Last week, I started a conversation with Hardie Karges, the man who wrote a book about traveling through 100 countries in two years — Hypertravel. Yep, that’s pretty hyper. A damn lot of countries. Obviously, I had a lot of questions for him. In fact, I rambled on so long, I had to do the interview as a two-parter. Hardie’s chock full of interesting information and has no shortage of opinions on the destinations he ventures through. Today we’re chatting a bit about how to make such a trip happen, and we’re talking more details about the book itself. Welcome back, Hardie!
Q. 100 countries is a lot of travel! How did you manage to fund such an epic trip? Do you have any suggestions for the rest of us that would like to afford travel?
A. I think anything I do as a traveler can be done by anyone, certainly, but it might take you thirty or forty years, as it has me. Of course you need the free time and freedom from other commitments, so that’s the main reason my trips were all broken into two-month segments, to try to maintain a healthy relationship with my wife. So that drove my costs up maybe 20%. Otherwise I’d have gone back-and-forth to London the entire time. London and Paris are definitely the cheapest places in the world from which to see the rest. But the most important thing is to avoid paying rent here while traveling there; that’s half the cost right there. And then hopefully you have or can pick up some work along the way. I spent probably $50,000 for travel over the whole two-year period, everything included: flights, buses, rooms and food. How much does it cost to live in LA, London or Paris for two years? I won’t even mention New York. Hostels help a lot, that and budget airlines. I pretty much avoid fancy restaurants. That’s a real budget-killer, and I’d rather eat where locals eat anyway, that and self-cater, which is the healthiest option, also.
Q. What advice would you give to a traveler just starting out that would like to follow in your footsteps (or at least take an extended trip)?
A. Take baby steps to start with. Start with Canada, the UK or the Caribbean, maybe Mexico or Guatemala if you’re linguistically adventurous. Get used to the system and the feel of travel, then take it from there. It’s a great time to travel Europe right now, with all the budget airlines and the Euro currency at a decent rate. East Europe is especially nice and still relatively inexpensive, and the English language will suffice in most of the heavily touristed areas.
Q. Were there any countries that were terribly hard to visit or ridiculously expensive? Which country was your biggest obstacle?
A. Of the countries included here [in his book], Iran is normally an obstacle, but I went to Kish Island which is the exception, due to its special tourist status. Actually Suriname may have been the most difficult simply because few airlines fly there, and the land connections are so bad. I got stuck there when the road to the Guyana ferry washed out, and I had to catch a last-minute flight to Trinidad on Air Caribe to re-connect with an already scheduled itinerary on LIAT Airline. But Russia is the worst for visa hassles, expensive too, hardly worth it unless you want to ride the Trans-Siberia train. Ukraine is much easier if you simply want a taste of the old USSR. Belorussia is one of only two European countries that I have yet to visit.
Q. What was your experience once you completed your goal? How did such a large amount of travel in a short time impact you?
A. Tired, tired, tired — at the twenty-month point, that is, before I took a three-month break and then one more trip in this series. I should have taken the three-month break a few months earlier, but there were circumstances beyond my control. As I explain in the book, my wife and I were going through some adjustments to our situation, and this period of travel was part of the transition. It took a while to get back on the same page.
Q. How do you feel about the experience of writing a book about your travels? Did the act of writing a book change the way you viewed your travels?
A. If I had planned the book BEFORE the travel, or even AFTER, then it would have been different, or it may not have happened at all. As it happened, I decided to blog it as I went — I’d been writing a mixed blog of travel, music and random musings for a year, and those blogs became the book. So it wasn’t really ABOUT the travel, as much as it actually WAS the travel. So the book itself was mostly a work of editing, getting some 200,000 words down to 135,000. That’s a lot.
I hope it doesn’t change the way I view my travels, though maybe in the same sense as studying film changed the way I view films. If I start provoking incidents just to have something to write about, then there’s a problem, not to mention the possibility of outright fraud — witness Greg Mortenson. If there’s a Hell, then there will probably be no problem finding a travel writer to guide you there. But I don’t think that’s my problem. I hope not.
Q. What can a reader expect from your book? How might it impact or help them?
A. What readers can expect is a mixed travel guide/narrative. I hope my readers get a feel for the places involved. I hope they laugh when I laugh and cry when I cry. But most of all I hope they get a sense of awe and wonder — not at my book, but at the world itself, in all its history and diversity — and an expanded sense of what their trips can be. If they’re not yet travelers, then I hope they’ll feel empowered to get on the plane.
Q. If you could sum up your travel philosophy in a few sentences, what would you say?
A. I can probably sum up my travel philosophy in a few words: travel widely and travel wisely. No offense to Ricky Gervais, but “Idiot Abroad” is not a concept that I find inspiring. And there are travelers out there who still act like “ugly Americans,” so that’s not good. Be polite and sensitive to other cultures.
I think that sums it up perfectly. Good advice, Hardie. Be polite and sensitive to other cultures. In so many ways, it really is just that simple. Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me! I’ve definitely learned something here. And for those of you that would like to grab a copy of Hardie’s book, Hypertravel is available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle. You can even grab a PDF version off his website for 5 bucks. Happy traveling, all!