A Conversation With Gary Arndt, Blogger and Perpetual Traveler
Arndt has been to every U.S. state except South Carolina, every Canadian province except Saskatchewan, every U.S. territory except the U.S. Virgin Islands, every continent except Antarctica, and 86 of the world's 320 countries (as defined by the Travelers' Century Club). Here, he discusses booze cruises, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and his favorite travel app.
What do you say when people ask, "What do you do?"
I tell them I travel around the world, knowing full well that is going to lead to a whole host of other questions. How do you pay for that? Don't you get lonely? What is your favorite place? It is a conversation I enjoy having even though I've had it a million times. What I do is pretty unusual and most people are fascinated by the idea of it.
What new idea or innovation is having the most significant impact on how people are thinking and writing about travel?
I think the answer to that is the same as the answer in almost every part of life: the Internet. What I do wouldn't be possible without the Internet. Most of the flight and hotel booking is all now done by the Internet. Mobile devices are taking this even further by eliminating the need for guidebooks. All the information you need about a location can be found in your pocket.
What's something that most people just don't understand about what you do?
For most average people I meet, they usually ask the questions I outlined above. Paying for it and friends/family are usually the two biggies. Most people think that travel is far more expensive than it really is, and most people have rooted lives, so the idea of always moving is something that is hard for them to relate to.
What's an emerging trend that you think will shake up how people travel?
I have been seeing more and more people take extended trips of several months. I think the economy and a greater realization that stuff isn't going to make you happy has made more people turn to travel. Americans traditionally haven't been a traveling people compared to the Dutch or the British, but I think that is slowly changing.
What's a travel trend that you wish would go away?
I am a big believer that there is no right or wrong way to travel and that any travel is better than no travel. That being said, if party islands in Thailand, all-inclusive spring break drink-fest resorts, and booze cruises went away, I wouldn't complain. I don't begrudge people for having a good time or relaxing when they are on vacation, but there are some spots I've seen that take it way too far and you have to ask why someone spent hundreds or thousands of dollars to travel somewhere just to wind up face down in their (or someone else's) vomit.
What's an idea you became fascinated with while traveling but that ended up taking you off track?
A few times I've gotten obsessed with buildings. Two in particular: the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and the Opera House in Valencia, Spain. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is the holiest building in Christendom, yet it is probably the most dysfunctional place in the world. It is controlled by six different sects, fist fights often break out, and the keys to the building (believe it or not) are held by two Muslim families. There is a ladder above the main doorway that has been there since 1850 because no one can agree to move it. I very much want to write a book about it someday.
Who are three people you'd put in a travel Hall of Fame?
Traveling nowadays is pretty easy. Even though I've seen more of the world than all but a small percentage of the human species, doing in the 21st century really isn't that challenging. Traveling several hundred years ago was totally different. I'll have to go with some people from history:
Ibn Battuta. From 1325 to 1355 he traveled all over North Africa and the Arab world. Zheng He. An admiral of a fleet of exploring ships during the Ming Dynasty, which some believe may have traveled to North America and Europe. Marco Polo. Went from Italy to China and back over 24 years.
These guys make my travels look puny in comparison.
What other field or occupation did you consider going into?
The truth is I've never held a real job. I started my own company a few years out of college, which I sold in 1998. My original intent in college was to go to graduate school in economics and win the Nobel Prize. I kept putting graduate school off until I ended up starting my own business. In hindsight, I'm glad I never got a graduate degree.
What travel website or app most helps you on a daily basis?
Without question my favorite travel app is TripIt. It coordinates all my travel information so I don't have to carry around separate emails and papers about reservations. It also keeps track of all my loyalty programs. TripIt was recently purchased and I'm a bit worried that the company that bought them will screw it up.
What song's been stuck in your head lately?
Something strange that I've discovered is that I associate certain songs with certain places, based on when and where I first heard it. I associate "At The River" by Groove Armada with Queenstown, New Zealand, and "Love Generation" by Bob Sinclare with Easter Island. Lately I've had "Continuum" by Gabriela Montero playing over and over on iTunes.
Image: Courtesy of Gary Arndt