We do hope you all regularly visit our Statistics section; if you fill in your profile through ‘My Trips’ or at least put in your date of travel, you will be counted in the cool statistic ‘Nomads with Most visited regions in YEAR’. For 2020, given the current situation, we thought it was impossible that 25-year-old Joshua could have visited 109 NomadMania regions as our statistics indicated. So we contacted him for him to ‘correct’ this, only to find out that the entries are correct. Meet, officially, the biggest traveller of 2020 so far! Josh K.
Joshua, tell us something about your early years and how you became interested in travel.
I’ve had wanderlust since I was a little kid, always curious to see what’s beyond the horizon or over the next mountain. I grew up in a small city in Wyoming, Western U.S.A and spent much of my childhood exploring nearby areas of the Rocky Mountains. This usually involved camping trips in national forests and parks, and I was very fortunate to have a family that enjoyed doing such activities together. While my early years involved exploring the natural world, it was in my early university years that I developed a keen interest in international travel. I studied anthropology in New Orleans and became fascinated by different cultures, languages, and diverse perceptions of the world and life in general. It was then, at the age of 19, that I embarked on my first extended trip abroad. I drove my car to the Darien region of Panama from the U.S., taking almost 2 months to explore Mexico and Central America on the way there and back. This road trip was a truly eye-opening adventure and was definitely the experience that ignited my passion for exploring the world.
How would you describe your travel style?
I love traveling overland and try to do so whenever possible, whether that be by car, bus, or train. The way I see it, it isn’t truly traveling if you’re not meeting locals and public transportation is a great way to do this. I have never associated luxury with travel. On the contrary, I love roughing it while abroad. I’ll often rent a car, go on extended road trips, and even camp for most of the time if the climate and general security situation permits it. I’ve found that traveling by car allows for easier access to remote and generally more authentic locales. Plus, it allows you to appreciate the scenery and move at the exact pace you would like. I also believe that, contrary to what some people think, renting a car and camping ends up being much cheaper in regions such as Western Europe and North America where accommodation can be prohibitively expensive.
I will admit that I tend to travel quite quickly. I find it simply overwhelming just how fascinating the world is, and, like many young travelers, I’m excited to experience it sooner rather than later. I think it’s nice to see diverse regions when you’re a young professional with limited time (due to career constraints etc). You could always return to spend more time in your favorite places later in life when, ideally, you’ll have more time and financial means to do so. Personally, I hope to one day return to my favorite developing countries for medical mission work. It’s all too easy to become a “consumer” when travelling and, because of this, I believe it’s important to give back whenever you can.
Give us a few instances where your travels really impacted you.
I would say venturing deep into the Amazon (up the Rio Yavari between Peru and Brazil) and staying with isolated tribes was a life-changing experience. Hearing their perspectives of the world and trying to understand their way of life was fascinating. I think it’s essential to practice cultural relativism when traveling, as people always judge life and the world through their own cultural lens.
I was also impressed by the kindness and generosity of strangers in some Muslim-majority regions I visited. This was especially true in Lebanon, Iraqi Kurdistan, and some of the Russian Republics of the Northern Caucasus.
It appears you are so far the biggest traveller in 2020. Tell us how this came to be and what places you have explored this year.
Before I discuss my travels this year, I would like to preempt it with my feelings of remorse. In retrospect, it was very foolish and selfish of me to continue traveling when I was potentially putting the health of others at risk. Being well traveled this year is not something I’m proud of, rather I’m ashamed that I continued to travel when many people didn’t. I justified it to myself at the time because I was worried I may not have time to complete my trip for decades (given the standard 3 week/year vacation time afforded to U.S. doctors). However, the reality is that traveling during the COVID pandemic was the most irresponsible thing I’ve ever done. I continue to regret it everyday.
To put it into perspective, much of the travel I did was very early in the year before COVID became a pandemic and before restrictions were in place. I started by exploring most of the Lesser Antilles in January and, at this time, the entire region was still open to tourism. People weren’t wearing masks and public spaces were open. I then embarked on my meticulously planned trip around South and Southeast Asia. I loved Nepal, parts of Northern India, and Myanmar in particular. I recall how strange it was to not see anyone’s full face for days. I remember how awkward it felt wearing gloves outside in a warm climate. While in Jaipur, I befriended a traveler from Wuhan who wasn’t allowed to enter his home country and was thus stranded in India. I found it interesting how hesitant he was to say where he’s from. He even shared stories of other travelers treating him very rudely because of this.
I next traveled around Laos, Southern Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and Peninsular Malaysia. I didn’t meet any resistance with a U.S. passport even though some countries were closing to Europeans at the time. While in SE Asia, I became very lucky when crossing certain borders. I just happened to enter Singapore a few hours before their travel ban took effect, and, the next day, entered Indonesia the day before they closed their borders as well! I spent a lot of time in Indonesia and loved the diversity and friendliness of locals in the less touristic regions. After visiting a few different islands, I became stranded in Indonesian Papua due to a lockdown implemented without warning. I found Papua to be a fascinating place with immense cultural diversity and scenery. While there, I was fortunate to explore the island’s limited road network by motorcycle. At one point, I witnessed an elderly man being beaten with a stick by police for being outside after curfew. This really had an effect on me, and I couldn’t help but wonder how much COVID hysteria has exposed social injustices and racism throughout the world.
I was finally able to get a flight out and, after some time road tripping around Mexico, I returned to the U.S. for good. Like many travelers, I lost lots of money from cancelled travel plans and had to put some dreams on hold. But this is nothing compared to the sacrifices many people around the world were forced to make. I feel eternally guilty about this. I’m now serving on the front lines fighting the COVID pandemic, and I feel that this is the very least I can do.
Do you think travel during the pandemic is justified and under what conditions? What would you answer to those who suggest we stay home until all this has passed?
While traveling as a tourist can be inherently selfish, I now believe doing so during the pandemic is at a whole other level. This is especially true if you’re coming from a heavily impacted region or visiting countries with less developed healthcare systems. I realize that I seem like the world’s biggest hypocrite saying so, but I’ve had experiences in the last few months that have given me a new perspective.
As a medical doctor, I’ve been taking care of COVID patients for the last month and have seen how quickly they can go downhill. I’ve witnessed firsthand how devastating a COVID death can be for a family. It’s upsetting to think that traveling could indirectly contribute to such devastation, even if it’s only affecting a select few you may never meet. To answer the question, I believe traveling would only be justified if you’re taking a personal vehicle, stocking up on food, and camping as this would be the best way to minimize contact with others. Of course, this would all change if a proven vaccine becomes available. And the importance of wearing N95 respirators, gloves, and practicing impeccable hand hygiene cannot be understated.
Are you planning any travels in the next months?
No. Given that I’m living in the most heavily affected region, I will not travel more during the COVID pandemic (unless, of course, an effective vaccine is developed). I just began my medical residency in the U.S. and will thus have very little time for travel anyway.
In general, what do you feel the future of travel Is for the next year or so?
This is such a difficult question as there’s so much uncertainty right now. While we all hope global travel will resume sooner rather than later, it all depends on biologic and epidemiologic processes that are very difficult to control. I’m hopeful that a successful vaccine will become available during the next 3-6 months, but vaccine development has never happened in such a short time frame in medical history. Counting on this is hoping for the improbable. I predict that, even if the COVID pandemic passes in the next year, travel screening will be much more stringent and visa applications will require detailed medical checks. I think travel will become as contactless as possible and social distancing will remain commonplace for years. With all these unknowns, it’s impossible to predict which countries will open their borders to whom and how soon this will occur. As we’ve seen in the last few months, travel will likely continue to open regionally first before true global trips become an option.
Which places are high on your bucket list and why?
- Northern Siberia – for vast expanses of untouched nature, wildlife (Wrangel Island) as well as fascinating remnants of Soviet history
- Antarctica – for wildlife and scenery
- Madagascar – for the mixture of Malagasy and Southern African cultures
- Northern Pakistan – for the scenery, cultures, and trekking
Which feature of NomadMania do you most enjoy and why? And what would you love to see added which is not there yet?
I’m a huge fan of the lists/series provided for each particular region. It’s a useful trip-planning tool as you can easily see which sights and experiences the world’s biggest travelers deem most noteworthy. As an avid outdoorsman and naturalist, I would love to see a series for wildlife seen within each region.
Finally, our signature question, if you could invite any four people to dinner from any period in history who would you invite?
- Charles Darwin – to discuss his theories with him before they were made public
- Theodore Roosevelt – perhaps the greatest adventurer and conservationist in U.S. political history
- Franz Boas – to hear about the experiences that inspired him to shape modern anthropology
- Peter Freuchen – though probably not as well known, I would love to hear his stories. He led a truly fascinating life, from being an influential figure in WWII to exploring the Arctic for decades.