Travel Lens: Chris Guillebeau’s World
Chris Guillebeau achieved something most people only dream of: visiting every country in the world. If that wasn’t impressive enough, he managed to complete this remarkable feat before his 35th birthday. When he’s not traveling, Chris can be found writing (he’s the New York Times best-selling author of The Happiness of Pursuit and The $100 Startup) and hosting the World Domination Summit, an annual gathering of creative people from across the globe. Here’s a look at the world through Chris’ unique lens.
Connect with Chris on Twitter @chrisguillebeau.
Megan Heltzel: Where do you call home? Why, out of every place in the world, do you choose to make your home there?
Chris Guillebeau: I travel at least 100 days a year, but when I’m not on the road I live in Portland, Oregon. It’s a great mid-sized city that is very easy to live in. When I’m there, I’m a homebody; I don’t get out much. But then I leave and fly around the world every month or two, so I like the mashup of the foreign and familiar.
MH: When someone comes to visit your hometown, where’s the first place you take them?
CG: Well, I won’t take them to Voodoo Doughnut, which is overrated, or anything they’ve seen on TV. I’ll take them to a neighborhood on the east side, most likely the Hawthorne area in Southeast or the Mississippi area in Northeast.
MH: What’s the biggest misconception about the place where you live?
CG: That it’s a bunch of underemployed hipsters who sit around drinking micro brews all the time. This is a gross exaggeration: only 30 percent of the city consists of that demographic.
MH: Is there a place that draws you back again and again? Why?
CG: There are many, but for me I think the act of travel itself is therapeutic. I like being in motion and feeling like I’m working toward something. So for me it’s not always about the actual destination but very much about the journey and the in-between moments.
MH: Why is travel important? How has it changed you?
CG: Travel is disruptive and forces you to think differently. I live a fairly routine life, and I like the element of adventure—even “soft adventure”—that travel brings. When I’m on the road I feel like a different person.
MH: Which city has it all?
CG: Sydney, Australia. There’s a good reason it’s so far away from everywhere else. If it wasn’t, everyone would live there—or at least I would.
MH: In your opinion, what’s the world’s most underrated destination?
CG: Hong Kong isn’t really underrated, but it’s another place where I feel at home. I visit several times a year and have a ritual: on each visit, I return to someplace familiar—the Mid-Levels escalator, Kowloon—and also try to visit someplace new.
MH: Can you remember a specific time in your travels that renewed your faith in humanity?
CG: Most travelers have a story of unexpected generosity. Mine came from Comoros, a small island nation off the coast of East Africa.
I had screwed up and ran completely out of money. The one ATM on the island didn’t accept my credit card, and I had to pay 50 euros to reclaim my passport, which had been confiscated by immigration upon arrival.
A stranger came to my rescue and loaned me the money with nothing more than my promise to repay him somehow. I’ve thought about that experience many times since, and continue to be amazed at kindness of the gesture.
MH: What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen in your travels?
CG: A dead cow in the back of a taxi in Sierra Leone would probably be high on the list.
MH: What do you never leave home without when you’re on the road?
CG: I’m pretty basic. Everything goes in my Briggs & Riley rollaboard and my Tom Bihn “Empire Builder” laptop bag. In addition to taking my MacBook Air everywhere I go, I also use a paper notebook (shock and awe!) for capturing ideas and making notes.
I appreciate good coffee, [but that can be short supply when on the road], so I travel with Nescafé or VIA packets from Starbucks.
The ability to drink bad coffee is an important travel skill, I think.
MH: What’s your go-to resource—site, travel app, etc.—when you’re traveling?
CG: I’m very low-tech in that regard. I’ll say that my readers in general are always the go-to resource. By connecting and learning from them I’ve been able to have much more authentic travel experiences than any app or site could provide.
MH: What’s the best travel advice anyone’s ever given you? Do you have any tips of your own?
CG: I mostly learned through experience. I once applied for 13 credit cards in one day and earned 300,000 frequent flyer miles, without adversely affecting my credit. I use round-the-world tickets and other “travel hacking” tactics to keep costs low.
On a more big-picture level, travel gave me confidence. I learned that most of the time, everything would be okay. The more I traveled, the more I relaxed and stopped stressing out.
MH: What are you working on right now?
CG: This year is the fifth anniversary of the World Domination Summit, a global gathering I produce with friends in Portland. We’re going to be setting a Guinness World record and inviting a ton of great people to join us.
Of course, I’m also planning more trips. There’s always more to be done and more places to visit—which is exactly the way I like it.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Megan Heltzel is an associate producer on National Geographic Travel’s digital team. Follow her adventures in travel on Twitter @MeganHeltzel.