Wil Klass is founder of Page 17 Media and the Executive Editor of the Spot Cool Stuff travel blog. He’s been involved in collecting and disseminating travel content since age 9 when he conducted a comprehensive survey of car colors on a family road trip across America. Since then he’s worked with Insight Guides, Pulse Guides, Lonely Planet, US News and World Report and The Travel Channel and co-authored the cult hit Asia Overland guidebook. He’s also run a guesthouse in Malawi, taught English in Japan, canned fish in Alaska, edited magazines in Nepal and run tours in Africa and Asia. Wil is a lover of non-sequitors and coffee grows on trees.
What’s the most underrated destination you’ve been to?
Georgia—the country, not the U.S. state—isn’t so much underrated as it is unrated. Still, it is an amazing travel destination with beaches, rain forests, snow-peaked mountains, culture, shopping, wildlife, architecture, history, museums, art, good food and even better wine, and some of the planet’s friendliest people.
I’d also pitch any destination with an unusual hotel. Where you stay can be such a large part of the travel experience, and any place that can produce a quirky hotel can also, almost by definition, produce a rich travel experience.
How do you kill time when you’re stuck on a bus or plane?
I like striking up conversations with fellow passengers (but not in that obnoxious I’m-going-to-talk-to-you-even-when-you-are-trying-to-sleep sort of way). It is a great means of learning and getting ideas for new travel posts and, occasionally, getting a local place to stay.
Besides that, an Apple iPad is the best way ever to make flight time fly by. I use my iPad to catch up on email and read ebooks. Or, at least I do when I’m not playing Plants vs Zombies.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen or experienced traveling?
Tibetan monks racing on inflatable swans.
Said inflatable swans belonged to this Dutch guy I was traveling with. The two of us were hiking through rural Tibet when we came upon a group of monks about to go for a swim in a lake. My Dutch friend pulled out these three large rubber swans—the kind intended as kid’s swimming pool toys—and to the surprise of both of us the monks reacted like these were the greatest things this side of Nirvana. They eventually organized a sort of competition in which three monks would race across a portion of the lake while riding atop a swan; they were cheered on by their fellow robed clergymen and a quickly growing group of locals. The winners of the different races then faced off against each other. By the time a Monk Inflatable Swam Swimming Champion was crowned nearly the entire village was in the audience.
In addition to being a strange sight this experience also taught me: Always travel with something completely random and impractical.
What’s the first thing you do when you arrive at a new destination?
I walk around — slowly, randomly and deliberately — and explore.
If you could give one tip or piece of advice to travelers, what would it be?
Infuse your trips with a Reason For Being.
Though there’s nothing wrong with simply lay on a beach or checking off typical tourist sites those experiences are ultimately not meaningful. To travel with lasting impact give your trip a purpose. That needn’t be some grand or noble project. Your Reason For Being could be based on a hobby (eg. painting street scenes) or self-assigned quest (eg. finding the best local beer) or gaining knowledge (eg. learning how to cook local dishes) or whatever.
A good Reason For Being will lead you to wonderful travel adventures no guidebook ever could.