Meet: Karilyn Owen, Solo Mom and Nature Traveler | The Expedition
Karilyn Owen and Cian No Back Home

Meet: Karilyn Owen, Solo Mom and Nature Traveler

Karilyn Owen didn’t travel much when she was growing up. 

“My family took one holiday that I remember to Florida,” she says. “We drove and I remember being so in awe with the places we passed through.”

When she was 10, she went to visit relatives in California. After college, she moved to the West Coast for graduate school, and fell in love with exploring new places. 

“I would spend days walking around the city exploring every nook and cranny,” she says. “And then I was introduced to Rick Steves and his guide books. He used to give talks around the country and I attended one and I was sold.”

Today she lives in Los Angeles and—in normal times— travels the world with her 10-year-old son, Cian. Right before the pandemic shut everything down last year, they spent 10 days in the Galapagos and four in Ecuador, where they hiked the Andes. 

This year, they started setting distance goals for their hiking: first 100 miles in January, then 1,000 miles for 2021, which they’re well on their way to achieving. 

“It was so wonderful to experience this with my son and see the transformation not just in him, but in myself,” she says. “I am usually a nervous nelly, so this really made me get out of my comfort zone and explore longer and more challenging hikes.”

We caught up with Karilyn to chat about the best national parks, her favorite outdoor gear, and how to get the gorgeous shots she shares on Instagram.  

Our travel style, in three words, is…

Outdoors, adventurous, colorful 

My first ever trip with Cian was…

When he was 3 months old. He was born in India and since it was difficult for family to visit there, we took our first trip then.  We started in Ireland to visit his grandparents and cousins there, then worked our way to the U.S. In his first year he visited seven countries, including Germany, Turkey and the UAE.

I found that doing hikes together…

Really got my son to open up and chat about things that we probably never had much time for otherwise. It’s also the one time where other than taking photos, I’m really not on my phone, so I can just focus and dedicate that time to him.

California has so many amazing…. 

Hidden gems that tourists don’t make time to visit. Some of our favorites are on Highway 395 in the Eastern Sierras. Alabama Hills is a favorite with those of us in SoCal looking for outdoor adventures and boondock camping (although they are changing that!). Another favorite is just around the corner from us in the Angeles National Forest. We spend a lot of time exploring the various trails, waterfalls and creeks here. 

My advice for families who want to have more outdoor adventures is…

Just do it! Start small if you feel unsure, by hiking local trails around your area. Go with the intention of “we are in this for the journey, not the destination.” When my son was small, that is the way we looked at every trail we visited. We often didn’t make it to the waterfall at the end, but it was OK as long as that wasn’t our ultimate goal. 

Also if you want to get more outdoors time on your travels but aren’t sure how to do it, look for local guides. There are some really amazing experiences that you can get by booking a guided tour with an outdoor company. 

The secret to taking great outdoor photos is…

Editing! The best tip I can give is to focus on your framing, and plan to edit the colors later. Even in an iPhone, the camera doesn’t always capture the scene as your eye sees it. I love to use Snapseed or Lightroom mobile to edit my photos. 

My favorite national park is…

Either Yosemite or Joshua Tree. Joshua Tree was one of our first to visit and the one we have been to the most. We love camping here, hiking in the backcountry and just running out for a day trip to explore. It has so many cool rock formations, cool plants and an interesting rancher/mining history.

Yosemite though is just spectacular everywhere you turn. Being able to visit this past year when numbers were lower was a real treat. We saw so many animals who had taken over the park again, we rode bikes along all the bike trails and hiked every path we could muster. It really is a spectacular park that allows you to really get inside of it to experience.

We have so many favorite…

Destinations,  I can’t just name one. But I loved Ecuador. We have been to Costa Rica four times. and of course we love India. But honestly we have found so much fun in every country we have visited. We loved Southeast Asia. Japan. The Middle East.

Our must-have outdoor gear is…

Probably is a good backpack. We love the REi Tarn 18 for my son, and I use the REI Flash 22. Otherwise for me, it’s hiking poles. I have terrible stability at times, so these are my must-have. I use lightweight poles from Diamond Back.

The best travel advice I’ve ever received is…

I once heard someone ask about regrets. What would you rather regret: not doing something or doing it? This is something I live by. When we were deciding to go on a RTW trip when my son was in second grade, I put that to him as well. He thought long and hard and decided that he would much rather regret missing sports with friends and birthdays here at home than regret missing out on this opportunity. That has been my guiding light for much of my travel career as well.

I wish I could change the way…

Many people look at travel. Often people think of travel as something they will do “later”—when their kids are older or when they retire. I wish people could see that travel is something wonderful and joyous to experience through all life stages. That by continually waiting, you may just miss out. There is no guarantee that retirement will come. Just go now. Go for the weekend. Go for spring break. Do those trips even when they push you out of your comfort zone. 

I want my son to learn…

That we are not the center of the universe. That Americans are not the end-all, be-all. That we are part of a greater worldwide community. That no culture or people are better than the other. That the world is reliant on all of us to save it. I just want him to have a love for all people no matter where they come from, how much money they have, what type of food they eat or how they dress. 

The way we decide how to travel is…

Honestly always sort of random. We have so many places on our wish list that I often just look for cheap flights and see where we can go. I also have different ideas in mind depending on what I’m into. We have been super into hiking for the past year or two, so our last international adventure focused on that. The next few places we are dreaming about could also involve a lot of hiking—Switzerland hut-to-hut hikes, the Camino de Santiago in Spain and Patagonia are the tops right now. 

The destination at the top of my bucket list is…

Patagonia! To be able to hike for several days in that landscape would be amazing. 

In our international travel days, we loved…

Our Passport app that got us through immigration quickly and easily without Global Entry!

Other families can learn about me…

On my blog at nobackhome.com and Instagram, where I share our day-to-day lives.

Sara Clemence is a freelance journalist, formerly travel editor for The Wall Street Journal and news director for Travel + Leisure. She's the author of Away & Aware, a guide to mindful travel.

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