Do we really need to introduce his Eminence the Sultan? Any words seem to be too small to express the greatness that is the Sultan. Following his magnanimous appearance at our 2nd NomadMania Travel Awards in November, we have the pleasure of allowing the man to speak for himself. What better way to end the year, what better gift than an interview with the Sultan of Slowjamastan aka Randy himself!
Randy, tell us a little about your early life and how your love for travel developed.
I grew up in Los Angeles and Tucson, Arizona. I was lucky enough to begin my career in radio at just 15 years old. By the time I was a junior in high school, I was the nighttime personality on my city’s hip-hop station. I’ve been extremely fortunate to enjoy a long, fruitful, and most of all, fun career in broadcasting. Today, my Sunday Night Slow Jams radio program is heard on over 200 radio stations in 14 countries. I also manage two radio stations here in San Diego, California, as well as host a live and local afternoon show. I am a workaholic, but truly love what I do – it rarely seems like work. I’ve also negotiated an obscene amount of vacation time with my employer – so make no mistake about it, I play just as hard as I work.
As a boy, I always loved to explore and push boundaries. I remember using the public transportation system in L.A., solo before I was even a teen. I wanted to see what was out there, beyond my neighbourhood and comfort zone. I went to a school where they bussed in kids from not-so-good neighbourhoods in the inner city. I remember stowing away on “their” bus to go stay the night at some of my friends’ houses in the bowels of East L.A. It was thrilling. I’ve never been afraid to leave my familiar surroundings and see what else was out there. It’s always just been instinctive to me.
Also, my parents divorced when I was three. I was flying unaccompanied at six or seven years old – maybe even five – to visit my dad during the summers. I’m sure that has something to do with my travel insanity today.
Your aim is to reach 193. What has motivated you and when do you think you will manage that?
I really wish I could pin down the exact moment, day or even year that I decided to take on the challenge of seeing every country. I can’t seem to pinpoint it. Rather than a specific, black-and-white decision, I think it was a culmination of numerous things that happened in my life, and before I knew it, I was booking to trips to Kabul, Mogadishu and Pyongyang, to the horror of my friends and family.
One life-changing moment for me was that first trip to Brazil, as a young man. Who knew you could have a love affair with an entire “country?” All I knew was, ten days later, when it was time to go, I was in tears at the airport. Tears! Brasil absolutely captured my heart. I’d quit my job and move there just four years later.
My first dedicated “challenge” was to finish South and Central America by 40. When I stumbled into places like The Guyanas, I quickly realized I possessed an affinity for the more “bizarre” (at least in my eyes) places of the world. I got a kick out of going to countries like Suriname – a nation none of my friends or family had ever even heard of. It’s in The Amazon? And they speak Dutch??? Super weird and I just ate it up. That specific trip would whet my appetite for the countless other very “different” places that would await me: from Mauritania to Timor Leste, to Equatorial Guinea to Transnistria – the weirder the better. I adore these places!
At the same time, I’d form an addiction to those regions that I “shouldn’t” go to. I was scared shitless venturing into places like Venezuela, North Korea and Iraq. But each time, I left just absolutely loving those countries, wanting to stay longer, and just overall being so happy that I took the chance. I left feeling so fortunate that I’d had such a rich experience and met so many incredible people. Normal people never get to experience the incredible things that we insane nomads do. I feel like I’ve been granted this whole second life, you know? I’ve been told I was the first tourist/traveller to enter Libya after the war. I really had no idea what I was doing, but I’m glad I did it.
God willing, I’m on track to reach 193 in 2023 – the moment Turkmenistan opens for travel. It’s driving me crazy!
You are one of those travellers with a ‘normal life’ who is nevertheless trying to do 193. What are the difficulties of combining the two and what sacrifices have you had to make in order to achieve this?
It can definitely be stressful at times – cramming so many countries into one, two- or three-week trip. I think my record was 14 nations in 22 days. The biggest challenge – besides making all those flights – is making sure I truly experience each country I’m visiting. I don’t believe quantity (or days) always relates to quality (of the experience). I can land in a new country in the morning, throw my bags down and be heading out the hotel’s doors by noon, packing in a delightful afternoon of genuine, local experiences – leaving the next day with new friends and memories that will last a lifetime.
Of course, there are many times when I wish I had longer in a country, but with only a finite amount of vacation days and a goal to finish 193 within 10 years of starting, what can you do?
Full disclosure, I’m an unmarried man with no kids (Hey, ladies!), so I’m able to pick up and go whenever I want to. I really admire others, who have to balance work and family. I can’t imagine!
Of the countries you have been to, which ones surprised you most, both positively and negatively?
The best surprise: Bangladesh.
I’d only been chasing 193 for a couple of years and had asked a few different fellow travellers which country was their least favourite. Multiple people had told me their disdain for Bangladesh. That was enough to make my mind up that I was not going to like it either. I planned just one night there – get me in and out quickly. I was so ready to hate this place. But less than two hours in, Dhaka become one of my top ten cities (maybe top 5) in the entire world!
The sights, the sounds, the chaos – the energy flowed through my veins and gave me life! There were more rickshaws than autos and everything happening around me looked like it was straight out of the 1800s. Add to the fact that everyone was nice to me – the whole experience was nothing less than magic and I hated to go. That one day in Dhaka goes down as one of my best travel experiences ever and a valuable lesson that everyone’s experience somewhere can be different.
Algeria was an amazing surprise, too. This too, was very early in my travel career – back when I still had so many preconceived ideas about places. I’d only remembered hearing the name “Algeria” connected to terrorism (the news!), so I was freaked out going there in general. What I experienced was one of the most beautiful cities I’d ever seen – a vibrant, cosmopolitan port city with wonderful food, beautiful people and stunning architecture. Algiers, in general, was just such a learning lesson to me: a lesson that the world is not everything you grow up hearing on the news.
On the negative side, Nepal. Granted, I never left Kathmandu, so I really didn’t give the country a chance and I know it. But I’d just finished an amazing week in stunning Bhutan. I don’t know what I expected from Nepal, but after that initial 20-minute walk around the capital, I hated it. A million motorbikes nipping at your heels on pedestrian walkways and a crap load of tourists? It wasn’t my vibe at all. I cut bait and left the next morning. It’s only one of two times I left a destination early.
Have you ever been in danger?
I’ve come to learn a lot of potential “danger” is made up in one’s mind. On the other hand, I’ve probably been closer than ever to danger and not even known it. Life is funny that way, isn’t it?
I was probably the most shaken during an overland trip to Burundi – not by what happened, but by what “could have” happened.
I’d spent all my time researching how not to die in South Sudan, I’d completely skipped over Burundi and the tensions on the border of Rwanda. I crossed by land completely oblivious to the tenuous relationship between the two countries. I remember finding it odd that the border, while open, was completely desolate. Where was the traffic, the lines of people, the vendors, the businesses and the overall “border” activity I’m used to seeing at crossings? Something was amiss. It felt like an episode of The Twilight Zone.
Upon crossing, I was immediately surrounded by local police, who were obviously mystified by a foreigner traipsing across their border on holiday. One deputy announced he would be my “escort” to my destination (the village of Kirundo.) I spent the next 16 hours with him glued to my side. This was 10% really cool and 90% terrifying.
The shakedowns started almost immediately, with him making sure to charge me a “fee” for every landmark I was shown. The deputy would pull the car over at certain times and have me get out, sort of “showing me off” to the curious villagers that would suddenly surround the car. It was so weird.
At the end of the night, I would be buying all of his comrade’s beers at the local bar, and of course, he insisted I bring him a “gift” for the village chief, which meant an envelope of cash. I probably could have enjoyed the experience so much more if I wasn’t worried about what “might” happen at any moment. I was seriously concerned that in the middle of the night, officers were going to break down my hotel door and haul me off to jail on some false charge, in an effort to shake down my family for cash. Silly? Maybe. Paranoid? Yes.
But when I finally got home and did the proper research, people in the region (Rwandans) informed me I was lucky to be alive, while many Burundians just apologized and welcomed me back. Was I in real danger? I may never know, but being in such a desolate part of the world, under someone else’s thumb, whose intentions I did know was surely unnerving.
There is a lot of talk about the ‘extreme travel community’ out there. What do you find the people have in common, if anything, beyond their desire to go everywhere? Are the people you have met similar personality-wise or not at all?
Many of us share some common values, but I think there exist many more differences than similarities, and that, for the most part, is to be celebrated. For example, I know friends who only stay at five-star hotels and others who enjoy casually couch-surfing through Somalia. I enjoy witnessing how others travel, and, at the same time, I’ve learned so much about myself.
I would be remiss if I didn’t thank everyone who has ever helped me in this community. There is no doubt, I would not have been able to take on this journey without the help of other travellers. It is simply impossible to find some of the intel we travellers exchange on a daily basis in our private groups and chats. I’ve been assisted countless times by complete strangers in this community – too many people to name. So if you’ve ever answered one of my private messages, a question under your post from me, or provided feedback to one of my online queries, I thank you so very much. I appreciate you!
You have a detailed blog called Ramblin’ Randy, Tell us about it and what your aims with this have been.
I treat my blog like a personal journal, however, it is open for the world to eavesdrop on. You won’t find many “Top 10 Restaurant” lists, or “How-To” guides on my website – it is literally a journal of my personal experiences, some exciting and others mundane. Sometimes I ramble on in detail about the quirky specifics of a morning walk somewhere less-traveled; other entries might just be a quick, broad stroke on two days spent in a very common destination. As I get older, I want to make sure I cement some of these memories before they fade.
My writing style seems to be very different from most travel blogs. I do my best to go beyond facts and make the reader feel like he is “with” me, or better yet, “is” me. I do my best to convey the emotion of every trip, be it excitement, fear, anticipation, confusion, or whatever. I want the reader to feel what I feel. My audience is small but loyal. And when I hear from someone that they enjoyed my article; that they felt like they were there with me; or even that they used some of my intel on “their” trip – it’s one of the most rewarding feelings ever.
Writing about a trip after I come home is also like reliving it all over again. It’s like a second, bonus journey back. It’s another chance to process everything that happened, lay out the timeline and organize the photos. Finally, sometimes I find myself going back to blogs from trips many years ago, and chuckling at how naive I was back then. We are constantly growing and evolving when we travel. It’s fun to look back and see the different person you were years ago.
I don’t make any money from my website, but that’s not why I do it. It’s 100% just for personal satisfaction. It’s such a great outlet and a way to travel all over again without leaving the house…and spending money!
Now, a year or so ago, on your birthday, you founded Slowjamastan. Tell us all about it.
Who hasn’t heard of The United Territories of The Sovereign Nation of The People’s Republic of Slowjamastan??? I thought we’d already made the history books!
Well, for those that don’t know: In 2021, I annexed an 11-acre parcel of land about an hour south of Palm Springs, California. After putting up signs, a border gate and a fence, on December 1st, we declared our independence and seceded from The United States. Today, we are our own independent nation.
Randy as the Sultan of Slowjamastan
We are especially interested in the founding principles of Slowjamastan. Please elaborate on them and explain their significance in the travel world.
Before founding Slowjamastan, I’d found myself very concerned with many Americans’ choice of footwear, specifically those fashion monstrosities they call “Crocs.” Have you heard of Crocs? These reprehensible, cartoon-looking rubber clogs with Swiss-cheese holes in them have been spreading like a disease here in the US (among other places) and it was giving me anxiety.
How could anyone in their right mind ever put those abhorrent and embarrassing things on their feet…in public! Attempts to convince Congress to ban these evil slippers proved futile, so I decided to create a nation of my very own, where I would make the laws. Of course, our very first federal statute was a complete ban and zero-tolerance for Crocs. We provide swift and severe punishment for anyone breaking this sacred law.
Other laws include the prohibition of using the “Reply-All” function when receiving a company-wide email, driving in the left lane when you are not passing other cars, and playing “mumble rap” in public.
You are the Sultan of Slowjamastan. How does it feel to be a Sultan.
It’s not all glitz and glamour. Sure, I have hoards of servants at my beck and call and a never-ending line of ladies waiting for a chance to dance with the Sultan – but being the Supreme Leader comes with responsibility and even some risk. I do my very best to put my people first and provide a safe and bountiful land, free of the evils of Crocs and auto-tuned rap music.
We understand you can become a citizen and get a great passport. How many citizens are there now and are there any requirements?
We have over 500 registered citizens from 79 countries and over 3,000 applications in the queue. It’s free to become a citizen – we just need a solemn swear that you will not bring Crocs into our land. Sexy ladies to the front of the line, please.
So what is the purpose of this whole venture?
Randy speaking now, not The Sultan – and I hope everyone reading understands the fun and satire here. The only thing more entertaining than satire is watching the 1% of people who don’t understand satire!
Why Slowjamastan? I guess I’m always looking for a new creative outlet. Slowjamastan is for fun – think of it as one big art project. But this project is interactive. This project never stops growing, moving and expanding. Plus, anyone can be involved. And here’s the really cool part: Slowjamastan is whatever people want it to be. With all the divisiveness of modern-day social media, news and politics, Slowjamastan is a place where people can get away and escape it all – both physically or virtually (99% of our citizens will probably never make it there in person).
Slowjamastan is just a fun thing that anyone can be a part of it – in any way. You can be just a casual observer online, or sign up to be a member of our parliament. You can follow us on Instagram or go so far as to have one of our states named after you. The possibilities are endless.
What are your travel aims once you reach 193, if any?
First, I am actually really looking forward to slowing down! It’s hectic and expensive to see five countries in two weeks! It will be such a luxury to simply slow down.
Of course, I’m most excited to get back to the places I love the most – to unpack, relax a little bit, and then go deeper and explore more. A few places I’m really jazzed to get back to, are the Philippines, Indonesia, Armenia, Venezuela, Japan and Bangladesh. There are so many more.
I look at my current travel style like this, hear me out: The world is this giant buffet of 193 different foods that I’ve never tasted in my life. My plan is to take a tiny bite of all 193 dishes – just a morsel – so I can try it all, and then go back for bigger plates of the dishes I really loved. If I filled up on just three or four, or even 20 or 30 dishes – that would leave so many more dishes on the table, un-tasted! Give me a small bite of everything now, and then when I’m done sampling, I’l head back for bigger servings of the food I liked.
I’m almost done tasting the whole buffet and I can’t wait to go back to my favourite dishes, this time with a giant bowl and serving spoon.
And finally our signature question – if you can invite any 4 people from any period in human history to dinner, who would your guests be and why?
First and foremost, my dear Mother, who recently passed. I’d give anything for more time with her. Probably my grandmother too. Next would be musician Louis Armstrong and you gotta invite Jesus, right? I mean, the guy makes wine out of water.