Today I am able to provide you with a fascinating read. This interview features life in Russia, fantastic blogging and travel advice plus the perfect example of why you should never under estimate driving a car with a manual gear box! Please meet Andrew Walton of AJ Walton’s Escape Velocity.
What is your name?
My name is Andrew Walton.
Which country do you come from/call home?
I was born in Winnipeg, Canada. Right now home is Russia. In a few months it may be in your city!
Are you a backpacker/long term traveller/business traveller/live and work abroad?
I tend to live in one place for 3 months or more, but these stays are often interspersed with overland travel. So full time traveler that’s part backpacking, part living abroad.
How do you fund your travel (savings/work whilst travelling/other)?
When I started out I had almost nothing saved up, I just decided to go and figure out finances along the way. I’ve taught English, done freelance copywriting, translation work, marketing consulting for some large foreign companies trying to break into English-speaking markets – whatever I can offer that someone needs.
I also love barter – I’ve worked on a snail farm and brewery in France, and traded my marketing skills for a new computer (sadly, the notebook I started my journey with was stolen in Malaysia).
I don’t make a dime from travel blogging – so don’t think for a second that’s the only way to fund your adventures abroad.
In fact, there are so many ways to make travel a reality that I put together a quick guide http://ajwalton.com/guide/. My way might not be yours, but yours exists if you’re willing to take the leap.
What is the first trip you remember taking and how old were you?
My family did a lot of cross-Canada car trips when I was young, so it’s hard to pin down the first.
But I clearly remember my first time in Arizona when I was 7. We went to visit my grandparents over Christmas holidays. Even though it has the unfortunate distinction of being the only place I’ve gotten carsick, I love the desert and have been back a number of times since.
Have you been anywhere which turned out to be totally different to how you imagined? If so, how?
Russia – that mysterious giant halfway around the globe that was so often portrayed as the “enemy” growing up – and not just in hockey championships. Veto power in the UN. They were on the “other side” during the Cold War (ok, the USSR but still). I also remember hearing things like how dangerous the metro could be if you visibly wore something valuable. All in all it was one of the few places I originally had no intentions of visiting.
But this is all nonsense. And it’s a shame that we – myself included – let politics and the media color our perception of whole populations. There is such a rich culture and history here if we take the time to engross ourselves with it. But I can’t remember a single time growing up when someone said something good about Russia. So here’s a quick list (this is about people, not governments): Heroic hospitality and support of friends, the valuing of people over money, amazing conversations, delightful language, fascinating history, engaging art & culture, determined & hard working people, banyas (saunas), glorious food, and a huge host of scientific accomplishments that have shaped our globe.
On yeah, and the metro system here is both safe and efficient. Book a ticket.
Have you had any bad experiences whilst travelling?
The only problems I’ve had have been health related, and nothing directly related to travel outside the expected bureaucratic ones.
The worst: A concussion in a car crash in Belgium. I was pretty roughed up for a week or so but everything turned out alright.
Then another time I got horribly sick the night before I was supposed to fly from France to Malaysia. I couldn’t sleep from the dagger in my belly and was hoping that my appendix wasn’t exploding or something. I was worried I wouldn’t be able to get on the plane, as I didn’t otherwise have enough cash to get out of the Schengan Zone before I overstayed.
The family I was staying with hooked me up with some awesome meds that got me to Kuala Lumpur in 1 piece.
In short, my rate of misfortune on the road hasn’t been perceptibly different than back in Winnipeg.
Do you have any funny travel stories?
The time I rented a standard-shift car on Sicily was rather ridiculous, but it takes me about an hour to properly tell.
The short version is that I was traveling with my friend Steph in Italy and we were flying from Rome to Sicily.
We thought it would be a brilliant idea to rent a car and have the freedom to explore the island. However, the only car rentals on Sicily at this time were standard-shift. Well neither of us had ever driven stick before, and in any case only I had a valid license. So what the hell, we went for it.
If anyone ever wants to debate “learn by reading/watching” vs “learn by doing” I’d refer them to the following scene: My, in a hostel in Rome just hours before flying out, pantomiming driving stick with the help of a YouTube video. This was going to take a minor miracle.
I should note at this critical juncture that Steph is the kind of gal who is used to being in charge. She was student president at our University. She’s a real go-getter. And she was going to be a helpless passenger for an untold number of hours on narrow Italian roads coming up soon.
So later, when I finally sat in my shiny as-of-yet undamaged rental car in the airport parking lot, well in the view of the renting station, I could feel the blood pumping through even the tiniest capillaries in my body as I thought, “what if I can’t even get this thing out of the parking lot?”
But my miracle arrived right on time. Somehow, I got out of the parking stall, down the row and through the parking lot’s robotic arm before stalling the car in a smorgasboard of intersections, highway turnoffs, and small Italian side streets.
In short, Murphy’s Law (anything that can go wrong, will) was in full effect those 4 days on Sicily, including a flat tire, an incorrectly-listed hostel that ended up being in some small mountain village, and stalling the car in the single important intersection in that village and causing a wicked traffic jam on the narrow, cobblestone streets. Another minor miracle struck when the hostel owner found us and kindly put me out of my misery, driving our car to his place. Guess all the commotion was hard to miss in a village that doesn’t get much in the way of commotion.
Seriously, this one could go on practically forever.
Steph & I both still consider it 4 of the best days of our lives. It’s almost always the travel story I recount first when the topic comes up.
Which is the worst place you’ve been to and why?
I’m not sure there are bad places. I think it’s up to us to find the good/interesting/valuable in the places we go.
I’m kind of proud to say that Katia and I found “the world’s worst bathroom” just over the Cambodian border. This room was like a piece of modern art. Located in an average enough hotel, it had no door handle, the “lock” was a stick to prop against the door; the normal spray nozzle they use instead of toilet paper was replaced by a garden hose held together by rope; and the toilet had no handle to flush. Plus we had to go get a staff member to light a candle inside as there was no lighting!
Where is your favourite place in the world?
Hawai’i, northern France, and Sicily all make a strong case, but I’ve got to tip my hat to the slopes in the Canadian Rockies. I’ll take that crisp, fresh powder and gorgeous scenery any day.
Do you have a bucket list? If so what is on it?
No formal bucket list. My desires seem to change fairly constantly, but I can share some of the those that don’t seem to quit:
Living in Morocco & Costa Rica; Visiting Peru, Bolivia, Georgia, the countries of central Africa, all the countries ending in -stan, and eventually get to every country on earth. I also plan on learning Mandarin Chinese, Arabic, and Portuguese to compliment my French and Russian.
These are the ones I can say have been more or less constant desires the last few years. Other than that, we’ll see!
Can you imagine life without travel?
Not really, no. My life has been so incredibly enriched by travelling that to forego these experiences is unimaginable to me.
If you were not travelling what would you be doing instead?
I’m not sure if I’d keep up the language learning, which is much less practical in the middle of the Canadian prairie. I’d probably get back into guitar and do a lot more snowboarding. Write more limericks. Life would still be grand, just in different ways.
What is the name of your travel blog and the url?
My blog is called AJ Walton’s Escape Velocity. You can find it at http://ajwalton.com
When did you begin your website?
I bought the URL in July 2013 as a “someday” thing (as it’s my name and all), but it wasn’t until May 2014 that I really started writing for it. At that time it wasn’t a travel blog so much as a lifestyle or personal development blog. I changed my focus to travel and languages when I realized that I really had something valuable to offer in these spheres.
Why do you write (for money/connecting with people/therapeutic/fun)?
I don’t make a dime from my travel writing. I get something even more valuable: amazing connections.
For starters, with other travelers and travel bloggers – people who see the world through a similar lens, people I can help and who can help me make the most of our collective travel experiences. Also useful connections on the career-development front.
Next, to connect with people who I haven’t yet met. I can make a CouchSurfing or house-sitting request stand out because I have a relatively popular travel blog. I can use this in my resume, whether I’m looking for a marketing gig or travel related gig. I can garner trust and interest before “hello”. That’s powerful.
Finally, a big audience means bigger impact. Part of my mission in life and with this blog is to empower others. Right now I have a second blog that’s about personal development and lifestyle design called “Cracking The Happiness Code”. All profits from it go to charity. In the future, I hope to use my travel blog for the greater good, even if I don’t know what that looks like yet.
What makes your site so unique and why should people read it?
I supply the “how” to your “what.”
Want to travel but don’t have money? I’ll show you how – starting with my 17k word guide How to Travel the World on Any Budget.
Want to learn a foreign language but don’t know how to spend your limited study hours? I’ll show you how to memorize and recall 100 new words a day.
Want to start an English teaching business, get hired at an 8-figure international startup, or otherwise grow your career-without-borders? I do that too.
If you’re looking for a hotel or restaurant recommendation, I’m not your guy. I can’t outdo TripAdvisor, and I’m not interested in telling anyone what will constitute their dream trip. But I’m very interested in making sure you have all the tools you need to take it. And I aim to make my material the best in the world on that account.
Do you have any products or services to offer?
I do marketing consulting and specialize in SEO, organically growing traffic, and conversion optimization. For travel bloggers I’m happy to trade marketing advice for a backlink.
I’m working on a guide for my system to memorize & recall 100 new words a day, but it probably won’t be ready for a long time. If you’ve seen the detail on my free material…let’s just say the paid stuff will be crazy detailed and killer effective.
What has been your most successful blog post to date and what was it about?
My 17,000+ word guide “How To Travel The World On Any Budget” is easily my most successful piece. It basically put me on the map in a niche I was new to.
I basically was starting with fresh social media accounts and a new email list when this post went live, and now I have over 1600 total followers, 150+ email subscribers, new backlinks, a ton of new travel blogging friends.
This is harder to measure, but I hope that this post has helped me establish myself as a bit of an authority, even if I’m rather late to the travel blogging party.
The piece has 16 sections and covers all the techniques I have used (or was aware about) to make long-term, sustainable travel possible. It definitely has a slant towards solving the money aspect of long-term travel. All said, there’s something like 160 different resources in there!
What is your favourite mode of transport? (plane/train/boat/car)
I’ve gotta tip my hat to the train. I don’t find it the most comfortable, nor the quickest, nor the most economical option. But to me it’s the most elegant idea, and I think the future of train technology will see it once again become the low-cost, high-speed transportation mode of choice and really make travel accessible to pretty much everyone, wherever the necessary infrastructure is in place.
Do you think travelers should learn an additional language?
English is definitely sufficient in today’s world. You can go almost anywhere with just English. And thanks to body language, in most cases you can get what you need even with no formal language at all.
However, I think travelers should learn an additional language. I think it shows respect, breeds understanding, plus it’s a great mental exercise. Anyway, with good methodology you can be functional in any language in a matter of months, and what I’d call functionally fluent in half a year, maybe less.
What about traveling as a couple. What advice can you give?
I started traveling alone, but it didn’t stay that way. I’ve been on the road with Katia for over a year. It’s not always easy balancing the tastes of 2 different people. Especially when you’re in almost-constant contact.
The best thing I can suggest is what I’d suggest to any couple, whether or not they travel: You, and you alone are responsible for your happiness and wellbeing. Your partner isn’t there to solve your problems or make you happy. Do this, and relationships will be easy.
A lot of successful couple have roles that they created together. Maybe one person books hotels and the other plans routes. Keep the lines of communication and remember to have fun together!
Do you have any advice or tips for aspiring travellers?
- Travel slowly. Really see a place before moving on.
- Don’t fear missing out. You’ll never see it all anyway, so don’t try. Go to the places that excite you, places that challenge you. And go to a few places you don’t think you’ll like. You might just surprise yourself.
- Keep a roll of Toilet Paper in your backpack.
What has travel taught you?
- People everywhere want pretty much the same things, and aren’t so different than you and I. Most people are decent and helpful. The media would have us make enemies of each other. Travel can repair these wounds.
- Richness is experience, not money or objects.
- Most importantly – if you’re so lucky as to have power, wealth, and opportunity on your side, then use it to help those who don’t – and help them get it. I talk more about this in “The Real Reason You Should Be Blogging”
Quick fire questions:
Favourite airline? Turkish Air
Favourite country? Russia
Favourite city? New York
Favourite beach? Puakau, Hawai’i (Big Island)
Favourite food? Chicken with fried potatoes and eggs, northern France
Favourite language? Russian
Please provide the following:-
Website url? http://ajwalton.com
Twitter handle? @AJWaltonTravel
Facebook page? http://facebook.com/ajwaltontravel
Google+ profile/page? https://plus.google.com/u/0/+AjwaltonTravel/