Today, our guest post comes from Dana Massaro, an adventure travel enthusiast, tour leader, adrenaline junkie, and leader of the Fort Lauderdale chapter of The Nomadic Network. She has traveled far and wide for a variety of reasons and always jumps at the chance to be in nature, camping, or heading to a music festival. While on the road, Dana has impressively faced many fears — even seeking out activities that she’s afraid of so as to overcome a fear — and now she teaches others how to do the same.
We love featuring stories like this and hope they inspire you to find a creative way to incorporate more travel into your life as well.
Hi, I’m Dana. I love nature and the outdoors. I love traveling to new places and learning about new cultures. And I love music. I am an adrenaline-junkie travel guide. I lead trips that are full of extreme sports, spending time in nature, and cultural immersion. I have done several whitewater rafting trips, including one where we rafted down a 10-foot waterfall! I also did a skydiving trip. I have so many more trips planned for as soon as it’s safe to travel again.
What city are you a chapter leader in?
Fort Lauderdale, but I’m based in Miami, Florida. I love that Miami is so culturally diverse. You could do an entire food tour of Central and South America without leaving this city! There are so many authentic mom-and-pop restaurants from so many different countries. There are also a lot of music festivals, as well as great local bands. There are a lot of beach and boating activities, and the weather is warm all year round.
Why is it important you have a supportive travel community around you?
Ever been excited about a trip and everyone told you that you’re crazy and need to cancel the trip immediately because it’s too dangerous? Those days are gone!
It’s so magical to meet fellow travelers and tell them about my dream trip. And instead of hearing “You’re crazy! Stay home!” they say, “Oh wow! I’ve been there! I had so much fun!” Then they introduce me to new adventures that I hadn’t even thought of. The supportive travel community is my jam!
I’m not into the party/nightlife scene, which is one thing Miami is famous for. It is also known for upscale shopping, nightclubs that have $3,000+ bottle service, and plastic surgery. In mainstream circles, Miami is very image driven. Those are not things that I value. It’s important to me to be part of a community of like-minded people that love traveling and doing things they genuinely want to do instead of impressing other people. Want to talk about traveling abroad, staying in a $10/night hostel, and hiking an epic volcano? Now you’re talking!
Why did you choose to be a leader for The Nomadic Network?
I already lead a local Miami adventure group. We have done kayaking, indoor skydiving, escape rooms, dinners and games, and more! It was a no-brainer!
I love Nomadic Matt’s website and his travel style: on a budget and looking for authentic experiences and relating. I love to travel and go on adventures, but most mainstream travel I’ve seen is based on consumer culture. Those itineraries look like this: eating at as much food, drinking as much alcohol, spending as much money shopping, and hitting as many tourist trap sites as you can fit into each day. That is not my style — I prefer authentic experiences.
When I was first getting into travel (before Nomadic Matt started blogging), I was looking for authentic adventures on a budget. All I could find were these overpriced, overly consumerist vacation packages. I couldn’t find what I desperately wanted. So I am creating it by making authentic budget travels more accessible in as many ways as I can.
How did you start traveling, like really traveling? What did your first major trip teach you?
I always dreamed of traveling. But I thought it was too expensive. It was just a pipe dream for many years. Finally, in college I went to Costa Rica with two friends for spring break. This was my first trip without my parents. We went zip-lining, whitewater rafting, hiking, and waterfall rappelling, and had surfing lessons. We ate local, and everything was phenomenal. We traveled around a lot, seeing different parts of the country. It was the most fun I had ever had in my entire life! After that trip, I was hooked — on travel and extreme sports adventures and learning about new cultures. As soon as I got home, I planned out my next trip.
What’s the best travel advice you’ve ever received?
Don’t wait for someone to be ready to go with you — just travel solo!
After I got home from Costa Rica, I didn’t travel again for a long time because I could never find anyone to go with me. Ten years later, another friend from college told me about the time she went to Europe by herself. Wait, what?! By yourself? To EUROPE? You can do that?! Even as a woman?
Once I had “permission” to travel solo, I left for my next trip immediately, which was to Portland, Oregon. Since then, I have been on many solo trips, including a Christmas trip to Flagstaff, music festivals, and Nicaragua. I also went on a solo cross-country road trip from Washington State to Florida.
What’s one of your most significant travel moments?
During my solo cross country road trip, I almost ran out of gas at Crater Lake National Park (in Oregon). Gas stations were few and far between, but I found one about ten miles south of the park. When I arrived, it had already closed for the night. But they had a campground. I had previously tried to reserve a campsite near Crater Lake, but most places were closed for the season. However, this place was way better than anything I could have planned for! I reserved a campsite. It turned out to be my very first solo camping trip ever.
Despite it being one of the most beautiful places I ever camped, I felt like I was doing everything wrong. There was snow on the ground, and I was still wearing a wet bathing suit from the hot springs at Umpqua National Forest earlier that day. And I was scared to camp alone. If I forgot a flashlight, I couldn’t borrow from my friends. If I ran into trouble pitching my tent, I’m was on my own. Here we go — sink or swim!
I had no cell phone signal. That was a huge weight off of my shoulders! For once, I felt like nobody was waiting for me to call or text them back. All the chatter in my head about being too stupid or ugly or not good enough had silenced. After a hot shower, I put on warm, fuzzy pajamas, got in my hammock tent, read a good book, and went to sleep.
Early the next morning, I felt a hand grab my foot.
I was absolutely terrified. Who could it be? I don’t know anyone here. They can’t see through my tent. How do they know I’m a woman? Should I unzip my tent and peek out the window? I didn’t. But at that moment, something clicked in my mind. Nobody knows I’m a solo female inside my tent.
It turned out to be just the wind. It was all insecurities, doubt, and fear. It was all chatter inside my mind telling me it was dangerous to be alone.
At that moment, I realized it was a lie, and I could handle anything by myself. I finally let go of the learned fear of being alone on the road and at camp. It was so empowering!
What is your travel style?
When I’m traveling alone, I like to stay in hostels or other places where I will meet other travelers. Sometimes I’ll show up with no plans and ask locals or hostel staff for recommendations. The first time I tried it, I was afraid I was going to miss out on something because I didn’t do my research. But I was completely wrong — I had an amazing trip! I went to Seattle and got discount tickets to the Museum of Pop Culture (Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, and horror movies), went up the Space Needle, and walked through Pike Place Market.
I try to pick destinations that have great outdoor adventures and extreme sports or anything relaxing. It’s nice to come down after a good adrenaline rush. I also look for anything in nature, cultural, or unique to the area. I tend to enjoy these trips much more than the luxury version.
I like to bring a (curated) group of strangers together to stay in a house together. I’ll splurge on an upscale accommodation for our adventures. Sharing a nice space together creates opportunities for bonding that feels like we’re one big adventure family! I had planned to lead a trip to Georgia, just outside of Atlanta, in mid-February. I had reserved a cute country house in the forest near the north Georgia mountains. But it was canceled due to the coronavirus.
Is there a creative way that you fund your trips?
My first music festival was Ultra Music Festival in 2018 in Miami. My bartending school got me in to actually work the event. It was amazing! I got to see one of my favorite DJs, Armin Van Buuren. My bar had a perfect view of the stage; I was mixing drinks while having a perfect view of the stage for the whole set. After Ultra, I got invited to work a lot more music festivals: Bottle Rock Napa Valley in California, CMA Fest in Nashville, Lost Lands in Ohio, and many more. I am so lucky to have gotten to experience all of these festivals that I never would have been able to attend otherwise.
I was actually scared to go to my first festival. I was scared of the big crowds and the heat. So by attending all of these festivals, I also overcame fear! And it was so worth it.
Last year at Bottle Rock, my bar was in the crowd at the main stage between the VIP and GA sections. I got to mix drinks in the crowd right in front of Neil Young and Imagine Dragons! This year, I was planning to attend (not work) some festivals with a group of friends, but they were all canceled due to the coronavirus.
Tell us about a time on the road where a local made an impact on your trip?
When I first started my solo cross-country road trip, I was planning out my route for the next few days. My schedule was flexible, because I had about six weeks before I had to be in Dallas, Texas. I was in Portland, Oregon, and was going to head down I-5, stop in Eugene, then spend the night in Medford. I ended up getting a late start, so I booked an Airbnb in Eugene.
My host was a very nice lady who also loved travel and adventures. And she had a very cute dog. I almost didn’t ask her for recommendations, because I already had a plan. She must have asked what brought me to Eugene. She highly recommended taking McKenzie Pass to Sisters, Oregon. That took me through the gorgeous scenic views in the Willamette National Forest. Also, the area surrounding the Dee Wright Observatory has a unique landscape that looks like you’re on another planet. She also recommended the hot springs in Umpqua National Forest. From there, I decided to drive by Crater Lake because so many of my friends had been there and it looked amazing. This side trip made my solo cross-country road trip so much better! It was my first time asking a local for advice (aside from hostel staff).
Later, when I went to Utah, I was able to ask a local about the best hiking trails and scenic views in and outside national parks. Both of their recommendations made my trip so much better! This also inspired me to give tourists in Miami great recommendations of things to do.
What has been your biggest adrenaline rush?
I love this question, because it’s different for everyone. I used to think skydiving was everyone’s biggest adrenaline rush ever. But when I went skydiving, it wasn’t really an adrenaline rush for me. My biggest adrenaline rush was probably cave rappelling. It sounded easy: just walk your feet down the wall. But after about ten feet, it opened up into a huge cavern, and I was just hanging onto a rope. I had to use nothing but the rope to climb down. I was shaking for hours afterward.
It’s funny how people perceive fear differently. I’ve met many skydivers who say they would never go whitewater rafting because they prefer to stick to land and air. And I’ve met scuba divers who have taken selfies with great white sharks but don’t understand why anyone would jump out of a perfectly good airplane. My daredevil friend who has done almost every extreme sport you can think of is terrified to go on a boat. Even in calm water. One person’s “nope” doesn’t even register on another person’s radar.
You do all kinds of adventures many people are too scared to do. You must not be afraid of anything?
That’s not true. Everyone is afraid of something. I’m terrified of parking garages.
Have you ever been scared of traveling solo to any of these places?
My first solo trip was actually a business trip, so I didn’t have any choice in my travel style or destination. I flew to the site, rented a car, and drove to a hotel, where I interacted with no one unless I was at work. I ate dinner alone (unless I was with my coworkers) and went back to the hotel. While I have found ways to have fun side adventures on business trips, this trip was mostly lonely and boring. These business trip experiences reinforced the false belief that I needed to wait for a friend to go with me on a trip.
However, I did have a terrifying solo travel experience. It was the night of Halloween in 2016, during my cross-country road trip. I stayed at an Airbnb advertised as being 10 minutes from Sedona, Arizona. It was actually 45 minutes away. Several other things about the listing were misleading. I went from annoyed to having a bad feeling about this place.
As soon as I arrived, my car keys mysteriously disappeared, and the host went to bed. I went outside and scoured the front lawn on my hands and knees, looking for my keys. I tore apart what few things I had brought into the house, but almost everything was still in the car. I had no phone signal, so I couldn’t call a locksmith or Airbnb. I felt so trapped. I just wanted to leave but I was stuck. I took out my contact lenses and threw them in the garbage. Then I went to bed without brushing my teeth. In the morning, the host said she found my keys in her bedroom and laughed about it. I grabbed a change of clothes out of my car, took the fastest shower ever, and got in my car. I didn’t stop until I got to the New Mexico state line.
I couldn’t get away from that place fast enough.
What’s it like to be at home now during this pandemic?
I’m a bartender at festivals and events as my “day job.” In my business, I’m an adrenaline-junkie travel guide. I also lead local events in Miami. For me, everything has been canceled indefinitely since the end of February/early March.
Being in quarantine is really difficult for me. I have spent quite a few days where I was so depressed that I didn’t get out of bed. But I’m trying to focus on what I can control.
I picked up some side gigs to make money, even though it’s unrelated to travel or bartending. I watch my favorite local bands play on Instagram live. I started doing my own live videos of me making cocktails or coffee, and cooking. I am also working on ways to build community during the quarantine. I’m currently working on a virtual version of some games we used to play when we were allowed to get together in person.
I teach a workshop on how to overcome the fear of failure that I’m making virtual. I always wanted to incorporate overcoming fear into my adrenaline-junkie trips. I’m taking this time to expand on that part of my business while I’m at home. And, of course, keeping up with friends via phone or Zoom, including The Nomadic Network’s Zoom events.
How has your view of traveling changed since the coronavirus lockdown?
I feel like there’s still a lot that we don’t know yet. We don’t know how coronavirus will affect future travel, but I have a feeling a lot fewer people are going to travel. Maybe the cruise industry will collapse. Maybe there will be more safety restrictions. I will still travel and lead trips as soon as it is safe. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens. For now, I think places are opening up too early, and the second wave might come earlier than predicted because of it.
What’s in store for your future travels?
When it is safe to travel again, I am going to reschedule my Georgia group trip.
I am also planning a scuba trip to the Bahamas; a skydiving trip to Key West, Florida; an eco-adventure trip to Nicaragua; and a hiking trip to Kauai.
Besides that, my travel goals for the next few years are to go to Italy, New Zealand, and Patagonia. I haven’t been to Europe yet, and I also want to explore more of Central and South America. Maybe I just want to go everywhere and am flexible enough to make my next destination wherever the travel deals bring me?
How can we keep in touch with you?
Do you have more questions about my travels? Find my stories interesting? Want to talk about travel? Want to travel with me? Looking for outdoor adrenaline-junkie adventures?
Note: We love featuring our travel-loving members, if you’d like to be interviewed or write a guest post for this blog, send us an email at info @ thenomadicnetwork . com with the subject line “TNN Blog.”