Ultimate Nomad: The Reel Story

You need a well-oiled globe to keep up with Doug Lansky. Even in speech, the nationally syndicated travel columnist is all over the map, jumping from one story to the next in a single breath.

You need a well-oiled globe to keep up with Doug Lansky.

Even in speech, the nationally syndicated travel columnist is all over the map, jumping from one story to the next in a single breath.

After visiting more than 100 countries in 10 years, Lansky will be speaking to Temple students Wednesday, April 18, at 7 p.m. about some of the bizarre lessons he has learned on the road – and in the air, in the driver’s seat of a Ferrari, and in the bed of a machete-wielding headhunter.

As well as entertainment, Lansky said the event, held at the Underground in the Student Center, will provide tips that can save travelers thousands.

“Choosing your destination can save you a fortune,” Lansky said. “It can be the difference between paying $30 a night and $2 a night.”

Although well-traveled in the United States before graduating from Colorado College, Lansky’s wanderlust took hold of him at the same time he was unexpectedly offered an unspecified position at the New Yorker. Having already purchased a plane ticket to Central America, he told the magazine that he would be able to start in six months.

Six months later, Lansky sent the New Yorker a postcard – it read “Sorry.”

Then 22, Lansky said he devised the “half-baked plan” of hitchhiking to South America by yacht. The plan failed.

“It was the wrong time of the year; it was hurricane season,” said Lansky, who has enacted the plan since.

Thanks to befriending several strangers, Lansky embarked on a journey to Brazil. That vacation led to many others, and eventually to the profession of travel writing.

“The plan was to see the world before I was 25, but I hadn’t removed it from my system [by then] … so I went another five [years],” Lansky said. “It took me nine years before I was OK with the fact that I wasn’t going to see everything.”

Over that span, Lansky said he racked up more than 250,000 frequent-flyer miles traveling to every continent except Antarctica. Lansky, 35, has slept in Sweden’s Ice Hotel, crossed a desert in India by camel, test driven a Ferrari in Italy and attended a sumo wrestling school in Japan, under the weight class he refers to as “the ‘Throw the White Guy out of the Ring’ class.”

“They didn’t know what to do with me,” Lansky said. “That G-string you wear … it’s 30 feet long, and they origami you, and there was still 8 feet [of material] left hanging out. It looked like I had toilet paper hanging out of my ass.”

What makes a good trip, Lansky said, is not determined by where you go, but by who you meet or go with.

“The stuff that makes traveling interesting is something you can’t repeat,” Lansky said. “It’s made up of the locals you meet, the random [experiences] you had. I think it’s a mistake to replicate an experience. My favorite experiences are ones you can’t replicate.”

Lansky also dismisses some of the misconceptions people have about travel.

“One of the classic myths is there is some magic destination that is going to be the answer to your fantasy, or one of the hot spots you read in a magazine,” Lansky said. “People have this misguided notion they will have a similar amusing experience there.”

Lansky said he met a few locals in the Columbian rainforest who left a major impression on him – literally. He and several other visitors paddled a canoe downriver in search of headhunters. “We were little junior varsity anthropologists,” Lansky said. “They were naked running around in the forest and were happy to see us – well actually, they were suspicious as hell.”

Lansky said he and his friends were able to placate the villagers enough to share a hut with them. However, during one night of excessive drinking, Lansky was woken up by the tapping of a machete against his forehead.

“I didn’t piss myself. If I had enough to drink I probably would have,” he said.

The headhunter was willing to not scalp Lansky in exchange for a can of tuna fish, he said.

Along with avoiding headhunters, Lansky recommends travelers carry light by bringing their smallest backpack.

“The Murphy’s Law of backpacks is no matter how big it is, it will be filled,” he said.

An experiment he conducted for a National Geographic Adventure article allowed him to search through the contents of sightseers’ belongings and find some noticeable trends.

“If you look in a person’s backpack, 75 percent of the contents are clothes waiting at home for Mom to wash, and it’s getting dirty and stinky and they’ll never use it again,” he said.

Since fathering three children, Lansky said he has tapered his nomadic lifestyle a bit, traveling an estimated three months out of every year, rather than his old standard of 11 months. Wednesday’s hour-long presentation will feature a rapid slideshow, where Lansky said he will be sharing travel tips, as well as giving away a European transit pass, valued at $940.

Steve Wood can be reached at jacksonb@temple.edu.

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