Sharing the Essence of Travel
There's nothing like being on the ground to really tell the story of a place. I've found a great site, from Alexander Budak - that explores travel (currently in India), photos, quirky aspects of life abroad, cogent cultural musings, and more. Created by Alex Budak, this site's a joy to read - and laugh with. The photos are so creative and compelling, and the stories are funny and honest about living life in another country. We were lucky enough to sit down and talk with Alex about how technology affects travel stories, living like a local, and more. Here's what he had to say...
WE: Please tell us about your site, Thebudak.com...
AB: The beginning of my travel writing coincided with my first major international trip -- studying abroad with "Semester at Sea." I kept a travel blog detailing my adventures, and it had quite a loyal following: my Mom. In subsequent trips, I made sure to take time to share stories and photos with friends and family back home, but eventually more and more people -- most of whom I had never met, and who lived, quite literally, throughout the world -- began to follow along as well.
My current travel site, TheBudak.com, brings together the travel writing and photography from all of my previous trips, as well as provides a place to share my most recent experiences. It merges various travel experiences -- both domestic and international -- into a single, comprehensive site, through which I seek to tell stories (through both words and photos), shed light on the different places and cultures I've visited, and -- hopefully! -- inspire others to get out and see the world as well.
WE: You are currently in India - can you please share your travel background, motivation/reasons for living there - and what's up next for you?
AB: I'm currently a graduate student at Georgetown University, pursuing a Master's in Public Policy, with a self-designed focus in Technology and Social Entrepreneurship. I'm very fortunate that Georgetown, unlike many other Policy schools I considered, has a number of international partnerships for study abroad opportunities. Though Georgetown has many exciting options -- including in Shanghai, China, and at Oxford University -- I wanted to go somewhere unlike any place I had ever been before. Luckily for me, Georgetown has partnered with the Indian Institute of Management, allowing a few lucky students the chance to study abroad in the wonderful (and completely overwhelming) country of India.
Further, given my academic interest in how new technologies have the potential to promote economic development and create incredible social good, I wanted to see, on the ground, what the problems are that need to be addressed -- and to begin brainstorming solutions for the developing world. Also, figuring I may never again have the chance to spend over two months in India, I jumped at the chance to come, and haven't looked back since.
WE: The world is so interconnected - what platforms/tools do you use to run your sites and share your experiences?
AB: Glad you asked! I'm a tech geek at heart, so I love talking about the ways in which technology has allowed me to share my stories and photos with others throughout the world.
I've used many different blogging platforms in the past, but I wanted a single, comprehensive site highlighting all of my travels, so I am using Storytlr (http://storytlr.com) to bring together all of my various travel writing into a single site. It's completely free, and does a great job in allowing me to customize the look and feel of the site, as well as to host it on my own domain server. For video hosting, I use both YouTube and Vimeo -- the latter for the quality and ease of embedding movies, and the former simply for its huge viewer base. All of my travel writing is done in an extremely austere manner using TextEdit (yes, that super-simple word processor) on my Apple laptop. I have implemented commenting from Disqus which is really robust in its features and allows the passionate online travel community to weigh in with their comments (or their suggestions, hints, and critiques).
As for photos, one thing I can't emphasize enough when traveling is how important it is to always carry a camera with you because you never know what you might come across. Related to this, the best camera is the one you always have with you, so I only shoot with a pocket-sized camera -- no SLR's for me. When traveling I think carrying a big bulky SLR simply draws too much attention to oneself, and really photography should be more about the subject than the camera that took the photo. My camera of choice is the Panasonic LX3 which has a really wide-angle lens which is great for landscapes, and, most importantly, it slips in my pocket.
WE: How do you recommend travelers explore off the beaten path? How can they connect with communities and live like a local?
AB: I think what I love so much about travel is that it allows you to see the excitement in the mundane experiences we all take for granted in our home country. I love how travel gets you to see every-day life in a completely new way. For example, as I found out in Berlin, even trying to wash your clothes in a foreign washing machine can yield memorable results -- I accidentally dried my clothes with detergent before washing them.
While of course you want to visit the "must-see" sights, I know for myself that the most memorable travel moments are either when something simple goes wrong, or when I learn something while engaging in an activity that in the US I would completely take for granted. Therefore my suggestion would be to see what it's like to do the basic things in a new place where you don't speak the language and don't know the customs. At minimum you will put yourself out there in the shoes of a local which will give you plenty of ice-breakers ("which one is the washing machine?"), and will likely bring you back home with far more interesting stories than simply telling your friends about how big "Big Ben" is.
WE: You've mentioned "the democratization of story telling thanks to the web" - can you please tell us more about this?
AB: This is something that I find so exciting about the state of the world today -- and something that, quite simply, was not possible even a decade ago. Thanks to the proliferation of internet throughout the world (in many cases high speed and available even on 3g-capable mobile phones), the travel writing that used to be confined only to the likes of Arthur Frommer and New York Times journalists is now availed to anyone with a story to tell.
Though I do have a nice laptop and a decent (albeit not fancy) digital camera, there is not a single other thing I use in my travel writing or photography that costs any money. All of my blogging platforms -- Blogger, Tumblr, and Storytlr -- are completely free. Youtube: free. Vimeo: free. And, through a combination of Zoho Docs and an internet cafe, anyone could compose and share their stories for the price of Indian street food. Additionally, thanks to some vibrant travel communities that are springing up -- like SoSauce -- I truly believe that the best stories and photos being created will find their way to an appreciative audience.
A couple of years ago, I went through the frustrating process of soliciting travel stories to major travel publications -- from the LA Times to National Geographic Traveler. I got interest from a few, but by and large my tales and pictures fell upon deaf ears. The irony in all of this, however, is that I no longer read these so-called major travel publications for travel inspiration -- I look towards fellow travel bloggers and online travel sites. I find that these online travel blogs and sites offer more diverse, more interesting, and in
many cases, simply better content than the so-called gate-keepers of travel writing. For a long time these elite publications have had a monopoly on what it meant to be a travel writer; now, however, anyone, anywhere with a story to tell can do so -- and without spending a cent.
WE: Is there anything else you'd like to share with us?
AB: I'm so honored you asked to interview me. Thanks for your time, and keep up the great work on your site!
WE: Thanks so very much, Alex! You're inspiring not only for the journeys that you've shared with us, but also for the culturally sensitive way that you portray the places you've lived.
All photos courtesy and copyright of Alex Budak.