Don’t be fooled by her small stature, Tara is an Irish pocket rocket! This little bundle of energy surely knows how to travel too. It all started in 2011 when, as a 23-year-old, she moved to South Korea to teach English. Tara was instantly hooked on the new cultures, traditions, and foods. Fast forward two years and she set off on a backpacking adventure that would span 12 countries, beginning in Finland and ending back in South East Asia.
Not intimidated by the unknown, Tara enjoys traveling to destinations that are a less-frequented, including Tibet, Myanmar, Mongolia, and North Korea. She fell in love with the world beneath the sea on a trip to Thailand and achieved her open water diving certificate not long after. This newfound freedom struck a serious cord.
In 2014, she moved back to Ireland for work but found herself longing to hit the open road again. It wasn’t long before an offer came up to go back and teach in Myanmar and she jumped at the opportunity. While that particular contract turned into somewhat of a nightmare, it provided the stepping stone to looking for work back in South East Asia.
Since returning, she has completed her dive master’s certification and now works as a divemaster in Koh Tao, Thailand, and couldn’t be happier.
Want to know more about Tara and her adventures? Read more in our interview below and connect with her here on Backpacker Travel. You can also follow her on Instagram at @tarapower8
BT: You’ve traveled quite extensively through South East Asia, what’s your favorite experience thus far?
Tara: I’ve had a few amazing experiences but visiting Mrauk-U (pronounced meow-oo) in Rhakine state, Myanmar was one of the best. I backpacked Myanmar and there were always other backpackers around but in Mrauk-U I was pretty much alone. I did meet other backpackers but we all went our own ways. Here I got to interact with the locals, meet families, visit homes, and pagodas and of course, see a place in Myanmar that was not touched by tourism at the time.
BT: What inspired you to start working abroad?
Tara: I always wanted to live and work abroad. There was always something holding me back, like university, my job, or a boyfriend. Then a good friend of mine left to teach English and his stories about living in South Korea made me a little jealous so curiosity got the better of me! I researched the life and work over in South Korea and applied for lots of jobs and 6 months later I was on a plane bound for Seoul! One of my best decisions.
BT: Are there any particular life lessons or moments of clarity you have experienced on the road?
Tara: I am a social person. I love being around people but I learned on the road how important personal space is. Traveling by yourself is great because you are open to meeting new people but it also teaches you about how to be alone as cliche as that sounds! I really enjoy diving as you don’t need to talk during it. You only use signals.
BT: You recently attained your divemasters certification, have you taken anyone on their first dive yet? If so, has anyone freaked out on you?
Tara: Yes I’ve taken newly fledged open water divers out for fun dives. People have had problems while under the water with me. The important thing when dealing with divers is to properly brief the buddy teams before you ever enter the water, so they know how to act or signal when they have a problem.
When I dive I spend a lot of time swimming on my back watching to see if everyone is ok.
BT: What’s the most exciting dive that you have done?
Tara: One of the first times I ever led a dive was in Chumphon Pinnacle near Koh Tao in Thailand and I was leading some new DMCs (divemaster candidates). We were heading back to the buoy line as it was nearing the end of the dive when there was lots of noise under the water – LOTS of tank banging.
As I swam around a piece of rock and there was a whale shark right in front of me! We all start celebrating under the water and whooping. It was everyone’s first whale shark sighting! Everyone on the boat was so excited! I even got a local artist to draw a whale shark in my logbook so I could remember the day!
BT: If you had to choose just one cuisine to eat for the rest of your life what would it be?
Tara: I really love Korean food and I’m craving it right now so I will go with that. But, it changes day by day!
BT: What’s one item you always pack but rarely use?
Tara: My parents will kill me but suntan lotion! I always forget to put it on and I am always burned! As I spend time in the water I don’t put suntan lotion on my skin as it is harmful to the coral.
BT: As a solo female traveler, have you ever felt unsafe or threatened while traveling?
Tara: The one time I felt unsafe was in Tianjin in China. I was making my own way to the hostel but the directions got me lost (I was following them but still managed to get lost). A kind guy hailed me a taxi and told me I should pay a small amount as it was not far. The taxi driver brought me as close to the hostel as possible and then tried to screw me out of money saying it was a night charge. The amount he was asking for was higher than the meter. I said no (the charge should be on the meter) so he took my backpack and tried to drive off with it, then threw it in the middle of the road causing traffic to stop.
A crowd soon gathered and proceeded to call me every swear word under the sun. I ended up giving him the money as he threatened to hit me several times. Unfortunately, greed is everywhere when you backpack. If possible get where you want to go in daylight, it often makes things easier.
BT: What one tip would you give to young girls wishing to get out there and see the world?
Tara: Feed your curiosity and go with the flow and don’t let anyone hold you back. Also, don’t forget to use your head so you won’t get into any difficult situations!