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!
How did your passion for travel get started?
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.
What does travel mean to you? Why do you feel it’s important?
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
You run a blog called Nomadic Notes. Can you please tell us a bit about it? How did it come about and what makes it different from other travel content out there?
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.
You’re currently based in Vietnam. What makes Vietnam such a great travel destination? What do you suggest people do there when they visit?
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.
You also own a media business called Media Notes. Can you tell us about it and the services you offer?
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.
How many days/weeks do you travel in any given year? What types of places do you like to visit?
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.
What do you want audiences to gain and learn from your work?
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.
What are the top three destinations you’ve visited?
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.
Give us your ‘Top 5’ list for one of your top 3 destinations. Like a mini-guide or a to-do list of sorts. It can be anything from your favorite hotel, the best place to have lunch, the best sightseeing, etc.
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.
How many countries have you visited so far?
What are your top 3 favorite cuisines?
This list changes, but in no particular order, I would say Vietnamese, Mexican, and Indian.
What is your favorite restaurant in the world? What dish do you recommend there?
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.
What is your favorite travel movie?
Lost In Translation.
What is your favorite international airport?
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.
Which city had the friendliest people?
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.
Who is your favorite travel companion?
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.
What is the best way to kill time while traveling?
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.
What is the most exotic place your career has taken you?
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.
What is your best bit of travel advice for someone who wants to, or is about to, embark on a life of travel?
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.
What are 4 things you could never travel without?
Passport, mobile phone, laptop, Kindle.
What is your ultimate dream destination?
For a place that requires a bit more planning and that not many people go to, I would say Bhutan.
What is your favorite travel quote?
“Embrace the detours” – Kevin Charbonneau
Where are you headed next?
I’m in my former home city of Melbourne as I write this, and my next stop is Bali.