How I Travel: Amee Donohoe

AMEE DONOHOE: FOLLOWS THE TIDE, NOT THE CROWDS

Amee Donohoe is living the life. She travels, she surfs and when she misses home she holes up near a secluded beach in her native Australia. Although it’s easy to be jealous of how she rolls, it’s hard to resent her for it—the optimistic and well-thought-out wave rider is as nice as they come. She also genuinely loves travel without ever forgetting to consider the sometimes difficult realities of the people who live in the far flung places that she gets to visit.

Amee, now 29, has surfed professionally since she was 18. Her skills have kept her ranked among the top ten female surfers in the world for the past five years and in 2007 she was the runner-up for the prestigious Triple Crown. This week, while taking a rest between surf sessions, she spoke to us about her favorite places, where she wants to go next and why she loves life on the road.


My first travel memory was back in 1995 when I got selected for the Australian World Junior Team to go over to Bali, Indonesia.

I remember getting on a big plane—I think we flew Air Garuda, which I wouldn’t do these days— with the Australian managers, my parents and my brother. I remember the feeling of stepping off the plane and into a foreign country for the first time and getting hit with all the new smells and the humidity, it was pretty unforgettable really.

TopofWorld

Being lucky enough to travel as much as I have, it does shape you as a person—in the way you perceive things and how you look at the world.

When you’re traveling the world you’re really able to experience things first hand, whereas (especially in Australia because we are so isolated) a lot of people really don’t know what’s out there in the environmental forms, the physical forms and the way that people live with luxury or live with nothing. Going to places like Brazil and Peru, I’ve really seen some of the extremes of human lifestyle and when I come home I feel that I really evolve as a person—and I can really be grateful, instead of thinking “I need more of this or that to be happy.”

Because I haven’t had big-time financial sponsors, my form of traveling is comparable to that of the surfers who came before me in the 70s and 80s.

I wouldn’t say I’ve been one that’s had to sleep on the beach too many times but I definitely haven’t been one that’s hired the really expensive cars or hotels. I like to share with other competitors when it comes to accommodations, cars and splitting costs. I like to travel smartly financially, but I’m not gonna hold back if I want to have a night out. I travel in a style that’s probably similar to all the people who save up and really want to make the most of their trip.

AmeeGoldenGate

When I first arrive in a place I like to find my way around, see where the restaurants and the interesting places are.

But I usually leave those things until after we’ve competed unless I look at a swell forecast and can tell that the swell’s not gonna arrive for a few days, then I’ll venture out and go off the beaten track. If I’m going somewhere for a competition my main priority is the waves. I’ve gotta surf, I’ve gotta acclimatize, I’ve got to figure out my equipment—all the things that come with competing at that level. If times allows between the next contest, I’ve always been someone who’ll book my ticket so I can spend a good week or two after an event just to explore, look at the culture and meet the people. I like to dive into wherever I am and have a bit of fun.

I used to never research, I’d arrive at a country and just wing it.

As I’ve gotten a little older and I’ve been around the world who-knows-how-many times, I do start to pick up a Lonely Planet or Google a place. If I’m in France I might try to track down a particular vineyard. It depends where I’m going and where I want to see. The best thing I’ve found is that if you’re going someplace and you’ve got friends who live there, their inside knowledge is always unbeatable. It’s always nice to go somewhere where you’ve got friends.

My friends ate cow heart recently in Peru.

I have to admit, I looked at it but I wasn’t brave enough to eat it. I just couldn’t bring myself to eat a heart.

I used to be quite an adventurous eater until about three years ago when I got a parasite.

We had a contest (also in Peru) in a relatively remote area and I got this parasite which pretty well ate away the lining of my stomach. Ever since then I’ve kind-of avoided any dodgy situations.

Boards are a nightmare to travel with.

I wish I had a board-packing-secret or a way to avoid excess baggage fees. I think the only secret is to figure out which airlines charge less than others and stick with them. The ticket might be more expensive but you can save on the excess fees.

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I won’t travel without my laptop.

As much as I like to consume myself with a place, I also like to be connected to my family.

I like to have my accommodation pre-organized.

When I’m competing especially, I like to know I have someplace where I can lay down. I also like to stay awake in any cab-ride, even if it’s at night, to scope an area out. When I wake up in the morning I’ll ask a local where the places to eat are or what the waves are like. I think you can basically tell from the energy or the vibe of where you’re at if it’s going to be safe or not and how far you can venture.

As someone who travels for a living, it’s hard to consider giving up flying because of the environmental effects.

There’s a lot of ocean out there and unless you’re going to hop on a sailing boat and just go around the world once, it’s hard. Even once I start competing less and free-surfing more, there’s still a part of me that wants to explore the world and I know there’ll be times when I have to travel by plane. Still, if we all take steps, maybe we can even things out a little.

In my professional life, I’m surrounded by girls from every corner of the globe so I get an instant connection into their homes.

This allows me to get an inside scoop on countries everywhere. Immediately I’m meeting people who live there and entering into a different lifestyle.

AmeewithCheetah

I like to make close connections with locals in places where there are a large number of people who are less fortunate.

Because I really do want to make a positive impact with my status as a surfer.

I think there are a lot of travelers out there who forget the basic common sense of being kind, polite and having manners.

Those simple things that cross any language barrier—they’re all the same and if you carry them you’ll be okay.

I took a trip in 1999 with a group of girls to Sri Lanka during time when the Tamil Tigers were in full reign of some of the regional areas.

When I came home I remember feeling humbled and grounded just to be back. There were guys getting on our bus with machine guns. Suddenly you realize that the whole of the world isn’t as safe as where you come from. It was one of the first times I realized that the planet isn’t all sweetness and good times. There are a lot of people out there that do need our help. People always ask “how was Sri Lanka?” and I always say “there were beautiful pockets,” but I’m not ready to go back.

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It’s hard to narrow it down to one favorite place because every place is special in its own right…

…but I’ve had some really fun times in Paris, Honolulu and South Africa.

It may sound boring to Americans, but I really do have a soft spot for Hawaii.

I’ve got a lot of close friends there, I love the temperature, the culture, the people—I think they’re very open and loving—I love the palm trees and the turtles. It’s one of those places that is really special and stunning…I hope it stays that way.

My “best beach” is Hossegor, France.

Summertime, barreling waves…nudity. Plus it’s such long days. You can surf well into the hours that it’s dark here in Australia.

Last year I took a road trip through South Africa and it definitely touched me.

I really did appreciate the country and the rawness of it. It’s one place where I’m already thinking of trying to get back and continue to get off the beaten track.

Amee at Bells

If you handed me plane tickets to go anywhere today I’d go to Chile.

I’ve never been. I flew over it on the way home from Brazil a few years ago and it’s called to me ever since. I’ve just imagined surfing looking back at those mountains.

When I get home I make chai tea and have baked beans on toast.

That’s one thing I really miss when I’m away. That and my family.

I like to travel by boat.

I truly love the ocean. You feel so vulnerable, but it’s so peaceful at the same time.

Amee

This sounds terrible but Europe doesn’t stimulate me like it originally did.

Everyone told me how amazing Prague was going to be and I made a massive mission to get there and it basically looked the same as Austria and Spain to me. There are only so many castles you can see.

I don’t think I could advise someone on how they should take their experiences.

It’s an individual thing and everyone’s got to pave their own road there. I think wisdom’s one of those things you have to pick up on your own.

I was in Jeffery’s Bay last year and there was a guy there who was a little strange looking living in his van.

He was really drawn to me and through our conversations he really brought me back down to earth. He was a guy who’d traveled a lot and seen a lot. I finally figured out that he’d been very wealthy and gave it up to live simply. I was at a time where I was thinking “I love travel, but I’m not making any money from it. How long can I do this?” And he really just brought me back to being in the moment and appreciating what you have and what you do. He really put things in perspective.

I love travel for the experiences I have on the road.

It’s always changing and it’s always different.

Be sure to catch up on Amee’s adventures online at her official website, on her Twitter feed or on Facebook. If you have a few minutes, her clever and equally insightful blog always makes for a great read too.

“How I Travel” is a new BootsnAll series publishing every Tuesday in an effort to look at the unique and diverse travel habits of some of the world’s most well known and proficient road warriors. Got ideas for who we should talk to? Drop us a note.

You’ll find links to all the “How I Travel” articles on the How I Travel archive page, you can become a fan of “How I Travel” on Facebook, and you can follow the @howitravel profile on Twitter to get updates as soon as new features in this series are published.

all photographs provided by Amee Donohoe and may not be used without permission

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20 July 2010

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