This week’s NileGuide 5 interview features travel writer Leif Pettersen. In 2003, Pettersen was ‘Kramered’ into abandoning a nine-year, idiot-proof career and becoming a homeless traveler writer. He has lived for extended periods in Spain, Romania and Italy (and speaks all three languages in descending order of fluency). Leif has written for over two dozen print and online publications, including Lonely Planet guidebooks and web site features, Global Traveler magazine, Travel Ideas magazine, JUGGLE Magazine, Perceptive Travel web magazine, and most recently, the travel anthology To Myanmar with Love. Killing Batteries is his almost-award winning blog and he tweets from @leifpettersen.
1. What’s the most underrated destination you’ve been to?
My condo. I may be the most well-traveled shut-in the travel writing industry has ever seen. A close second is Burma (Myanmar). I went there in 2005 on a last-second whim and again in 2008. The disgusting politics and gross misinformation about how it’s so “dangerous” (I’ve never felt safer anywhere else in my life) are the only aspects the mainstream media ever covers. But if you go digging through blogs, you’ll see that every single person that visits Burma comes away profoundly affected. The raw beauty, mind-bending sights, fascinating (and wide-ranging) culture, and the total and absolute foreignness of it all hasn’t been matched by anywhere else I’ve seen in 45 countries. Also, Burma is one of the very few places on Earth where I appear to be very tall.
2. How do you kill time when you’re stuck on a bus or plane?
While I was vagabonding-slash-living abroad from 2003 to 2007, almost totally cut off from popular media, I coveted long flights because of the rare opportunity they afforded me to raid the in-flight entertainment for new movies and TV shows. (e.g. “‘The Office’? What the hell is that?”) I’d stay awake for an entire 13 hour flight to cram in all the entertainment possible. If you were marooned in northeast Romania or an abandoned beach village on Sardinia for months at a stretch you would too. These days, I’m back to being a book/magazine person and, in very rare instances, I sleep.
3. What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen or experienced traveling?
How even the meanest, dangerous looking guys in Ireland are disarmingly friendly and polite. More unsettling than strange: barely 15 minutes after arriving in the abandoned beach village on Sardinia that would be my home for five months, during my recon of the neighborhood, I found a bullet on the ground. I briefly wondered if the village wasn’t actually abandoned after all and if instead everyone was just hiding out in their homes, ducking potential cross-fire.
4. What’s the first thing you do when you arrive at a new destination?
I see many people before me in this series have answered ‘shower’, but being that I’m so robustly fragrant, I usually go for a walk to get my bearings and eat a massive meal to facilitate slumber. Then shower.
5. If you could give one tip or piece of advice to travelers, what would it be?
Sh*t is going to go wrong, whether you’re in Albania or Vermont. The sooner you’re able to appreciate these events as legitimate travel experiences rather than setbacks, the better time you’ll have overall. Also, your luxury spa visit isn’t going to be as remotely arresting blog material as the time a monkey pooped in your salad, then stole your camera and threw it in the river.
[Photos: Leif Pettersen]