The World Nomads Travel Podcast has suspended its regular destination episodes, and in their place, sharing the thoughts of travelers who are shaping the future of the industry post-COVID 19. We tap into their vast bank of knowledge to discover what can be learned from the past as we plan a new way of traveling moving forward.
00:39 The world is beginning to reengage
01:40 Stranded in Turkey
03:36 Going with the flow
07:12 Being a digital nomad
09:35 It's all about discipline
14:12 The three phases of lockdown
17:04 Finding a friend
19:12 Get amongst nature
20:15 Next episode
“I love telling stories and filming. My life was pretty perfect in my own sense and I had created that life for myself. That was not imposed on me by other people. I crafted that and I was very happy. Coming into Istanbul was hard because of the uncertainty of it all. Could I go back to Dubai? Should I go back to Canada? When might we be able to film again? It was all just uncertain and unknown.” - Ryan
Born in Toronto, Canada, Ryan Pyle spent his early years close to home. After obtaining a degree in International Politics from the University of Toronto in 2001, Ryan realized a lifelong dream and traveled to China on an exploratory mission. In 2002 Ryan moved to China permanently and in 2004 Ryan became a regular contributor to the New York Times. In 2009 Ryan was listed by PDN Magazine as one of the 30 emerging photographers in the world. In 2010 Ryan began working full time on television and documentary film production making shows with Amazon Prime, BBC Earth, and Discovery Channel. He is based in Dubai and Los Angeles. Ryan’s shows on are Amazon Prime and YouTube.
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Kim: In this episode, the global adventurer and television host stranded in Turkey, his thoughts on traveling better post-pandemic while continuing to make personal connections.
Kim: Hi Kim and Phil with you sharing the thoughts of travelers who are shaping the future of the industry post COVID, discovering what we can learn from the past as we plan a new way of traveling moving forward and in this episode its TV presenter and producer Ryan Pyle.
Phil: Yep the world is re-engaging, but slowly, there are still people trying to get on re-pat flights back to their home country but for those wanting a holiday there is a lot to consider. We’ll share a great article in show notes that answers many questions, but the bottom line is doing your research. Scour international health agency websites including the World Health Organization, health ministries, immigration offices, and embassies in destination countries.
General recommendations for personal hygiene remain, including cough etiquette and social distancing.
And those recommendations will affect how and what travel content creators will capture moving forward as Ryan Pyle, the host of Expedition Asia on the Discovery Channel will explain.
Kim: Like many Ryan has stuck abroad when the pandemic hit. He had been filming in Ethiopia and ended up caught in Turkey. Ryan has a great story to tell of not only being in lockdown but how he turned his passion into a profession. So how did he transition from an aspiring elite basketballer to a global producer and TV presenter?
Ryan Pyle: Yeah. I think when you grow up playing elite sports, or when you grow up playing sports at a high level, you're not a very well rounded person. I mean, you don't end up having a lot of other hobbies. You don't end up having a lot of other interests. You're just training and competing all the time and that's your whole life. And I loved that. And then all of a sudden, once that was taken away from me, by not being able to continue my career and play professionally, I just threw myself into wanting to learn more about the world. And somehow that motivated me to pick up a notepad and pen, and pick up a camera and start just trying to tell stories about people I meet and places I traveled to. And that was my first trip to China, which was in 2001, and that's how it all got started.
Kim Napier: That was almost by default too, wasn't it? Because you picked up a class on Thursdays, it was the only class that you could do on Chinese Studies. It wasn't like you grew up wanting to do this.
Ryan Pyle: No, Toronto is a wonderful multicultural city where I grew up in, and there's people from all over the world there, but I didn't have an interest in China from a very young age. It was literally because I needed to get my Fridays off so I could travel with the basketball team to play. And then in order to do that, the only class I qualified for was that Introduction to Modern China, which is really the only reason I took it. And it just sparked an interest, to say the least.
Phil Sylvester: Have you found your life's a bit... My life's been a bit like that. You kind of fall into things, but then you make it work for you. Has your life been like that?
Ryan Pyle: Yeah, I think it has been. I think you can't plan too much or you can't try to structure too much or you can't try to control too much. You just have to let it go. I think that's the definition of adventure. I mean, and I think life is an adventure. You just can't control it all the time, and the more you kind of open yourself up to random opportunities and random connections and random work, that's what gives life its color.
Kim Napier: In 2001 when you first went to China, how did you then get into this industry, though?
Ryan Pyle: Well, when I went to China the first time, I just went backpacking around China for three months by myself. I didn't know anyone or speak any Chinese but I really enjoyed it. Then through that experience, I decided that I was going to figure out some way to travel for a living and dedicate my life to that. Then I went home for about a month or so, and then I actually moved to Shanghai, China. When I was in Shanghai, China, I was teaching English for about three months just to get some grounding under me. Then I started working for local English magazines in China. There were two, one was That Shanghai and another one was City Weekend, and they would run travel features. So I would like to go out into the remote Chinese countryside up in the mountains, live with people and then write and do photography.
Then from those local magazines in China, then I got into the regional newspapers and magazines in Singapore and Hong Kong, English language magazines. Then I got into airline magazines. Then once I had a nice portfolio of all that work, then I took it to New York and I went to the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal and the Time, Newsweek, Forbes, Fortune, all the big magazines. Then from there, people gave me a chance and it worked out.
Phil Sylvester: You don't just decide that you're going to travel around and write stuff. You actually have to have a way of writing. I like your approach to that as well. There's something else I read about you, it said, "When you started traveling on your own and you had to make personal connections with people, that's where it really blossomed for you."
Ryan Pyle: Yeah, I think you definitely... I think you find your own style. I mean, you find your own way of telling stories. You find things that interest you and then you hope that other people are interested in them, and I guess I just had a knack for finding things that other people were interested in and my own taste on what interested me ended up being interesting for the general public or the audience of that newspaper magazine at the beginning. Yeah, there's a humility and objectivity and maybe an awkwardness to the way I travel, because a lot of it's pretty uncomfortable and I'm pretty open about that. I don't try to travel around the world like a hero that was born to travel. We've made a lot of mistakes and we get caught up in a lot of crazy weather and stuff happens all the time that you don't plan for. It's just like life, you just got to take it in stride and then enjoy the curveballs.
Phil Sylvester: A lot of people who listen to us have a dream of being able to do what you've done, which makes travel their life and their income as well, but it doesn't come easy. I know you've struggled with your first bicycle tour around China, getting that made and getting it seen. Just from that perspective of the digital nomads who want to follow in your footsteps, can you just explain to us how difficult that was to make it come to fruition?
Ryan Pyle: Sure. I mean, you and I are talking today and this has been a 20-year journey, and I had to move from Canada to China where I had no friends or family, in order to develop a way of telling stories or a way of seeing the world. Then from that spot, build that into a career in journalism, which is travel journalism and also mainstream journalism. Then from there, I wanted to make television shows, and that was incredibly hard because even though in my mind I knew I could make that transition, no one gives you a chance. No one is just going to be like, yes, I totally agree with your vision. Here's some money, go do something amazing. No one does that.
We had to make it ourselves, my brother and I, who joined me on that journey around China. Yeah, it took a long time to put that together. We had a lot of sleepless nights. I think if want to make film or television, you could go to film or television school, or you could just start making film and television, and whether you have a $500 budget or $50,000 budget, you learn really fast when it's your own money and you're producing on your own. That's the path that we chose for that journey, and it's been great because what it's done is it's set me up as a television host who also directs and produces his own content.
I manage every aspect of my TV show, not because I am a control freak, but it's because it's the only way I knew how to do it because I had to do all my stuff by myself at the beginning. It's actually been a bit of a blessing and I'm able to totally manage my entire career, my entire schedule and all the content that I get to create. It's a lot of work don't get me wrong, but it was a blessing in disguise having such a difficult few years in the beginning.
Phil Sylvester: It was a bit tricky at the beginning because you weren't actually that crap as a basketball player. You just didn't quite make it to the ultimate elite level. But, obviously, a lot of training and dedication and waiting to get to where you did good, do you take that sort of philosophy-
Kim Napier: Discipline.
Phil Sylvester: ... that sort of discipline, thank you very much, Kim. Do you take that discipline into the way you approach making films?
Ryan Pyle: Absolutely. Waking up on time, being where you're supposed to be, working in small groups, motivating people, being a leader, getting things done, putting yourself in the front lines. All of this stuff is sports terminology, as well. I think that... I have a wonderful crew and group of people that I've been working with for many years and it's important to treat them like teammates, and we go out into the wilds of the world and we have to stick together. We have to look out for each other. We have to come together as a team to accomplish our goals. Every single thing I learned when I played basketball from the age of seven to the age of 22, has made me a better business person and a better production manager and TV personality, I think.
Also too, my dad was in the Olympics for Canada in water polo in Munich in 1972. Even from a young age, my dad was always just instilling in me, just keep failing. Like, don't worry about it. You miss, you always miss seven out of the... What is it for baseball? It's baseball, it's if you hit three out of every 10 balls, you can be in the Hall of Fame. You're getting rewarded for missing seven out of 10 every time. He's just like, just keep swinging. Don't worry about people saying, no. Don't worry about failing. It'll come through when it comes through, you just have to keep moving.
Kim Napier: We've uncovered you as a guest because you are not on the move at the moment, and just listening to you and knowing what you do, this lockdown, this pandemic, must be driving you crazy. Tell us where you are, how are you there, and what you're doing with your time.
Ryan Pyle: I was filming Extreme Trek: Season #4, in Ethiopia, in early March when the world closed their borders. I live in Dubai and I chose Dubai as a place to live because it's such a great hub and an easy place to get around the world from because of its fantastic airline and stuff like that. I was in Ethiopia and we were two days offline, and these were the worst two days to be offline, basically in the whole history of our universe. Our travel universe. But I was two days offline and then we got up to the top of this 4,000-meter ridge in the Semien Mountains near the border of South Sudan in Northern Ethiopia, and our guide was like, "Sit down and have some water. We can get a signal here. We'll check our phones."
Then of course, the moment you catch a signal, everything starts coming through. Italy's closed its borders. The United States has banned flights from Europe, and then Europe closed, and then the United Arab Emirates closed. I was sitting there on a rock at 4,000 meters, and my face just went white. I was like, wow. I knew the virus was kind of a big deal and I actually felt like maybe going to Northern Ethiopia and trekking for two weeks and living in a tent would be the greatest social distancing that I could come up with. But I didn't expect the borders to close and the world to close, and the airlines to stop. I always thought I could always go back to Dubai, my home. There I was, kind of on the side of a mountain, not being able to go home.
We made a few phone calls from that spot. We trekked a couple of hours to the nearest road. We drove straight back to Addis Ababa, not knowing where we were going to fly, and my crew was able to go back to North America because they're passport holders from there. Then I didn't want to go back to Canada and stay with my 70 plus-year-old parents just in case I had been infected or something like that, so I just came to Istanbul because Turkey was still open. I didn't have any friends or know anyone in Istanbul. That's where I've been, and I arrived at 7:00 AM on March 21st. Where I am at the moment, obviously, I feel a little bit like a caged bird. I travel 300 days a year. I live a very fast and exciting life and I don't ever feel like I live a life that's too fast.
I love what I do. And I love being able to share it with so many people. I love all the speaking engagements and I love telling stories and filming. My life was pretty perfect in my own sense and I had created that life for myself. That was not imposed on me by other people. I crafted that and I was very happy. Coming into Istanbul was really hard because of the uncertainty of it all. Could I go back to Dubai? Should I go back to Canada? When might we be able to film again? It was all just uncertain and unknown. I can tell you, I've had three phases of being here in lockdown. The first phase was just depression. That lasted about four weeks. That was just like, I don't know if I'm going to be going back to Dubai. I don't know when I'll ever work again. I was watching the news and stuff like that, which was terrible. That was the first kind of tough few weeks.
Then I rescued a beautiful little kitten and he's keeping me company. That's really helpful. Anyone who's suffering in lockdown, animals have a lot of love to give and they're wonderful. Then I would say the second stage, I started doing my COVID calls and started getting a little bit more creative with my time. I started these COVID calls on my Instagram Live and on my YouTube channel, as a way of me communicating with other creatives and just reaching out to people, maybe I hadn't reached out to in a long time. Celebrity photographer friends I have. My university roommate, I did a call with him. Just everyone I could reach out to, and I basically did one a day and I've done more than 80 now. It's a nice kind of collection of my experience during this kind of terrible time.
Then where I am now, I would say I'm in stage three where I'm planning to move again. It looks like I'll be traveling from Istanbul into Europe at some stage in the next few weeks, and maybe being able to continue filming.
Kim Napier: Are you anticipating your content, what you'll capture, will be different from what you were doing before March?
Ryan Pyle: Yeah. That's an interesting question. What are we going to show on the camera? What aren't we going to show? How much are we going to play up this fact that this is our first episode after the COVID-19 pandemic. I don't know how we're going to play that at this moment. Whether we're going to be wearing masks ourselves at every moment of every day or whether we're going to be doing interviews with other people who are wearing masks. I haven't fully wrapped my head around that because it's crazy just how difficult film and production have been hit by this pandemic and how you have to work with people in close spaces to tell stories, and I'm a little bit worried about how that'll play out. But I'm actively working on some solutions for that. Definitely going to present a lot of issues, that's for sure.
Phil Sylvester: Although, masks make it a bit easier to edit the audio. You can't see the lips moving. You don't have to worry about syncing stuff up.
Ryan Pyle: There you go. See, there's always a silver lining.
Phil Sylvester: There's always a silver lining.
Kim Napier: The other silver lining that you've found is your Whisky Wednesday. That little kitten you talk about its name is Whisky, and on Wednesday you drink whisky with Whisky. Will you miss that?
Ryan Pyle: Well, I've been doing Whisky Wednesdays for a long time, a few years now, off and on sporadically. Then I did find a little homeless kitten in Istanbul. No mother, no brothers or sisters. He was only about eight days old. This was pretty early on in my stay. It was about five degrees Celsius at night. I heard this little kitten crying from the sixth-floor balcony of my hotel room, and he was just crying for about six, seven hours straight. Then I woke up in the morning and he was still crying, so I went down and just grabbed him and cleaned him up and he's been great. I just named him Whisky because I like whisky and he looked cute, so I felt like that was a good thing. Yeah, sometimes I drink whisky with Whisky, and he is becoming much more popular than me on all of my social media.
Now when I do a Whisky Wednesday without Whisky, or I do anything on my Instagram without Whisky, people are always like, "Where's the cat? How's the cat? What's going on with the cat? How come you're not..." It's pretty hilarious, but he's sweet, but sometimes he's sleeping. I don't want to wake him up just to use him to get more likes on Instagram. I'm going to let the guy sleep when he wants to sleep.
Kim Napier: You also did one of these Whisky Wednesdays in your adventure gear with Whisky on your shoulder.
Ryan Pyle: Yeah. I guess I was having a bit of a rough day and I just got to decide... I mean, I love what I do for my career, and I miss putting on the big down jackets and the gloves and the hat, and I love being outside. Under lockdown, we're all stuck in our small apartments or our homes or whatever, and I just miss being outside. So I actually put on all of my adventure gear and then put the kitten up on my shoulder because he actually loves sitting on my shoulder, right. He thinks he's a bird or a parrot. Yeah, I did my Whisky Wednesday with all my gear on just to mix it up a little. I think there was definitely... That might've been definitely during a slightly delusional stage of my lockdown where I was struggling with whatever version of myself I was becoming, through this pandemic.
Phil Sylvester: Yeah. One of the things that we're sort of pushing through World Nomads, as well, it's taking this moment to have a look at the way we used to travel and think about how we might be able to do it better.
Ryan Pyle: Yeah. My Extreme Trekking shows are the best in the world. Go out and spend time in nature. Digital detox, social distancing, sleep in a tent. I've been pushing this for years and now it actually almost makes sense. Don't go to crowded cities and throw yourself into bars and nightclubs. Go out and really give yourself an honest experience out in nature and reconnect with something that used to be such an important part of our civilization. We've got beautiful places on this planet. Go pick one and hunker down and spend a week just watching the sunrise and sunset, and walking, and being out and exercising and getting clean air. It's beautiful.
Kim: It really is the simple things. Thanks, Ryan, for that chat and say hi to Whiskey. Plenty more on Ryan and how to follow him in show notes
Phil: If you’d like to get in touch with us email firstname.lastname@example.org
Kim: And thanks for listening from wherever you get your favorite pods, don’t forget to subscribe, rate, and share.