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NileGuide 5 with David Lee of Go Backpacking

NileGuide 5 — By Nicole Lerner on December 16, 2009 at 10:04 am
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This week’s NileGuide 5 interview features blogger David Lee. In his words: “In late 2007, I left my customer service management job of five and a half years at a health insurance company to travel around the world. I spent the following 20 months on the road, visiting the countries I always dreamed of seeing. Along the way, I blogged about my experiences at Go Backpacking, and began an expat blog called Medellin Living after deciding to live in Colombia before returning home. Since I’ve been back in the USA, I turned Go Backpacking into a contribution-based travel blog in an effort to promote other writers, while continuing to inspire people to travel abroad independently. Readers can follow me on Twitter @rtwdave

1. What’s the most underrated destination you’ve been to?

Colombia was the last of 22 countries I visited on my trip around the world, and I couldn’t bring myself to leave the beautiful and friendly city of Medellin. It sits in a valley 1,500 meters above sea level, surrounded by the Andes. The unique geography and proximity to the Equator result in Spring-like temperatures year round. The people are incredibly friendly, and curious about foreigners who visit. The nightlife is exciting and diverse, the cultural heritage rich, and the cost of living low by Western standards. It’s a big city of one million people that feels more like a small village.

The worldwide fears drummed up during the Pablo Escobar years, combined with the FARC’s previous notoriety for kidnappings, kept tourists away for decades. The security has improved greatly in recent years, so if you go now, it can feel as though you’ve found a tropical paradise the world has yet to discover.

2. How do you kill time when you’re stuck on a bus or plane?

I always carry a small MP3 player loaded with my favorite bands. Music is my biggest creature comfort from home. If I’m feeling excited about flying to a new destination, I’ll be listening to energetic rock or punk. If I’m feeling tired or need to calm my nerves, I’ll choose reggae or indie music. I also have a few favorites for whenever I’m feeling homesick.

When I travel for more than a few hours at once, I’ll also pass the time by looking out the windows and reflecting on my experiences, or wondering what adventures lay ahead. I can sleep well on overnight trains, however at best, I reach a semi-unconscious state on buses and planes.

3. What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen or experienced traveling?

Traveling in India is filled with surreal experiences, and at the top of the list for me was the India-Pakistan border crossing ceremony west of Attari in the Amritsar district of Punjab. Every day, crowds of Indians and Pakistanis fill bleachers on their respective sides of the gate that marks the border. Before the actual ceremony begins, an Indian MC pumps up the crowd and brings women into the street below the bleachers for dancing. By comparison, the Pakistani side looked downright austere. Once the ceremony begins, there is a lot of pomp and circumstance, with Indian border guards parading up and down the street. The atmosphere is akin to an American football game, which caught me completely off guard.

4. What’s the first thing you do when you arrive at a new destination?

I usually like to lie down in bed, even if for a few minutes. So often, independent travel requires long hours in uncomfortable positions or situations. Arriving in new countries and cultures, and finding your shelter for the night, can be stressful. A short nap is a great way to let one’s mind and body unwind.

5. If you could give one tip or piece of advice to travelers, what would it be?

Take advantage of the Couchsurfing network to go beyond the hostels and hotels and see your destination from the local perspective. Participation is about much more than having a potentially free place to stay when you travel, it is about cultural exchanges. I’ve been lucky enough to be a guest in 9 different countries, and all of my experiences were wonderful. Hosting travelers can be similarly rewarding.

[Photos: David Lee]

Tags: Colombia, David Lee, Go Backpacking, India, Medellin

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