“Enjoyable social interaction, community and laughter have a healing effect on the mind and body.” Bryant McGill
We believe this is the first lesson Derek has learned in his travels. Back in 1999, he left his home in the U.S.A. with a limited budget to travel Southern Asia for three months. He soon discovered that the best lessons and experiences come from engaging with locals, learning their ways of living and their culture. Seventeen years later, Derek still travels for the same reason: to get to know people from all over the world, realize the differences between them and what makes them alike.
In his continuous search, Derek has worked, traveled and volunteered in over 88 countries. From each journey he has gathered new stories, gained new skills and made priceless friends.
I remember one post from Wandering Earl’s blog, back in 2011, when Derek first came to Romania. After ten or so years of traveling, he was first disappointed by Bucharest and later not impressed by the following cities he explored. “Romania certainly appealed to me, but not in the way that most countries appeal to most travelers” he wrote. But after seeing part of Transylvania, Derek’s gut said to give Bucharest one more shot and thus found a new way of traveling. The “more in-depth connection with a destination, its culture and its people” made him want to experience more of Romania and to explore as much of the country as possible.
We are grateful for the path Derek has decided to wander on, a road that led him to our friends and thus we ended up listening to his stories over a cup of coffee. And since we always think about our readers, here are some questions Wandering Earl was kind to answer:
ABC: To make a short recap, how many times have you been to Romania? Which is your favorite spot on its map and why?
Derek: I’m not sure exactly, but Romania was my ‘base’ for about 3.5 years. Normally I would spend a few months there and then leave to travel and then return to Romania afterwards for a while, all within my visa limits. So I probably came into the country about 40 times or so. As for my favorite spot, that’s a very difficult question but the Transfagarasan is definitely up there, as is Maramures and the village of Magura with the nearby Piatra Craiului National Park. Sorry, couldn’t pick one!
ABC: Which is the first story in Romania that pops into your mind?
Derek: My first week in the country. I had no idea what to expect when I arrived and was planning on staying in Romania for only a week before heading to Bulgaria and Istanbul. But during that week, I ended up in Timisoara and Bucharest, where I simply met some wonderful Romanians, especially my couchsurfing host in the capital. And just like that, Romania quickly proved to be one of the easiest places I’ve been to in terms of meeting people and making new friends. Within those first seven days I had met enough wonderful Romanians to realize that I had to stick around this country for much longer than a week!
ABC: If someone would have only one day to travel in Romania, which would be the place you would recommend and why?
Derek: Driving the Transfagarasan from Bucharest to Sibiu, stopping at the villages along the way in order to sample some of the locally produced foods and drinks, enjoying the stunning views all around and interacting with everyone you meet along the way.
ABC: Tell us a few words about the Wandering Earl Tours.
Derek: These are small-group trips that I organize to some of my favorite destinations around the world. With only 10 people on each tour, the idea is that we travel just like I would travel if I was in a destination on my own. It’s not a normal group tour at all as we don’t use big buses, we don’t stay in typical tourist hotels, etc….we explore the heart of each destination and we enjoy unique experiences every step of the way. I started Wandering Earl Tours in 2012 with one tour to India and now, in 2016, I’m offering 12 tours to 9 different countries around the world.
ABC: We noticed that Romania is the only country in Europe you have decided to include in this project. Can you tell us why Romania and what made you choose it?
Derek: There’s no other country in Europe that I have such a strong connection to or as much travel experience as I do in Romania. And I truly believe that Romania is an absolutely incredible place for travelers, with something to offer everyone, no matter what they might be interested in.. Everyone I know who does visit this country, falls in love with it quickly and so, I want to help others have the same experiences I’ve had here over the years. That’s why my only European tour is to beautiful Romania!
ABC: Why would someone choose Wandering Earl’s Romania Tour and what will they see/learn in this journey?
Derek: This tour is for someone who might not know much about the country but wants to have an unique adventure by trusting someone who has traveled all over Romania. The trip will visit some of the main sights the country offers but it will also include time meeting friends, staying in off-the-beaten path locations (such as the village of Bulzesti), eating at places that foreigners don’t usually find, visiting a variety of different regions, participating in local activities that travelers don’t normally know about and so on. The idea is that we go beyond simply taking photos of various sights…we interact with the country and its people in order to gain a deeper understanding and in order to enjoy a deeper, and more rewarding, overall travel experience.
Going back to the main reason for which you never stopped traveling and hoping we are not prying into your personal life:
ABC: Who are the people you miss the most from back home?
Derek: Of course, my family – my mom, sister, grandmother, cousins, uncles and aunts – and my closest friends. Spending quality time with family and good friends is important and sometimes I do wish I could call someone up and meet them that day, to have a nice conversation and to simply enjoy the company of those that I care about most. Naturally, that’s not possible when I’m overseas, quite far away from everyone.
ABC: Throughout your travels, did you ever fall so deeply in love that you thought about settling in one place?
Derek: Yes, that did happen. And it actually happened in Romania. It’s the main reason why I did decide to use Romania as my base, in addition to the fact that I enjoyed living in the country as well. But for me, it was hard to fully settle and even though I do travel much more slowly than I did when I was younger and I do prefer to stay in one place for longer periods of time these days, I just wasn’t able to actually settle and that made it difficult to maintain the relationship.
ABC: If you could relive only one day from the past 17 years, which would you choose and why?
Derek: Any of the days that I spent on Socotra Island, Yemen, the most mind-blowingly beautiful, bizarre, and mesmerizing location I have ever seen on this planet. Just look it up online and you’ll see what I mean! The time that I spent on that island, which receives less than 800 visitors per year, changed my life simply because it was unlike anything I had ever seen before and it was an experience that so few people get a chance to have.
ABC: How many things are pending on your bucket list and which is the one you yearn for the most?
Derek: I don’t actually have a bucket list as I generally just travel to places that I suddenly hear about or that interest me at any particular time. There really isn’t a list of places that I ‘must’ visit in my life as I’m open to going pretty much anywhere and I’m excited about any destination that I’m fortunate enough to visit.
We have learned that Wandering Earl is a “people person”, someone who enjoys traveling the world in search of beautiful humans that he keeps as lifetime friends.
ABC: But what makes other people like Derek that much?
Derek: That’s a question I don’t know how to really answer. I guess part of it might be that I’m quite open-minded and as a result, I’m always interested in meeting new people and hearing their story. And I am generally a very calm and relaxed kind of person so that might help make others feel comfortable around me, allowing us to get along quickly. But maybe I’m wrong and maybe people don’t like me that much!
Thanking Derek for his honest answers and the time spent together, we feel the need to strongly disagree with his last statement. As much as we appreciate his modesty, we find Derek to be exactly as he initially described: an open-minded and sociable person who spreads joy and cheerfulness all around. We enjoyed our time spent together and we strongly recommend Wandering Earl to all those who search for authentic experiences with interesting people.
***Photo credit: wanderingearl.com