This week’s interviewee is an avid blogger, frequent Twitter personality, and all around good guy. It’s Dave, managing editor of Gobackpacking. He’s travelled the world, lived in many places, and has the stories to prove it. As you soon shall see….
Could you introduce yourself?
My name is Dave and I’m originally from Pelham, New York, though I live in northern Virginia now. Growing up, my family took a lot of vacations, though they were mostly to US destinations such as Florida, Pennsylvania, Arizona, and Hawaii (my favorite). My last family vacation was a 2-week trip to England when I was 16.
It wasn’t until after college that I experienced backpacking abroad for the first time. I was immediately hooked on the feelings of self-reliance, independence, and freedom which came with solo travel.
You’re the managing editor of GoBackpacking, a popular travel blog. Did it start out as a solo blog and expand, similar to STE? Tell us about your journey.
I read my first online travelogue back in 1998, and upon returning home from a backpacking trip to Europe after college, decided to learn HTML so I could create a website for my big adventure. When people began to read through it, and ask for travel advice, I bought GoBackpacking.com and built a site to encourage others to travel abroad as I had done.
I stopped work on the site around 2001, but kept renewing the domain, until I began work on it again in late 2006. By then, blogging had made the process of self-publishing a lot easier. I adopted WordPress for my ’round the world travel blog, and set about documenting the planning process for such a long trip. During my trip, I found the experience of writing for an audience became an integral part of my experience as a whole.
Returning back to the USA this past Summer, I decided it was time to begin promoting other travelers’ writing as well, and opened the blog up to contributors. The response was overwhelming, and I’m having a lot of fun working with talented people who share a passion for independent travel.
You started a website dedicated to a single city in Columbia. Tell us about the city and the country – we all know the stereotypes, but what’s the real story?
After 15 months of continuous travel, I arrived in Colombia, which was to be my final destination. I couchsurfed my first week in Bogota. My hosts were two college students, and their standard of living immediately shattered my stereotypes of life in Colombia. They were using webcams, and wi-fi off their laptops, and living in a nice apartment. I was watching The Simpsons in Spanish almost immediately, and a few days later, Barack Obama’s Presidential inauguration! Spending time with them turned out to be a great introduction to the country, its people, food and art. Unfortunately, the weather was rainy and cold the whole week.
I then flew 25 minutes north to Medellin, where the sun was shining, the weather Spring-like, and the city surrounded by beautiful green mountains. One week turned into two, and the realization that I didn’t want to leave, which didn’t sit well with my family at home. Immediately, I began Medellin Living to document my experiences in the city, which was far less threatening than I imagined. I met tons of other travelers, expats and Colombians during my 6 months in the country. I began taking salsa lessons, went paragliding, tried in vain to teach English for the first time, attended Carnival in Barranquilla, and enjoyed drinks on the beach in Cartagena.
The reality in Medellin is that there are a lot of poor people who turn to gangs and drugs to make money. As happened earlier this year, when the head of a gang or cartel is arrested, then the violence surges as mid-level people fight to fill the power vacuum. Yet the vast majority of the violence is targeted, not random, so tourists need only exercise the same degree of caution as they would in any major city.
What has been your most inspirational travel experience?
I’d have to say it’s a draw between trekking in the Annapurna region of Nepal, and visiting the largest community of Tibetans in exile in McLeod Ganj, India. The Nepali people are incredibly warm and welcoming, and the grandeur of the Himalaya was unlike anything I’d experienced before. I was there in April (2008), so the rhododendron forests were in bloom, and they painted the mountainsides in pink and red. Every morning, we’d wake up a little bit closer to 8,000-meter mountains, set against clear blue skies.
In northern India, I was lucky enough to arrive in McLeod Ganj during a 2-day teaching by His Holiness the Dalai Lama at the local Tibetan Children’s Village (a school). A mix of Tibetans, monks, and tourists would sit outside and listen to the teachings on an FM radio station broadcasting in English. I’ve drawn a lot of inspiration from Buddhist teachings and the books of His Holiness, so it was special (and completely happenstance) that I had the chance to hear and see him in his home town.
What is one items you’re dying to get off your bucket list?
I want to visit Cuba before the American government lifts the travel ban. I had looked into travel there as far back as 2006, and knew it could be done, however I wasn’t clear on the risk. When I was living in Medellin, I met a young American couple that had lived in Havana for 2 months before arriving in Colombia. They explained the process of entering Cuba in a very matter-of-fact way. It was then that I realized the risk of me getting fined would be very low. Much of the allure will disappear once it becomes legal for Americans to visit, given Florida’s proximity to the island, and our society’s ability to effect foreign cultures.
Plus, I would love to check out the salsa clubs!
Andy’s Note: I think you’re right. When the travel ban lifts, I imagine the pace of change will be swift and ruthless.
Anything interesting coming up on your travel agenda?
Since I’m looking for a job in New York City, I’m making it a point to travel up there almost every month. After traveling around the world, I can still say that NYC is one of the most exciting cities in the world, and I’m looking forward to spending more time there.
I love NYC so you’re in a great place. There is never a shortage of things to see and do. Thanks for all those get tips and insights, Dave. Everyone, be sure to check out Dave’s site, GoBackpacking for lots of trekking advice and tips.