[Editor’s Note]: I met Fabio a few years ago on a “Spot the polar bear” expedition in Svalbard, in the very far north of Norway. Being so close to the North Pole, Svalbard is incredibly cold during winter, but we had a great time on the snowmobiles and dogsleds. At his current age of just 29, Fabio has been to an impressive list of 73 countries which includes amazing destinations such as Svalbard, Iceland and Iran, and he is keen to visit North Korea, and…. even New Zealand! A very energetic young man who is now living in Oslo, Norway!
This interview was conducted via email in late September 2014:
Fabio Buonsanti (FB): 73
GR: What are your top 5 most preferred countries for leisure travel?
FB: Hard question, but if I have to choose, the following countries are the ones that have had the biggest impact on me: Norway (Svalbard & Lofoten Islands), Mexico (Baja California), Iceland, Malaysia (Sabah) and Egypt (Red Sea). Following these, I would say Iran, Cambodia, Portugal and the Philippines.
GR: Which is your most preferred country for travel and why?
FB: Italy, apart from being my own country, it is truly the most incredible of all countries I have so far visited. History, art, music, food, wine, fashion, spectacular mountains and pristine beaches, volcanoes, earthquakes, sociable people, corruption and mafia, all with the same level of excellence… How to get bored back home? [Editor’s Note: How is that for a sense of humour!]
GR: Where do you wish you were right now?
FB: I wish I could be back in Tromsø, Norway, experiencing once again what I did in January 2012, during an important conference I was attending as a climate change scientist. Because of an on-going exceptional solar activity, the gathering was suddenly suspended for a few hours. Over 400 people where invited to leave the forum so as to experience first-hand the strongest Aurora Borealis that occurred in the last two centuries. What an unforgettable sight!
GR: Among those countries you have not yet visited, which ones are at the top of your “must do” list?
FB: Argentina, Chile, North Korea, New Zealand, Japan.
GR: If you could spend the rest of your life somewhere other than your current home country, which country would that be?
FB: I am currently living away from my home country. In the first place, Norway hosted my post-graduate studies and gave me the chance to get to know more about the Scandinavian culture. Later, they provided me with a great job and an overall social security that I bet it would be hard to find anywhere else in the world. Therefore, if I have to spend the rest of my life in a country other than mine (Italy) and, at the same time, keep up with my current travelling pace, well, that country would certainly continue to be Norway!
GR: In about 50 words, please tell us about the most incredible and memorable experience you have ever had while traveling?
FB: Snorkelling with sea lions in Mexico; fighting against an impressive rainstorm while trying to settle a tent in wild Iceland; flying with the worst air company in Asia; spending a day with some of the over 10,000 people getting born and living their entire lives within the walls of the Manila North Cemetery, Philippines; and being adrift on an unstable raft surrounded by crocodiles in rural Cambodia are some of my memorable experiences. Yet, if I were to choose a single one, it would be when I sponsored the first trip abroad to a newly-married Iranian couple I met on the road. In order to pay back their genuine hospitality, I offered them the chance to follow me over the Caucasus through Armenia, Nagorno-Karabakh and Georgia. It is difficult to describe their joy along the trip. I will never forget when the bride threw away her hijab right after having crossed the Iranian border into Armenia. Freedom at its best! [Editor’s Note: This man is going straight to heaven! Thanks for setting such a lovely example of what great travellers can do for the less fortunate].
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?
FB: Transnistria/PMR [Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic], a ghost country in-between Moldova and Ukraine. You get a 5-hour visa to experience what feels like living under a Communist regime: very inspiring!
GR: Which people by nationality or subgroup e.g. Greeks or the Tartars, would you say have been the most hospitable during your travels and why do you say so?
FB: The Persians. Travelling around Iran was a demanding experience, mitigated by their warmth, the more they give you.
GR: How do you think traveling around the world for independent travellers has changed over the past 20 years?
FB: Internet positively revolutionised the independent travelling experience. It is no longer about finding the information one needs; it is all about harvesting the right one. Low-cost airlines, hostels, social networks, interesting blogs and hospitality projects have done the rest. I love living in this era!
GR: Lets get a bit more personal. Do you have any “must take” items which you travel with that you think most travellers don’t have?
FB: Pasta, pasta, pasta. My all-time record without pasta: 5 days, and I swear it feels like dying… J [Editor’s Note: Fabio is truly an Italian. Now we know what to give him for his b’day].
GR: What is your favourite travel resource on the internet?
FB: Obviously, globerovers-magazine.com and plenty of direct tips from its Editor-in-Chief and Publisher, Peter Steyn; but also wikitravel.org; booking.com; lonelyplanet.com; and facebook.com, a platform from which I can easily access my wide network of world travellers. [Editor’s Note: Such sweet lips. Thanks for being loyal to Globerovers].
GR: Lets talk about food. Which one country that you visited has the best food in the world?
FB: Apart from Italy, right? Well, Portugal for fish and Georgia for meat.
GR: Where was the best meal you have ever had during your travels?
FB: Khinkali dumplings @ “Racha Restaurant”, an apparently crappy place in a narrow street of Tbilisi, Georgia. Just gorgeous!
GR: And where was the worst food during your travels?
FB: Rice pot with chicken feet, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. [Editor’s Note: At Globerovers HQ’s we cook our own chicken feet. I guess your fear-factor is our delicacy].
GR: What is the strangest or weirdest place you have ever spent a night?
FB: By pure chance and against my will, I ended up staying overnight as a guest at Ketama’s biggest narco-trafficker’s place, Morocco. Despite being surrounded by all sorts of drugs and some intimidating people, I received great warmth and friendliness. A sheep was killed to honour my stay and the whole extended family was invited over. They even offered their entire guest room just for me.
GR: Based on all your travel experiences, what is the best tip you can offer to new travellers?
FB: The planning process in a trip is just as important as the travelling itself. Do some in-depth research; stick to your budget and put aside some extras for the unexpected events. If you understand that, you will always do fine, but remember: once you catch the travel bug, it never leaves you…
GR: What is the single best lesson you have learned about the world during your travels around the world?
FB: While travelling the world, I have been exposed to problems that I did not even imagine existed. Being on the road takes always a lot of commitment, preparation, tolerance, understanding, and flexibility. Often, one finds yourself in situations that in normal settings would be gladly avoided. That is when one thinks: “Why did I do it? Why did I come here?” Well, such situations happen on the road on a daily basis. Over time, I have learned to treat these as “little great and challenging learning experiences”. This is the reason why I am always out there; this is the reason why I travel; this is the reason why I do not think I will ever get old… Travel the world, be curious and critically compare all you see with what you knew from before. Then spread the word, because knowledge is everything!
GR: Do you have any strange, weird, or even bizarre travel rituals which you can share with us?
FB: I always bring along with me my old passport. While flying to each new destination, I take some time; ok a lot of time, for flipping through its pages. Stamps make me so happy!
GR: What is the main focus of your travels?
FB: One day I hope to say that I have seen the world and its peoples, but that day is not here yet.
[Editor’s Note: Thanks Fabio for a great interview. You are truly inspiring! I should take another look at including pasta in my diet. But you should really consider eating and enjoying chicken feet. They are great with a curry sauce. In some countries (e.g. Papua New Guinea), the feet are sold along with chicken heads – boiled to perfection. Globerovers loves to eat the feet but prefers to skip the heads. Keep traveling Fabio!]