In this week’s ¨Who’s Out There Now¨ feature, we bring to you Toby and David, who runs the travel site, Global-Encounter. After meeting on Twitter, I had these guys join us for the 2011 Austin Meet Plan Go event, and they were a hit. The next day I had the honor having coffee and pancakes with them. One’s an IT VP and the other is a Director of a kids summer camp. Together they are pushing the boundaries of what a career break can be. They are mixing travel and volunteering with hundreds of kids around the world, helping to educate a new generation about what the world is like. Check them out!
1. So, where in the world are you answering these questions?
We’re in Bangkok, Thailand at the moment and will be heading to Nepal April 17.
2. You guys got the year off to a good start by hitting the road immediately to New Zealand. Do you feel cheated that by crossing the date line, you lost a day right off the bat?
Initially we definitely did! Our plane took off on December 31st and didn’t land until January 2nd, and spending New Year’s in the air with Fiji’s national airline was an experience. But after thinking it through further, we realized that we would slowly gain that lost day back one hour at a time as we headed westward. So it all works out in the end!
3. Tell me more about your educational program and how you connect with the kids.
We call it the Global Encounter Experience, and right now there are more than 1,500 elementary kids following us from the States. Before we left, we put together a workbook that follows our itinerary; each of the 26 countries we’re planning to visit was given four pages of fun activities and questions, and we also have a special website that allows the kids to interact with us as we travel. Additionally, we have integrated an international treasure hunt as a part of the experience, requiring students to help solve clues and riddles that not only teach them about other countries but help us find the “Lost Treasure of Siam.” We’ve now had three live broadcasts and tons of positive feedback from the teachers involved.
4. What’s the funniest question you’ve received from the kids so far?
Before we left on the trip, we visited several of the elementary schools that were gong to be involved to meet the kids and get them excited about the journey. One little guy in sixth grade asked us with a perfectly straight face, “If you’re traveling for so long with only each other, what do you do when you get tired of the other person?” We had to laugh at the reality of such a question, and although traveling hasn’t been with out its occasional stresses, there have been no falling-outs so far.
5. You’ve been vlogging (video blogging) instead of writing about your adventure.
Yes, early on we agreed that video blogging would be a fun challenge for the trip. We’ve tried the blogging thing, but we really wanted people to feel like they were along on the journey with us from back home. It’s posed some interesting difficulties, like trying to find reliable internet for uploads, editing video on the go, and trying to keep up with a fair bit of equipment. But so far so good! We’re more than three months in, and now there’s more than 30 videos up on our site.
6. Career break, nomadic adventure, backpacking, how do you characterize your trips?
All of the above and more. Variety has been key to keeping the trip interesting–some legs of the trip we’ve focused on trekking (New Zealand, China, and next Nepal), others we’ve spent time on beaches (Australia, Vietnam, and Sri Lanka), and now we’re wrapping up a month in Thailand visiting a friend from college. Plus, with the education component, there’s really no one way to characterize everything we’re trying to accomplish while we travel.
7. What are some of the secrets to travel that you’ve discovered that you think more people who aren’t traveling should know?
Well, if you haven’t already, you should tune in to the Global Encounter Facebook page (www.facebook.com/gencounter) and watch Travel Tips with Toby. In three videos he’s pointed out some pretty nifty tips for the un-savvy traveler, and they’re good for a few laughs too. However, for those traveling to Asia, we highly recommend traveling with bed bug spray (available on Amazon) or having a cheap silk “sleep sheet” made. The other tip we would mention is that it’s okay to travel without having every single thing planned out. We rarely book hotels more than a few days in advance, and finding rooms, buses, and activities nearly always takes care of itself. Plus, that way you’re not locked into something you no longer want to do when you arrive at a destination!
8. What was your first ¨We’re not in Kansas anymore¨ moment on this trip?
New Zealand and Australia were pretty Western countries, so it wasn’t until we arrived in China that we had one of those moments. We were hiking across the Dragon’s Backbone Terraces in Guangxi Province and at one little guesthouse, we decided to be bold and ordered the most expensive dish on the menu: bamboo chicken for about ten dollars. We had no idea what to expect, but we were literally each served a large bamboo shoot that had been grilled. Inside the bamboo, the full body of a chicken had been chopped up into bits and cooked–head, feet, bones and all. At one point, Toby put his fork into the dish to eat a bite, and as he pressed on the piece, an eyeball popped out! It was the head and he didn’t even know it. To make things worse, the owners were so excited about serving it to us, they stood by and watched us eat every bite. There was no escape!
9. What’s been your most ¨local¨ experience so far?
We actually gave Couchsurfing a try during our time in Australia and had some really great experiences. Both families we stayed with cooked for us, took us around to see local attractions, and gave us deep insight into local life. One great example is that we just happened to time our stay with Australia Day (the July 4th equivalent), and because we were with locals, we were treated to an amazing midnight fireworks show that we would have otherwise never known about.
10. What has been your most embarrassing moment?
As we’ve traveled through Asia, when people have asked where we are from, we’ve always said “Texas,” hoping to spark some excitement about our state. Inevitably, every time people respond with blank stares until we concede and tell them that Texas is in the USA and try to describe where. So, when we were visiting Angkor Wat in Cambodia, one sweet Asian woman offered to take our picture at one of the sites. She spoke pretty good English, though with a fairly strong accent, and when she asked where we were from, David responded with Texas. Based on the aforementioned pattern, when we got a blank stare from her, David proceeded to explain that Texas was a state in the US. The lady cut him off, offended that he had assumed her ignorance, and said, “Oh I know where Texas is. I’ve been practicing medicine in Boston for fifteen years.” Her accent gone, she then chastised David for his sunburn noting that she was a dermatologist!
11. What’s your secret for getting the most out of your journey
- Get a good mix of traveling quickly and traveling slowly. Sometimes you just have to get to the sights and stay on the move, but don’t make that the entire trip.
- Know your limits. It’s ok to miss a few things and take it at an easy pace.
- Don’t be too luxurious on your travels. You miss out on local culture. Take the trains and eat at local spots.
12. Finally, our lightening round.
- Best dish you’ve found so far: We’ve been staying with South African friends in Bangkok, so the best dish was a South African one they prepared for us called: Babotie
- Most exotic food eaten: Definitely the bamboo chicken
- Most breathtaking moment: So far, McKinnon Pass on the Milford Track in New Zealand
- Biggest disappointment: China’s pollution and second-hand smoke
- Most memorable place: Perhaps Sri Lanka? Impossible to really say!
- Most memorable person: Our tour guide for the Great Wall. She thought we were the greatest people ever and ended our day with her declaring that we would “forever be in her heart.” We still quote some of her infamous one liners!
- Best thing to have on a long bus ride: Noise-canceling headphones
- Worst thing to have on a long bus ride: A bad meal in you belly
- Funniest travel habit the other has:
- Best thing you packed: Our kindles
You can follow David and Toby online at Global-Encounter, on Facebook, and on Twitter @gencounter.
Every week (more or less), Career Break Secrets profiles a different traveler or traveling couple who are embracing the ¨Because Life Is Out There TM¨ travel spirit. These are people who have taken the plunge to embark on a career break and are currently traveling the world.
Tags: Who´s Out There Now