Interview with Gary Arndt

In a previous post I promised I will post my interview with Gary Arndt. So here you go. This is pretty amazing stuff.

1. Tell us something about yourself. Who is Gary Arndt? What did you do before you started traveling?

I graduated from Macalester College (Kofi Annan is an alum) in Minnesota in 1991 with a triple degree in mathematics, economics and political science, and was a top intercollegiate debater. After college I started an internet consulting company which I founded back at the start of the internet boom in 1994 and sold it in 1998. After that I started an internet gaming website and co-founded a web based business analytics company. Prior to traveling I also returned to school to study geology and geophysics for two years.

2. How did you get the idea of traveling around the world?

I had traveled extensively throughout the United States, but I hadn’t done any International travel until after I sold my consulting firm. The company I sold it to had offices around the world so they sent me on a three week whirlwind tour of Taipei, Singapore, Paris, Brussels, Frankfurt, and London. I had also taken personal trips to Iceland and Argentina. I always enjoyed traveling and going to new places and learning new things, so I figured it would be fun to travel around the world. I came up with the idea about two years before I started on the trip.

3. Where did you start your travel from? Where was the first country you visited?

I began in Minneapolis, Minnesota where I had been living. From there I went south to Dallas, TX to meet my friend Scott Kurtz, and from there went to Los Angles and Hawaii. The first place I visited outside of the United States was Tahiti in French Polynesia. I went there because it is one of only two places which has flights to Easter Island.

4. Do you plan your travel or just decide randomly as you go along?

I sort of play it by ear. I have been generally traveling west. I have made some changes due to weather and other factors. I was going to go to China in late 2007, but ended up going to Hong Kong instead because of winter. I was then unable to go in the Summer of 2008 because they stopped giving out visas before the Olympics.

5. Which countries have you been to so far?

The term country is a bit loosely, because I’ve been to many places which are territories, like French Polynesia. For the purposes of list keeping, I use the list kept by the Century Travelers Club. A few of these places I only visited for a few hours, but nonetheless, I was there 🙂

United States (mainland), Hawaii, French Polynesia, Easter Island, Cook Islands, New Zealand, Fiji, Samoa, American Samoa, Tonga, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Nauru, Kiribati, Guam, Northern Marinas Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Palau, Philippines, Taiwan, Okinawa, Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Macau, Brunei, Sarawak (Malaysia), Sabah (Malaysia), Java (Indonesia), Bali (Indonesia), East Timor, Australia, Tasmania, Papua New Guinea, New Britain (PNG), Singapore, Sumatra (Indonesia), West Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, UAE.

I think that’s everything….

6. Where do you plan to go next?

The plan as of today is to take bus to Muscat and visit three World Heritage sites there. Then I’ll fly to Qatar briefly, then Bahrain, maybe Kuwait, and then Egypt. I’ll explore Egypt then cross the Red Sea to Jordan then Israel. Then I’ll somehow get to Rome and work my way to London via Amsterdam. I will then fly to Icleand on the way back to North America to visit my family I haven’t seen in two years.

7. How are you able to afford your travel?

I am living off of my savings from having sold my house and business.

8. What if you run out of money?

That is not an immediate concern. In the long term, my goal is to make a career from writing and photography so my travel will be self funded.

9. Now that you have seen half of the world, did it change your perspective about how you thought about the world before you started traveling?

I’ve always likened travel to zooming in on a satellite image on Google Earth. Something might just appear as a green or grey blob from orbit, but as you zoom in you can see details more clearly. The perspective you get on the ground is more subtle and nuanced than what you can get watching CNN or reading a newspaper. Things aren’t always so black and white, or as simple as they are made out to be.

10. Which is the best place/country you have been so far?

I really hate that question 🙂 There is no one best place. I have favorite places to SCUBA dive, favorite places to eat, etc. Picking one overall place is hard. I constantly think back to times I had in the Pacific and I think I will return to Fiji or Samoa the next time I have to cross the Pacific. When I’m asked that question I will usually pick a country in the Pacific that few people have been to like Palau, because it makes me look more exotic and mysterious 🙂

11. Which is the worst place?

The place I felt the most sorry for was East Timor. Most of the the capital of Dili is a wreck from the civil war. There are refugee camps in all the city parks and across from the airport. Bullet holes are still in the walls.

12. What has been the most memorable experience during all your trips so far?

That is another hard question. I’ve done and seen so much. I’ve been on mountain tops and 40m below the surface of the ocean. I’ve swam with whale sharks in Australia and with jellyfish in Palau. I’ve seen the sunset on Mauna Kea and the sunrise on Uluru. If I had to pick one thing, it might be my trip to Rennell in the Solomon Islands.

13. How has your experience been in Dubai so far?

I’m still trying to figure Dubai out. I was excited to visit Dubai because I had heard so much about the city. In someways it is a bit of a let down. Everything is so new, there really isn’t anything to see as a tourist. Most of the tourism industry is orientated to very upscale visitors, and I usually stay in cheap places. I think it would be better to live in Dubai than to visit. I’d like to come back to see Dubai in 10 years. Right now I think it is going through growing pains. Right now there isn’t much to Dubai other than business. They have to develop some culture, which it is desperately lacking.

14. Considering the current economic situation, do you think Dubai will continue to be a desirable place to live in future?

The investment in infrastructure in Dubai wont disappear, so yes. I think it can only get better. If the economy tanks and people leave, rents will decrease will make life better for those who stick around. There are some cultural changes which probably also have to happen, but that will take time.

15. What advise do you have for someone who wants to travel around the world like you?

Go. There will always be reasons to not go. As you get older, the reasons only pile up. Spouse, job, mortgage, car payments, family are all reasons to go. Eventually you just have to do it and take the plunge.