The World Nomads Podcast: Sri Lanka

A pristine environment, coconuts vs. tea, volunteering overseas, dodging elephants and the record-breaking traveler.

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The World Nomads Podcast: Sri Lanka

In this episode we hear about Sri Lanka's pristine environment, volunteering overseas, dodging elephants, tea plantations and the record-breaking traveler.

What’s in the Episode

00:56 Quiz Question

01:46 Felix Weber

03:35 The Beauty of Sri Lanka "...Everything in Sri Lanka, people-wise as well as scenery-wiseis beautiful. It's so diverse." - Felix

09:00 The battle to keep on top of rubbish

11:00 Volunteer in Sri Lanka with Idex

20:25 What can you be fined for doing in Thailand?

21:59 The world's most visited cities in 2018

23:06 Our Footprints network, funded by micro-donations, has raised the amount needed for the women's economic empowerment program in Sri Lanka. 

27:27 James Asquith world record holder

32:26 Holiday Swap "... this is for everyone to make travel more accessible." - James Asquith

37:57 Isaac Entry and his family trip to Sri Lanka "...From my personal experience, there are very few experiences in life that have been enhanced by the addition of a four year old. Sri Lanka was amazing." - Isaac

45:50 Quiz Question answer

47:00 Next week

Who is in the Episode

We meet James Asquith, the Official Guinness World Record-holder for being the youngest person to visit all 196 sovereign nations in the world. James is also the Founder and CEO of one the fastest growing travel apps, Holiday Swap, which is active in more than 180 countries, and the winner of the Best New App Award.

James Asquith

Follow James and Holiday Swap on Instagram and online, plus we’ve given you two links to the App store if you’d like to download and start swapping, check out itunes or Google Play.

Ninad Sharma runs Idex, a volunteer and travel company that helps travelers get amongst the local culture by taking part in volunteer programs, while also developing yourself and making new friends while traveling.

Volunteer with Idex

We welcome back Felix Weber in this podcast episode. Felix was recently featured as an Amazing Nomad where he revealed a little of living as a minimalist in the mountains of Sri Lanka. Of course, we had to find out more.

Knuckles Moutain Range Sri Lanka

Isaac Entry is the World Nomads Social Media Manager. Isaac recently went with his partner Bec and super-cute, four-year-old daughter Ashley on a family holiday to Sri Lanka. Isaac has some greats tips on traveling to this destination with a child.

The main railway station in Colombo, where Isaac and his family caught the train to Galle. Photo Credit: Isaac Entry

Our Footprints Network funded by micro donations has raised the amount needed for the Women’s Economic Empowerment Program in Sri Lanka with a focus on vocational training.

The project’s goal is to improve the economic well-being of young Sri Lankan women and girls through decent employment and sustainable livelihoods. We spoke with project co-ordinator Rajkumar Nagarajah.

Resources & Links

Scholarships Newsletter: Sign up for scholarships news and see what opportunities are live here.

Learn more about the current, funded and completed projects within our Footprints Network

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Explore your boundaries and discover your next adventure with The World Nomads Podcast. Hosted by Podcast Producer Kim Napier and World Nomads Phil Sylvester, each episode will take you around the world with insights into destinations from travelers and experts. They’ll share the latest in travel news, answer your travel questions and fill you in on what World Nomads is up to, including the latest scholarships and guides. The World Nomads Podcast is not your usual travel Podcast. It’s everything for the adventurous, independent traveler. Don’t miss out. Subscribe today.

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About World Nomads & the Podcast

Explore your boundaries and discover your next adventure with The World Nomads Podcast. Hosted by Podcast Producer Kim Napier and World Nomads Phil Sylvester, each episode will take you around the world with insights into destinations from travelers and experts. They’ll share the latest in travel news, answer your travel questions and fill you in on what World Nomads is up to, including the latest scholarships and guides.

World Nomads is a fast-growing online travel company that provides inspiration, advice, safety tips and specialized travel insurance for independent, volunteer and student travelers traveling and studying most anywhere in the world. Our online global travel insurance covers travelers from more than 135 countries and allows you to buy and claim online, 24/7, even while already traveling.

The World Nomads Podcast is not your usual travel Podcast. It’s everything for the adventurous, independent traveler. Don’t miss out. Subscribe today.

Speaker 1: Welcome to the World Nomads podcast, delivered by World Nomads, the travel, lifestyle, and insurance brand. It's not your usual travel podcast. It's everything for the adventurous, independent traveler.

Kim: Hey, thanks for tuning in. And welcome to our destination podcast. This time we're highlighting Sri Lanka.

Phil: It's an island country in South Asia, southwest of the Bay of Bengal. And it's also one of the world's largest producers of tea.

Kim: Yum. Now tea gets a mention in this episode. But our friend Felix prefers to grab a coconut and a cuppa as he lives and works in the hills of Sri Lanka. Phil, you catch up with a guy who runs a volunteer and travel abroad company. You met him at a conference in Edinburgh.

Phil: Yeah.

Kim: It includes Sri Lanka among its destinations. We speak to James, who is the official Guinness world record holder as the youngest person to visit all 196 sovereign nations in the world.

Phil: Good work.

Kim: Yeah. Plus much more. But let's get to a quiz question to get things under way.

Phil: Okey dokey. Sri Lanka has been an important trading destination for centuries, driven by the demand for what native plant? And hint: it's not tea. Answer's at the end of the show.

Kim: Felix Weber. He lives in Sri Lanka where he promotes sport for development, peace, and social cohesion. Now basically he promotes the non-competitive side of sports, which is something you can't associate with Phil. If you play, you play to win.

Phil: That's it.

Kim: Now, we've previously featured Felix as an amazing nomad, focusing on his running, which he does as a way to experience the world. And totally inspired by an absolute love of people.

Phil: Yeah. Look, he lives in a very strange way. Well, I admire the way he lives. It's a very basic way of living. He's got a room with a toilet and a shower. But otherwise, no facilities. In fact, he actually camps inside his room and prefers to sleep on the floor. But that gives him protection from the mozzies. And he said it's where he sleeps the best.

Felix: That's actually true for the last six months. So I moved now from the mountains to the east coast to a place called Batticaloa where it's almost every day very sunny and hot. But last night it just poured down and rain, and my room got completely flooded and everything actually. But luckily, I actually pitched my tent outside at the sports ground, so I only found the littlest flooding in my room this morning. And I had a peaceful night out on the sports ground.

Kim: It wouldn't have ruined much because you also revealed that you're a minimalist. You travel with whatever you can fit into your backpack.

Felix: Yeah. That's true. So basically 80% of the time when I'm moving around, I have everything I need with me. So if it's more a tent, a sleeping mat ... Here in Sri Lanka, I don't really need a sleeping bag so I just have a thin in-liner or sheet. And then basically just food and water and my running shoes. That's basically all I carry with me.

Phil: When you got to a new place in Sri Lanka, what do people make of you? Do they think you're a bit of a nut?

Kim: Last podcast you called him a hobo.

Felix: Yeah. They're not really used to especially foreigners just running through villages or running through the tea plantations or the rice fields. So they're just interested. It's been a wonderful journey for the last four or five months I've been living here. And also last year I was here for three months and it's just been fantastic over the time.

Kim: We know that you love people and it's one of the things that inspires you to travel, but tell us about the beauty of Sri Lanka.

Felix: Everything in Sri Lanka, people-wise as well as scenery-wise. It's so diverse. You have different cultures here. You have the Hindus as well as the Buddhas, Christians, and also the Muslims. And this also applies to all the scenery. You have beautiful beaches, like this pristine white sand beaches with palm trees. You sometimes even have a small swing on it. So you can just enjoy your time on the beach. But then about 100 kilometers further, you're in the mountains, which go up to two and a half thousand meters. And it's so peaceful. You have waterfalls everywhere and you have also tropical rainforest with all the fauna diversity you can imagine.

Felix: Two days ago, we were driving through Batticaloa and we saw three elephants just at the side of the road. And it just makes your day. Just moving to this country, it doesn't matter if it's on your feet or being in a vehicle.

Phil: You don't have to go far to go to coastal to mountainous. That must be a really amazing thing to have at your doorstep.

Felix: It is. And the funny thing is sometimes it's only 100 kilometers in Australia or for German standards. It would take you an hour. But here 100 kilometers can sometimes take you four to five hours. And when actually ... Because it's windy roads. It's traffic. People are always stopped at the side of the road to have a cup of tea or have just a snack. So traveling in a vehicle takes a very, very long time here. And it's very tiring. And that's why I find it so refreshing actually just to run also long distances because I move maybe not at the pace that I would in a vehicle. But it's not that much slower. So it's actually a big advantage.

Kim: Yeah. But it's pretty hot there at the moment. How many miles or kilometers can you run before it's too exhausting?

Felix: It really depends. I normally always take a bladder with me because I've had it once on a 20 kilometer run ... I was so dehydrated I was urinating blood. So it's very, very hot and humid. And sometimes it's very tiring and not as much fun. But what I do is sometimes when I want to get from A to B ... because I know people are so interested and generous and welcoming, I just run. And I basically know for a fact a tuktuk or a motorbike or someone will stop and just ask me if I need a ride.

Phil: You clearly like the Sri Lankan people and they seem to like you as well. What is it about it? What do you find is the thing that makes the connection?

Felix: I think the simplicity of things. Normally because they don't see me as a normal tourist who has the pockets full of money. They're just interested why I live this lifestyle. And it's not about materialistic things. It's not about money. It's just they want to offer me a tea, to sit down with me and have a quick chat even though language sometimes is a barrier. And I think that's the beauty of it, that even though we cannot communicate verbally in detail or perfectly, we still manage to find ways to get along and how to communicate, we use our hands and feet. And I just feel comfortable with the people.

Phil: How good's the tea in Sri Lanka? So you're drinking a lot of tea. How good is it?

Felix: I actually don't because they put so much so sugar. They either have made tea or plain tea. But they put I don't know how many teaspoons of sugar they put in it. So I actually stay away from the tea most of the time. And I prefer the coconuts by far. So I have the coconut, at least one every day. But sometimes I have a cup of tea when my sugar levels are down and I'm tired and I have a cup of tea. But otherwise, it doesn't really taste like tea anymore.

Kim: No. I don't have sugar in my tea. Can't you just say that though? No sugar?

Felix: Most of the time, they just prepare liters of tea. Like for example, here in the college we get four times tea a day. And they just have this big barrel where they just pour the tea out. And it's pre-prepared. So sometimes you can ask when you go to a smaller restaurant or a small shop, you can ask for plain tea. And then it's good tea. But otherwise, yeah it's always full of sugar.

Phil: How about next time you're running through a tea plantation, you just grab a couple of leaves and dry 'em off yourself and make your own tea?

Felix: Yeah I could. I actually slept in a lot of tea plantations because normally in the morning, the mist is just sitting in the tea. And it's just so beautiful waking up. You cannot see anything except fog and big, lush, green tea leaves.

Kim: Is the environment fairly pristine? The beaches and through to the mountains?

Felix: The environment itself, yes. But littering is a big problem if you go through more populated areas. And the beaches are full of litter. And they don't really have the awareness of how to keep the nature as it's supposed to be. And even in the college here, sometimes it's very dirty and you can smell it. And with the heat and humidity, it just doesn't take long until you can smell basically every item of litter. That's a sad part of it.

Kim: You mentioned the college. Tell us about the work that you're doing in Sri Lanka. Because you're not just running and eating coconuts. You're actually doing something.

Felix: Yes. So my role is here, basically to bring people from the various ethnic backgrounds together. So what I do here at the college, I teach normal physical education lectures. So this morning I just had a running class where I just told them about the different running techniques. But my main role is I organize the exchange programs, which we do at different colleges.

Phil: And that's not something you could have done 10 or a dozen years ago because that's the basis of the entire complex, right?

Felix: Yeah. That's correct. So the civil war ended in 2009. And since then, it's been relatively peaceful. But you can still feel there are a lot of prejudices between the different ethnic groups. But a lot of times it's because the people have never interacted with other people from the different ethnic groups. And that's why I think such an exchange program is quite sensible. It's just that to bring the people and actually see, they're basically the same people. It's jus that they have different beliefs. But some of them have the same interest. They actually eat most of the time the same food. And they are just much the same. I think that's how you can just the people. It doesn't matter what religion you have or what you believe in. It's just you can make friends with anyone.

Phil: Ninad Sharma runs Idex, a volunteer and travel abroad company where you can get amongst the culture by taking part in very ethical volunteer abroad programs. At the same time, developing itself and making new friends during travel.

Kim: Nice.

Phil: Sri Lanka is one of the program's destinations. And I caught up with Ninad at the WYSTC Conference in Scotland to find out.

Ninad: Well, our job is to help two sets of people. One is the young travelers, of course. And the other is the local people of the country, Sri Lanka for example. And the way we do it is we would prepare an opportunity to travel wherein a young person would be well taken care of in terms of their food, their stay. They would be given organized opportunities or options to immerse in the local culture in the form of meeting families, interacting with students. And the core part of the program would be for them to engage in a meaningful way, in an impactful way with local communities that need some degree of help. Now what that means is that if you look at any of the countries that are still developing, Sri Lanka being the point in case, there are schools that could use an additional English teacher, there are women's groups that could use somebody to come in and tell them about how to use PC, there are even monasteries which would benefit from learning English from a real English speaker because many times there are no English teacher around. There would be schools that would benefit from their walls being prepared or sports classes being run.

Ninad: Now what we do is we take the local need and design it in a way that a young person can actually contribute to the need even though they may not have the language skills or the work experience. So our job is to facilitate through our knowledge to help these young people participate in a program which is enjoyable for them and useful for community members.

Phil: And when we were talking earlier you said there's no shortage of projects that need work-ons. We're talking about developing countries in the Asian region all over.

Ninad: Yes. You look at schools, you look at daycare, you look at health, you look at women issues, you look at rights or facilities for the differently abled, you look at orphanages, you look at facilities required for the elderly. There is a need everywhere. I wouldn't say necessarily there is an acute need because very often if you look at the disadvantaged in the mainstream media, you get shown heart-wrenching pictures of starving people in Africa or filthy slums in Asia. And that is definitely there, there's no doubt about that. But there are even sections of society which are much easier to access, which are much easier to go to and still make a contribution which is as valid as any other.

Phil: But of course you're aware that this area has become a little bit tricky. That you've got to make sure that you're not actually taking a job from somebody else, that you are contributing in a meaningful way. So how do you manage that?

Ninad: Well, I think the fear, if I may say, of taking jobs away is unfounded. If I gave you an example of my home country, India, a well-run school would have an English teacher that wouldn't really be able to speak more than a couple lines of English. So we're not really replacing any jobs. There is no way that jobs are going to get replaced by a few thousand volunteers that come in. What happens is more subtle. It's as I said earlier: infusion of energy. Bringing in new ideas. And even the international volunteers who may not believe what I'm saying sometimes, but they act as role models. They act as people who are getting places or doing things.

Phil: Now, when we first met you also told me the very interesting story of how you got into this business. Can you share?

Ninad: Yeah, absolutely. As a young college graduate back in '98, I didn't want to join any mainstream, the so-called professional lines, and wanted to explore what I wanted to do. And so I joined my mother's NGO. My mother was working at UNICEF-funded project at that time. And she was running a small NGO for women empowerment in the northwestern state of Rajasthan in India. So I joined her, started to help her around because I was able to use computers that she was not able to.

Ninad: But there was just a slight problem. Despite all my work, she had no money to pay any salary to me. Not enough even to put petrol in my scooter. So I had to do something. Although I loved the work, it was very interesting, I got to meet a lot of people. And so I started a travel company wherein I started organizing group tours for German and Danish schools and travelers really. And it was great. We did well, quite possibly because we were able to think outside of the normal tourism industry. So it was not just about hotels and museums. It was we we could do a lot more. But overall it was dis-satisfactory because people would come to India, go to hotels and buildings, beautiful old buildings, but they would not really get to see much of the country, the real country, the daily lives and struggles and sources of joy for the Indian people.

Ninad: And so it was making an income but it was not very satisfactory at a personal level. And then purely by cosmic karma, eight young people from Denmark asked us if we could organize for them at a project. So we had them come to a women's project in the middle of the desert really. I mean, the northwest of India is a desert state, a desert region. And it was an okay school that was being run by UNICEF. So imagine there's this desert community and there is this ground that has about 20, 30 houses in a circular formation with the school in the middle. And this was a community of nomadic blacksmiths. So it was the first ever attempt to settle down these nomadic communities so that they can get an address and have some running water and education for their kids. And by traditional standards, it was going well. So we had about 30% of the kids of the community attending school. Now that is already an achievement for people who for over 400 years had never settled down in one place.

Ninad: But when we had these eight young people, within a month that they were spending there, the attendance went over 80%. The kids started to show up and their cousins started to show up, their parents started to show up at the school because there was just so much going on. And with millions upon millions of people in India, attention is sometimes hard to find. So we had the local media coming there, we had the local government coming in and providing funds to refurbish the school. And to us it was like magic because eight young people, one project, one month and the whole thing just got turned around.

Ninad: And so we had sort of our eureka moment. We said, "Hm. This looks interesting. We have something that is travel, it helps people, it creates energy, brings attention. And it can be done with people who have had no prior experience of teaching nomadic blacksmiths' kids in the desert of India." That sounded pretty amazing. And of course, that was our first experience and we didn't quite know how to do it in the best possible manner but over the years we've improved it. And so now we can have a first-time, let's say a British young person come over to Sri Lanka and contribute to the lives of women there. We think it's a pretty cool thing to do.

Kim: Thank you, Ninad. Other destinations include India, Nepal, Vietnam, and Thailand. There will be a link to the website in show notes. Phil, what's your travel news?

Phil: Thailand's Maya Beach, the one where they filmed The Beach, you know that one?

Kim: Yeah.

Phil: It's going to remain closed indefinitely. Thai authorities initially they'll close it for a few months to allow the coral a respite from the hordes of tourists. But now they say it's closed for good. This is why we can't have nice things.

Kim: Why?

Phil: Well, it's been absolutely trashed.

Kim: Yeah, I know that. But for good? Like forever?

Phil: Indefinitely they say. So however long ...

Kim: However long it takes.

Phil: Coral grows very slowly. So when that comes back, I imagine. Also in Thailand, you can now be fined for feeding the pigeons. Look, this sounds like another one of those draconian, military juntas on a rampage laws. But I actually think this is a good idea because scam artists prey on tourists at temples and public squares around Bangkok especially selling them overpriced bird seed.

Kim: Yeah. I told you I got done in Greece, didn't I?

Phil: Oh that's right. They also say it's also going to decrease the risk of spreading bird flu. Flying rats and all that sort of stuff.

Phil: Okay. Testing out my pronunciation again. Are we ready? The Japanese ... What is it? The Japanese belief in omotenashi, which means to whole-heartedly look after guests. Well, that's wearing a bit thin with the three main hot spots of Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto. Drowning in tourists.

Kim: Everyone's going to Japan.

Phil: 30 million visitors are expected in Japan by the end of this year. And they can say they're sick of the overcrowding and the bad behavior of some of them. Come on people, be nice. Kim, what started in late September?

Kim: Not sure. You tell me.

Phil: Oktoberfest.

Kim: Getting in early.

Phil: Look, it used to be in October but they've started a couple of weeks earlier now because the weather is better. It's just wrapped up without any major incident thankfully. A few hangovers I'm sure. But if you've missed this year's drinking festival in Munich, now's the perfect time to plan and book for next year.

Phil: Speaking of heavily visited places, the world's most visited cities in 2018 have been named. Well, the year's still going. But the northern summer's over. Topping the list with 20 million visitors is Bangkok. London, Paris, Dubai is next.

Kim: Do you know I saw a Facebook post or Instagram post on graffiti, street graffiti in Dubai? It's awesome art work.

Phil: Oh is that right?

Kim: But you would never think of it. The last thing you would think is that you'd be allowed to desecrate the buildings.

Phil: Yeah. No, it's a pretty heavily regulated place.

Kim: Yeah. But beautiful street art.

Phil: I've been in Dubai for about a week. I rather liked it. It's quite good. I wasn't there when it was stinking hot but I quite liked it. What else is on this list that gets me? We're coming down the list a little bit. Antalya in Turkey, nine million visitors. Where else have we got? Antalya, Osaka, and at the bottom of that list is Bali with 8.3 million visitors.

Kim: Mecca. That stands out. 9.18 million.

Phil: Oh that's because of the Hajj.

Kim: Does that wrap up your travel news?

Phil: That's my news.

Kim: Awesome. Well, here's some news. Our Footprints network, funded by micro-donations, has raised the amount needed for the women's economic empowerment program in Sri Lanka. It's focused on vocational training.

Phil: The project's goal is to improve the economic well-being of young Sri Lankan women and girls through decent employment and sustainable livelihoods. We have the program coordinator, Raj Kumar, on the line to firstly find out what is meant by decent employment.

Raj: In the sense of they have to have a certain income. And also the employer has to provide all the facilities, good terms and conditions for them. And also career prospects and career part for the employees as well. We also doing another program [inaudible 00:23:53] when they complete their vocational training program, we also support them to set up self-employment. But unfortunately, we are doing these projects [inaudible 00:24:05]. Unfortunately in the remote areas of Sri Lanka where ... from self-employment also, it's kind of a start-up enterprise, small enterprise, it's very difficult for them to get a big income from those sales, these small businesses. But we are also trying to promote the graduated young people to go to other districts where they can get more income or more better employment.

Raj: But unfortunately, the girls from those districts because of the cultural barriers, they're unable to go to other districts where the population is more and also it's a better fit where the township is much better. Because of the cultural barrier, they are unwilling to go to the different district.

Phil: So what does it mean for your project to have the involvement through the Footprints program? What has that meant for you?

Raj: We want to ensure girls and boys are going to vocational training programs especially in the hospitality industry, construction industry, ICT and the automobile industry. And also, we want to ensure girls are going into non-traditional vocational training programs. Generally girls trying to do beauty culture, ICT, and a few other vocational training programs. So we are trying to have gender-sensitive career guidance training program to provide all the information about the vocational training programs and the institute that conduct different types of vocational training programs by the government and also by the private institute. So the girls and boys they have adequate, equal information. And then they can choose whatever their vocational training program they want to have.

Raj: But the hospitality industry, and also in the construction industry, we have a huge shortage of labor. In fact, a couple of days ago I attended a conference in Sri Lanka. They are trying to bring foreign workers in China, India, Bangladesh, and Nepal to fill the vacancies in Sri Lanka in the hospitality and construction industry. So we are trying to train young girls and boys. Especially girls into the hospitality industry. But we really face lots of challenges. But through proper career guidance training program, targeting community members, religious leaders, teachers, principals, parents, then we are kind of trying to get more and more young girls into hospitality industry.

Kim: So still a few challenges there, but so thrilled the Footprints network was able to help out. And obviously it can't be done without your micro-donations. So a huge thanks.

Phil: And that's right. And we've got over four million dollars we've raised now from everybody who's donated. Yeah. Big thank you.

Kim: Round of applause.

Phil: Yeah definitely.

Kim: Well done.

Phil: Woo hoo.

Kim: Phil, this man is the official Guinness world record holder to be the youngest person to visit all 196 sovereign nations in the world. It's not only all he's done, but I reckon we'll kick off with that. It's not a bad start.

Phil: It's not a bad thing to start off with.

Kim: James, welcome.

James: Hey guys, how's it going?

Phil: Can I ask the first question? How did you settle on 196? Because I thought it was 198.

James: Do you know what? I'm still not sure myself.

Phil: No, nobody is.

James: It's something that's kind of up for debate. And there's 195 sovereign countries plus other regions, territories. I guess this is where the conversation gets all political about Taiwan and Hong Kong. I think I saw something a few years ago where one big company they're in 220 something countries. So it depends what you want to class it as. I guess some people class like Reunion for example in the Indian Ocean 8,000 kilometers from France. And is that still France? Is it not? Tahiti is even worse. Yeah, I guess people kind of class it as many different things.

Phil: Well, did you go to Reunion?

James: I did actually go to Reunion.

Phil: Oh good.

James: It does feel like a mini little tropical France.

Kim: I'm interested in the application process because I've tried to break a few world records before.

Phil: Drinking doesn't count, Kim.

Kim: No, it wasn't, James. Don't believe it.

James: Was it a tequila tray?

Kim: I think I have broken the world record for that. No, it was the most bras strung together across this particular bridge. And then there was another one like sticking chocolates in my mouth. But the issue is ...

Phil: Can I just point out this is not random strange behavior? Kim used to host an FM radio breakfast program.

Kim: Exactly.

Phil: So all those hijinks that people get up to. She is that mad but ...

James: What kind of chocolates? That's the first thing that I want to ask.

Kim: Ferrero Rochers, James.

James: I knew you were going to say that for some reason because everyone ... it's such a difficult chocolate to eat.

Kim: It is. You try shoving seven or nine of those in your mouth. It's not good.

Phil: They've got little sharp edges on them.

Kim: I know. So I know that the application process is rigorous. It's super strict. In fact, I was under the understanding that when you're cracking a record, you actually have to have an official from Guinness there to make sure that you're not cheating and you're doing all the right things. So how did you go about it, visiting 196 countries?

James: Oh gosh. It was not easy. And obviously due to the whole global nature of going everywhere it was something that took a lot of evidence. And initially I kind of thought, a passport's an official document. The visas and the stamps would hopefully suffice and be enough that ... as everyone knows, Guinness do things very properly and then probably then some beyond that. So it actually took probably over a year to actually get it validated and confirmed. Just the piles of evidence that we have for them. Witnesses in every country and photos that were proved in every country and tickets and travel plans and visas obviously as well, et cetera, et cetera. So a log of everything that had to be fully verified by them. So it took a long time. I feel for the person that had to do that over at Guinness because it was a lot of back and forth and a lot of evidence. I think there was one occasion where ... like for example, I've been to the Bahamas on a cruise. And when you go on a cruise to a lot of places to the Caribbean ... I was not intending to go to every country and get a world record at this point. So I got off the boat and I was just enjoying myself as you do. I was like, "Hey, here's the Bahamas."

James: And then it was only when I turned around and I thought, "I need to get the evidence" because there are many different kind of tick boxes of evidence that you need. One of them is obviously the visas and the stamps. So I actually got a flight from London to the Bahamas just to go back three hours later to London again just to get a stamp, just for Guinness.

Kim: That's insane.

James: It was 22 hours of flying with a three hour stopover there just to get a stamp.

Kim: Not only have you done that, but you've actually created ... you're the founder and the CEO of one of the fastest growing travel apps called Holiday Swap. It's active in over 100 countries, Phil. And look, if winning a Guinness world record isn't enough, he's also won the best new app award.

Phil: Okay.

Kim: So he's a high achiever, this chap of ours that we're chatting to. Tell us about Holiday Swap.

James: Yeah. So I just recently checked with some of the guys and I was told, I was even shocked myself, we're told it's in 184 countries now, which is great for our kind of what we're trying to do.

Phil: The app's almost been to as many countries as you.

James: Almost, yeah. But thanks so much for the kind words, but I genuinely don't look at it in terms of that's a personal achievement. We kind of feel at Holiday Swap that this is for everyone to make travel more accessible. And I kept getting asked by a lot of people around the world when I traveled, particularly the younger demographic and millennials, they would say, "Hey, how did you manage to travel so much?" And kind of the common consensus was, "We'd love to travel more. But we can't afford it." And that's kind of a long-age running thing. You've got the conundrum between the money and the time. And the more money you make, the less time you have because you're working more. So we wanted to create something in a tool that would be able to take out as much of the cost of travel as we can. Unfortunately, I didn't have the money to go and buy a plane and start putting cheap plane tickets on it. So we thought the second largest ... actually slightly the largest cost is accommodation, which is 28% of what people spent on travel. So we thought people, most of us are lucky enough to have a bed to sleep in at night. And we thought with the sharing economy growing, why not use that to travel and have a bed to stay in around the world?

Phil: "I've got a bed and it's available between x dates and it's a sharing sort of facilitator." Is that the way it worked?

James: Yeah, exactly. It could be a bed, it could be a room, it could be a villa, it could be a huge house, a small house, it could be absolutely anything.

Kim: Before we get to the reason of why you're about to hit the media, the podcast is on Sri Lanka. Obviously you've been. What was your experience?

James: Sri Lanka's awesome. I know it's still obviously hugely popular, but I kept seeing it coming up everywhere at the start of this year. You know there always seem to be that destination each year that everyone focuses on. Two years ago it was Bali. Last year it was Iceland. And then at the start of this year, everyone was talking about Sri Lanka. And rightly so because it's so ... relatively I think it's quite untouched by tourism. More and more people are going there. But it's a fantastic country. The only thing that for me was always a little more difficult in Sri Lanka was it's a bit trickier to figure out your itinerary. But that's exciting in a way. There's not necessarily a top five or 10 places to see. A lot of it, I feel, is immersing yourself in what Sri Lanka is. A lot of the south coast is beautiful. I love Kandy and Galle. Not the biggest fan of Colombo. But most people fly to Colombo and use it as a stopping point and get out. But the southern coast and Weligama ... if you like surfing, Weligama and the bay around there is beautiful.

James: And then yeah, you've got the complete contrast to the beaches in the south as you head kind of into the middle of the country. Sigiriya was an incredibly beautiful spot. People talk about Machu Picchu as one of the wonders. And Sigiriya again, which is very much the thing that kind of makes Sri Lanka beautiful and what it is is that it's on par. It's parallel with Machu Picchu. It's this completely flat jungle and then in the middle this huge rock comes out from it. And you can climb to the very top of it. And it's like a little fortress where the population used to live. You can see why. It was a great little castle up there because you can see people coming from all around. But I think it's a really good time to go now to Sri Lanka before everyone kind of discovers just how awesome it is.

Kim: I'm about to get a little jittery because I have in front of me information which I'm unsure about how much I am to share. But there's about to be a massive global press piece surrounding you. So I'm going to have to throw it to you so I don't ruin anything or say the wrong thing.

James: Yeah, there's a few different bits coming out, which is super exciting. The main one is an Air Miles giveaway, which is actually when I was on a flight to Sydney. I was trying to knock myself out for the flight so I'd had a few drinks. And I didn't knock myself out. Unfortunately after these few drinks I had a genius idea, which was just to basically give away all of my Air Miles. And I landed in Sydney and I was thinking, "What have I just done?" But it kind of comes around in a full circle too. The whole thing is to what we do with Holiday Swap. And we want to inspire travel. We want to make it more accessible, we want to make it cheaper. A few people turn around and say, "Why on Earth are you giving away all your Air Miles and not using them?" And it's about enough to fly around the world three times. So just seeing the response and the reaction from people who just got so excited to thinking about putting themselves in the mindset of where they could go and what they could see was exactly what I really wanted to achieve with that.

James: We're doing a bunch of other exciting stuff as well, particularly through Holiday Swap. I'm giving away another pair of flights to someone. Anyone who kind of lets me know through Instagram. jamesasquithtravel is my Instagram. And yeah, just kind of hit me up whenever in comments. Or slide into the DMs if you wish. Everything will be seen.

Phil: Everything you need to know about James and Holiday Swap will be in the show notes.

Kim: I'm sure you've heard me say before at World Nomads we don't just talk the talk, we actually walk it. And Phil, you can't help but be inspired to travel when you're editing, writing, posting, filming or recording these awesome travel stories.

Phil: I know. My wanderlust is increasing all the time.

Kim: Well, you're going to Italy next year.

Phil: I am.

Kim: You're off shortly on a micro-adventure to far north Queensland.

Phil: Yeah.

Kim: This man, our social media savant, Isaac, recently went to Sri Lanka.

Isaac: Thanks for having me. Or as they say in Sri Lanka [inaudible 00:37:51].

Phil: Oh he's pulled the language on us.

Kim: How many phrases did you learn?

Isaac: I learned how to say all the important things. Thank you, [inaudible 00:38:00]. You get around with English. The things I like to learn are sorry, thank you.

Phil: Yeah. The polite bits.

Kim: So what were your thoughts on Colombo because James, who was earlier in the podcast, wasn't a fan.

Isaac: I didn't expect to like Colombo as much as I did. From I've read, I only booked a night. The city's chaotic, but there are little pockets of charm. And I wish we had more time to dive into those little pockets.

Phil: Like what? How are they charming?

Isaac: There's an iconic hotel called the Galle Face Hotel, which is right next to the Galle Face Green, which is an interesting area because what happens in the evenings when the weather's a bit cooler is lots of young people come out, they fly their kites. There's all these sort of eateries, sort of food stall type things.

Kim: Beautiful.

Isaac: So little things like that in Colombo that are really interesting as a traveler.

Phil: This is like their Central Park, is it? This is like their Hampstead Heath to them?

Isaac: Yeah, Central Park. By the beach, sun going down, that sort of balmy, tropical evening. Heaps of young people out. Lots of lovers. It's a popular sport for lots of lovers.

Kim: And that's okay?

Isaac: Yeah, it's all good on the Galle Face Green.

Kim: Well. Tell us about the train ride. So one night in Colombo, which you regret ... you would have liked to have explored that a little further. So you took a train to Galle.

Isaac: So sorry, from Colombo we took a train down to Galle. The iconic hotel in Colombo is called the Galle Face Hotel.

Kim: Yeah.

Isaac: The train trip ... I had a very different experience to my partner.

Kim: The mother of your child.

Isaac: The mother of my child. I'll run through the experience for you guys. So we got to the train station. There's not a lot of signage. Lots of people waiting for the train. The first attempt, the train pulled into the station. We jumped on because we were keen to get a seat because we were traveling with my daughter who is four years old. And just before the train leaves the station, I work out that we're on the wrong train. So grab bags, grab kid, hop off the train, wait for the next train. Take two-

Kim: What was the sign that you were on the wrong train?

Isaac: I asked someone, "Is this train going to Galle?" And he's like, "No, this is not going to Galle."

Kim: Right.

Isaac: And I was like, "Bec ..." because she was down at the end of the carriage and it's like, "Hop off. This is not the train." When the right train came along we were a bit slow. We didn't get a seat. So Bec sat on the floor with Ashley in the doorway. And I was standing next to our baggage because I was concerned for the safety of our baggage.

Phil: Did I do that to you?

Isaac: Yes.

Phil: Sorry.

Kim: Travel safety expert Phil.

Isaac: I was aware. I was alert, not alarmed.

Kim: Good man.

Isaac: So Bec had an amazing experience. She watched the countryside go by. It's coastal. You pass little villages, there are people doing their thing. Scenes of daily life in Sri Lanka. And she had this amazing moment. And she thought about life and where she wanted to be, sort of setting five year goals. And I was there having a very different experience with the baggage. Like I've got my eye on you, mister.

Kim: And what about your four year old on the train?

Isaac: She was sitting with Bec, little Ashley. And I like to think she had a good time too.

Kim: Speaking of your daughter, you said that there is a place that you would not take children to. Was this part of the safari?

Isaac: The safari experience is not something I recommend with a small child.

Kim: Can you explain that? I remember you saying that to us.

Isaac: I think the attraction for us to bring Ashley to the natural habitat of these animals and to see elephants in the wild. That was the attraction. But the reality is it's very, very hot. These safaris go on for hours and hours. As it should be, there is no guarantee that you will see anything. So for a four year old, it can be difficult. We saw families getting off the trucks and kids crying. And parents about to strangle each other because dad wanted to see a rare sort of cheetah or leopard or whatever. We think the safari thing, if you have little kids ... yeah ...

Phil: I'm sorry, but Sri Lanka and safari: I'd never put those two together. But clearly.

Isaac: Sri Lanka, if I'm correct ... if I'm wrong you can edit this out, has-

Phil: No, no. We leave it in. We leave that stuff in, mate.

Isaac: I think it's home to the world's biggest mass migration of elephants that all sort of gather at this watering hole at this time of year. And it's a magnificent sight.

Kim: I don't care if you're wrong. Sounds great. And Felix, earlier in the episode too, spoke about, Phil, when he was running or driving with someone, just wild elephants on the side of the road.

Isaac: Yes. We saw a bit of that. So that's the other thing I wanted to say. For Ashley, we could be driving down the road somewhere and an elephant just sort of walks up to the side of the car. And that's quite different to being in a bumpy Jeep to see the same thing.

Phil: Okay. The migration is called The Gathering. It's happened for centuries. Hundreds of elephants descend on the shores of an ancient reservoir in Sri Lanka's north central district. And I'm not going to pronounce that ... national park.

Kim: No. Well, nor am I going to pronounce this festival that you went to, which is a great elephant segue. You said it was pretty spectacular but you had some concerns for the elephants.

Isaac: Yeah. Look, visually it's unlike anything I've ever experienced.

Kim: What's the name of it?

Isaac: It's called [inaudible 00:44:00]. My apologies if I've said that wrong.

Kim: Probably better than Phil doing it. Did you want to have a crack at it?

Phil: No, no. Go on.

Isaac: And it's a massive parade with traditional musicians and dancers. And you have these elephants and these amazing bejeweled costumes. But yeah, it's a bit difficult to see those elephants. Some of them didn't look entirely comfortable with the noise and the loud music and the crowds around them. So that for me was a bit difficult to process. Also a bit difficult to explain when you're traveling with a child, why that's okay and when that's not okay.

Kim: You wrapped up your family trip in Negombo.

Isaac: Negombo was an interesting place for us. It had a dark vibe, a dark energy. And I think it's to do with the fact that it has been known for child prostitution. That and the fact that there is a lot of Catholic imagery in the town kind of gave it a David Lynch sort of dark feel.

Kim: The Catholic imagery that you're speaking of is a hangover from the Portuguese.

Isaac: Yeah. So sort of remnants from early Portuguese settlers came to this little fishing town by the coast.

Kim: And you're saying not only is it known for child prostitution, but they actually, Phil, have signs.

Phil: Seriously? Warning of it?

Isaac: Yeah. In some places, hotels have signs saying that they don't encourage and they don't support that sort of activity and will call it out.

Kim: Yeah. So what would you say to families that want to travel to Sri Lanka?

Isaac: From my personal experience, there are very few experiences in life that have been enhanced by the addition of a four year old. Sri Lanka was amazing.

Kim: So it's a family-friendly country apart from this area?

Isaac: Yes.

Kim: Well, that brings us to the end of our episode featuring Sri Lanka. But the answer to your quiz question.

Phil: The native plant that has created trade with Sri Lanka for centuries, dating back to about 2000 BC when this product was imported into Egypt. I'm talking about cinnamon. It's native to Sri Lanka. So of course, that whole spice trade and everything which went on during Egyptian times. During medieval times the Europeans had no idea where it came from because the people who traded it kept the destination secret because they wanted to monopolize the trade. So they made up all sorts of fantastic stories about it came from the nests of birds which flew to some strange island and collected it, things like that. So it was a mystery for centuries. But of course, it was the impetus for, as far as Western civilization goes, for all that sort of exploration throughout southeast Asia and the Dutch East Indies.

Kim: Oh cool. I thought you were going to say marijuana. Because that's been around for-

Phil: You can sprinkle that on your food as well.

Kim: All right. Download the World Nomads podcast from iTunes or the Google podcast app. And you can contact us by emailing podcast.com. What is next, Phil?

Phil: We are featuring another amazing nomad. But this time it's a couple who swapped living in an RV for sailing the world in a catamaran. Please take me with you!

Kim: Yeah. See you then.

Phil: Bye.

Speaker 1: The World Nomads Podcast. Explore Your Boundaries.

 

 

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