[Editor’s note]: I haven’t yet met Shane, but from his website (www.thetravelcamel.com) it is obvious that he is one incredible intrepid traveller. Among the destinations he covered which most intrigued me are Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Kurdistan, North Korea, Somaliland, Syria and Yemen. Go visit his online hangouts such his Facebook page, Google+ and his tweets (see the list at the end of this interview). With almost 100 countries visited and with 25 years of public speaking, invite Shane to speak or moderate discussions at travel exhibitions and fairs. Thanks to Shane for agreeing to this insightful interview which totally inspired me!
Shane Dallas, the “Travel Camel” (SD): 95
GR: What are your top 5 most preferred countries for leisure travel?
SD: India, Syria (before the current conflict), Korea (both North and South), Japan, and Ethiopia.
GR: Which is your most preferred country for travel and why?
SD: India is an energetic place full of colour and chaos, with many different cultures crammed into one nation. It has an excellent history, culture, attractions, hospitality, food, and transport. Most other travel destinations seem dull by comparison.
GR: Where do you wish you were right now?
SD: I left the Enontekiö region of Lapland in Finland two weeks ago. Though it was winter, and temperatures plunged to -40 Celsius whilst I was there, I would return tomorrow if I could. I fell in love with the space, silence and solitude.
GR: Among those countries you have not yet visited, which ones are at the top of your “must do” list?
SD: 1) Antarctica – number one on my wish list for decades after meeting a photographer who described it as the most beautiful place he’d visited.
2) Iran – I first heard about Iran when travelling in Turkey in 1992, and I’m still to get there. History and hospitality are just two of the many reasons for visiting.
3) Mali – according to many, this is the jewel of West Africa. The music, culture and trekking options are strong incentives to visit.
4) Namibia – if I want to take a driving holiday anywhere in the world, this will be it. Superb scenery and a relaxed place to travel.
5) Uzbekistan – I’ve seen a lot of Central Asia, but not this country. The architecture is a huge attraction for me.
SD: I doubt I’ll spend the rest of my life in any single place. I left the land of my birth, Australia, in December 2012 and will not live there again. Due to my work I’ve been living a nomadic life for more than 2 years, though I do spend most of my non-travelling time in Dubai. Will this be my permanent base? Unsure, but the most likely options are somewhere in Africa, Middle East or Eastern Europe. Beyond that, I cannot be more specific.
GR: In about 50 words, please tell us about the most incredible and memorable experience you have ever had while traveling?
SD: Entering an exorcism temple in northern India was the most intense experience of my travels. You could literally cut the air with a sword. Tightly packed devotees were swaying and chanting in unison within a darkened chamber as incense wafted through the air. It was unforgettable.
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?
SD: Travel along the Wakhan Corridor in the north-east of Afghanistan, a journey that is remarkable due to the imposing mountains that command your attention. The road (a generous term) is incredibly rough (but not dangerous) so the average speed is only 20 kilometres per hour. The Wakhan Corridor doesn’t receive many travellers. When I journeyed there in the last week of May 2013, I was the first traveller they had seen for the year. The Wakhan feels like another world – very peaceful, very friendly and very remote – far different to how you see the media portray Afghanistan.
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?
SD: The Kurdish people in Iraq are the most hospitable people I’ve ever met. The Middle East is the most welcoming region in the world, and the Kurds are the most welcoming in the region, so that is an impressive achievement. A close second would be the people of Somaliland. Interestingly, both groups are from places that seek international recognised nationhood, but sadly denied so far to both. Perhaps, not being internationally recognised as a nation bestows an incredible generosity on people.
GR: How do you think traveling around the world for independent travellers has changed over the past 20 years?
SD: Much, much easier to travel the world now compared to my travels back in the early-mid 90s. The Internet allows one to stay connected with people through Social Media instead of relying on phone calls, postcards and letters. Within a couple of years of my travels in 1992, I lost contact with everyone except for one person. Compare that to my travels in recent years where I’m still in contact with many people I met from 5-10 years ago.
Planning travel is now infinitely easier. Back in the early 1990’s, one had to rely on travel agents to make any bookings, now one can do the research and booking for themselves. It allows so much more choice and flexibility when planning.
SD: Two items. First, I carry portable speakers (usually used on computers) and attach them to my MP3 player. These are a fantastic way to transform your hotel room into a place of music. Second, I carry solitaire board games, they are small, light and provide hours of enjoyment away from the computer or smartphone – and they don’t need batteries. My two favourites are Onirim (by Shadi Torbey) and Friday (designed by Friedemann Friese).
GR: What is your favourite travel resource on the internet?
SD: Travelblog.org – a place where travellers can share their travel tales and pictures. My visit to Ethiopia was due entirely to a blog I read on that site. I have now visited six times, it is my favourite country in Africa.
GR: Lets talk about food. Which one country that you visited has the best food in the world?
SD: For a combination of variety, value and taste – Malaysia is my choice. It is an incredible mix of Malay, Chinese, Indian, and European influences. Dishes such as Nasi Lemak, Roti Canai and Char Kway Teow ensure that every meal in Malaysia is a delight. For the best food in Malaysia, head to Penang.
GR: Where was the best meal you have ever had during your travels?
SD: Cannot answer this as it is difficult to compare that Nasi Kandar in Penang, Malaysia, with a Salmon Casserole in Hetta, Finland, or a Shiro with Injeera in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
GR: And where was the worst food during your travels?
SD. Deep fried scorpion in Beijing, China. There were three skewered – the first was smaller than the others and it was crunchy with an acceptable, if not sharp, taste. However the second was larger and I found the scorpion meat to be extremely bitter – it was awful. I gave the third one to a Chinese friend who liked it.
SD: A love hotel in Tokyo, Japan. The whole process of choosing from the vast array of hotels and rooms, to exploring the various items within the room (some best not described) is most amusing. My hotel of choice that evening was one which turned into a scene of nautical splendour when the black light was illuminated – complete with seagulls and a ship with billowing sails.
GR: Based on all your travel experiences, what is the best tip you can offer to new travellers?
SD: The world is not as scary or dangerous as it appears from afar. Many new travellers get anxious about their first trip overseas, their first visit to a country where people don’t speak their language, or their first journey into a new continent. I remember feeling exactly the same way.
However, my travels have taught me one important rule: never, ever take travel advice from someone who has not visited a country or region. A person who has never travelled to the Middle East and tells me that it is dangerous cannot speak with any reasonable understanding or knowledge. Listen to people who have visited or lived in places you wish to visit. Ignore all others.
The same applies to the media – treat very cautiously what you take from them as well. A news report about a riot in one suburb in one city in one country cannot be used to judge the safety and security of the entire nation – but this often occurs.
GR: What is the single best lesson you have learned about the world during your travels around the world?
SD: That humanity is like a shining silver thread that weaves through every person and binds us together.
GR: Do you have any strange, weird, or even bizarre travel rituals which you can share with us?
SD: I always try to eat Baskin Robbins ice-cream when I travel, it is the only comfort food I rely on. My preferred flavour is Gold Medal Ribbon, which Strawberry Cheesecake a close second.
GR: What is the main focus of your travels?
SD: To learn more about the world and its people. This desire to learn has been the largest motivating force for my travels. Due to my current profession as a professional travel blogger and public speaker, I can thankfully share this knowledge with others on a broader scale.