This week, we’re proud to feature one of NileGuide’s own Local Experts, Kevin Revolinski in Bangkok. In his words, Kevin has written for just about anything or anybody. From personal blogs and college alumni newsletters to The New York Times and some of those glossies with the pretty pictures. He’s got a few guidebooks under his belt, especially about his home state of Wisconsin, as well as a book about his experiences in Turkey: The Yogurt Man Cometh. You can read the Local Flavor Blog for Bangkok, follow him on Twitter @KevinRevolinski or visit his website and blog at The Mad Traveler Online.
What’s the most underrated destination you’ve been to?
I’d pick on a few very particular spots but then they’d eventually get raided, overwhelmed and no longer be as cool. I keep a few super secret and they are those precious gems that only a few seem to know about, kind of like The Beach of Alex Garland except without the creepy people and drug farmers. There needs to be a few of those places to be stumbled upon the old-fashioned way. So let’s say southern Italy, Calabria, the tip of the toe kicking Sicily. Tourists rarely go or simply pass through but the mountains are super for hiking, the beaches are clear of people, the food is in my opinion the best in Italy and offers a bit of spice. Abandoned villages up in the hills, a lot of preserved culture – Tarantella, the Greek-speaking communities, Calabrese dialect – and some castles, churches and ruins that won’t be swarming with tourists. I taught English there for a year and could see going back for a few more. Napoli isn’t south – it’s where south begins.
How do you kill time when you’re stuck on a bus or plane?
If they have movies, I’ll catch up on what I’ve missed. Even on a 14-hour flight I’ll skip sleep for that. My cheap little Sansa MP3 player is gold-standard protection from unhappy babies and over-chatty seatmates. (Sometimes I just pop the ear buds in as a cover.) Buses are about the scenery though and I am more likely to try to start up conversations with locals. I’ve gotten myself into a lot of great places, homestays, home-cooked meals, and a few occasions of trouble through bus-seat social networking.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen or experienced traveling?
One of my first “real” travel experiences was on a volunteer trip into Mexico. We took a break to cross Copper Canyon by train and then hire a truck down to a Tarahumara village. We descended in the dark so saw nothing of the canyon until we crawled out of our tents in the morning. A breathless moment looking up out of the deep. That day was Good Friday of Semana Santa. The local men stripped down to their boxers, covered themselves with white and black mud to look like skeletons and paraded drunk through the village with an ad hoc band as they carried a “Judas” effigy with a cowboy hat, sunglasses and a big red phallus. Spring just brings out the best in us. Let’s hear it for chewed-corn beer!
What’s the first thing you do when you arrive at a new destination?
Stress over how not to be ripped off by the airport/bus station taxi/tuk tuk/rickshaw drivers salivating outside. Sometimes I plan a lot for a trip; sometimes I go into it completely uninformed. Sometimes I get opinions from the front desk or a stranger; other times I hope to stumble on things as I wander around lost and speechless. I do like to establish a nice hangout (café, bar, park) where I can pretend to be a regular and gather my thoughts at some point in the day, but that’s if I am staying in town for a while.
If you could give one tip or piece of advice to travelers, what would it be?
Think like George Clooney’s character in Up in the Air: What’s in your backpack? Pack light. That includes the hair dryer and snake bite remedy kit you thought you needed, but also all the preconceived notions about what you are about to see: that it’s scary dangerous or pitiable or some kind of living museum exhibit where you are shooting photos of human zoo animals (as opposed to a community of normal people where you in fact are the strange one). Or even the idea that what you are about to see is the most awesomest thing that ever was – “See Napoli and die!” I’ve dealt some dastardly blows to a few trips with absurdly high expectations. Be an empty pack that will be full by journey’s end.
Photo courtesy Kevin Revolinski