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Interview with Erik Olson

We owe Erik! We will let you in on a secret: we thought we had a large stock of interviews until we realised we didn't have any left... We panicked and happened to ask Erik for an interview and he rose to the occasion and gave us his answers within 24 hours. Now this is what we call a really good sport! 

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia.

Erik, tell us something about your early years and how your interest in travel developed.

I've always loved traveling even from a very young age.  I'm also a musician and I remember when I was 14 writing a song about getting out of town, I think the chorus was something like "Gotta get, gotta get the hell out of town, gotta go, gotta go, gotta go right now!" As soon as I was 16 (legal age to drive in the US) I was constantly trying to drag my friends on road trips all over the western states.  We did a lot of trips in Nevada, Wyoming, Oregon, Washington and California.  
 

I absolutely loved the feeling of being on the road.

Jame'Asr Hassanal Bolkian Mosque, Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei
What are the last three countries you visited and what are your impressions from them?

The last three counties I visited were Tunisia, Libya and Iraq.  I loved all three countries.  They are all very different experiences.  It was my second time in both Iraq and Tunisia but my first time Libya.  This time in Iraq I visited the Federal parts of Baghdad, Samarra, Najaf, Samawah, Nasiriyah and Basrah.  We stopped at the ruins of Babylon, Ur, Nippur, Ur-ok, and took a boat trip through the marshes.  To our surprise our trip coincided with the Shia Muslim pilgrimage of some four million people to Karbala and that was really special to experience.  Libya was very interesting to experience as well.  Its the first time I've been somewhere that was fresh on the heels of a revolution.  Unfortunately, there still seems to be a pretty serious lack of trust among the people.  Photos are mostly discouraged and if police see you taking a photo they may think you are a spy and arrest you. However, Tripoli is beautiful and the country has so much to offer in terms of culture and history.  I hope things stabilize and they get the bright future they fought for and deserve.  Tunisia is a lovely country as well.  This is where I am while writing this.  I visited Tunisia last February for the first time.  I was originally supposed to visit Libya then but the Libya trip was cancelled due to security concerns, so I ended up with four nights in Tunis.  I fell in love with the region. The Medina is incredible, I walked there from my hotel every morning and got lost in the maze of alleyways.  I also visited the amazing Carthage ruins and spent an afternoon on the coast at Sidi Bou Said.  I loved the vibe of Tunis, it reminded me of Istanbul in a way, a similar feel of East meets West.  This time though I plan to visit Sousse, Sfax, Kairouan, Tozeur and Dougga.

Pyongyang, North Korea.
So are you trying to do every country? Why? What motivates you?
Yeah, I'm not only trying to visit them all but I'd like to try to visit every region as well.  I adopted the idea of "go everywhere, see everything." The world is a beautiful place with a lot to offer.  That's why I love Nomad Mania, it's the most complete list I've seen breaking down countries by regions but also including the most interesting things to see.  I guess what motivates me is obsession.  I'm definitely not made of money though and we all know traveling can be expensive but I just work almost every hour I can when I'm home between trips.  Pretty much my life is work and travel.  It's working for me for now, but who knows maybe I'll slow down eventually, probably not though...

What do your non-travel friends and family think of your travel endeavours?

I think some of them thought I was crazy at first, but maybe that's changed?  I dunno.  People definitely seem more interested now.  Most people I know wouldn't pick destinations like Iraq, Afghanistan, Dagestan or Iran for their holiday getaways.  So it peaks their interest a bit to see me going to those places.  One thing I'm constantly asked is how I afford it.  Same answer every time, I work my ass off.  If you're dedicated and put the money away you can make it happen.

Darwaza Gas Crater, Turkmenistan.
Do you find being American an advantage or a disadvantage when you are travelling?

I feel fortunate to have a passport as strong as an American passport.  It has a few limitations but for the most part it can get me anywhere I'd like to go.  I'm fully aware of the privilege that comes along with it and I try to use it wisely and responsibly.  The only country I've been turned down for so far has been Syria and I have another security clearance in the works, so hopefully that will get approved.  Fingers crossed.  I've only had a problem once while traveling due to my citizenship.  I was at a camel market outside Hargeisa Somaliland and a young man that spoke English wanted to talk American politics and a large crowd gathered around us.  Our country is currently very divided politically but the young man calmed down when he saw that we both shared similar viewpoints.  This situation could've escalated quickly however, so I try to avoid any political debates when traveling If possible.  

Lac Assal, Djibouti.
What do you miss most from 'home' when you are on the road?

This might sound strange but I usually miss the air.  We have very clean air in the Pacific Northwest and whenever I get back and the plane lands I always enjoy taking a big breath of fresh air.  Although our Summers have been pretty smoky from forest fires. I don't miss that.  

How much luggage do you have in your travels? What are the essentials you cannot be without?

I travel pretty light.  I almost exclusively travel with luggage I can carry on.  A backpack and a small carry on suitcase.  I hate paying for checked baggage so I try not to bring more than I can carry on.  Sometimes you have to walk a ways across a land border or across town to a hotel or whatever and you don't want to have more than you can carry comfortably.  I usually have a pair of black Levi's and a few shirts (usually black) sometimes Hawaiian print too.  Hawaiian prints are cool because it says you mean business but you also like to party.  I find so many travelers wear the same thing, those travelers pants that are khaki or grey that they get from REI or wherever, I'm sure they make sense for functionality but I like to wear something different.  Like Johnny Cash, The Man in Black.  Or The Walking Dude from the Stand.  One thing I can't travel without is a good power bank.  Those are such a game changer.  No more scrambling to find a power outlet at an airport or train station.  

Blue Mosque, Mazari i Sharif, Afghanistan
Do you believe you will always be a big traveller or is this just a current phase of your life?

I can't imagine myself staying put.  I love traveling too much.  When I'm home I long for it.  Definitely not a current phase. 

Your social media handle is 'endless road travels'. Please explain this to us. Are you active on social media in terms of your travels? Has it changed the way you travel at all?

I guess the name Endless Roads Travel is an analogy for life.  We are on the constant trip of life until the day we die.  It also means the ultimate never ending road trip.  I had originally hoped that one day I could turn it into a business taking small groups to difficult or remote destinations.  However since kicking my traveling into high gear I've met and became close friends with some of the other people who have done exactly that and now I'm not sure if I'd feel right about becoming competition in what is already a small but highly competitive field.  I'm active on social media in terms of my travels.  I have a Facebook, Twitter and Instagram account but the one I enjoy the most is the Instagram account.  That was where it all started and I've always loved photography.  I guess the only way it changed the way I traveled was when I started the account I thought it would be cool to get one pic of every country in the world.  I quickly learned that one was simply not enough and I needed to do more.  

Martyrs' Monument, Baghdad.
So what are your travel plans for the next few months?
I'll be going to Saudi Arabia in December and plan to visit all the regions.  I'm very excited about that.  I'll be going to Riyadh, Hofuf, Dammam, Abha, Jeddah, Yanbu, Tabuk, Al-Jawf, Ha'il and outer Madinah.  I'll be taking trains for part of it and driving a rental car on the other part.  It's a country I've dreamed of seeing for a while but until the recent Sharek E-Visa I had no idea how I could get in. (ed's note: for more details on this special Saudi visa, click here).  I'll also be spending Christmas in Moscow and New Year's Eve on the Kola Peninsula.  After that I'm hoping to visit Syria for the first time in February and probably hit the couple regions I haven't been to in Lebanon and Jordan while I'm at it.  Oh I might also go to Somalia (Mogadishu, Puntland and Kismayo) for Easter.
Finally, our signature question - if you could invite any four people from any period in history to dinner, who would be on your guest list and why?

I would invite Carl Sagan, David Bowie, Bill Hicks and Lemmy Kilmister because I think they would all get along pretty well and contribute excellent dinner conversation. The soundtrack would be Nocturnes by Frederic Chopin.

Guardian Temple, Taipei Taiwan.
The photos in this interview are from Erik's personal collection and we thank him for sharing them with us at NomadMania!