A huge part of travel for me is the people I meet and the friends I make in the places I get to experience. Some of, well most of my best friends are people I have met while living overseas & the number one thing we have in common is that we get it. Get what? This whole travel life. The coming & going frequently, the moving towns often & regularly. The fact that we will rarely live in the same place for long. And the feeling of saying goodbye/reuniting with each other. So when I meet people who share this same passion I immediately want to know more about them and where their adventures have taken them.
Social Media has become a big part of my life and one of my favourite ways of using these channels is by connecting with people through them. Although I haven’t met most of the people I am connecting with I’ve been able to grown relationships through apps like Instagram in the hopes that one day our paths will cross and we can have some rad adventures. This is exactly the way it is with Heather of @gustafsonheather, we connected on Instagram a few months ago and when she agreed to be part of this series I was stoked! She’s all about that adventure life whether it’s getting into the mountains or being a bad ass & running marathons.
Alright girl, tell all these wanderers about yourself…
What is something people might be surprised to learn about you?
When I was in my late teens/early twenties I struggled with a sever eating disorder, anorexia nervosa, along with a few other addictions. Due to health complications as a result of these addictions I ended up spending a total of one year in, in-patent rehab before I reached the age of 21.
I wish I could go back and change things, but at the same time going through all of that taught me so much about myself and has helped shape me into the person I am today. I still struggle with negative self-image, but that is one reason I love to explore. When I see the world around me I can’t help but be in awe of this life and gain a greater awareness of what truly matters.
Did you always want to travel/what made you start?
Since I was a little girl I have always loved to travel. Growing up we didn’t have a lot of money but my parents worked hard so we could take small trips on the weekends and long road trips every summer. We didn’t have to travel to some distant land, as long as we were going somewhere I was happy; I just loved the adventure of it all. We were fortunate enough to travel to Europe when I was 12 but the majority of our trips involved traveling and camping at various national parks within the United States and the lower parts of Canada.
Now that I am a parent myself, I strive to do the same for my family. I still take a lot of solo adventures, but I also make sure we take as many family trips as possible. I want my son to see the world and develop the same love for travel that I have.
There are very few Americans these days (from my experience) that are out there travelling as much as you. Why do you think that is?
I think there are several factors that come in to play. First, being this underlying fear that the rest of the world dislikes Americans and that it’s not safe to travel. I do not completely disagree with this, but at the same time the world is vast and there are many places that embrace Americans. I think so much of this has to do with how people present themselves while traveling in other countries. Do they embrace the culture or just expect things to be as they are back at home? In all my years of traveling, both in groups and solo, I can only think of one time I didn’t feel safe and that happened to be while on a trip within the United States.
Secondly, I believe many Americans don’t travel as much has to do with a culture founded on material items. I don’t think this is limited to just Americans, but I know a lot of people value “things” over “experiences”. People would rather have the nice car, brand-name clothes, and a large fancy house instead of spending money on experiences/traveling. I was raised in an average home and had average clothes but we traveled as often as we could and would go wherever we could. My parents valued experience over things and strived to instill this in me and my brother.
I have had some pretty trying times in my life but through it all I have come to learn that things come and go but what you get out of traveling and being pushed out of your comfort zone cannot be taken away from you!
How do you decide where to travel to?
I have two distinctly opposite ways of determining when and where to travel. The first has to do with my solo adventures. I love to challenge myself, both physically and mentally, so I will usually find a mountain that I want to climb and plan my trip around that. I love my solo adventures because they allow me to have uninterrupted time to process emotions in a healthy, constructive way. I have yet to come home from one of my solo trips the same woman. I am not a confident woman by nature but over the years, and as a result of these trips, I have learned to value myself and what I am capable of as a human being.
The other type of trips I take involve my family. These trips tend to be more relaxed and centered on family activities such as hiking, camping, playing games, etc. Due to the costs of traveling in larger groups, our family trips tend to be simple, fun, relaxing road trips. My son LOVES the idea of going somewhere new and both he and my husband enjoy eating at random hole-in-the wall restaurants and a more luxury resort type feel. However, neither one is opposed to roughing it some, as long as it’s not the whole trip. I try to find a balance of both so we all get what we want.
What is your travel style?
Over the course of my life I started with family group trips, then moved into mainly solo trips and am now trying to find a balance of both. I am an independent woman and value my alone time but there is something to be said for having someone there to share an experience with. I like to stay away from crowded places as much as possible and love to spend time getting to know the local area of where I am at. But whether alone or in a group one thing is common, I am a very budget conscious person so all of the trips I plan tend to be done on a budget with a little bit of splurging here or there.
What is something you wish you could share with your pre-travel life self?
I wish I could tell the former me that the world is not as scary as you think it is and that “wherever you go, there you are.” I would tell myself to stop getting in my own way and don’t be afraid to trust yourself and take advantage of all the opportunities you are afforded.
Best & worst travel moment?
I have had both amazing, and some not so amazing, moments while traveling. But honestly, my best and worst moment is the same exact moment. On December 23, 2015, I made a promise to my Mom that I would take the trip we were planning together, even though we knew she would not be around to take it with me; she passed away the very next day.
On June 13, 2016 as I stood on top of Mt. Kilimanjaro surrounded by friends who had been complete strangers just days before, I felt this sense of joy and sorrow that cannot be put into words. I had fulfilled the promise I made to my Mom, but she was not there, physically, to experience it with me. The opposing emotions were hard and yet comforting. I didn’t know what to expect when I set out on my solo adventure, but to this day I feel so blessed to have had the support of my Mother, even though she was not there physically to share it with. This was one of those life-defining moments that I am grateful to have had.
What’s next for you?
I like to plan my trips one year at a time, I find that if I plan too far ahead life happens and things may not pan out the way I hoped. This past year I had unexpected shoulder surgery to correct a completely torn labrum tendon, climbed Mt. Rainier, ran my first marathon, and took some small road trips with my family. Next year I plan to take a winter trip with some other Women Who Explore members, climb two of the volcanos in Mexico, run another marathon, and continue to take family trips as our schedules allow. It will be another busy year but I wouldn’t have it any other way!
Famous Last words for all the wanderers out there
There are so many quotes that resonate with me but the one that hits home the most right now is: “When everything feels like an uphill struggle, just think of the view from the top!” – Anonymous
Heather continues to inspire everyone who comes across her feed in Instagram whether she is tackling the trails solo or with her family, or running bad ass marathons she's a force to be reckoned with and I can't wait to see where the coming months take her & her adventure loving family!