I’m pleased to introduce you all to Gigi Griffis. Gigi is a writer, world traveler and Swiss Expat who has just released a book about traveling Italy like a local. Read on to hear about how she supports her location independent lifestyle and what it’s like traveling the world with a dog! As an extra bonus, one of my So Many Places Newsletter subscribers will win a free copy of her book next month (August 2014). Read on to learn all about Gigi and make sure to sign up for the So Many Places Newsletter if you haven’t already.
Q: Hi Gigi. Some of my readers have never met you before. Give us your elevator pitch. Who you are and how did you come to be here?
A: Hi there! I’m Gigi—a self-employed writer living in Switzerland and traveling the world with my pint-sized pooch, Luna.
In 2012, feeling pretty discontent with my life in Denver, I packed my things, gave up my lease, and left the US with my two-year-old business, a hiking backpack, and my dog. And, since then, everything about my life has changed.
Q: So you took your two-year-old business on the road. Tell us what you do that enables you to live a location independent lifestyle.
A: When I started my business, I was doing copywriting (writing for websites, brochures, video scripts, and advertisements) and content strategy, mostly for non-profits, universities, travel companies, and other companies with a focus on doing some good in the world.
As I started traveling, though, I started doing more travel and creative writing for magazines and online publications. And, after about a year on the road, I realized that I wanted to do the creative stuff full-time. Since then, I’ve been slowly transitioning out of my marketing-minded writing business and into a creative-minded writing business. Now I mostly focus on magazine articles and books.
Q: You traveled almost two full years before settling down. Where did you go? What were your favorite places?
A: I started my full-time travel adventures in Edinburgh, Scotland and traveled very slowly (since I was still working pretty normal hours while traveling) mostly in Europe, staying about a month in each place before moving on to the next.
The full list of countries I’ve visited in the last two years: Scotland (technically part of the UK, but feels like its own thing), Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, France, Spain, Italy, England, Croatia, and Mexico. I also tried to take one big trip a year while I was still living full-time in the US, so before this adventure I’d already been to every continent except Antarctica.
As you can probably guess (based on where I settled down), my favorite place in the world is Switzerland’s Bernese Oberland. I love wilderness and mountains and here I’ve got it in spades.
Other favorites include Ghent and Brugge, Belgium (friendliest people in the world), the Okavongo Delta in Botswana, Africa (stunning and wild), Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast (where the mountains meet the sea), and anywhere in Italy (best food in the world)
Q: You were granted residence in Switzerland. What was the process like?
A: Yes! What I have is actually a temporary residency permit that allows me to live in Switzerland for one year and which can be renewed at the end of the year. (It generally takes a few years to get a more permanent residency and it takes about 10 years to get citizenship.)
To get my one-year, renewable residence permit, I had to prove that I had A) health insurance that covers me here in Switzerland (I carry worldwide insurance as a full-time traveler, so that part was easy), B) the ability to financially support myself without taking a job for a Swiss person or using the Swiss social system (as a self-employed writer, this was, again, fairly simple for me), and C) a reason to stay (for me: writing a book).
The waiting part (four months – eek!) was really trying, but the paperwork and the process was straightforward.
Q: Why did you choose Switzerland?
A: The short answer is that this is the one place in the world where I feel like I’m coming home.
I’ve always been a restless person and while I have liked places that I’ve lived, I never felt attached to them. I never felt—at the end of a big trip or a new adventure—that I was glad to be going home. I always wanted to travel, to do the next thing, to see what was around the next bend.
Here, though, I feel so differently.
Last week, I spent four days in Italy and, even though I loved eating my way through Emilia Romagna, I was so excited to get home to the Alps and go for a hike.
Q We also can’t conduct this interview without mentioning that you travel with your dog Luna. What kind of dog is she (and how much does she weigh? A big dog has to be a barrier to such things) and what kind of obstacles do you encounter while traveling with her?
A: Luna is a Schnauzer-Yorkie mix and weighs about 12 pounds (5ish kilos). She’s small enough to travel as carry-on luggage on a plane, but big enough to handle our very active lifestyle.
I should also mention that she’s therapy trained in the US (a type of training for dogs who volunteer in hospitals, hospices, libraries, etc.), which means she’s very relaxed about new places, smells, people, animals, etc. So she tends to be really easy going as a full-time traveler.
As far as obstacles go, there are really three things that come to mind:
1) I do have to plan at least a couple days ahead—because traveling with a dog to a new country almost always means getting some paperwork done (it’s not difficult to do, but it does take a little time and planning) and because I can’t just show up and stay anywhere (I have to find a dog-friendly spot, so booking at least a day ahead is pretty essential).
2) It’s better to travel slow. I have to do this anyway because traveling too quickly while trying to run a business is a surefire way to burn yourself out, but having the dog also slows things down. I can’t hop into a new country every four days because I need paperwork every time. For me, this is perfect because I love to stay for a month or two in a place and really get into the culture, but for people doing a whirlwind tour, this could be a pretty big obstacle.
3) There are a few places (not as many as you’d think, but definitely some) that I simply can’t travel with a dog. The Maldives, for example, doesn’t allow dogs at all (even seeing eye dogs!). And, while I could take Luna to Africa, getting back to the first-world afterward sounds really difficult—and I’d be worried about having her there.
Q: You’ve just written a new book about traveling like a local in Italy. Tell me what inspired you to write this book.
A: In about 15 years of traveling abroad almost every year (plus the two years of traveling full-time), my best travel experiences have always come from the recommendations of local people.
They know where to find the best pizzeria, the most authentic gelato, the coolest markets, the most interesting hikes…
So, last year I decided to start a series on my blog called Ask a Local. In it, I asked long-time locals about 12 questions (questions I crowd-sourced from my awesome readers via Facebook and Twitter) about the best of their cities.
My first interview was about Verona, Italy. I was so delighted by the answers that I decided to go to Verona—and when I ate in the pizzeria my interviewee had recommended (full of loud, smiling Italians and no other tourists) and tried the pizza she had described, I fell in love.
After that, I knew I had to find a way to turn this Ask a Local thing into something bigger, which is when I realized that I should interview 100 of them and create a book.
The idea is to experience every part of Italy as if you had a local best friend showing you around.
Q: What’s next? Do you have any idea where you’ll be in five years?
A: Over the past couple years, I’ve learned that I operate best with flexibility and freedom. So, while I do have a sketch of an idea of the next six months, five-year plans are beyond me.
What I do know?
I want to live in Switzerland, so I’ll be reapplying for my permit this winter.
My goal this summer is to summit the three major peaks of my region (Jungfrau, Monch, and Eiger).
I’ll be doing a lot of Italy writing in the coming months.
And I’m currently in the process of writing three mini books for Paris, Prague, and Barcelona (in the same vein as the big Italy book, just smaller and with some different questions tailored to location).
Get in touch with Gigi:
Free interview posts: http://gigigriffis.com/category/ask-a-local/
Remember, you can win Gigi’s book for free just by being a part of the So Many Places Newsletter. Click here to sign up for the newsletter. If you’re already on the list you are already entered to win. The winner can choose between a paperback, PDF, Kindle, or Nook copy.