#FBF: Followback Friday is a weekly interview series where we get real with some of our favorite travel influencers. We want to learn what makes them tick, their best tips and tricks, and share stories of (mis)adventures from the road.
Robert Schrader went from waiting tables to traveling the world — and he hasn’t looked back since. Now, Robert is the mastermind behind Leave Your Daily Hell. He’s a leading travel expert, award-winning photographer, and a trip planner for folks like you and me. Personally, Robert plans at least five major trips a year with another half dozen across North and Central America in between. When he’s not exploring the world, he’s residing in Austin, Texas — and dreaming up his next big adventure. We caught up with Robert to hear more about his big adventures, a few of his travel mishaps, and why he keeps on roaming the globe.
You describe yourself as a pretty ordinary guy from “the (extremely) ordinary Midwest.” What made you decide to leave the ordinary behind and make traveling into a living?
In 2009, three years after graduating college, in the middle of the Great Recession, I got fired from a job waiting tables. It was either stay in the U.S. collecting unemployment until Obama worked his magic on the economy, or head to Asia and teach English, the job that ended up being the seed of my ability to travel and blog. A pretty clear decision, if you ask me.
How did you come up with your blog name “Leave Your Daily Hell”?
I bought the domain in late 2009, before moving to China, and although it happened to reflect the action I needed to take in my life, it was actually directly inspired by a quote from the Tori Amos song “Welcome to England.”
So, why do you travel?
When I was very young, I developed a fascination with maps (my parents gave me a huge World Map for my sixth birthday; by the time I was 7, I could name every country on it) and aviation (my Dad traveled for business, and my Mom would take me to the airport an hour or so before he arrived to watch planes take off and land).
Travel itself didn’t really interest me until my early 20s, when I went to Europe several times to follow the tours of the aforementioned singer Tori Amos. At some point, I realized that the experience of travel was more interesting to me than the concerts, a realization that inspired my first trip to India, which I still consider my first “real” trip. I’ve been hooked since then.
How would you describe your travel style?I consider myself a bougey traveler with backpacker tendencies. I love staying in boutique hotels, but eating in divey local places. I pack light—and I do carry a backpack—but the few things I bring with me are of high quality and, I think, good style. I love airport lounges and flying in business class, but only when I can find an unbelievable bargain. I did my time as a backpacker, and although I’ve abandoned the bare-bones ways of my 20s in my 30s, they still inform my travel behavior.
You’re a huge advocate of budget travel. How can travelers trim their budget while they’re on the road?
It’s all about organization and preparation! This isn’t to say you need to plan out every day of your journey, but outlining the “Big Three” of your trip — accommodation, activities and transportation — at least a couple weeks before you leave will help you make smart, budget-conscious decisions on your largest expenses, leaving more money available for the spontaneous (i.e., best) parts of travel.
Shameless plug: I offer a Travel Coaching service where I do a lot of this leg-work for you. I do assess an up-front fee for this service, but the overall savings far exceeds it in most cases.
What are your top three budget-friendly destinations around the world?Off the top of my head, I would say India, Thailand and maybe Peru or Bolivia.
We can’t get enough of your Instagram page. It’s so colorful and full of great travel tips and ideas! What’s your secret to nailing those shots?
As far as Instagram, using a professional camera and curating my shots after the fact — I guess you could say all my Instagrams are Latergrams! As far as photography in general…well, I just try and document what I see. Fun fact: Almost all pictures of me are selfies I shoot with a tripod and remote!
How do you seek out the best local spots, even if you don’t speak the same language?
Ask the people who work in your hotel where they hang out and eat — and not just the receptionist. If you can find a cleaner or cook or other service staff who speaks a little bit of English (or if you can Google-Translate a question for them), you truly get the inside track as to where local people spend their time.
Everyone has a travel mishap at some point. What’s your been your biggest one?Oh, God. I’ve had so many, I don’t know where to start. I once almost died of food poisoning in Myanmar. And I once accidentally paid for sex in Colombia. Those were a few years ago, though, and mishaps are rare these days. Travel has definitely helped me make better decisions more often.
We’re big adventure lovers here and we love that you are such a fearless explorer. What are your top five travel adventures to date?
- Trekking Ethiopia Erta Ale volcano
- Hiking through Brazil’s Lençóis Maranhenses
- Going up — and into — Indonesia’s Kawah Ijen Volcano
- China’s freezing Harbin Ice Festival
- Driving around Iceland in the middle of winter
Do you have any bucket list adventures you haven’t crossed off your list yet?
Oh yes! In particular, I would love to visit Iran, but unfortunately the requirement for an organized tour for U.S. citizens means I won’t be going there anytime soon.
What are some upcoming trips you’re super excited about?
I’ll be headed to Nepal at the end of November — major bucket list item. Ditto on Russia in January. I hesitated going to Russia for a long time, and for a lot of reasons, including that I’m gay and Russia’s record on LGBT rights is horrific. But I travel, among other reasons, to disprove stereotype. I hope Russia and the Russians defy my expectations!