Do you want to follow a different path in life? The non-traditional interviews showcase people who have chosen to make up their own rules and do something different. Today’s interview is with Jaime Davila who is talking to us about round the world travel and living in Cairo.
Where are you from?
I was born and raised in Houston, TX.
Where do you live now?
I am currently living in Houston, TX.
What do you do for a living?
I am a legal assistant at a small bankruptcy law firm.
What do you do for fun/what do you love?
I love to travel, but when I am not, I am probably just enjoying spending time with family and friends.
What do you hate?
I hate olives. (Me too, Jaime.)
You spent most of the last 6 years traveling around the world. What was that like?
Yeah, over the course of the last 6 years I spent a bit over 4 years traveling around the world visiting 54 countries, and ahhh, it’s always hard for me to describe what it was like. It was honestly some of the best and worst moments of my life, but overall it was beyond amazing and an experience I wouldn’t change for anything in the world.
The reason I say it’s the best and worst moments of my life is because I will never forget the moments that took my breath away like standing in awe in front of many wonders of the world, but also the moments in between where I just wanted to feel safe in the comfort of my home.
What were some of your favorite places, and why?
Ahhh, I have so many favorite places. My favorite country is Egypt, because it is a country that has been making headlines since the dawn of time and is not for the fainthearted. It is unapologetic as it roars through the chaos of its daily life. With so much history, both ancient and new alike, you can spend a lifetime there and never see it all.
One of my favorite cities is Istanbul because to me it’s still the most beautiful city I have ever visited, and it is also the perfect mix and balance of East meets West.
One of my favorite small towns is Chefchaoeun the town with a million shades of blue set in the Rif Mountains of Morocco.
As for regions, one of my favorite is Patagonia (both Argentina and Chile). It is a magical place on earth with so many beautiful hikes that can be done and a place where you can embrace nature in a way you can’t in many other places.
I’ve been to over 50 countries now and can seriously go on and on about some of my favorite places I have visited and why, so here’s a quick list of countries I love…Spain, Germany, Nicaragua, Colombia, Myanmar, Vietnam, and of course Mexico, but that’s where my parents are from so doesn’t count…lol.
As a gay man, were there any destinations you avoided or any precautions you had to take in certain places?
To be honest no, I never avoided a country because of their laws for or against homosexuality. I know some of the countries I have visited have strict laws against homosexuality. Take Morocco for example where “Same-sex sexual activity is illegal and can be punished with anything from 6 months to 3 years imprisonment”. It’s heartbreaking to know this, but as visitor you agree to follow and respect all the laws in the countries you are visiting.
As for precautions I would take during my travels, it was always to be aware of my surroundings and respect the culture and customs of the places I am visiting. I think to people who meet me it’s a bit obvious that I am gay and that has never bothered me, but I have also never changed who I am during any of my travels regardless of where I was. I was myself and acted like I always do. Of course I am not prancing around with a rainbow flag as I travel, but that is also something I would never do at home (USA). I am just me.
Traveling as a gay man has made me realize most people are oblivious to one’s sexuality and honestly couldn’t care less what their sexuality is until it is brought up in the context of religion or governing. It is then that people have a lot to say about it and sadly we still have a long way to go to have more people realize we are human too.
Your first trip was 2 years long, and it cost you less than $28,000. How did you travel that cheap?
I look back and have no clue how I traveled the world for 2 years for less than $28,000. It’s like of course I know, but am like, wow, how? I think it had to do with the fact that I spent majority of my time in countries where the US dollar really stretches and is cheap (for foreigners) to visit.
During first trip around the world I spent 3 months in Central America, 3 months in India, over 5 months in Egypt, and 4 months in Southeast Asia. Those are all places you can visit on a budget and travel nicely on about $1000 a month while doing so.
It was also a lot of give and take…on a trip of that scale you realize quickly that you cannot do it all both physically and financially. It’s about doing a bit of research and knowing what things you know you do not want to miss and prioritizing those, because if you do every tour or attraction a city has to offer you will go broke.
I also realize now that I think my age had a lot to do with it too. I had just turned 25 when I left and even though I was only 29 on my 2nd trip around the world I know that on my 2nd trip around the world I was willing to splurge a bit more for convenience like flying instead of the cheapest bus or train, or book a private room over a dorm bed. Small things like that, but that do make a difference when you are on a budget.
What inspired you leave your traditional life behind and travel so much over the past 6 years?
I had always wanted to travel the world, just never knew it was possible to do so on a budget. I know the exact moment that led me to live the life I am living today. I know that if it had not been for getting arrested for drinking and driving when I was 23 I would have never sold just about everything I owned to travel the world.
It was after that happened that I was on a year of probation…basically for a whole year I had no freedom and would spend my life going to work and going home. While I spent countless nights at home doing nothing I was researching places I wanted to visit after I finished my probation and could leave the state of Texas to take a vacation.
It was during that time that I started finding travel blogs and reading about people backpacking across Europe for a few months or around the world for a year or years. That is when I realized wait…if these people can do it, I can too. So at first I thought I’d quit my job to travel through Europe for 3 months and that morphed into selling just about everything I owned to travel the world for 2 years.
It was the best decision of my life.
From the time you got inspired to travel, how long did it take you to actually leave your home behind, and what were the steps you had to take? How did you save enough money?
From the moment I knew I wanted to travel the world it took me about a year and a half to actually save enough money and do everything I needed to do in order to leave. I started by getting 100% out of debt…that was my first goal. After I did that I made saving money my priority and saved like crazy.
Along the way I started selling just about everything I owned and doing random jobs like cut grass or babysit for extra cash. I was able to save about $15,000 during that time, and because I had paid off my recently new car, I sold it for $14,000 and left with about $29,000 in the bank.
Did you get any resistance or negative feedback when you announced your plans? How did you deal with that?
I didn’t get much resistance other than the fact that just about everyone thought I was crazy and didn’t think I would actually do it. I didn’t let that deter me from what I knew I could do.
You also spent quite a lot of time in Cairo, Egypt. What made you want to visit and ultimately stay for awhile?
I have spent a year of my life in Egypt over a span of 5 visits. I had always wanted to visit Egypt ever since I was a little kid. The stories of the ancient Egyptians with their pyramids and temples had always intrigued me.
Then as I started planning my first trip around the world the country went through a revolution. I lost hope in the possibility of visiting Egypt this time around, but decided to leave it in my plans anyway and see what was happening closer to when I was going. That was another thing that intrigued me in visiting…things were a bit calm as the 1st year anniversary of the revolution was approaching and I decided to go anyway.
What I didn’t know would happen on the first day of my arrival was that I’d meet an amazing guy and eventually fall in love. As I write this I am smirking and laughing…cus well, that was a crazy chapter of my life.
Did anyone back home have any fears about you traveling to a predominantly Muslim country?
Most people back home were more curious as to what it was like to travel in a predominantly Muslim country than having actual fears. Of course, I would get the joke here or there to be careful and not get abducted by terrorist, but I think the fear they had was just of traveling in general around the world because I was away from home.
Sadly I feel like as Americans we are conditioned to believe that everything outside of USA is a bit dangerous and more so than being home (in the USA). When I am asked about safety or how it is I always tell them the truth, that I feel much safer traveling through predominantly Muslim countries than countries of predominantly any other religion.
How did their fears compare with your actual experiences in Egypt?
Like I mentioned above, I have always felt much safer traveling through predominantly Muslim countries than countries of predominantly any other religion. My experiences in Morocco, Turkey and Egypt were some of my favorites from all my travels and reasons why I visited them on multiple occasions. Something about the people, the culture and the history of these countries is just very fascinating and amazing.
As for my experience in Egypt I do always have to mention that I am male and one that can pass as Arab when I let my beard grow out a bit longer than usual and if I don’t speak. That alone allowed me to be able to enjoy Egypt in a way I know most tourists just cannot. It also helped to have a boyfriend during my first 4 visits to Egypt, but that’s a whole other story.
What have been the biggest challenges or problems you’ve faced along the way, whether in Egypt or anywhere else?
Since we are speaking of Egypt above I’ll carry on about it for a bit. As for living in Egypt my biggest challenge was not speaking Arabic. Oh man…I hated it sometimes because English is common, but at the same time not so common. It’s common in touristic areas and in affluent neighborhoods of Egypt.
I lived in a local middle class neighborhood in Cairo, and in many of the shops and places I’d visit, no one would speak English. Trying to order something or do something was sometimes frustrating, but it helped me learn basic Arabic to be able to get by on my own.
Not speaking the native language of countries I was visiting was a challenge during all my travels, but because I speak both English and Spanish I was mostly fine and somehow even if you don’t understand each other you manage to somehow do so.
One of the other challenges I faced along the way was not wanting to give up. I know it may sound a bit crazy, but truth is you find yourself wanting to go home a handful of times…for reasons like exhaustion or wanting the comforts of home along with your family and friends or just not liking a place.
What’s the weirdest or most common question you’ve gotten about traveling full-time or living in Cairo, and how do you answer it?
About living in Cairo… “Why Cairo?” I get that from both people who have visited and people who have never visited. People who have visited ask that because they know it’s a crazy, chaotic, dirty city, but majority of the time have only spent a few days there.
People who have never visited ask that because they only know the Cairo they have seen on the news over the last few years that has sadly only been because of the revolution and the riots and bombings that have occurred since then. Oh and that the pyramids are nearby, everyone knows that.
What people don’t know is that beyond the headlines and beyond the chaos and dirtiness of the city is a city that has it all. It is a city that, even though is in a developing country, it has all the amenities of the first world if that is what you are looking for or need. But if not, you are able to enjoy a simple life on a budget with all your necessities in a city full of amazing people with history literally since the dawn of time. Not many cities can give you that!
About traveling full time… “What are you going to do when you are done?” After my first 2 year trip, I really had no clue what I was going to do, like NONE, but would answer with I’ll figure it out when the time comes and I’m sure it will all work out in the end. Well yeah it did…I found a job and was able to save for a 2nd trip around the world. That’s actually the job I am currently working at now that I have decided to settle down for a bit.
Do you have any tips for those thinking about traveling around the world?
Do it, because you won’t regret it. It’s something many say they will do, but never do or are ever given the opportunity to do so. So if you can just go for it. It’s scary as hell to take that leap of faith into the unknown, but it’s worth every sacrifice and the roller coaster of emotions your travels will take you on. Don’t worry about what you will do when you are done, it will all fall into place. We have one life to live, so why not make the most of it?
What’s next for you?
Wow, this is the one question I ask myself literally all the time and I don’t have an answer.
To be honest I have no idea what is next. I had plans to live in Cairo for a while then travel overland to Cape Town, but during my time in Cairo I was given an amazing opportunity to return to the job I love and decided why not. I was at a point in my life where I did want to settle down and I’m happy I am home, but I don’t know what is next.
I am currently working and just trying to save as much money as I can (something I am good at) and while doing so enjoy being home and spending time with family and friends. I’ve decided to give myself about 2 years to decide if I will take that money and go ahead and by a small house here in Houston and well, kind of settle down for good, or say fuck it and take another trip around the world, because even though I have seen a lot I still have a lot more to see.
So yeah, I am not sure, but if travel has taught me anything is to live life one day at a time, and I plan on doing so.
Bio: Jaime is addicted to traveling and has visited over 50 countries during two trips around the world over the span of 4 years. He believes “everything happens for a reason” and knows that all the choices he has made in the past have brought him to where he is today. He’s not blogging much these days, but he has years of entertaining travel stories on his blog, Breakaway Backpacker, and he loves sharing photos on Instagram. Jaime is also the biggest Kelly Clarkson fan you’ll ever meet.
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