Behind the Postcards with Rachel Mazza / by Chris Tyre

Passport Please...
Name: Rachel Mazza
WebsiteRM Media & Marketing
Nationality: USA
Current Location: Chiang Mai, Thailand
Next Destination: Lisbon, Portugal

This a new series of travel interviews I'm doing called Behind The Postcards with nomadic souls from around the world. Today we are talking Thailand, life as a digital nomad, and of course, food in part one of two interviews with the digital vagabond Rachel Mazza…

N+C: Hey Rachel! Sawasdee-krab! Thanks for doing this interview. Can you share with readers who you are?

RM: Hi! I’m Rachel. I’ve been traveling solo since 2012 and no intention of stopping anytime soon! Started off working my way through Melbourne, Australia – then traveled my way across Southeast Asia – moved across Western, then Eastern Europe – and spent quite a bit of time in Mexico. Fortunately, I have fallen into the whole "digital nomad" lifestyle, which allows me to work remotely and live when and where I please so currently in Thailand for the winter before heading to Portugal when it warms up a bit.

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N+C: What was your first solo trip abroad and what inspired you to go solo?

RM: I traveled to Australia in 2012 to help a friend set up a new business, take advantage of the connection in Melbourne to launch my travels, and pay off my uni debt. I lived and worked in Melbourne for almost 2 years, and during that time took a trip to Thailand during a public holiday. That really sparked my wanderlust. It was my first time staying in a hostel abroad and I had a blast! I traveled across Bangkok and then fell in love with Chiang Mai. After leaving Australia a year later I went to Chiang Mai for a quick trip “on the way home” and just sort of never left! I kept finding more and more ways to make money online, and eventually built a sustainable business which allows me to work remotely.

N+C: What is your travelosophy? (Travel philosophy)

RM: Hmmm... there are so many! Probably one of the biggest ones would be – don’t plan too much. Once you get to your destination you’re going to meet people. Awesome people. You’re going to meet awesome people who are going to show you things you would NEVER find in any guide book or travel blog, and you’re going to want to take advantage of their local knowledge and change your plans.

The worst thing is when you REALLY want to follow your new travel buddies to that super-secret-sexy private island beach that is only accessible by riding on the back of sea turtles... but oops... you already booked your whole trip in advance so don’t want to waste all that money you spent on transport and accommodation.

Book in the first 2-4 nights and then figure it out when you get there. You’ll be glad you did.

On the same note, you can buy pretty much anything you could ever need when you get to your destination, so travel light. The world is more developed than you might think. For example, there is a 7-11 on every street corner in Thailand. And they are WAY better than the ones back home [USA]. You can buy shampoo, ponchos, groceries, SIM cards, medicine, drunken late night ham and cheese toasties…. anything. Save the suitcase space for souvenirs and just buy toiletries and disposables when you get there.

Other than that, follow the “when in Rome” philosophy. Eat the street food, chat with those monks in the temple, use the squatty potty. You’re not at home – you’re on a freakin’ fantastic adventure, so act like it and embrace the local customs and cuisine. You can hit up McDonald’s when you get back home.

N+C: How have you been able to fund your travels?

RM: I support my wanderlust habit by helping businesses get more customers through their website through digital marketing, focusing on SEO and content marketing. Currently I’m “based” in Chiang Mai, Thailand – mixed in with adventures to other Southeast Asian countries and summer trips back home to the States and across Europe.

I started off freelance writing for Australian training companies and quickly learned how to leverage the power of outsourcing (paying other people to do your work at a lower price point). I would take random jobs building websites, creating graphics and digital media, or creating content and then outsource anything I didn’t know how to do or didn’t have time for.

After a year of freelancing I put everything together into a digital media and marketing company that focuses on online marketing and creating content that converts browsers into buyers.

Like anyone, I’m still figuring it out one day at a time, but I’ve found that by traveling and connecting with a community of people who are living the same lifestyle as I am – I’ve gotten a world-class education in business and marketing that is worlds above any traditional schooling.

N+C: So you’ve been living in Chiang Mai, Thailand for about 2 years now. What advice do you have for anyone thinking about spending an extended amount of time in Thailand?

RM: If you’re a woman, bring bras. They don’t understand boobs!

Seriously though, you can buy absolutely anything in Thailand and at a MUCH cheaper price than back home. Bangkok has more giant malls with 10+ floors of luxury items that you could wander around them for hours. In fact, there are entire malls dedicated to certain purchases. There’s a mall just for tech products, for luxury items, for wholesale clothing, etc.

Thailand is very, very easy. It’s easy to get around, easy to get anything you need, easy to find accommodation, easy to book activities. You can do pretty much anything you like here without too much advanced notice. This is partly because everything is so cheap (compared to US, Europe, or Australian prices) and partly because the Thai people are so friendly, accommodating and helpful. People will go out of their way to help you, so don’t stress about the small stuff.

You can repay them by learning about the local customs and not being a nasty tourist who disrespects local culture. For example, always cover your shoulders and legs in temples, ladies cannot touch the monks, never touch any person on the head, and never touch or point your feet at anyone or anything. Keep your cool and don’t get aggressive, which is a big no-no in the land of saving face. Instead, when things don’t go your way, just give a big smile and be polite. I promise you’ll have a WAY better experience and people will go above and beyond to help you get what you need.  

Plan your trip based on what you want to do here. Basically Thailand is broken up into 3 major sections. - Bangkok (in the center), Chiang Mai (in the Northern mountains), and the islands down in the South.

November to February is the coolest time of year and is absolutely gorgeous weather. It’s also high season so it will be very busy. The farmers burn their fields and pollute the air during “smoky season” (February – April), so stick to the South during that time. The ‘summer’ (May - September) is hot and humid monsoon season. You’re going to sweat, and it will rain every day, but only for an hour or 2. It’s always cooler up north as well, but you get the great beach breeze down south.

Major holidays not to miss: Songkran water festival in April and Loi Krathon lantern festival in November.

N+C: I know you’re a foodie. Is there one dish that you’ve tried on the road that you’ll never forget? What is it and where did you have it?

Wow. So, so, so many. I could write for days about street food and “that one meal that was the best of my life” well, spoiler alert, there’s more than one.

Top 5... Without a doubt #1 is street food in Chiang Mai Thailand at any night food market in Chiang Mai. There’s a reason I’ve come back here 3 years in a row. 

  • Moo Ping pork-on-a-stick
  • Khao Soi coconut curry egg noodles
  • Fatty pork with rice
  • Som Tam spicy green papaya salad
  • Chopped E-san style BBQ chicken

Just eat it all. Do it. Runner ups that are most memorable and make me salivate just thinking about them:

  • Lamb Veruval at an Tulsi Garden Restaurant in Pentai Cenang on the Malaysian island of Langkawi
  • 7 course surf-and-turf meal cooked by a Michelin Star chef (for only $75 USD) at La Tavernetta private dining restaurant in Chiang Mai, Thailand
  • Fatty mystery meat spit roast and fish tacos from tiny, hidden La Paisas Restaurante in Puerta Vallarta, Mexico

There are so many more but those are the ones that stick out. If we’re going to be honest. My #1 motivation for travel is the food.

General rule of thumb: Eat street food in any country from a cart that has a high turnover (cooks and sells out fast) and you will not be disappointed.

N+C: Stay tuned for Part 2 of this interview next week when Rachel discusses the adventures of being a female solo traveler, what she packs, and her personal travel advice to other female travelers! In the meantime you can follow her adventures on Twitter @RachelMazza and check out her business RM Media & Marketing.

How we met:
Despite both of us being travelers, how we met had nothing to do with traveling. We actually met while making an indie film titled P.S. in Chicago. Shortly after filming, she left for Australia. (Good thing we got those scenes in!) Fast forward about a year and a half and I was homeless in Australia and she was nice enough to let me crash at her place for three weeks as I got settled into Melbourne. (Thanks again Rachel.) Despite having hung out on three different continents, I’ve never seen her in person longer than those three weeks in Melbs so far. Life as a traveler… 

All photos courtesy of Rachel Mazza.