Inspiration, Interviews

The Inspired Traveler # 7 – David Billa

April 8, 2011 • By

Today, we continue our series where we sit down to interview fellow Travel Bloggers and (hopefully) get them to give up some of their best travel tips for you, dear reader.  Next up, the multi-tasking, David Billa who runs a French and English version of Ogijima.

David Billa

Help! Get me off this graph paper!

1)What is it about traveling that makes you smile?

I don’t know. Does it make me smile? (I’m smiling as I’m typing this) I guess, the thing that I like the most about travelling is discovering new cultures, different people, different ways of life, different histories, and different aspects of what human kind is. I think this is why my favorite way of travelling is simply to move for a few years to the place I’m interested in. I’m not always sure if it still qualifies as “travelling” and it sure doesn’t allow for that many different destinations –although I haven’t done it nearly as often as I would like– but this is the way that allows me to really understand those other cultures.  Of course, I don’t exclude “normal” travelling.

2) What is your favorite place in the world?

Ogijima, the tiny Japanese island after which I named my blog.  Well, to be honest, I don’t know it that well yet, and it is not actually my favorite place in the world (although, it could become it one day). However, the area where it is located –the Seto Inland Sea in Japan- is one of the most beautiful and interesting places I’ve been to. Sure, it’s not as stunningly beautiful as many other places in the world; its charm is more subtle. It’s not just about being there and being in awe of the scenery, it’s really about many different factors, the people and their culture not being the least important ones.

I should also mention three spots that may not have anything special about them, but when I’m there, for some reason, I just feel good, I’m just happy, no matter what. They are the city of York in England, Paynes Prairie in Florida (a mini Everglades type of prairie/swamp in northern Florida) and my “secret” beach on the French South West Atlantic Coast (It’s not actually secret, but it is one of the lesser known ones in the area, which is otherwise a quite popular destination with European tourists).

3) What place would have to pay you to come back and even then you’d have to think about it?

I’m not sure there are places I would never go back to. There are places I’m not interested in going (even though I’m sure I’d manage to make the best of it if I went), but so far, there isn’t any place I’ve been to and that I swore I’d never go back. Well, thinking about it, I’m not sure I ever want to return to Harajuku in Tokyo and I’m not sure how anybody older than 18 can like the place (and while I definitely want to return to Tokyo one day, I also think that it’s one of the least interesting places in Japan).

A thing I would never do, even if I was paid to do it, is travelling on a guided group tour. This goes pretty much against everything I believe in as far as travelling is concerned. I’d rather not go to a place than go on a group tour. Actually, when travelling in such a way, I don’t think people really ARE in the place, they’re just watching it from the bus or the small crowd they form.

4) What is the best piece of advice that you’ve been given about traveling?

Here is the thing, I’ve been travelling ever since I was a little kid. My parents gave me lots of advice then (or I just picked it up by observing), but right now, I can’t really name one in particular as the best one that I was given (I kinda integrated all of them with time, so it’s hard to pick them apart). I guess “be open, look around you, not just in front” would be the one.

5) How has traveling changed you as a person?

I don’t think it has changed me as a person as much as it has made me as a person. As I just mentioned, I travelled a lot as a kid (only in Europe, but pretty much all over Europe) and that really shaped my view on things as I grew up. Also, as an adult, I have lived as much time abroad as I have lived in France. How did all of this made me different? I think I’m much more open to other cultures, new things and different people than most people are. Also, my outlook on things is much wider than average. For example, I can’t understand how some people can only be interested in what’s going on in their city, country or region and be completely ignorant about pretty much everything on their other side of their borders.

David Billa

“Was it something I said?”

6) Have you ever volunteered during your travels? If so, what did you do? If not, will you ever?

I haven’t.  I must admit that I come from a culture that is much less volunteering oriented than the US can be. It comes from many factors, the main one being that in France, the State and governments are much more hands on with social issues than the US will ever be. In France, most of us think that dealing with social matters and issues are the first and most important duty for a government, before anything else, while it is my understanding that in the US, many people think governments shouldn’t be involved at all with them, hence the need of volunteering.  That being said, I don’t exclude volunteering some day. What would I do? I have no idea. I guess it will depend on the opportunities.

7) What is the best piece of advice that you can give our readers?

Don’t travel with a group!  Also, don’t limit your destinations to places you already know. Do you travel to discover new things, or do you travel to see the things you’ve seen time and again on pictures, TV, movies and such?  I’m going to take Paris as an example. I’m French, but I’m not a Parisian, Paris used to be as foreign to me as many parts of the world can be (yeah people, don’t forget that France is not Paris, no more than NYC is the US or Sydney is Australia), but I’ve just spent almost five years there.

One thing that baffled me over and over again were those thousands and thousands of tourists that would only visit the Eiffel Tower, Montmartre, Notre-Dame and the Louvre. And of course, in the Louvre, they only care about the Mona Lisa. We’re only talking about the biggest museum in the world after all, why bother going to unknown sections of it. I’ll spare you the suspense, yes, the Mona Lisa is smaller than you imagined.

Then, most tourists who think they’re “off the beaten path” would go to St-Germain-des-Prés and those two tourist trap streets near Notre-Dame that they confuse with the Latin Quarter (believe me, those are not “off the beaten path”, not even St-Germain).  Basically, they want to see “for real” the things they already know and have seen many times everywhere before.

During their time in Paris, they simply ignore about 99% of the city.  Sad… Especially when you spend thousands of dollars for such a trip (maybe for them, seeing the Eiffel Tower for real is worth that price, not for me, and I’m not saying this because I’m French, same thing applies to the Statue of Liberty, the London Bridge (which I’ve never seen despite going to England several times).

So, my advice when you travel is: go to places you’ve never heard about. Pick a random destination on a map (or grab any opportunity that comes to you, don’t pass it because it’s not a famous place) and go visit that place.

My second advice is to buy and read a travel guidebook about your destination before going, but – more important – to leave it at home when you go. First, you don’t want to waste hours looking for that place mentioned in the book and miss all the interesting things along way in the meantime because you’re looking at the book instead of at the things around you. Second, have you ever read a travel guidebook about where you’re from? Do it and then tell me if you think the destinations mentioned in it (I’m talking restaurants, bars, stores, etc here) are the ones you usually go to? Me neither…

8 ) Since this is a budget travel blog, what is your best budget tip, bar none?

Mmmm…. Good question. I always travel on a budget, so I don’t really know what not travelling on a budget is like.  I’d say – and it’s almost a follow up from the previous question – avoid tourist places. Once you’re done with your sightseeing for the day, do not eat, go grab a drink or shop where the tourists do. I know, sometimes it’s hard to find the right place, and things will vary from country to country, but in countries where safety is not really an issue, just check the locals to tourists ratio in the place that you’re interested in, and if it’s mostly locals, give it a shot. You don’t understand the menu? Who cares? It’s part of the travel experience, isn’t it? Just order randomly what’s in your price range. You may even like. Or if you’re not that adventurous, ask for advice, I’m sure they’ll be happy to tell you about their favorite dish.

9) Where do you plan to travel this year?

Unfortunately, I’m not sure I am going to travel this year. I travelled more than usual last year, and as I recently quit my job with a change of career in mind, I’m pretty sure that I won’t have the budget to do any sort of travelling this year. Although, I still hope to be able to go to Japan at least once (my wife being Japanese we try to go visit her family at least once a year).

David Billa

“See, what had happened was……”

10) What are the three things that you could never do without during your travels?

Well, beyond the obvious (passport, money, etc) I’d say:

  • My camera. Although, sometimes I wish I could do without, at times I have the feeling that the time I spend taking pictures is time I don’t spend actually watching things around me.
  • Pen and paper to be able to write and take notes. I’m not a big note taker in everyday life (I tend rely a lot on my memory, a bit too much maybe), but when I travel, I write down everything, I keep a journal everyday, etc, etc. In other words, my memory is not enough to record all of those new things.
  • Books. Travelling involves long periods of time in planes, trains, buses, ferries and I think I would go crazy if I didn’t have anything to read during all of those long idle hours when you can’t always watch the landscape unfold in front of you.

Thanks, David for your valuable insight as a lifelong traveler!

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