Recently I spoke with Daijie Huang- a world traveler, mother, and entrepreneur. In the midst of launching a new travel app, Daijie has taken some time out to speak with me about her travel story and the importance of cultivating curiosity in her daughter.
Hi Daijie! Why don’t you introduce yourself + tell us where you call home. What type of work/endeavors are you involved with?
Before I go on who I am and what I do, let me share a little bit about how my growing up was like, so that you won’t be surprised by today’s me.
I grew up in Xian, China. Back in my young childhood, China was still closed to the outside world. The old city wall was our playground and gave us infinite joy after the boring school day. Catching bugs, climbing the brick wall, playing hide and seek, etc, you name it; the ancient city wall gave us all. I rarely thought about other places, even if I did, I would assume that kids everywhere else were doing the same things as us… To me, the world was home and home was the whole world until one day, a few western backpackers showed up on our streets. Yes, I was one of the silly kids following them, finger pointing them and wondering where the heck they came from. I started to realize that the world was big, different and fascinating…
Then, flocks of foreigners came to Xian; they wandered around the ancient wall, the bell tower, the big goose pagoda, and of course, the Terracotta Warriors. Then, I started to learn English at school and more about the world, as China began to open the door to the western world. Later, when I got into college, my mom, a CTO at a local company, started to work with western companies about potential partnerships. China was changing. After her business trips to the UK and US, she told me, “The outside world is fascinating. Our generation has missed our chance, but, you still have one. Go further to see the world!” Honestly, it was a challenging goal during that time. Unlike Beijing and Shanghai, Xian was pretty laid-back and under-developed. Although my parents were making an above average income in Xian, it was still too little to support my study in the US. The good thing is that I’ve been a very determined person since I was young, good or bad. Although it was a big stretch to compete for a good university in the US, I got in Renssellaer Polytechnic Institute with financial aid, after months of catching up on my English. Can you believe remembering 800 new words in a day? I won’t be able to do that again, honestly.
Growing up under the influence of a high positioned mom and an ambitious dad who had his own service business, I set up my life goal before I even realized it: an adventure. Make it fun and meaningful, no matter on the road, traveling, or on the life journey. So, I went from a silly girl chasing after alien-like foreigners to an adventurous traveler and entrepreneur who believes that the sky is the limit. I am always looking for bold activities and exotic locations to challenge my physical and mental endurance. Adventures have become a part of my life.
Quite an outlier compared to mainstream travelers, I founded LeafCanoe, a marketplace where you can produce, buy, and sell personal travel guides. The goal is to help travelers, like me, find more personal travel guides so that they can find what they like to do instead of what tourists normally should do. Sounds interesting? Check it out!
Travel is a very effective and fun way to learn. Through traveling, I hope my daughter can understand that each place has its story and history and people can live very differently, be open-minded and appreciate the differences.
I traveled along with my daughter in Vietnam in 2012. She was 8, and, it was her first time to visit somewhere not in the states or China. She was very curious and asked a lot of questions. Fortunately, our guide was a very knowledgeable Vietnamese and shared a lot of his personal stories. My daughter was shocked to learn the misfortune that happened to him during and after the war and learned the other side of the story from the memorial site of the underground tunnels. She started to realize that one fact can have two opposite stories and it is up to her to make the judgment and draw a conclusion. It was definitely an invaluable experience for her.
Now that you are a seasoned mom + daughter traveling team, how are you able to save for your trips? Do you have any tips to share with readers about saving for two?
We use Airbnb a lot to not only save some money but also to immerse in local cultures. To make the best out of our trip without breaking a bank, we set up a principle. If we just need a place to rest for a night and move on to a new destination, we will choose a lodging that is not ideally located for a cheaper price; if we get to the destination and want to enjoy the beautiful view and atmosphere, we will choose a relatively luxury lodging option that is close by attractions; if we have been staying at a basic lodging for quite a while then we will switch to a luxury one to pamper ourselves a little bit. So, in short, we give ourselves flexibility in choosing lodging.
Was your daughter involved in any of your trip and itinerary planning? What were some of her suggestions for locations and activities? What are some tips you can share about involving kids in travel planning?
She started to do the itinerary with me last year when we traveled to Peru and Ecuador. Actually, she was pretty good at discovering interesting activities that led us to a very fun chocolate making in Cusco. She also planned a one-day itinerary to check out must-visits of Cusco, it was not bad.
Getting kids involved in the trip planning is a must do. Not only because they can build up some planning skills, but also the opportunity to work together liked a team. The process is very rewarding.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced while traveling with your daughter? What are the biggest (pleasant) surprises?
Honestly, I didn’t feel the additional challenge from taking my daughter along on the trip than totally by myself. Might be a little bit when she was 4, I took her around Shandong, China. But it was more like physically, which I just needed to slow down the pace. When she was as old as 7, it was no longer an issue. Especially now, she is already my travel buddy.
The biggest surprise, in a good way, is that she became quite a traveler who knows about tourist trips, to stay out of trouble, and enjoy the travel.
Did you get an negative feedback when you told people you were going to travel with your child? Was there someone who totally supported your idea?
I should say “surprise” instead of “negative”. Many other travelers were shocked to learn that I was taking my young daughter alone. After being asked so many times, my daughter would volunteer to answer the question for me. “My dad is just so lazy to go out, …, so we go out by ourselves….”
Many people we met actually admired our idea of traveling alone without the help from “others”, though a few were kind of “puzzled”.
Travel definitely has its influence on her. She has become a street smart and open- minded girl. She has her own opinion but can always appreciate different thoughts, though she thinks that she is “deep” and thinks about big things. 🙂 Unlike many of her friends, who like to complain about an unpleasant stay or food on the trip, she doesn’t mind at all. She thinks that every country has its uniqueness and drawback, why let the drawback take over the big picture? Which has really impressed me. BTW, like me, she is quite a food explorer now.
How did your travel story begin? When did you first travel– as a child or young adult? And tell us about those early experiences..
I started to travel around China in my college years. Honestly, I am no longer a backpacker nowadays, as a few dollars a day is quite a stretch for me now, though I did it all the time and had lots of fun traveling cheap with my friends during the college years. The world is simply so fascinating, I can’t stop exploring it.
What travel plans do you have coming up? Any family or solo trips planned? Give us the details!
We are traveling to China and Alaska this summer. My daughter is joining a summer camp in Beijing for two weeks, by herself. I will be traveling alone to Tibet when she is at the camp. Then, we plan to visit Southern part of China, such as Li Jiang, Zhang Jia Jie…. Last, we will visit Alaska on the way back to the states. My husband will join us in Alaska and rent an RV to have a family road trip. Can’t wait to go!