Peter has been traveling for much of his life, though he more seriously started to travel when he moved to Canada in 1988. His travels became the focus of his life in 2005 when he quit his full-time job to travel around the world. Now he knows that life is a lot more than climbing the corporate ladder. Its all about living your life the way you want, as your life can be much shorter than you are planning and tomorrow may never become your yesterday. We only live once, so spend it the best way you can! Its your choice!
This is a self-interview was conducted in late August 2014.
Globerovers (GR): How many countries have you been to?
Peter Steyn (PS): 116
GR: What are your top 5 most preferred countries for leisure travel?
PS: This is a very tough question. I always ask this question to other travelers and I’m amazed how many have no clear answer. But when I have to answer the same question, about 20 countries jump into my answer. Ok, if I have to choose the 5 countries, they will probably be as follows: Japan, South Africa, Costa Rica, Iran, and Iceland. May I squeeze in other contenders: Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, Nepal, Pakistan, Tibet, Bolivia, Kyrgyzstan.
Oh, 13 already! As said, I have at least 20 favourites!
GR: Which is your most preferred country for travel and why?
PS: Again a difficult question. I truly believe that “time spent” and “country preference” are highly correlated. So, the more time you spend in any (or most) countries, the more you will appreciate and like the country and its people. Hence, I just love Japan! I have been to Japan many times and traveled all over. Its an amazing place! I am soon buying an apartment in Tokyo! Will be back soon.
GR: Where do you wish you were right now?
PS: Oh dear, so many places, including where I am sitting right now at home in Hong Kong with a view over the harbour and Hong Kong Island. Ok, I wish I was in Costa Rica right now photographing the 2- and the 3-toed sloth in their natural environment.
GR: Among those countries you have not yet visited, which ones are at the top of your “must do” list?
PS: Antarctica, Mongolia, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Morocco, Bhutan, North Korea, Portugal, Somaliland, Turkmenistan, and more…
GR: If you could spend the rest of your life somewhere other than your current home country, which country would that be?
PS: In a small village in Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido! Complete with my private outside natural hot springs and saki bar!
GR: In about 50 words, please tell us about the most incredible and memorable experience you have ever had while traveling?
PS: I have several experiences which I will never forget, among them are the following: Hiking up Nicaragua’s active Volcán Concepción (read about it on the Globerovers Magazine website).
GR: Based on your travel experiences, if you were to recommend the one most amazing destination for intrepid travellers, which place would that be, and why?
PS: Most of Yemen is totally off the beaten track and incredibly interesting. Time stood still here for decades!!
GR: Which people by nationality or subgroup e.g. etc, would you say have been the most hospitable during your travels and why do you say so?
PS: I used to say Myanmar, Bangladesh and Iran, but recently I visited Papua New Guinea and realised these people are by FAR the most friendly people I have met anywhere in the world! Twenty years ago it was Thailand but no more!
GR: How do you think traveling around the world for independent travellers has changed over the past 20 years?
PS: As with everything in life these days, the Internet makes travel planning so easy. While on the road you can post photos and report on your travels to your audience around the world. Travel infrastructure is improving and nowadays even smaller villages have Internet. Some regions have become more dangerous (north Africa and the Middle East) while others are safer (i.e. Central and South America).
GR: Lets get a bit more personal. Do you have any “must take” items which you travel with that you think most travelers don’t have?
PS: When I travel to more dangerous places, or places where theft is a problem, I travel with my light steel mesh which I pull around my backpack (with my expensive cameras and other valuables) and lock it to the bed or something firm. There is no chance that a casual thief can grab and run with my bag.
GR: What is your favourite travel resource on the internet?
PS: Probably the Lonely Planet Thorntree travel forum where I can read about other travellers’ experience and post questions.
GR: Lets talk about food. Which one country that you visited has the best food in the world?
PS: Its either Thailand or Japan. If I have to choose one, it is Japan. The variety is mesmerising.
GR: Where was the best meal you have ever had during your travels?
PS: During a business trip to Tokyo, Japan, my client took me to a very expensive Sashimi restaurant with very expensive food and saki wine. Such a waste of money which I’d much rather give to kids sleeping on the streets of Manila.
GR: And where was the worst food during your travels?
PS: In general I would say China. Unless you go to a very upscale restaurant in the bigger cities, the food in smaller towns and villages is such oily crap my dog won’t eat it. They also serve up any creature that moves and have no respect for wildlife, even for those near extinction. China chefs will also use any ingredients to make the food look and taste better, regardless of how detrimental it may be to our health.
GR: What is the strangest or weirdest place you have ever spent a night?
PS: Sleeping in my hammock stretched between two palm trees on a beach at Tayrona National Park of northern Colombia. What an experience!
GR: Based on all your travel experiences, what is the best tip you can offer to new travellers?
PS: Plan well ahead where you will be going, especially if you take longer journeys of more than 10 days. It does not mean you have to plan what you will do every day, but do enough online research on where the best sights are before you leave home otherwise you will waste too much time researching while traveling (IF you have good internet speed) or you will miss all the good places. Also have a budget planned by day, or at least by week, so you don’t spend all your money in the first 3 months of a 6 month journey. Keep to your budget! Also, wherever you go, leave your preconceptions and your “I will change the world” attitude at home. Don’t go trying to change the world to fit your perceptions of what is right and what is wrong. Travel the world to enjoy the culture and people the way they do things, and not the way you think it should be done. Public busses in Pakistan are not as clean, modern and one-time as they are in Japan, so just live with the Pakistani way. When you travel, it’s not about you, it’s about the people you are going to visit. They are important, and not you. With this attitude you won’t get impatient, frustrated, and angry, but rather you will experience the way the locals live their lives.
GR: What is the single best lesson you have learned about the world during your travels around the world?
PS: In short, few people around the world speak any English! Second, much of the world is perfectly safe to travel, regardless of what you see on TV. The most “dangerous” places as portrayed by the media somehow also have the most wonderful people.
GR: Do you have any strange, weird, or even bizarre travel rituals which you can share with us?
PS: I may be suffering from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder as when I check-out from the room where I slept, I check, and check, and double check that I have not left anything behind. Sometimes after I left the room, I go back and check again, under the bed, inside the cupboards, everywhere, check, double check. It is a very painful disorder, but guess what?! Yes, I have never left anything behind.
GR: What is the main focus of your travels?
PS: To see as much of the world as soon as possible before it changes too fast (influenced by modernization) and before war breaks out. Just one example, I’m so glad I visited the wonderful people of Syria before the civil war broke out. Syria won’t be the same ever again, or at least during our lifetime. How sad. How incredibly sad.
Peter’s blog, Globerovers, lists all the countries he has visited with a few photos of each. It also contains many write-ups of his experiences around the world.