#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.
Australian Michael Turtle has been traveling the world nearly nonstop for more than five years now. He says he doesn’t really have a home — and he’s OK with that. He makes his home as he goes, purposely striving to learn everything he can about the cities and cultures he experiences along the way. Y’know, the way the locals do. He documents his experiences and tips on his award-winning travel blog, Time Travel Turtle. We caught up with him to learn more about his blogger name, his favorite UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and more.
You decided to quit your job in television news and pursue a life of travel. What triggered that decision?
I guess there were two main reasons behind it. The first was personal – I wasn’t sure that I wanted a job to dictate my life for the next 40 years. I wanted the freedom to do projects that I could choose and see the world in the process. The second reason was that I could see the rise of digital on the horizon and I actually thought that moving from television to online would be better in the long run professionally.
How did you come up with the name “Time Travel Turtle” for your website?It’s an interesting question because it was actually an accident. I was trying to get a domain name that was quite simple - ‘Turtle travels’ or ‘Travelling turtle’ or something like that but they were all taken already. The site I was using to buy the domain suggested ‘Time Travel Turtle’ and as soon as I saw it, I decided. It has a certain rhythm to it but it also captured the mood of what I do – moving slowly and learning about about history.
How would you describe your travel style? Has it changed a lot over the years?
When I travel, one of my priorities is always to go beyond the obvious and understand a destination in a deeper way. I try to visit sites that most tourists don’t see, I try to talk to locals and learn about their culture, and I try to spend time doing what a resident would do – not just a tourist. Over the years, the time I spend in destinations has often got shorter because I have more commitments now, but I still always look for something different.
How do you seek out the best local spots, even if there is a language barrier?Language is an issue and I sometimes worry that I am not making the most of a place if I can’t speak with local people. When I travelled around South America for six months, I made an effort to learn Spanish so I could speak to people and make the most of the experience. In other places, I often ask lots of questions when I do find someone who speaks English and try to use their advice to shape the things I do and the places I visit.
What motivates you to continue traveling and exploring?
The more I travel, the more I discover. I’m always hearing about new places and new experiences. If I had a ‘bucket list’ (which I don’t) it would only get longer. I get a real thrill out of meeting people and discovering new things and that’s what keeps me going!
You’ve visited 200 of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Which one(s) surprised you the most?The ones I always find the most surprising are the industrial sites that have been included on the list. When you think of World Heritage Sites, you tend to think of churches or castles or temples. But there’s actually something really beautiful about some of the old coal mines or factories. I love that they were built purely for practical reasons but say as much about the society of the time as the places built for aesthetics.
What are your top three travel memories or adventures to date?
So many to choose from! One of my favorite memories was spending a few days on a boat in Indonesian Borneo, travelling up the rivers to meet people who were doing conservation work with orangutans. I also loved the weeks that I spent hiking in Patagonia in Argentina. And this year I had the opportunity to travel on the train, The Ghan, from Darwin to Adelaide and I loved seeing some more of my own country.
What advice would you give newbie travelers who are afraid to take that leap?
There are quite a few countries that would be considered ‘exotic’ but also have very well-developed tourism infrastructure. I’m thinking of places like Thailand, Italy, and New Zealand. I would suggest going to one of those places for your first trip so you can have an immersive cultural experience but also have plenty of support if you have any concerns.