RBG: Sophie Vodvarka, tell us about yourself.
Originally from Nebraska, I’ve lived in Chicago since 2013. I love to travel and have been to 20 countries, living in Poland, Kenya, Czechia, and Bolivia at various points. Writing is a major passion of mine, and I have recently begun freelance writing, while working in communications at a non-profit in Chicago.
I turned 32 last November in Prague with my partner, Patrick. We live together in Andersonville, the Swedish neighborhood of Chicago! Most of my family lives in Nebraska, and I miss them all the time.
I am deeply spiritual, and practice contemplation and yoga. I love to be outside and to bike, run and take long walks around Lake Michigan.
One of my favorite parts of the day is spending time cooking and experimenting on recipes. I love hosting friends and family, especially in the summer!
I read a lot, and I’m incredibly interested in politics, world affairs, and the evolution of religion and spirituality. I love discovering new ways to live a creative life, and have gained so much peace by focusing on creativity rather than careerism, to guide my life.
RBG: What makes your blog different?
I like to think my perspective on the world, politics, and religion is fairly unique due to my diverse experiences and open-minded, kind approach to life. I try to examine the world and my experiences in a non-dual framework, with many sides considered. I try to be authentic. I believe that telling the truth is one of the biggest hurdles to most aspects of life, including a hell of a lot of what people write. Keeping that in mind, I try to be honest.
Content-wise, I write about current and past travels abroad, and also link articles I write for various publications. Some pieces focus on travel, some are spiritual, some political.
As I begin to enter the world of freelance writing more seriously, the blog is also used as a professional platform. The blog began in 2012 as a place to link old travel writing.
RBG: When did you first discover a passion for travel?
At its core, my passion for travel is rooted in my desire to experience all that life has to offer. In high school I remember reading a quote by Thoreau, “How vain is it to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.” I remember thinking that if I wanted to grow into a wise woman writer, I needed to learn from a lot of diverse, raw, life experiences.
When I was 20, my cousin invited me on a trip to Eastern Europe. I absolutely loved the week there with her, and devised a plan to work at an English summer camp in Poland the next summer, and to take a trip to Ukraine. That summer’s travel started a love affair with Poland which eventually led me to living there after I graduated from college.
I’ve spent 2 years traveling and living abroad, and have had so many different fascinating experiences that I cannot imagine who I would even be without having traveled and lived abroad so much.
Perhaps the most lasting effect of travel too, is that it’s given me a safe container to be less threatened by ideas that might challenge my version of reality. Travel has made me feel like a citizen of the world. This identity as a world citizen has given me a safe home as I expand on ideas and beliefs about religion, politics, and so many other issues.
RBG: Why do you think travel is important?
Travel is important because it helps us empathize with and understand different people’s lives and perspectives. It gets us (Americans) out of propaganda-saturated U.S. culture, helps us question what the media, our government and regular people are saying, and widens our viewpoints.
I think that travel really helps people overcome fear of the “other,” and connects us to the larger human family, whose suffering is often ignored and perpetuated by industrialized nations. If only everyone could travel with their hearts open to countries where absolutely not one person denies there is a climate crisis because their crops are failing, their shorelines shrinking, their cities uninhabitable due to pollution, it would just change so much.
At this juncture in history when there is so much misinformation throughout the media and so many people are trapped in identity politics, the ability to simply question what is being told and not cling to the need to be right, is vitally important.
Travel has taught me to think critically in ways that school and work have not. Getting out of my own head and culture has been deeply transformative because it forced me to question who I really am, how I want to live, and how I can impact our shared world. I am so insanely grateful for everything I’ve learned, even when it has been extremely painful and frightening. Travel has ultimately led me to many unexpected places emotionally and spiritually as well.
I learned through traveling how to take care of myself, and to keep walking forward through nerves and anxiety. Travel taught me to rely on my wits and on the help of strangers. I have met so many incredible people abroad, who were willing to help me find my way, find a bed to sleep in, find a train or a bus, or to share a meal. I never let fear overcome my desire to travel alone as a woman, but the more I did it, the more I learned how much locals are willing to help, and to show you their culture. People are amazingly hospitable, and I’m so grateful to have experienced that at a young age.
Finally, travel and living abroad have massively shaped the way I have structured my life in Chicago, likely due to the fabulous hospitality I received abroad. I live with an emphasis on creating each day with purpose. I enjoy slowly preparing a shared meal, prioritizing time with friends and family, and emphasizing art, and culture, above the grind of careerism. I try to make every day worthwhile, and to enjoy just being.
Travel taught me how to take pleasure and to find purpose in silence, in long solo-bus rides, before the time of being connected to smart phones. Which, on that note, though I often had a local cell phone, when I was doing the bulk of my travel I didn’t have a smart phone, and would go days without the internet. It was incredibly good training to have to just figure things out as I went along!
RBG: What travel experience has most transformed you as a person?
I spent a year abroad after I graduated from college, during which I lived in and traveled to 10 different countries. During that year, I spent four months in East Africa with a refugee advocacy organization as a communications intern. During the internship I visited Kakuma refugee camp in northern Kenya and spent a week in South Sudan, which at the time was a semi-autonomous region of Sudan.
I remember I visited a doctor in the U.S. to get shots before I departed, and he told me “You need to learn how to take care of yourself.” He was talking about anti-malaria medicine, rehydration salts, and knowing basic first-aid. But he was also talking about the reality that the illusion of safety we cling to in America was about to disappear. I was about to step out into the stark reality of the world, and I needed to know how to keep my shit together.
The week in Kakuma refugee camp and in South Sudan was transformational because it made me realize how little I knew about the world, how ridiculously privileged I am as a white middle-class American, and it taught me that I could trust myself and to trust in God and the universe. I learned that I could walk through fear and reach the light.
A few other notable learnings from East Africa that were transformational:
- I learned what to do when you’re stranded at the airport in Juba without a phone, map, or money.
- I learned how to pee on the side of a road next to fields covered in landmines.
- I learned to wear shoes to the refugee camp’s bar at night when the scorpions come out.
- I learned how horrific the global refugee crisis was in 2010, which in hindsight seems so much less than it is today.
- I learned I did not earn where I was born, that I am not entitled to the life I live.
- I learned about globalization, about the structures of world financial institutions, and who benefits and who does not.
- I learned how many people spend decades of their lives in barren refugee camps with little hope of statehood and the misery this causes us all.
- I learned how crazy resilient and courageous so many people are, despite their circumstances, and that creativity and knowledge keeps us human despite our surroundings.
- I did indeed learn how to take care of myself when I got massively sick in Juba.
- And I learned how to write articles from interviews with people who had many different accents, dialects and speech patterns.
- I learned how to take photos from the back of a motorbike or out the window of a pick-up.
- And I learned the brilliance of diverse communities, and how we can all expand the loving universe, sharing laughter and humanity, through our words, our work, and all aspects of our lives.
RBG: If you could change one thing about travel, what would it be?
That all trains and buses had toilets. One terrorizing experience with the runs in Bolivia is all I have to say about that.
RBG: What issues do you feel don’t get enough “ink” in travel blogging?
I love reading the raw personal narratives of the pretty and not-so-pretty aspects of travel. Travel is both euphoric and face-in-the-mud gritty. Sometimes it’s romantic and sometimes it’s terrifying. I was looking at the Fodor’s freelance submission section recently which said they didn’t want any self-actualizing travel narratives, and I thought “too bad.” Those are the ones I most prefer to both read and write.
Additionally, I want to know the big picture of what’s happening in a country when I read about it. I didn’t always know when I was traveling what the government was like and if people were taken care of when I was younger, but now it’s one of the first things I research. What does it mean to travel in a country? Is it just a holiday or is it a chance to really learn about a culture, and about how your culture impacts where you visit?
RBG: What are some of your favorite blog posts you’ve penned and why?
- Adventures in Cuba – A deep-dive into my week in Cuba in May 2019. I describe meeting incredible Cubans, discuss the contentious U.S./Cuba political situation, spend time hiking in the gorgeous countryside, drinking rum on flawless beaches and riding around in 1950s American cars through crumbling, gorgeous Havana. I just love re-reading it, Cuba is fascinating.
- Thailand Revisited – This is a fun, light-hearted read. I wrote this piece three years after visiting a sleepy fishing village, Prachuap Khiri Khan. In it, I describe the incredible relationship I had with the two Thai hostel owners, who became my friends during my stay. I loved writing this piece because I felt I owed it to my friends to share their hospitality and goodness with the world.
- 3. “ABCs around the world” – I spent many hours creating the pages in this photo book, which I gave to my nephews a few years ago to inspire them to travel! The cover photo of my bear, “Little Bear” at Machu Picchu, is one of my all-time favorite photos, and as I mention in the blog post about the book, I LOST HIM twice abroad – and recovered him, twice. This was a passion project and a delight to create art from my experiences.
- 4. Monos, Motos and Mosquitos – a weekend in the Bolivian jungle and haphazard experiences with monkeys, of course
- 5. My Interview with Roy Bourgeois – Ok this is not specifically a travel-blog but I did meet him on the border of the U.S./Mexico and he has a fascinating life-story, much of which took place in Latin America. And, he’s a modern prophet who the Catholic Church has excommunicated for the audacious crime of advocating for women’s equality, so his story is fascinating.
RBG: What’s on your travel bucket list, and why?
- India, I just have always felt like I would like it. The Darjeeling Limited and Arundhati Roy both had roles to play. And I’ll be heading there later this year for a wedding!
- Mexico & Latin America – it’s nice to be able to speak the language of the country you are in, and there is still SO MUCH to explore.
- Southeast Asia. I loved Thailand, and I want to experience the rest!
RBG: Where can people find and follow you?
On Twitter, I am @SophieVodvarka . . . . I created the handle back in 2010 but only started actually personally tweeting last year. Don’t let the less than 100 followers scare you off! I swear I’m a real writer. Just haven’t fully committed myself to Twitter yet.
My blog is: sophievodvarka.wordpress.com
And if you’re in Chicago and want to hang out, feel free to contact me!
Charish Badzinski is an explorer and award-winning features, food and travel writer. When she isn’t working to build her blog: Rollerbag Goddess Rolls the World, she applies her worldview to her small business, Rollerbag Goddess Global Communications, providing powerful storytelling to her clients.
Posts on the Rollerbag Goddess Rolls the World travel blog are never sponsored and have no affiliate links, so you know you will get an honest review, every time.
Rollerbag Goddess Rolls the World by Charish Badzinski is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.