Q&A With Travel Guru and ExOfficio Ambassador Andrew Evans
For anyone whose most prized possession is their passport, it’s hard not to envy Andrew Evans. He’s is one of the most well known and respected multi-hyphenates in travel circles, blending his skills as writer-photographer-on-air-talent-digital dynamo with his lifelong passion for exploration.
For several years, the Washington, D.C.-based Evans served as the “digital nomad” for National Geographic, documenting his adventures around the globe, starting with an epic trip from the National Geographic Society’s D.C. headquarters to Antarctica—by public transit. He’s also a regular contributor to national magazines and websites, serves as a television personality, and has hordes of social media followers. Evans travels about 150 days per year, and his current passport—his fifth—has 200 pages.
But even with his extensive resume, you won’t find Evans engaged in any smug humblebragging about his adventures—a rarity among many seasoned travelers, writers, and bloggers. “Travel is not a contest,” he says. “It’s really why I refuse to answer the question, ‘How many countries have you been to?’ It’s not a race.”
Here, Evans shares more of his philosophies and strategies about travel, from his opinions about the proliferation of people quitting their jobs to travel the world, tips on making long flights bearable (if not enjoyable), and essentials he never leaves home without.
What do you do to get acquainted with a new-to-you destination?
I always go for a run, which isn’t particularly original. For a long time I was a very reluctant runner. But now I just put my shoes on and head out the door, and it really helps orient yourself. You start seeing what stands out and what’s different, and when you come back you’ll have seen things you wouldn’t have ever experienced in a cab. I’ve run all over the world.
Any tips on dealing with shrinking seat sizes, overcrowded planes, increasing fees and all those other annoyances of air travel these days?
Part of the problem is that we had this Golden Age of travel, and people still remember that, and we have this false expectation of what it should be like now. If a flight attendant doesn’t punch me in the face, it’s a good flight for me. I accept that I may end up in the worst seat, the middle row, next to the toilet, for five hours, and I’m 6-4. I’ve almost made it a mantra, since people are in such awful moods on planes, that I’m gonna be the cheerful guy. I always have a good book with me, I download a bunch of podcasts, and I’m a knitter, and TSA now allows knitting needles. I just zone out and try not to complain.
Seems like you can’t swing a suitcase these days without hearing someone preaching their version of the “I quit my job to travel the world” story. What do you make of that?
I find these stories a little nauseating. It doesn’t tell the rest of the story, that after a year, they came home, got married, had kids, and never traveled again. The statement also assumes it’s one or the other, that you have to be a traveler or have to have a job. It’s a false dichotomy. It’s a very privileged attitude about the world, and it also ignores the real blessing of travel, which is simply stepping outside your comfort zone, and that can happen in a park, in a city, anywhere.
With headlines like airport bombings and random violence in tourism hotspots, how do you assess the risk of traveling? Sometimes it seems that there’s no safe place anymore, and that can be scary for travelers.
The world has never been more accessible, yet violence has never been so random. Evil travels as easily as the rest of us do. But I don’t want that to stop me from traveling. I’ve been in parts of the world where I have felt very uneasy, very much a target, especially as an American. And if something is too uncomfortable for you, then there’s nothing wrong with saying, let’s not go, but my personal belief is that I cannot live my life in fear. I can’t let that be what motivates me. I’ll be cautious and careful and take whatever necessary precautions I need to, but I’m not going to stop traveling. When these violent things happen, it’s meant to vilify and divide certain populations. Travel does the opposite.
Share a few of your can’t-leave-home-without-it travel essentials.
At least two empty notebooks, and way too many pens. I probably bring 12 black Japanese pens on every trip, because they either get lost or stolen. A water bottle. Water is what I drink, and I don’t like buying bottled water if I can help it. I often travel with a fake wallet filled with canceled credit cards and Monopoly money. And my own credit card, I keep hidden elsewhere in a secret pocket, usually in an ExOfficio jacket. I also bring ExOfficio underwear because I only have to bring two pair. And a swimsuit and goggles, because I’m a swimmer, and they take up so little room in a suitcase.
Speaking of suitcases: checked baggage or carry-on?
Always carry-on, because I’ve lost so much checked luggage.
You have a fairly well documented passion for Iceland—26 trips and counting! What’s so appealing about it for you?
Traveling to a country is like forging a relationship with someone, and I started going there in the 1990s, when it was still an overlooked place. And just like overlooked people, overlooked places tend to be the most interesting. It was August when I stepped off the plane on my first trip there, and the snow was blowing sideways. It was foggy and mystical and ethereal. It was like nothing I’d ever seen before. Iceland was under the ice cap until 7,000 years ago, and it feels like going back in time. And in addition to all those beautiful landscapes, you have this really intriguing and marvelous culture that dates back to the Viking era, and an extraordinarily rich and poetic language. Every time I go there, I learn more and fall in love with it more.
With the explosion of adventure travel, boundaries and borders are being pushed like never before. What do you tell people looking for the next “it” destination?
Look at the country that’s currently hot, and instead of going there, check out one of the bordering countries. Instead of Thailand, go to Laos. Instead of going to South Africa, go to Mozambique. All these places become hot, and by the time they become hot, they’re already established. That’s great, but if you want to be on the forefront, take that next step. I love Iceland, but it’s expecting 2 million people this year. So now I’m exploring Greenland. People are venturing into places they wouldn’t normally. We are curious about the whole world. It’s pushing the envelope a bit, but I think travel as an interchange is healthy for the whole world.
Originally written by RootsRated for ExOfficio.