If you could spend a life on the road travelling and work in a library which one would you choose? Well Chris Backe of One Weird Globe chose the former and here is his story.
What is your name?
Chris Backe (my wife is Laura)
Which country do you come from/call home?
I’m from the US, and am currently living in Thailand.
Are you a backpacker/long term traveller/business traveller/live and work abroad?
Call my wife and I ‘slow nomads’ – we met in South Korea, got married in a Seoul park, lived in Bangkok for about 6 months, and have since traveled to several other southeast Asian countries. When traveling we don the backpacks and aim for value on the way to what’s out there.
How do you fund your travel (savings/work whilst travelling/other)?
I started by teaching English in South Korea in 2008. That worked pretty well for about five years. When we moved to Thailand in March 2013, I kept up the blog in addition to freelance writing along with the occasional photography gig. Beyond that, book royalties brings in some money as well, and I’m working on a self-publishing business right now.
What is the first trip you remember taking and how old were you?
We went camping as a family occasionally – the perfect place for a ten-year-old to go biking and see the stars… My dad gave me one of those one-time-use cameras, which planted a photography bug as well…
Have you been anywhere which turned out to be totally different to how you imagined? If so, how?
I guess Bangkok was a bit surprising, in both good and bad ways. It’s a lot hotter than you think it’ll be, and you really do have to watch what’s going on around you more than you think. There’s also quite a bit to see and do around the town, which is one reason why the next itineraries I’m putting together will be around Bangkok and central Thailand.
Have you had any bad experiences whilst travelling?
I’ve been ripped off a few times by cab drivers – the first time was after the subway shut down in Seoul. After midnight (at the time), your only way to get home after the subway closed was a taxi driver – and when demand exceeds supply, good luck getting them to use the meter.
The worst experience was just the most tedious – the bus connecting Vientiane to Luang Prabang in Laos. The best case scenario is a 12-hour trip, up mountains and around endless curves. The bus broke down at a rest stop, which meant a 30-minute lunch break turned into a four-hour stop. Somewhere near Luang Prabang, we came to another stop – a tree fell across the road, and a dozen people were hacking away at it with machetes (where did those come from?, I wondered)… We arrived after midnight, and reluctantly took the tuk-tuk to the guesthouse area. Needless to say, we flew back – a first-world experience that ended up being a bit more expensive but a LOT more comfortable.
For the most part, though, I’ve been pretty lucky. We’ve gotten lost a few times, and taken some long rides out to places that didn’t exist anymore…
Do you have any funny travel stories?
TONS! There was the possibly-brain-damaged taxi driver who managed to go the exact opposite way we told him to go for nearly half an hour… He knew a shortcut, he said, before getting on the highway out of town.
There’s a bunch of times when we’ve found ourselves trying to reach places the locals have never heard of… Every so often I’ve found myself giving directions to locals – no one story comes to mind, but after five years around Seoul I was definitely qualified to give directions…
As my wife and I travel, we come across all sorts of Konglish and Thailish (call it Engrish if you want) – one reason I enjoy highlighting them on the blog.
Which is the worst place you’ve been to and why?
There are a bunch of places I’ve skipped or passed on just because they were so mainstream… The worst place I’ve been has to be the Gimpo Tea Etiquette Museum. It was the sort of place that sounded right up my alley – weird, off-the-beaten-path, and rarely visited by tourists. After taking a subway ride and two different buses, I saw why it was so rarely visited… I discovered the museum was locked – not the thing you want to see after 1 ½ hours of traveling – but eventually found the manager, who lived behind the museum. She was nice enough to show me around the dusty museum, which had almost no English explanations… After 10 minutes, I had taken enough pictures and politely excused myself.
Another place we just went to recently was Sukhothai in north-central Thailand. The city’s main (and basically only) attraction is a UNESCO heritage site of the old city. Since it’s where everyone goes, it’s ripe for rip offs – we actually figured it was more expensive to take in this place than Angkor Wat (which itself is overpriced)…
Where is your favourite place in the world?
It’s hard to beat Chiang Mai, Thailand. Clean, cheap, laid back, plenty to see and do around town. It’s sort of a shame most tourists only visit for a few days or a week at most – the place really grows on you over time. I’ve lived here for about six months, and am only reluctantly moving on to continue research for my next book (about weird destinations in Thailand)
Do you have a bucket list? If so what is on it?
Not one that’s on paper. There’s just the idea to continue traveling as long as I can, slowly, and learning about the country like a local.
Can you imagine life without travel?
No – I can’t imagine how my life would have been had I chose to become a librarian full-time instead of teaching English in Korea. I definitely wouldn’t have met my wife, and we definitely wouldn’t be living the life we do.
If you were not travelling what would you be doing instead?
For all I know, I might still be teaching computer classes and being a librarian! I’d love to think there would have been another opportunity to travel or get out of the US, but I shudder to think how… normal… things might have been.
What is the name of your travel blog and the url?
It’s called One Weird Globe – www.oneweirdglobe.com – and was called Chris in South Korea from March 2008 to mid-2013. After moving to Thailand and taking trips around southeast Asia, I realized I needed a broader name.
When did you begin your website?
I first started the blog in December 2007 as a way to keep in touch with friends and family I was about to leave behind.
Why do you write (for money/connecting with people/therapeutic/fun)?
On some level, it helps me remember where I’ve been. It does make a bit of money, and it’s definitely a platform for a number of projects.
What makes your site so unique and why should people read it?
I focus on off-the-beaten-path places – places where tourists haven’t heard about or places where there’s something weird to see. The focus shifts slightly to life as an expat in some posts, or life in the country where I’m currently staying, but the majority of posts are about the places to visit for yourselves.
Do you have any products or services to offer?
I’ve written a number of itineraries and books for traveling around Korea, Thailand, Laos… The list will continue to grow! If you’re coming to Korea or Thailand, I can even put together a customized itinerary based around your interests and when you’re traveling.
What are you working on right now, or what will your next product be?
The next big book will cover Thailand’s oddball, bizarre destinations – and thus far Thailand is even weirder than Korea was! From temples displaying Buddhist hell to sheep farms, there will be more than 100 places featured. I’m still researching it, but have set a tentative publishing date of July 2015.
What has been your most successful blog post to date and what was it about?
In terms of hits, ‘8 reasons Korean women go for Western men’. The dozens of comments led to another 8 reasons why Korean women go for Western men.
What is your favourite type of post to write?
I love telling people about a new or undiscovered sort of place, and then putting together the details for people to get there themselves. Not everyone’s in a position to go, of course, but there’s plenty of pictures for those who travel vicariously.
What is your favourite mode of transport? (plane/train/boat/car)
I loved Korean trains, but for getting off-the-beaten-path, a rented scooter is tough to beat.
Do you have any advice or tips for aspiring travellers?
Start! Discover what works for you, and sometimes, make it up as you go along. Find ways to get where you’re trying to go. Promote yourself wherever you can, without being too spammy about it. People have found my blog in more ways than I’ll ever know about.
Also, if you’re looking for it to make money while you sleep, start developing products and services or sign up for affiliate programs.
What has travel taught you?
Plenty, though it’s hard to point to something specific. I’ve learned not to judge or assume something without considering the local culture, circumstances, motivations…
Quick fire questions:-
Favourite airline? The cheapest – Nokair does a fine job for short flights in and around Thailand.
Favourite country? Korea. Thailand’s a close second.
Favourite city? Seoul. Wait! Chiang Mai, Thailand! Ergh. They’re really close.
Favourite beach? Don’t have one.
Favourite food? Hard to beat a good pizza.
Favourite language? English!
Please provide the following:-
Website url? www.oneweirdglobe.com
Facebook page? http://facebook.com/oneweirdglobe
Google+ profile/page? Plus.google.com/+OneWeirdGlobe