This weeks interview for the Travel Tales segment is Tim and Sharyn Nilsen from www.catchourtravelbug.com. Over the past 18 years they’ve travelled over 100 countries while spending a combined 8 years on the road in total.
Read on to find out more about their travels…….
Tell us where you’re from, and a little about your blog?
We’re both from a small town in the middle of Australia called Broken Hill. It’s actually one of the more famous mining towns in Oz, and it’s the birthplace of BHP Billiton, one of the world’s largest companies. However, many people from other countries have never heard of it so we, usually say we’re from Brisbane where we lived for around 20 years. We’ve always written about our adventures; initially in diaries (as there wasn’t much internet access in the 90’s), then on public websites like Travelpod.com. When we started our most recent adventure last year, cycling across Australia, we decided it was about time we had our own website and created Catch Our Travel Bug. The primary aim is to share our passion for independent, budget travel and provide our readers with travel tips we’ve learned along the way. Hopefully, we can inspire others to get out there and travel themselves.
You’ve been travelling for quite some time now, where did you start your journey, and where are you currently?
I guess I have to ask which journey. Tim and I set off in the late 90’s for a very long trip that spanned 66 countries over 3 and a half years. That trip took us through Asia, Europe, Africa, Central and South America. We headed home in December 99 and put our heads down to lay the foundation to make travelling our lifestyle. We left again in May 2010 and travelled widely through South East, Northern and Central Asia before spending 10 months in Africa. We broke the trip with a 10 month stint in Vietnam, teaching English. We then cycled across Australia before coming back to Vietnam. We’re in Saigon at the moment teaching once again and I’m working on various other projects like my other website Ho Chi Minh City Highlights. Creating the website has been a big incentive to really get out and explore the best on offer around town.
You’ve stayed in some cool spots along your travels – which one stands out the most for you?
That’s a hard choice. We’ve stayed in tree houses in Turkey and Guatemala, forts in India and slept under the stars in the Iranian desert. If I had to choose one though it would be trying to sleep in a fragile A-frame tent in a bush camp the middle of the Serengeti while wild-life wandered around our tent. The heavy breathing of a large buffalo is a bit unnerving three inches from your head! You wouldn’t believe how many footprints of different animals we found in the morning.
What’s your country count at the moment?
Mine is 103, Tim’s is 101. I was spoilt as a child and got to go on a cruise to the South Pacific.
Is there any country you’ve not yet visited that’s a must see destination for you?
We still have almost half of the world not yet ticked off, so that’s a really hard choice too. We’re aiming to cycle down the old Iron Curtain route next year and are really hoping we can get to some of the lesser known countries like Monrovia. There’s very little information on it so I guess that’s what makes it more alluring.
What first made you want to travel?
We wandered into a Travel Expo in the early nineties and picked up some brochures. It was the first time I’d really thought about long term travel and the possibilities seemed endless. I immediately went into planning mode on how we could make it happen. Tim, on the other hand, has wanted to travel since he was a small child. He surprised his mum at the age of 7 when he told her he was going to be a missionary. Turns out he’d found out that the missionaries got to go to some pretty cool places and he figured that was a way for him to get there too. I’m certainly glad he didn’t go down that route, but I’m super grateful he kept the passion for travel alive.
If you had to choose your favourite destination so far, what would it be and why?
Goodness, you do ask hard questions. We’re back in Vietnam for the third time so I guess it would have to be up there. Madagascar was incredible. We’re definitely planning to go back to India to explore some more but if I had to choose just one, it would be Bolivia. There is so much variety across the different parts of the country. It’s cheap, the culture is amazing and the list of activities on offer has something for everyone.
Name two personal items that you can’t live without while travelling?
SMECTA and Tiger Balm. SMECTA is my new best travel friend and relieves all manner of tummy troubles. TIGER Balm is my other favourite therapeutic. Between the two, we can cure just about anything! I recently wrote a post about our Top Ten Travel Items and these featured as number one and two.
What’s your most epic travel story to date?
It would probably be our recent bicycle tour across Australia. We were starting to get a bit bored with backpacking. The internet has taken a lot of the challenge and social aspect out of it. Too many people sit around in great locations texting everyone what a great time they are having rather than meeting other travellers. We were inspired by the stories of an intrepid bunch of long distance cyclists we met in Central Asia and wondered if we could do it too. We researched and purchased our bikes and touring gear while we were travelling overland in Africa. At the end of that trip we flew into Perth, picked up the bikes, panniers and camping equipment and started riding. We were middle aged, overweight and had absolutely no training. We certainly had a baptism of fire with the weather and geographical conditions in Western Australia but 6 months and 7000km later we arrived in Brisbane a whole lot lighter and very much wiser. I’ve blogged the whole trip extensively on our site….warts and all!
Is there one post on your blog that you prefer over all the rest? If so, then why?
I definitely have some favourites on our old Travelpod blog that I haven’t managed to move over yet. On Catch Our Travel Bug, it’s probably our Nullarbor Ride Parts 1 and 2.
Was there a specific moment when you realised that travel was a lifestyle you wanted to pursue?
That revelation happened sometime before we came back from our first big trip. I can’t put my finger on the exact moment but by the time we stepped onto home soil our primary focus was to work out a way that we could travel full time. It took 10 years to put a plan into place, but we did it and now we’re living it.
What motivates you to keep travelling, and do you have days where you think a more settled life back home is more attractive?
We just love being on the move, exploring new things and meeting new people. We have almost half the countries in the world we haven’t touched down in yet and a heap more we want to go back too. Our only regret is that we didn’t start younger. Neither of us longs for a settled life just yet. We love to go home to visit but, usually, find ourselves itchy to get away again very, very quickly. We hate the thought of going back to a “normal” life. We like our new “normal” so much better.
During your travels, what’s the best travel tip you’ve received?
SMECTA! I promise I don’t get paid for promoting it….
Connecting with locals can be one of the most rewarding things about travel. Do you agree?
Absolutely. The generosity and warmth of some of the poorest people in the world never cease to amaze us and renew our faith in humanity. Respecting and interacting with locals enhances a visit 10’s of times over.
Is there any one country that you’ve been to that you didn’t like, and would make you not want to return?
Comoros Islands – I don’t like to generalize, but the people we met were soooooo rude to us. There is barely any tourist infrastructure which normally isn’t a problem for us as it means we get a more local experience. Unfortunately, the only foreign visitors they get are NGO’s who don’t have the best reputation over there. As white people, they naturally assumed we were part of them. We could not get the message across that we were just travelling through because we were interested in their country. We actually left three days early as it was so expensive and we ran into roadblocks at every turn, trying to get out to the more beautiful parts of the country.
In order to sustain a life of travel, you need to have some sort of income stream. How have you funded your travels?
We made some prudent investments in property that provide an income stream and Tim has been able to work while on the road as a Graphic Designer. At the moment, we are working as English teachers in Vietnam to stash some cash for our next road trip. I’m also branching out into SEO writing, eBooks and have some plans to leverage the Ho Chi Minh City Highlights website.
What are your travel plans for the future?
The next 12-month trip beginning in May 2015 is a cycle tour from the Artic Circle down the old Iron Curtain. When it gets too cold in Europe around November, we are heading to the Caribbean to crew on a yacht for three or four months. We should be able to visit at least another 20 or so countries maybe more.
Favourite travel quote?
A bad day travelling is better than a good day at work!
You can follow Tim and Sharyn at the following:
Facebook page: Catch Our Travel Bug
Twitter name: @catchourtrvlbug