Today’s interview guest really has been there…saw the local crazy people (we all know they are out there), and then shot some film footage while he was there! From roadtrips in the USA to teaching English in Asia, he’s seen it all, and his stories range from the poignant to the down right funny. He’s a storyteller, so I’ll let him have the floor…
Could you introduce yourself?
I’m Roni Weiss. Born in New York, grew up in the suburbs, north of Seattle. I studied English Lit and Drama at the University of Washington, graduating in 2002 at the age of 18. After that, I moved to Hollywood, left Hollywood, had a bunch of different jobs then started working with kids.
In 2004, I did my first big trip abroad, which was for 2 months in Western Europe.
Since then, I’ve visited 70+ countries, every country in Europe and every continent except Antarctica. I’ve also taught English in Italy, France, Taiwan and Chile.
Looking over the multitude of places you’ve been, it doesn’t seem like there’s much of a pattern. How do you choose your next locale?
Each trip has been fairly organic in terms of how I decided on it:
My first trip was because I was invited to visit people in the UK that I had worked with at a camp on the East Coast of the US. I just extended it until it made sense to stop.
My next trip was a month in Southeast Asia. I got the flight from an air courier, so a month was the limit.
After that, I started teaching English, so my travels became more about where was plausible to go during work or where I could branch off to after my contracts had expired.
It’s funny, you were born on the US East Coast, then grew up on the US West Coast, and then years later did a road trip that looks like you hit nearly every state. Any American off-beat favourites you would suggest?
Honestly, I was more disappointed with a lot of stuff on the US road trip than I thought I would be. The Corn Palace was cool, in that we got to do an interview with a guy that knew stuff about it and fit in with the kitchiness, but other than that, it’s just an indoor arena. Roswell is more cowboy than alien. The best part to me were just some of the characters we ran into, such as one of the founders of cuddle parties and Fred Sanders, a guy that is apparently a music legend in some circles, but managed to make even stories about hanging out with Elvis and such into one-line borefests. It’s such a different experience traveling in a country where you speak the language, because you can actually understand what the crazy people are saying.
You’ve taught English in a number of foreign countries abroad. What was that like?
Teaching English has provided me with a great way to be abroad and make money. Working with students (of any age) really tells you a lot about the culture in general. Chile is the most stable country in South America, almost an anomaly. I saw part of the reason why in the strong work ethic of the students. Working in Taiwan was like living in an Asian stereotype. The kids were pushed hard, had pig’s blood soup for lunch and I had my lunch out of a takeout box with chop sticks.
Even funnier to me were my experiences in Italy and France. The Italians fit their stereotype perfectly. My first memory of arriving in Italy was walking down the street in San Remo, seeing people gesturing wildly with their hands and drinking coffee at sidewalk cafes from little cups.
As for France, everything grows out of the initial stereotype. Even the rest of Europe is mad at France
for their lack of English skills. But having worked in the public education system there, I’ve grown to understand the reasons behind that.
What’s been your most inspirational travel experience?
In all of my travels, I’m always heartened by the kindness I’m shown by complete strangers. Even outside of CouchSurfing, there are little moments here and there that make me feel bonded to the human experience. One, offhand, is when I was at a bus station in Antalya, Turkey. A woman gestured that she was walking away and that I should watch her stuff. I just sat there, nothing happened, she came back, profusely thanked me and gave me two apples. It’s the small things like that that keep me traveling.
Any big, interesting items on your “to do” list you’re going to be checking off soon?
There are only two big trips left that I really want to do: Mexico/Central America and Egypt to South Africa overland. I really hate airports and airlines, so the more I can avoid dealing with them, the better. I’d love to go to Iran, but Americans need to have a guide with them all the time. I don’t think I could handle that. I travel to freely talk to people.
Thanks Roni for taking time out of your adventures for a wee chat! Folks, to find out about Roni’s latest adventures, visit his website, see his videos on Youtube, or drop him a Tweet. Safe travels Roni!
Photos courtesy of the interviewe, Roni Weiss.