Daniel Noll and Audrey Scott are husband and wife and, as you will find out from their description, they remained a couple after 6 years of continuous travelling during which they managed to see 75 countries. In 2006 they left their secure and comfortable lifestyle for a sabbatical year, a year which turned into more years and which, thus, became a new way of living.
They are currently living in Berlin and they continued to travel around the world, seeking less beaten paths, trying to meet new people and discover new cultures and getting back home with many stories they tell on their blog, Uncornered Market.
I had the opportunity to meet them in 2013, at ITB Berlin, and you will be able to see them and hear their inspirational discourse held at this event at the end of this interview. Daniel and Audrey are very inspired speakers and show, just like us, an increased interest in ecotourism and responsible travels. When I started interviewing Audrey, I realized I had so many questions and I was afraid I wouldn’t get answers to all of them. But I did and I’m happy to share them with you in what follows.
R: Did you know or plan from the very beginning that you would make a living from travelling and blogging?
A: Not at all. When we first left our previous jobs and home in Prague, Czech Republic at the end of 2006 we figured that we would travel for 12-18 months. At that point we were traveling on savings. Then, some freelance writing and photography work fell into our laps in the first few months and we figured that we could keep extending the life of the journey through freelance work. Every year that we’ve been on the road the blog and business has changed.
R: Travelling and working together as a couple is something that not many people manage to do without divorcing :). I like your description “Six years and 75 countries later, they are still going…and still married.” What is the most important lesson you learned in this years?
A: Listening. After that comes the ability to laugh at yourself.
R: What are the most important values that apply to both your travels and life?
A: Respect, curiosity and integrity.
R: Talking about sustainable travel, you are aware of the various certificates that label locations and destinations as “eco”. I noticed you were appointed by the United Nations Foundation’s Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) to develop and implement their social media strategy. So, what is your opinion on these certificates, how a normal tourist should look at and select them? How can they make a difference in a normal traveler choice?
A: Labels and certifications in sustainable tourism can be very confusing for the normal tourist. Actually, they are still confusing for us! The sad truth is that not all certifications are created equal. The goal of GSTC was to provide a framework so that tourists could understand whether the certifications and labels they were seeing on hotels, tour operators and other travel services website were legitimate and had a thorough process.
We find that certifications are important as they can provide a framework for companies who want to make their operations more sustainable, but unfortunately sometimes organizations will work to meet the certification and not push themselves further. Some organizations rely on certifications as their marketing, which is a missed opportunity to create great stories.
Our experience is that most ordinary travelers are certification blind. They are looking for a unique and special experience, and if it comes with a certification that’s great, but that’s not going to be the purchasing factor.
R: You advice your readers to research and see if social enterprises are working in the places where they travel. We visited Zikra Initiative in Jordan (inspired by your example), could you give some more brief examples of such enterprises you visited?
A: Zikra Initiative is such a great organization and experience. Really glad you had an opportunity to visit.
We also really enjoyed our experience with Eco-Connexion in Bangladesh that arranges homestays and village visits. Quetzal Trekkers in Guatemala and Nicaragua is another great organization – it offers unique and high quality tours run by volunteers. 100% of profits go to support a school and dormitory for street kids. In Vietnam there’s an organization called Hoa Sua that trains disadvantaged youth in hospitality and runs a group of cafes, bakeries and restaurants where these youth get practical training. The food is excellent and reasonably priced.
R: I never quite liked the organized and massive invasion in local communities, like 40 people coming down from a bus, eating something with the “locals” and leaving in a hurry. Where is the border between local and authentic experience and a tourist “show” that has nothing to do with the local spirit?
A: This is a hard question to answer as there is no firm recipe. I believe that the biggest difference is whether the local community is a true partner and helped (or fully) designed the experience. There also needs to be a sharing of and pride in the local culture at work.
I do think that it is very difficult to have a local, connected experience when you’re in a group that large.
R: I noticed that you also mentioned the “I can do what I want because I paid for this!” mentality in one of your articles. I know you heard this question before, maybe several times, but how difficult is, for you, who travel extensively, to make conscious decisions about where to spend your money?
A: When we’re traveling on our own, we find it relatively easy to do spend deliberately. This is because our travel approach and preferred style of travel lends itself to spending money with local and small businesses because that’s where we usually find the most interesting experiences. We also ask tour operators about what percentage stays in the community. But that isn’t to say that we haven’t eaten dinner in a big chain hotel because we were tired to roam the streets. We’re definitely not perfect. The most important thing is to be aware of where your money is going.
R: What is the most risky thing you did? Or where did you feel unsafe when travelling? By the way, do you have fears?
A: Most risky thing we ever did was going hiking in the Tian Shan mountains outside of Almaty without a proper hiking map. We almost got stuck in the mountains and didn’t have a mobile signal out there. It became frightening as the day turned into evening. Fortunately, we finally were able to rappel down a waterfall and get to a road to hitchhike back to Almaty.
Another time where we felt unsafe was crossing nto Kazakhstan via the land border from Uzbekistan. We were trapped in a gated area for almost four hours and Dan and I got separated. I didn’t feel any danger from anyone around me, but I feared passing out from the heat and getting trampled by accident. Fortunately, we both survived in one piece.
Whether it’s safety or other fears, we are definitely not immune!
R: What makes you happy when travelling?
A: Engaging with and learning from local people. Being in a place where people are open, curious and want to share of their culture, cuisine or country.
That said, we also love mountain treks and pushing ourselves physically and emotionally.
R: What makes you sad when travelling?
A: When I’m treated as a dollar bill rather than a human. When I see a place and environment that’s been destroyed by overdevelopment, industry or mining. When I see a culture changing and young people don’t have the pride or interest to preserve certain traditions. When the tourism industry overbuilds and destroys the local culture and place along the way. When I see prejudice and discrimination.
R: I know you’ve been to Romania too. What is the strongest feeling you have when remembering this country? What did you like? What did you not like?
A: We traveled to Romania in 2000, so it was a long time ago and things have changed quite a bit I imagine. One of my strongest memories was waking up in the morning on the train from Budapest and looking out the window and seeing a horse-drawn cart (or plow) go by. With the misty agricultural scene it felt like we had gone back in time.
In the towns that we visited (Brasov and Sighisoara), people were curious about us, but friendly. And I was impressed by the architecture and nature in the Transylvania area.
What we didn’t like was the Bucharest train station at the time. It was filled with shady characters offering their “bodyguard” services for a fee and threatening to report you to the police or cause problems if you didn’t pay. We didn’t pay…but we also hung out in McDonald’s until our train left.
R: Do you buy souvenirs when travelling? Describe one that you like the most.
A: Our rule of thumb with souvenirs is to find something unique that we’ve never seen in a fair trade or other type of international arts shop. The souvenir that we like the most is a decorative camel shawl from Tolkuchka weekend market outside of Ashgabat. It’s very colorful and we’ve never seen anything like it anywhere else. Right now it hangs in our living room in Berlin and it’s always the first thing people ask about.
R: Any plans for 2104? What is you biggest dream, the place(s) where you would like to travel?
A: We have a couple of trips and projects planned for the year but trying not to over plan or do too much at once. We hope to visit Israel and Palestine, do some hiking in the Balkans, visit Southern/Eastern Africa again, perhaps make it to Australia (my last continent).
R: What is the best advice you would give to people that dream to go for a nomad life and travel the world?
A: Take it slow and enjoy the small things in life. And don’t forget to put down your laptop and smartphone to go explore!
Translation: Lorena Drăghici
Romanian version: click here