Frequently Asked Questions
1. You are traveling around the world? Where will you go?
2. Why are you staying so long in Hong Kong?
3. What is a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar?
4. Even with the help from Rotary, you must be independently wealthy! How can you afford such a trip?
5. Three years? What do you do all day, sit on the beach?
6. What’s your FAVORITE country?
7. I too dream to travel around-the-world like you, but I am [insert word], do you have any advice for me?
8. Are you going to write a book about all your adventures?
9. I’m interested in having you come speak at my school, conference, business, Rotary club, church, etc. Do you make public appearances?
10. I’m interested in buying, licensing, using some of your website’s content, what should I do?
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I left home in August 2006 and headed off to China. Based out of Hong Kong for 9 months, I explored Japan, China, and SE Asia before heading west into Tibet. After an overland drive from Lhasa, Tibet, I stopped by Nepal and crossed the border into India in late September 2007. I crossed India from north to south and then headed to the Emirates, Kazakhstan, Armenia and into Eastern Europe landing in Prague in December 2007. From there I hitchhiked with a couple I met to Germany, explored Austria and Switzerland a bit, and after a short stop in Qatar, landed in Africa. I spent about 4 months crossing Africa on public transport between Nairobi and Capetown, through 8 countries. From Capetown, I flew back up to China and then went mostly overland from Bangkok to Bali. From Bali I flew to Perth, Australia and spent 3 months working in a remote roadhouse in Western Australia, in a town with a population of 10, and then returned to SE Asia and China, and (as of this writing) am presently in Korea. From here I hope to spend some more time exploring the Mainland of China, Korea, Taiwan and maybe the Philippines before heading towards the South Pacific via Eastern Australia and New Zealand. Should time and money allow, I’d like to also explore parts of North, Central and South America. I find that knowing local people in a place, makes a place much more interesting and fun—so I tend to head where I’ve know people or where people suggestion connections.
I am very fortunate to have gained the support of The Rotary Foundation and The Iowa City Noon Rotary Club, who selected me as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar, which funded part of my time in Hong Kong, China.
Let’s turn to Rotary for an answer on that one: The Rotary Foundation’s oldest and best-known program is Ambassadorial Scholarships. Since 1947 nearly 37,000 men and women from 100 nations have studied abroad under its auspices. Today it is the world’s largest privately funded international scholarship program. Nearly 800 scholarships were awarded for study in 2005-06. Through grants totaling approximately US$500 million, recipients from some 70 countries studied in more than 70 nations.
The purpose of the Ambassadorial Scholarships program is to further international understanding and friendly relations among people of different countries. The program sponsors several types of scholarships for undergraduate and graduate students as well as for qualified professionals pursuing vocational studies. While abroad, scholars serve as ambassadors of goodwill to the people of the host country and give presentations about their homelands to Rotary clubs and other groups. Upon returning home, scholars share with Rotarians and others the experiences that led to greater understanding of their host countries. Learn more about the Rotary at www.rotary.org.
4. Even with the help from Rotary, you must be independently wealthy! How can you afford such a trip?
I am neither independently wealthy nor rich. A plane ticket around the world can be purchased for as little as $2000 USD, and in many developing countries the cost of living can be less than $10-15 USD/day. My trip averages a budget of about $25 USD/day, which includes food, accommodations and transportation.
I worked a normal 8 to 5 job for three years, and put money away, just like anyone could. A trip around the world is not as expensive as you may think it is, as long as your willing to be selective in your destinations and prudent about your spending habits. Don’t believe me? Check out some sample around-the-world airfares at www.AirTreks.com.
How much would a trip cost for you? Well, it depends. I’d say, depending on your itinerary, if you stayed mostly in the developing world (meaning you don’t stay too long in Western Europe, America/Canada, Australia/New Zealand and Japan and you didn’t jump around too much, you could comfortably make it around-the-world in one year staying in budget guest houses for as little as $12000 USD. You’d be relatively comfortable with $15,000 USD and you’d be a very happy camper with $20,000-$25,000 USD. (All inclusive: transportation, food, accommodations, activities). But again, it all depends on why you travel, how you travel and what comforts you require to be happy.
While the image of a young backpacker often involves large groups of twenty-somethings, hostels, beers, beaches and partying, my trip only sees that occasionally. From the onset, I wanted to ‘live as the locals live’ to see how people live in places around the globe and to better understand their perspective, as well as what it means to be an American.
To help facilitate this, I set the goal of arranging 5-6 ‘experiences’ in advance in a few different places that would last from a week to a few months. These experiences would be intended to take me off the beaten tourist/backpacker trail. I would then travel along the back packer routes between these experiences.
- Taking university courses at a university in Hong Kong
- Visiting a social entrepreneurial, gourmet yak cheese operation in Yunan, China.
- Living in a rural Kazakhstan village, assisting an English teacher at the local school (and throwing a Halloween Party), and visiting classes at a local university
- Visiting a social entrepreneurial “water harvesting” project in a rural village near Bombay, India put together by a few Rotary club.
- Organizing and raising funds with a group of friends to take 10 local Tanzanian students (many of them current or former “street kids”) on a 6-day hike up Mt Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest peak.
- Living in a mud hut for a few weeks in a rural African village in Zambia, learning to be a farmer.
- Touring South Africa’s only fair trade Rooibos tea factory.
- Shooting a television show crossing India overland from Kolkata to Mumbai
- Working at a gourmet cupcake factory in Hong Kong
- Taking cooking courses in Thailand, India, Mozambique, China, Korea and a few points in between.
- Living in a small village in the jungles of Borneo, spending my days in a canoe in search of wild Orangutans
- Living with local families in China, India, Kazakhstan, Armenia, Kenya, Korea, Tanzania, Thailand, Malaysia and Australia.
- Working as a short order cook and bartender at a remote roadhouse in the Australian Outback, in a town with a population of 10 (including me).
- Visiting and sewing dresses in a clothing factory in Bangkok
- Visiting with children and villagers injured in the massive May 2008 earthquake in Sichuan China, and helping to throw a Christmas Party for them at the hospital.
- Living like a monk in a Buddhist Temple in South Korea.
- Playing a 1880′s ‘British soldier’ in a big budget Bollywood film in India, and working as a sport production coordinator in sport-comedy Bollywood movie filmed in the studio in Hydrabad.
- Work for a few months while in Australia.
- Volunteer on an organic farm through WOOF in New Zealand
- Hitchhike on a yacht from New Zealand to the South Pacific
- Live and work on a plantation in Samoa
- Studying and improve my Spanish somewhere in Central America
Also, along the way I have spent a lot of time trying to learn more about things that I am passionate about including film making, cooking, social entrepreneurship, media, photography and creativity. I have interviewed a series of creative professionals (artists, film directors, photographers, etc.) from a number of countries, as well as social entrepreneurs from all walks of life.
That all being said, its hard to give an example of a ‘typical’ day. It usually involves exploring, talking with people, eating new foods and planning my next move. After traveling for so long, the most interesting thing are usually talking with people and trying new foods—-because after a while all the beautiful mountain passes begin to look like every other beautiful mountain pass; and all white sandy beaches begin to look like all other white sandy beaches, etc. Though I appreciate the sights, after many months traveling, people and food are what keep the trip interesting for me (and could probably keep me going forever).
Half the fun of a typical day is not being totally sure what’s going to happen tomorrow.
A: That is an impossible question and countries are too hard to compare, but if you look at specific categories, then I might be able to give some answers (but I might give you a different answer if you ask the same question next week). For example, right now, I’d say:
- Most interesting: Japan (a country I found myself constantly asking, “They do what?”)
- Best food: #1 Thailand, #2 China and India (tie) #3 Malaysia
- Best beer: Germany, closely followed by The Czech Republic
- Most expensive: Switzerland
- Least expensive: Cambodia & China (tie)
- Surprisingly amazing (dark horse country): Armenia and Mozambique (tie)
- Best tourist country: Malaysia
- Best beaches: Zanzibar (Tanzania)
- Hardest country to travel mentally: India (though that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go there)
- Hardest country to travel physically: Much of Africa (though that also doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go there)
- Most beautiful country: Tibet, closely followed by South Africa
- Country with the most flare: India
- (Surprisingly) most like home: Kazakhstan & The Philippines
- Best train ride: Dar es Saalam, Tanzania to Kapiri, Zambia
- Best boat ride: Kowloon to Hong Kong Island, across Victoria Harbor on the Star Ferry
- Best scuba diving spot: Sipadan Island, East Malaysia off the island of Borneo
7. I too dream to travel around-the-world like you, but I am (insert word*), do you have any advice for me?
* possible words could include ‘young’ ‘old’ ‘poor’ ‘scared’ ‘trapped by my parents’ ‘a woman’ ‘afraid’
The biggest questions are usually about money, which is understandable. (See Question 4 above for some insight.) If you don’t have the income, time or patience to put aside $200, $300 or $400 USD/mo for a few years, you could consider working abroad to kick start your travels and maybe even leave next week. The US, Canada, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, China, Japan and South Korea have some great ‘Working Holiday’ visa options (especially if you are a native English speaker, have a college degree, and want to teach English).
If you are around a student age, there are some great options for scholarships or cultural exchange opportunities that you might look into. Check into your local Rotary Club, who may offer Youth Exchange Programs (for high school students), Rotary Ambassadorial and Peace Scholarships (for university students), Group Study Exchange Programs (for working professionals), among other opportunities . You can find your closest local Rotary Club through www.rotary.org. Beyond that, there are tons and tons of study abroad scholarships and fellowships out there for people from all countries, and many don’t even require perfect grades.
Additionally, there are thousands and thousands of volunteer options that may get you out of your country. Most require some sort of program fee, but if you search hard enough, there are options that are a little less painful on the bank account. Try networking through you school, church, synagogue, temple, mosque or local community organization.
And if you have concerns about being a woman, I assure you there are hundreds, if not thousands, of women traveling solo around-the-world right now, and if you take the right common sense precautions, you’ll be perfectly safe. Check out The Lost Girls, three adventurous 20-something women from Manhattan, that quit their jobs and went around the world for a year (and are now writing a book about it). Actually the person I’ve met who has been traveling the longest around the world was a 26-year old woman from South Korea, who’d been on the road for 5 years!! Do some reading on the topic, I’m obviously a man, so I don’t necessarily know first hand what its like to travel solo as a woman, but do know there are a lot of women doing it.
Finally, I’ll tell you that the hardest part of the whole process is leaving. If you can arrange your life in a way so that you can leave for 3 months, 8 months, a year or more, once you get out the door, the rest you’ll figure out as you go. Trust me.
I’m not especially talented, gifted, smart or rich, I am just pretty good at dreaming.
This is surprisingly common piece of advice, and I’d love to, but don’t have the first clue how one begins that process (i.e. finding an editor, publisher, etc.). If you have any advice or can point me in the right direction, please feel free to contact me.
Sharing the story of my travels, in an effort to encourage other people to get out and see their world, is something I absolutely LOVE to do. I’m an experienced public speak and welcome invitations from groups ranging from 1 to 1,000. If I’m in your neighborhood, please don’t hesitate to contact me with your request. Please provide a proposed date, time, and location and a bit about your organization and what you’d like me to talk about.
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