TRAVEL INTERVIEW with Tony Eitnier of Contemporary Nomad
Tony and Thomas have been out traveling the world nomadically since 2007, when they packed up their lives in Germany and hit the road. They first caught my attention with their beautiful site, ContemporaryNomad, that quickly became one of my favorite blog designs and collection of photo galleries from around the world.
Once the guys and I finally started communicating online, we quickly discovered that we share many interests and outlooks on life. Besides our long-term nomadic lifestyles, we’re all crazy about scuba diving, the great outdoors, architecture and photography.
Needless to say, I was very excited to finally interview them here on LashWorldTour. Truth be told, though, they beat me to the punch by interviewing me on Contemporary Nomad last month! Today it’s my turn to present Tony and Thomas. Without further ado, here they are:
Q1. Back in mid 2007 you guys quit your jobs, packed up all your possessions and hit the road for a life as nomadic world travelers.
At that point, how long did you envision yourselves traveling? Did you plan on traveling a couple years then settling down somewhere? Or did you already plan to travel forever?
Yes, in 2007 we decided to quit our jobs in Germany and go nomadic. That’s when we started our blog ContemporaryNomad In reality, there was no real plan – that was part of the fun. For some reason, we always talked as though we would be traveling for three years, but we just kept saying that. Eventually that three years turned into five, and we just started telling people we had no idea how long we would keep traveling.
Q2. How did your family, friends, colleagues and acquaintances respond to you quitting your lives to travel the world? Did they think you were nuts? Were they worried? Excited? Envious? Supportive?
Family and old friends were not surprised at all. Although we have only been blogging since 2007, we have always been serious travelers. We both had traveled before we got together. When we first met in 1993, we took off and did a year and a half overland trip across the Middle East and Africa. We’ve also traveled long-term on additional trips to Central America and Madagascar. And of course, we both have lived and traveled extensively in North America and Europe. So going nomadic was nothing new to our friends.
Actually, our relationship is part of why we have traveled so extensively. Due to immigration issues, during our first seven years together, there was no country where a German-American binational gay couple could legally live together. That’s part of why we bounced around so much. Our situation is so odd that sociologist Dr. Lisa Nunn of the University of San Diego has been studying us and documenting our movements for the last decade. She has made a documentary on us called “Excluded” You can even view it online at ExcludedTheMovie. The video is used in many sociology classrooms in the U.S.
The political difficulties of being a binational gay couple aside, we love to travel, so family, friends, colleagues and acquaintances would expect nothing less. People we meet along the way are another story. They often express shock at traveling for such a long time. But I’m sure you’re an expert on that as well, Lash.
Q3. You recently celebrated 5 years of nomadic world travels! Congratulations!
So how are you feeling about your nomadic life these days? Getting worn down and jaded yet? Dreaming of a more sedentary life again? Or are you just as thrilled and excited as when you started?
I know, 5 years on the road – it just sounds so crazy. For the last anniversary of ContemporaryNomad we put up a photo collage representing our five years of travel, and we just kept staring at it thinking, “Wow, look at what we did!” Somehow it seems so unreal.
Traveling long term is one of the most rewarding things a person can do in life. I love traveling and exploring the world, meeting different people and having new adventures every day. Having said that, there are challenges.
After five years on the road, most of which have been in the developing world, there are definitely things I can do without. First and foremost, I hate the pollution and the noise. Sometimes, I’m afraid that one more karaoke machine or rooster is going to send me over the edge. I could also seriously do without the corruption: border guards asking for bribes, power-tripping officials, transportation mafia, yada, yada, yada…
That said, a nine to five job back home would probably drive me crazy faster.
As for getting jaded, in some ways we are, and in other ways we notice more than other travelers. When you have traveled as extensively as we have, you realize what is truly one of a kind. Sometimes, we get really excited about a unique flower, or a particular temple that is totally different, or a nudibranch we have never seen before. But traveler overload, or perhaps sensory overload, does happen from time to time. When it does, you need to pick a place and take a break.
Q4. What do you find most enjoyable about nomadic life?
Change, diversity, adventure, mental stimulation, you name it. We can literally remember almost every single day from the last five years. Before we started traveling, we couldn’t remember what we had done the week before. Traveling makes every day something new, something special. Sometimes, we forget that other people don’t wake up to explore jungle temples, scuba dive with thresher sharks, or track tigers.
Nomadic life also allows you to travel in a way which short vacations just don’t permit. We spent almost 11 months in Tibetan ethnic regions in China, Nepal and India. Months at extremely high altitudes allowed us to really adapt and more easily enjoy the region with fewer problems related to altitude sickness.
Time has also enabled us to get way off the beaten track and take overland routes that simply take too long for people on short vacations. In Nepal alone, we trekked for over 50 days! Time is flexibility. We can wait for seasons to change or bad weather to pass. Having so much time is a MAJOR luxury. We recognize that, and we value that.
Q5. What is most challenging about your lifestyle?
The movement means you don’t really have the same sense of community that you have in sedentary life. You always meet fascinating people on the road, but then they move on or go back home. We are very lucky that friends and family often meet up with us and travel with us. That’s really great.
Long term travel can also play games with your head. You can drift away from the norms of your home culture, which can make relating to friends and family more of a challenge. You can also start to develop a set of unrealistic expectations, that’s a bit related to your question about becoming jaded. Once you’ve seen the world’s greatest beaches, highest mountains, most spectacular architecture, eaten the greatest food, dived the best dive sites… you start to get used to those superlatives.
It’s really important to slow down and reconnect every now and then. That’s part of the reason for our recent move back to Europe.
There are also certain technical difficulties, such as keeping a permanent mailing address, storing any possessions you have long-term, and getting health insurance. In fact, health insurance is a second reason why we recently chose to return to Europe. Thomas’ travel insurance provider stopped covering him after five years on the road. We know many long-term travelers who choose to skip the insurance and just pay for their own healthcare using less expensive facilities in places like Thailand or Malaysia. That’s OK if you remain in areas that provide inexpensive, good-quality healthcare, but that is not an option in all parts of the world. And even in Southeast Asia, serious procedures can be expensive.
Q6. How do you fund your travels?
Our travels are fully funded through web work including, but not limited to, our blog ContemporaryNomad. We run multiple web sites and write for other companies/organizations as well. Much of our content, however, does not have our name on it. Because we are not totally dependent on our blog (or our names) for income, I think this makes our site a little different. We often forgo the “dream” of travel and chose to talk about the realities instead.
Our posts can be very critical at times discussing topics such as environmental destruction, corruption, commercialization, etc. Some of our posts can elicit outright rage, such as our tongue-in-cheek post on the Rajdhani Express in India, which has received hundreds of angry comments from Indians. We don’t actively try to outrage people, but we don’t shy away from it either.
I think travel blogging is a fantastic creative endeavor, but it’s a challenging business. A travel blog is not an easy paycheck to travel the world, which is why many people start one and then give up within the first few weeks/months. Similarly, travel writing and travel photography are VERY competitive and often poorly paid. If people are looking to fund their travels, I would recommend thinking WAY outside the box because that’s where most of the money is. There is a lot of work for nomads out there, but it comes in a thousand rather unrecognizable forms. Get creative.
Q7. I noticed that you and I share several interests, particularly nature, animals, architecture and scuba diving. Yeah for those great things in the world!
Wildlife and nature are one of the principle reasons we travel. There is absolutely NO danger of us getting jaded when it comes to the natural world. Thomas and I will spend days hiking or sitting around in the forest just to see one particular animal. At times, we’re almost obsessive.
When I think back to certain animals like aye-ayes or red-ruffed lemurs in Madagascar, I almost have to laugh at what lengths we went to to see them. In India, I swore I wouldn’t leave the country until I saw a tiger in the wild. (In the end, we saw five!) We even went to eastern Zaire (now called the Democratic Republic of Congo) to track mountain gorillas during the crisis in Rwanda.
We’re almost as obsessive about ancient architecture and I, in particular, have a serious walled-city fetish. Thomas has probably had enough walled cities to last a lifetime, but my favorite page on Wikipedia is the walled city page – it’s my ultimate must visit list.
We also have incredible endurance when it comes to temple hopping. We’ve spent a whopping 13 full days exploring the temples at Angkor Wat, 8 days at Tikal, and 8 days at Bagan. I have NO idea how many temples we visited in India.
Q8. When / where /how did you start scuba diving? How often do you get to dive?
Speaking of obsessions, one thing we are both now obsessed with is scuba diving.
We have both been scuba diving since 1993. However, scuba diving is quite expensive, so it actually took us some time to really get into the sport. We dove on and off before 2007, but we usually just chose to snorkel to save money. Over the years, we started to notice how the reefs were deteriorating, so we started to get scared that scuba diving as a sport might not last long. That’s what caused us to get over the costs and just dive in (pun intended). Now, we’ve really gotten into the sport.
Q9. What are the best places you’ve been diving thus far?
We’ve dived random bits of California, Belize, Honduras, Tanzania, Madagascar, the Andaman Islands (India), Jordan, Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Indonesia. Most of our diving was in the Philippines and Indonesia.
To me, Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysian Borneo are the best. However, warm water damage is eating up reefs faster than I can write this, so listing particular sites is kind of pointless. Having said that, my favorites include: wreck diving in Busuanga; muck diving in Dauin, Bali and Flores; and, of course, destinations such as Sipidan, Komodo, and Nusa Lembongan with lots of big stuff. We also really love exciting drift dives, so Komodo and Nusa Lembongan are really at the top of our list.
Q10. Besides Medieval architecture, are there any other styles of architecture that you particularly love? What do you think about Asia’s state-of-the-art modern architecture and skyscrapers?
We could write a book in response to that question. I do have a real thing for ancient architecture, not just Medieval. I love Neolithic sites, even simple dolmens or megalithic structures. Malta and Gozo were a real goldmine for me because they’ve got walled cities and tons of neolithic stuff. I enjoy everything Indian and Middle Eastern. Thomas really likes Buddhist architecture. He loves the Himalayas and Southeast Asian temple architecture. Obviously, there’s a reason why we spent such a long time in Asia.
We both love modern architecture as well, so cities like Bangkok, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur and, of course, your favorite city Singapore, are all very attractive to us as well. We go out of our way to hunt down Gehry and Hundertwasser buildings. We’re planning a trip to Barcelona to see all the Gaudi creations – we’ve still never done that. We also really need to go to Dubai; I can’t wait to see the Burj Khalifa.
Q11. What’s the most popular content on Contemporary Nomad – your videos, stories, 360-panoramas, or photos?
Our photos bring in the largest number of visitors, closely followed by our videos. We have now assembled a whopping collection of over 60 mini-films which are available at our site as well as on Youtube and TripFilms.
Sometimes, people ask why we don’t talk much in our videos. The reason is that we prefer to just highlight the locations with cool music. People don’t necessarily want to hear every detail, they just want to see the beautiful visuals and get an idea of what a place has to offer. Our 360s are popular, but search engines don’t really encourage people to target 360s in the same way they do pictures or videos.
Our writing brings in a continuous stream of regulars who like our version of travel. People view the world in different ways. Our writing seems to speak more to old-world adventure travelers, although we do throw in a healthy dose of beautiful beaches and fairy tale destinations to keep everyone happy. And of course, our writing will have to adapt to our current location. Europe doesn’t lend itself to jungle trekking or funky tribes as much as Asia. We also intend to flash back to many destinations which we visited earlier but have not yet covered on the blog.
Q12. Where will you be traveling the rest of 2012 and 2013?
We just recently returned to Europe, so we will probably be based here for a while. We don’t tend to bounce between continents as much as other bloggers because we like to take our time (as you might have noticed by our 15 months in India.)
Destinations for 2012 and 2013 are likely to be based on random whims and discount airfares. I really wanted to go back to North Africa, but we need to keep on eye on developments there. Who knows? I have no idea what the next couple of years have in store for us. Wherever we go, I hope there is some scuba diving involved. :-)
Thanks Tony and Thomas for sharing your exciting travel life and website with all of us. I can certainly relate to your views on the best and most challenging aspects of long-term nomadic travel life! Can’t wait to meet up one day. cheers, Lash
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