By Isabel Clift
Gary Arndt sold his house in 2007 and has been travelling the world ever since. He’s visited over 110 countries and territories (and counting!), recording it all in his hugely popular travel blog Everything-Everywhere.com.
We took ten minutes with Gary to talk overrated attractions, traveller “douchbaggery” and what makes a great hostel…
1. What things do you wish you’d known before starting your adventure?
I wish I hadn’t made such a big deal about what I was going to pack. Like many people, prior to my trip I spent a lot of time worrying about what clothes to bring, what shoes to wear, etc. In the end, it all didn’t matter that much. If you forget to bring something, you can usually pick it up wherever you are.
2. What makes a great hostel?
In no particular order:
– It has to be clean and well managed.
– It shouldn’t be a party hostel.
– Free and fast bandwidth.
– A common area where you can easily mingle and meet other people
3. What are some of the most memorable hostels you’ve stayed in on your 5+ years of travel? Why?
Just off the top of my head, here are a few:
– Hostel Celica, Ljubljana, Slovenia – it is converted prison which used to house political prisoners during the communist era.
– Sakura Hostel, Tokyo, Japan – I had several great evenings staying up late, drinking beer from a vending machine (only in Japan) talking to other travellers.
– Deco Backpackers, Queenstown, New Zealand – I will forever remember this as the only place I found in New Zealand that had free and open wifi!
– 1848 Princess Tui Inn, Apia, Samoa – I great spot just outside Apia. Sadly, I found out it burned down in December 2010.
– My My Arthouse, Saigon, Vietnam – The owner approached me after I got off the bus in Saigon. She asked if I had a room and I said ‘no’. I ended up staying there for 3 weeks.
4. Have you ever been scammed? Any typical scams should backpackers be wise to?
The worst I’ve been scammed for is about $20 early in my travels. It was by a taxi driver in Manila using the “my meter is broken” routine. While $20 anywhere else would have been perfectly reasonable for the rest of the world, it was high for Manila.
My biggest advice would be to cautious regarding anyone who comes up to you and starts a conversation in English. Be especially cautious of someone who isn’t trying to sell you something right off the bat. If they are trying to sell something, at least you know they are being upfront about it.
5. What ingenious cost-saving tricks have you developed during your travels?
I don’t think I have anything which is especially novel. I thing I do is have a Boingo wireless account. It costs money, but what you save from having to pay for wifi around the world makes it worth it. It is a very big deal when you are online as much as I am.
6. You’ve been to over 110 countries and territories. What ‘must-see’ destination or attraction sticks out as genuinely worth it, and which are overrated?
The most overrated experience was easily floating in the Dead Sea. It really isn’t a big deal. Not only can you not swim, but if you have any open cuts on your body, you will be in terrible pain. I had a drop of water from a splash hit me in the eye, and I couldn’t see right for 5-minutes. Another highly overrated attraction is the Mannekin Pis statue in Brussels.
Some of the places which really surprised me were Micronesia, Mulu National Park in Malaysian Borneo and Oman.
7. You’ve been to an active war zone, Preah Vihear in Cambodia. Do you think risk-taking enhances travel?
Not necessarily. While Thai and Cambodian forces were amassed at the border near the temple (and in fact 2 soldiers were killed the day I was there), I wouldn’t say the area was especially ‘hot’ when I was there. If it was, I would have been the first one out of there!
8. I’m always annoyed to see visitors not bothering to learn ‘hello’ or ‘thank you’ in the local language. What common things do you see other travellers doing that annoy you?
I’ve seen some incredible douchbaggy behavior by other travellers. I was in a van with 2 Germans in the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt. After an 8 hour ride, they totally stiffed the driver because he had taken other passengers in his van. It was embarrassing to be with them.
Quibbling over very small sums of money also bothers me. I saw an American woman get into an argument in Bali over what amounted to 10-cents.
9. What’s been the most memorable meal of your travels so far?
It was a dinner I had at a restaurant on Yakushima Island in Japan. I couldn’t communicate with the wait staff, so they eventually just brought me the set meal, and it was incredible. I still have no idea what I ate.
10. I see you travel with a Kindle – what books have you loved reading on the road?
I almost always read about history. I find learning about the history of places I visit to be the most productive way to spend my reading time. Far more valuable than reading a guidebook. Lately I’ve been reading about WWI, which I don’t think Americans have as great an appreciation for as Europeans.
11. Too many visitors can have a negative impact on any destination. What steps should travellers take to make their presence positive, wherever they go?
Try to spend money with local businesses. Guesthouses and hostels often fall into this category. Also, try not to conform to the loud, partying traveller stereotype. Respect your surroundings and the people you meet and you should be fine.
12. You’ve branched out into travel photography, which we’re celebrating with our Seven Super Shots game. Can you share the photo that you’re most proud of (aka your National Geographic-worthy shot)? What’s the story behind it?
I’ve always liked this image. It was taken in Wadi Rum, Jordan, where my favorite movies, Lawrence of Arabia, was shot. It was where they served tea during sun set. Just off camera is the front seat of a pick-up truck where you would sit 🙂
13. What other travel blogs do you consider to be most helpful and fun to follow for RTW travellers?
The most helpful blogs will be those from people who have been travelling for extended periods of time and go off the beaten path. The best in this category would be Jodi Ettenburg at LegalNomads.com, and husband/wife team of Daniel Noll and Audrey Scott at UncorneredMarket.com.
14. What’s the best advice you could give to a new travel blogger?
I recently wrote an open letter to aspiring travel bloggers on this very subject. Don’t go into blogging thinking it is going to pay for your travels. It takes years to develop an audience and a great deal of persistence. The vast majority of bloggers eventually abandon their blogs. Have realistic expectations and do it because you enjoy it, not because you expect to make money.
15. You’re a big Twitter user. Why do you think it works as a marketing tool?
Actually, I think Facebook is a far better marketing tool than Twitter. I find Twitter to be more effective at talking to other content creators, but Facebook is better at talking to the public. I’ve been at many hostels where everyone at a computer is on Facebook. I have yet to see another person on Twitter.
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