In ‘Today’s Traveler’ I’ll introduce you to a world traveler. Get to know them, learn what makes them tick and why they love to travel. Meet Spencer Spellman, the traveler and philosopher behind The Traveling Philosopher. His first solo flight at age 7 got him hooked on travel and his passion has since helped take him all over the globe. Combining his love for travel, writing and philosophy he now enjoys a career as a full-time freelance travel writer. Through his writings and photography Spencer aims to bring the people, cultures and places around the world to life; helping others live vicariously through his trips.
1. Have your travels helped you create your own meaning of the word ‘travel?’ If so, what have you come up with?
It absolutely has. While I believe that most, if not all, travel to see a place, I think travel is really less about what we see tangibly, and much more about the intangible experiences and influences of a trip that impact the whole of our being. When I think about my best trips, it hasn’t been the places I saw or foods I ate that left a lasting impact, but rather the feelings I experienced that have resonated in me long after I’ve returned.
2. How did you get your foot in the door as Editor for a travel guide publisher and what did you learn from that job about traveling and writing that made you want to break out on your own?
At the end of the day, it was about working hard and having my eyes set on a goal. I had been freelance writing for several months and had started teaching myself things that not traditional writers weren’t learning about at that time, such as social media marketing and SEO. While I still consider myself something of a traditional writer, having those additional skills was my foot in the door.
Early on in the job I started making as many contacts in the travel industry as possible. I was like a sponge and wanted to learn as much as I could, while being a friendly face and trying to bring something to the table. When I saw that fewer and fewer companies were holding onto salaried writers/editors, I took that as my call to make a break and go at it on my own. I’ve been freelance writing and blogging now full-time now for nearly three years, almost inclusively in travel.
3. Was there an event or piece of advice that helped you know travel/writing was the path for you?
Honestly, I feel like I knew traveling even before I knew how to go to the bathroom by myself. If I wasn’t road tripping around America with my parents as a kid, then I was hopping on a plane with my sister, who was a flight attendant. I flew on a plane for the first time when I was five and by myself for the first time when I was seven. While that’s more common now, it was much more rare back in the day. I’m indebted to my family for giving me such a thirst for adventure at a young age.
4. Being from the south, is there anything you’ve eaten while traveling that you think compares to good ol’ southern comfort food?
Hey y’all, listen….Alright, so my southern accent comes out a little bit more than normal when talking about southern food. It’s been really hard to compare the cuisines of other countries to southern food, because not many places quite do comfort food like they do in the south. Surprisingly though, it was a recent trip to Hawaii that most reminded me of this. I really love the concept of the plate lunch there, which has some comparisons to the meals I grew up on, where we’d have a main entrée (Almost always fried), followed by a few different vegetables. However, few places can do starch and biscuits like the south can!
5. Is there one experience from your travels that you will never forget?
Absolutely. Without a shadow of a doubt, it was on a beach in Costa Rica two years ago. While I would love to say that it involved a Latin belle and I, it was just me and a stray dog who were sitting together on the beach. The previous year had been the most difficult of my life and I set out on something of a life/travel journey around North America for a year. I had this serene, blissful moment on the beach that I think all travelers long for, where life really came full circle and I was reawakened to the beauty of life and travel. It’s one of those moments I can’t quite put into words.
6. As you reflect on your travels what is one thing you’ve learned while on the road that really stands out? (about yourself, a city or a culture)
It’s this notion that the more I travel, the less I really know. Having spent most of my life traveling, I’d like to think that I know a little something something about the world. The fact is that the more I travel, the bigger and more beautiful I see that the world is. It’s really humbling when I get out of my comfortable bubble and drop myself into a culture that I’m unfamiliar with. That’s when I think we really find out what we’re made of.
7. Do you have a favorite book, movie or playlist you can’t travel without?
Does Star Wars count? While there are a lot of books, movies, and music that is meaningful to me, there isn’t one particularly one that I can’t travel without. However, something that I’ve gotten into the habit of doing is creating a playlist for every new destination I visit. For example, for my trip to Hawaii at the beginning of the year, I created a playlist of songs from Hawaii, Hawaiian movies, and just general songs that remind me of Hawaii. And yes, Over the Rainbow was on the playlist!
8. If you could travel with one person, from the past or present, who would it be?
Totes Jesus. Think about it, the dude was a serious RTW nomadic traveler. Or rather, round-the-Middle East nomadic traveler. Not to mention that the dude walks on water. No offense to Bear Grylls, but if I get stuck in the wilderness or open sea, I want to be out there with Jesus. The guy knows where the fish are.
9. What destinations are on your list next, and if you had to pick one place to live for the rest of your life where would it be?
Let’s try to keep a lid on this, but I actually haven’t been to any of South America or Asia! I know, I know, I’ve been traveling since I could crawl and I haven’t been to South America or Asia. For the record, I haven’t been to Antarctica or Australia either. I’ve spent most of my life really trying to travel to those destinations close to where I am. I’ve seen all but three U.S. states and visited most of North America and Western Europe. I have my sights set on either South America or Asia next.
10. Any travel tips/advice for future travelers with the desire to explore?
My best tip for travelers upon arriving to a new destination is to go to where the locals are. Be it a commonplace, bar, park, or restaurant, go find locals who you can talk to in order to get a lay of the land. Guidebooks, magazines, and travel blogs are all great, but no one has better, more up-to-date advice than the locals themselves who have spent years in that destination.
Visit Spencer’s site: The Traveling Philosopher
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