Category: Discussion

I Traveled With A Beard And It Was (Very) Different

bearded emoji

A few weeks ago, I let you know I was taking some time off. A week before that I stopped shaving. Combined with traveling across land borders and through airports, I was unaware the bearded experience was writing this blog post.

I’m even not sure if the differences in my travel experience was because of Growing the Beard. Yet after years of traveling all the time, the weeks with my Riker beard seemed to correspond with a lot things that hadn’t happened before. Other things that were rare became very frequent.

This isn’t a rant. I simply found the contrast interesting and certainly surprising.

Setting A Baseline

The configuration of my facial hair is highly variable but I occasionally clean up before flying. I was traveling in a part of the world I thought I blend in, have traveled before, so I figured border crossings would follow a normal distribution of events. Car searches have been rare but occur. Bearded me was one for one. Bearded me then became two for two. Plus got pulled over immediately after and questioned a bit, after my documents were inspected again. More traveling and bearded me was then three for three, and so on.

riker beard

I’ll add again: I’m not complaining, security is often opaque, so it’s entirely possible a certain type of car is being profiled or inspections are increased for any number of reasons.

At the airports as well, documents checked, before entering the airport. Not everyone, just me. Same thing with metros as well in various cities and countries.

A Few Minutes More

All of the security personnel were nice enough and the most these checks did was add some minutes to the streamlined travel routine I have. So much so that I began to add extra time into the routine. To be even more efficient, I unconsciously kept my travel documents much more readily accessible, whereas after the usual security checks I normally bury them somewhere in my backpack.

Security In Security

There’s something about being questioned when traveling that makes you feel safer. “I’m glad I’m being checked.” And I am. You can let your mind drift from there into why am I being checked, something entirely different. Like I mentioned above, that’s not the point of this post. Only that it was fascinating – there’s a lot of random checks I’m leaving out – and now I’m very curious how things will change after I shave later today before I catch my next flight.

Journalist Richard McColl Talks About Colombia’s Forgotten City, Mompos

Richard McColl is a freelance journalist and author based in Bogota, Colombia. He is currently pursuing a PhD and also runs a small hotel, La Casa Amarilla, in colonial Mompos. His podcasts “Colombia Calling” can be downloaded on iTunes and Stitcher. After my recent trip to Colombia I was able to catch up with Richard who talks about Mompos, opening a hotel, and how tourism in the country has changed over the past 10 years.

richard mccoll

Richard, how did you end up in Colombia?

It seems like a long time ago that I decided to move to Colombia! I moved here full time in 2007 after almost 6 years of freelance writing, guiding and organizing social projects all over Latin America. I had come here to Colombia on a few occasions before, once with the environmental NGO World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to report on the state of the communities on the Pacific Coast and write about the mangroves. It was quite the adventure at a time when this region of Colombia truly was off-limits and I guess I was left with a real feeling of affection towards the people. Something about Colombia always kept drawing me back here and finally after working and traveling in every country in the region, I decided to go about getting my journalist visa and make my move here permanent.

What changes have you noticed in the time you’ve been in Colombia?

Colombia has most definitely changed since I moved here in 2007. There has been a huge increase in tourism. Back in the day, if you saw another foreigner in the street you would stop to chat with them so infrequent was this occurrence, now, you cannot swing a cat without seeing or hearing another gringo in some parts of town! Of course this is a direct result of increased and improved security in many regions of the country… and of course perceived improvements in security. Colombia was an unknown destination for obvious and justifiable reasons, now it seems to be a fashionable destination.

La Casa Amarilla mompos

What type of traveler would Mompos interest most?

Mompos is not for everyone, I’ll be the first to admit this. It is an adventure because it still represents an older and more forgotten Colombia where a colonial town – which still belongs to the locals unlike a city such as Cartagena – maintains its authenticity and atmosphere. If you are interested in architecture, history and nature  – as we are located in the middle of a huge wetland filled with bird-life – then this is the place for you. This is not a destination which will overwhelm you with activities to tick off on a list but if you want to soak up an original feeling, wander through an open-air museum, perhaps shop for locally made jewelry and enjoy somewhere where you feel as if you are the only tourist and a pioneer, then Mompos should be on your list.

Many tourists don’t seem to know about Mompos, why do you think that is?

Mompos doesn’t appeal to everyone nor is it part of the “first wave” of destinations to visit in Colombia. As it is quite far away – which is an attraction for some travelers – can be off-putting. It is still very much a pueblo in that it’s a small town and the tourist infrastructure is in its infancy really. Mompos is not ready for a huge wave of tourism either, it needs to come in measured fashion so as to protect what is here and provide an economic stimulus for the town without being damaging.

la casa amarilla mompos colombia

What are some of the easiest ways to get to Mompos from Bogota and Medellin?

The best way in my opinion is to fly from Bogota or Medellin to the airport of Corozal. From here you can catch a car to Magangue and cross the river to Mompos from there.

Many travelers are often heard saying they want to open a hostel/hotel but few actually do. How did La Casa Amarilla go from idea to reality?

Yes, moving from the chatter about opening an establishment to actually doing so is a big step. In my experience, I actually just bought a wreck of a colonial house before having the idea of opening a hostel. I just wanted to restore a house. It then became evident that in order to do so and to maintain the house the building needed to generate an income since the upkeep of a colonial house in the tropics is expensive. Now, we are no longer a hostel but a very good mid-range hotel with only 10 rooms and catering to people from all over the world and from all walks of life. Also, in Mompos I had to go about changing the idea that people had here of what an international tourist really wanted, there was no real understanding of the market…it has been a long but rewarding process.

How would you recommend someone plan a trip around Colombia, including Mompos on the itinerary?

Colombia is blessed with so much to see and this can also be her downfall. So, it kind of depends on how much time you have and what you want to get out of your trip. If you only have a week or two then my recommendation is to focus on some small areas and to fly in between cities to save time. If you have longer then you have more options open to you.

As there are now direct flights from the U.S. to Cartagena and Barranquilla on the Caribbean coast, the options for discovering some of the north coast are quite ample. You could go to Cartagena for its sophistication, Mompos for forgotten Colombia, up to Santa Marta and Tayrona Park for beaches, beyond into Minca for nature and then circle back to Cartagena for your flight.

Or if you want to head first to Bogota and then go North, then why not follow a colonial route of Colombia. You could go from Bogota to Villa de Leyva, to San Gil and Barichara, on to Mompos and then to Cartagena. This way you cover half of the country. Of course, don’t write off Southern Colombia either. Bogota, San Agustin, the Coffee Zone, Popayan and Cali are well worthwhile too!

Thank you very much Richard for taking the time to share your knowledge about Mompos and traveling in Colombia. You can hear more about what Richard’s advice from all around Colombia on his podcast “Colombia Calling” which you can find on iTunes and Stitcher.

Ask Author And Blogger (Nomadic) Matt Kepnes How To Travel The World On $50 A Day

matt kepnes

Today’s live chat guest, Matt Kepnes, is one of the first travel bloggers I met when I began blogging in 2006. In fact, he’s one of the first travel bloggers and his site Nomadic Matt is certainly one of the most successful. Matt recently published the revised version of his latest book, How To Travel The World On $50 A Day, and is here to answer your questions on traveling more while spending less.

Thank you everyone for participating in the chat!

Matthew Kepnes runs the award winning budget travel site, Nomadic Matt. After a trip to Thailand in 2005, Matt decided to quit his job, finish his MBA and head off into the world. His original trip was supposed to last a year. Over seven years later, he is still out exploring and roaming the world. He’s scuba dived in Fiji, was a poker player in Amsterdam, taught English in Thailand, got lost in a jungle in Central America, and broke down in the middle of Australia’s outback.

travel world on $50How to Travel the World on $50 a Day: Revised: Travel Cheaper, Longer, Smarter

amazon buy now

In 2009, I interviewed Matt about another book of his on how to make money; he’s back today for one hour from 5-6pm US EST to take your questions on how to travel the world for $50 a day. Ask Matt about blogging, his travels, plus smart budgeting for your next trip all in the comments right below!

These Are The Travel Blogs You Read And Recommend

chicago bean

A few weeks ago when I posted the gadget lists of these travel bloggers, you not only learned that a Roost Stand for your Macbook might be something you’re missing out on, but also got a taste of some travel blogs I follow. It’s been a while since I introduced you to the travel blogosphere, a digital ecosystem where most sites fade after a round the world trip (hardly any from my 2008 list are updated anymore) but just as many blogs are born of new adventures.

When I asked you recently, these were some of the travel blogs you read and would recommend to other travelers.

Wandering Earl

The one blog that came up most frequently in your recommendations was WanderingEarl.com, a site and blogger I happen to know well. (We’re co-hosting our second tour of Istanbul this April.) Time Magazine ranked Wandering Earl as one of the 25 best blogs of 2012, which has only gotten better since. Earl has been traveling full time since 1999; some of his most popular posts include how he affords his lifestyle and that time he got held up in U.S. Customs, after an accidental meeting with the Taliban.

Uncornered Market

uncornered market

A previous live chat guest of mine, Uncornered Market was the second most recommended blog you told us we should be reading. In what can often seem like a blogosphere of solo travelers, Audrey and Daniel are a couple who’ve been traveling for 12 years together. Their stories are both inspirational and insightful, like How To Travel The World Without Killing Each Other. For more you can get started with Uncornered Market here.

Sophie’s World

sophies world

There are a few things about this blog that make for unique travel stories. In Sophie’s own words:

Sophie’s World is a blog about the world’s curious and often unsung corners. And travel with kids. I (Sophie, that is) write the majority of the articles. But, perhaps unusually for a travel blog, the kids – Alexandra (no longer a kid, really) and Catarina (13) often share their take on things, too.

Turkey’s For Life

turkeysforlife

Barry and Julia who recommended Sophie’s World write Turkey’s For Life, another travel blog you should be reading as well. Julia and Barry recently celebrated their 5th year blogging about Turkey with a Fethiye focus; continuing to make everyone hungry for Turkish life with their recipes, photos, plus stories like this one from New Year’s Eve, in one of the most beautiful places on Earth.

Legal Nomads

Another former live chat guest of mine, Jodi is also the person who let us all know about the Roost Stand for 11″ Macbook Air so many of you emailed me about. Jodi, author of The Food Traveler’s Handbook, quit her job as a corporate lawyer in 2008, eating around the world to our benefit.

The Food Traveler’s HandbookThe Food Traveler’s Handbook (Traveler’s Handbooks)

buy now amazon

That Backpacker

that backpacker

As Audrey describes herself,

I grew up traveling but started doing so seriously when I turned eighteen. Since then I have traveled through Europe on three occasions, backpacked through northern Argentina, gone to India to attend a wedding (where I coincidentally cheated death on a rickshaw thrice in one night and bribed a cop within hours of landing in Mumbai), lived and worked in Korea, and am currently backpacking around South East Asia and wherever the wind blows.

Which Blogs Would You Add To The List Above?

There many more sites readers like Jenna and Yap said were on their short lists that I couldn’t include here. Although I wish these 8 travelers could have had blogs in their day, of all the travel sites you follow, what compels and keeps you coming back to them? Feel free to share links to those sites and your own in the comments below, with upvotes for your favorites already listed.

Ask Photojournalist Romain Carre What It’s Like To Report From Conflict Zones

romain carreI first met Romain Carre when I was traveling in eastern Ukraine, back in April right before civil war broke out in Donetsk. It’s a lot easier for a travel blogger like myself to stay conspicuous with this small camera in my hands but for professionals like Romain, photographing times of turmoil is much more dangerous. In Romain’s own words,

Born in Paris in 1983 I was first was into computers from the age of 10 and changed direction at 20. After different orientations (such as art school, medical school and faculty of history) I decided to orient myself on the field of photojournalism. During five years I’ve covered different fields such as Turkey, Greece, Tunisia, Libya, Denmark, Germany, Spain, Sweden, Ukraine and others, mainly focusing on conflict fields. You can see some of my photography from these places on my site, RomainCarre.com.

Leave your questions for Romain in the comments below, he’ll be by later today to answer anything you want to know!

Romain’s work has been published in Al Jazeera, ParisMatch, VSD, Time, Elle, Le Figaro, Le Monde, le Parisien, Vesti Reporter, and FranceTv – he’s also worked for WostokPress and Sipa Agency. He’s currently in Kiev, Ukraine and will be here live chatting for two hours, from 12pm-2pm US EST to answer any and all questions you have about photographing conflict zones – all in the comments below!

An Interview With The Geneticist Who Overcomes Flight Phobia To Study The World’s Fastest People

yannis Pitsiladis

I first read about Dr. Yannis Pitsiladis MMEDSci., PhD, FACSM in The Sports Gene, a book by David Epstein about what makes super athletes different than the majority of us. Dr. Pitsiladis is a Professor of Sport and Exercise Science at the University of Brighton who has done research on obesity and the detection of doping in athletes but his passion is running. He travels around the world studying the genes and environments of the world’s top runners (often on his own dime) and created the largest known DNA bio-bank from world-class athletes.

the sports geneThe Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance

Additionally, Dr. Pitsiladis must deal with a severe fear of flying before boarding planes to places like Jamaica and Kenya. Dr. Pitsiladis was kind enough to answer a few questions about facing his anxiety to research the fastest people on Earth.

What is the extent of your fear of flying?

I typically have to ingest alcohol to board the flight. I cannot work, especially when there is turbulence. I also have to sit at the window and spend most of the time looking outside even in the dark. I only fly with certain airlines and often choose to drive long distances especially in Africa so as not to take local airlines. As a scientist this makes no sense as I am aware of the data.

How often do you travel and what is an average year like for you?

I travel typically every week of the year.

herb mckenley

[Above: Dr. Pitsiladis with 4-time Olympic medalist Herb McKenley of Jamaica.]

Has all of this flying changed your anxiety, for better or worse?

I go through ups and downs depending on how bad/good the previous experience is but mainly depending on the airline and weather. On a British Airways flight on good weather my anxiety is low. On a Russian airliner in bad weather my anxiety is sky high! My anxiety is also very high when my family travel with me although I do my best to hide it so as not to pass on my fear to them – often without success.

There’s a saying that there is no greater enemy than one’s own fears, what about your research motivates you to overcome yours regularly?

Yes totally. I never let it stop me flying with a few African examples where i will drive 7 hours to avoid a 30 min flight across the Great Rift Valley.

Yannis Pitsiladis

[Above: Dr. Pitsiladis sampling blood in Africa.]

I’m fascinated by descriptions of the Champs [Jamaica’s annual high school sprinting competition] and would like to hear your impressions or favorite memories from the events you’ve attended.

The atmosphere, especially when the victorious school is clear, which is more exciting than an Olympics – even the 100m final day at the Olympics.

Which runner(s) have been the most difficult for you to reach due to travel constraints?

For data protection i cannot answer.

Finally, where are you headed next?

To break the 2 hour marathon barrier…

Thank you again Dr. Pitsiladis for taking the time to share some of your experiences in the air and catching the fleet-footed on the ground. You can read more about Dr. Pitsiladis’ research on why people of east African descent seem to always win marathons, Jamaicans excel at sprinting, plus studies done by others in a fascinating book I highly recommend, The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance.

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About Anil Polat

foxnomad aboutI'm the blogger and computer security engineer who writes foXnoMad while on a journey to visit every country in the world. I'll show you the tips, tricks, and tech you can use to travel smarter. Read More


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