This week’s NileGuide 5 interview features Benji Lanyado, a 25-year old travel journalist for the Guardian and the New York Times. He also dabbles in football writing for the NYT and ponders upon the media on his blog. He can be found on Twitter @benjilanyado. Benji also has double-jointed shoulders and isn’t afraid to use them.
1. What’s the most underrated destination you’ve been to?
Albania and Sarajevo. Although that’s a bit of a trick answer, because they are barely ever rated, let alone underrated. The Balkans are my favorite part of Europe. The recent, tragic history of the region somehow makes it all the more intoxicating – a bit like what the rest of eastern Europe might have felt like after the Wall fell. Sarajevo got me with its ethnic mix; a Muslim city dotted with minarets in mainland Europe, where a strong Jewish and Orthodox community have coexisted happily for years. Albania is the most hospitable country I have ever visited – I’ve never been invited into people’s homes so many times.
2. How do you kill time when you’re stuck on a bus or plane?
If I’m connected to the Internet, I surf unendingly. If not, I read a magazine – my favorites are the New Yorker, Time, The Economist, and Monocle. Occasionally I’ll flick peanuts at someone if I get bored. I’ve also spent many dozy hours brainstorming every possible way to become a secretive backroom Svengali at West Ham football club. I’ve honed a plan, and it involves the CIA and magnets.
3. What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen or experienced traveling?
In Cambodia, a friend of mine was held back at a police checkpoint an hour outside of Siem Reap. A while later we saw a Cambodian man emerge from the hut dressed only in a vest and underpants, and holding a gun. He swiftly turned and ran into the jungle before disappearing through the undergrowth. My friend emerged and said we had to leave immediately. In his bag he had an entire Cambodian policeman’s uniform, complete with badge and holster. He had bought the lot for $40.
4. What’s the first thing you do when you arrive at a new destination?
Buy a map. Triple-check I haven’t lost anything yet.
5. If you could give one tip or piece of advice to travelers, what would it be?
It’s better to regret something you have done, than to regret something you haven’t. Also, talcum powder is essential in hot countries.
[Photos: Benji Lanyado]