02 Travelers of the PNW: Ostin Kurniawan

Ostin Kurniawan, 23

UW Seattle Human-Centered Design and Engineering

I was born in Austin, TX, but moved out of the States when I was 8 to live in Yokohama, Japan for 3 years, then Beijing, China, for 7 years. My parents then moved back to Indonesia while my little brother and I finished up HS in Edmonds, WA before I began attending UW.


Climbing (starting to climb sport), hiking, and cooking. I dabble in film photography, and recently picked up biking.

What is your relation to the Pacific Northwest?

I graduated from a WA high school, then did my undergrad at UW before moving to Charlottesville, VA for work. During my years in WA, I did a ton of hiking, camping, and exploring of the Cascades and Olympic National Park.

Why is travel important to you?

To me, travel has never been about "finding myself," or something along those lines. Frankly, it's always just about appreciating the beauty in the differences we can see between the world that I may live in versus what someone else's experience may be.

It's absolutely humbling to see a worldview, a way of doing things, a way of thinking be completely turned upside down by seeing somebody else approach it from a completely different perspective

– whether it be something as simple as a different type of greeting or a different type of cooking, to something as complex as the generalized worldview of a nation's people and how that impacts the way they think or the way they approach things. Travel, to me, always drives home the point that there is never just one way to do things, and while I'm at it, I have the privilege of getting to see new things and the physical beauty that each place has to offer.

What is your most memorable travel experience? How has it impacted your life and future travels?

I spent some time in Budapest traveling solo, and stayed in the cheapest hostel I found on HostelWorld. It ended up being the best decision I made on that trip – during the day, I would wander the streets of the Jewish Quarter or the castle on Buda, at night, my fellow hostel-stayers and I would share stories over goulash before forgetting it all drinking way too much in Budapest's thriving nightlife scene. One afternoon before dinner, I had ambled back into the hostel when the host noticed a film camera I had picked up at a local on-street flea market on my neck. He asked where I got it, and I, not knowing anything about the actual layout of the city other than some streets that I had memorised, offered to show him, if he was willing to sprint there with me – the market was closing for the night. In the last light of the day, I raced him on the tram while he biked alongside it, and I sprinted alongside him from the tram station to the film camera seller just as he was packing up for the day. My friend successfully bought an old film camera, and like any good night, we ended up drinking and munching on oily street food. It has just taught me that adventures can come from the most unassuming of places, as long as you're open to them. It's not something you can really get if you only get around by taxi and Uber.

How would you describe your travel style? Are you a meticulous planner or a go-with-the-flow kind of traveler? What are some best practices you have learned to help you travel as best you can in your own way?

I've never been a meticulous planner – while it's absolutely wise to have contingencies if things go south, too much planning doesn't give you the opportunity to appreciate anything other than what we might see online or in guidebooks. I've always had the best experiences planning a general structure – how to get from city to city and where I might sleep at night, usually a hostel, but leaving everything else up to life. Sure, I'll plan to hit a couple of tourist attractions that interest me, but most of my day is spent walking, taking the subway, or biking through the city, wandering, and following what seems interesting. Maybe it'll be a hidden courtyard, an overlooked museum, a solid spot for lunch. Maybe you'll get lost, maybe you'll hear a musician practicing near a window. Maybe you'll meet someone or have a lovely conversation.

If you don't put yourself in the position for these types of things to happen, then you'll never experience them. But it's also okay that things don't go right sometimes, maybe you miss your train, twist your ankle, the weather is terrible. Don't travel with a lofty expectation of what it could be, because unless you have an obscene amount of money (which, I do not) you will just be filled with regret, things like "oh why didn't I do this or that". But if you approach each day one at a time and appreciate the smaller things – maybe you tried some excellent street food, experience something novel, really thought about a piece of art, or just saw some children playing in the street with smiles on their faces – you'll never have any regret, because it wasn't about the quantity of things you saw, but what you took away from them.

Some of the best tips I have are to sleep in hostels and travel with a single 25-30L backpack. Hostels, especially those with communal dinners, are a phenomenal way of getting to know other people on the road. These people will share their stories and will be interested in you, and will most probably also want to get absolutely plastered afterwards with you and help make sure you get back at the end of the night. Hostel hosts or staff will tell you where all the good local spots are, what places to avoid; everything the Instagram blogger with comp'd everything will skip over. And trust me, everything you need for three weeks really fits in 25-30L. You really don't need that third pair of shoes, that cute shirt you might wear once, or that 70-200 f/2.8 that weighs 3 pounds. You'll always be ready to go, whether it be out of the dodgy airport you just landed in, through cobblestone streets, or running for the train that leaves in 30 seconds without dragging that (admittedly pretty cute) Away rollaway.

How does coming “home” (wherever or whatever that may be) feel after you travel?

Traveling always makes me appreciate wherever 'home' is more. You realise that you're a little more attuned to the smaller things. You'll notice the breeze a little more, the smells and sounds of the local market, the way people talk and think. If you travel in your comfort zone all the time, coming home makes home feel somewhat "lacking". But coming home after being outside of your comfort zone, it's both a new perspective and a little bit of a relief.

What are your future travel plans?

I'd love to visit Istanbul, but the last time I tried to go there was a military coup, so those plans went on ice. Perhaps a couple weeks in Cambodia and Thailand. We'll see.

How has the PNW helped shape who you are?

The PNW really revived and nurtured my love for the outdoors. In places I've lived before, I hiked with family and did some outdoors stuff, but the PNW, in all its accessibility and breathtaking beauty, made it so obvious to me that the outdoors is where I want to be. It's taught me about conservation, about hard work, about perseverance and exhaustion on days hiking with only 3 hours of sleep.

It's given me that perspective that I hope everybody who has the privilege, like me, of living in the PNW, to appreciate the beauty, the wilderness, and the sheer power of Mother Nature, and it's something I will hold for the rest of my life, no matter where I might go.

If you could describe the PNW in 3 words, what would they be and why?

Lush, humbling, and rainy.

When you return to the same mountain range at differing points of the year, it's rather mind-boggling how different it is. The summers are lush and humid in the undergrowth, and you can see the Milky Way at night. But in the winter, when they're covered in twinkling, pristine-white snow and you hear the thunderous booms of avalanches in the distance and you're struggling to get up a mountain that's easy in the summer but impossible in the winter, you really appreciate and respect the mountains – they'll always win, and there is so much we have not explored. And the rest of the time, it's rainy. It is what it is.