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Meet Earl, veteran long-term nomadic world traveler (12 years so far) who has worked in several different professions around the globe, been kidnapped for 2 days in Bangladesh (!), written a popular book on how to get work on cruise ships, has been listed on the US terrorist Watch List, and also runs one of the best Top 100 Travel Blogs on the internet, Wandering Earl.
It’s not often I meet anyone who’s been traveling the world as long as I have (13 years so far) so I was very excited to find out about Earl. I discovered that we even started out traveling in SE Asia during the same years. Despite that, as far as we know, we have never met. More intriguing, though, is Earl’s fantastic website: full of entertaining personal adventures, insightful commentary, beautiful photos and great travel tips.
Today I’m thrilled to present Earl, discussing some of his more unusual experiences while traveling the globe…
Q1 : Earl, can you please tell us all the jobs you’ve had around the world? Were there any you disliked? If so, why? Which was your favorite and why?
My job history (outside of the US) is actually quite simple. I’ve taught English in Thailand
, worked as a Tour Manager on board cruise ships and now I’m self-employed, earning income through online projects.
My least favorite of the three was teaching English. While I absolutely enjoyed the interactions with my students, I never really felt comfortable teaching the English language and so every class was a bit of a struggle for me.
My favorite job, by far, was working on board cruise ships. Granted, I had an excellent position, but the atmosphere on board ships, with crew members from over 60 different countries working and socializing together, is unlike any atmosphere I’ve ever witnessed anywhere else on the planet. Throw in the fact that I would wake up one day in places such as Barcelona, the next day in Athens and a couple of days later in Turkey, all while saving a decent amount of money each month, and you can imagine how rewarding such a lifestyle can be!
as an extra, complete with speaking parts. Did you just have that one film job? Did you pursue more extra work? Why or why not?
After acting in the soap opera listed above, I did act in one television commercial but that was a very minor, non-speaking part. I was offered a role in an Indian Pepsi commercial that required me to be on set for ten straight days, but at that point, I had already planned to meet a friend in Delhi and so I couldn’t accept the role. And apart from that, I haven’t pursued any more acting work in India, despite having returned to India nine times now. The problem is that I prefer to stay away from Mumbai on my visits as that city is just too overwhelming and intense for me. And unfortunately, Mumbai is really the only place that foreigners can find acting gigs in India.
Queen Mary 2- cruise ship
|Queen Mary 2
Q3 : You worked on several different international cruise ships for a total of 4 ½ years, finally holding the enviable position of Tour Manager for passengers’ land-based adventures. Sounds like loads of fun! What other positions did you hold before becoming Tour Manager? Did you like all of them or did any suck?
When it comes to my work on board cruise ships, I was quite lucky. I was originally hired by Carnival Cruise Lines as a Tour Staff, which is a position that works under the Tour Manager. However, after only two months on board my first ship, I received an email from the head office telling me to pack my bags because I was being transferred to a different ship in order to replace the Tour Manager. And that was it. From that point on, I was a Tour Manager and I held onto that position even when I changed cruise lines a couple of times over the years.
On a side note, yes, being a Tour Manager was more than fun and I loved my time on board. This position was well paid, came with three-striped officer privileges, and put me in direct contact with the staff of hundreds of tour operators in dozens of ports around the world, many of whom have now become my friends. I think about my time spent on board cruise ships almost every day and I honestly miss it a great deal. But I now have other goals I want to accomplish in life and so, despite the rewards of ship life, I’m happy that I decided to leave it all behind a couple of years ago.
Earl in Kalpa, India
Q4 : You’ve written a captivating post that includes your 2-day kidnapping in Bangladesh in 2002 but you didn’t talk much about how you felt during the ordeal. What was going through your head? Were you terrified? Did you have thoughts of being killed or tortured? Did you try to figure out ways to escape, catch someones’ attention, contact the police? Or did you just stay calm and go with the flow?
At first, as I imagine anyone would be, I was somewhat scared, especially considering that there was a major language barrier and I had no idea what my kidnappers had planned for me. However, after the first night passed, I calmed down upon realizing that the group of people who had kidnapped me were not professionals at all and that they had no idea what they were doing. There were no weapons involved (apart from one small knife), the kidnappers often argued amongst themselves, my ability to pretend that I had no idea what they were saying when they were trying to speak English confused them terribly and in all reality, they didn’t seem like the kind of people who were going to follow through with their threats of violence.
Also, it would have been much more beneficial for them to simply take my backpack, which had my camera, laptop and money inside, and be on their way, but instead, they allowed me to keep my backpack with me at all times. So once I felt confident that their organization was poor and that they had no real plan, I began, as absurd as it may sound, to view the entire ordeal as an adventure. I never panicked and I never felt the need to forcefully try and escape.
And even if I had decided to try and contact the police, I really had no idea how to go about doing so. It was my first visit to Bangladesh and the only police I noticed were busy whacking their long sticks against the sides of buses and cars, as well as against people, whenever somebody would break a traffic rule. So I just figured it would be best to wait out the situation, especially considering that I didn’t feel as if I was in any imminent danger.
My decision to finally escape came out of nowhere as I took advantage of the first opportunity I had to run away with all of my stuff and without fear of being caught again. I wasn’t expecting such an opportunity at all but when it presented itself, I made a split second decision and bolted out the door and into the streets of Dhaka.
Golden Temple, India
Q5 : After you escaped from your kidnappers into Dhaka city, you mentioned that you went for lunch. Obviously you must’ve been starving by then, but you sounded pretty calm. Weren’t you afraid your kidnappers would spot you in the city, especially considering they were taxi drivers? Weren’t you paranoid staying in Dhaka? Did you stick around or beat it out of town? Did you consider going to the police or the US Embassy? Did you contact your parents and let them know what was going on?
If you’ve ever been to Dhaka, you’d understand how impossible it would be to find someone in that city without knowing that person’s exact whereabouts. Dhaka is one of the most densely populated cities in the world and no matter where you turn, you are faced with a scene of utter chaos. So I really wasn’t worried at all about being found by the kidnappers. Also, I felt that their failure to extract much money from me the first time around would lead them to abandon the whole plan instead of trying to track me down in the hopes of squeezing some more money out of me.
I actually did stick around Dhaka for about five more days. The main reason was because I was told by immigration upon entering the country that I needed to obtain a special permit in order to leave Bangladesh by land. And that whole process, despite failing to obtain the permit in the end (which proved to be completely unnecessary anyway), required me to spend a few days running around to various government offices within the city.
Even after escaping, it really never did occur to me to contact the police or the US Embassy. I figured that since I managed to survive the ordeal without any major loss of my possessions and without being the victim of any real violence, there was no point in reporting the incident. Besides, as I mention in the post I wrote about this incident, I had a mission to complete in India and so once I was free, I focused on my original motivation for traveling to this part of the world in the first place.
And I didn’t tell my parents either. They weren’t too thrilled with my plan to travel to Bangladesh at all so I felt it wise to wait until I returned to the US some months later to explain what had happened!
Q6 : You also wrote a post about your detainment and interrogation by US Customs Officials, simply for having traveled through Afghanistan and Pakistan. That interrogation lead to you being put on the US Watch List, having your parents’ phone tapped, and being heavily watched for some time. I thought your post revealed how uneducated, emotionally irrational and nearly paranoid the officials were, without actually coming out and saying so. In hindsight, do you think you’d have been better off not mentioning those 2 countries when you passed through US immigration? What would you advise other travelers who might end up with the same problem simply for visiting a country ‘un-approved’ by our government?
I think it was a wise idea for me to have listed Pakistan and Afghanistan on my customs form. Lying about where I’ve been, especially considering that I have nothing to hide, would have had the potential to get me in more trouble than I ever would want. At the end of the day, if I’m traveling to places simply in order to gain a better understanding of the culture and the people, Immigration and Customs officers can question me all they want because they will certainly find no evidence of me being associated with any terrorist-related organizations.
Also, your observations are very correct about the interrogation. I find nothing wrong at all with being searched and questioned by US Customs officers, especially upon returning from countries such as Pakistan and Afghanistan. My issue is that if I am going to be searched and questioned, it should be by people who are fully knowledgeable about the regions and subjects they are questioning me about. What good is it for someone to ask me questions about my travels through the mountains of Pakistan when they have no idea themselves whether or not what I describe is truthful?
As for others who might find themselves in a similar situation, my only advice is to tell the truth and stay calm. The more worked up you get, the more frightened will be the Customs Officers and that’s not what you want at all. As frustrating as it is to be subjected to such an interrogation, again, if you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to fear.
Q7 : On Wandering Earl ‘about’ page you mention ‘muse creation.’ What do you mean? Can you fill us in on the details?
When I speak of muse creation, I refer to the development of an online entity that provides me with income without taking up too much of my time. Muses come in infinite forms, such as small mobile businesses, writing and selling eBooks, earning advertising revenue from a website, affiliate marketing, etc.
In my case, I now have three muses that generate income, all of which involve the sales of eBooks that I’ve authored. These muses are fully automated, require a minimal amount of effort to maintain and combined, allow me to continue traveling around the world as a nomad.
Q8 : In one of your most recent posts, dated June 1,st you unexpectedly announced cancellation of all travel plans and your need for a break and re-assessment of your life / travels. What’s your ‘funk’ all about? Is it trouble re-adjusting to life as a land-luber after quitting your cruise ship lifestyle? Delayed emotional shock from your kidnapping or US Watch List ordeal? Romantic disaster? Simply on the road too long? Or something entirely different?
My current funk actually has nothing to do with any of the reasons you mentioned. Basically, things have been going very well over the past year – the blog has been growing rapidly, income is increasing, my travels have been some of the most rewarding of my life, Mexico has treated me well when I’ve needed a place to rest for a couple of months and catch up on my work.
However, after realizing that all of these positive steps were taking place, I found myself wondering where it was all going to lead me and more importantly, where I wanted it to lead me. And after a couple of weeks of dwelling on this, I came to the conclusion that I actually had no idea what goals I was working towards.
The same questions – Where do I want my blog to take me? What other projects do I want to work on? What countries do I want to visit next and why? – kept filling my head and I found myself unable to provide a single answer. My motivation quickly disappeared and some depression set in. Everything I did suddenly felt like a waste of time.
After this went on for a couple of more weeks, my funk intensified as I continued to struggle with the thought that my efforts in life have had no purpose. Eventually I crashed, too overwhelmed by the challenge of trying to turn what was once a simple nomadic existence, into a more meaningful, goal-driven lifestyle.
I’ve had funks before, something that anyone who spends a significant amount of time traveling tends to experience. However, this recent one was on an entirely different level and really forced me to reevaluate every aspect of my life. And while I’ll admit that the outcome of such a re-evaluation can only be positive, I must also admit that it is an undeniably frightening and difficult experience to go through.
As a result, I decided to cancel my travel plans for the near future and stay put here in Mexico in order to concentrate on this challenge.
Q9 : It’s been 2 weeks since you made your revelation and canceled your travel plans. Have you had enough time to sort everything out and get back on track? Have you figured out what direction you want to head next? Got any new travel plans yet?
The past few weeks have been excellent. I’ve been able to sit down, determine my goals and create a plan to achieve them. There is still a long way to go but my funk is officially behind me, the motivation has returned and I’m ready to tackle the next stage of life.
I don’t want to reveal too much about my new goals just yet, but I will mention the travel plans that I now have in place for the rest of the year. First, I’ve confirmed my participation in the Ultimate Train Challenge, a 30-day event in September in which 8 participants will travel by train via their own chosen routes from Lisbon to Saigon in an attempt to set the record for the longest continuous train journey.
And after that event ends, I plan to pay another visit to India, followed by a few months of travel in either East Africa or Central Asia.
|Earl relaxing in Playa de Carmen
Q10 : You’ve been living in Playa de Carmen, Mexico for several months recently. Obviously you like the tropics, the beach, and a blend of local / western culture . That’s exactly what I like best too. My number 1 choice is Bali, Indonesia. I’m so curious why you’ve chosen Mexico over the many amazing similar SE Asian or Caribbean destinations that you’ve visited?
There are quite a few reasons why I chose Mexico. First, at this point in life, I’ve already spent a significant amount of time in SE Asia and I’ve also been to most Caribbean islands dozens and dozens of times while working on board cruise ships. Therefore, I decided that I wanted to spend time in a country/region that I was more or less unfamiliar with.
I also wanted to practice and improve my Spanish, which had remained at a ‘basic’ level over the years simply because I had yet to spend enough time in Spanish-speaking countries. Finally, the city of Cancun, which has the closest international airport to Playa del Carmen, is only a 70 minute flight from Florida, which is where my family current lives. And while I’m perfectly content with being on the other side of the planet from family and friends, a couple of my relatives have been quite ill over the past year and a half and so, being close to them in the event I needed to suddenly return home, made Mexico an even better option.
And to be honest, now that I’ve spend a good amount of time here, Mexico, and Playa del Carmen
in particular, has proven to be as rewarding a place to visit/live as any destination I’ve been to in SE Asia. It’s right up there with Thailand and Indonesia on my list of favorite places around the world.
I really don’t see myself returning to the USA to live. I’ve become quite addicted to the unique education that first-hand travel experiences provide and as a result, I would much rather live overseas, even if I ever decide to slow down my travels. The truth is, I’ve now spent more time outside of the US since high school than I have spent inside the country, so it is only natural that I would now be more accustomed to a different way of life. I’m always at my happiest when I’m in a foreign land and unless that changes at some point in the future, foreign lands are where I’d prefer to be!
Will I live in Mexico permanently? I doubt that either. This is merely a stage in life and as of right now, I have no idea where the next stage will take me. There are far too many places out there that I still need to explore, which is why the words ‘long-term’ are not words that I think about very often.
Wow, Earl, thanks for the very personal and honest insights into your unique travel experiences. Thanks for sharing. Best luck on your continued traveling life. Hope to meet you out there one day! cheers, Lash
Check out Earl’s two amazing travel ‘How To’ books:
How to Work on a Cruise Ship – ebook – Wandering Earl
If Earl’s cruise ship work sounds interesting to you and you’d love to see the world by cruise, check out Earl’s guidebook on exactly how you can do that too.
HOw to Live a Life of TRavel – ebook -by Wandering Earl
Would you love to live like Earl or I do, but just don’t know how to go about making this life a reality?
Earl’s book ‘How to Live a Life of Travel’ is what you need to get rolling and follow the travel life of your dreams. If Earl and I can do it, you can too! Find out how…