Michelle Halpern is a 31-year-old travel writer, photographer and digital nomad, constantly in search of beautiful places and spaces. She has spent the last two years on the road and doesn’t plan on slowing down anytime soon. We chat about all things travel..
What are the three things you never travel without?
There are many, many things that I never travel without: my passport, laptop, camera, a good book and my Chase Sapphire Reserve card. But not practically speaking, I almost always carry a little Peruvian pouch filled with crystals including several that I bought in Cusco and also a little mini Buddha head that for whatever reason bring me comfort.
What has been your most eye-opening travel experience?
Travelling across the North of India was by far the most eye-opening of my adventures thus far. Practically everything in India is a contradiction to here in the US – the extreme levels of poverty in many places, the sheer amount of people who inhabit the same small tiny bubbles of space simultaneously, the way they eat, and the customs and rituals they have surrounding religion and death. I visited the cremation ghats in Varanasi and that was unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed.
What is it that you love about travelling? Have you noticed a change within yourself or do you see the world differently since you've been exploring it?
The question is more, what is there that I don’t love about travelling? I love waking up in an unfamiliar place with the excitement of a whole roster of experiences that have yet to unfold and the uncertainty of how they will impact my life. I love making exhausting lists of every little thing I’ll explore and see while welcoming the spontaneity of the unknown. I love each beautiful little moment of meeting someone new across the world and wondering if you’ll ever see them or talk to them again. I love discovering new flavours that I never imagined existed and witnessing the mundaneness of life unfolding with fresh eyes. I even love 14 hour flights across continents when I can truly feel disconnected and enjoy reading for hours or watching three movies in a row without feeling guilty. How can you not be changed by all these things? I guess the only thing I truly dislike about traveling is packing…and unpacking…which usually doesn’t happen until I have to pack again.
Was there a particular catalyst that pushed you towards a life of wandering, or have you always had itchy feet?
I think it was a culmination of several factors. I had started to feel frustrated in my corporate job and unsure of my general purpose in life and I wanted to do something more creative with my skills. Simultaneously, I had recently returned back from an extremely eye opening trip on Birthright to Israel and it was the first time I had travelled internationally since college because I just couldn’t afford plane tickets making 28K a year living in New York City. I had moved to LA by the time the Israel trip happened, and soon after a girl at my office announced she was quitting to travel Asia for three months. In the process of watching her go and following her adventures I realised how deeply I longed for this kind of adventure and the experiences that I would never have from just taking my yearly allotted vacation.
What's your favourite place you've ever travelled, and why?
I always tell people that I hate this question because I can never decide! Every place has been so unique and I’ve loved different places for different reasons. I loved Morocco for all of the endless design inspiration, Vietnam for the food, India for the way it opened my eyes, Cuba for the salsa dancing, Indonesia for the kindness of the Balinese and Australia for the possibility of making it my home some day. I have a little piece of every place that fills up my heart.
Best piece of advice you would give to another traveller?
Travel alone at least once in your life. Having to rely 100% on yourself for a task that requires manoeuvring logistics, putting yourself out there, overcoming mishaps and combatting loneliness all while in a state of wonder at your surroundings can teach you a heck of a lot about who you are as a person.
Where to next?
I'm currently in Bali for the second time around but will be heading home to Maine soon (where I grew up) for my best friend's wedding!