Emma Cunningham // @foremmayoung_
American born and hungry to travel, Emma Cunningham has covered most of Asia with her backpack and journal, munching snakes and scorpions along the way and writing about life on the road. She’s mastered the art of budgeting, giving up luxuries like condos and guacamole to support her dreams, one of traveling everywhere she can possibly go, another to write about the life she sees out there.
Currently making her way through Bali, Indonesia, Emma talked with Among Us about her never ending wanderlust, Korean ER’s, and the moments where we question why this international life is really worth it.
Knowing what you know now about life, travel, and adventure, what piece of advice would you tell your younger self?
This is actually a really hard question for me to answer because I feel like I learn something new every hour that I wish I would have known in the past. But my travels have taught me that I actually know VERY little about life and the world.
Every new destination, sight to see, museum to check out, people to encounter has been a learning opportunity for me. And I guess I wish I could tell my younger self, no matter how confident or sure of something she was, that there is still SO much for me to learn and understand and see and think about.
What destination has brought about the greatest learning opportunity for you? How?
100% The Philippines. While wandering the streets of Manila, I saw infants sleeping on cardboard boxes, people bathing from buckets of water, children running along dangerous roads with no shoes on, and people begging for money.
For the first time in my life, I saw REAL poverty. These people had absolutely NOTHING. But yet, they still seemed so happy — greeting me with enormous smiles, smiling and waving, calling me “ma’am,” playing games in the streets.
They looked at me as someone of beauty, success or wealth, wishing to have what I have — yet I wished I could be more like them.
Japan, Taiwan, Mongolia, Vietnam, Micronesia, Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia. That’s quite the list of traveled destinations. What about these places pulled you in?
Curiosity mostly. I can’t think of anything that excites a greater sense of childlike wonder than to be in a country where you are ignorant of almost everything. So I just keep on hopping from place to place to see it for myself and to develop my own opinions, thoughts, and experiences.
I want to cover every inch of this earth. Asia is just the beginning.
What is your craziest food experience you’ve had in your travels?
I’ve eaten snake in Vietnam, live squid in South Korea, and scorpions in Thailand. But nothing could have prepared me for a bad dose of dumpling soup that put me in the hospital.
Eight puking sessions (two of which were blood), an ambulance ride to a South Korean ER and many IVs later, I managed to survive.
I will admit that I have avoided ALL street food, dirty looking restaurants, questionable menus, even slightly browned bananas in hopes to dodge any slight queasiness since.
On a scale of 1-10, the feeling of being sick overseas is a flat zero. But what I’ve learned is to wear my travel tales and experiences like badges of honor, and getting hospitalized with food poisoning is just another to add to the list.
I’ve been there, done that, and I survived. It’s happened to me before and it will happen again. Next time I’ll be ready.
What are some of the largest sacrifices you’ve made for the travel lifestyle?
Saying I sacrificed literally everything would be an understatement. Weekends with friends. Concerts. Nights on the town. You name it!
I traded a loft apartment in Chicago with a crisis-inducing view of the skyline for my twin bed at my parent’s house in the suburbs. I stopped getting my hair done, buying coffee and taking Ubers. I said no to that extra $2 for guacamole (this one was brutal). I cleaned mirrors and folded towels at my yoga studio for a free package. I even walked in the freezing cold Chicago winter to donate blood every Tuesday during December 2015 to make a quick $40. I even cut my phone plan! And overall did anything and everything to afford this life.
However, the biggest sacrifice is missing what’s going in my “life back home”.
After 14 months abroad, I’ve been absent for parties, festivals, elections, holidays, the birth of my brother’s children, the Cubs winning the World Series (this was brutal) small inside jokes with friends, time spent with my loved ones, etc.
I fear that one day, I’ll simply look back and realize that so much has happened in my absence, that it won’t be the same if/when I return. This one is tough to swallow and I often wonder if it’s all worth it.
Outside of travel and adventure, where do your greatest passions lay?
Writing. I’ve kept a hand written journal since I was 9-years-old.
Even though my world would end every time my brother found it wedged between my mattress & read it with his friends; even though I was considered “a weirdo” for hanging out in my neighborhood library as a kid during the summertime; even though I was reminded countless times on how hard it is to be a successful writer; I couldn’t stop because to this day, writing feels like it’s the only thing I’m good at.
I was recruited to write for both my high school & college newspapers and then went on to graduate with a Bachelor’s in Journalism, a minor in Creative Writing & an obsession with Robert Frost.
Now, my journal is the first thing to goes in my backpack every trip; it is my friend & confidante on the road & helps me process all the magic I’m encountering. I will never, ever, EVER stop.
How do you suspect the adventure/travel lifestyle will shape future Emma?
Traveling has truly allowed me to look at the world differently; to pick it up, turn it around, adopt a different angle and question it. Exploring the world, its people and its beauty while exploring who I am has made me feel 100% alive.
The only hope I have for future Emma is that I can hold on to that feeling and keep exploring.
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