily life for thousands of people. First, we went dune bashing. It was a frightening, but adrenaline-pumping experience. Then, I had the chance to spend time with camels — petting, feeding and riding them. I was dressed in traditional Arabic clothing and ate on a small carpet in the middle of the desert underneath the light of millions of stars. I saw and held a real falcon, too! And, of course, smoked a lot of shisha. I was so culturally immersed and astounded by the simplicity and the beauty around me — I have yet to experience something similar
Bucket List Destination?
My top 5 right now in no particular order are Madagascar, Cebu, the islands of Italy, French Polynesia and Casablanca.
Favorite off-the-beaten-path spot?
St. John has a beach called Honeymoon Beach. Like many beaches there, it’s private and low key. My best friend and I took a non-popular path that took about 15 minutes.We saw deer, donkeys and crystal-clear waters with turtles lounging in the sun, and even a dolphin along the way. It was fantastic.
What kind of traveler are you?
Definitely spontaneous. I am extremely lucky to work in a place where I more or less know my tasks and project deadlines. This gives me a lot of leverage for a last-minute day off. I’ve had tripsI booked 24 hours before departure — so if someone calls me and asks if I want to go across the globe for a long weekend, it is likelyI’ll go. I am basically ready and willing to do anything, especially if it is a cultural experience, if I feel like it will bring value to me or if it will add value to a community.
Craziest thing you’ve done while traveling?
Two of my girlfriends and I rented a car in The French Riviera. Our car had no navigation, or at least so we thought. Our cellphone data usage was up by the last night so we preloaded maps and navigation via WiFi prior to driving. We had absolutely no idea what the toll prices were, or how we had to pay them. We got stuck in the tollbooths THREE times — we drove up to the booth with no change, and had dozens of cars stuck behind us. We had to walk up to other cars in the middle of an intercity highway and ask other drivers for change. It was an absolute mess.
Our car ran on diesel so it was efficient enough that we didn’t have to fill up until the last day. We are driving to Monte Carlo for dinner, with no formal navigation except a preloaded map, and we are low on gas. We pull over and start looking for the navigation built in our car. We find it, but it’s in French. The good thing is we see a gas station sign on the map, so I start driving toward it. And then the navigation re-routes due to construction. The woman won’t stop talking in French and I understand none of it. At this point we have 5 kilometers left and no gas station in sight, no cars around us, no working phones and we don’t even know what the emergency number is to call in the worst-case scenario. It was honestly a miracle — a dim gas station light appeared just in the knick of time.
Funniest travel story?
To piggy back off the craziest story: Now we are an hour late for dinner, but at least we have enough gas to get us anywhere we want to go. Following the foreign navigation in our car, we head to Monte Carlo. The roads start to get darker, and I am having a difficult time driving even with high beams. We pass through a mountain tunnel, then another and another. The map re-routes, she keeps talking in French. I continue driving down the road and on the right side I see a sign: “Benvenuto in Italia.” We are driving into Italy?! At this point we start hysterically laughing. We made it to Italy. I made a U-turn and drove right back into France.
Best meal you’ve had on your travels?
Epicure at Le Bristol Hotel in Paris was my first Parisian 3-star experience and it blew me away.
Favorite item collected from your travels?
For now, my favorite items are photographs. Some of my pictures can really bring me right back into the moment I was in while I was taking them. I also order custom-made bracelets and necklaces from Etsy with the latitude and longitude of the places I’ve been to. Soon they will just be collectibles for me, because I’ll run out of wrist space to wear them all!
I am excited to attend the Cannes Film Festival this year, and from there I hope to check off the islands of Italy from my bucket list. A trip to Bali is also in the works, and at the end of 2016, I will be building a Primary School in Nicaragua.