In this edition of Celebrity Travel Addicts, we speak with Daniel James, the travel writer, photographer, and videographer behind the popular travel blog Dan Flying Solo. We chat with Dan about the importance of travel, how his previous work as a restaurant manager helped prepare him for a life of travel, his favorite destinations around the world, and much more. Check out his advice for aspiring travelers and find out where he’s headed next!
How did your passion for travel get started?
About ten years ago I travelled to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, with a few friends who were samba dances, and it was the most incredible trip. We were there for carnival, but as they were dancing, I got to go to many of their rehearsals in the local community, meet people, see these beautiful performances and the love of the community, and see just a whole new world. It was from that trip I knew I needed to save up some money and go see the world, and get to know the amazing cultures I knew so little about.
Daniel James of Dan Flying Solo getting the perfect shot in Bosnia and Herzegovina
What does travel mean to you? Why do you feel it’s important?
Travel for me is education. For sure, there are a lot of fun, non-serious moments to it, but for the main part, it’s the lessons and learning we get from it that I think are so important. Geography, history, politics, economics, religion, food, culture – all classes you are taking constantly while travelling if you let yourself do it, and those first-hand lessons and experiences are way more powerful for me than anything learnt in a classroom. The more people, friends, and contacts you make around the world, the more connected and caring you become to individual issues globally, while also being more aware of your own actions and footprint.
You run a travel blog called Dan Flying Solo. Can you please tell us a bit about it? How did it come about?
I wish there was some grand story behind this, but I came up with the idea while flying to Norway, travelling solo, and my Mum came up with Dan while I was born – so putting the three together in a rush to get a domain name, that’s where I ended up. In a way, I kinda wish my name wasn’t in the blog title, to give me more freedom to expand the site – also, might be kind of a liar if I start dating someday!
Daniel James of Dan Flying Solo in Trento, Italy
Before you became a full-time traveler, you worked in the restaurant business. Have things you learned during your time as a restaurant manager helped you in your travels?
Yes for sure, a huge part of travelling is meeting new people, trying to understand things, dealing with problems that arise unexpectedly and long miserable days spent on bus journeys – so working in hospitality is kinda the perfect warm-up for that. I don’t really get stressed if things go wrong, or communication is hard, or if the days are really long as that was my life before, but now I get to have those ‘problems’ while seeing the world, not just a dining room!
Where are you originally from? What makes your hometown or home country such a great travel destination? What should people do there when they visit?
I grew up in Bournemouth, Dorset, in the south of England – the city itself has one of the best beaches in the UK (way better than Brighton, which is rocks not sand) and it’s an awesome destination to start a road trip on the Jurassic Coast, the rocky and dramatic coastline of England named due to the dinosaur fossils which are found along here. So absolutely send a couple of days road tripping that, stopping off at different beaches and eating the fresh seafood which is fantastic here. You can also sleep in some really cool beach huts on Bournemouth beach which is cool.
Daniel James of Dan Flying Solo in Dorset, the county where he grew up in southwest England
How many days/weeks do you travel in any given year? What types of places do you like to visit?
For the first few years I was travelling, it was pretty much full time. Since moving to Portugal it’s perhaps six-months of the year, though I try to group trips together now to minimise on the number of flights I’m taking. There isn’t a particular type of place I like to visit, as I just love soaking up anything and everything, though lately I’ve been moving away from cities and more to wildlife and nature destinations, hiking in the mountains of Tajikistan for example, or heading to the mountains and stargazing spots here in Portugal.
What do you want audiences to gain and learn from your work?
I guess just to look a little bit deeper on any trip. Even in the most popular places, there are little gems still and local experiences and interactions to find. While most of my travel guides are pretty standard, its the more narrative and story like articles I enjoy writing the most, to give readers a sense of place and a reminder of the value of human connections.
What are the top three destinations you’ve visited?
Impossible question to answer, as the list seems to change based on my mood, but here are my current favourites:
- Italy – the diversity from top to bottom, the vast region of foods, the architecture and art and culture and just how different regions offer something different. If you love food, head to Emilia-Romagna, for beaches and Mediterranean lifestyle, go to Puglia, for mountains and nature activities, Trentino – it really has it all.
- Indonesia – for many of the same reasons, the sheer diversity in wildlife, experiences, religions, food, and culture, to me it’s the best backpacking destination in the world.
- Oman – you can find some reasons below…
Daniel James of Dan Flying Solo exploring the sand dunes of Oman
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.
I’m gonna go with Oman because it’s an incredible country that does not get enough attention so:
- Go wild camping, it’s legal here, and you’ll get the most amazing views each day, from the desert to the beach
- Take a dip in the Bimmah Sinkhole, beautiful shades of blue in this rocky hole just off the side of the road
- Explore Nizwa Fort, but afterward go to the little date market next to it. Sample loads of different dates, enjoy the complimentary coffee and walk away with Halwa, a rich sweet dish that’s amazing
- Camp out in the desert, the Wahiba Sands are awesome and you’ll spot wild camels, and if incredibly lucky, the Arabian leopards
- Side trip to the Musandam peninsula, disconnected from the bulk of Oman by the UAE, to see the ‘fjords’ of the country which are striking, and full of dolphins
Daniel James of Dan Flying Solo admiring a beautiful monastery in Jericho, Palestine
How many countries have you visited so far?
I think it’s 67, but I love going back to places I’ve visited before – especially Indonesia and Italy, so while exploring new countries is amazing, my count is starting to level out now as I keep going back to places I love!
What are your top 3 favorite cuisines?
Indonesian, Italian, and Lebanese.
Daniel James of Dan Flying Solo checking out the food scene in the Emilia Romagna region in northern Italy
What is your favorite restaurant in the world? What dish do you recommend there?
You can’t go wrong with a margarita pizza from Sorbillo in Naples. I’m not sure if it is my favourite, but the flavours, atmosphere, and simplicity of that place is all that is coming to my mind right now!
What is your favorite travel movie?
Tracks, set in the Australian Outback – it was that film that got me really interested in the interior of Australia and lead me on to learning a lot more about Aboriginal art and culture when I was there.
What is your favorite international airport?
Singapore, without a doubt, and I haven’t even been there since the new Jewel terminal opened. I could spend a whole day in that airport. In fact I have, waiting for connections, and it’s an awesome space to relax in. Also, Dominica airport, as it’s tiny and you just have a soursop juice and then walk over onto tiny plane!
Daniel James of Dan Flying Solo learning about Aboriginal art in Port Douglas, Australia
Which city had the friendliest people?
Tough questions, but I think Yangon in Myanmar is up there – I visited in 2014 and the hospitality throughout the country was just insane. So friendly, and helpful and kind, even in the cities, which isn’t always that common everywhere.
Who is your favourite travel companion?
This is a hard question – not wanting to leave anyone out! I actually really love traveling with my parents, I moved away from home at 16, so it’s really nice when we have some adult adventures together – in the last few years we’ve road tripped Australia and island-hopped in Indonesia, and it’s nice to share it with them.
In the blogging work world, Nicole from Adventures of Lil Nicki is awesome to travel with. We actually connected and met on Instagram, and then a few months later flew to Oman to road trip and wild camping there, which was amazing, and have gone on to have a few epic trips together.
What is the best way to kill time while traveling?
Learning new skills – get on YouTube and watch a tutorial, or download articles for reading on long bus rides – I’ve self-taught myself my whole career while travelling, and thus, never had to stop!
Daniel James of Dan Flying Solo meeting the native penguins in the Falkland Islands
What is the most exotic place your career has taken you?
The Falkland Islands were pretty insane, so remote and far from anything, and walking among King Penguin colonies was just a moment I’ll never forget. Also, I guess Mauritius was pretty incredible – it’s somewhere I never dreamed I would be able to visit, so that was an amazing opportunity and it is such an amazing island, way more than beaches… oh, and Raja Ampat, in Indonesia, for the best diving in the world.
What is your best bit of travel advice for someone who wants to, or is about to, embark on a life of travel?
Save more money than you think you need – and try to say yes to as much as possible new adventures, new ideas – embrace them all, they nearly always lead to new opportunities or connections.
What are 4 things you could never travel without?
Camera and comfy shoes – as long as I’ve got those two I’m set!
Daniel James of Dan Flying Solo hard at work at his home in Portugal
What is your ultimate dream destination?
It always used to be Antarctica, but since visiting the Falkland Islands last year, I think it might be South Georgia, so not quite Antarctica itself. The dramatic mountains, icebergs, and insane amount of wildlife on South Georgia just look incredible, and the remoteness and lack of people would make it such a unique adventure.
What is your favorite travel quote?
Honestly, I can’t think of one – Instagram and blogs have made travel quotes way to overused and now I kind of cringe at most of them!
Where are you headed next?
The Alentejo region of Portugal, seen as in these COVID times, going abroad isn’t an option, this year I’ll focus on exploring this beautiful country I now call home. The Alentejo region is full of lakes and vineyards, hiking and dark-sky gazing – and it’s only about an hour from my house so I’m excited for some nature!
Daniel James of Dan Flying Solo
Dan is an ex full-time traveller, spending four years on the road before settling down in Portugal. He’s obsessed with meeting new people, learning about different cultures, and getting completely lost with just a camera in hand. He’s lucky to have explored over sixty countries and has an obsession with goats and penguins.