Travel Lessons From Christian Chumbley

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Based in Cape Town, South Africa, Christian Chumbly travels spends about six months each year on foot or a bike all over southern Africa and Asia, checking in on his international staff and investigating new itineraries.


Christian Chumbley



How has your job changed the way you travel?
I'm more discerning about finding authenticity in travel. Quite often the most genuine experiences that can be had are free: They come via simply interacting with others. I am also more willing now to spend good money (on things like a hotel, transport, or a local guide) while traveling, especially if doing so enhances my chances of genuinely experiencing a place.

How much do you plan your trips in advance?
The big trips are often put in place months and months in advance, but the details of what exactly to do when I get there...those evolve minute by minute. I love being able to wander down an interesting street for as long as I want since I haven't overly structured my day, or to head off into a different part of the country because a local suggests it.

What are some packing tips you've picked up in the course of your travels?
I always bring a headlamp and a dry bag, no matter the trip. The sun going down is one of the few things you can count on in travel. And with all the electronics that people travel with these days, a dry bag is great in case you get stuck in the rain. And I don't do a lot of folding.

What do you wear on the plane?
Jeans, a short-sleeved collared shirt, a light sweater, and a fleece vest. The outfit keeps me both cool and warm, and can be at least moderately presentable.

What's the first thing you do when you arrive at a destination to get a feel for the place?
I walk and walk and walk.

How do you approach local cuisine?
My favorite meals are on the street. In my book, there's rarely a street vendor not worth trying. Sure, it's wise to be cautious in terms of cleanliness, but I have rarely gotten sick from street food. Seriously. You want to know what I've gotten sick from when traveling? The fancy buffet at a five-star hotel. The plates may be clean, but the food has sat back in the kitchen for far too long. Street food is often the freshest, even if the street itself isn't all that clean. Of course, I adjust my perspective depending on where I am. In Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam, I eat everything the street has to offer. Everything. In Mexico, I eat it all, but I expect to get a little tummy ache at some point. If the tacos are good, then it's worth it. Same in India: Expect to get sick. That frees you up to indulge in that fantastic street-cart curry.

How much of your travel is on your own?
I don't do a whole lot of solo travel. But when I do, I'd rather hang out in a local market with the old ladies selling fruit than seek other travelers. Not to say that I haven't become good friends with other's just that those experiences happen better randomly than at a tourist bar where everyone is trying to outdo the other with their travel stories. Locals' bars....those can be fun.

How do you take notes on your trip?
A small Moleskine notebook is always in my pocket.

How do you keep in touch with others while traveling?
I use Skype. And I travel with a GSM, quad-band phone—and buy a local SIM card if I'm spending any significant time in the country. I also have a BlackBerry for work.

What sorts of tourist etiquette tips have you picked up?
Be aware. Most locals don't care if you make an error in etiquette if they see you observing others and then adjusting your behavior. It's obliviousness that's offensive, as it calls into question your motivations for travel. In general, be open and trusting. Smile...and ask questions. Asking questions is important. Let people know that you want to get it right. Most appreciate that, and few expect you to know all the rules.

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