Today’s guest post comes from Stephen Heiner, who is extremely passionate about travel and building communities. Stephen is the chapter leader of the Paris chapter of The Nomadic Network and is hosting an event all about moving to France for our travel community.
My name is Stephen Heiner. I was born in Singapore and lived there during my childhood before my family moved to the United States. I lived in six different states, finished my higher and graduate education there, started several businesses, sold one, then moved to France in 2013. I build businesses, write about life, and generally like to read a lot when I’m not running a dozen different social events in Paris each month.
What city are you based in?
Paris, France. It’s one of the most visited cities in the world. It’s over 2,000 years old, but because there’s a ring road around it, it still feels like a smaller city compared to places like London, New York, or Singapore. But much like those cities, it’s all about your own particular neighborhood. That’s where you’re going to spend most of your time.
Why is it important you have a supportive travel community around you?
To learn from others, and to share what I’ve learned.
Why did you choose to be a leader for The Nomadic Network?
It was the best way to ensure that a chapter would get started!
How did you start traveling, like really traveling?
Probably in my mid-20s, when the company I had started had stabilized a bit and I had some disposable income. The big breakthrough was 30 days in Australia, when I visited every state and territory. That was almost 10 years ago and I’ve seen so much since.
What did your first major trip teach you?
That trip in Australia was almost entirely couchsurfed. There were so many friendly people in that country willing to share some space in their homes, as well as some of their time.
It was my “just say yes” trip, so I did so many things I’ve always wanted to do. Hot-air ballooning, solo skydiving (you can do it by yourself at a lower altitude if you take a four-hour class in Oz), diving the Great Barrier Reef, shark diving (no cage), New Year’s Eve in Sydney overlooking Harbour Bridge, and, to finish the trip, watching Sharapova and Djokovic at the Australian Open.
What’s one of your most pivotal travel moments?
This picture on the top of Mount Wellington in 2013.
I had actually asked a stranger to take a photo of me, which she had, a moment before, with me facing the camera. But then the wind came up from behind me and I turned around and beheld this awesome sight at that moment. I didn’t find the photo until later that day, and I didn’t realize how much better it was that the stranger took that shot I didn’t ask for until much later.
This moment represents in many ways the freedom and glory of travel. Seeing someplace you’ve never seen reminds you of how small you are and how little time we have in this life: grab it while you can.
What is your travel style?
Very frugal. I’m most likely to couchsurf/stay with friends/stay in a hostel. I stay away from the “have to see” spots and concentrate on just enjoying the atmosphere, food, and sights. While I love to travel with friends or make new ones, I’m also just as happy on my own.
Is there a creative way that you fund your trips?
Not so much creative as guarded: I won’t go into debt to fund a trip. As long as the costs line up with what I have set aside for traveling, I can go!
Tell us about a time on the road where a stranger made an impact on you?
In the days after 9/11, I was stranded in a city where my airplane was forced to land and there were no flights. I was at the bar having a drink and told a stranger that if he showed his boarding pass, he could save money off his hotel room.
Later on, when he found out I was going to sleep on the floor of the airport to save money, he bought me a hotel room for the night, no questions. I was a student and couldn’t pay him back at the time, but he told me just to help someone in the future when that person, like me, might need it.
I still remember how grateful I felt at that moment, and how nice that shower felt that night, and that bed.
What brought you to Nigeria? What were you doing there?
One of the most unusual places I’ve been to is Lagos, Nigeria. I was there for some work and some personal affairs. I was constantly stared at by the locals (I look fairly different from them) and was shocked at the level of poverty. I thought I was prepared for it; I wasn’t prepared, not by a mile.
What is the most surprising thing you learned while traveling?
That there is no “the.” There is simply “a.”
There is “a” type of breakfast, not “the” type of breakfast.
There is “a” time for dinner, not “the” time for dinner.
You won’t learn this until you get outside of your home culture.
What’s it like to be at home now during this pandemic? How are you keeping connected to your love of travel?
Honestly, I watched six trips evaporate when the lockdown occurred. I haven’t been thinking about travel as much as being present in the moment, being grateful for all the travel I have been blessed to have, and hopeful that it may continue in the future.
I’m also hosting a virtual event with The Nomadic Network all about moving to France!
How has your view of traveling changed since the coronavirus?
Only that I am more grateful for it than ever before.
What’s the best travel advice you’ve ever received?
I don’t remember where I read this, but it was a quote along the lines of “always remember that you might come back.” If you tell yourself you’re never coming back someplace, you’re going to try to see everything on that trip. If you slow down and tell yourself you might come back, you’ll see less but enjoy and remember more.
What’s in store for your future travels?
How can we keep in touch with you? Tell us all the places to follow you!
You can find me on The Nomadic Network here, also on Instagram and Twitter. You can see the project I’m working on at stephenheiner.com, and you can follow my immigration journey to France on this site.
Note: We love featuring our travel-loving members, if you’d like to write a guest post for this blog, send us an email at info @ thenomadicnetwork . com with the subject line “TNN Blog Guest Post.”