Amateur Traveler Podcast Entertains & Educates

A perfect job would include reading and writing and traveling. And, eating the local cuisine. And, drinking some local beers. Sounds like the perfect job to me. Traveling the globe, writing, reading, eating and drinking… yeah, Anthony Bourdain has pretty much the world’s best job.

I don’t travel much. Teaching geography, one would think I travel a lot. I did as a child. My parents, especially my father, drove us all over the American Southwest. Arizona, New Mexico, and southwest Colorado have a special place in my heart. As an adult, I’ve made a couple of really bad choices with my revenue stream which I get to pay for into the next decade. I also had stomach surgery years ago which left me unable to vomit. To be a really adventurous traveler, one needs to have the ability to puke. Bacteria conform to a certain geography. Not all places have the same bacterial flora as Kentucky or Missouri or Arizona. People living in Eastern Europe, Russia, Sub-Saharan Africa, Argentina do not have identical intestinal flora.

When we travel to exotic places our bodies need time to adjust. The “adjustment” period goes by several names, like “traveler’s tummy” or “montezuma’s revenge.” I do not like the fact I only have one egress for problem foods and substances so I pay attention to where I travel and what I eat.

From spectrum of human conditions arises an interesting question:

“What can a person who might be home-bound or otherwise unable to travel do to develop some sense, experience or knowledge of other places ?

With such cable stations like The Travel Channel and Public Broadcasting shows like “Rick Steves’ Europe” anyone with access to cable television or the Internet can travel vicariously through others to far-off lands and never leave their kitchen table, desk, or bed. I recommend one should try to travel someplace, Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, England or the United Kingdom of Great Britain or Ireland, or even Japan. All U.S. citizens should try to travel outside our country once in a person’s life. I do recognize traveling may fall outside a person’s ability or means, though.

One of my favorite podcasts to which I frequently listen is Chris Christensen‘s “Amateur Traveler.” The Amateur Traveler podcast is a 30-60 minute interview-style podcast. The host, Chris Christensen, interviews a person who has recently returned from a trip somewhere. You can literally replace “somewhere” with a place name and Chris has probably interviewed someone who has traveled there. I believe the archive of his podcasts date to 2007 and perhaps earlier. I am guessing he has over 500 shows available through iTunes.

Over the last week or so, I’ve listened to travelers tales of Cyprus, Bulgaria, two places in China, Stonehenge, and Oklahoma. Yes, even places in the United States are fair game. Today, I downloaded a podcast for Brooklyn, NY. I also downloaded a podcast for Northern Iraq, too, and Bangladesh.

Chris is a great host. He has traveled extensively himself and often has knowledge of the precise place the interviewee has visited. His geographic knowledge is pretty vast allowing him to ask good questions, and good follow-up questions. He allows his guests to talk freely, as well. He does not talk over them or interrupt. He asks good leading questions which help the guest interpret their travel, as well. You can almost hear the guest’s voice change as he or she realizes some new impression or detail about their trip.

Throughout their conversation, which is really what the podcast feels like, that you are simply eavesdropping on two or more friends talking about their travel experience. The conversation is light-hearted yet educational. Chris makes sure to hit the mark, covering climate, weather, the best time to travel, the worst time to travel. He also helps listeners plan their own expedition, in essence.

“If you had to give someone advice about traveling to Albania what would you want people to know?’

Some of his guests are not professional travelers. They sound as if they have not given much thought to helping someone travel. When posed with question like the one above novice travelers will stumble. Other guests are very seasoned travelers and watchful of traveling pitfalls and very willing to share their experience. Some of his guests have worked for language programs, or health programs, have experiences related to mission trips or aid organizations. Some of his guests simply travel for fun, using vacation time. Regardless of the guests background Chris is deftly able to entice an interesting conversation even from such mundane a place as Oklahoma.

“You know you are in Bulgaria when ___[blank___.

Every place has a “feel,” and “atmosphere” which you notice almost after deplaning or going ashore. How do you know you are in a specific place versus being someplace else? What gives your new location away as being unique? The question above Chris poses to his guest. Without video or pictures, how do you communicate the essence of a place in audio only when your audience has no experience of such place?  Chris asks the same set of questions near the end of his podcast. The guest, who I think may be brief on these question ahead of time – yet many never seem to give the questions much thought, surprisingly – often let their minds wander for several seconds as he/she tries to recall definitive memories of their time.

After listening to a few episodes traveling seems easy and within reach of everyone and anyone. Whether you merely want to investigate St. Louis, Missouri, Portland, Oregon, or Prague, Czech Republic, the Amateur Traveler podcast will lure you into fulfilling your own travel dream.

Here is what I do. I like music and listened to music as I exercised but at some point I felt as if I really should be learning something during the 1-2 hours of exercise time, jogging or rowing or biking. I decided to load up my iPhone with Amateur Traveler podcasts and listen to stories of people who have used their time wisely, traveling to interesting places or traveling to mundane places and uncovering fascinating stuff, such as the best Vietnamese dining west of the Mississippi in Tulsa ( I think; could have been Oklahoma City). When I jog, I’m learning new geography, which is what I’m supposed to being doing – expanding my horizons and educating myself.

I also listen at work. I have the luxury of not sharing an office with anyone. When I get bored with NPR I’ll tune in the Amateur Traveler and learn something.

Do your brain some good and plug in some Amateur Traveler while you drive your daily commute or exercise.

The Amateur Traveler. Chris Christensen, host. Podcasts available via iTunes Store. Free.

2 thoughts on “Amateur Traveler Podcast Entertains & Educates

  1. Thanks for the kind words. You were wondering how far back teh show goes. We are about to celebrate the 7th anniversary of the show. It started July 2nd, 2005. There are 340 or so episodes of the audio show and another 40 or so of the video podcast. (plus over 100 for the other audio show I do with Jen Leo and Gary Arndt, This Week in Travel).


  2. Love this! I’ll check Chris out, just had a quick look at his website and clicked on ‘Disneyland Paris vs. Paris’ – of course all points in favour of Paris (I would LOVE to avoid Disneyland during our 8 days there but feel we may never be forgiven by our kids so may have to spend 1 day there!) apart from one point – pickpockets in Paris vs. pretend pirates in Disneyland – pretend pirates won! I do hope we won’t have this particular Parisian experience.

    I think listening to these shows will make you a better travelled traveller than many well travelled travellers! You can seriously ‘travel’ with that amount of listening!


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