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Author(s): Kristin Jenkins, Shar Behzadian
Goni, a native of Switzerland and an expert scuba diver has travelled to over 50 countries in 4 continents in the last decade. Her longing after a traveler lifestyle made her figure out how to make it happen, and transformed herself along the way. In this interview, she talks about the moment the world opened up before her eyes and she knew she had to let go of her former life to seek her true self.
Sometimes where we feel most at home isn’t the place we’re born in. The fabric of certain environments, the weave of a particular time and space, can sing to us the language of our hearts even from halfway across the earth. In those most special of places, we are able to exercise aspects of our personalities that have laid previously undiscovered in even our most familiar and secure surroundings. Until we are able to exercise our full potential, life’s path can seem somewhat incomplete, ourselves ambiguous, and our future akin to standing at the base of a mountain, wishing desperately to gaze at the vast expanse of the summit’s view, yet dumbfounded as to how to reach the top.
When Goni began traveling over a decade ago, she viewed it as a temporary venture. It wasn’t her natural inclination, and beyond a desire to go diving she clung to her life at home.
“I didn’t want to go traveling at first, and at that time I was only a casual diver. An ex-partner of mine wanted to go traveling, so I went. We stayed in Indonesia for one month. Then, I didn’t want to go home!”
It was hard for Goni to settle back into her normal life in Switzerland. In fact, it got three months to get used to the people and the culture again.
“Travel brought me wanderlust. I immediately started to save to leave again. Three years later, I left Switzerland. First destination was Argentina, then Chile. And, I have been on the road since.”
Trips that at first lasted a few months began to stretch into years, and after a two-year trip in 2013, Goni found it hard to again settle into her life in Switzerland; something in her had shifted.
“The plan was to go home, settle down and find a good job and husband. All the stuff normal people do and which I thought should be the goal in life. But, I realized I didn’t want to go back to the job, to the life, I was living before. I didn’t want to spend my life to work, to build a career in order to buy as many things as I could. I had gotten away from materialism and I couldn’t even understand it anymore.”
Nor did she want to.
“All around me, people were working a lot only to go shopping afterward to reward themselves for all the hard work they did. It just didn’t make any sense to me. I already let go of that way of life.”
Traveling turned Goni into a diver
Traveling changed her instantly and permanently. It not only became a lifestyle, but also shaped her interests around destinations with great dives. She became a professional scuba diver.
“I really became serious about diving after swimming with sharks. It was, when I went to the paradise of diving: Galapagos in Ecuador. The colors and scenery is like swimming in a National Geography photo. It is hard to get there though.
To dive there, you need to live on a boat for a week just to get to the island. Then, you have to travel still further north to jump in. There are rocks underwater that you must hold onto in order to not get washed away.
It sounds risky, right? But, once I was there, I forgot about the rest of the world. I grabbed the rocks and looked up and around.
I was hooked. The colors and the scenery were breathtaking. Everything – sharks, dolphins, colorful creatures – were just swimming around me. Everything passed me by like I was in a National Geographic photo. After that moment I started calling myself a diver.”
Traveling solo and finding friends
Transitioning to a nomadic lifestyle is not without its challenges. At times abandoning the security of family was overwhelming. But, as it took Goni to some of the most naturally beautiful places in the world, it has given her access to a family all around the world; the scuba diving community.
“I connect with locals really easily through the scuba diving community, particularly with dive guards and dive shoppers. It’s easier to connect when you are part of a particular activity group.
You can find great friends everywhere, when you travel solo. Go eat at markets, street stalls or local restaurants. You can also find friends immediately by staying in hostels. ”
Goni’s favorite places in the world
Armed with new vision, Goni set out to see even more of the world. She led herself to some of the most amazing places on the planet to experience the push and pull of different cultural tides.
“My favorite places in Latin America were Bolivia and Guatemala. they are very traditional and not yet ‘westernized’ like many other countries in the area. The nature in both countries is breath-taking. Another favorite was Mexico, which is much more modernized but the diving is awesome. I love the Mexican way of life with their parties, culture, and tequila!
The only thing [in Mexico] I could never get used to was the unpunctuality. I am probably too much Swiss to ever get used to it, Haha! we send texts, if we are late for even a couple of minutes!
And, in Southeast Asia, it’s the Philippines and Indonesia. Both are affordable, offer a wide variety of destinations for scuba divers and snorkelers, and the climate makes perfect temperatures year-round.
And, what I disliked [in Indonesia] is the waste management, which is non-existent in many areas. Projects to reduce the waste and increasing awareness are initiated, yet progress is slow.
But, being in different cultures, I have learned to be flexible and patient.”
Travelers that inspired Goni along the way
Along the way, Goni has met other travelers who also designed their lifestyle around traveling. Of all of them she was most impressed with those that leave multi-luxurious lifestyles behind, to become nomads.
“I met a British guy that was a management consultant before traveling. In his fifties, he discovered that he didn’t like it that much and he dared to leave that life. When I met him it had been around 10 years that he was on the road and traveling the world. He managed his journey by helping new businesses to take off. He would help startups that didn’t have an idea how to manage their first phases, for a month or two. Then he’d get enough money not to work for a while before taking the next client. It really impressed me and was special because he was older when he left.”
“I’m always impressed by the people I meet who used to have well-paid management jobs, who worked in those jobs for dozens of years to decide one day to leave to go travel and never go back. Some whom I’ve met are in the fifties and sixties. You would think it’s difficult to change your whole lifestyle – to sell everything back home and leave, to adapt to a new environment, a new culture, learn new languages, start a business, earn 10% less of your previous salary and so on. However, for the people that I’ve met, it was not difficult. They enjoy their life like they never had before, and they seem to love every moment of the change and the new start. Some had been forced through the change though a burnout or the loss of their jobs while others make the change to prevent one or the other. I think this is one of the bravest things people from western countries can do. I love to listen to their analysis of the western world, the stories of their previous work and what made them change.”
Life as a diver
On her journey to become an expert diver, she had to learn how to stay steady in both rough and delicate circumstances and to understand the intricacies of the world beyond the shore. In another sense, vagabonding is a lot like Goni’s first love: scuba diving.
“You need to learn to be neutral. It’s like flying. You need to stay where you are and be good with your fins. Amateurs, for example, get too close to land and make a chaos of sand that makes it really foggy down there, specifically when you’re looking for small things to watch or photograph. And when you dive with sharks, you learn about their beauty and majesty. They’re not dangerous. Forget about the movies that show them like that. If they bite, they’d probably find you to be disgusting. And, if they do bite, it’s probably because they’re confused and think you are a seal.”
It’s all been one big beautiful metaphor for leaving home and travelling the world.
“Be respectful and open to see how things work differently – for other people and in other places – and understand it. Many of the problems that come up between people is the result of a lack of respect. Instead of trying to teach the people from other cultures ‘the better way’, try to have a mindset of respect and you’ll find you can easily begin to understand the experience of the people you encounter.”
To read more about how Goni affords to travel and dive all around the world, click to continue to the second page of the story.
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