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An American man’s three-month tour of Asia has turned into a 13-year adventure through dozens of countries, resulting in two books and a new tour business. Writer Dave Gerow takes us along for a ride with “Wandering Earl.”
Text and photos by:Dave Gerow
Country: United States, at least in the beginning

n Christmas Day, 1999, Derek Earl Baron left his home in the United States for the first time. He was going to Bangkok to begin a three-month tour of Asia. Now, 13 years and 83 countries later, that vacation is still going and shows no sign of ending. In fact, being a nomad has become Baron’s full-time occupation. Under his adopted nickname, “Wandering Earl”, Baron has become something of a celebrity amongst netizens and backpackers, his website, www.wanderingearl.com, is one of the most popular travel blogs around.

Wandering Earl had intended to become a sports agent after university, but was so overwhelmed with his first taste of Asia that he simply couldn’t imagine going back home. On his blog, he recalls spending the first minutes of the new millennium at Angkor Wat, Cambodia’s world-famous temple: “The thought of returning home literally made me sick to my stomach,” he writes. And so he put aside his old ambitions in favour of new ones: he decided to create what he calls a “new breed of explorer”.

The first problem, of course, was financial. He had arrived at Bangkok with $1,500: sufficient funds for a three-month trip around Southeast Asia, but hardly enough to get by on the road indefinitely. Like most nomads, he has supported himself however he can. He has worked on cruise ships, taught English in Asia and has even written a couple of books about how to live a nomadic lifestyle in the modern world.

His latest scheme is Wandering Earl Tours, a venture that came about as a result of the numerous requests from his blog readers asking to travel with him. Earl described the philosophy of his new company: “Unlike normal group tours, the concept of a Wandering Earl tour is ‘independent travel with the support of a small group’. The aim is therefore to help those who want to travel, but who might not be ready or confident enough to do it on their own.”

His first guided tour – a three-week adventure in India – was a tremendous success: all the spots were filled up within 24 hours of the announcement. As a result, Wandering Earl Tours is on the rise, with four trips already announced for 2013: Mexico, Turkey, Romania and, once again, India, Earl’s favourite destination.

“There is simply no other country on the planet that shocks, surprises, awes, confuses, frustrates, teaches and challenges as much as this one,” Earl told me from Delhi. “I am completely addicted to the life-changing experiences that it offers.” He is reluctant to choose a least favourite country, but he does admit that “Vietnam is probably lowest on my list of places I want to go again.” He’s characteristically non-judgmental in his summary of Vietnam, though: “I just didn’t jell with that country during my first experience there.” One is inclined to suspect that whatever may have happened his first time there, Vietnam hasn’t seen the last of Wandering Earl.

They say that the only vacation worth hearing about is a vacation gone wrong, so I asked Earl when it had gone most wrong for him. The story he told would have been enough to make a squeamish traveler take the first flight back home. In 2002, Earl arrived in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, in the middle of the night and was promptly kidnapped by a gang of five taxi drivers. They imprisoned him in a dirty, concrete hotel room for three days, demanding that he make an ATM withdrawal to pay them off.

“However, they weren’t the most skilled of kidnappers,” Earl told me, “and in the end, it turned out to be an interesting adventure instead of a frightening ordeal. Every time they took me to an ATM, I typed the wrong PIN code and told them it wasn’t working.” Earl managed to keep this up for three days before he was finally able to make his escape. “They told me to go upstairs and get my backpack from one of the rooms they were keeping me in. I found a hallway that led to a side exit of the building, and so I grabbed my backpack, ran out the exit, jumped into a rickshaw and that was the end of that!”

Of course, what sets globetrotters apart from the rest of the world is their ability to savour such experiences rather than be frightened by them. Through his blog, Wandering Earl has attempted to build a community of travelers who can share their own experiences and discuss great destinations and travel tips.

If you want tips straight from Earl himself, here’s his advice for first time travelers: “Choose your first destination by closing your eyes and thinking about which country or region excites you the most. Don’t go where others tell you … Go to the place that, when you think about it, makes you want to pack your bags and fly there right away.”

And if you’re anything at all like Wandering Earl, maybe you’ll never come back.

More about Earl

Date of birth: March 31, 1977

Publications: How to Live a Life of Travel (2012); How to Get a Job on a Cruise Ship (2011)

Blog created: December, 2009

Number of visitors to the blog:Over 150,000 per month.

Preferred backpack:Kelty Redwing 50 (gray)

Number of countries visited:83

Location at the time of the interview:South Africa.

Favourite cities: Varanasi, India and Oaxaca, Mexico






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Permanent vacation .

In 1999 Derek Earl Baron started a three-month vacation to Asia. Since then, he has been travelling around the world and in 13 years he has visited 83 countries.

His nickname is ‘Wandering Earl’ because he lives the life of a nomad. He is on a permanent vacation although at the beginning he had to work to afford his lifestyle.

He has written two books and keeps a blog. He also created Wandering Earl Tours for travelers who want to take a tour but don’t feel confident enough to do it on their own.

India is his favorite destination and he admits that Vietnam is his least favorite place.

But not everything in these 13 years has been smooth. In fact, he was once kidnapped in Bangladesh. Luckily, after three days he found a way to escape from his kidnappers.

Wandering Earl advices first time travelers to choose their destinations by just thinking about what country or region makes them excited and not to let others tell them where to go.

If you really enjoy travelling this way, maybe you’ll find yourself being on a permanent vacation just like Earl.


 

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