Tell us something about your childhood and how the travel bug bit you.
I was born in 1986 and I´m the oldest of 3 siblings. In my childhood our parents always used to travel with us. My whole family is from Germany and my parents moved to Austria short before my birth. I was born in Austria but still got my German passport till today. My first trip every was in 1986 with my parents, to the in those days communist Romania. Most of the trips with my parents were within Europe. My first flight was in 1994 to the Canary Islands, the following year it was my first overseas trip – we travelled to the United States of America.
My grandparents also used to travel a lot and sometimes they took us on their trips as well. My Great-grandfather also used to travel a lot around 1900, for example to Egypt, Syria, the Ottoman Empire – so I´d say the travel bug was always inside me because our whole family used to love travelling.
When were you really hit by the travel bug and what does travel really mean for you? How often are you ‘on the road’? Do you still have a ‘home base’ or are you a nomad?
Of course you can travel with your kids and they like travelling. If you´re unlucky they don´t like to travel when they get older. That wasn´t the problem with me. When I was 11, I had my first unaccompanied flight – I was travelling to Germany to visit my grandparents. At 15, I started to plan my first trips on my own. I was travelling with friends by car, and also I took some flights within Europe.
When I got my driving licence at 18 I started travelling more. I did lots of road trips with my friends all over Europe. It wasn´t just about sightseeing, I visited lots of concerts and football games as well.
I´d say I´m doing overseas trips 2-3 times a year (always depends), I travel for the weekend lots of times per year. I always depends, sometimes it can be 4 times a month, sometimes it´s less. I have my home base in Graz, Austria and I do have a 40 hour full-time job which makes many trips difficult sometimes due to “time problems”.
You often combine travelling with going to football matches. Would this mean there is a huge football community who are possible members of thebesttravelled.com? Or for most football fans it is only the game that matters and the place is incidental?
That´s a good question, but first of all I must be more specific with that topic. Visiting football games is my passion as well beside travelling. I do love the sport and enjoy being at games. Within the years it got more frequent and I started to visit more and more games abroad. This hobby is called groundhopping and it´s similar to TBT. People try to see more and more grounds (football stadiums, pitches) and visit as well more and more countries together with a football game.
There are 211 countries which belong to the FIFA (International Federation of Association Football). For many people it´s the goal to visit all 211 countries together with a football game. It´s a long way till that goal, at the moment I´m close to reaching 90 “countries” of the FIFA member states visited with more than 1.000 visited football games around the globe in total.
I´m sure here on TBT there is a football community as well, also within the football community there will be some who are members of thebesttravelled.com.
How do your football-related trips differ from the non-football ones?
That´s easy to answer. I have “football-only” trips and I have “non-football” trips, sometimes I like to combine those.
I´ll give you an example: A few weeks agoI was working till 6 p.m. on a Friday, after that I went down to La Spezia/Italy with my friends by car. We arrived pretty late. Next day we watched Serie B game Spezia Calcio vs Avellino in the afternoon and late night we watched the Genoa Derby (Serie A) between Genua CFC and Sampdoria. After the game we drove back home to Graz to be there next day for SK Sturm Graz vs Rapid Wien which was played on Sunday. On such trips there is no time for anything else.
Some trips are just “normal” trips where I like to explore new things. Out of the football season there are trips where I only visit nice sights, cities and places to see. Sometimes I do trips where you can combine it, for example last year I was in Cuba and stayed there for almost 2 weeks. I only watched one football game there. It´s not a “football country”, so the attendence is quite low and the skill level is also not that good.
One of the “important” things for me are the UNESCO world heritage sights. Another target is to see all the UNESCO world heritage sights around the globe. At the moment I have done nearly 350 out of 1052.
You rank exceptionally high on our European Cities Series considering your young age. Which cities in Europe stand out for you and why?
Honestly I have to say my favourite continent is Europe – Europe simply has most of the culture around the globe in my opinion and there are so many interesting places to see. We have more than 40 countries and so many different cultures over here, that´s maybe a reason why I´ve done so many places and cities in Europe.
That´s really hard to say: Hamburg/Germany is probably one of my favourite cities in Europe, I like the “style” of the city, next to the sea, the people in Hamburg and their style of living, I love fish and the food there. Belgrade is one of my favourite places, it´s just the city itself – the flair there and as well the people in Serbia. Been to Belgrade around 30-40 times in my life, so I really know the city quite well.
I do like Liverpool, a nice city – great people and nice spot. Spent there 3 New Years Eves as well and been there a couple of times. Porto is a great place to visit as well, such great architecture, nice food and the lovely port wine. Sure there are cities in Europe which are wonderful to visit – cities like Stockholm, Barcelona, Rome, Paris, Vienna, London, Berlin, Venice – but I guess everybody knows that.
How do people in faraway lands react when you tell them you are Austrian?
Hahaha…. you might know it, don´t you? It´s nearly always the same: “Where are you from?” – Austria!! “ohhh…Australia, nice!” No, AUSTRIA!!! EUROPE. “Ahh… where?” Germany! “Ahh nice, I love Germany”.
So, many people always confuse Austria with Australia. I´m used to that. In faraway lands people sometimes even don´t know Austria and you tell them it´s the country in Europe next to Switzerland, Germany and Italy. Sometimes they know and sometimes they don’t. If they don´t know I tell them it´s very similar to Germany.
There are many stereotypes about Austria… do you think they are justified?
You mean that every Austrian sits in front of his wooden house, built next to a beautiful lake surrounded by mountains, wearing his “Lederhose”/leather pants and likes to yodel all the time?
Or that we do eat Schnitzel every day and all Austrians can ski?
Of course, it´s always funny. Many Austrians do skiing and are good at it, but also lots of Austrians don´t like skiing and never do it. We have mountains only in the western part of Austria, the eastern part it flat for example. We love our local cuisine and I´d say we do eat a lot of our traditional food as well. Yodeling is very seldom here and leather pants are only worn at special events. Even lots of the locals don´t have a traditional uniform (called “Tracht”)
We do drink a lot of beer and wine – that might be true.
And could you name a few ‘hidden gems’ of your country that not so many foreigners know about?
Yes, my home town – Graz. It´s probably the most underrated city in Austria. Graz and the castle of Eggenberg belongs to the UNESCO world heritage and it´s a really beautiful city, right next to the river – the old town was built around a small hill – the “Schlossberg” with its clock tower. There you have a beautiful view of the whole city.
I always recognise that people abroad don´t know Graz, everybody knows the famous Vienna, Salzburg or Innsbruck but has never heard of Graz. So – GO TO GRAZ!!
Difficult to tell you about other places: Hallstatt is just beautiful and very famous, so it´s a “must-do”. I like the castle Hochosterwitz, nice place to visit. The Wachau is a beautiful area with it´s cities Melk and Krems nearby. I like Carinthia, Salzburg and Upper Austria with its lakes. One of the most beautiful areas in Austria is the “Großglockner Hochalpenstraße” (the Alpine road), I just love that area. The “Green Lake” is really beautiful and not far from Graz, it´s next to the village Tragöß-Sankt Katharein.
I also love the Semmering, a beautiful landscape, Austria is a nice country with lots of places to see.
Are you active on social media? Do you have a travel blog?
Of course I am, I use Facebook. You can find me there under my real name: David Schlessmann.
I used to use Instagram but I don´t like it for my personal use. I don´t have my own web site or travel blog, but I do always post on Facebook.
So what are your travel plans for the remainder of 2017?
There will be trips to Serbia, Bosnia and Hercegowina, Cyprus, Slovenia, Croatia, Romania, Hungary, Sweden, Finland, Germany, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, France, United Kingdom.
Those countries will be visited until the end of May, many football games as well – we will see. There will be many more trips for sure but I need to plan later, don´t like to plan too far in advance. If it´s possible I´d like to visit Greenland this year, later in 2017 I´d like to visit some African countries – but no concrete plans yet. Turkmenistan is on my list again – I got refused the visa last year without any reasons, so I´ll try again maybe this year.
And a final question we always ask – if you could invite four people from any period in human history to an imaginary dinner, who would they be and why?
That´s a really hard question and it wasn´t easy for me to choose those four. Of course I took people who already died, because people who are alive I could still meet.
I´d go for James Cook, the sailor and explorer. He´s done so many important things for the world and was just such an interesting character. I am fascinated by the trips he did and saw lots of documentaries about him, would be interesting to talk about all those trips.
Next one would be Wladimir Iljitsch Uljanow, better known as Lenin. He was an interesting person as well and the founder of the Soviet Union. I´d be interested in knowing more about him and his ideas, communism and his life. Still the personality cult about him till today is interesting.
Maybe the most interesting for me would be Jesus of Nazaret – everybody knows him. Jesus Christ would be interesting to meet for many reasons.
We are 4 men now, so I´d take a lady to complete the round. It would be Cleopatra VII., the last female queen of Egypt. There´s a nice story about her and it would be thrilling to meet her.
The photographs accompanying this interview are from David’s private collection and show him in the Pamir Highway (Kyrgyzstan/Tajikistan), Cameroon, Ghana, at a football derby in Belgrade, South Georgia, at a football stadium in Cuba, Antigua and Barbuda and with football legend Diego Maradona.