Olivia Balsinger started working at Academic Arrangements Abroad in the Tour Coordination department in the early summer of 2014, the same week she graduated from the University of Connecticut. Olivia has degrees in Journalism, Economics, and International Studies. Previously, she studied abroad in London, Guatemala, and Cameroon and was a tour guide at her university.
What is your hometown?
The distant and far-off lands of Connecticut. Fairfield, to be precise. Although I recently moved to lower Manhattan, Fairfield will always keep a piece of my heart—from the inviting jazz concerts on the lawn in summer to nights spent aimlessly wandering the beaches and gazing at mysterious Long Island in the distance. Fairfield has a small-town community feeling, with the energy of a New York City suburb. (If you ever visit Fairfield and like Tex-Mex food, La Salsa has one of the best nacho platters I’ve ever tried.)
Who would play you in a movie?
Assuming I ever accomplish anything in life worthy to make a film about, I’ve been compared to Hilary Duff many a time (even by strangers on the subway.)
City you most recommend to friends
Though I appreciate the energy cities offer, when traveling I tend to prefer the tranquility of nature and the charm of the undiscovered. I recently returned from an AdventureWeek program where a group of about 20 journalists and adventure seekers explored Albania, Macedonia, and Kosovo.
I would recommend that any traveler seeking a different experience get lost in “Europe’s last remaining forest.” The city of Ohrid, Macedonia is known as “the Jerusalem of the Balkans” and truly lives up to this title. There were once 365 churches in the city, one for every day of the year.
For fellow travelers who like naps on the beach and historical immersion, I recommend the island of Rhodes in Greece. You are truly transported back in time to 300 B.C. when meandering through the narrow streets of the Old City.
City you would drop everything to see:
If you’d asked me this about two months ago, I would have answered “Istanbul” without a second thought. Who wouldn’t be allured by a city that represents a global mosaic of culture and religion, of bazaars where you can buy everything, and of the aroma of spices?
Well, I did drop everything and visited Istanbul about a month ago. Now that I’ve experienced more of the mystery and splendor of Asia (I made it a point to cross the Bosphorus to officially step onto the Asian continent while in Turkey!), I have a burning desire to see more of this continent. Next on the list would likely be a trip to Thailand. I love Thai food. Also, Buddhism fascinates me, and I would like to spend time learning in a Buddhist monastery or working on an elephant reserve.
What do you enjoy working on the most at AAA?
I love being surrounded each day by like-minded individuals who prioritize travel and the adventure in the unknown. There’s always a story to be told, an exotic food to be sampled, a country to further learn about. Perhaps my favorite part about working at AAA is familiarizing myself with our travel destinations in order to be an informed resource for passengers. I also very much enjoy working with the Communications department in promoting our trips and company through social media outlets.
My parents taught me to enjoy and appreciate every second of my life. I believe one of my special skills is seeing the beauty in the mundane and the extraordinary in the ordinary.
Your most visited websites
I’m still in my honeymoon stage with New York, so Timeout.com has been helpful in giving me information about happenings around the city. CNN.com has always been a favorite website of mine. Buzzfeed.com gives me life advice I never realized I needed, and Groupon.com has getaways that temporarily fulfill my constant wanderlust. My social media go-to’s are Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
Something about you that surprises people
I spent a summer working at an all-male Boy Scout sleep away camp as a lifeguard. As with many opportunities in my life, I found this job quite unexpectedly. However, I learned how to (adequately) tie a sailor’s knot, and I discovered that a diet of cookies and camp pasta for an entire summer is not as appealing as one may think. I also earned my first (and only) merit badge in Physics!
What are three things you can’t travel without?
1) Baby powder: Sprinkle some into hair and the world will never know that you missed a shower (or two.)
2) My stuffed tiger cub, Sylas, which I received before my trip to Cameroon as a token of good luck. To be truthful, I could not spend a night even in my apartment without this adorable ball of fur next to me. But Sylas is a great travel buddy—he never complains about airport delays and even lets me take the window seat on planes!
3) A camera. [Note: this may be substituted with the 2014 version: the iPhone]. There is nothing wrong with reminiscing about your past travels, and sometimes that photo will bring you back to a pinpointed moment in time.
Number of trips traveled on:
I’m very fortunate to have lost count on the number of trips I’ve been on, especially for the ripe young age of 22. So far, I’ve been to about 20 countries including Canada, Guatemala, Italy, Mexico, the Netherlands, Scotland, and Monaco. My goal is to visit every country in the world in my lifetime.
Anything else you’d like to add?
My favorite quote of all time is “Not all who wander are lost” by J. R. R. Tolkien. I intend to wander for my entire life, and I encourage you to do so with me!