“We are nomadic empty nesters on a Green Global Trek. After twenty plus years living in the U.S., when our four sons finished high school and left home for college, we quit our jobs, sold most of our possessions and launched our Green Global Trek adventure. Peta is an artist, a psychologist by training, yogini and animal lover. Ben is a strategic consultant in the aerospace industry. We are both committed environmentalists and increasingly focused on discovering solutions and advocating for climate adaptation. …Since 2016, we have been living in Sri Lanka, our base for regional exploration.”
Peta and Ben were kind enough to answer a few of our questions below.
TA: How many years have you been traveling and what got you hooked?
Ben: We were both born outside of the U.S. and have always travelled. Peta’s first travel adventure was when she was 10 years old and her family moved from South Africa to Israel for almost 2 years. Her next major move was at the age of 19 when she left her native South Africa, for the United States.
Peta: Ben’s first travel adventure was at 15 when he left France to emigrate to the United States. A second major move was relocating to live in Japan at age 23, for several years.
Peta: Growing up in South Africa we had no TV, but I loved looking at photos of different countries and different cultures in books and magazines like National Geographic. I was determined to see and live in as many different countries as possible, not just to check the box but to experience different ways of life.
Ben: Growing up in a Jewish household, the “multi-national” sequential living model seemed the norm. (My father was born in Poland, survived WWII by escaping to Brazil, returning to Europe for school in Belgium and a career as a fashion designer in France.) Beyond that, being a Sagittarius, travel is a core part of my DNA.
TA: Do you specialize in a particular type of travel?
Peta: We are not ones for tours or guides. We prefer to be spontaneous and discover things for ourselves at our own speed. We buy one way tickets and seek to make our travel as open ended as possible. Our approach when in a new country is to try to immerse ourselves in a local neighborhood and act as though we live there, rather than going off to see all the tourist sights. What we do is less “travel” and more “sequential living” in different countries. As a result of our personal interests we emphasize the arts, architecture, nature, gastronomy and culture all at an affordable cost. We use home exchange as much as possible thereby paying very little for accommodation whenever possible.
TA: What is the best vacation you’ve ever taken?
Peta: The best trip was traveling in Viet Nam with our youngest son which included a motorcycle adventure on the Ho Chi Minh trail in the center of the country. (When Hoi An, Viet Nam was our home base.)
Ben: My best “vacation” ( but I don’t think the term vacation applies to our form of global living) was in India when we managed to time our visit to the holy city of Pushkar (in Rajasthan) for the annual camel fair and convergence of religious pilgrims and desert nomads trading livestock. A mind-blowing display of the breadth of humanity. Because we have spent time in 32 countries, it is particularly tough to choose ONE destination each. Beyond these two destinations, we cherish memorable experiences in Argentina, Peru, Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, Colombia… in Viet Nam, Myanmar, Cambodia, India, Sri Lanka, Morocco, Laos.
TA: What’s one place you’ve always wanted to visit?
Peta: The list keeps evolving. When I grew up in South Africa, during the apartheid era, we were not allowed to travel in the rest of Africa. It has always been a goal to go back, but not to South Africa as much as the rest of Africa (Ethiopia, Tanzania, Mozambique, Botswana, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Uganda…).
Ben: Iran … but wait, if she has a list, I have a list too: Mongolia, Tibet, Ethiopia, Tunisia, Nepal…
TA: What’s one thing you ALWAYS pack when you travel?
Peta: My yoga clothes.
Ben: An extra pair of glasses.
TA: If you could only give a traveler one piece of advice, what would it be?
Peta: Get off the beaten track! Ben: Take the time to talk to locals, and not just when you are buying something.
TA: What are some of your favorite travel blogs and communities?
TA: What would be your #1 recommendation for a place to travel in 2019?
Peta: Cuba — the music! the people! and a beautiful island — so much to see beyond Havana.
Ben: India, because it satiates, every time, the most ardent desire for the exotic. A rich tapestry of diverse ethnicities, religions, tribal histories, languages, foods, dress and customs…
TA: Do you have any good airport or flight hacks for people traveling by plane?
Peta: Don’t box yourself in; If at all possible, buy one way tickets and let the adventure guide you. Remember to prioritize the experience, not the economics or “best deal”. Looking back, you won’t remember the dollars and cents you saved but the richness of the experience.
TA: What is the best piece of travel advice you’ve ever been given?
Peta: Just go! But I would add: “Just go… to the market.” In every new country we visit, the first thing we try to do is head to the local open-air market. There is no better place to get a quick read on the culture, the people, the language, the food source, the pace, the economy, the attitude vis a vis foreigners etc.
TA: Which country has surprisingly good food?
Peta: Viet Nam has our favorite cuisine hands down. Not surprising for those who already know and love Vietnamese cuisine, but the variety and quality of street food is un-paralleled in any other country we have travelled to. Over 5 months in Vietnam, we ate at a “restaurant” a handful of times, and ate almost exclusively “street food”, for all meals.
TA: What was the most romantic place you ever visited with a partner?
Peta: Myanmar’s valley of Bagan, with its hundreds of ancient Buddhist temples and shrines and rural beauty. Time slows down. We climb several shrines and watch a fleet of balloons float and rise toward the sun. Buddha statues in each shrine. Farmers and oxen tend their fields the way they have for generations. Ethnic Burmese women in gorgeous textiles sell vegetable at a small rural market.
TA: What is the most beautiful and affordable city you’ve ever visited?
Peta: Ubud, Bali. It’s green and lush and surrounded by rice paddies. The architecture of residential compounds is like nowhere else. Food is uniquely healthy in Ubud, with such a variety of great vegetarian and vegan restaurants and a ton of yoga offerings to pick from.
Ben: Hoi An, Vietnam. The combination of Chinese and Colonial French architecture is simply beautiful. The yellow and blue town sits at the edge of a beautiful river that connects Hoi An to local islands that can be visited on the back of a scooter. Every street corner is an opportunity for aesthetic exploration. The high quality food markets and street food culture just adds an irresistible layer that make Hoi An the easiest claim to “most beautiful and affordable city” that I have not only visited, but lived in for 5 months. Just go. Now.
TA: What’s something that other tourists do when traveling that drives you crazy and why?
Peta: When the only interaction travelers have with locals is to buy something. We always feel bad for them because they are missing out on the best part of travel. Namely meeting locals, talking to them and having real exposure to different cultures and ways of life beyond economic transactions.
TA: Which underrated destination deserves to be more famous?
Peta: Sri Lanka! After our very first visit of three weeks, we decided to make Sri Lanka our Asian home base and it has been for the past two years. For a small country it has a tremendous amount of diversity and variety from cultural sites, to wild beaches to wildlife and temples and mosques.