A self-described language geek, entrepreneur and an award-winning travel web series host, Sonia Gil is Our Type of Traveler.
Founder of the digital language learning company Fluenz, and host of “Sonia’s Travels” web series, Sonia shows that you can travel the world and enrich your life without breaking the bank. With a mission to “crack the secret code of cities,” “Sonia’s Travels” uncovers the local flavor of destinations, avoiding the tourist-trodden spots, to dig deeper to find the true soul of a city.
Sharing her love of language, Sonia’s projects include the non-profit Fluenz.org that distributes free English language programs for people in need. Recently, Sonia partnered with Lonely Planet to create FluentRoad.com, a unique online program for travelers interested in learning travel Spanish.
Sonia also has her own video series “Almost Free” on Ulive.com. As winner of the Webby Award for “Web Personality of the Year” in 2012, Sonia continues to “recapture the small moments that add up to the art of travel.”
We caught up with Sonia on the road to find out about all those small, but meaningful moments in her travels:
Traveling Type: How did you get started with travel vlogging?
Sonia Gil: I realized that there was a method to my traveling that might be worth sharing with others. I had traveled my fair share, and had developed a methodology. I thought I had something to contribute and I certainly was not finding content that fulfilled my needs or showed me what I wanted to see. So why not do it myself?
I also came to believe that web video is changing television forever. Being part of that revolution, considering how important traditional television has been for half a century, has been thrilling to me.
What is your web series “Sonia’s Travels” about? What’s different about your take on travel?
“Sonia’s Travels” cracks the secret code of cities with a new show every Thursday. Along with thousands of travel tips and tricks, it appeals to the real charm of any city. I attempt to steer away from tourist traps, and rather focus on giving the audience a real feel of local food, culture and peoples. Including tips on packing, dealing with airports, exercising and travel gear, “Sonia’s Travels” encompasses every aspect of traveling.
What was the moment you knew travel had hooked you?
Apparently, my love of travel was set in the stars even before I was born. In the book “The Secret Language of Birthdays,” it states that people born on September 24 either love to travel, or are somehow driven to do so.
I remember a moment in NYC — I was 6 at the time. Looking up at the buildings and feeling dizzy, having to hold on to my mother’s hand tight. A carriage ride, that was marvelous! FAO Schwarz, hotdogs on the street, Cats. And most impressive of all, it was 9pm and it was still light out. I remember every detail, and yearn for that feeling of being in awe of everything around me ever since.
What inspired you to start the language learning company Fluenz? What languages do you speak?
After graduating, I went to Paris to brush up on my French, but after buying a language software program, I felt cheated by the product. My next stop was China, but again I came back to the same realization: Language can’t be taught the same way all over the world. Gimmicks don’t work. There needed to be a common ground between traditional instruction and modern presentation. This is when Fluenz began.
I can now speak 5 languages. These include English, Spanish, Italian, French and Mandarin. Yes, Mandarin!
Wow, that’s a lot of languages to know! What’s the 1 word or phrase in the local language you should know when traveling?
There is a couple. I want: this/that, a coffee, the bill, the menu. I want to go to: here/there, this restaurant, this hotel, this address. With that, you are armed and ready.
Where is your favorite place to get away from it all?
My favorite place changes all the time. Right now, I have Rio very much at the top of the list. But ask me again tomorrow.
What are your tips for fellow women travelers?
Give traveling alone a try. Get lost, that is how I have created my best memories. Always be safe, and remember that travel is like cooking. You need a recipe and the best ingredients. Oh, and don’t overpack!
What’s your favorite place you’ve traveled to?
Any place where there is a beach.
Do you have a must-have item that you never travel without?
International data plan and my running shoes.
How do you stay fit on the road?
I always exercise wherever I go; it’s part of how I connect to a place. Working out is part of my life, so attempting to do it in new places always allows for some discovery. I run everywhere I go. I have run in the most remote places and in every corner. Something I always pack — a jump rope!
Uff, that’s a tough question. Home changes every couple of years for me geographically. But I have to agree with the saying “home is where the heart is,” and right now my heart is in Miami.
What would you recommend to travelers visiting your hometown?
Oh, where to begin?
1. GO TO THE BEACH.
2. In the summer every Wednesday they have great outdoor movie screenings in the most beautiful park.
3. Have a drink at The Standard hotel. In the evenings you’ll spot some dolphins.
What’s No. 1 on your bucket list?
Right now… Japan. I must get to Japan!
Watch Sonia’s Web Series: