Travel Talk: Kala Maxym
They say that travel changes you. It opens you up to new tastes, perspectives, societal norms. You might leave to sightsee, but you come back with a newfound sense of wonder and an appetite for the exotic.
Continuing to explore my curiosity of why people travel, I caught up with singer-entrepreneur Kala Maxym. The founder of Five Senses Tastings is always looking for a new adventure, whether it be personal, professional, travel-related, or the coveted mix of them all.
Caroline Carlos: Before we talk travel, for the record, what’s the correct way to pronounce your name? It looks like it could easily confuse people. It’s also pretty unique – what’s the story behind it?
Kala Maxym: Kala, pronounced Kah-lah. The name comes from the volcano, Haleakala –meaning “House of the Sun”– on the island of Maui in Hawaii. The correct pronunciation of the volcano has the stress on the final “a” but the stress in my name is on the first vowel. The intended meaning of my name is the same however: Sunshine. My parents chose names they thought people around the world would be able to pronounce easily. Little did they know, however, Kala would baffle most people here in the U.S. Still does. Almost nobody in Europe or South America has a problem with it though.
CC: Cool! Now that that’s settled, let’s start with the most obvious question: Why do you travel?
KM: I travel because it makes me realize how big the world is and how small I am in it. I really love that feeling! I also feel like traveling heightens all my senses. I hear, see, smell, touch, and taste much more actively and intensely. I listen carefully, take more time to taste each bite of food, and observe every detail of how people around me act and interact. I find the little [things] absolutely fascinating.
CC: Yes! Isn’t it great getting culturally immersed and making all these new connections?
KM: I like the sense of creating a connection with people from elsewhere, learning about their customs, their challenges, their hopes, their dreams. I love being able to say, when I meet someone from, say, South Africa or Chile or Germany or Mexico, “Hey, I’ve been to/studied/lived in your country. I really loved X. And Y really confused me at first, but I got it in the end. Did they ever finish building that new rail line?” It makes me feel part of a greater whole, and I love that feeling.
CC: What was your first exposure to travel, and how has it affected your immersionist travel style?
KM: Um…. like when I was a few months old. I was born and raised in Germany, and my grandparents were in the States, so we traveled to see them every summer. Of course I don’t remember my first trip, but I have so many memories of coming to the U.S. and knowing, in some way, that it was a part of me – but not really feeling like it was my “home” per se. We also traveled a lot within Europe as a family, and one of my grandmothers traveled all over the world for her work so it was something that played a big role in my life growing up. I also travel because being in unfamiliar environments feels natural to me.
CC: So you grew up traveling, but was there a particular moment when you realized you loved it?
KM: I have never not traveled so that’s kind of a hard question to answer. It was a part of my childhood from my earliest memories, so it wasn’t –if I can dare say this– quite as special as you might think. Growing up in Europe before the EU, you could drive a few hours and be in about eight different countries with different languages, currencies, and customs. It didn’t seem a like “big deal” in many ways to go to Holland or France or even the UK because they were really so close by. I think my love of travel beyond that came during my time abroad in Chile in college. South America seemed much farther away and more unfamiliar than anything I’d known or seen before, and it was the first time I really traveled independently, made my own choices, took risks, and felt the energy of adult adventure. That year, I traveled a ton within Chile itself, but also made it to Peru, Paraguay, Argentina, and Uruguay. Not bad!
CC: Given that foreignness is what’s most attractive to you, what country would you never tire of visiting?
KM: Oh man, that’s a tough question. I think I could never tire of Spain. My first experiences there were so positive and life-changing that it will always hold a special place in my heart. Also, tortilla española!
CC: Olé! Anywhere else?
KM: It’s funny because in many ways, the U.S. still feels new to me even though I’ve now lived here for over 20 years. I’ve visited so few of the tourist destinations here. Every time I’ve thought of taking a vacation, I always leave the country. So I’d say I think I still have a long way to go before I’d tire of the U.S.
CC: You’ve gone from working in government, to opera, to gemology, to software, to being a business owner – whoa! How have the places you’ve been to, and the experiences you’ve had, help shape your career path (assuming they have)?
KM: I would absolutely say that travel has had a huge impact on me personally, perhaps not as much professionally. None of my career choices were based upon travel per se. I did travel a lot as a singer, but that is a necessary part of the career. I would say rather that the amount I traveled as a young child and the number of people and environments I had to get used to quickly have allowed me to adapt easily and quickly to new work environments and new places. In the travels I took as a child and young adult, I spent a lot of time “figuring things out,” like how do people board a bus in Barcelona? How do I greet a figure of authority in Chile? How do I make sure I stay safe while traveling around Botswana? What can I say in Mexico that I’d better not say in Spain? The need to be independent and react and absorb information quickly has served me well in my career path, I think.
CC: Having traveled your entire life, what words of wisdom would you give to aspiring travelers? Many people say, “Oh, I wish I could travel too,” and I always exclaim “You can!”
KM: I don’t have much more advice than that, either, to be honest. Of course you can travel! Of course there are the few restrictions that make it truly impossible for some, but other than that, there’s no reason you can’t embark on a journey somewhere! There are so many ways to travel on a budget if you’re worried about finances, and even a road trip can teach you so much. I’m going on one in a few weeks with my mom to parts of Colorado I’ve never been to, and I can’t wait! I also feel that if travel is a priority for you, you can and will make it happen. If there are children involved, choose places they can also be engaged and active. If you’re traveling alone, you will learn so much about yourself while on your trip, and if you want to hook up with people along the way, there are tons of amazing opportunities for solo travelers nowadays. Bottom line: travel today is easy, so just do it!
CC: You said it. What’s one way to ease into travel, for those who still need an extra nudge?
KM: If you’re on a work trip, take another day or two off and explore where you are. Whether it’s Cincinnati or Cartagena, there are places to see, people to meet, and things to learn. Never be in a rush, take the time to breathe in the air, watch people, and learn from them. There is good in everything and everyone, and you never know where your next flash of inspiration will come from.
CC: I feel the inspiration already. Let’s end with your go-to travel tips. Got any?
KM: Always carry American dollars, a pocket of tissues, and hand sanitizer. Never wear a bum bag. Well, that should really just be a rule for life, but definitely don’t do it as a tourist; it’s a dead giveaway. Don’t yell at people; it won’t make them understand you. Learn to mime. Be able to laugh at yourself when you think you’re asking for an apple and actually you’re actually telling them you ate a worm.