In this edition of Celebrity Travel Addicts, we chat with James Clark, the Aussie digital nomad behind the travel blog Nomadic Notes. We chat with James about how his love for travel began, why he feels travel is important, the time he spent in Phong Nha in Vietnam, and much more. Check out his favorite destinations around the globe and find out where he’s headed next!
My passion for travel was ignited when I went on my first trip overseas, from Australia to Hawaii in 1995. From that one-week trip I contracted the travel bug immediately. After that, I spent the rest of my days as an employee thinking about travel and saving for the next trip.
Before travel became my job I travelled for the joy of travel and for pure escapism. It was the combination of visiting new countries, seeing new cultures, and meeting interesting people along the way, all while not having to worry about going to work the next day. How could you not get addicted to travel when you put it like that.
I wanted to travel for longer than my annual work leave would allow, so I started thinking about how I could sustain a life of long-term travel. With that in mind I ended up learning web design, and eventually I found that I could do this anywhere in the world. Travel was a major influence in what I do now.
As I continued to travel I discovered that I took an extra interest in urban design and transport. I would notice what works in one city, and how that could be applied in other cities. So over time travel has shaped what I do and how I think about the world.
I think travel is important (especially overseas) as it gives you a perspective on your own culture, and can open your mind to new ideas
Initially I started working and travelling in 2003, before the phrase digital nomad was commonly used. I wasn’t keeping a blog at that point, but over the next few years I found more people were doing the digital nomad lifestyle as well.
In 2009 I started Nomadic Notes mainly as a way to meet fellow travellers online. It started out as a general travel blog with some digital nomad lifestyle content, and it has since become more about travel in Asia.
One point of difference with Nomadic Notes is that I’ve been covering the development of railways in Southeast Asia. I created a map featuring every current and proposed railway in Southeast Asia, and I have become an authority on the subject.
Ho Chi Minh City (my current base) is great if you like big and crazy cities. It has a world-class street food scene, there are cafes everywhere, and it’s becoming a popular place for start-ups to set up.
From Ho Chi Minh City it’s easy enough to fly to anywhere in the country as there is a competitive aviation market here. If you’re short on time in Vietnam then visit the main highlights like Hoi An and Hanoi/Ha Long Bay. I always say that Hanoi is a better tourist experience (in terms of things to see) and Saigon is a better place to live.
I write a lot about travel in Southeast Asia, so being based in Vietnam is convenient.
This is my general business that operates as a publishing company. I have about commercial 10 sites in different niches, though my public persona is on Nomadic Notes.
I probably average 10 days a month of travel away from my current home base. I usually visit cities, though I am open to any kind of travel experience. I plan my travels around events that I would like to attend throughout the year, as well as visiting a few new countries every year.
I try and think about what isn’t being written about in a destination I visit. The world doesn’t need another “ten things to do in London” type of post, so my writing has gravitated towards how cities work and observations of city life.
I don’t have a favourite place as there are too many, so I will just pick three places that I’ve recently been to that stand out in my mind. Koh Kradan in Thailand for the picture-postcard tropical Thai beach experience, Osaka in Japan for food and culture, and Phong Nha in Vietnam for stunning scenery in the mountains.
In Phong Nha I stayed at the Phong Nha Farmstay. This is a villa in the countryside surrounded by rice fields, and it makes for an ideal base to explore the region. I had one of the best pork banh mi’s I’ve had in Vietnam at Thang Nhung BBQ in Phong Nha town.
No visit to Phong Nha is complete without visiting one of the many caves. I went to Paradise Cave, which gives you a good overview of how big the caves are here.
If you’re comfortable on a motorbike then riding the remnants of the Ho Chi Minh Trail in the mountains is a great experience, and the traffic isn’t crazy here.
And finish off with a visit at the beach in Dong Hoi. There is a low-key beach scene emerging here that is threatening to become a new tourism hotspot.
This list changes, but in no particular order, I would say Vietnamese, Mexican, and Indian.
I prefer to eat street food, so I can’t say I have a favourite restaurant. When I am revisiting a familiar place I have what I call the “first meal back”. For example, I’m in Thailand a few times a year, so on the flight there I will be thinking about what my first meal back will be. I’m in Singapore once or twice a year, and the first meal back is usually chicken and rice.
Lost In Translation.
Singapore Changi is my favourite. It’s no mistake that it’s won the best airport in the world award for seven years straight. I almost always have a smooth experience in immigration, and now Changi Jewel has made it a destination in itself.
Derry in Northern Ireland sticks in my mind for being welcoming. This, of course, is a relative experience, as it all depends on who you meet. I went before tourism started picking up, so as a visitor I was something of a novelty.
I’m a hardcore solo traveller, so when I do travel with people it’s for a special occasion and not usually the same people.
I always have something to do that’s work-related, so I can usually be found doing something on my laptop if I have time to kill.
The Solomon Islands stands out as an exotic place, in that it gets very few visitors per year. It’s a nation of beautiful islands and coral reefs, and yet you can go all day without seeing any tourists.
I tend to share my experience rather than “sell the dream” of being a full-time traveller. It’s not a lifestyle for everyone, no matter how amazing it sounds. If you are contemplating a life of long-term/full-time travel then go on a test run first. Go away for a few months without selling everything you own, and see how you go. If it is the life for you then you can go back and consider how to make it a reality.
Passport, mobile phone, laptop, Kindle.
For a place that requires a bit more planning and that not many people go to, I would say Bhutan.
“Embrace the detours” – Kevin Charbonneau
I’m in my former home city of Melbourne as I write this, and my next stop is Bali.