He's swum with great whites in South Africa, spelunked in Borneo, dove the ruins of the Great Lighthouse of Alexandria. Gary Arndt has honed a formidable curriculum vitae of adventure travel in the last five years on the road. He's made a career of documenting his travels on his blog, "Everything, Everywhere," and speaking at conferences around the world. Outside talked with the professional pilgrim and photographer about his experiences so far and his quest to do it all.
What prompted you to pack up and travel the world?
I stated an Internet company in the mid-'90s, which I sold in 1998. I then started a few other companies with varying degrees of success and went back to school to study geology and geophysics after the dot-com crash. I hit a point where I didn't really know what to do with my life.
Back in 1999, the firm I sold my company to sent me around the world to talk to people in their international offices. The three-week whirlwind trip was my first real experience traveling outside of the United States. It was an experience which had always stuck with me and something I wanted to do more of.
I had no wife or kids, so there was nothing really stopping me from committing myself fully to travel. In 2007 I sold my house and hit the road. I've been traveling ever since.
How do you like traveling professionally?
Obviously, I love it or else I wouldn't do it.
I often say I have the best job in the world, and people tend to agree. In the last five years I've seen more and done more than 99.99 percent of our species will in their lives.
Do you have a purpose or philosophy that spurs you on?
Personally, I do it because I love the freedom of being on the road, and I enjoy being able to constantly learn about places. After half a decade on the road, there are still more places I haven't been than I have. Even when I return to a place, it is always a brand new experience and there are always things for me to learn.
What's the hardest part about full-time travel?
Finding time to work. Since I began traveling in 2007, my travel blog has become a serious business. As a result, I am flying a lot more and visiting a far greater diversity of places. So far in 2012 I've visited six continents (all except Africa) and I've flown over 75,000 miles.
I find my travel often outpacing my ability to process it. I still have thousands of unedited photos from my January trip to Antarctica and South Georgia Island.
I've named what I call "Gary's Paradox:" You can travel and you can blog, but you can't do them both at the same time. You can be out exploring and taking photos or you can be at your laptop, but you can't be doing both.
Ever miss having a home?
Not anymore. It took several months to get used to the fact that I wasn't going home. When most people travel, in the back of their mind is the realization that at some point, when the trip is over, they will return home. I am now at a point that wherever I am on a given day is my home.
I do occasionally want to just stay in one place for a month to rest and work, but eventually I'll get antsy and want to start moving again.
You have to carry all your possessions with you wherever you go. What's your travel kit like?
I carry two bags with me: a camera bag for my camera, lenses and laptop, and a wheeled bag for my clothes and other things that can't fit into the camera bag.
Gear has become less and less important to me the longer I travel. When I first started, I fretted about every single thing in my bag. I laid everything out to take photos of my gear and made sure to get travel versions of everything that I purchased.
Today I pretty much just throw stuff into a bag. I know that if I need something, I can usually get it wherever I am.
One other thing I've found indispensable is my Scottevest jacket. With this I basically get an extra bag when going through airports. If I'm just wandering around, I usually don't need a daypack if I have my Scottevest with me.
What’s in your suitcase?
Clothes and toiletries. It really isn't that much different from what you might take on vacation. The difference being that I almost always wear sandals. I've found that wearing sandals eliminates the need for socks and cleaning them.
The biggest thing is your attitude. When you have closets full of clothes, there is a temptation to over pack when going on a trip. When you only have one bag, your attitude toward stuff changes. I really don't need much more than what I have. I have few things, but what I have I try to make high quality.
Most memorable moments?
There have been so many. I've been swimming with great white sharks in South Africa, I visited an active combat zone on the Thai-Cambodia border, got caught up in the middle of a political protest in Bangkok, rode in a Formula 1 car in Spain, attended the final game of the Rugby World Cup, dove in the ruins of the Great Lighthouse of Alexandria and got to stand with a quarter million penguins on South Georgia Island. If I stopped traveling today I'd still have years of things to write about.
How do people you meet respond to what you’re doing?
Almost every day I meet new people and tell them about what I do. The reaction is almost always the same: amazement and curiosity. The idea that someone could do what I do has never crossed the minds of most people. The most common question I get by far is "What is your favorite place?," to which I have no real answer.
In many countries, my stories and I might be one of the few glimpses people get into places they have never heard of and will probably never visit.
Has traveling the world changed your cultural perspective?
Absolutely. I could probably write a book on the subject, but suffice to say I think more internationally now. People in other countries are neither saints nor sinners. They are just like us. They are proud of where they are from and want the same for their families. The way they go about things might be different, but we have more in common than we realize.
What's the plan? Any idea where you'll go from here?
I'm in Hong Kong right now and I had no idea I would be here a week ago. I was originally planning to go to Portland from Melbourne, but a last minute opportunity came up, and I took it. My travel schedule is booked through mid-June. After that it is all still up in the air. I'll probably be going to Malaysia and Turkey later in the year. I'd very much like to ride the Trans-Mongolian Railroad from St. Petersburg to Beijing. I have no idea what I'm doing in between yet.