Introduce yourself. Who are you?!
I was always an unusual girl, filled with raw curiosity & a passion for other cultures, something my native Irish father undoubtedly bestowed upon me. I grew up in Chicago; an enchanted city to which I owe all that I am today. For it was here I developed a child-like, fascination with the world & imagined every possibility for myself. This was where I learned to dream.
My ache for exploration eventually pushed me to the point where I could no longer be kept by “Sweet Home Chicago” — I needed something bigger than myself. I needed to travel & allow my curiosity to be unrestricted. I needed to stuff my eyes with wonder & second guess everything I know about the universe. I needed to see what I was made of. So I took off to Asia for a year to teach English abroad, and then went on to travel parts of the Middle East, Europe, Africa, and then back to Asia, and then the Caribbean.
I kept putting pen to paper along the way, pitching and chasing different story angles and perspectives, experiences and money (of course), and I guess you can say this is what I do now. I travel the world with nothing to guide me but my curiosity and my desire to write.
My travel writing career has taken me across the vast plains of Mongolia, climbing on top of ex-Korean War vehicles, dancing with gypsies in the Great Indian Desert, hitch-hiking during monsoons in Indonesia, providing hurricane relief on the shores of the Caribbean, slipping along the waterways of Vietnam aboard luxury ships, hot-air-ballooning through Turkey & beyond.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
“Never focus on how your life looks, focus on how it feels.”
In a image driven world where everyone is striving for a perfect lifestyle, job, wardrobe, car, or income, or is just simply hiding behind a screen and faking a picture-perfect life on internet; the rarest thing of all is to show up and allow yourself to truly be seen, to ignore the noise and focus on what feels good. Because truth be told, no matter how many followers you have on Instagram, or what car you drive, or how much money is in your bank account, you can still feel empty on the inside.
Most of us are dreamers, with big goals & ideas as to what, who & where we want to be in the future. But I believe that shifting your focus on implementing practices, processes, ways of life now that will last, is incredibly important. Doing away with short-term fixes, serotonin rushes, or gimmicky things like impulse buys/bookings, staged “look at me” internet photos, or bragging about your job/new condo, or even putting others down to lift yourself up, etc. I believe in playing the long-term, feel-good game, always. And I do it for myself, not for anyone else. “Never focus on how your life looks, focus on how it feels.”
What would you say to 16 year old you?
– Stop caring so much, people aren’t judging you, what you’re wearing/doing/saying as much as you think they are.
– Hold onto your childhood friends like hell.
– Take your time with your family, your homework, your money, boys, and yourself.
– Oh, and all your travel dreams are going to come wildly true. Keep hustling for them!
What message do you think every woman should hear?
Camaraderie is in right now. And if you’re not keeping up with it, you should be.
As females, we should compliment, lean on, and support other females. It’s not a competition, it never really has been.
I’m exhausted with girls attempting to bring other girls down in attempt to make theirselves feel better, more whole, self-aware, etc. We should be using that energy towards so much more greatness for our gender.
WE ARE ALL WOMEN, we’re all ladies going through similar crap. We all bleed once a month, we all wish we were Kendall Jenner, we all spend too much money on skin care products, we all have debated getting an infinity tattoo, we have had an ass of a man in our lives, we all are obsessed with ‘Milk and Honey’, we all have used a wine box as a pillow in college (wait, ah..shoot.. I might be flying solo on that one).
But next time you see a fellow female posting a gym selfie, getting deep in her social posts, dancing on a table at a bar, chasing after a bus in heels in attempts to make it to the office, traveling solo, pushing a baby stroller, giving a speech, playing a “man’s sport”, etc. — Love her. Support her. Give her a little salute. Tell her hair looks bomb! Because real women empower other women.
What do you do on a daily basis to grow and move forward?
I read. Reading has shaped me, unshaped me, entertained me, and taught me. And I find it incredibly reassuring that I can always, always heal or figure things out through words and books.
Being in my 20s, I’ve noticed that most of my peers are really….trying (for lack of a better term). We just can’t seem to beat the rat race that is trying to prove that we are having the most fun, or that we’re on our way to being “successful” or having it “figured out”, or whatever. I’m sure if you’re in your 20s, or have been, you get what I mean..
The way I’ve always seen it however, is that I’m unattached with endless opportunity on the horizon. I have SO much more to see, do and experience before I can even glance at the ladder of success and start plotting my climb.
So when I have an hour to kill, or if I get stood up, or fired, or I fall in love (or out), or feel lost, or I turn to my phone, or feel anxious, or am just downright bored… I read.
I read books, articles, newspapers, billboards, quotes from influencers (the real kind, like Nelson Mandela, not some fashion icon on Instagram). I read people, food labels, magazines, menus, fiction and non-fiction. You name it, I’ve probably gone out of my way that day to get my hands on it.
I don’t consider myself to be some brainiac because of this. But one thing I do know, is that reading alone has taking me many, many places, physically and mentally.
What is one thing people would be surprised to hear about you?
I also am petrified of heights, critters, food poisoning, and foreign taxis. All prominent happenings for a chronic traveler, but I attempt to avoid them at all costs when I’m hopping around.
The irony is, I didn’t know these were some of my biggest fears until I started traveling. It’s true what they say, you learn a lot about yourself when you travel. But when it comes to “facing my fears”, that’s something I still need to work on.
What is something on your bucket list?
Writing a book! It’s something I’ve been working on for a year or so now. I’m hoping it’ll all come full circle by 2020. Benjamin Franklin once said, “either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.” I like that. I intend to do both. The problem is, I’m my own worst critic and would drown in anxiety at the thought of other people reading it. But I guess it’s not truly a bucket-list item unless you face some challenges along the way.
I’m also dying to see the Egyptian Pyramids and the Himalayas. Last year, I’ve had flights booked to see both, but unfortunately they never happened. I’m hoping to change this very soon!
Where do you find inspiration?
Books, documentaries, yoga, my old home videos, my best friends, music, traveling, my 3am thoughts, and coffee.
What are your biggest passions?
For some reason, I hate this question. Traveling and writing are always my go-to, cookie-cutter answers. However, I think those answers can break down into something deeper. What I really mean when I say I’m passionate about traveling and writing — I mean I’m passionate about serendipity, learning, relationships, adrenaline, flowers, art, phonetics, chaos, animals, people watching, lakes and oceans, communication, disappearing and coming home.
I believe there’s much more to our passions than just the conventional image or reason of why one would enjoy these things. Dig a little deeper in the why and watch that passion truly come to life.
What do you love most about yourself?
Another hard question to answer. I’ve never been arrogant or confident enough to sit and think about what I enjoy about myself. I’m always quick to find what I love in others though.
But I think my answer would be that, I’ve got guts. There’s no denying that. Visiting destinations that blonde, American females probably shouldn’t go to solo, or rejecting the status quo of what quite literally everyone I know is doing (working a 9-5, getting engaged, buying property, having kids, etc.). and moving to the other side of the world, twice. That all takes some serious guts. And I love that I had it in me to do it. I love that I looked fear in the face with my middle finger high, and just went for it. I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself if I didn’t.
Emma Cunningham is a world traveler and writer, who has spent the last few years living and traveling around the world. Emma has traveled internationally as a journalist, hotel critic, content creator, & guide writer. Fueled by a passion for travel, an obsession with culture & natural ability to make words come to life, Emma’s writing has taken her around the world.