Today we are traveling with Bart from Offbeat Travelling.
My name is Bart, born and raised in The Netherlands. I recently started my own adventure travel website with incredible stories to show that low-budget travel is fun, safe and leads to more unique experiences. People might know me because I photographed the secretive ship-breaking yards of Bangladesh, or because I often travel to ‘unsafe’ countries.
What type of traveler would you say are you?
Backpacker, adventure traveller, investigative backpacker with a photojournalistic approach, those will do. From troubled regions and abandoned places, to countries that don’t officially exist. I uncovered secretive industries and embedded with the locals, all on relatively low budgets. This style of travelling challenges me and puts me into situations that I think are unique. I often travel in the wake of major (news) events or attend them as they happen.
What’s inside your backpack? What is that one thing that you ALWAYS have to carry.
The most important things are definitely the offline maps on my phone. I use MAPS.ME and CityMaps2Go to make sure I can always navigate, wherever I am around the world. With my phone I carry a 3-meter extension lead to safely charge it overnight from my bed.
Backups are also essential. I keep both digital and printed passport copies, $50 backup money and two external hard drives for my photos. I also carry a small notebook and a pen for various scribbles, a padlock and a small electric immersion heater to make my own coffee or tea on the road.
Can you tell us a hitchhiking story?
Okay, let me take you back to the time I was hitchhiking in Iran when three young guys picked me up. It was only a short ride but they offered to show me a bit around town. We ended up in a house drinking wine and shots. I was surprised because I was convinced that drinking alcohol was officially illegal. But it was one of the first lessons to learn in the country: behind closed doors, away from public life, the rules set by Islamic law are often broken.
I spent a few hours indoors before the dark set in and I needed to return to my Couchsurfing host. With everyone tipsy, they eventually called a taxi driver and I managed to navigate him with my GPS through several narrow windy streets to the right destination. It was just my second day in the country!
Are you usually traveling alone? Or traveling with someone?
When I go on a short trip (anywhere between 4 days and 4 weeks), I usually go with friends to share the experience. Mostly we find time during holidays, exam periods or New Year’s Eve.
I also travelled a lot in-between studies, which I always did on my own. In three different trips I travelled solo for about 18 months. My friends just simply couldn’t afford to take such a time off. Luckily there are a lot of benefits of going alone.
At times I find it more intense and you learn more about yourself. Also it makes it easier to meet others. I often meet up with locals through Couchsurfing or Facebook and sometimes team up with other backpackers. Without a travel partner you’re a lot more flexible to make last-minute decisions and decide as you go.
Where do you usually sleep on your travels?
It depends a bit on my mood and plans. Staying in a hostel dorm gives you the most freedom to do whatever you need to do. You will also get a better feel for the local backpacker scene, which can be handy if you need to figure out complicated routes.
When I really want to maximize the local experience I often choose to go Couchsurfing or stay with friends. Like this I have been in unique places, tasted food I otherwise wouldn’t have and met some amazing people.
Which country did you find the most hospitable people?
That’s a tough one to answer. Fact is that the world is a much more welcoming place than most people think. People just express things differently in different regions. The key is to be aware of this, be open to learn about different cultures and embrace diversity.
Never judge a book by its cover. Every country has amazing people and part of the challenge of travelling is to find them, time and time again. I was surprised for example to see that especially in troubled regions people are super nice.
How was the experience traveling 100 days in Middle East?
I love the Middle East, it’s one of the best places to experience unrivaled hospitality. Everything is so old, not only the places but also the cultures, habits and traditions. Foreign guests are received with open arms and the food is simply amazing.
On my last trip I went from Egypt to Jordan (by ferry) and later to Lebanon (by plane). In Egypt I focused mostly on street food adventures, combined with visiting ancient sites like the Giza Pyramids, Luxor’s Valley of the Kings and Abu Simbel. I was in the Sinai when the terror attack happened on the aircraft with Russian tourists.
This has badly affected Egypt’s tourism industry ever since. It made me sad to see young Egyptian workers at the bus station forced to return home without a job for the rest of the season. The tourist towns they left behind quickly became deserted.
In Jordan I focused on Couchsurfing, hitchhiking and learning more about the culture. I managed to stay exclusively at people’s homes, met up with distant friends and also made new ones.
Last, in Lebanon I travelled to the troubled Bekaa valley when I heard the distinct sounds of war in Syria. I was about 30 kilometers away from an area controlled by Islamic State. Also I went to a militia-controlled neighborhood in South Beirut to investigate on the twin suicide blast that struck a few months before. I also found time to explore the famous nightlife of Beirut and played drums on stage twice.
Which one is your favorite adventure trip? Why?
My 4-week trip to South-Africa, Swaziland, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Botswana was a game-changer. Together with two Swedish friends we did it all by public transport and without any proper planning. We travelled under military escort, got in touch with people smugglers, befriended a notorious street fighter in a ghetto bar and spent a night in Johannesburg’s most feared neighborhood. I also took the world’s first selfie with the king of Swaziland.
What I enjoyed most of the trip is that we were able to really submerge ourselves in local (sub)cultures. In our whole trip we only spent 3 hours staring at animals on a safari. We mostly hung out with the people, understanding their struggles, talking about hopes and fears.
How is a day in your life when you aren’t traveling?
Most of my travels have been taking place while studying. I recently got my Master’s degree and started working as a consultant in retail logistics and supply chain management. Time to travel may be a bit limited now but I am sure I will never loose the spirit and passion to connect with people from around the world.
What’s the big reason why you are traveling?
I believe travelling triggered something deep inside me that explains my fascination for different cultures, places and people. Apart from the leisure aspect, I am also convinced that travel makes people better human beings. Perhaps it’s the drive to constantly improve myself that makes me pack my bag so often.
Can you tell us about your longest trip? How long was it and which places did you go to?
My longest trip took place in between two studies back in 2013 and lasted 7 months. I used this opportunity to visit countries/regions that had always been high on my list: India, China, Japan and South-America. I developed my route as I went and in the end it took me literally around the world passing 16 countries in four continents. Often destinations were added as spontaneous decisions, which gave me a unique sense of freedom I never experienced before.
I saved up €12,000 but in the end the whole trip cost me around €9,000 (incl. vaccinations and insurance). The route was never designed to be cost-efficient and so almost one-third of total costs was for flight tickets. Daily expenses were usually low though. In Iran I spent only €90 during three weeks while still visiting 7 different cities. In Dubai I Couchsurfed my entire stay and in Japan I hitchhiked from north to south.
What’s your favorite gastronomy/food cuisine that you had in your travels?
The food culture in Japan, Iran, the Balkans, India and the Middle East is superb. China however, with my love for spicy food, is perhaps my favorite. I used Couchsurfing to ask the locals to show me the best food of their city. It worked out great. I travelled to remote regions and tasted some of the best food ever. The hotpot in Chengdu was an incredible experience.
Has there been any challenging and bad moments? Can you tell us about the experience?
I seek challenges in almost everything I do. By travelling low budget I never use private transport (taxis, tours, etc.) and thus always try to get to places in other ways.
Bad moments are only few. Apart from almost getting shot by a police officer in Mozambique I once got arrested in Transnistria. This breakaway state of Moldova is a frozen conflict zone, a post-soviet country that doesn’t officially exist. Without being aware of it I took a photo of what turned out to be a Russian army base. After an interrogation of 3 hours I was released after a local came to the rescue.
What has been you favorite destination on all the trips you’ve done?
It’s impossible to pick a favorite because experiences are naturally incommensurable. In some places you get lucky by meeting the right people while in others you don’t. It also depends if you have stayed in a place long enough to appreciate its beauty, in some places that can take some time. The Netherlands is a great place to live though!
What’s the worst place that you have stayed in for sleeping? What’s the best?
There are many awful places, especially because I usually push myself to pay less. In India I had rats walking over my bed and in Bangladesh I unknowingly stayed in a cheap hotel used by prostitutes. There were also countless hostels without heating or where I was completely on my own (off-season).
The most awesome places are many too. I slept in a car in Australia for about 100 nights, during which I parked it in the most beautiful places. I also was in luxury villas while staying with locals, though luxury isn’t my most important criterion. A hostel full of great people is nice as well, just as a home with a lovely family.
Are you planning for a new trip or do you already have a new trip in mind?
I have been dreaming about a 3-4 week trip to Ethiopia, which I can then combine with an overland visit to Somaliland. Also I want to set foot in Central Asia, starting in Kyrgyzstan during spring or summer. From there I will see what I can do within the time I have.
Do you have any recommendations which blogger/traveller should I interview next?
Check out Cameron from the USA. He quit his job and is now travelling the world to discover incredible (street) dishes and share them with his readers.
Amazing stories from Bart, thank you for your time!
Bart is an amazing traveler. Countless stories and amazing experiences everywhere! Hitchhiking, eating local food and staying with locals -Bart definitely had a feel of how local people live in their own countries. If you want to follow his adventures, make sure you subscribe to his blog. Feel free to follow Bart in his social media. Follow him on Facebook and Youtube.
If you want to follow more amazing adventures, check the interview with Timotei, who traveled with 80 USD around the world. Want more? Here’s my bicycle trip without money from Spain to Norway.