Wandering Worldie: Sam Li

Wandering Worldie: Meet Sam Li

Sam and I have known each other since 2012, and even though we’ve lived on opposite sides of the United States (and now on opposite sides of the world!), we’ve always kept in touch and kept up with each others adventures. A local Californian, this chick has been to numerous countries, group globe trotting, or exploring solo – I finally got some time in her busy schedule to get the latest on where she’s been and where she’s going!

Let’s start with the basics… 

How old are you?

Where are you from, and where do you live right now?
I’m originally from Saratoga, CA (suburb of San Jose, CA) & currently living in the beach town of Santa Cruz, CA!

Was this your first international trip?

What was your first international trip?
My first international trip was to a family reunion in Vancouver, Canada. I think I was at most five, so I don’t remember too much except being outdoors with my family. My second international trip was a cruise to Mexico with my friend’s family for her sixth birthday (bougie, I know, but how can you say no, even at six years old?!) My third international trip, and probably the one I remember the most, was a trip to China with my immediate family. I think I was about eight or nine.

What was so special about it that you decided to keep travelling?
The family trip to China was really eye-opening because I saw the country and culture where my ancestors are from. It was also really eye-opening to see and experience another culture and lifestyle. It made me realize how big and different our world is.

Wandering Solo

Was this your first solo trip?
Yes! Half of it wasn’t solo, but some of my favorite memories from the trip are from when I was out exploring on my own.

Where did you go?
Spain and Portugal

Why did you decide to go to Portugal?
I’ve wanted to go to Portugal for a few years now after seeing some really gorgeous pictures of the country. Before this year, it didn’t feel like such a hot spot to travel to in Europe and I like going places that are little bit more uncommon. (I say before this year because I feel like I know so many people that all of a sudden decided to visit Portugal this year).

Were there any other countries you were considering?
I considered going to Amsterdam with my friends for a few days, but since I’ve already been, I figured it makes more sense to keep traveling throughout Spain.

What did you expect before you went?
I expected the food in Spain to be really good (paella, YES PLEASE!). I expected both countries to be really, really hot. I know August is typically a vacation month for Europeans, so I expected some places to be closed for the whole month of August because the locals themselves were vacationing as well.

Were you scared?
I think there’s always a little nervousness when doing new things and not knowing what will happen, so I think I was a little bit nervous, but I was mostly really, really, really excited for my month long adventure!

Was your family scared? Friends?
I don’t think any family or friends were scared until the attack in Barcelona happened. I got a lot of texts, Facebook messages, and emails right after it happened. But other than that, I think my family and friends were just as excited for me to go on my trip as I was.

Did you have a gameplan going into it?
I knew the route I wanted to take and the cities I wanted to visit. I also had a couple weeks of my trip where I was accompanied with friends, so for those portions of my trip, I had a solid game plan (ie: hostels booked, train/bus tickets purchased, any activities I needed to book ahead done). But for the portions I was on my own, I didn’t have anything booked.

What was the hardest thing about travelling solo?
At times, it felt lonely. Sometimes I felt surrounded by people who seemed to know each other well or have a good conversation going and I didn’t want to interrupt and be the “new girl”. BUT I realized that most people were also in similar situations as I was, so I shouldn’t be nervous about just jumping into a conversation and introducing myself. I also got really comfortable with being alone. It was really refreshing to explore a new city just to myself. You get the chance to be with your own thoughts.

What was the best thing?
Oh man, I think there were a few things: 1. I did everything I wanted to do on my own time. I wasn’t tied down to anyone else’s schedule because I made my own. 2. Learning how to figure things out on my own when no one around me spoke English, I didn’t know where I was or what I was doing. I didn’t buy an international data plan and only had wifi in hostels or restaurants, so I learned how to figure things out on my own when I was already out and about in the city. It might sound a bit silly, but there’s something very humbling about having to use hand gestures to ask a complete stranger where the bathroom is because you can’t communicate to them with spoken word. 3. But for me, the best thing was (and usually always is) meeting some super awesome people from all over the world who I keep in touch with over social media. Even over short periods of time, I got to know people really well because we were both in an unfamiliar situation trying to figure things out.

How was this trip different from others you’ve gone on?
This was my first trip where I’ve had more than 36 hours on my own and not everything planned.

You seem to meet a TON of people when you travel, how do you do that!
I always stay in hostels where it’s easier to meet people. Most hostels have organized activities people can sign up for (ie: free walking tours of the city, pub crawls, food tours, fun excursions), so it’s easy to strike up a conversation with someone.

Are you ever nervous about meeting people, or putting that trust in someone who comes from a completely different culture and place?
I consider myself an extrovert, but even I think there’s always something a little nerve wracking about meeting new people. There’s always that initial timidness, but you realize others are in the same situation as you as well.

Do you have a “break the ice” method, anything you say to people that kinda helps you create that bond as a fellow traveller?
Hmm…nothing too creative. I usually ask people how long they’re traveling for, where they’ve been or where they’re headed to next where they’re from. If they’ve been somewhere I’m headed to, I always ask for recommendations. I find those questions naturally lead to more conversation. Like I said, nothing too creative.

A Worldie Perspective

Why do you think it’s important to travel?
I stumbled upon a quote by Deborah Lloyd, Chief Creative Officer for Kate Spade New York, a couple weeks ago after returning from Portugal that really captures what I love most about traveling: “travel sparks our imagination, feeds our curiosity, and reminds us how much we all have in common.” Traveling introduces us and opens our mind to new concepts, ideas, lifestyles, perspectives. It also perpetuates our inner desire to discover and understand other cultures and traditions. I think we all get so busy in our day-to-day lives we forget that we’re all human, looking to connect with one another.

What do you want to tell people who have never travelled before?
Don’t be afraid to do it! Like I said, trying new things is always scary, but that scary feeling is freeing and empowering all at the same time. I promise you’ll learn something new about yourself and the world and it won’t disappoint you.

What is the biggest misconception about travelling solo, or to a foreign country?
I think the biggest misconception about traveling solo is how you’ll be solo the whole time. THIS IS NOT THE CASE, you can be as solo as you want! I joked with a girl I met in Seville, Spain that even though we were traveling solo, we weren’t really traveling solo because we met so many people.

How is it travelling as an American in different countries?
With the current political climate in the U.S., I’ve gotten a lot of questions about how I feel, what it’s really like, and so on. It’s always interesting to hear a foreigner’s perspective because it’s depiction of how the world views the U.S.

How has travelling impacted your perspective?
Traveling around the world has made me more empathetic in how I relate to the world and others. It’s opened my mind to different ways of living and has challenged me to evaluate what I value and want in life.

What do you wish people knew more about people in other countries?
Whenever I travel, I’m always reminded of the humanity and compassion people have. Although I’ve encountered my fair share of unfriendly people, I’ve met more caring and kind people who have gone out of their way to help me out or get to know me. I think the media reinforces negative stereotypes and portrays a false image of people who may be different than us, but traveling makes you realize that we’re really all the same.

What is the most important thing you’ve learned because of travelling?
I’ve learned to be open, not only to new adventures and opportunities, but to new ways of thinking and new lifestyles. I’ve learned to be patient and kind. The world is big, but we are all human. And I’ve learned to stay curious, about the world, other cultures and societies.

What’s Next!

What’s the next place on the bucket list?
Oh man, so many places! Ever since studying abroad in Istanbul in 2013, I’ve wanted to traverse around Eastern Europe like Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia. Patagonia has always been high on the list. So has Machu Picchu haha honestly, anywhere! After my trip, I have new friends all over the world so maybe one of their cities, who knows!

What is your ultimate travel goal?
To keep traveling every year. Ever since I studied abroad, I’ve been lucky enough to have the chance to travel to at least two new countries every year. Two new countries every year is a little ambitious now having more adult responsibilities, but I hope to keep traveling to a new country or city (you can’t forget your own country too!) every year.

What would you consider your #1 travel hack?
The app maps.me; it’s helped me so many times, especially while solo traveling. The app allows you to download a map of any country and use it while not connected to wifi or data. You can search for a restaurant and it’ll give you driving or walking directions. It might not have every restaurant you’re looking for, but whenever I’ve used the walking directions, it’s never led me astray.

What is your favorite memory you’ve made while travelling?
Oh man, too many just to name one! One of my favorite memories while traveling was my trip to Cappadocia, Turkey. I went on a sunrise hot air balloon ride (yes, just like all the Insta famous ones you see) and slept in a cave. One night, some friends and I climbed up a hill and lied down on a picnic table to stare up at the stars. It was such a clear night that we were able to see so many stars and even part of the Milky Way Galaxy. I remember feeling so close to the sky and I distinctly remember thinking to myself that I would never forget that moment.

What’s been your favorite funny moment when travelling?
Thankfully I don’t have any horror stories, but the most recent funny–and also OMG–story I can think of was when my girlfriends and I were on a bus in Cambodia, traveling from the capital, Phnom Penh, to Siam Reap and a Cambodian lady had her baby on the bus. We were about four hours into the ride and a lady a couple rows behind me started yelling in Cambodian. Then she fell the middle walkway of the bus and an older lady rushed to help her. There was some commotion on the bus (all in Cambodian) and I just starred at all my friends, like “What is happening right now?” Within five minutes, I heard a newborn baby cry and realized she had her baby on our bus.

Keep up with Sam and her wanderings on her Instagram!

Have any epic adventures you want to share, or travel tips? Email wanderingworldie@gmail.com

Check out our other Worldies!

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Wandering Worldie: Phoebe Howlett
Phoebe is a wandering worldie not only through her travels, but through her determination and perseverance. Since 2015, she’s struggled with two chronic illnesses that severly impacted her life. Today, Phoebe is in remission, and her passion for travel is on fire. She has a goal in the next 5 years to be the first chronic illness patient to travel to all 197 countries. Along the way, she wants to raise awareness for invisible illness through her story, and the stories to come through her adventure around the world.

Wandering Worldie: Alyssa Vinluan
At age 26 Alyssa gained the courage to quit a job she loved and left the town she loved so she could explore all different parts of the world. For nine months she travelled throughout ten countries, read to hear how she saved up and about her journey!


  1. Sherrie | 5th Oct 17

    So cool to read about Sam’s travels. I hadn’t heard of maps.me but adding that to my arsenal for sure!

    • Rachel Houston | 5th Oct 17

      Same here!! I’ve just downloaded it and it’s going to be my new best friend when I travel ha! Thanks for stopping by 🙂

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