In this edition of Celebrity Travel Addicts, I chat with Val and Nick Wheatley, the travel bloggers, vloggers, and new parents behind the Wandering Wheatleys. We chat with Val and Nick about what sparked their passions for travel, the things that made India such a culture shock for them, their favorite destinations around the globe, and much more. Read on to find out which precautions they take after being mugged while traveling and to check out their advice for those who want to travel!
How did your passion for travel get started?
For Nick, it started early, after his sophomore year of college. He did a solo backpacking trip around Ireland and Scotland for 2 months and has been a travel-addict ever since. Since then he’s been to over 60 countries and is always convincing his friends and family members to join him on various adventures around the globe.
For me, my passion started after a trip to Hawaii in 2011. I was settled in Portland, Oregon – I owned a house and had a steady job. But when I got back from Hawaii I cried for 2 days straight. On a whim, I bought a one-way ticket, sold my house and most of my belongings and moved to Oahu. That decision made me realize how easy and freeing it is to live so unencumbered so I did it again in 2013 when Nick and I left the US for 15 months to travel the world. And we hit the road again in 2016 and have been traveling and living abroad ever since.
What does travel mean to you? Why do you feel it’s important?
When we travel we like to really experience the culture and try to blend in as much as possible (which can be hard for two blonde, blue-eyed people). We like to eat at street food stalls and drink beer and sing karaoke with random locals that we meet on the street. We do our best to learn at least a few phrases in the local language and always try to understand and respect local culture and customs. We think that travel should broaden your mind and be loads of fun!
Too often people judge other people, cultures, and religions without actually ever experiencing them firsthand. Travel really helps to open your heart, mind, and soul.
Travel has changed me in even small ways, like how I react when I find a hair in my food (eh, we all have hair) and it’s helped me to be much more patient behind the wheel (you never know what the rules of the road are where the other driver comes from). The cultural norms that we’re accustomed to in the US aren’t the same around the world, so I try to adapt and chill out. Except when motorbikes drive on the sidewalk in Vietnam – I still really hate that.
The two of you run a travel blog called Wandering Wheatleys. Can you please tell us a bit about it? How did it come about? What makes it unique?
When we started traveling back in 2013, we wanted a way to document our favorite memories. It started with journaling, and then slowly evolved into travel blogging. Our first posts were just a stream of consciousness – what we did that day or that week. Our readership consisted primarily of our two mothers.
Then in 2017, we took a trip to Havasu Falls in Arizona. We had such a difficult time finding information online about what to expect and how to get camping permits so we decided to write about our experience to help others who wanted to visit this beautiful spot in America. That was our first blog post that really took off. Suddenly people besides our family and friends were actually reading our blog! So we started writing posts that actually provided valuable information to our readers, not just our moms (although they’re still avid readers).
The Wandering Wheatleys blog is unique because it caters to people in their 30s who aren’t “backpackers” per se. We are too old to stay in hostels and we don’t eat a cup of noodles for dinner every night to stick to a tight budget. Our blog gives honest advice about the places we’ve been to older travelers who prefer a little more luxury, but still want to plan their own adventures and want maximum value for their money.
We have recently expanded our family by one baby boy – welcome to the blogging family Humphrey Wheatley. We’re now “family travel bloggers” and we’ll be writing more family-oriented travel posts so stay tuned!
In 2013, the two of you set off on a 15-month trip around the world, but you were mugged in Argentina on the very first day. What kind of impact did that experience have on you and on the way you travel?
Ha ha that was rough! It probably should’ve made us more cautious but it really didn’t because we got robbed again in Ecuador just a few months later. It actually made me detach from my belongings. As long as I don’t put so much value in things, it doesn’t matter if I don’t have them.
Sure I’d be bummed if I got robbed again, but all my physical possessions can easily be replaced. We try not to take the really important stuff with us on the road so we don’t have to worry too much about keeping track of it. Anything that has sentimental value to me is sitting in a storage unit in Portland.
Over the course of our travels we have unfortunately been robbed and fallen victim to scams more than we would like to admit, but we have also experienced endless hospitality and made lifelong friends in every country we have visited. You can’t let one or even 10 bad experiences keep you from traveling the world, or you’ll miss out on all the really good experiences.
Also, if I don’t want something stolen while traveling, I leave it in the hotel! Why people carry their passports in their pocket while exploring a new city is beyond me.
You’ve called India one of the most amazing and most difficult countries in the world. What makes India such an incredible travel destination? What made your time there difficult?
Wow, talk about culture shock! India is a crazy place – I would never recommend India as a vacation destination for an inexperienced traveler. We had countless challenges during our 5 weeks there – a train that was 15 hours late, food poisoning, sleeping on the floor of a night train, seeing raw sewage drain through the streets and into the river, and constantly being groped by men (me, not Nick).
I remember one train ride we took that was so crowded we had to sit up in the luggage racks which was terribly uncomfortable but hilarious all at once. And everyone chucked their garbage out of the windows which hurt my soul to watch. My trash went into my purse to properly throw away later, which everyone around me found disgusting. I am sure they were thinking, “Why do American’s store trash in their handbags?”. See? Different cultural norms.
But there is truly nowhere else like India in the world. Really. The history and culture are remarkable and the people are some of the friendliest in the world. All of my favorite travel stories are from our time in India. Especially the more challenging times.
How many days/weeks do you travel in any given year? What types of places do you like to visit?
Back in September we settled in Saigon, Vietnam. We got an apartment and just recently gave birth to our first baby. So we’ve stepped back from our hectic travel schedule.
But prior to that we had been traveling nonstop since October of 2016. Generally we spend about 3-4 weeks in each country so that we can see all of the highlights without outstaying our visas.
We actually really love to live out of a van or motorhome and enjoy the great outdoors when we travel. We spent 2 weeks driving around Iceland’s Ring Road last May and prior to that we did a road trip around Namibia. And when we first started traveling back in 2016, we drove across the US from Oregon to Florida and back again. We visited many of America’s incredible National Parks and spent over 100 nights camping under the stars.
What do you want audiences to gain and learn from your work?
We hope to inspire people to travel and to not be intimidated by the prospect. To step out of their comfort zone and try something new every once in a while. And we want to give them the tools, resources, and advice to make their travels more enjoyable.
What are the top three destinations you’ve visited?
Myanmar, India, and Turkey. (And Vietnam, of course, but we live here)
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.
Myanmar – we really loved the off-the-beaten-path places we traveled in Myanmar but at the time they were difficult to get to and lacking in tourism infrastructure. Mrauk U is similar to Bagan but far less crowded. Visit the tattoo-faced women in the Chin Village. Trek up to the Golden Rock (you can take a car but the trek is far more adventurous). Lounge on Ngapali or Ngwesaung beach. And watch Buddha get his teeth brushed in Mandalay.
India – of course you must visit the Taj Mahal. Spend a few days in “The Blue City” of Jodhpur. Spend the night in the desert in Rajasthan. Wander the maze of alleyways in Varanasi. Tour the slums of Mumbai and take a street food tour (but definitely don’t try to eat street food on your own).
Turkey – splurge on a cave hotel and a hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia. Buy a mosaic glass lamp or a Turkish rug in the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. Definitely don’t miss the charming coastal towns of Antalya and Kas. Visit Pamukkale to see the travertine terraces and swim in the Cleopatra Pools. And get awkwardly washed by a stranger at a traditional Turkish hamam.
How many countries have you visited so far?
Somewhere in the neighborhood of 60 each (not trying to be aloof, we just lost track). We actually enjoy re-visiting countries almost as much as seeing new ones. Some people get too caught up in country-counting and instead of taking time to truly explore each country they visit.
What are your top 3 favorite cuisines?
Thai, Vietnamese, and Mexican.
What is your favorite restaurant in the world? What dish do you recommend there?
I’ve spent WAY too long thinking about this question because I love food so much, it’s impossible to choose. There is this Indian restaurant called Aroma in the little town of Ninh Binh in northern Vietnam that we love. We also really love Bun Cha Huong Lien in Hanoi where the table that Obama and Anthony Bourdain ate on is enshrined in plastic.
What is your favorite travel movie?
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Cue tears!
What is your favorite international airport?
We’re quite partial to PDX in Portland, Oregon because all of the vendors are required to have “street pricing” so you know you’re never overpaying for food! Plus it has the most famous airport carpet in the world!
Which city had the friendliest people?
Can I choose every city in Myanmar?
Who is your favorite travel companion?
Each other, obviously (could we really name anyone else?)
What is the best way to kill time while traveling?
We usually read books or listen to podcasts on long travel days. If we’re killing time and not commuting we usually find a bar and knock back a couple local brews. Nowadays we kill time by caring for a baby 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
What is the most exotic place your career has taken you?
We had the opportunity to work with a very cool cheetah rescue foundation in Namibia. The property has luxury suites that open up to amazing views and where birds and warthogs will literally wander up to your front door. We were able to go on several safaris around the property to see these cheetahs up close. It was an amazing experience and one of our favorite memories from Namibia!
What is your best bit of travel advice for someone who wants to, or is about to, embark on a life of travel?
Just do it! Also, don’t adhere to such a strict budget or schedule that you miss out on awesome opportunities. You’ll regret not splurging on bucket list adventures.
What are 4 things you could never travel without?
A travel scale (because I always want to eat ALL the food), a wine key, my Notorious RBG (Ruth Bader Ginsburg) t-shirt, and an offline Google map of the city we’re about to travel to.
What is your ultimate dream destination?
The Maldives and Bhutan
What is your favorite travel quote?
“We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.”
Where are you headed next?
We’re staying put in Saigon until July. Then we’re going back to the United States where we are planning to buy a van and convert it into a camper so we can take another epic road trip across Canada and the northern half of the USA!
We are Val and Nick Wheatley. We met in 2008 when Val interviewed Nick for a job, then started dating in 2011, and got married in 2015. We’ve taken two epic trips abroad, the first was 15 months and the second has lasted 3 years and counting. We’ve visited over 60 countries to date and have recently settled down in Vietnam to welcome a baby boy to our wandering crew. We love adventures, food, wine, and most of all, each other.