We've recently launched our interview series called 'A Beer With'. The idea is sit down and swap stories with travellers from all around the world, and to learn more about the projects they are working on.
One of the best things about travelling is the people you meet - so this is our way of celebrating that!
We recently had the opportunity to chat with Marion Payen of Hibiscus & Nomada. Fearless entrepreneur, full-time digital nomad and kickass photographer, she has visited more places than I can count, and after speaking to her, I've got a few new recommendations to add to my bucket list. Check out the full interview below!
Colombia. Photo provided by Hibiscus & Nomada.
So tell us a little bit more about yourself. Where are you from?
I kind of hate that question! But only because I find it so difficult to answer. I was born in France as the only red head in the family (strange, I know). My dad worked in banking, and his job meant that we had to move every 4 years or so. I started travelling at a very young age, with my family, and moving so much meant that I never really associated one single place with home. Home just became where my parents and brother were.
I got my Bachelors in France, though I did in exchange in Halifax at St. Mary’s for two years. I then went on to do my master in Bordeaux, where as part of my program, I had to do an internship. Wanting to see more of the world, I found an opportunity in Cancun working in the digital marketing arena, and I stayed there for 6 months. I was then lucky enough to get a scholarship to do my MBA in Chicago, and did another 6 month internship in web platforms in Florida.
I would take weekend getaways exploring new cities from Friday night, taking the red eye flight back on Sunday to make it in time for work on Monday morning.
Once my visa expired, I headed back to France, but I knew I didn’t want to stay there. Having grown up living all over the place, and travelling and working in so many different environments, my first language for work was actually English. This didn’t lend itself that well to any jobs in my field in France, and in any case, I wanted something new.
I went to London for a job interview, and I ended up pretending I already lived in London just to get the job. I was there for close to three years, and it became the perfect hub to explore the rest of Europe. I had never really explored it that much before, as it felt too close to home. But now, with the help of Skyscanner, I would take weekend getaways exploring new cities from Friday night, taking the red eye flight back on Sunday to make it in time for work on Monday morning.
Leon, Nicaragua. Photo provided by Hibiscus & Nomada.
Wow, you've definitely mastered the weekend getaway! So with all that experience under your belt, when did you launch Hibiscus & Nomada? What is it all about?
While working in London, I was running a digital platform and loving every second of it. But something was missed. I often searched only for travel blogs, tips, itineraries, etc. and I noticed that there wasn’t really a resource for exploring off the beaten track. This became extra clear to me when I was in Brazil travelling with my brother. We were doing this hike, and we met this wonderful little old lady who served us some of the best food we’ve ever had. There wasn’t really anyone else around, and I felt like I was able to explore a part of Brazil and the culture there that tourists rarely saw. It was all part of word a mouth backpacking – where someone in a hostel somewhere told us about this must-do, little known hike. It was then that I decided to launch my own platform, Hibiscus & Nomada, that would serve as an online travel community, focusing on authentic, immersive experiences rather than the tourist traps many fall into.
I launched Hibiscus & Nomada about 10 months ago, while I was still working full time. It went viral really quickly, so I knew we were on to something. It made all the early mornings, late nights, and weekends spent working around the clock worth it, and finally in January 2017, I was able to quit my job and focus on Hibiscus & Nomada full time.
Congrats on taking it full time! What's next in the cards for Hibiscus & Nomada?
Once I quit my job to take this full time, I started travelling almost right away. I wanted to get on the ground to, and this trip was meant to serve partially as market research. It’s been an eye-opening experience, changing my view of how backpackers travel and search for information while travelling.
For example, in South East Asia, I’ve noticed that people often use online travel forums and facebook groups to find information or meet up with others. While in South America, they are more likely to use Instagram hashtags search to discover new destinations.
Eventually we’d like to bring on more contributors, to create a curated collection of travel content, that balances great imagery with awesome tips.
Medellin, Colombia. Photo provided by Hibiscus & Nomada.
It's really quite an interesting name - what does Hibiscus & Nomada mean?
Well, while travelling, I realized that we all exhibit different personality traits. To me, Hibiscus represents your more relaxed, peaceful side. It’s about those trips to Brazil, Thailand, Mexico, where the beaches stretch out for miles and you can laze in a hammock beneath the palm trees sipping on a mojito. Where as Nomada is your more active and adventurous side. It’s about hiking in the Italian alps, or riding a camel through the desert in Oman.
I created these two personalities with my brother, and we realized that you can not only find both of these in most people, but you can find both of them in most countries. It’s all about compromise, and sometimes you need a bit more of one or the other.
Do you ever wish you could travel without a camera?
Sometimes yes, sometimes no. I’m travelling solo right now, and I do love taking photos. There are moments when I really enjoy getting set up, taking my time and snapping the perfect shot. But when I’m with people, friends I might have just met along the way, there are moments when I wish I didn’t have it. I’m just enjoying meeting people, and living in the moment, and taking photos can often take away from that. But at the end of the day, the goal of Hibiscus & Nomada, and many other travel sites, is to share. It is to show people what I see.
At the end of the day though, I travel because I love it. Because at heart, I am a traveller and I need to see the world. The photography came as a matter of circumstance, and as much as I’ve come to love it, it will always take a backseat to the travel experience.
Leon, Nicaragua. Photo provided by Hibiscus & Nomada.
Do you find it challenging to work on the road?
Sometimes, but not always. Even though I love what I do, there are moments where I just need a break. We all need that sometimes, I think,
I was in Nicaragua recently, and I had limited access to wifi. I had met a really great group of people, and we were spending tons of time together exploring the country, surfing, drinking. I ended up getting a message from my business partner who was like, ‘Where are you?!’. I hadn’t been posting on Instagram much, which was a bit unusual for me, but I was just enjoying the moment and didn’t want to spoil it with any outside distractions. That’s what travel is all about though, it’s about balance.
I’ve met a lot of travel bloggers along the way, and I’ve found that most of them will spend the day with you embarking on whatever activity you have planned. But at night, they will go back and work. There are no shared beers on the beach watching sunsets. I admire that dedication, but I think that they end up missing out on one of the most special things about travel, which is connecting with yourself and other travellers.
So, in the spirt of this interview, has there ever been a memorable person, totally unexpected, that you've shared a beer with while travelling?
I’ve been lucky enough to meet a lot of incredible people while travelling. It’s so hard to pick just one!
But in terms of memorable, I did meet this one guy in Panama. He was biking from Chile to Toronto, along the Panamerican highway. His mom had died of cancer, and so he was doing this trip to raise money for charity and as a tribute to her. We got along so well, and just spent hours talking about everything and anything. A lot of people I’ve met along the way aren’t really travelling for any purpose or goal, they’ve just quit their jobs and are now on the road. That’s totally fine, and you don’t need a reason or excuse to travel, but it’s really special when you come across someone who has this amazing motivation for what they are doing. And it’s even better because I probably never would have met him under normal circumstances.
Antigua, Guatemala. Photo provided by Hibiscus & Nomada.
Is there a certain place that you feel you could put roots down in? Somewhere you'd like to settle down?
Like a home base? Yes, definitely! This may sound a bit strange, but I’d love to live in Cancun. Most people consider Cancun a bit of a tourist trap, but if you get out of the main city, there are some many beautiful areas and I just loved it. I’ve been there 4 times already! Every time I go back, I feel like I am going home.
There’s actually an opportunity in Cancun right now, that I am waiting to hear back about. It would give me the chance to live in Cancun, and settle down for a bit. It’d also be the perfect place from which to travel and explore more of North America, Central America and South America!
That's a great example of not judging a book by it's cover. So tell us about one of your favourite travel experiences.
In March I was in Nicaragua, and I can’t stop raving about it! I met a few guys there at a small hostel on a little island, and we ended up spending the next 2 weeks travelling and partying together. We kept randomly running into each other, it was the definition of serendipity! I loved Nicaragua so much for it’s diversity – you could wake up on a beach in the morning, surf in the afternoon, and watch the sun set over a volcano in the evening. I went to one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been, Corn Island, and we took this rickety little plane there. Honestly, it didn’t look like it would get off the ground, let alone stay in the air. In that moment, despite the fact that it felt like the plane was going to drop out of the sky, I’ve never been happier. We were all sitting on the plane, laughing and smiling at each other, seized by this incredible energy. We were all so alive, and in the moment, and it was perfect.
Speaking of airplanes and being in transit, what's the one thing you can't travel without?
My neck pillow! It’s massive and I love it.
Actually on second thought, if I really had to pick I could probably do without my neck pillow. But I absolutely cannot survive without my eye mask and ear plugs. If you haven’t tried them while travelling, it will change your life. I can sleep on any bed, on the beach, on the train – but only if I have my eye mask and ear plugs.
Colombia. Photo provided by Hibiscus & Nomada.
Do you have any rituals while travelling?
I was hoping you’d ask! In each new place I go, my ritual is to sit down and enjoy a meal at a local restaurant with a local beer. Whether by myself or not, it doesn’t matter. It’s just about a good meal, good scenery and a good beer.
Hey, we get it and we are totally in agreement with that ritual. To wrap things up, if you could give one piece of advice to future travellers, what would it be?
DON’T PLAN ANYTHING! It’s ok to have a broad idea of where you are going, but if you try to itemize and create too many itineraries, you run the risk of being disappointed. You’ll also very likely miss out on some life-changing experiences.
The truth is, while travelling, nothing is likely to go as planned. You’ll meet new people, and the best thing you can do is go with the flow. The worst feeling in the world is when you meet some great new friends, and they are going somewhere you never thought of going, but you can’t go – because you’ve already booked your flight/hostel/etc.
The world is huge, but you don’t have to see it all at once. It’s not going anywhere, so the best thing you can do for yourself is to take your time and not rush.
A big thank you to Marion and the team at Hibiscus & Nomada for participating in our 'A Beer With' interview series. We can't wait to catch up with you in a few months to see where you guys are at!
Be sure to follow along with Hibiscus & Nomada as they continue to explore off the beaten path.