Today on TraveLinkSites we’re talking to one of mine (Will’s) favourite bloggers and big-time inspirations (when it comes to learning Spanish), Benny Lewis. Benny is a force of nature when it comes to travelling the world and learning languages and runs a hugely popular blog at Fluent in 3 Months, focused on helping and inspiring thousands to do the same.
We’re super excited to be talking to the man himself and sure he’s got plenty of useful tips for those setting off on an around the world travel trip.
1. Hey Benny! Could you briefly introduce yourself, your site and your travel experiences?
My name is Benny Lewis – I graduated as an electronic engineer and have been travelling the world ever since. It’s coming up to about a decade of total travel time (9 years consecutively), although rather than constantly hitting the road, it’s more a case of 3 or so month stays in a place.
Since I did poorly in languages in school, I never figured I had it in me to learn a language like Spanish, and even after living in the country for six months, made very little progress. Then I tried a much more efficient approach, which I’ve improved over the years to help me learn a language even quicker.
About 2 years ago, I started the blog fluentin3months.com to document my intensive language learning experiences and to share them with the world! It’s grown very well, and I use it as a platform to share my language learning tips and my travel experiences! I’m currently travelling in China, using the Mandarin I had learned in 3 months at the start of the year.
2. Could you give us a rough breakdown of where you’ve been in the world thus far?
Mostly Europe and the Americas. So I’ve genuinely lived in, for several months (and learned the languages of, although I don’t maintain a few) Spain, Italy, France, Germany, Czech republic, Hungary, Turkey, Holland, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Peru, the US, Canada, Thailand, the Philippinnes, Taiwan, China, India and maybe a few more! I’ve visited some other countries for a few days, but everything on this list is a place I feel I genuinely lived in.
3. Why did you decide to travel around the world as opposed to focusing on a specific region? What countries are you looking forward to visiting most that you haven’t done so yet?
I don’t have a grand plan, and only tend to think of the current and next destination. So I’ll pick one interesting country, rather than a “region”. For example, in South America, I’ve only ever flown to one country and then left the continent, each time, rather than have a South America trip. Same with Asia.
I don’t have a base anywhere in the world (I travel with everything I own), but I do go back to Ireland frequently to spend time with my family around the holidays, so that’s sometimes the focal point between trips.
At the moment I know that I’ll be visiting the states in July, and I’m looking forward to some western comforts for a few weeks, and I’ll be back in Ireland in August, but after that I really don’t know. I’ll think about it later and then look forward to it! It will very likely involve another intensive 3 month language learning project though, so a 2 month break speaking English and Irish (Gaeilge) will be nice!
4. What are the most important preparations you need to make when planning on travelling around the world?
I’m not big on planning. I try to have a decently priced airline ticket, and make sure my travel health insurance is covered until the end of a current trip. Generally I wing it most of the time. In my early travels when I was on a tight budget, I didn’t even save up that much money (a huge issue I find with Americans who feel the need to have 5 figures in the bank before hitting the road), and figured out a way to support myself on arrival.
You won’t starve to death; absolute worst case scenario, you can always get a relative to Western Union you emergency money to get home or something. Learn to spend less, and embrace minimalism, rather than saving up for every possible contingency or luxury. Travel is more fun when it’s spontaneous!
5. What should people think about, based on your experiences, most when travelling around the world?
Learning the local language has changed my travel experiences, so I’d highly recommend you make the tough choice to not hang out with other English speakers. It will indeed make it less fun at first (I missed the expat parties I could have taken part in, in many places), but after you have learned it, you open up your world to absolutely everyone you could possibly meet!
Otherwise, keep an open mind and try to be flexible. Go out of your way to make it about the people – snapping photos and trying local food is great, but making cool new friends is what makes travel special for me.
6. What sites and resources do you use to help prepare for around the world travel? What do you use them for?
Skyscanner.net helps me find a cheap flight, Couchsurfing’s local message boards and the Thorn Tree forum (by Lonely Planet) helps me figure out logistics that I might be confused about (visas, where to look for accommodation if I’ll be renting etc.) And Couchsurfing again helps me get started on creating a social network, since I can attend their meetings, or contact people directly.
Usually I find the local equivalent of Craigslist to rent a room for a few months. This must be done in the local language to get a decent deal, since places advertised in English have inflated prices.
If I’ve literally just started learning the language, I have found that hiring a one-task bilingual personal assistant on odesk.com or elance.com and paying them, say $50, to do all the research and even look at the place for me if they live there, saves me tonnes of stress and money in the long run.
7. What are the common mistakes people make when planning an around the world travel trip?
Giving themselves a puny amount of time in one destination. You’ll get exhausted and soon can’t even appreciate the beautiful architecture as you zoom through cities. You see nothing worthwhile this way.
Forget round-the-world trips. Focus on one destination and REALLY take it in. Otherwise you are just checking off ”been there” on some silly bucket list.
If it is indeed a once-off trip before you hit a 9-5 job until you die or your knees give (I highly recommend reconsidering this path!!) then make it about quality rather than quantity. Pick a small number of countries and spend several weeks (at least) in each.
8. How long in advance should you begin to think about around the world travel? What are the first things you need to organise? What things can wait until the last moment?
As I said above, be spontaneous! Long enough in advance so the ticket isn’t so expensive, so usually a couple of months is fine. This is also enough to sort out visas in advance if you need them. In most countries, you can get accommodation at the last minute, and in many places, it’s preferable to find it on arrival for the best deal.
The first things you need to do are to decide to only bring what is essential for you to live. Don’t carry all your crap around the world – you’ll regret it! A few items of clothing, some light digital stuff (not an SLR camera! A point and shoot is quite fine nowadays unless you work for TIME!), and an ebook reader, since physical books can be so bulky to take on the road.
9. What things do you focus on most when you blog about around the world travel? Why do you choose these things?
People need to encouragement to see that it’s possible, they need to be reminded that bucketloads of cash are NOT the deciding factor (despite moving to a new country every 3 months, with flights and all, my lifestyle is WAY less expensive than most settled people in the west), and of course, I like to share some of my fun adventures to give them inspiration for why I do it in the first place!
10. If you could think of one thing you wished someone had told you before you started travelling around the world what would it be?
Make more mistakes. The best parts of my travel experiences have been those I’ve learned from leaving my comfort zone and figuring it out as I went along. You grow so much as a person this way.
Big props to Benny for joining us and talking about his travels thus far!
If you’d like to be interviewed, contact us.