This time, we interview an avid traveller from ‘Rossiya-Matushka’, Mr. Vladimir Stepanov.
Vladimir tell us a little about your background and how your interest in travel has grown.
Looks like that my taste for travel was created in my childhood. When I was seven, I travelled by train across the western part of Russia with my grandma as she was a conductress. At that same age, I counted kilometres with my dad who was a truck driver and travelled to almost all major parts of Russia. Before I finished my school, I had visited Tallinn in Estonia, saw “Kruzenstern”, one of the biggest sailing ships, and “suddenly” found out that I want to be a seaman.
In four years, I became a navigator and my real travel all over the world began.
It was a good fortune, and I visited more than 40 countries and all continents except Antarctica, made two amazing trips, one across Eurasia and another one around the world in the course of just 5 years of being an officer. What was fantastic is that I got paid for this! Fortunately, or unfortunately, I decided to resign when I was 25, but still keep close to the sea as a skipper.
You have visited more than 100 UN+ countries in the past 3 years. How is this possible?
Indeed, I just found out that I covered about 100 UN+ countries (new countries and the ones I had already visited) and flown/driven/walked 1,000,000 kilometres during the last three years, including my second around the world journey, but this time by plane. I assume it is quite possible for travellers who have a lot of time, but I had to work occasionally and I could not allow myself to stay much time without taking care of job. But even having business trips, I always tried to set apart a few days and visit interesting places or even countries nearby.
Part of my travels were connected with my sport activity, beach soccer, which is growing rapidly around the world, together with beach games. The name itself sounds very active and of course World Cups take place in exotic places such as Brasil and Tahiti (I never would have thought that I would visit French Polynesia three times).
So what are your travel aims? Are you going to try to do every UN country?
I think that every human being MUST explore the place where they live! I live in the place named planet Earth, thus here is the answer to your question.
To do every UN and UN+ country? This is not a must, but who knows? I’m only 44 and always ready to fill up my rucksack or handbag, create a route, buy a ticket, sometimes even with no hotels reserved and… 1-2-3, go!
Seriously, I hope to visit every corner of our planet, notwithstanding to the changing world.
How do you travel? Alone, with friends/family? And what kind of traveller would you say you are – what kind of accommodation do you go for and what aspects of a place interests you most?
I love to travel with my family and we do that a lot! Even our unborn baby has visited about 10 countries… But it is not always possible to travel everywhere, of course.
I have a few friends who are also world travellers and often ready to go explore new places. Since all of us have different businesses, we occasionally travel together to different spots of the world, trips ranging from a few days up to a few weeks. We settle for any type of accommodation, but mostly we are looking for cozy and beautiful places. Small luxury hotels, Relais & Chateaux have amazing hotels, but very small family hotels give you even more delight comparing to huge and chic hotels.
As to attractive places, I like to visit not too touristic ones, but unique and special. The world is changing very quickly and many places and countries are not the same anymore as they were 20 years ago. From my experience, Bali, Fiji and Tahiti are so crowded now that you need to double your efforts in search for an untamed and calm place to visit. My opinion is that the most demanded and expensive direction of travel in the future will be extremely close to the past, i.e. reconstructing the past without habitual gadgets and even electricity.
You are Russian but have barely visited the Asian parts of your own country. Don’t they interest you? From experience we feel Khabarovsk is a must-see!
This happens very often! Foreigners or even people from another city mostly know more about the local area than locals. Typically, people always look for something different and normally go far away, but do not notice really amazing spots in their vicinity.
I have started filling up these gaps and already mixing up new countries with my native country. Russia is quite big, you know, and has hundreds of places to see. I am 100% sure that every world traveller has to cross Russia from east to west or in the opposite direction by car or at least by train! Ural, Siberia, Baikal Lake, Kamchatka – these are the destinations of once in a lifetime experience… I have relatives in Khabarovsk, my mother even travelled there by train, but not me, to my shame.
Which aspect of Russia do you find most interesting, and which one would you recommend for foreign travellers visiting your country?
Definitely not vodka! Although not many Russians (nothing to say about tourists) can survive in Siberia or north of Russia with minus 40 degrees Celsius or more outside without it…joking. Seriously, it is not a secret that Russia is really big piece of our planet and respectively has enormous opportunity for travellers.
But the most interesting aspect in Russia are Russians and I assume not just those who live in Russian Federation now! Being in touch with local people closely offers foreigners much more than tour guides and once you become a friend of one Russian, you are automatically a friend of all his friends!
The only country for now where I met similar sincere cordiality was Brazil, which is one of my favorite countries and I love to speak in Portuguese, besides Russian, English, and Spanish.
Please do not mix the above with Russians on their vacations.
Tell us about a place where your experience was completely different than what you had expected.
North Korea, 100%!!! Despite the fact that I was born in the USSR, North Korea is much more different compared to Russia in the 70s and the 80s. Most likely the 50s and 60s, but I can compare only by watching old movies. Anyway, currently North Korea is absolutely unique and different from other countries. I guess you can find it similar to, for example, Papua New Guinea, Nigeria or Polynesia, but not to North Korea.
Which country has been especially welcoming to you? Can you give examples of this warm welcome?
I mentioned Brazil, but recently, during our around the world journey, me and my darling visited Eastern Samoa. We were really fascinated with, so seldom in the world, the welcome and openness, where everyone does their utmost to help you. As an example, trying to get to Western Samoa, we were handled by one simple person in the airport up to the Foreign Ministry Office. That person was not supposed to help us at all, but worked overtime just because of us.
Besides, Eastern Samoa is one of the cleanest places, not just comparing to the islands around, but in the world as well ! Local people love their island really much and keep it clean, with amazingly landscaped home gardens and roads around.
Have you ever had any negative things happen to you in your trips?
This is the most difficult question as it is quite hard to remember really negative things happened during my travel. Maybe because I am too positive and I try to find something good even when it is bad.
So what are your travel plans for the rest of 2016?
Since ebola is ceasing finally, we are going to start opening black spots in Africa at last. And…former Russian Republics as well. Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan as well as three remaining small countries in south Africa – Suriname, French Guiana, and Guinea. Very sad to observe the war between the same nations which is destroying ancient WHS in the Middle East.
No space travel yet as it is less safe than Africa.
And a final question unrelated to travel – if you could invite 4 people from any period in human history to an imaginary dinner, who would these people be?
Queen Elizabeth; Ernesto “Che” Guevara; Christofer Columbus; St. John Paul II and Denis Vasilev.
Thanks to everybody who helped me during my journeys!
I suggest to explore yourself first and it will give you a lot of miracles in your life!
The photos in this article are from the private collection of Mr. Stepanov.