Wendy Simmons is an American who does traveling with the ease most of us do their everyday chores. After visiting more than 85 countries (and writing about some of them in a Huffington Post blog) she talks to us about her adventures and her upcoming book on North Korea.
It would be impossible to list here all the places that you have visited. How did you start traveling so much?
I’ve been fascinated with other countries and cultures ever since I was three or four years old and rode It’s a Small World at Disney World. Being born and raised in Washington, D.C., I grew up surrounded by diplomats, World Bank employees, politicians, and government officials, which really sparked my desire to travel. The world news was my local news, so I was always very aware of the world around me. We started traveling as a family as early as I can remember, and my mom supported my interest in traveling by allowing me to go to Mexico when I was 12 to stay with a diplomatic family that had lived in our neighborhood. And then it was Spain when I was in high school, and Japan when I was in college, for study abroad programs. And from there, I just never stopped.
Has your education or previous work experience somehow influenced this choice?
I really do. But I was lucky enough to go to school and be friends with kids from all over the world, from nursery school to high school. Having the opportunity to learn about their countries definitely kindled my natural predilection for travel.
Which are the most impressive places you have been to?
I’m asked this question a lot, and it’s impossible for me to answer because I truly fall in love with every place I go for different reasons. The landscape in Namibia is one of the most spectacular I’ve ever seen. The December light in the High Arctic region of Norway is otherworldly, as are the Aurora Borealis. I never tire of the chaos, and colors, and sights, and sounds, and smells, and beauty of India. I’m in love with the entire continent of Africa. The mountain passes in Bhutan. The Impenetrable Forest in Uganda. Really, I could go on and on and on…
Have you ever gotten into any dangerous situations? Or maybe you can just share some funny stories!
Traveling from Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, to Brazzaville, Republic of Congo, comes to mind for both! It remains one of the most hilarious, confounding and blatantly corrupt experiences I’ve ever had. “Clearing” immigration took two and half hours on the DRC side, two hours on the ROC side, 11 different bribes, and the help of at least 11 official fixers (and at least as many hangers-on) for what was literally a five-minute boat ride across the Congo River from one capital to the other, in the most chaotic, and armed, environment I’ve ever experienced…and that’s saying something. It was like a bad Hollywood comedy that’s so dumb it’s funny.
What is your advice for someone who plans to dedicate their time to extensive traveling?
Travel is unpredictable and uncontrollable, so you have to train yourself to think and react differently to travel’s imperfections and annoyances. Instead of feeling vexed and taking things personally when things don’t go according to plan,
Once you truly understand that the perfect trip doesn’t mean everything is perfect, and you stop worrying about what isn’t, you’ll enjoy everything more.
You are quite a busy person — can you tell us more about your other professional endeavors?
I’m the president of Vendeloo, a management consultancy, and the Chief Brand Officer of MOSCOT. I’m also a photographer and a writer, and I write a blog for Huffington Post.
How did Huffington Post change the media world and what is it like to be a part of it?
I’m old enough to remember the thwack of the newspaper hitting my front door in the morning. It was only a few years ago that I finally gave in and switched my New York Times subscription from print to digital. The media world is increasingly digital, and digital traffic is the driving force in news consumption. The Huffington Post has been at the forefront of this revolution. It’s read daily by over 100 million people from all over the world. I’ve been a news junkie my entire life, and love keeping up with global news. So as someone who considers herself a citizen of the world, you can only imagine what a tremendous honor it is for me to be part of the Huffington Post community.
Аrianna Huffington, being one of the most influential women in media, drew attention to the importance of work/life balance. What is your opinion on that?
I think the whole notion of work/life balance is a very personal decision based on innumerable factors, where people are in their lives, the pleasure they derive from work, and so forth. There shouldn’t be any rules that dictate what’s right and wrong, good or bad, too much or not enough — nor, more importantly, should people judge others for the decisions they make. Focus on what makes you, and those who are important to you, happy, healthy and fulfilled. Life is short. It’s important to live it well and appreciate the time you have.
How do you recharge?
I need a lot of time alone. That really helps. A day spent at home listening to music, reading, hanging out. I always feel great after practicing Muay Thai or riding my bike.
We figure you аrе also an avid language learner — how many have you mastered?
Ha! I’m terrible at languages, especially now that I’m older! When I was younger, I spoke Japanese and Spanish pretty fluently. Now I barely remember English half the time. I can, however, ask for the bathroom and say thank you in many languages.
Your book — “My Holiday in North Korea; The Funniest Worst Place on Earth” will soon be released. We all want to know more about that place, can you share with us some of the things you saw?
North Korea is by far one of the strangest and toughest trips I’ve been on.
In my book, I describe North Koreas a combination of The Truman Show, Nazi-occupied Germany, any sitcom from the 1950s minus the fun and funny, and what I can only imagine would be the amalgamation of solitary confinement, regular prison, and a psych ward. My personal experience was like Alice’s when she fell through the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland. And it got stranger from there.
What would your next trip be?
I’m going to Chad on December 14th. I’m very excited.