Clay: I recently had the good fortune to be interviewed by the Northern Express, a local paper in my home town of Traverse City, about the Syrian refugee crisis that I saw while I was living in Scotland and traveling across Europe. The article was written by Patrick Sullivan and can be found below:
A passion for travel writing sent Clay Winowiecki to Europe, a trip highlighted by seeing the European refugee crisis up close.
Winowiecki, a Kingsley High School graduate, travels and writes about traveling on his blog, headedabroad.com, whenever he can; he’s also a student at Lake Superior State University, where he majors in creative writing and marketing. Last fall, the 21-year-old came face-to-face with desperate Syrian refugees and he found it heartbreaking. The Express recently chatted with him about his adventures, his blog and his concern for the displaced.
Northern Express: How did you get into travel writing?
Winowiecki: I went to a technical school in high school called the Career Tech Center and for about three years I studied to become a police officer, and three months before I graduated and went on to college I thought, ‘Is this really what I want to do with my life? Being a police officer?’ And I just decided that I wanted to travel the world. And I was always told that I was a decent writer and I just took that plunge my first year of university; I became a journalist at the university newspaper.
NE: And you eventually started a travel blog?
Winowiecki: Over the summer, I started Headed Abroad, which is my travel website, and I started writing budget travel articles for sites like Thought Catalog and Lifehack. In August, so about 2 1/2 months in, I wrote an article for Elite Daily about budget destinations for college students and that went viral, the first time it was read by over a million people, and controlled basically Facebook for a weekend, and the second time it went viral, the following January, it was read by about two million more people.
NE: Was this past summer the first time you went to Europe?
Winowiecki: Yeah. I left for Europe, I think it was Aug. 10, and I came back from Europe Nov. 24. I was studying over there and I was also working on developing a new company that I just started and I was also focusing on my travel writing. So I was doing a bunch of different stuff.
NE: What did you find in Europe that surprised you?
Winowiecki: The first thing I noticed was that in Edinburgh, which is this gorgeous, young, kind of sooty city — it’s not young in age but it has this young feel to it — there’s all these people on the streets that are homeless. I mean that’s traditional for any decent-sized city that you go to, but about half of them, I noticed, looked like they were from the Middle East and they all had the same cookie cutter signs — it was a basic cardboard, about one-foot-by-one-foot, with a printed note saying that they are from Syria, that they had excellent kids at home. And I also noticed that most of the people that were begging on the streets that looked they were from the Middle East were middle-aged woman in traditional dress. They always had very stoic looks on their face, it seemed like they weren’t trying to show any pain or fear, but it’s something that is hard to hide, especially in the eyes, and you feel really bad for them, because you want to help them, but it’s so hard because there are so many and you don’t know how. You’re trying to figure out what you can do for these people, but as an individual it’s hard, you know? Especially for me. You know, you can give them coins, but coins, they only buy one meal and that doesn’t seem like it helps the issue at all.
NE: Does what you saw differ from what we hear is happening?
Winowiecki: That’s a good question. I think there’s the same fears among the people, in the U.S. and in Europe, but I feel like it’s more radicalized in the United States thanks to people who are perpetuating the issue like Donald Trump. There are people in Europe who feel that terrorist attacks are going to happen because of it or that it’s going to become a Muslim continent. But what people don’t understand is that Europe right now is four percent Muslim. If every refugee of the 10 and a half million were to come in and they were all Muslim, which they are not all Muslim, it would only raise the Muslim population to five percent. So I think there is this blowup of misreported facts that a lot of people believe and they think it’s going to change the economy, but in actuality, it’s probably only going to better the economy in the long run if they stay.
NE: Do you believe that people in the U.S. should be more open to accepting refugees?
Winowiecki: Completely. I think they should. I mean, we’re only letting in 10,000 people in 2016. We’ve only let in 1,500 to 1,800 this year, and it’s hardly been scratching the surface. More needs to be done. There’s only been two and a half million refugees that have been resettled places.
NE: What can a person do to help the refugees?
Winowiecki: For someone like me, I think the best thing a person can do is if you look at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, they are severely underfunded. Most of the people who are in Syria who are escaping the civil war, all the people who have left, most of them are in the surrounding countries, these are countries like Iraq that have 250,000 refugees, Jordan has 650,000, Egypt has 130,000, Lebanon has 1.2 million and Turkey has 1.9 million. This all started in 2011. This kind of happened unexpectedly for the United Nations. They all of a sudden have to build all of these camps in all of these countries. So they are running out of resources now; refugees are living in essentially cities of tents. So if anyone can do anything, if you can’t go over there and volunteer while you’re taking a break from college, you can at least toss five dollars over there to maybe help build a new tent or take care of a family for a day.
For more information go to you go: http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/home
Link to the original: A Drifter Out To See The World
In honor of my 100th blog post (yay!), I wanted to do something big – something I haven’t done before. So with the help of many wonderful travel writers, i’m bringing you a two part segment that is filled with some of the best travel advice in the world.
I was recently in contact with dozens of highly experienced travel writers to ask that they each provide me with their best travel tip. Some are short and some are long, but all of them are actionable gems that you’ll be able to pick and choose from for your next trip to make it that much more enjoyable, savvy, and adventuresome. I’ve linked all of their blogs to their names, so I encourage you to head over to their websites and check them out if you enjoy what they have to say.
I’d like to give a huge thank you to everyone involved in helping me make this happen. I’m still a new travel blogger, so it means the world to me to have such awesome people all together in one piece on this site.
I hope you get as much enjoyment out of reading this as I did!
Travel light. It sounds simple but there are lots of scenarios that make this a little more difficult than you might at first imagine. For example, you might need a range of attire if you’re going to be somewhere with a wide range in temperatures, or if your schedule dictates that you have both formal and informal clothing. Or perhaps you want to take some extra gear for the gym, or photographic equipment or something else? Whatever your travel demands, good planning can help you take just the bare minimum. Perhaps some of your items can serve more than one purpose or that book you want to read can be accessed from an electronic device you’re taking anyway. In short, the less you can get away with taking, the easier your travels are likely to be.
If you pack a pair of shoes, be sure to put your underwear in your shoes. This not only saves you a bunch of space, but it also prevents your shoes from losing their shape while they’re packed!
Go with the flow. Flights get delayed, weather is unpredictable and things seldom go as planned so it helps to be accepting of change. Instead of getting stressed and upset try to see it as an opportunity. Some of the best experiences in life are the unexpected ones.
Don’t plan too much! Obviously it can be fun to plan a trip, but my experience is that the best moments when travelling are the chance encounters that lead to unplanned adventures. So don’t plan too much, but if you do – don’t be afraid to tear up the plan if you find something better to do!
We always tell people to look at more than one room before committing – even if you’ve booked online, check them out when you get there. More often than not, the owners/managers will always try to pawn off the worst room first, for the same price as a better one. This has happened to us a couple of times…while we’re stuck in the horrible room, there’s one significantly better than ours right next door! Always ask to see a few.
I’ve said time and time again: travel is personal. Your trips and experiences should reflect who you are as a person or what you’re personally seeking. It’s OK to be a little selfish and never feel the need to apologize for being you. If you like spas and shopping go for it. Hiking and hosteling your thing, go ahead and knock yourself out. That being said, it’s always great when you can stretch yourself a bit beyond your comfort zone. Even if it’s only one thing, bring an extra dose of fearlessness along in your journey. You never know what you could be missing if you don’t give it a try. Chocolate covered crickets or sky diving anyone?
Don’t worry, don’t try to plan everything, just GO! We meet so many people that dream of traveling, but never do, letting their fear hold them back. As long as you have some money, everything can be bought and fixed along the way. Unexpected things will happen during your travels, things you can`t plan for. In our experience the true beauty of traveling is in stepping into the unknown, temporarily loosing yourself a little. When you do that unexpected experiences and great moments will happen, that will stay with you for the rest of your life.
The hardest part is stepping out of the front door….
We love the quote from the film Into The Wild: “The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.”
Saving money is a great thing, but my biggest tip – don’t save on tours and activities and food that is ultra unique to the place. When I started traveling with my backpack years ago, I was always trying to save a buck, most of the places are places I won’t be going back to since the world is so large and there is only so much time to see it all. And the one thing I remember most about a lot of the places was what I didn’t see because I was trying to save.
Don’t! Enjoy it! That’s what travel is all about – learning all you can about the place and sometimes it means paying for it. If it’s too hard to part with the money, think of it this way – you are contributing to the economy of the place which is a huge deal and really one of the main reasons you are visiting.
There are a lot of people who forget one crucial thing when making their travel plans, and that is: what happens when you come back? It’s understandable not to want to think about your return – it’s significantly less exciting, especially when you’re wrapped up in the anticipation of all the amazing things you are going to see and do. But post-travel blues are a reality that nobody can escape from. If you are only going for a short trip, you might avoid the worst of it, but if you are travelling long-term, there are some significant issues you need to prepare for.
If you are taking a leave from work or study, is it going to be soul-crushing to return to that same situation? If you are quitting a job, are you prepared to start again from scratch when you come back? If you’re selling your home and are planning to spend some savings, is there somebody you can stay with when you return happy but penniless? Are you prepared for the fact that you will miss a lot and you and your friends may grow apart?
Don’t let the fear of any of these things stop you from travel, but make a plan for how you will reintegrate when your travels are done. Ensure you don’t burn any bridges with study or work. Make sure you have friends or family who are willing to give you a roof over your head on your return. Use your travel time to gain some valuable skills that you can put on your resume for future job hunting, such as TEFL or a divemaster qualification. Your travels could open up amazing new opportunities for you and you might never come home – but most people do. So set up a plan, even if you never use it
Make friends with locals!
Whenever you are in a new place, try to make acquaintance with local people. No book, no guide or tour will give you a better sense of the place you are traveling around, than a local friend. This is the key to not only seeing a new place, but to really experience it – as closely as possible as locals do. It is with your local connection that you might end up visiting spots you’d never got to as a tourist. Perhaps you’ll end up being invited to eat at a local, which is great, because restaurants might not always be 100% representative of the local cuisine.You’ll surely listen to first account stories about what local life is really all about. And, because making a friend you always end up meeting more people!
To meet local people, you have to leave your shyness at home. You may want to try and establish conversation with locals at cafes and restaurants. Or, perhaps even more effectively, join meet-ups (such as those promoted via Couch-surfing) where local people tend to be very open to “guiding” travelers around their city, in an informal yet enriching way.Make friends with locals to add an exciting dose of authenticity to your travel experiences!
When people tell you that such and such a sight is a ‘must-see’, feel free to ignore them. Find out what interests you and pursue those kinds of experiences on your travels. For example, you don’t have to dedicate an entire day trudging through the Louvre if you visit Paris if you’d rather be hanging out listening to buskers play by the Seine. If you go to Peru, you don’t have to visit Machu Picchu just to say you’ve done it if you’re absolutely not a hiker. Get out there and satisfy your own expectations about what experiences travel can give you, not other people’s and own it.
Always bring a linen bag to keep your dirty clothes separate from your clean ones as you travel. And, when buying edible souvenirs, it’s just a useful thing to have in case any of the food containers break!
Take a solo trip! It’s one of the best things you can do to learn about your own sense of independence, experience local culture and take time to do what YOU want to do.
My biggest tip is to travel light – you really don’t need to take us much stuff as you imagine. If we can travel carry on only with two little kids then so can you.
When I first started traveling I was always too embarrassed by the language barrier while in a foreign country or simply just too shy to communicate with the locals. This fear put a damper on the richness of my experience. So, one of the best travel tips I can give is to not be afraid to chat, ask questions and connect with the people who call your visited destination home.
This may be as uncomplicated as asking a shop owner for directions to his favorite park or chatting with an elder over a coffee or even having a street food vendor explain his secret ingredients.
If you try and they don’t understand you, no worries, everybody at least speaks the language of a smile.
Always bring a bag of oatmeal with you when you travel. It’s clutch to have, and makes the perfect breakfast or snack. All you have to do is add water! Perfect for long waits at bus stations, airports, visa runs, or the morning you arrive in a new city and are starving but have no idea where the good restaurants are.
Go beyond where the road ends. All my favorite adventures seem to happen in the unexplored and out of the way places of the world. Almost universally, the harder it is to get somewhere the more rewarding the trip will turn out to be in the end.
Always travel like a local and don’t forget to do something you normally wouldn’t do. People tend to be afraid of change and, in some cases, for good reason. However, when you’re traveling to a new country to experience what the locals experience from day-to-day, you’ve got to cut loose a little and let the culture fully engulf your spirit. Try the local cuisine, experience their religion, and climb that mountain to reach the Stupa at the top. If given the chance, always pick up the offer to join a family for dinner. The world is not as scary as most people imagine; if anything you’ll learn that most people are extremely loving & caring, making you fall in love with cultures over and over again.
Don’t try ticking things to do off a check list
, close your eyes and let the romance of the place sink in. That’s the easiest way to fall in love with a new city. Slow travel is usually the cheapest and best way to travel. There’s nothing like taking time to acquaint yourself with a new place and the idiosyncrasies of locals.
My biggest tip isn’t about saving money or scoring the best seat on a flight. My tip is this: don’t let other people dictate your travel experience. Don’t let someone talk you out of going somewhere you want to go, or convince you to go somewhere you really have no desire to visit. Travel is a very personal thing, and not everyone will experience the same place in the same way. Travelers, I’ve learned, can be very judge-y and almost competitive when it comes to getting “off the beaten path” and having “local” experiences. But there’s nothing wrong with being a tourist! Go wherever you want and own it, whether it’s camping solo in the mountains or joining a group tour in Paris. No one else has the right to judge your travel choices!
Challenge yourself to leave your comfort zone as often as you can — it’s what helps you to gain confidence, develop as a person, and find unexpected adventures.
Ownership of most things is overrated. Ownership of worldly experiences is not. Try new things you have not done before – while on the road, most of these will be positive, some will be negative but it is all part of exploring the world.
When booking flights always be sure to clear your cookies periodically, search engines will never show you a cheaper price than the one you’ve already seen. I’ve saved hundreds of dollars just from simply clearing my cookies!
Wear a fanny pack – I believe the fanny pack is one of the most useful travel devices in terms of both practicality and safety. There are a lot of fanny pack haters out there, so many object to them from a fashion standpoint. Isn’t one of the reason you travel is to get away from those social constructs that tell us what is hip and what is not? The fanny pack places all your small objects like cameras, iPhones, wallet, keys, passport all in one place where it is only a zip away. Plus, it keeps all these items safe. You can pick a pocket, but It is very difficult to pick a fanny. I have never heard the expression fanny pickers before. Well, actually I have, but that is different.
When booking accommodation try to book a hotel with free breakfast. Not only does this make the morning easier (you wont have to search for a cafe on an empty stomach), but it can also help you save loads of money.
If you plan to go backpacking, make sure you pack your bag and take it for a test walk before your trip. When it comes to backpacks, looks can be deceiving! Your bag may look small, but if you get a little carried away with packing, it could end up weighing you down. Remind yourself that you’re going to have this backpack on your shoulders as you walk uphill to your hotel, weave your way through the train station, and run to catch that bus. So strap on that pack, take it for a 5 minute walk, and if you start to feel pain in your back or shoulders, you know you need to go and repack.
If I could only give travellers one piece of advice, it would be to walk. Every time there is an opportunity to walk, rather than catch a bus or sit in your hotel, take it. It’s a simple thing but has so many benefits. It saves you a bit of money, if you’re walking instead of getting transport. It gets you a bit of exercise, which helps work off all the food and drink you’re trying. And, most importantly, it allows you to explore parts of a city that you may never have seen if you had got a subway, for instance. Healthier, wealthier and wiser – all from just putting one foot in front of the other!
Enjoy the moment! Never forget to enjoy each and every moment of your trip because that exact moment will not happen again. You may be able to visit the same place again in the future, but the experience will never be the same. The people that you will meet will be different and also all the other circumstances that made your trip memorable will be different on your next visit.
Know a bit of the language of where you are headed. You do not have to be fluent, but it is better to know a few basic greetings than nothing at all. Using the local language will increase your safety and also open new doors for meeting locals who can show you the best spots in town.
Whenever I fly, I carry a little pouch that contains a small tube of Neosporin, some cotton swabs, and a few tissues. After I fasten my seatbelt, I apply a small amount of salve to the tip of the swab and rub it around on the inside of my nose. I understand this works as a barrier to germs and keeps the nose moist-a good thing. In the past 10 years since I have been doing this, I have not gotten an “airplane cold.” People sneeze and hack all around me, making me cringe, but I do not get sick. From being on a plane. I do still get sick in real life, when I never take this precaution. In the last week, I took six flights and as I sit here keyboarding my nose is dry and my throat doesn’t hurt.
Know the busy seasons for your travel destination, as this can not only impact the price you pay, but also how efficiently you’re able to enjoy the attractions.
My number one tip is to make sure that you keep an open mind and not be too strict on schedule. Many of us when we travel, especially for the first time, want to try and rack up the sites and things we want to see and often set very rigid schedules. I would recommend a more structured approach to traveling so that we don’t spend more time in trains and airports than actually experiencing. Travel is different and unique for everyone but at the end of the day it is about the experience.
Before going on any trip, spend the time researching and planning what you want to see, where you want to eat, and what you want to do. Create an agenda for each day including meals, travel time, wake up calls, nap times, etc. This will help you prioritize and keep you on track to see and do everything you want to on your trip. Once you arrive at your destination use the agenda as a reference more than a rulebook. Accept that no matter how meticulously you planned your trip things will change and your plans will need to adapt. That is part of the adventure!
Leave your camera in the hotel room for 1 day. This is a tough one I know. The mere thought of this may already be causing you to react and experience anxiety. What if something happens and I miss it! What if I see a Zebra! What if … you have a completely different travel experience? I have had some the most amazing days abroad when I have chosen to experience the location fully, not through the lens of my camera, but through being fully present in the moment. You will be surprised at how liberated you feel.
Save your charitable giving for official, vetted organizations. “Hand-outs” of any sort create an awkward cultural situation, so ask your leader’s advice on what’s appropriate, then follow it.
When you’re traveling, the goal is to experience something new or exciting…. So stay away from chain restaurants (for example), and make a point to try get lost and find something new! Life is a series of moments, but when your plan is too concrete, it doesn’t allow for moments beyond what you’ve scheduled. Sometimes there are greater things out there than you previously considered… and even if you try something new and it sucks, at least you have a story!
Our best travel tip, by far, is to realize that all your best memories, all your best stories, are going to come from the people you meet along the way, not from the museums and galleries and natural wonders. Don’t skip the opportunities to connect with the locals, don’t be shy, and don’t hesitate to strike up a conversation. Make each person you meet your new best friend, consider every local as the fountain of useful travel information they almost certainly are. And don’t forget to swap email or FaceBook account info so you can stay in touch.
Develop a travel “uniform.” YOU may be sick of that scarf/top combo, but no one has seen it in the next town you’re visiting. 3 pairs of shoes, 3 trousers, 6 tops – whatever combination works for your trip, but learn to stuff things into every corner of your luggage, roll up most clothing into neat little sausage rows, and get a grip on the number of shoes. I am convinced that the tyranny of shoes is why so many people overpack.
Separate everyone’s things throughout all of your luggage. If a bag gets lost, everyone can still get by.
Follow the Disaster:
We coined this phrase and it is our most powerful cost-saving technic. We have had some wonderful trips costing us almost half the normal cost by using our ‘follow the disaster’ travel-planning model. This idea takes some careful explanation. When a country experiences an unexpected tragedy and the ‘news’ reports the worst things, people will cancel their planned trip. For months, sometimes years, tourism will be significantly reduced to the whole country. What many people see as potential risk, we recognize as a
potential travel bargain.
Let’s examine this concept a bit deeper. The terrible 9/11 incident in New York saddened and concerned all of us. As bad as it was, a couple of months later were you concerned to walk around your hometown? Would you have been concerned to visit San Francisco? If you answered ‘probably not’ then you are a candidate to consider the ‘follow the disaster’ travel-planning model. After the tsunami that hit Thailand in and around Phuket, Thailand became a travel bargain. Of course, Phuket in the south needed time to recover. We planned our Thailand trip to start in Bangkok over 500 miles away from Phuket and worked our way north to Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. What a wonderful trip! Hundreds of miles away there was no evidence of any problems and we took advantage of much reduced tourist crowds and amazing prices including our flight to Thailand.
We have benefited from many more examples of this. When China experienced the SARS outbreak, people were rightfully concerned about traveling there. Fortunately for us they stayed concerned long after the outbreak was over.
For about half of what you would normally expect to pay, we took a terrific trip to China visiting the Great Wall, Forbidden City, and Tiananmen Square in Beijing; the terracotta soldiers in Xian; the beautiful canal city of
Suzhou, and the modern city of Shanghai.
Even political and terrorist incidents can provide travel bargains. For a fraction of the normal prices we went to virtually unaffected places such as Bali after the bombing of the disco, Fiji after their coup, and more recently found amazing bargains during peak seasons in the Greek Islands after the demonstrations in Athens.
This concept also applies to economic recessions. Our 2-year travel adventure was much more affordable because we did it during the global economic downturn starting in 2009. We were able to negotiate much lower hotel prices even in peak times for hotels that were only 40% occupied when a couple years previously required a year in advance to get a reservation. Flights, tours, cruises, car rentals, and meals were all significantly more
*A word of caution* is more than appropriate when considering the ‘follow the disaster’ travel-planning model. First, ‘follow’ is the key word. Be sure conditions are safe where you are planning to visit. Usually you will have time to do so because people are overly concerned for a period of time after any disaster. Do your research, be aware of travel warnings, and talk to travel experts knowledgeable of the country you are planning to visit.
There is a ton of useful information in here and I learned a lot from what they had to say as i’m sure you did as well. I’d like to thank all of the participants in this once again for doing me a huge favor by joining up to make this happen, this is the best post I could ask for for my 100th. So thank you!
If you enjoyed this, come back this Monday for “Part 2” of this segment. Happy travels!
Hey Gang! I’m excited to bring you an interview with Wandering Earl. Earl started off traveling in 1999 with $1,500 and planned on returning home to launch a career. As it turns out, 10 days in he decided to say screw the career and he has been traveling ever since.
Earl is an inspiration who has accomplished major feats, including an impressive 89 countries visited! I hope you gained as much insight and joy out of this interview as I did. It’s jam-packed with stuff that travelers go crazy in excitement over.
Clay: Hi Earl, thanks for joining us! To start this off, can you tell those who are unfamiliar with your writing a little bit about yourself?
Wandering Earl: I basically went on a three month post-graduation trip to SE Asia back in 1999, with only $1500 to my name. The plan was to travel around Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos and then return home to start my career. But about ten days into that trip, I suddenly decided that I wanted to try and travel indefinitely and so I gave up all my plans for a career and tried to focus on turning traveling into an actual lifestyle. Now, over 15 years later, that trip has still yet to end as I’ve traveled to and lived in over 88 countries during this period. Since 2010 I’ve worked as a full-time travel blogger, trying to show others that a life of travel is not a crazy fantasy but a realistic lifestyle option instead, while also organizing and leading my own small group tours to various countries around the world.
Clay: You’ve been traveling for an impressive 16 years. What advice could you give people who want to do the same thing?
Wandering Earl: The main piece of advice is that there are a lot of people out here traveling the world and all it takes is a few minutes of online research to find plenty of examples. Contact some of these people, ask them questions and before you know it, you’ll be hearing about their own experiences, how they overcame certain challenges, how they were once in the same position you’re currently in. This will undoubtedly give you the confidence and inspiration you need to follow through with your own plans. Also, when it comes to achieving long-term travel, having money or a particular skill set is not as important as you might think. It’s far better to have a combination of determination, a willingness to be creative and a desire to network with as many people as you possibly can. That’s what will lead to the kind of opportunities that can possibly help you travel for as long as you want. Finally, the simple fact that almost nobody regrets having traveled, no matter where they went or for how long, should be enough to convince anyone who wants to travel to at least give it a try.
Clay: After visiting all of those countries, is it even possible to pick out a favorite? You can give a small list of countries if that makes it any easier for you.
Wandering Earl: It’s not easy at all. But some of the countries that really stand out are Yemen, India, Mexico and Romania. All based on different reasons, but it generally revolves around a combination of the people I met and the unique experiences I enjoyed in these locations. When I really think about my time in these countries, I’m quickly reminded why I’ve continued traveling for 15 years now and of how much travel has taught me. Just check out the architecture of the Old City in Sana’a, the craziness of Varanasi, the culture of San Cristobal de las Casas and the beauty of the Transfagarasan and you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about.
Clay: I understand that you were once kidnapped in Bangladesh when you got into a cab. That must have been terrifying! Can you tell us a little bit more about what happened and what was running through your head at that time?
Wandering Earl: That’s right, for three days I was kidnapped by a group of taxi drivers in Dhaka, something that happened immediately after I walked out of the airport after midnight. After finding a taxi driver to take me to my guesthouse, I quickly found myself locked inside a taxi with five people who basically started demanding money. In the end, they held me for three days, keeping me in some nasty rooms in different buildings and taking me to the ATM machines around the city each day for me to withdraw money to give to them. Of course, I would always enter the wrong PIN number on purpose and tell them that my card was not working so they weren’t very successful. And after the first 24 hours I realized that they weren’t so smart, nor were they violent or armed. So I began to relax a bit and figured that a calm head was going to help me get out of this situation. On the third day, one of the guys told me to go upstairs to my room, grab my backpack (which they never even took from me!) and come back down because they were going to move me to a different place. But on my way back down, I noticed an emergency exit at the end of the hall and so, I made my escape, running along the hall and down the outside stairs to the street. I hopped in a rickshaw and off I went.
Clay: To lighten the mood, what is one of the best things that has happened to you on the road?
Wandering Earl: Having a chance to visit Socotra Island, an island that is part of Yemen, located in the Indian Ocean. Few people get a chance to visit and it certainly lived up to it’s ‘Galapagos on steroids’ description. With its surreal landscapes and mind-blowing plant life, not to mention the most perfect and empty beaches I’ve ever seen, beautiful canyons and massive sand dunes, desert-like plateaus, fresh water springs, remote villages and super-friendly people who are about as isolated from the rest of the world as one can possibly be, this island needs to be seen with your own eyes in order to believe that it actually exists. I will never forget the time I spent there, I can remember almost every minute of that experience and it will always be one of the top highlights of my 15+ years of travel.
Clay: Out of curiosity for myself and for any other writers who are reading this interview, what does your writing practice look like and what have you struggled with the most when it comes to putting words on paper?
Wandering Earl: I don’t really have any kind of writing routine. Whenever I feel like writing a post, I write one. I don’t try to force it. In the beginning, I always thought that I needed to post as frequently and consistently as possible but once I stepped away from that and realized that I should just write whenever I’m inspired to do so, the pressure was removed and writing became much easier for me. I just keep a list of potential post ideas as they come to me and when I do want to write a post, I usually take an idea, play around with a few different styles in terms of how to capture and expand upon that topic, and then I just write away. I do edit my posts dozens of times though which probably takes longer than it takes me to write the posts in the first place! But the key is definitely removing the pressure derived from thinking that you ‘must’ write a certain amount or at certain times. Once you remove it, your writing becomes more natural, you enjoy it more and in the end, your readers will notice and appreciate such higher quality posts.
Clay: I want to be respectful of your time, so to close this interview off is there anything that you believe that few others would agree with?
- The world is much, much safer than we imagine…much safer!
- You don’t need many possessions or a great deal of money at all to not only survive all over the world, but to have your days be filled with extreme happiness as well.
- Travel can definitely get boring. Yes, wandering around the world loses its excitement more quickly than you would think if you don’t have some kind of focus or purpose for traveling to a particular destination.
- Travel blogging is not a reliable way to earn money in order to travel the world. In fact, offline work such as teaching or working on cruise ships will give you a much higher chance of success in terms of achieving your goal of long-term travel than anything you could possibly do online.
Clay: Thank you so much for giving us a glimpse into your amazing life, where can we find you if we want to follow along?
Wandering Earl: I appreciate you having me join this interview series! And I can always be found at my blog, WanderingEarl.com, at Facebook.com/WanderingEarl or on Twitter @wanderingearl. Thanks again and looking forward to communicating with some of you!
Clay: I’d like to give a huge thanks to Wandering Earl for taking part in this interview, he’s a busy guy so cutting a time slot for this means a lot to me. If you’re a travel addict, his website is full of lovely articles and I seem to find myself pouring over his content quite often wishing that I had written it.
I am incredibly excited to interview our guest Thomas Kohnstamm. Thomas is an accomplished travel writer who has written multiple guide books for Lonely Planet, he’s the author of Do Travel Writers Go to Hell?, and he has even ventured into the world of screenwriting and producing videos. Today we discuss his writing career, love of Brazil, favorite beer, and more. Enter Thomas.
Hey Thomas, thanks for joining us! For those that are unfamiliar with your work, can you tell everyone a little bit about yourself and how you got started writing about travel?
I’m a Seattle-based writer. I came up as a travel writer in the late 90s and early 2000s, mainly covering Latin America. I wrote a gonzo-style memoir called Do Travel Writers Go to Hell? in 08 about the highs and lows of following my dream to be a travel writer on my first guidebook project in Brazil.
Since then I have worked on a lot of screenwriting – my book was in development as a scripted comedy series at Showtime. These days, I write and direct digital video, write long-form interviews and am hard at work on a novel.
How I got into travel writing:
I was always big into reading and writing and doing off-the-wall stuff and telling stories. I guess that I like to vacuum up info and experiences and share my take on it with anyone who will listen.
I also grew up traveling a ton with my family. We didn’t have a lot of money, but – every chance we got – we went on road trips and camped and stayed in hostels.
We traveled overland across Europe and North Africa on three different occasions before I finished high school. I started studying Spanish when I was about eleven and first traveled by myself to Spain at 17 to work as a translator at a big festival. From there I started working as a guide for volunteer programs in Costa Rica and Ecuador while I was in college. In 1998, a few months out of school I pitched Lonely Planet the idea for a Costa Rican Spanish Phrasebook. I didn’t have any contacts so I pitched them through their customer service email – and they bought it. That would never happen today, but you know what they say about timing. Anyway, I then went and did a Masters in Latin American Studies and eventually circled back to guidebooks before fanning out into other types of writing and travel writing.
What was your day to day process like for writing Do Travel Writers Go to Hell?
Wake up. Drink coffee. Walk the dogs. Drink coffee. Stare at the computer screen. Drink more coffee. Start to beat myself up. Drink more coffee. Hate myself. Start to write. Drink beer. Write more. Drink more beer. Write into the night and hopefully end the day happy with my output. Then do it all over again.
It took me almost a year to write the first chapter. I started it while taking a little hiatus from travel writing down in Chilean Patagonia and sharing an apartment with an old college friend who was also working on a book. The second chapter took me a few months to write when I was back in Seattle. I got a book deal and powered through the rest of the first draft in something like seven months.
If you could impart only three gems of knowledge on a young travel writer, or any writer for that matter, what would those gems be?
1. Don’t do this unless you really feel in your core that you need to do it. A career in writing is not for the faint of heart. It will be a roller coaster and you have to really love it if you are going to keep stepping up to see it through.
2. Focus on storytelling and voice. There are a lot of people out there who have good grammar, flawless spelling and can put together pretty sentences. Work on being able to convey your own voice and force yourself to learn storytelling structure. Those are the skills that will differentiate you from the pack and elevate the kind of stories you can land.
3. Balance a broad understanding of travel/the world with a specific expertise. It is very hard to break in by just saying that you like travel in general. You need that broader knowledge but it needs to be paired with a high level of insight on food, music, a language, a sport or something to lock-in some initial contracts and get some momentum and bylines.
Is there anything that you believe that few other people would agree with?
Cheap watery lagers are amazing. Mexico has the best beer on Earth. Americans are all wound up about craft beers with pumpkin and pine cones and elderberry and shit in their beer. They’re so hoppy that you need to chase it with a tongue scraper. A cold Miller High Life is a work of art – not enough people recognize that…
I understand that you have a love for Brazil, what is special about Brazil to you?
Brazil is one of the warmest, most welcoming cultures on the planet. Yes, the country has more than its fair share of problems, but – as someone who is interested in people and cultures – Brazilian people grant you more access to their lives and society than in most other places.
Spending time in (messy, friendly, fun) Brazil complements life in (organized, efficient, reserved) Seattle for a more rounded life experience.
Now that you’re settled down with your family, are you still active in seeking out new adventures?
I have two kids under the age of four, so things have changed. But my wife is from Rio, so we try to go to Brazil every year for at least a month, if not more. I also do more regional travel and travel for specific stories and videos I’m working on.
I guess that the short answer is: I don’t have anywhere near as broad of a travel life these days but I have more depth in the travels and adventures I do manage.
I enjoy learning about what other people are reading because I think the act of trading ideas and knowledge is incredibly powerful, do you have three books about travel or other that you feel have had large impact on your life?
It would be hard to narrow that list out of all of the books that’ve had an impact on my life but within travel writing (broadly defined), I’d say:
The Tourist by Dean MacCannell – it’s an academic book about tourism and its impact on people
The Rum Diary by Hunter Thompson – pretty straightforward travel story elevated by his energy and voice.
In Patagonia by Bruce Chatwin – mastery of form.
Thank you so much for being with us Thomas. I could ask you questions all day, but I want to be respectful of your time. For one last question, where can people find you to see what your latest projects are or what you’re up to?
I’m in the process of relaunching www.thomaskohnstamm.com. That site links to my social media, so, in the meantime, you can find me on Facebook.
Clay: Once again I would like to thank Thomas for being so kind and letting me interview him. If you would like to buy his book, Do Travel Writers Go to Hell?, you can do so on Amazon.