February 2011: Questions & Answers

Time once again to answer reader mail
Time once again to answer reader mail
Kara Williams tweets: Do you get lonely traveling by yourself?

I’ve always been the type of person who has done stuff by myself. Some people are terrified at the idea of going out to eat or seeing a movie alone. I have always done this, so traveling solo was never that big of a deal for me. I think much of it is a personality type, and I’m the type of person that doesn’t have a problem doing things without someone else tagging along.

I really don’t get lonely. There are always new people to meet and with social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook, talking to other people is trivial. I have books to read, articles to write, photos to edit, etc.

I know there are websites out there that focus on “solo travel” but I have never thought of myself that way. I just travel…..no modifiers.

Believe it or not, I actually asked a friend of mine to come with me when I decided to travel. I offered to pay for everything, but they still said no. My options were travel alone or don’t travel at all. It was a simple choice at that point.

Traci from Go Big Or Go Home asks: Will the recent events in Egypt deter you from visiting the Middle East? Have you ever found yourself in a country in the middle of a revolution?

Not in the slightest. What has happened in Egypt that tourists should be worried about? They weren’t attacked and they weren’t targeted. The main reason to not visit a place like Egypt which is in the middle of turmoil is that attractions are closed, transportation lines are shut down and logistics are a mess. There is a slight risk of getting caught in the middle of something, but I’d just use your head and stay away from large spots where people gather.

Moreover, most what happened in Egypt didn’t happen in “Egypt”, it occurred in a few major cities and in the public squares in those cities. I saw the same thing happen earlier this year in Thailand. If you weren’t at ground zero for the protests, you would have missed all the exciting stuff that was on television.

Cassi and Erica, the Nonstop Duo actually stop to ask: How do you keep up blogging when you are in places with limited and varied internet access? Thanks!

First, I’d say that internet connectivity is far more ubiquitous than I ever thought it would be when I started traveling. I have been to some pretty remote places where some building in a village might have a computer you can rent for an house.

If I know I am going to be somewhere without internet access ahead of time, I’ll work ahead or get one of my friends to post things for me.

If things just go wrong (and as I’m typing this the wifi in my room in Puerto Rico stopped working) I just work offline until I can get back online. There are few things that require you to be online RIGHT NOW.

Matthew Karsten asks: Aside from quality content, what has been the best technique for driving traffic to your blog so far?

This is going to sound heretical, but traffic isn’t my #1 priority as a blogger. Yes, you want and need traffic, but what I really want is for people to say “I want to hear more from this guy in the future”. Traffic is just a way to get subscribers. All the numbers that are important to me are on the front page of my site in the upper right for the world to see.

Strictly speaking, content isn’t king. Not for a site like mine. Personality is. I try to be myself which means being funny sometimes, opinionated, and sometimes pissing people off. It means going out and doing things, not just sitting at a desk and writing top 10 lists of places I’ve never been.

A good article might drive someone to your site, but that isn’t the end of the story. You want to be interesting enough for them to want to come back for more. Think of a blog as a television series. People get hooked on the series and come back each week. Some episodes might be better than others, but its the overall story that people buy into, not any given episode.

Bill Wilcox writes: Now that you’ve seen so many other places in person, if you were to decide to stop traveling full time and settle down enough to buy or rent a residence of some kind, would you choose to live in the US? Why? And if not the US, where would you live?

I really have no desire to live in the US anymore. For starters, if you live outside of the United States, as a citizen, your tax burden is considerably less. There are plenty of places you can find which have a much lower cost of living, but where the quality of living is on a par with what you will find in the United States.

Furthermore, I’m not bullish on the future of the US. We have a growing debt which will never be paid and a weak currency which will only get weaker. Every time I come back, everyone I encounter with a badge from the TSA to Immigration to ordinary cops seem to think they are above the average person. It’s like an army of Cartmen demanding us to “respect their authority”!

I love the people, the culture and the work ethic you find in America, but you can still get that outside of the US. I don’t like the direction the government has been heading the last several decades.

As to where I would actually live, I don’t have a clue. There are many places I could live. Trying to narrow it down would depend on things like real estate prices which I haven’t researched.

18 thoughts on “February 2011: Questions & Answers”

  1. You hit it on the head regarding TSA and other badge-holding positions. It’s annoying as a citizen to have to deal with it, but it’s embarrassing as a “host” to think of all the visitors who come through our airports and that is their first impression of the USA.

  2. There are some great benefits of travelling alone. The greatest of which – the winds blows North, you go North and you need not to account for that to anyone… Also, I reckon you’ll absorb much more of the surrounding context.

  3. Great answers! And I hear ya on the US authority’s “Respect My Authority” vibe. I just returned from backpacking in Mexico which I’ve done off and on for years and I noticed that it has significantly gotten worse over the years. I’ve been traveling off and on (not as many countries as you) but around 19 now… and I vaguely remember when I first started traveling that when I returned home, the US authorities greeted you quite a bit more friendly than they do now. Now, it feels like they look at every single person as a potential terrorist. And, that attitude has carried through to other community service workers as well.

    Really a bummer, but it seems like 9/11 really screwed things up in much more subtle ways than most realize.

    I have a question… there are loads of folks out there traveling and blogging. Yours is a good example, and your photography is nice enough, but how are you getting invited by all these tourism organizations as a “guest”? I’ve read many great travel bloggers with just as great a personality as yours and swell photography as well, but I don’t read of them being treated to as many free trips as you’re getting. :-) When you’re a “guest” does that mean you’re now traveling completely free of charge including airfare, lodging, food, etc? If so, what do they expect in return?

    Great blog as always!


    Skip Hunt
    Austin, Texas

    • You should ask this question next month :)

      Basically, if it is a tourism board for a country/province/city they just want you to write about the place. They want buzz and attention. Like on the trip I was on to Puerto Rico, they took us to Culebra, a nearby island, to a cave and ziplining. Basically, stuff you might normally do anyhow if you came to Puerto Rico.

      I only write about places I actually visit, so if I don’t go there, I can’t talk about it.

      I will usually stay on my own dime for a few days after I visit a place. I’m still in Puerto Rico at the Holiday Inn Express as I write this, paid for by myself. Most of my time in Puerto Rico I was on my own.

      There are two major benefits of taking these trips:

      1) It massively reduces my costs. That one is pretty obvious.
      2) They can give me access to cool things I might never be able to get access to. When we visited the Camuy caves here in Puerto Rico we went on a day it was closed to the public. That meant I was able to take photos without having to worry about crowds. This is pretty standard stuff for media, and in fact a film crew was there the same time we were. I sometimes can get access to people and places that are closed off to the public. That makes for better photos and more interesting stories.

      This has been going on for years in the media, it is just that no one ever knew about it. Bloggers are far more transparent and open about what is going on.

      There are some downsides to this type of travel. You are on a schedule and there are all sorts of logistical headaches you have to deal with.

      I have never been asked by anyone to write anything in particular, nor even in a certain time frame. If they did, I wouldn’t go on the trip.

      • Oh wow! Thanks for the quick and frank answers. I remember shooting a resort in South Africa and just because I knew someone who sent me to another resort to get a few images, I was treated to about 5 days accommodation that usually goes for about $1000 a day. I paid nothing and was given a personal game ranger as well. Not that I was all that special or that my photography was so much better than many other capable photographers… it was just because the right person made a call.

        Since you’re so willing to be so open about this… let’s say you want to do one of these junkets in Fiji for example. How would that go down? Would you be contacting their tourism folks yourself and selling them on your writing, photography, and marketing skills as well as your established audience? Or, do they contact you? And, lets say you’ve scored the “guest” gig… does that mean you’re typically getting your flight to that country paid for as well as lodging, etc. while you’re doing the schedule? Or, are you getting a few discounts only and getting extra access?

        I understand there are drawbacks too. I’ve only done this sort of thing for money and got lucky a couple of times with free access and accommodations. However, it was always a situation where I was also getting paid in some way for some part of it. Are you ever additionally paid as well? Or is it all or partly trade for a free or cheap trip in exchange for writing/shooting about it for your blog?

        Thanks again!

        • To date I have never asked for a trip. I only accept invitation as they come in.

          Every place is different in how they do things. It all depends on the value you can provide to them.

    • Hahaha, well a friendly trip!!! I can’t believe ANYONE would EVER turn
      down a trip with you. Silly people!!!

      In a message dated 2/16/2011 12:51:16 P.M. Eastern Standard Time,

      Gary Arndt wrote, in response to Andi Perullo:

      Andi, you are soon to be a married woman. I wouldn’t be proper :)

      Link to comment: http://disq.us/15qcgs

  4. Thanks for the answer Gary! I never thought about my blog as a television series, but I can see how that would be beneficial. You certainly do a good job at it.

    Soap Operas are popular, especially here in Latin America. Maybe I should introduce a new character, kill them off, then bring them back to life again? I’ll need to include a few love triangles as well…

    I’d better get to work! :-)

  5. Great answers Gary. I always enjoy your straightforward tell it like it is way of blogging and giving opinions during discussions.

  6. Thanks, Gary, for an objective and well-considered reply. There is so much needless fear on our part, based on hysteria. I’m always curious to hear about travelers’ reactions to turmoil in the Middle East. I lived in Saudi Arabia as a kid, and moved when my father felt that anti-Western sentiment was growing beyond his safety zone. I try not to let that experience color my perspective, but it’s difficult to shake.

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