Interview with Godfather of Travel Podcasting, Chris Christensen of Amateur Traveler
I interviewed one of the top travel podcasters, Chris Christophers. Chris is award winning travel blogger and podcast host, as hosts several podcasts, the most well known as the Amateur Traveler podcast since 2005, with over 700 episodes You might say he is the godfather of travel podcast.
Please let us know where you are from and your travels as a kid.
As a kid. I grew up in California. I was born in Ohio, as we were talking about before we started recording but I moved to California three, and grew up out here and mostly travels as a kid. We're a little beat up trailer in national park in the last couple trips to the east coast. And I don't think other than two trips to Canada I don't think I got to another country until I was out of college.
What is your favorite national park?
I would I think Bryce Canyon is one of the prettiest national parks in the US and probably my favorite and one of the best hikes to also the Navajo trail down through Wall Street. Hiking down into the Hutus is pretty cool.
How often do you travel, in a normal year?
Yeah, not at all right now. I got to the backyard yesterday. In normal year, So I started the show, as you said in 2005. And since then, a lot of that time I was working a full-time job. And so, I was traveling four weeks a year. And then about seven years ago, I quit the full-time job and started working halftime. And so then I was traveling of much more than that, probably more like two months of the year to three months of the year, depending on the year. And then I went back to work full time about a year ago, which is one of those things that made me resent, you know, the fact that I was that resent, but a little jealous of my travel, blogging and brother and who were traveling more, although now as it turns out, it's not a bad time to have a job. job when you can
How many podcasts have you listened to?
Well, I was up to 90, probably at the highest where I had subscriptions. I don't know what how many I have subscriptions to now it's probably less than that. But I listen to podcasts all the time.
What do you what do you like about podcasts? What is it give you?
I love learning new things. I am always looking for that I would say in the podcasts that I listened to. So, I don't listen, for instance, in a comedy podcast, but I listen to you know, at least one grammar podcast, number of history podcasts, some business podcasts, marketing, all sorts of things, some travel so
Why did you start your own podcast?
Podcasting started in September of 2004. And I started listening to podcasts by, I think, December of that year or January of the following year. And it wasn't very long. After I was listening to podcasts, I thought why I should do what I love this format. I love the audio format. I love the fact that you can have something that's more niche, and therefore, it's more interesting to me than radio ever was. And so I started deciding what podcast to do in the spring of 2005. And thought about doing a tech podcast because I am a nerd. And but Adam Christiansen no relation to Chris Christensen. He had already started doing the Mac Cast and I thought well you know, you don't need to Mac podcasts, which is kind of silly that we have way more than two and then I thought about doing a religious podcast actually did one started one a year after that, but we had some friends over for Memorial Day, and all the best stories for travel stories. And so I thought I would do a podcast about my travels, which was a little silly because I was traveling four weeks a year, as I mentioned, and I was podcasting the other 48 weeks a year. It very quickly turned into a interview show predominantly, images traveler as your main podcast. Give us an idea what that is all about. So, yeah, so every week we talk about a different destination. It is typically an interview show with somebody who wrote the guidebook on the destination lives of the destination visited the destination, the local, somebody who knows more about it typically than I do, although sometimes we're talking about a destination Why have also been but we talk about destinations all over the world.
Even though it seems like you have covered the world. You are always looking for trips. How do you find your next adventure?
It is a combination of responding to people who are pitching the show at this point, because I get a lot of people who are pitching and that is, I would say at least half of the shows are something that someone has pitched to me. And there are obviously other shows that were pitched to me that I turned down because they were inappropriate. Or we had done them too recently, or it didn't sound interesting to me, you know, to be honest, a, you've got to get through that filter of, it's going to take me quite a few hours to get that show ready. So, it has to be an interesting show. It must have some depth to it, culturally, history, whatever. We don't really talk about the, you know, we're just going to go lie on the beach, because that's might be a fun vacation, but it's kind of boring to talk about. We do not tend to typically focus on the all-inclusive resort kind of vacations. Those sorts of things will occasionally do a cruise vacation but will tend to do it. From a destination standpoint, you know, not a cruise that goes nowhere, but a cruise that goes to these places, especially if those places are places you can only see on a cruise, like the fjords in Chile or someplace like that, that you can't just take a bus there. You really must be on a boat. That is some segment and then I'm always looking for do I stumble across somebody who has been someplace and think well, we haven't talked about that.
What surprising benefits have you received by being a travel podcaster?
Amateur Traveler has led me to the White House to a be a guest in the Obama White House. When they did a summit with travel bloggers, they invited 100 travel bloggers and you know, the occasional travel podcaster to come talk about promoting study abroad that promoting study abroad because they felt that it was something that enhances our ability to relate to other countries that enhances those relationships. The National Security Council actually Had some guests in and I was able to take part in that. It is also led to travel. You know, when you get a call from the Kingdom of Jordan, we'd like to come to Jordan for two weeks. all expenses paid with a guide and driver. You say yes. So real more recently that was a trip was a few years ago. But last year, for instance, I was in the tree the tree that was the year before I was in Botswana. For instance, last year I was on a cruise barge, luxury barge hotel cruise in the south of France, I spent a week in Slovenia, with the Tourism Board there. Again, I am not able to do CES quite as often as I was now that I have gone back to full time work. I had some trips scheduled this year. I was supposed to go to Italy for a conference for the TEDx conference. And that again was be sponsored. That someone else was paying my airline ticket there. And then I was supposed to go to Turkey with a group of listeners of the show. They were paying my way there. And then that just got canceled by the tour company. And then I was supposed to go to the Canadian Arctic and Greenland and the Government of Canada even though that trip was in August, they have closed the Canadian Arctic for cruises for the entire year. And then I still have one trip scheduled just depending on how long this Coronavirus crisis last that is in December to go to the Galapagos again as a as a sponsored trip.
How do you feel about how the travel industry is going to progress out of lockdown of COVID-19?
Well, it is not everybody is going to come out of this. It is like the small restaurants too. And the neighborhood you know a lot of those are going to fail. And some airlines potentially are going to fail just depending on what kind of relief they can get. A lot of people in the travel industry in the hospitality industry are suffering right now just because there is just not a lot of money there. We will bounce back. I fully believe that we will be traveling again in a couple of years, probably very so a lot of people are guessing that this will really change our travel behavior. And I am one of those people who believes that it probably will not that much that we do not really learn that much from previous lessons. And I think of the people of China. I have been to China since they had SARS. And since they had other Corona viruses, you know, that hit them harder than it hit the rest of the world. And they have been traveling quite a lot since then. I think things will when they return to normal may look a little more normal and some people are predicting, in fact, the cruise bookings for next year are up from this year. Now in part that is because a lot of people postpone their cruise. Some of those people will cancel some of the people will not do the cruise but I think a lot of them will a lot of people who love that style of travel. There will be some changes on that is one place where we will see some changes. I think there will be fewer cruise lines, certainly in the next two years that will let you serve your own food and they're already talking equipping different cruise ports with some of these isolated ICU pods that were developed for the Navy so that they can take anybody off who gets sick. I think there will be some changes that will go on there in terms of differences. But largely, I think it will be a similar experience again, in two years or so.
Everyone hits the top spots. Eiffel Tower, Coliseum, etc. What are some of the interesting places you have visited outside the main tourist spots.
If you think about within any country for instance, let us take you mentioned Paris and Paris is a wonderful place. Not a clean city as far as that goes. I would pick you know, Zurich, for instance. Even on even in during Zuri Fascht when they have 300,000 people visitors in the town after they clean up and still cleaning in Paris on a good day. But it is amazing place but a lot of people don't get to so many other wonderful places in France and there is there is no end of them, you know, clearly famous place Like Normandy and places like the French Riviera, I mentioned doing a canal cruise, you know, the oldest commercial canal in Europe, down there in the southern part of France and carcass on one of the best preserved wall towns. So, a lot of countries that are popular countries like most popular ones to Americans being England, France, and Italy, not in that order. But there are places within there that are less visited. And then when you get to places that are countries that people don't think of, then you start running into places like well, nearby there even are places like Luxembourg and I think Luxembourg City is one of the most beautiful capital cities in Europe. Or Slovenia I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to Slovenia in Central Europe. We think of it as Eastern Europe, but it is Central Europe. There's so much further east of that. It is doesn't get nearly the number of tourists that a lot of places. I went down on a Mercury mine of all things. Fascinating country and then places like Botswana just have my heart been there twice now within the last year and a half. Africa is a special place to be. Sub-Saharan Africa is a special place to me, and I love the animals, love the people. Tanzania, I'm just always amazed that any three Tanzanians seem to be able to break into four-part harmony when they sang. There are so many amazing places like that in the world, I think.
What makes travel interesting, enjoyable to you?
I think it is learning new things. That is one of the things that is consistent with this style of travel that I love. The ability to stand in front of great pyramids and hear them talk about the history that goes back. I remember our guide when we took a group of Amateur Travelers’ listeners there in 2010. A guide is saying here are the great pyramids. They were built in the time of the Old Kingdom, which is, you know, so long ago, more than 4000 years ago. The people who conquered them, we do not even know who they were anymore. And it has been so long ago, but they had an unfair advantage. They had the wheel like, excuse me. They had chariots and that a lot of this he was saying they believe were built without without wheels, and you are just kind of staring up. I believe I am not hearing you correctly. So ancient as a history buff. to places like Egypt or places like Greece or Istanbul or places like that, that have so much more history than we have are amazing to me.
How do you feel most countries Americans are received?
I have never had any problems with how I have been received any place that I have been. I am trying to think of If there's any exception to that, that I can think of having usually especially there as a tourist, your part of the infrastructure, your part of the economic benefits. Am I ever gotten the stink eye for being an American? Probably trying to think of where that would have been, but I cannot really think of any place that I have really run into problems with that. Most people can differentiate the politics from a country even if they do not like your politics around the country from the people. I do not always like our politics, either. That is got to be true for you know, half the people in the country. It is just the different half at different times. It depends a little bit on how much effort you are making. Are you trying to learn any of the language? People who have really opened when I have spoken a word of Swahili or something like that. What we encourage people on the show and the blog is to you go because things are different. That is part of the reason you go travel some places because it's not the same. You don not complain. But I have heard people do it. I have heard people who were you know, American tourists in Venice complaining that it is so crowded with their badge from their big tour group or tour bus. And I have said that about Tanzania. I remember saying you go for the animals and you return for the people that people were just so amazing. I just was stunned by the hospitality there. And I still laugh because one of the questions we often ask on Amateur Traveler is one thing that surprised you. We do not ask it every every-time and I have almost disqualified the answer of I was surprised how friendly people are. It's like, people why are we still surprised?
What tips can you give for saving on travel?
The obvious one is do not go when everybody else goes and do not go where everybody else goes. If you go to the other place or if you go off-season, even just shoulder season, you can often find better weather cheaper prices and fewer crowds. So that is to the extent you can you know, school schedules for instance, are somewhat binding for people who are tied to them. But to the extent you can, off-season is amazing, even winter, a lot of people do not consider, not just going to Europe to ski but for instance, going during seasons when the airfare is half the price. And sometimes in some of the European cities for instance, you will find more local culture in the wintertime when the tourists are not there. Then you will find in the winter in the summertime. Now on the other hand, why in Germany and Austria, they consider wintertime the time to go outside and have their Christmas markets outside when it is bitter cold I don't know.
That is the most obvious one. The next ones would be in terms of when you book your airfare, for instance, if you book it too early, you will pay more. If you book it too late, you will pay more. I do not know what the rules will be as we come out of this right now, there are a lot of deals on airfare, not surprisingly, but typically most studies had found for international flights not booked with miles. Then about six weeks ahead of time was often the sweet spot but it is going to depend on the destinations and time of year. Obviously if you are booking with miles, much sooner than that, because the seats will fill up. Booking with miles is one of the tricks you know if you if you can handle a credit card without ever paying credit Card interest payments.
What is your favorite cuisine?
The real answer to that is American. In the sense that I defend the US especially where I live in the US, which has a great international component to it against cuisines anywhere because we just adopt cuisines from all over the place. We are not so proud that we will not adopt your cuisine whether it be sushi not my favorite or French or Mexican. Definitely one of my favorites are Italian you know, definitely favorite pizza. You know, honestly, I would compare the pizza in the US easily to that of Naples that invented pizza. Then you throw in barbecue. So, the US is definitely one of my favorite ones. Besides that, probably French, Italian, and Mexican. Not necessarily that order Mexican first.
What is your favorite pizza?
Well, my favorite pizza is a local place. I love Chicago style. I like New York style. But California style pizza which is a little different little in between in terms of crust. They make it the pizza my heart near me. They have won best pizza in the in the world a couple times at least. And they had the best pastrami and jalapeno pizza I have ever had.
What do you wish you had known about podcasting or blogging?
Well, the first obvious one was if I had just had a clue Math, you know, for a guy who works makes his living as an engineer that it wasn't going to work talking about my travel stories for 48 weeks a year and traveling four weeks a year, that one I had to learn the hard way. But that was my original plan. My plan is I'm just going to talk about my travels. And I am not the only person who started a podcast, not thinking through, did I have enough material? So that was one thing. The other thing that I think I did okay, but it's definitely some of the advice that I say to anybody else who's starting is make sure that what your audience you're targeting, and your goal for the podcast and your content, make sense together. So for instance, I had a friend who started a podcast. He was talking to other doing what you're doing talking to other travel bloggers and podcasters, and things like that. And but His goal was I want to get travel. I want people to invite me places so that I could go there. But he was not talking about places. So why would they invite him? So the first thing that I recommend is make sure that your strategy is a strategy that you've thought about what you're trying to get out of it, and what you're offering and who you're offering it to, and that they should make sense together. And I think I lucked into that with amateur traveler, as much as I designed that. You know, I started doing a show that I wanted to hear, and I think a lot of us do.
What are your top three most memorable places you visited?
Botswana, Egypt, Istanbul. Which I have managed to work into the conversation already, so it must be true. I did not defend Botswana, we talked about the other two. But Botswana, for instance, just one moment in Botswana, we were there watching chasing after a pack of wild dogs hunting. It just a mute for people my age, a Mutual of Omaha, wild Kingdom moment for those of you younger.
What are the places you want to wish your bucket list for the next?
Well the trip that is scheduled for later this year. The to the Galapagos, which it seems like it has a decent chance of getting canceled. A place I would love to do more travel on the Silk Road, I would love to do the whole Silk Road. But that takes a while more time that I have right now. I would love to do more travel in Africa. Because again, it is a place that is really near and dear to me.