In this series, I interview world travellers who all embrace the love of backpacking the world and enjoying the diversity of it all. The latest in the long running (11+ years now) series is Dave Blum from “365 Wow Places”. If you love to travel the world and run a travel blog or are a travel writer, please get in touch, you can be featured. Either e-mail jonny (at) dontstopliving (dot) net or head to my contacts page and get connected!
Who are you?
–My name is Dave. I’m a passionate traveler and a blogger, with a strong interest in solving the puzzle of how we can take the brilliant life lessons we learn from “the road” and apply them to our every-day lives back at home.
Where are you from?
–I was born in San Francisco, CA and grew up in the nearby suburbs. After 4 years of college in Southern California, I spent 3 years living in Japan before returning to the Bay Area for good.
Where have you been?
–35 countries and counting. A bit of a preference for Asia, but don’t quote me on that.
Where are you now?
–Currently living in Santa Rosa, CA, in the heart of the Sonoma Valley wine country. I see vineyards wherever I go.
What are the top 3 places you’ve visited?
–Thailand: Yeah, it’s more touristy and less rough-and-tumble than its more-adventurous neighbors (Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar) but you can’t beat Thailand’s combination of beaches, temples, ruins, trekking, elephants, and nice people. And who wouldn’t want to eat Thai food every day, one of the world’s great cuisines?
–India: You can’t beat the remarkable sights in India, from the ghats in Varanasi to the camels and desert forts of Rajasthan, from renting a houseboat in Kerala to clambering around the amazing caves of Ajanta and Ellora. The rich mix of food, culture and religion in India is second to none.
–Japan: Something memorable happens to me pretty much every day I’m in Japan. It could be visiting a breath-taking traditional garden like Ritsurin Koen in Takamatsu, or wandering around the fascinating Naoshima art island, or picking gigantic apples at a farm in Hirosaki (up north in Aomori). Every day in Japan, someone does something nice for me. I come to Japan for the art, the nature, the temples, the food and the cool pilgrimage trails. I stay for the people.
What is the best travel experience you’ve had?
–It’s hard to pick just one! Certainly hiking the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal was pretty special, as was sneaking into the Taj Mahal (long story). But I might just have to pick my recent trip to Shikoku, Japan. Shikoku is the smallest of Japan’s four main islands, and the least-visited. During my two weeks there, I saw an amazing garden, a Godzilla theme park, two Hello Kitty attractions, a museum recreating all the world’s greatest artwork in ceramic, a temple dedicated to cats, a stunning gorge with a hidden waterfall, three ancient vine bridges AND a town with more scarecrows than people. Shikoku is an astonishing place that even the mainland Japanese don’t really know about it. Come see it while you can.
What is the worst travel experience you’ve had?
–No one likes to get hurt while travel, but it happens. I was walking on a reef in Bali as the tide came in, wearing only flip flops, when I foolishly decided to swim directly to shore — through a school of sea urchins. Both my feet ended up looking and feeling like pin cushions, dotted with poison-tipped needles. Figuring the locals knew what they were doing, I asked some local merchants to treat my feet as they would which, it turns out, consists of having them pound my feet with rocks. Although I couldn’t really walk for the next 7-10 days, there was a silver lining: I just had to sequester in the lovely central-island art town of Ubud, watching Balinese dancing every night.
What is the funniest travel experience you’ve had?
–A friend and I pull over to a roadside diner in Japan called LJ, looking for a quick bite to eat. Turns out we’ve arrived at the cutest restaurant in the country. Pink roses and hearts are everywhere. Cute plush animals. A menu that says “Love!” and “Joy!” in huge cursive letters. For our entire meal, the all-female wait staff hover around our table, trying out their English and suggesting we try various menu items they “just created and haven’t served to anyone else!” I particularly like the vegan-meat sliders with doughy buns shaped and colored like roses. The whole, 2-hour experience is absolutely frantic and hilarious, even more so because it was so unexpected.
What is the scariest travel experience you’ve had?
–While on an Annapurna trek, my group and I come to a precarious rope bridge, hundreds of feet above a raging river. With full packs on our backs, we start across the bridge single file, placing our feet carefully as Nepalese bridges are full of holes covered only with rocks. Suddenly, we see a shepherd on the other side, mushing his herd of long-horned ox across the bridge, directly towards us. With no time to turn around, we all hunker down and hold on for dear life, well aware that one of these beasts could hook our packs, shake its head, and toss us into the brink. Miraculously, the herd inches by us successfully, without mishap. I am definitely wishing at that moment that I’d bought a LOT of travel insurance. And I mean a LOT.
What is the most random job you have had on your travels?
–While enjoying the architecture and ambiance of the Wat Arun in Bangkok, a monk approaches me furtively and starts up a conversation. “Hi, I’m Loi. May I speak English with you?” It turns out Loi has a monastery nearby, full of other monks who are avid to learn English. As a former English teacher in Japan, how can I say no? Trusting that Loi is what he actually says he is (and not some kind of slave trader), I follow him into the labyrinth of nearby streets until, sometime later, we arrive at his monastery. In a wink of an eye, I’m ushered into a tiny, window-less classroom the size of a shipping container, jam packed with red-robed, shaved-headed monks, all beaming at me in expectation. What else can I do but click into teacher mode, peppering them with questions, acting out dialogues and commandeering the dingy chalk board. What an awesome job, huh? Afterwards, my friend, Loi, walks me back to Wat Arun, where the whole adventure began, and hands me a postcard. Impossible Mission accomplished!
How do you fund your travels?
–By and large, I work two jobs at home: a day job (my last was a technical editor at a medical device company) and a side job leading teambuilding treasure hunts (which is also a source of travel!).
What 3 tips would you give a new traveler before they set off on their adventure?
–1) Don’t over-pack your bags. You will be buying clothes when you’re there, so why bring more than 3 changes of clothes?
2) Don’t over-pack your schedule. Your best days will likely be the ones when you’re just wandering around, aimlessly, and you stumble upon the best noodle shop in the world, or someone invites you into their home. My rule of thumb is, more neighborhoods, less monuments.
3) Don’t over-pack your expectations. Trips have a life of their own and rarely reflect what you read in the guidebook. Come in with an open mind and let the trip come to you.
What are your future travel plans?
–I may be going to India at the end of this year for an Indian wedding in Jaipur, India, complete with glittering horses and elephants. Otherwise, I’ve long wanted to visit Morocco and North Africa. Either that or taking a long tramp in New Zealand.
–Dave Blum is the founder of Dr. Clue Treasure Hunts and a passion traveler. His daily micro-blog is called “365 Wow Places”. Dave’s goal is to write one blog entry per day for 365 days, sharing some of the cool places he’s visited and what he learned at each one about travel (and about himself). It’s chock full of hard-earned life lessons.
Links (Website, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, TikTok, YouTube):
Company website: www.drclue.com
FaceBook page: cutt.ly/Cwe5isDI
Thanks to Dave for being the latest in my series of World Travellers! If you travel the world and run a travel blog or are a travel writer, please get in touch, you can be featured , either e-mail jonny (at) dontstopliving (dot) net or head to my contacts page and get connected! You can also subscribe to Don’t Stop Living by filling in the form below! Safe travels!