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Before joining StrongDM as an account executive, Sienna Gordon spent a year solo traveling the world. With a tight budget and a big sense of adventure, she slept in monasteries, zipped through tea fields, and even helped MedEvac someone to safety!
Her big takeaway from the experience? There are a lot of nice people in the world. I think it’s fair to say that Sienna is one of them.
Here’s the interview.
How did you decide you wanted to spend a year traveling around the world?
Believe it or not, it wasn't an active choice. I was saving to buy a house, so I had this money. And I had time, and I just thought—maybe I can go away for two months, three months… And then I just kind of kept going, stretching my money and my budget to like $25 a day, and I was gone for a whole year.
That's incredibly adventurous. Where did you end up going?
I started with a one-way ticket to Vietnam and spent about eight months in Asia. Then I spent about three and a half months in Europe doing a lot of crazy things like staying in monasteries, couch surfing, and just meeting people along the way that would let me stay with their families. Not glamorous at all.
How did your trip start off? You said Vietnam was your very first stop. What was it like? What did you do when you arrived there?
This was my first time going to Asia. My first time traveling by myself. And I was very, very underprepared and very overwhelmed. I would have to go behind little old ladies to cross the street because there were motorcycles and crazy traffic—and no traffic laws or rules. I was afraid to leave my hostel at first, like I’d make a big, big mistake. But I figured it out the longer I was there.
Was there any big revelation or big moment where you started to realize you were no longer overwhelmed by it?
I don't know if it was an exact moment per se. I just started gaining confidence in myself—realizing, hey I can figure this out.
I can figure out how to go to a bus station and buy a ticket. Or go up to somebody on the street who I think may speak English. Or I can figure out Google Translate or meet somebody nice in a hostel or something.
So I think the longer I traveled, the more I realized that there are a lot of really nice people in the world. Maybe it's just because I was alone, but people were a lot nicer. I think it helped confirm my confidence along the way.
So did you speak any Vietnamese at all? Do you speak any other foreign languages?
I think that may be the definition of courage. So where did you go after Vietnam?
I went to Cambodia after that. And then after Cambodia was India, Sri Lanka, all over Asia basically.
What was your favorite spot in Asia?
Answering this is kind of like a double-edged sword. I think you can be in the most amazing place but have the worst time if you don't meet really nice people. I had the best time in Sri Lanka because the people were so nice. And traveling there was super fun—like you would go on these railroad cars that hug these mountainsides of tea fields, and you have your feet out (I know, super dangerous). But everything there was just really fun.
Where did you go after you left Asia?
My first stop in Europe was in Germany, and then I just worked my way across some different countries like the Netherlands, Italy. I'd always wanted to go to Siena, Italy. So I went there and just kind of explored.
I imagine the cost difference between Asia and Europe is pretty substantial. Was it also harder sticking to your budget once you got to Europe?
Yeah. I did a lot more couch surfing— staying with rugby players and teachers and business owners. There’s this really cool community online, and I met a lot of really interesting people that I'm still friends with today. It’s a really cool way to see a place when you're traveling on a budget because you just stay at someone's house.
What was the most surprising part of your trip? What was something that you could never have expected in a million years?
I had to help somebody get medically evacuated. I got to go on a medical evacuation flight, which wasn't great. But it was a cool experience at the same time. I never expected that I would do that.
Oh wow. What are your top two pieces of advice to folks who decide that they too, are going to go on sabbatical and travel the world? What would you tell them?
My number one piece of advice is just having no plans. It makes it a lot more fun because you can decide—hey, that sounds like a great idea. I would love to join you if you want to go meet up at this place XYZ, and then just do it.
And second: make your budget, and then be flexible with how much you're spending in certain places.
Now for the same seven questions we ask everybody.
What's your favorite word?
Your favorite sound?
Breathing while diving underwater, the whoosh whoosh whoosh is very relaxing.
Your favorite superpower?
That one would have been convenient on your trip…
Your favorite emoji?
The girl that has her hand out like this. 💁🏼♀️
Save or spend?
Who's your hero?
And what's your personal slogan?
Don't be a ding dong.
Love it. Ladies and gentlemen, Sienna Gordon. Thank you so much for the interview.
And if you’d like a chance to meet more great people like Sienna, check out our latest job openings here.
About the Author
Maile McCarthy, Contributing Writer and Illustrator, has a passion for helping people bring their ideas to life through web and book illustration, writing, and animation. In recent years, her work has focused on researching the context and differentiation of technical products and relaying that understanding through appealing and vibrant language and images. She holds a B.A. in Philosophy from the University of California, Berkeley. To contact Maile, visit her on LinkedIn.