My name is Daniela Zavala “The Backpacker”. I am an Emmy Awarded journalist, a mom, a marathoner and an avid world adventurer…a nomad at heart who makes every new place I visit my home. In the last 22 years, I has explored solo 86 countries, including remot, nontraditional and even dangerous places such as Iran, Yemen, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Mongolia and Ethiopia.
Most people think that I come from a family of diplomats or adventurers, but the reality is that I grew up in a small town in Venezuela and never imagined that I would become the confident and experienced world explorer I am today.
My passion for world travel arose quite by accident in 1997 when my first backpacking trip to Europe with two friends fell through. Holding that ticket for a Madrid flight, I wasn’t afraid, I was terrified! Back then, I didn’t know that I would make a decision that would forever change my life and would continue to empower me- I decided to go on my own.
Since then, I never stopped traveling alone, daring to explore each time more remote and dangerous destinations where most people would not go…always in the search of fascinating stories and unique experiences. In more than 20 years of solo traveling, I have had all sorts of experiences from the road. During these journeys, I have seen the lives of many people of all nationalities, ethnicities, and religions up close. I have experienced their kindness, but also their brutal struggles between life and death.
So every year I change my comfy flats for hiking boots and my dresses for cargos and t-shirts. For almost 2 decades, my only travel companion was a battered backpack that has been with me since that first trip. Now that I am mom, I travel with my husband and son, but I haven’t forgotten my roots and my passion for solo travel, and I continue to do it the way how I started.
Since that first trip in 1997, I was never the same. The places I visit and the people I meet on the road continue to have a deep impact on me, the way I see the world, and the way I live in it.
Henry Miller’s quote describes my experience best: “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.”
For fellow travelers, I hope my website is helpful.
For those who are afraid of traveling alone, I hope it inspires you to take the first step.
For those who—for whatever reason—cannot travel, I hope to take you on a journey to these far away lands through my travels.
FIRST DIARY: PAGE ONE
My first solo backpacking trip: Europe 1997
September 2, 1997
It is 4:25 p.m. I am at the gate holding my ticket for a Madrid flight. Should I cry or smile? My feelings are so mixed. I am thrilled that I am finally going to make a dream a reality: I am traveling around Europe! On the other hand, I am terrified. I have never traveled to another continent, and I have never traveled alone. I still cannot believe that after a year of planning this trip, my friends canceled on me. I am afraid of what will happen to me, but I refuse to give up on my trip to Europe.
I also feel that I have a huge responsibility on my hands. If something happens to me, my parents would be devastated. I know how hard it was for them to let me go on my own. I held back the tears, but it broke my heart to see my mom cry and see my dad’s watery eyes while I was crossing the security point to get to the gate.
I promised them I would take care and that I would come back. But will I? I don’t know. I can only hope.
I can feel the chills of fear taking over me; I really want to see the world; I want to get to know other cultures; I want to meet other people whose customs are different from mine. I am tired of reading about all these amazing places, and looking at photos of masterpieces of history and fine arts. Why settle for books and photos when I can experience it and see it firsthand?
Yet, I still wonder . . . will it be dangerous out there? Will it be more difficult or easier than I think? I feel such excitement and anxiety. My heart is pounding so hard! I am short of breath . . .
I don’t know if I am brave, out of my mind, or stubborn—or a combination of all three—to carry on with this trip after it almost fell apart. Maybe I should have waited until next year or at least a few months to see if someone could join me in this adventure later on?
It is kind of too late to reconsider, though.
I look at myself sitting here, waiting for the gate to open. I still cannot believe that within hours I will be on another continent, all by myself. I must be open to this personal journey and embrace every minute of it. No matter what happens, at least I won’t wonder
“what if. . . ?”
Since 1997, I have kept a diary of each of my travels. For years, I shared those journals via email with my friends and relatives, who forwarded my diaries to their friends and relatives. And that’s how the list of readers and followers of my travelogues grew year after year.
After realizing the impact that my stories had on those who read them and after the sudden death of a good friend at only 35, I knew it was time to do something in which I could share the travel expertise I had accumulated in over a decade and in which I could inspire more people to pursue their own dreams. In October 2009, I finally launched www.diariesofabackpacker.com. I wanted this website to be informative and fun, so I have done my very best to use my skills as journalist with my passion for traveling to combine international journalism, travel, and investigative reporting to unearth stories that go beyond the new headlines, bringing awareness to subjects ranging from environmental, wildlife, social issues, women’s issues, human rights, culture, and world adventure. I write all the stories of my blog and I shot and edit the short documentaries you watch here (Yeap! I have no production team or crew, I am a one person doing it all!).
I started traveling in 1997, but began documenting my adventures in video in 2009 when I traveled to Tibet and Bhutan. I didn’t know if with a camera on hand, people would open up to me as it has been in all previous trip. But I have been blessed and fortunate to create an authentic connection with the natives, and have managed to immerse myself into a great diversity of cultures and an inhospitable places … from the deadly mountains Pakistan, the savage tribes of Ethiopia and the nomads of the Gobi desert up to the world of Amazonian shamanism in Ecuador.
With each video, photo or article, I try to take you to where many of many people do not dare to go, bringing you closer to those fascinating places and peoples across the globe.
I never imagined back in 2009 how many people I would reach with my stories and how many would join me on my world adventures through my website, YouTube videos and social media accounts.
It fulfills my heart every time someone tells me that he or she has taken his/her first solo trip inspired by my own journey. Inspiring others, and promoting tolerance toward cultural differences were my goal 10 years ago when I launched Diaries of a Backpacker, and those are still my goals today. Here that first ever video I ever recorded for Diaries of a Backpacker. Back then, I didn’t know how to use a camera much less to edit a video. But when you are passionate about something, you learn… I did and I keep on learning to bring you more stories from around the world!
At the time this video was published in 2009, I had many years of experience as a reporter, but it was the first time I took a camera on a trip and learned how to edit my own videos.
Documenting my adventures in video is not easy. I shoot and edit all my videos, but the extra effort is worth it! Are you ready to be taken to these extraordinary places and see what traveling around the world is like? Check my Videos section!
"A picture is worth a thousand words". Well, I don’t have one, I have thousands! Check out my fav pics and photo albums from each of my trips.
“How do you do it?” many people asked me. I have a 9-to-5 job, I am not rich, and I don’t many weeks of vacation. So if time and money is your dilemma, check my itineraries and tips.
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