Welcome to the Roamers Corner! A new interview series that spotlights how travelers, experts, and eco travel advocates we admire incorporate travel into their lives, to live more fulfilling and mindful lives.
Today, we're speaking with Emil Hvidtfeldt, a fellow traveler whom our friend Julia met on the road to Kyrgyzstan. Emil's relationship with travel is really inspiring and quite thrilling too! One of Emil's characteristics is that he enjoys traveling in somewhat unusual ways and places. Hence the name of his blog, The Odd Trip. "When planning a trip, I'd rather go somewhere new and overwhelming than somewhere tried and tested. Physical and mental challenges have also become quite a big aspect of my trips." Emil Hvidtfeldt
This definitely makes for really riveting (and sometimes scary) stories to recount afterward...
RW: Hi Emil, what do you do and where do you call home?
EH: I spend most of my waking hours studying Anthropology at the University of Copenhagen. Super interesting stuff. It’s given me a ton of new perspectives on the world and the people I meet when traveling. I also deliver pizzas from time to time since living isn’t free.
So, I guess Copenhagen would have to be home for me at the moment. I’ve moved around quite a bit though, so it’s hard for me to say exactly where home is. I’d say home is more about the things I associate it with, rather than a physical place. So, the things I would associate with home are my bed, my friends, and of course my family. Conveniently, they're mostly all in the same place right now! So yeah – Copenhagen.
RW: Generally, how often do you travel and why do you travel?
EH: I travel as much as I’m able to. Being a full-time student, the limiting factor at the moment is time. I try to fit in a bunch of shorter trips throughout the year, and I’ve also been fortunate enough to go on a few longer trips, with the longest being just over a year. I get restless sooo quickly though, so I’ll grab any chance I get to go on a trip!
The question of why is a tough one to answer. Traveling has become such an essential part of my life, that it would be really hard for me to imagine life without it. At the core, it’s all about curiosity though. [You know how babies and toddlers seem to have this irresistible urge to taste, touch, and simply explore the world? My guess would be that it’s that same urge that makes us want to travel.] You come to a point where exploring your hometown just doesn’t cut it anymore. So, when I go abroad, it’s because I want to see things I’ve never seen before, I want to taste new things, and I want to discover all the weird little quirks of the world. And of course, I want to meet new people and learn what their world is all about. I guess I really just want to have my senses overwhelmed.
RW: Is sustainable travel important to you and if so, how does that change the way you travel?
EH: To be perfectly honest, I didn’t think much about sustainability when I began traveling. But I’ve come to realize that the way I like to travel is actually not a bad way to go if you want sustainable travel. I do a lot of overlanding, riding my bike, going on trains, the bus, hitchhiking, and that sort of thing. When you travel overland, you’ll often find yourself outside of the main tourist areas too, at which point local food, accommodation, transport and so on becomes your only option. That makes it a lot easier to support the locals financially too, which feels like the right way to go.
RW: Do you have any tips to give to someone who would like to start traveling more sustainably?
EH: Travel overland! It’s not as much of a struggle as it might seem. The main thing is to just give yourself a bit of extra time, so you won’t have to stress about ticking boxes off your itinerary. I realize most people are working nine to five and have only got a few weeks off every year though, in which case you might just want to fly off to someplace nice and relax. I think that’s totally understandable, so I don’t want to come off as a social justice warrior here, but there are definitely options for the people who care.
RW: What’s your favorite destination/trip and why?
EH: Oh, that’s a really tough question… So, here’s a selection.
For some bizarre reason, I’m drawn to cold places, so I’m a big fan of the arctic and high mountain regions. I’ve long been a big fan of Nepal. Absolutely stunning place, and very diverse in the sorts of places you can explore. The Himalayan Mountains are just awesome in the most literal sense. It’s actually quite a budget-friendly destination too.
Emil camping on his way up to the summit of Mera Peak (6461 meters)
If you’ve got a bit of money to spend though, I would have to root for Greenland. I lived there for about a year, and the experiences it gave me were life-changing. It’s definitely not cheap, but if you do get the chance to go, you’re in for a treat. I mean, dog sledding under the northern lights with a bit of good whiskey in the hip flask to keep you warm. Nothing beats it.
For the more seasoned traveler, check out the Karakoram Highway from Kashgar, Xinjiang to Islamabad, Pakistan. It’s not an easy place to travel, but extremely rewarding and can only be described as an adventure in its purest form. But PLEASE do some proper research before going, as safety issues are not to be messed within this area.
RW: What’s your craziest traveling experience so far?
EH: Once again, tough question. A couple of years ago I bought a cheap secondhand bicycle and rode it from Finland to Indonesia. It took me just over one year.
Route for Emil's transcontinental bike ride from Finland to Indonesia, which he did to raise funds and awareness for the Association for Greenlandic Children.
That was kind of wild. It was more of a plethora of travel experiences though. I’ve mentioned it so many times before, but witnessing a massive free-for-all game of Ulak in Kyrgyzstan would have to be up there among the craziest and most rewarding experiences. It was basically 200 guys on horses fighting each other over one dead goat. I’d been actively hunting for that experience for ages and it’s kind of rare to come by, so it was almost euphoric for me when I finally found it. It’s just such a brutal, yet joyful atmosphere. It was heartwarming to realize that these age-old traditions were still alive and well, given that such games would have probably been banned in most other places these days.
Just a few days later I went to Kashgar in China which is quite known for the Uyghur people and the extreme forms of oppression they are being subjected to by the Chinese government. It was a massive contrast after experiencing the very proud traditions of what are basically the same people in Central Asia.
Making it to the finish line in Jakarta, Indonesia, is something I’ll never forget. The Danish embassy had set up this event where people could join me for a victory lap of Jakarta. Hundreds of local cyclists showed up, and we had a blast riding around the city, chatting, and snapping thousands of selfies. They made me feel like an absolute rockstar! I had so much fun during those last few days of celebrating.
I had another crazy experience shortly before going on that bike trip. I was in Lagos, Nigeria for a couple of weeks for my sister’s wedding. With the help of a few friends, we got to check out a place called Makoko, which is basically this gigantic slum built on stilts out in the water. It’s such a unique place, unlike anything I’ve seen anywhere else.
We were only there for about half an hour or so, but it’s a different world. Super interesting place. I wouldn’t recommend going to Lagos, and especially not Makoko if you don’t have someone you know and trust to show you around though. It was an amazing travel experience though. Very privileged to have had the chance to check it out!
RW: How has the current global Covid-19 pandemic affected your travels? What did you decide to do about it?
EH: I was actually going to go to Greenland for a couple of months to work as a guide. But since all travel has been canceled, so has my summer job. I really miss Greenland, so that was a bit of a blow. I’m going to stay positive about it though and enjoy the summer here in Denmark. I’ve got about two and a half months’ vacation this summer, so that’s going to be the perfect time to pick up a new hobby. I just got myself a brand spanking new set of turntables and a decent mixer to go along with it. So, I’m probably going to spend my summer teaching myself to DJ. Either that or jewelry making. Maybe both.
RW: Is the pandemic also impacting your income and if so are there any ways our readers can support you in this time of hardship?
EH: My income really hasn’t been affected that much. I’m quite privileged as a student in Denmark since I’m being paid a fair bit just to study. And people are still ordering pizzas every now and then it seems. Guess I lost a bit of potential income with my summer guiding job in Greenland gone. But I manage. Feel free to check me out on Instagram though!
You can follow Emil's adventure here @theoddtrip Give him a follow.
RW: What impact do you think the current crisis will have on the future of travel and sustainable travel?
EH: Well, the obvious answer would be that now that planes have been grounded, the skies seem to have been clearing up. So, you could hope that it would make people more aware of sustainability, not just in travel, but in general. I think travel will eventually rebound back to normal, but initially, I think people might be more inclined to check out domestic travel opportunities, and maybe neighboring countries too. In Denmark at least, there’s been a lot of talk about supporting local businesses. So, I guess that whole mindset could probably carry over to people’s travel plans too.
But who knows, once borders open up, you could just as easily imagine people flooding out en masse to explore something new after being locked up for months, and to compensate for canceled summer holidays.
Hard to tell really. Funny how being locked up makes you long for traveling that much more though.
RW: If you could travel now, what would be your number 1 destination?
EH: I’ve got so many places I’d like to see. It would have to be somewhere new. Like I mentioned I’ve got a real soft spot for the Arctic. Siberia is definitely up there. So is Baffin Island. Neither is easy to get to though.
Never been to South America either, so that’s a bit of a blank spot on the map I’ll have to explore at some point!
Thank you, Emil! You made us dream a little!
Follow Emil on Instagram @theoddtrip
Website and blog: www.theoddtrip.com