Stephen Bramucci: Endless Wanderer
Steve Bramucci is the creator of BootsnAll’s “How I Travel” series. After hitchhiking around the country as a 19 year-old, he spent the next decade teaching and traveling the world including a thirteen month round-the-world trip that he covered in a monthly column for COAST magazine. When he’s not on the road he lives in Laguna Beach, CA where he has a writer-in-residence grant.
His travel writing has recently won awards from Trazzler, INTravel Magazine, and the Orange County Press Club. His pieces for BootsnAll can be found at http://www.bootsnall.com/articles/tags/steve-bramucci. He can also be found on Twitter at http://twitter.com/stevebram.
My travel style is defined by one thing: no itineraries.
I like to leave without even the seedlings of a plan. My tactic is to follow my nose, ask questions and talk to locals and tourists alike. It’s a scary theory, because it means opening up to the possibility of missing something big. But that’s always going to happen anyway. Whenever I find myself at a waterfall or beach that’s totally off the grid it suddenly becomes much easier to forget about what I might be missing.
I just saw a German movie that captures the improvisational vagabond spirit perfectly.
It’s called “Im Juli” and I’d recommend it to anyone who’s ever owned a backpack.
I’ve traveled around the world and I’m still the worst packer I know.
My backpack functions more like one of those party-favor grab bags than a complete set of supplies and gear. The only thing I’m sure to put in there is a tent, board shorts and a copy of Huck Finn. Besides that it’s a mystery. A few years ago I was taking a week-long trek through Australia’s outback and failed to bring extra socks. But I did somehow manage to carry a three volume Sherlock Holmes anthology.
As you can see, I pack novels not guidebooks.
I might give them a quick read at home before I travel though – information is always good, I just don’t want to be tethered to a guidebook (or an actual guide for that matter).
I don’t have a list of where I want to go next – but I definitely have spots that I’m fired up about.
Sometimes it’s countries, other times it’s just regions. Right now Nicaragua, Iran, and Norway have all captured my imagination. I also really want to get back to the Amazon Basin for an extended stretch of time. I camped along the banks of the Rio Anzu in Ecuador last spring and fell in love with it.
I trust local recommendations more than I trust the State Department’s warning list.
I was in the cities of Ramallah and Nablus in the West Bank the week before they were stormed by Israeli troops (2007) and was welcomed with nothing but warmth and hospitality. I found that the Palestinians didn’t connect me with my government’s policies any more than they wanted to be associated with a small number of extremists.
I’m a street food connoisseur and it’s never given me any digestive trouble.
If you don’t want to get sick, stay out of the tourist traps and eat on the street. The food is cooked hot and it sells quickly (meaning the vendors have to constantly buy fresh ingredients). My favorites are the curry fish balls in Hong Kong, the Zebu skewers served throughout Madagascar, and the carne asada tacos in Tijuana (believe it).
I ate a Chinese Century Egg in October.
That thing had a direct line to my gag reflex. It smelled like sulfur and the gummy texture seemed to absorb every bit of moisture in my mouth. I’ve eaten deep-fried wolf spiders (Cambodia), turtle intestine (Australia), termites (Uganda), river rat (Vietnam), and Blood Sausage (Italy) – and I’d try them all again with a smile on my face. But the Century Egg? I’m out. I’m done.
I like to get my hair cut wherever I go.
This has resulted in some awful haircuts. But I have met some fascinating people because of it. I also always try to take care of some municipal business, like going to the post office to mail something. I go to church when I’m abroad, too (even though I don’t go at home), especially in Fiji and South Africa where the four-part harmonies will give you chills. I really like meeting people outside of the tourist network.
My travel advice is simple: go directly to Madagascar.
Not only am I a huge fan of this ecologically and ethnically diverse mini-continent, but the country needs travelers to return after another stretch of political turmoil. Of all the places I’ve visited and loved, it tops my “go back” list.
Whitehaven Beach on Whitsunday Island (AUS) is the best beach I’ve ever set foot on.
The sand is so fine that it squeaks under your feet and sea turtles swim right along the shoreline. All off my pictures from Whitehaven look like someone has pulled off some sort of incredible Photoshop trickery.
I like to figure out the best mode of transport for getting around each place that I visit.
In Thailand, the bus system was too comfortable and efficient not to use. In Cambodia, I loved going by bicycle. I rowed a traditional Vietnamese X’ampan down the Mekong Delta. But the best application of this concept was buying a beat-up Nissan Patrol in East Africa. It constantly broke down and I had to change 26 tires, but it allowed me the chance to be my own safari guide and pick up locals in need of a lift. One of my all-time favorite travel memories is picking up a Masai tribesman and taking him to his village to share a pineapple with his family. You just don’t get organic experiences like that from tour operators.
Animal watching is a big part of the travel experience for me.
Some of my best trips have been to places like Indonesia, Galapagos, East Africa, and Madagascar. A week spent tracking Komodo Dragons on the island of Rinca was one of the best of my life. But living that close to an animal that can kill you and also smells blood from two miles away keeps you on edge.
If you want to connect with locals you have to slow down.
Find a day just to wander, have a conversation without glancing at your watch, get lost then ask for directions. The chance to make new friends is the number one selling point for traveling without an itinerary. The planet is filled with fascinating people who want to show off their corner of the world but you have to make time to actually talk with them.
If you’re on the bus, sit in the middle.
In the back you get the bathroom fumes, in the front you get people hopping on and off – but in the middle you get people with great stories just looking for someone who’ll listen.
I would love to have taken a trip with Mark Twain.
I really think he understood the beauty and the inescapable humor of life on the road.
When I’m on the road I listen to a lot of Ben Harper’s music.
I remember being at Uluru in central Australia and offering to drive a couple of Aboriginal men back to their community. I played a Ben Harper song for them, this anthem of unrest called “Better Way,” and within seconds they were both slapping their thighs and cheering out while the song rattled the speakers. They had a truly visceral reaction to the song – it spoke to something in them.
My favorite adventures are misadventures.
I was almost carried away by a flash flood on that Amazon trip and my boat sank twice in Vietnam… But those things make me appreciate the free and easy times even more.
There are still incredible places left out there that very few people know about.
We all just have to dig, ask questions and be intrepid. Once we find them, we’d be wise to take care of them. It’s those place in particular that make me want to live a sustainable lifestyle.
I used to think I traveled to learn about different cultures or broaden my perspective.
And those are certainly nice ancillary benefits to travel. But I’ve realized that the real reason that I travel is for the brief glimpses of beauty. Whether it’s playing soccer with kids on the beach in Mozambique or spotting my first Orca in New Zealand, my travels have provided me with these perfect moments that will hang in my memory forever. No price tag can be assigned to them, no photo can capture them – but those moments are waiting out there and every time I travel I seem to stumble into a few. That’s why I keep doing it. That’s why I’m in love with it.
“How I Travel” is a new BootsnAll series publishing every Tuesday in an effort to look at the unique and diverse travel habits of some of the world’s most well known and proficient road warriors. Got ideas for who we should talk to? Drop us a note.
You’ll find links to all the “How I Travel” articles on the How I Travel archive page, you can become a fan of “How I Travel” on Facebook, and you can follow the @howitravel profile on Twitter to get updates as soon as new features in this series are published.
all photographs provided by Steve Bramucci and may not be used without permission