Written by Madeline Miller
Photos courtesy of Lea Moreau and Madeline Miller
Imagine a bug that, after biting a human, causes a life-long disease with no cure. The only treatment available is so expensive that people sometimes take second and third jobs, even creating new industries just to subsidize the cost of this affliction. Signs and symptoms include inability to focus; daydreaming or hallucinations; extreme stress; inability to maintain or manage a consistent income; sudden inexplicable longings for unreal or past situations; missing work, family commitments, or other important dates; general dissatisfaction; and possible adverse alterations to personality. Now, imagine that you are eight years old and are bitten by this bug. Suddenly, your whole world changes. You had a whole life ahead of you, and now you have no choice but to focus all your youth and energy toward this disease.
This serious condition, often referred to as the “travel bug,” got to Lea Moreau on a trip in Bali with her family, and her life has never been the same. She looks back on the trip saying her recurring thought was “Oh, the world is so big!” Traveling by motorbike with local guides, Lea experienced food, language, and culture in a way that made her more aware of travel, particularly in Asia, at a young age.
After the experience, Lea’s education certainly prepared her for a life of adventure. The two high schools she attended offered classes and extra-curricular activities ranging from entrepreneurship to rock climbing, from scuba diving to aviation to humanitarian fundraising. She studied Japanese, and in doing so, was introduced to K-pop, and Korean food and culture. She soon found herself drawn more and more toward a life in Asia.
As Lea fought her travel bug case, she found that the best way to deal with it was simply to travel. During her time in high school, she found herself frustrated by the inability to communicate with “interesting people [she] met all the time” and wanted to learn English to break down the barrier. Through a work exchange program, HELPx, she was able to spend a working holiday in Australia. Because of her scuba diving experience in high school, she was drawn to Australia for the Great Barrier Reef and other diving opportunities. She spent time with friends exploring the Outback, particularly the national parks.
After completing a year in Australia, Lea recalls a conversation with her mom. Lea says, “She wasn’t surprised I wanted to spend more time abroad; she just said she only promised me one year in Australia, so I went back to France to study.” Lea made a compromise with her mom: she took online classes to count toward her tourism degree while she lived in Thailand. She was also able to obtain an internship towards her tourism degree because the director of the language school where she studied spoke French. Lea recounts, “My mom felt like if I had any trouble, [the language school director] could help me out.”
After one year studying in Thailand, during her summer vacation, Lea took a trip with a friend to several Southeast Asian countries, titling the trip “Leo and Lea Lost in Asia,” and planning to bike the whole thing. Realizing that this was somewhat impractical, the friends decided to incorporate hitchhiking and busing into the trip in order to cut down on both time and exhaustion levels.
The pair started by hitchhiking through Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; then hit Singapore, walking through most of the small country; and despite the heat and humidity, braved doing the same in Bali. Next, they went to Lombok Island to see the Rinjani Volcano and to Gili Island for the scuba diving. Laos and Vietnam were covered in a 700 kilometer bike trip, followed by Cambodia done primarily by bus.
Because most countries require a bachelor’s degree for immigration, and many companies require it for hiring, Lea returned to France to sit for her final exam for her associate’s degree, but found it hard to stay in one place. She transferred to Sup-de-Co La Rochelle as a junior, but found that they required an additional internship of her. There were many pointers for South Korea as the next step: flights from Chiang Mai to Incheon are cheap, and Lea had already visited three times during her stay in Thailand. During the third of these trips, she met a man who she calls a “random Interpol guy at a bar out there.” It was nearly a year later that she contacted him again. “It was so crazy,” Lea insists, “if I hadn’t met him, I would never have made it out here.”
Lea spent her first year in Korea as an intern at Pedro’s House and Voyager’s Café, a joint guesthouse and coffee shop located in Gwangju’s Seo-gu district. Known for being traveler-friendly and internationally themed, Lea’s primary role there centered on creating a guidebook for the guests, both local and foreigner. She says that Jeonnam Province, specifically, attracted her attention because there is such a limited amount of information available in any language for travelers to the area, and what was available was sloppy, boring, or ugly. She wanted to provide interesting content that would draw both locals and tourists to explore the area more because, she says, “there’s so much to see and do that no one really knows about. People would say, ‘oh, there’s nothing there, it’s so boring,’ and that’s really not true.” Her typical schedule as an intern was to spend two days researching a new location, one day exploring, and about two days writing and editing. Other responsibilities included cleaning, welcoming guests, and assisting with various activities put on by the guest house.
During her time as an intern, Lea created “Leadventure,” a YouTube channel she uses as a platform for vlogging and informational travel videos. She wanted to make something available online as she was creating the guidebook for the guesthouse and found that most foreigners are only familiar with the larger cities like Seoul and Busan. After Lea’s internship ended, she decided to stay on with the guesthouse, as Pedro, the owner of Voyagers’ and Pedro’s House, saw her work and encouraged her in it. Pedro and Lea worked together on an idea they call “Jeolla Go.” Lea’s new schedule now includes writing scripts for the video, filming and editing, and working with locals to find the best hidden gems in Jeolla, as well as learning the Korean language and how to operate the café.
Lea says her dream for the future is to be a travel specialist for Asian countries (whether in Korea or elsewhere). She says she’d like to work on videos or TV in order to inspire others to discover the country they are living in, whether they are natives or expats. In essence, Lea is working toward spreading the travel bug that bit her at age eight in hope that the whole world may become infected, too.