13. Strangers on Planes

About this episode:

Sitting on the plane of her first solo travel experience, Estrella Quiroz meets Erin, a true wanderer who changed Estrella’s perspective on travel with one conversation. 40+ countries later, Estrella still wishes she had Erin’s contact information to thank her for that conversation. I end there. No spoilers.

**Update**Estrella grew up in Texas, not Nicaragua.

Follow her adventures on Instagram at @estrellaq95.

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Estrella:  For the most part, it’s a chain reaction. you speak to one person, you have a conversation and for you, it could just seem like another day, but for that person, you never know what they take from it. So that’s what it was because of that chain reaction.

That Erin kind of started with her conversation. She ultimately led me to give these same types of conversations to other people I’ve met.

Leah Falyn: Welcome to Wander By Proxy, a podcast featuring women’s travel stories that connect them more to themselves and the world around them. I’m Leah Falyn, and today we have Estrella Quiroz, who grew up in Nicaragua believing that education was the ticket out of poverty. She moved to Miami for this reason, but a few days after her 18th birthday, she found out her father had passed away back in Nicaragua. And that’s where her story begins. Here’s Estrella.

Estrella:  People in my community had raised money so that I could take a flight to Nicaragua and it was expensive at the time. It was 600, $700, but they had come together and, and, and I ended up being the only one of my siblings to fly and he got off for the funeral.

So when I sit in Nicaragua, I didn’t know what to expect. I had never left the country. I had only been on a plane once to move States. And that was it. And by the time I arrived, I was greeted at the, at the airport, by my mother’s side of the family. And that was really what struck me. There were there in my mother’s side of the family, there’s about 150 people and they all live very close together and a very close-knit community where the houses are the roof circles out of aluminum.

They don’t have much, they don’t have there’s. Sometimes the toilets don’t work really well, or there’s not really good running water, but they have enough to survive. And I had never missed the side with family, but obviously I’ve heard, and my grandparents had visited once, but I hadn’t really paid attention to them when they had come.

So for me, it was all brand new. It was a lot of emotions. And at that time my family treated me so welcoming. They, they hugged me, they prayed for me and I just felt so loved and comforted. That I couldn’t believe it. These people that are a hundred really ever know me were showing me this unconditional love and they supported me.

One of my cousins went with me to my dad’s funeral and I was really by cheating. As I said, I was by myself with my new family, that I had an a and I wasn’t around the comfort of my siblings or any friends. So it was a lot of them to take in, but I know that trip really changed me because I saw in me that I was a country that’s developing.

there’s been a lot of things in the news lately. But for the most part, it was what I thought was a school of these people who may not have much, but they’re willing to give this full support the school of even if it’s a strangers. So I went in and I was on the plane and I’ll never forget that I started writing myself these notes and I said, what have I been doing?

You know, I hadn’t answered my dad’s phone calls. And three days before he passed away, it was my birthday. I remember looking at a phone and I did an answer because there was out. With friends. And after that phone call, he left me a voicemail and the voicemail was so powerful for me because he’s like, happy birthday.

I love you. Things are going to change soon. Just wait and see. And I started crying, but I, now I always have this voicemail to refer back to. So I made this list on the plane and I said, how I’m going to change and what am I going to do? And I vowed to put on my list that I was going to go see more of the world because it’s, for me, if people in need that I wore like this, then I had been still focused on things in the U S things.

And just my general community, Miami, that I hadn’t really been looking out farther. So I ended up. Graduating a few months later, six, seven months later. And I got a full ride to the university of Florida. And the first thing I did the second week of my university was I went to go speak to the, my admissions person and she helped me find programs.

So I got out, I started looking for government scholarships and student loans. And how could I finance a trip? And I was able to do my first. All right. So I was able to wait, let me start over. I went to the missions counselor, if you talk a little slower, sorry, I’m really sorry about your dad, by the way.

That is very no it’s. I mean, it’s a very lucky, but it was something with my dad. Is it really changed? Shape the way I see the world because when I was on the plane, And I, I always told myself, well, do I want to do, I really wanted to focus more on my communication with people. I had always been a person some with that was very anxious, very reserved, but I was still social in that sense because I wasn’t these extracurricular activities, but it was more just education-based and it wasn’t really am I focusing on my communication with this person?

Am I truly enjoying this moment? And I want it to be more free spirited, like my dad and that’s okay. The bull that I was trying to make the shift. So the reason for going abroad wasn’t just to go to another country. It was, can I go to these cultures and just dive in deep and try to get to know the people who live here?

So when I went to, when I went to my first program, I was able to fund it through government scholarships, student loans, and savings because my mom, at the end of the day, she saw the housekeepers and my family wasn’t able to help me in that and the program. It was only a month long. It was in Florence, Italy, but I decided I want to maximize my time.

And it turned into, maybe I should go from Italy degree. Oh, hungry. So close. Oh boy. Germany’s like train order away. And then it ends up being a whole itinerary of 10 or 10 to 15 countries around two and a half months. So I extended my time in Europe after my program ended and I’ll never forget I got on the plane.

I had just gotten off on the plane by myself. My program, the people in my program had left back home. And I was alone in grief, and then I wasn’t sure how to navigate. I had never done fill the travel. So I was just kind of winging it. I was really scared, but I kind of just got the courage and just said, okay, it’s gonna be okay.

And I got on a plane and it was going to Hungary and they’re on my plane. I met this girl. She was sitting next to me. Her name is Erin and she was a few years older than me, but she had been telling me all about her adventures. She had gone. She had gone through Latin America. Now she was in Europe. She was just, and I told her what’s the best advice.

And she was like, just, don’t be scared. Just talk to people. And we had about an hour conversation. And in that conversation, I, for me and inspiration and art, our conversation was brief, but she told me a lot of her adventures when she was solo traveling. And I was just so inspired. I got less scared. And after we got off the plane, I really wanted to get her contact info, but when we were getting our luggages, I think we got separated and I didn’t see her again.

So, but I’ll never forget that conversation because at that point in my life, I was taking notes every day. I said, what is happening today? What’s going, Oh, how did this day? What happened in this day? That was remarkable. And I always remembered Erin because she was the first truth, a little traveler, female that I had encountered.

And ever since that time, I I’ve been to 40 countries by myself. And she was kind of like for me, the first role model I had because of that time in my life, I hadn’t ever encountered another woman who had traveled alone or had done these adventures or have gone against, you know, the stereotype and had avoided like her had conquered.

The fear is, so I want to say the people that we meet on our journeys, they play, especially new roles. Whether you don’t know, you can have a conversation with somebody and. It could be life changing for them. And you’re just going about your day. And for me at that point, that’s what Erin was. She has had a conversation with them, another stranger, but she didn’t realize that she had given like another stranger, like the motivator, the fear, or to not be scared, the courage to not be scared.

ever since then, I, any person I come across with, whether it’s just on a plane ride on a bus ride, I, I speak to them and I speak like wholehearted heartedly. I give them my attention. I give them, I, we talk about anything and I give my advice where they need it. So I that’s the way I’m living my life now.

it’s beyond seeing the, the number of countries. It’s more just am I really connecting with the culture and my finding new ways to really be present in the moment. And now most recently I was able to get jobs in the travel industry. One was that a travel engine search, a travel search engine, go abroad.com.

They let me become a content specialist there in their Colorado office. And then I spoke to the CEO and he gave me the opportunity to go backpack through Latin America for work. It started in Bolivia. I ended in Mexico, so I spent four and a half months consecutively traveling from city to city on both complaints, finding new clients for them, creating new content.

And just trying to, like I said, it’d be present. And then I recently, or a year and a half ago, I switched to the luxury travel industry, which is kind of a shock for me because I had always been used to backpacking and just kind of winging it. And then I was at a luxury travel office with people who are used to the four seasons, the Ritz Carlton and so many, so much luxury.

So it was, I’ve definitely gained. Oh, I have a wide experience in the spectrum of travel. I think from based from backpacking, from couch surfing to the other end to being a five star resort. And now where I am in life, I’ve decided to kind of take a break from the luxury, travel and go move more towards social justice and see how I can play a part in what’s happening today.

Leah Falyn: Going backward a little bit. What about Erin’s conversation inspired you so much?

Estrella: So that day that I met Erin on the plane ride, it was, she was giving me advice on, on traveling alone as a woman. Okay. Her experiences. And most, she did tell me her, her love story, which was something that was really had that had really intrigued me. She had told me about how she met a man and she wasn’t sure, but for me, it was just fascinating because when I asked her.

She was what fascinated me the most was that all she had with her was just a small bag. And I’ll never forget because I had a huge bag, but Osprey battling backpack. And it was, I thought I needed more than I actually did. And she had minimized her travels into one bag. So I asked her about that. How do you travel?

And she’s like, well, I don’t really need much. And from there, I think that’s what really kind of pushed me, like clean packing what I need the essentials and re in, and stopping because at the same time, we’re just kind of. A lot of people tend to overpack more than they need, or there’s so many outfits.

And I think she really taught me how to minimize what I’m actually taking it. And that really helps you kind of focus on what you’re learning and you need to country, but the inspiration and back then what I got the most of was like, wow, this girl can do it. So why can’t I? And that’s kind of where our conversation led.

And I was just fascinated by her experiences. And she got me so excited for my travels because I’d, like I said, I had just started the little traveling. At that point. So she had to really like put me up and it was just, I can’t really explain. There’s not really like a word that like I will remember, but what I remember is the feeling, the feeling, when I spoke there, I was just, it was admiration and it was like inspiration that somebody else could do it so I can do it.

And people do forget what you might say, but they won’t forget the feeling you made me fall. You made them feel. Yes. I like live by that. It’s absolutely true. And I think it’s so fun. Just obviously one of the greatest parts about traveling is meeting the people along the way and just having those really unexpected connections.

So it’s fun that you had that on the plane and it led almost to this new chapter. Yeah, I haven’t taken one selfie with her. I don’t never forget. Cause I love pictures because I have, I tend to have a pretty bad memory. So unless I write it down or I take a picture, I might forget and somebody else has to remind me.

So that’s why I try to document as much as I can. But for her, I took a picture and I never asked her for her last name, which I was always being myself for three years. Instead of whole, this is girl. I kind of want to reach out so she can see my growth. because I, I think I had told her my life story with my dad and we, we, like you said, we shared that connection and those connections are really what I mean the most to me beyond the glamorous travel and Instagram photo ops, it’s just having those simple connections, whether it’s by the beach at a bar and having a cocktail or just meeting someone even though, and you know, you’re, you might never see them again, but you’re, you’re glad you came.

Like you crossed paths on the same journey of life.

Leah Falyn: So I know you said you haven’t gotten her contact information, but have you been able to reunite with her in some way or like tell her how inspirational she’s been?

Estrella: Yeah. I woke up one day back in August, I think. And I don’t, I thought of her and I guess maybe it was because I had been at my nine, my nine to five job in a way and had gone to the office and hadn’t been traveling as much.

They kind of re, re reminded me of like the people I had met and I was scrolling through my photos and I saw the photo and I said, wow, like, I want to more than anything to just kind of tell her, like, Hey, your conversation in that moment. And like, What we spoke about and how do you make me feel really kind of impacted me.

And I wanted to reach out to her, but I didn’t know how, but I do know I was, I was I’m part of the girls love travel group on Facebook. And I was like, well, maybe I can just post your selfie or selfie there. And somebody will, will, will not her. So I posted it and it did get a lot of attention that I had a lot of people like, Oh, this girl, like, Oh, let’s try to find her.

And the community on there really, really helped me first for her. And within less than a day, they found her and they tagged her. And she, and she reached out to me and we set up a call a whole 24 hours later. And we just caught up and now she was, she was living in Europe. She’s still with the guy that she was telling me about some of the plane ride, which I thought was like, amazing.

So happy it worked out for her. Yeah. And so that was amazing for me. And she was an artist and she was just all really great about it. She’s a good person to know. and we, I, that was the last time I spoke to her, but I feel like with those types of friendships, you know, with those people, you meet, like, you can catch up once a year and just say hi.

And it really doesn’t feel like time with us because when I have spoken to her, it feels like I, we had just, I had just seen her the last week on the plane. So that’s the beauty of the people you do meet abroad that you can get these relationships and get these moments and then breathe, connects. And it’s like, no time has passed.

And then each person is doing their own thing, but you know, at the end of the day, I can just pick her call, call, call her up and just be like, Hey girl, what’s up. Absolutely. That is so cool. I’m so happy with her, her, her man. She’s she seems very, very happy at where she’s at right now. thanks as a bad ass person in general,

Leah Falyn: So fun. Wow. Obviously, you’re in Florida now. So how have you been trying to keep that travel spirit alive during the pandemic?

Estrella:  I actually just quit my job last week and it was, a shift in my mind.

I’ve done a lot of travel, but I want to do something that’s more that’s beyond just my personal travel. And I love helping the clients, but at the same time, I knew that there are things the community is facing right now that I just feel like I want to dedicate my time to whether it’s with marketing or communications.

So I’m, I’m, I shifted it literally industries and I’m looking for something different, but actually part of my, when I quit right now, I actually put the tickets to those to meet that I want next month for a month. And part of that is because I’ve always been either working came or been out, or anytime I go to Nicaragua, it’s only for a few days, days or a week max.

And I really want to reconnect with my family there because I know I can learn so many things well lessons, and I want to see how they, how they can help or how, how I can help them. What’s the best way. So next month, I definitely will be. Hopefully if the pandemic I’ll just be quarantining at my grandparents’ house and trying to learn as much as I can, because I know they have so much wisdom to go.

Leah Falyn: Wow. And that was just last week or a couple of weeks ago?

Estrella: Yeah. Yeah. I had a quarter life crisis. Is, you know, a foreign team has been definitely for me out of the household here. I helped my mom with a bill. I helped my family Nicaragua. And one of the things actually that really bothered me when I traveled is I can’t sometimes truly enjoy the moment because I do know that I’m so lucky to have so many cousins who would have wish they could be where I was.

And every time I posted a picture, I kind of had like a Traveler’s guilt. Just because I’m here. I have the opportunity, thanks to my dad who left, but what about my family who never left her couldn’t leave. So I always think about how I kind of had my fun in a way right now, these last few years, I’m going to these destinations and just kind of being careless and just enjoying the moment.

But now I kind of just want to really. Focused on a career. That’s going to help, first of all, the community here in the United States and further along, or do you want to start a business because I want to provide for my family over there. And the best way to provide is to help them get jobs and kind of build their own resources.

So that’s my main goal. We’ll see how it goes. But honestly, this whole month, the rest of the quarantine is just going to be focused on learning as much as I can. is it, it is within travel kind of, but I’m okay with not being in travel for awhile, just to help where I worked to help, where I’m most needed.

 I still have a lot of really great friends. I met things thankfully in the luxury travel industry, which is the, like I said, it was an industry that I wasn’t expecting to go in. And it was definitely out of my comfort zone, but it really helped me to see the levels. And there’s still kindness in all types, in all levels of the industry, which I really liked.

And I really think that’s because no matter what, at the end of the day, you’re a traveler, whether you’re a backpacker, whether you’re a five star resort person, You’re still a traveler and you’re still exposed to these new cultures and you still need the people, the staff. So I think everybody more open minded in our industry at least.

as far as Aaron story, no, but like I said, I think it’s, for the most part, it’s a chain reaction. You know, you speak to one person, you have a conversation and for you, it could just be, seem like another day, but for that person, you never know what they take from it. So that’s what it was because of that chain reaction.

That Erin kind of started with her conversation. She ultimately led me to give these same types of conversations to other people I’ve met. And I’ve had people reach out to me saying, thank you so much. You’ve motivated me. I’ve gone here now. I remember our conversation. thanks for all the tips you gave me about solo travel and that’s the changing option.

I really enjoy about the most about the travel community. Like getting other people out there. So I think one conversation really just makes it really does make a difference, even if it’s 10, an hour, 10 minutes or an hour long, but that’s, that’s my biggest takeaway from meeting Aaron and reconnecting the digital community.

You don’t really have to be traveling to be connected there. Thankfully, we have such big virtual platforms that really can connect human beings all over. I’m part of girls love travel, but I’m also part of this group called. Yes theory. the other theory family group on Facebook and basically their whole purpose is to seek this comfort to really go for the human.

So once every week I’ll just get on a zoom with random people from all over the world. And they’ll break us out into zoom party, zoom your moms, and you have these really deep conversations with, well, this person you never would have expected. I had last week, I had a conversation with a girl from Guatemala and another girl from Columbia.

And we were talking about our deepest insecurities or life stories within the hour. So those are the types of conversations you can still have without meeting people in person or physically. And that’s kind of the way we have to adapt now in the pandemic and quarantine, if we don’t have to be alone, there’s like I said, there’s still the bridge to the big virtual community, like growth of travel or the yes.

People that, and there’s always people willing to connect. So now when I travel, I actually reach out to the, the, the different groups in different countries. I was actually going to Egypt in March, but the defendant canceled the flight. But before I was going, I had reached out to the group and I reached out to the yes, spam and Egypt. And they had all reached out and they said, yes, we’ll pick you up from the airport.

We’ll take you on the river. We’ll go. Sure. Pyramids. And these, like I said, these people, strangers are just because you never, as strangers can be a friend, you know, any, everybody, every, anybody can turn into fun as you get kind of get to know them. So there’s people willing to pick you up and show you around and show you such a great time without them ever expecting anything or even knowing you to begin with, because it’s just kind of a trust. That you have your part of this group. So I trust you.

It’s really just the power of yes. And getting out of your comfort zone and smiling at people more, a lot of people are more reserved and especially on a plane, I think people kind of think kind of cold on a plane. But it’s just really nice when you smile at the person. Like, I don’t know. I think talking to strangers is very frowned upon, at least, because you don’t know where that person sends is that person at Corona, there’s been a lot of fear instilled now.

And it makes sense because you don’t want to get sick. Hopefully things can the new normal, so like talking to strangers and kind of being open minded about who you come across.

Absolutely. I’m with you there. I hope that doesn’t go away just cause we have a hundred percent. I know. That’s what I think that was my biggest, like for me, my favorite thing is my smile and then I have to cover it up. So I have to try to smize. Right. I know. Yeah. That’s all I have on that.

Leah Falyn: Thanks for listening to this episode of Wander By Proxy, you can follow Estrella’s adventures on Instagram @estrallaq95. Handles are in the show notes. Please consider subscribing to Wander By Proxy to avoid missing another travel story, and follow the Instagram page @wanderbyproxypodcast. Next week, we will be taking a break from the travel stories. Instead, I will be talking with two photographers on how they’re keeping the adventurous spirit alive through their creative outlets. That episode comes out Wednesday, December 2nd.


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