From deserts of Iran and Morocco to jungles of Malaysia and snow capped Swiss Alps Gundega has seen all of it and so much more. In the last decade this Latvian wanderess has lived in 8 and traveled to more than 40 countries. Several winters she has spent living and working in the mountains and at one point Gundega decided to become a circus artist, all to support this travel lifestyle. Because like many others who do the same and are keen on exploring alternative lifestyles, she realized, that ordinary life isn’t for her.
Many of these experiences she has under her belt are something other people only dream about and see them like unachievable goals. However, here is Gundga, a real example showing that you can achieve it, that you can do it. If you are ready to do whatever it takes and make the necessary sacrifices.
I hope that this interview will help those of you who are in a similar situation to follow your passions and dreams. Everything is possible! Meet Gundega!
Please, Tell Us a Little Bit About Yourself!
Hello, my name is Gundega and I am a passionate traveler, adventure seeker and simply a curious person, who likes to learn more about different lifestyles. According to my education I am a foreign affairs specialist, but I have never worked as one.
How Did You Start Traveling? Why?
I was always a curious child, especially because of the fact, that my family couldn’t afford to travel. But until I turned 9, I had no idea, that there are other places on this planet, apart from Latvia. I remember, how amazed I was just to find out, that there are people living in Africa, besides monkeys and elephants. Starting from this moment World Atlas became my favorite book. I could stare and mind-travel for hours. This was (and still is) my way of daydreaming.
I couldn’t afford to travel also during my university years. But I was surrounded by people seeking alternative lifestyles, who were traveling without money. So I started to educate myself about these things, because I also wanted to travel. And soon I became aware of hitchhiking, squatting*, dumpster diving* and couchsurfing.
So, when I was prepared for my first hitchhiking trip abroad, my travel partner decided to ditch me at the last moment. I got angry and decided to do it alone nevertheless . So I hit the road with my, way too heeaaavyyyy, 70 liter backpack, tent and sleeping bag, and headed from Riga to Slovakian Tatras. Of course, it was amazing. I was 20.
It wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns on that trip, though. I almost got raped by a truck driver. In one place I was trying to hitch a ride standing next to more than a few prostitutes. I slept in bushes and on the sides of highways. But I also made friendships with people, whom I can call my friends even today.
*Squatting – staying overnight at abandoned or unoccupied buildings.
*Dumpster diving – looking for food (not only) that’s been thrown out by someone else. Very often when people talk about dumpster diving they mean taking food that’s been thrown out by super markets, but is still edible.
And You Understood That You Need More?
Exactly! After the trip to Slovakia my feet became restless. I was seeking for every single opportunity to get back on the road. This was also the time, when I started to work, in parallel to my studies, and also the time, when the first low cost airlines broke into the Latvian market.
So I took shorter and longer vacations to get to some close destinations, like Berlin and London. In parallel to all this I managed to go on at least one hitchhiking trip per year – it became a tradition, and I respect this tradition even now, 13 years later.
When I finished university, it was clear, that just a trip every now and then is not enough anymore. My desire to explore some new country lead me to a decision – you have to move to the place to know more about it. So I moved to Cyprus for 8 months. Of course, traveling and living in another country are 2 very different things. But my decision to move was also money-based – we all know, how hard it is to live in Latvia and still be able to afford to travel.
A few years later, when I was living in Portugal, a very bright idea came into my mind – I have to find a way how to earn money, while traveling.
And so I decided to become a circus performer. It was yet another new passion for me, which later became an obsession and my so far longest commitment. Now I’m a self-taught circus performer, hula hoop dancer and fire performer.
Where Have You Been in the Last 10 Years?
The last 10 years have been very dynamic. With a few ups and downs and I have lived in more than 8 different countries and traveled to more than 40 countries.
My lifestyle has brought me to some of the most incredible places and experiences a human can ever imagine.
Because of the freedom of choice I have taught English in Portugal for one year, lived in hippie communes during Rainbow gatherings, had many snowy and adventurous winters in Austrian and Swiss Alps. I have also spent a couple of winters on the beaches of Goa and Ko Pha Ngan, sneaked through the junggle in Malaysia. At one point I was living in Istanbul for a year. It was during big protests and that’s when I became a Turkish coffee drinking expert and learned how to escape the tear gas. In Israel I made friends with nomads living in the Negev desert. In Iran I hitchhiked and stayed with local families.
Due to my other passion and partly a source of income – circus arts, my travels, especially in the last 5 years, have been directly related to my show schedule. I would even call it – touring. At least 3 months per year I am on the road, traveling from a country to country, from festival to festival doing hula hoop performances, fire shows and street shows. I have performed in more than 15 countries.
Despite the fact, that frequent travel (especially when you have circus equipment with you) can be tiring, and sometimes to buy a plane ticket and to sleep in a hotel is so much easier, I still stick to my traditions, and every now and then just decide to hitchhike and sleep in my tent. I have hitchhiked criss-cross all around Europe, India, Iran, Malaysia, Morocco and Israel.
Your Favorite Places So Far? Places You Keep Returning to?
There are quite a few places, that will always remain in your heart.
To name a few: Turkey is the best place I have ever lived. I kept going there before I eventually moved to Istanbul for a year, and keep coming back also after leaving it. Barcelona, Rome and Jerusalem are few of the places I keep coming back because of the friendships I have made there. I also love Balkan countries, because they make me feel at home. From the most recently visited places – I really loved Georgia and I know, that one day I’ll come back to Iran as well.
And, of course, there are also festivals inviting me back to perform every year.
How Do You Financially Support This Lifestyle?
My lifestyle is a masterpiece in a way, a mix of a career and quick, but mostly hard jobs, just to quickly solve the money issues for a while.
It’s important to mention, that I am a hard working person, so when I work – I really mean it.
If you want to live like this, you must know that it comes with some some serious job-related sacrifices. This lifestyle most likely will never lead you to high-ranking positions in a bank or any big company, where people work for years to become someones. Due to the restless desire for a long vacation in sake for a new trip, I have been forced to quit my jobs every now and then.
At the same time this lifestyle works great with so called seasonal jobs.
I decided to go for it. And so Austria, and for a couple of years also Switzerland, was my winter home base for several years. During winter – December till late April – I was working hard and afterwards I could afford to travel in summer. Although I never really take a whole summer off, because summer is when I have most of my performer job offers.
After 7 years with this schedule my health collapsed and I was forced to get back to Latvia for couple of years. These 2 years I worked in an office and in parallel to it made a name for myself as a hula hoop and fire performer also in my own country and Baltic region. It was great, because sometimes even the most serious traveler needs some rest.
Now I don’t mind either way. If I have a great career opportunity in Latvia – I will not hesitate to stay in Riga for a while. But I will never say no to a great and adventurous opportunity abroad either.
Circus performances is a great source of income, or at least, a way to see and travel the country for free. I can also fully cover my daily expenses with street shows. But if it’s a festival, normally the organizers cover all your travel, entrance and food costs, and in some cases pay you also honorarium. In Baltic region most of my performances are commercial events, like weddings, corporate events and parties. And I got paid.
And very low budget traveling is always an option, too. Actually all of my trips are low budget trips. So if you want to learn more about hitchhiking, couchsurfing, squatting, food recycling and Workaway – we need another article for this.
Finding a Ski Bum Job – Your Experience
My first year in Austrian Alps came after the year in Portugal. I was confused, as what to do with my life after such a great experience! My that time boyfriend was from Austria and he knew the ski village, so finding a job there was not a big issue.
But, apart from the first job, all the rest of jobs in Austria and Switzerland I found on my own. A big bonus is if you speak the language. I am fluent in German, so I had no problem to find a job, simply by looking at the online job sites and contacting these people and companies. Check on Facebook, every resort village has its own Facebook page, where hotel, restaurant and shop owners are posting their job offers. That’s how I found the job for the last season (2015 – 2016).
Once I found a job in Innsbruck within 2 hours, simply by knocking on doors of every hotel. And I had to knock only on 4 doors. If you happen to be on the place – do it! One out of 10 will need you!
There is a big difference between Austria and Switzerland. In Austria you will earn less and work slightly more (usually 6 days a week, with salary of approximately 1500 EUR as a waitress), but food and accommodation usually is included. In Switzerland you will earn at least double (waitress earns between 3000 – 3200 EUR net), work 5 days a week, but only few places will accommodate and feed you for free. Note, that life in Switzerland is very expensive and you’ll need at least 1000 EUR to start.
What Is That You Like Most About This Lifestyle? What Are the Downsides?
Desire to travel is the same kind of addiction as drug abuse, gambling and alcoholism. Only addicted person can understand, how the other person feels. There have been so many times when I spent all my income and savings for that trip to an interesting destination!
It’s addictive to be free and in loads of cases completely anonymous. The fact, that most of the people you meet on the road are one time friends, leave you free and careless of what they think of you. You can afford to think and do whatever you want in terms, that you perceive the judgement so much easier than, if you were at home. Home is full of secret judgement – from your friends, family, from society – who you are, how you are and what you are.
Traveling sets you free from all of it. The more far away I am, the less I care of my status, my belongings and my image in society’s eyes.
Yes, you sometimes get tired of it. Tired of yourself. And I am sure, every traveler secretly desires that one home to return to. Your own room, your corner, where every thing is in the same place and position.
And of course, your friends and family. You miss your friends a lot. Sometimes even in the most stunningly beautiful beach I am sitting and thinking – how funny it would be, if all my brotherhood would be here and share a bottle of wine with me right now!
So you make new friends.
And every now and then you are forced to say painful goodbyes.
And sometimes you feel incredibly lonely.
Something Else You Would Love to Say to Others Thinking of Following Similar Path?
First of all, I cant stress enough about the fact, how lucky I am, that I come from Latvia. Our passport is so powerful. It allows us to travel to most of the countries without a visa, and if we need a visa, then mostly obtaining one is easy.
Life is all about your choices and I strongly believe, that the life we live is just a summary of our choices. See, I come from a small village and from a considerably poor family, that has never supported me financially, and yet I have seen and experienced so much. It is only your choice. It is also your choice, if you want to buy a house and take out a mortgage, pursue a career and live an expensive life.
The less I own, the better I feel. Because the most valuable things can not be taken away from you – your knowledge, your experiences, what you have seen and what you have LIVED.
Although the most important thing is health. My and my closest ones.
Thank you, Gundega!
If you have any more questions or maybe you want Gundega to perform at your event or party – contact her on Facebook – Gundega Liepina, Voodoo Flame.
Photos used in this article have been provided by Gundega.
Author: Kaspars Misins
Kaspars is a long term traveler and a travel blogger from Latvia. He loves going on long walks, reading non fiction books and spending time outdoors. Together with his girlfriend Una they have been traveling – volunteering – working abroad since 2013. On We Are From Latvia they share their experience and things learned along the way.