Who’s Out There Now? Michael

Written By: jeff

Posted On: October 25th, 2011

career break travel in China,

Michael and one of his students in China. Copyright ArtofBackpacking.com

In this week’s ¨Who’s Out There Now¨ feature, we bring to you Michael, running the popular travel site, Art of Backpacking. I first met Michael at the big travel blogger conference, TBEX, in 2010 in New York. He’s just returned to the US from China, where he spent the past year teaching.

1. So, where in the world are you answering these questions?

I’m in the outbacks of Pennsylvania, USA. Not the most exciting place in the world but I’m here to visit family before continuing my journey through South America. My backyard is filled with deer and bears. Definitely in the middle of nowhere. Just kicking back and relaxing a bit and catching up with other projects.

2. How did you come up for the name of the site? Don’t we have backpacking around the world down to a science by now?

I’m not really sure how I came up with the name. It was pretty random. I liked the abbreviation of AOB. Just seemed easy to remember. It started as an inspiration to my family and friends that what I was about to do wasn’t as crazy as it sounds. I didn’t know anyone else that had ever backpacked among my group of friends in New Jersey and New York City. Things just started picking up as I continued to get more involved in the world of blogging.

career break travel in China, great wall of China

Michael at the Great Wall of China. Copyright ArtofBackpacking.com

3. How was your experience teaching (and living) in China different than traveling around the world with a backpack (and no job)?

It was definitely different. I had been to China before when I backpacked through it for a month. I went back because I loved it so much and wanted to learn more about the culture. I had a very different experience the second time. I was able to fully understand the culture and even learn the language in the year I was there. I like to think of backpacking as a quick glimpse of different parts of the world. Once I find something I like, I stay awhile.

4. I got the sense reading ¨Things I’ll Miss About China¨ that your experience was mixed. Or, was it just the administration that got under your skin?

In some ways, their culture is the complete opposite to mine. What seemed common sense to me, never comes across their mind. This can get frustrating. Administration always seemed unorganized. Out on the streets, traffic lights are decorations. It didn’t bother anyone else though. Everything I was complaining about, they couldn’t understand why I would be upset about it. I learned to take things as they went and that most of what I was complaining about was because of the cultural differences. Eventually I adapted so well that I preferred some of their habits over mine. It also doesn’t help that even in a city of 9 million, it’s still considered a small city. It’s a fight for survival and things can get pretty hectic sometimes. Cars cut each other off, line cutting, pushing and shoving are just all normal day-to-day activities. My days were never boring.

4. Career break, nomadic adventure, backpacking, how do you characterize your trips?

I’m not sure I could characterize it. Sometimes I’ll live somewhere, sometimes I’ll backpack, heck sometimes I’ll even stay in a nice hotel. My trips are just me traveling. Backpacking to me is just about carrying less and spending money on adventures instead of fancy resorts.

career break travel in Uruguay

Getting ready to ride in Uruguay. Copyright ArtofBackpacking.com

5. What are some of the secrets to travel that you’ve discovered that you think more people who aren’t traveling should know?  

It’s a lot cheaper than you think! Even if you can’t afford the biggest expense of a plane ticket, it’s actually quite easy to get free rides by earning miles. Earn those rewards and stack them up. You don’t have to spend any more money than you normally would. Your current credit card could already have a reward program. Even my local grocery store has reward points that work with One Pass Rewards (United/Continental). My mother does her usual shopping and I get the rewards!

6. What was your first ¨I’m not in Kansas anymore¨ moment?

My first destination was Beijing, China over two years ago. It didn’t take me long to have that moment. I think it was my third day or so in when I ate fried scorpion on a stick. It hit me right there and then.

7. What’s been your most ¨local¨ experience so far?

Definitely when I lived in China. Out of the thousands of students and residents in the area, there were only 7 foreigners. I got stared at everywhere I went. It seemed the entire school knew who I was. The attention was overwhelming but nice and friendly. They always had good intentions. I was often invited to go out to eat and my cell phone rang at least five times a day. It was the most popular I have ever been.

My second most “local” experience was in Bangkok. I was on a train ride from Chang Mai to Bangkok and there was an a Thai guy in his 60′s sitting across from me. He had very limited English but we were able to communicate some basic phrases. Then he invites me to his apartment in Bangkok and to tour me around. He introduces me to his wife and they allow me to take a shower and even serve me some tea. Then they tell me the apartment is just a second home and actually they have a mansion about 30 minutes away. I went for it and suddenly I’m in the suburbs of Bangkok in a huge house. I ended up staying there for a few days. We went to the markets often and they cooked wonderful home-cooked food. It was an amazing experience.

career break travel in Bolivia

Having fun in the salt flats of Uyuni in Bolivia. Copyright ArtofBackpacking.com

8. What has been your most embarrassing moment?

I drank too much “Goon” (boxed wine) in Sydney, Australia. I was in a small two bedroom hostel dorm. I was the only one in the dorm room. I woke up in the middle of the night puking all over the carpet floor. I didn’t think anyone was going to check-in so I fell back asleep without cleaning it. I was wrong. Someone ends up coming in and I woke up but laid there pretending to sleep. The room smelled horribly. Within five minutes, she left and never came back. It was really embarrassing to tell the front desk to clean it up. I lied and said I had a stomach virus.

9. What’s your secret for getting the most out of your journey?

Never plan too far ahead and being as open as possible for any changes in the journey.

10. Finally, our lightening round. 

  • Best dish you’ve found so far – Tang Cu Li Ji – Sweet and Sour Pork in China
  • Most exotic food eaten – Bite the heart out of a live beating cobra.
  • Most breathtaking moment – Salt Flats in Uyuni, Bolivia
  • Biggest disappointment – Cambodia as a whole
  • Most memorable place – Xi’an, China
  • Most memorable person – The children of the village I volunteered at in northern Argentina.
  • Best thing to have on a long bus ride – Sleeping pills
  • Worst thing to have on a long bus ride – Diarrhea
  • Best thing you packed – Hydration salts (when I remember to actually pack them)
  • Dumbest thing you packed – String. When would I ever need string?
  • Funniest travel habit you have- I’m an adventurous eater. Fertilized duck egg, biting a live snake heart, scorpions, and more. It just excites me for some reason.
  • Place you wish you could’ve stayed longer - Vietnam. I was there for a month and I wanted to stay for longer. The food was so delicious and I loved the culture.

You can follow Michael at Art of Backpacking.  on Facebook and on Twitter @ArtofBackpackin

Every week, 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.  

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