World traveler Justin Schmidt makes a grand source or international travel tips and tales. The exceptional blogger takes the airline industry to task, advises on where to find Hipster-free bars and cafes throughout the Phoenix Valley, and takes us along for rather unusual travel activities. After being blog buddies for several months, I was fortunate to meet him earlier this year when visiting Tempe where his blog came in handy.
Let’s see what makes this quirky traveler tick and dig deeper into the mentality of yet another world traveler.
What’s your travel theme?
Getting there is half the fun. “Relaxation” doesn’t always mean a lazy day on beach. Boiled silkworm larvae are not tasty, but it’s fun to tell people you ate them.
What travel stickers are on your suitcase?
Australia, Belize, Costa Rica, Canada, Iceland, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea. These days, I’m getting about 16 days out of each major foreign trip. I manage a few 5-day jaunts around the States. Portland, Ore., was the last one — what a cool city!
How much do you plan?
We leave some room for spontaneity. One of the cool things about outdoorsy countries is that you can, if you must, sleep in a tent. The Scandinavian/Nordic countries (and some in the UK) have this concept of “freedom to roam” that is just so … civilized, so right. In essence, put your tent up anywhere that’s not fenced off or where it would hurt the environment.
Generally, I am the transportation planner. Sarah, my wife, specializes in hotels and activities. The spontaneity is critical because there are so many cool things that guide books don’t convey with enough power. South Korea, for example, has these spas that are mind-blowing. There’s a place in Busan called Spa Land that absolutely blows my mind. If I had anything like it here, it would increase my quality of life threefold.
Experienced travelers know to travel according to activities they like. For instance, I seek out architecture, textiles, art galleries and museums, and spending hours observing people at cafes. You do unusual things when you travel– marathons, guitar shopping, searching out uniquely flavored beers and coffee. How do you work that into your travels?
My game plan is to figure out a few “signature” activities– usually a hike or a run (though in the case of my upcoming trip to Finland, a concert is one of the main events). Then we plan around those destinations and fill in gaps based on what’s geographically feasible. Volcanoes and glaciers are huge on my list! The Iceland trip, for example, revolved around a hike in Landmannalaugar, a glacier hike at Skaftafell, and a visit to Dimmu Borgir. We left a hole for the Iceland Phallological Museum.
South Korea and Japan were very urban countries, so the activity game plan was much more skeletal. With Tokyo, though, it was an absolute must to have a reunion with my high school buddy who lives there and married a Japanese woman. God, did we have fun catching up!
Tell us about the Norwegian run. Was that was cinched the deal in terms of determining that’s where to go next?
It was almost an afterthought. Sarah (who roped me into running about 10 years ago) found it after I booked flights to and from Sweden. She had me at “run above the Arctic Circle.” We didn’t even know about it when we started thinking about Scandinavia. To be honest, I have a soft spot for female-fronted heavy metal bands: I wanted to see Nightwish in their natural habitat. That’s what got the Scandinavia ball rolling.
You love planes and write often about the airline industry. How much of that plane-ophilia played a role in your wanderlust?
I went for a long spell without any major travel. When I graduated from college, I was practically living like an animal: Work, eat, sleep, repeat. It was really my then-wife-to-be who got me to look up and around. And I remember being at a major intercontinental hub as an adult for the first time, and just feeling the electricity in the air of people going all over the world. I saw a certain beauty in the aircraft, too. There’s a grandeur about them … and just think for a moment how far they travel, and to how many different places. The plane-ophilia plays a role in picking routes and destinations, for sure. I love flying foreign airlines since it’s often my first introduction to a foreign culture. And it’s fun to fly aircraft types I haven’t been on before. I can’t wait to fly in a 787.
How do you think wanderlust originates: nature or nurture? Did you parents travel a lot when you were growing up?
Such a good question! I think it varies– I’m not from a real traveling family at all. My first trip abroad was to Germany at age 5. I still remind my brothers– who are 8 and 12 years older– of things we did on the trip. But I didn’t go abroad again until I was 27. My family years were mostly just domestic trips.
Every person is one life-changing experience away from being a traveler. It just takes one “I can’t believe where I am” moment to feel that travel is essential to the human experience. I’ve had friends who don’t travel harp on about the obstacles of travel and how everything they want is in the U.S. I can tell you, they’d feel foolish for saying that if they just experienced something new with an open mind.
A lot of parents fret too much to encourage kids (like late teens) to travel solo. I had a few ideas for what airlines could do to encourage the next generation of travelers. I’d love to see any of them happen!
Find Justin chasing the promise of glaciers and volcanoes … or a good sauna. Get inside his head – and his backpack – by visiting his blog. It’s always a bevvy of international travel tips and tales.