I took the road less traveled…

I am very excited! Bridges Magazine  published a new article featuring some of my @travling_gypsy adventures – http://www.bridges-mag.com/?p=464

Bridges Magazine Article

Couchsurfing – the New Alternative Way of Exploring for this “Traveling Gypsy”

For some, traveling abroad is a scary thought. For others, it’s a dream. For Sydney Duarte, 26, it’s a way of life. Wandering to and fro from continent to continent is how this self-proclaimed thrill-seeker gets her kicks. Making her rounds in a nomadic style is a pastime all too common for this former Boyd County resident.

Charlotte, N.C., is where she now makes her strides, selling art in several studios across town. Her specialty: photo blocks and jewelry inspired from her journeys.



“I was the girl who kept 50 disposable cameras in my backpack during high school just to make sure I captured as many memories as possible”.

Beginning at age six, her love for travel was sparked by shows like Wild on E and those on the Discovery Channel.

“I started saving money for my first international trip to Guatemala working as a bill collector and as a pizza delivery girl,” Duarte said. “This is where my dad was born, so it seemed like a good place to start.”

After returning home, the travel bug ensued. She began planning her next trip to Thailand, this time accompanied by a friend. The thirst for new horizons became unquenchable. Realizing that globe-trotting is not everyone’s forte, she began seeking alternate methods of travel.

“I got tired of waiting on other people to go with me, so I began couchsurfing”.

Couch Surfing in New Zealand

Simply put, couchsurfing is an online community of people all around the world who open their homes and hearts to visitors who want to experience a country from the local point of view. Besides providing food and shelter, your host doubles as a personal tour guide, giving you the scoop on the city’s ins and outs. You’ll be advised on the best travel routes, treated to the best food and taken to the hottest local scenes.

“Couchsurfing provides you with other people who have the same outlook on life,” Duarte said. “You make life-long friends and I keep in touch with every single person I have stayed with along the way.”

She couchsurfs everywhere she goes, always lining up two or three people as back up and traveling with her tent in case something falls through.

Her first couchsurfing experience was a trip to the Encierro, home to the world-famous Running of the Bulls during the seven-day festival of Sanfermines in Spain. Accompanied by her brother, the two camped out and couchsurfered while visiting the event.

Victory picture in the arena after Surviving the run

“This was the biggest rush of adrenaline I’ve ever experienced”.

Next came a trip to Europe. She couchsurfed her way across Germany, France, Italy, and Switzerland.

The third and most recent couchsurfing experience turned into a seven-month expedition. She covered New Zealand, Australia, Bali, Singapore, South Africa, Madagascar, Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru and Guatemala.Playing with the elephants inTango in Buenos Aires, Argentina

“This took a lot of coordination,” Duarte said. “Madagascar was my favorite. It seems as though your gone 100 years back in time. The women still wash their clothes in the rice fields.”

Volunteering during her stay is an essential part to her journeys. In Thailand she volunteered at a monk temple replacing tiles. She taught English in Madagascar, built homes in Guatemala, worked at a home for abused children in South Africa and spent time doing beach and forest conservation in Australia.

Teaching children at Aina Madagascar places first on Duarte’s list of favorites.Volunteering at Aina MadagascarTeaching english at Aina Madagascar

“These kids had no other hope for an education. They’re not like American kids. They jump at the chance to attend school. They’re excited about the opportunity to learn and know there is no better way to move forward in life than through education,” Duarte said.

To keep family and friends informed on all her adventures, she has created a blog. It is chock-full of pictures, stories and interesting facts about the places she’s visited and people she’s met along the way. When asked to describe her blog, She says it’s simply a journal that she intends to show her children one day.

Since reaching seasoned traveler status, she’s picked up a few tips and tricks to make travel much less complicated for the average person.

“Packing light is a must,” Duarte said. “I take clothes I can layer and easily change the look of. I also bring a jar of peanut butter for protein, a pack of chewable Pepto-Bismol®, a flashlight, first aid kit and my camera.”

Making sure vaccinations are up-to-date and bringing a cheat sheet of common phrases are essential. Also, bringing a sketch pad to draw pictures on just in case the language barrier proves too great can be helpful. She says if all else fails, body language is really the best communication.

For travelers on a tight budget, she offers some moneysaving tips such as bringing a reusable bottle for drinks and taking the metro or buses instead of a taxi.

“Buses are fantastic because often you strike up conversations with locals and other tourists from all over the world. I met a girl from Belgium on a 10-hour bus ride to Machu Picchu and now have a place to stay if I visit her country”.

Along with learning other languages, cultures and customs, she is quick to share several life lessons she’s picked up along the way.

“As bad as you think it is, it’s not that bad,” Duarte said. “As long as there’s a source of food and a roof/tent over your head, you’re OK!”

There’s no end to her travels anytime soon. “The more I travel, the more I realize people are pretty much the same everywhere I go, they just eat different food, wear different clothes and play different music.  ” Duarte said.

Next on the list is a trip to the eastern Caribbean and then it’s off to Finland to visit friends. Taken from an anonymous quote, she shares her mantra in hopes it will inspire others to follow in her footsteps.

“There is no end to the adventures we can have if we seek them with our eyes open.”


6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Glenn, Sue
    Feb 11, 2013 @ 19:12:48

    Sydney – this is wonderful!!!!! I know you are SO VERY EXCITED. I kept reading it and saying, that is Sydney; she is my very, very good friend!!!!!


  2. Tuan Nguyen
    Feb 11, 2013 @ 19:21:08

    Way cool! I am envious.



  3. Pam B.
    Feb 12, 2013 @ 03:48:44

    So excited and happy for you. Your adventures and stories always make my day! 🙂


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