Monkey is a type of primate with a tail. Monkey is one of the signs in the Chinese astrology. Monkey Monkey Anabelle is a game I used to play when I was a kid. These are the things I remember when I hear the word monkey; then I came upon a blog called, Monkey on a Bus and now it’s included in the things I conjure in my head whenever I hear the term. But why would this blogger call himself a monkey when in the Philippines, calling someone “unggoy” (a Tagalog word for monkey) is derogatory. Recently, I had the opportunity to ask the blogger himself; this and more you will learn in this blog feature. So before we say kiss 2015 goodbye, allow me to present to you our 6th Travel Bug feature, Kris White.
Tell us some things about you. Who are you? What do you do? Where are you from?
My name is Kris and I’m 30 years old. Some people might know me from social media as, Monkey On A Bus. I was born and raised in multiple states around the US. At age 20, I moved to Hawaii and never looked back. When I’m not traveling I’m usually working in the hospitality and tourism industry. I also do some freelance work online, mostly involving writing/editing and/or teaching English. And of course, there is my travel blog as well. 🙂
Why do you travel?
That’s a great question that I think everyone should ask themselves. Personally, I’ve always had this desire to just… go, to wander. I’m curious. I love history and culture. I’m fascinated by the exotic. I take great interest in exploring the human experience here on earth. Nothing makes me feel more alive than when I’m seeing life through the eyes of other people from other cultures. Somehow, it makes me feel more connected. It feels almost spiritual. I love the independence and personal growth that springs from traveling. I know it makes me a better person, even if I can’t quite describe how.
When did you discover the joys of traveling?
I loved to travel even before I began traveling. Back in grade school, I’d read National Geographic and watch Travel Channel for hours. One of my favorite books was one of those big, thick, hardcover coffee table books that you might find in your grandparents’ basement. You know, that book that no one has ever opened. It was titled, “Great Mysteries of the World” …or something like that. It featured places like Banaue, Angkor Wat, Mohenjo-daro, Easter Island, etc. My mind was all over the globe even back then!
After moving to Hawaii, the dream of world travel started to grow . I realized it was an actual possibility. So I started with my own country. I traveled the west coast pretty extensively. I’d already been up and down the east coast. I’d lived in the Midwest. One of my most memorable experiences was journeying across the country by train from Portland to Chicago, then Chicago to Los Angeles. It’s about 4,000 kilometers (48 hours nonstop) each way. Amazing! That really ignited my passion for travel. I knew then that it was only a matter of time until I made the leap international.
What inspired you to put up a travel blog?
I figured it would be a good way for friends and family to follow my overseas escapades. I underestimated the amount of work required to setup and maintain a blog, so it really didn’t get going until after I returned to the US in 2014. And to be honest, it wasn’t my friends and family who ultimately inspired me to launch the blog. It was the people I met in different countries along the way. Everyone seemed curious. They were inspired. I discovered so many amazing people who shared the same dream as me. But for most of them, the dream seemed too big, too expensive, and too scary. But as I shared my story, their eyes would light up. Their minds started to open. They realized it was POSSIBLE. Once I saw that, I knew I had to launch the blog.
I know the power of travel. I know how it can change a person’s life. It would be selfish of me to keep this knowledge and inspiration to myself. I want to share this with as many people as possible. [Check out Kris’s travel blog, Monkey on a Bus]
Why Monkey on a Bus?
I’m a tall guy, 6’3 to be exact (190cm). I’m also a budget traveler, which means I ride buses… often! Tall guy + buses in Asia = uncomfortable situation haha! I was constantly hitting my head, banging my knees, and having to fold up into crazy positions to fit on the bus. And being that I mostly travel solo, this turned into quite a show for the locals in some of the more off the beaten path locations. With the way people stared at me (and I don’t blame them), I started to feel like exactly that – a monkey on a bus.
What are the challenges of being a travel blogger?
I’d say the biggest challenge is effectively managing your time. The commitment required to design, setup, launch, and maintain a blog is enormous. There’s also a lot of self-directed learning that takes place. You have to become a jack of all trades. Then there’s the business of building an audience, interacting with people, etc. It all comes down to discipline and time management, which I am still learning to master.
Another challenge worth mentioning is trying to stay true to the experience. It’s easy to post beautiful photos and talk about how gorgeous the beaches are. It’s more difficult to talk about the corruption, scams, and poverty you see along the way. You don’t want to destroy the romantic vision that your readers have about a certain destination because you don’t want to discourage them. But at the same time you want to be honest. So how are you going to balance that?
Out of the places you’ve been to, which one is most memorable and why?
That is an impossible question haha! Okay, okay, well if I had to choose just one… okay wait, no, I’m going to choose two! The first would be the rice terraces of Banaue and Batad. Remember that old coffee table book I mentioned? The rice terraces were always one of my favorite chapters. So to experience that place in person after so many years of envisioning it in my mind… no words can describe.
The other place I’ll never forget is the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Poland. My God… I’m sorry, but… I just can’t put it into words. It is easily the most emotionally impactful place I’ve ever been to. It’s a must-visit.
Do you like to travel solo or with a group?
I prefer to travel solo, although I do see the appeal of group travel as well. There are pros and cons either way, but I love the independence and freedom that solo travel affords.
How do you compare traveling in third world countries with more progressive or economically strong countries?
It’s difficult to compare. There are so many differences, and yet similarities also exist. The most difficult thing to handle, coming from a country like the US, is the widespread poverty you see in certain places. And it’s not so much the poverty as it is the lack of opportunities. We have poverty in the US too, but we also have many opportunities to escape it. In many countries, that’s not the case. The situation isn’t hopeless, but… it’s very tough to say the least. This weighs heavily on me while traveling in so-called “third world countries.” It’s hard to come to terms with the disparity.
What’s more, trying to explain this to friends and family back home is nearly impossible. It’s relatively easy for them to understand my stories about Copenhagen – how beautiful the architecture is and how pleasant the people are. But once I start talking about kids sleeping naked on the sidewalk in Manila, or kids begging for half-empty water bottles in Myanmar, well, there’s just no way they can fully comprehend the situation because it’s such a foreign concept. That’s a challenge, especially while traveling solo. It’s just you, alone with your thoughts.
What are your travel must-haves?
I gotta have my quick-dry towel! I’ve used it as a blanket, pillow, poncho, beach and bath towel, the list goes on and on. And it folds up so small! I think it’s an overlooked item for many first-time long-term travelers .
I also love to have a good book, preferably one that relates to my destination. Example: For Cambodia I recommend, “Stay Alive, My Son” by Pin Yathay. It’s an amazing story of survival under the Khmer Rouge regime that wiped out 30% of the Cambodian population in the 1970’s. It’ll make you cry, but you’ll also have a much deeper understanding of the country.
What is your non-negotiable term when traveling?
I’m pretty flexible. Nothing is really out of bounds for me. I know a lot of people demand a clean bathroom. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy clean bathrooms haha, but I’ve stayed in some pretty ugly places. As long as it doesn’t threaten my long-term health.
What is the best thing that you learned about traveling?
I’ve learned that traveling is a worthy pursuit. From the outside it can appear to be self-serving and without purpose. And for some people, maybe it is. But if you do it right, you’ll learn a lot about yourself, your country, and the world in general. This knowledge can be used to change lives.
You have written many stories in your blog already but do you have a favorite post? If yes, which one and why?
I’m a bit shy to admit this, but I’ve actually written MANY more stories on Instagram than I have on my blog. I’m currently in the process of expanding on many of those and migrating them over to the blog.
One of my favorites is a post I wrote about seeking an authentic experience in Myanmar. It recounts the legend of King Alaungsithu of Bagan, and how we as travelers can utilize such stories to establish a deeper connection with the places we visit. Inevitably, this leads to a richer and more fulfilling travel experience. And that’s something that I think all of us are interested in.
How did traveling change you as a person?
Wow, great question! Travel has humbled me. It’s made me more courageous and independent. And strangely, I also feel that I’m more emotional now. I feel a deeper connection to other people, especially those who were born into less fortunate circumstances. It’s totally revolutionized my perspective.
What is your take about the traveler versus tourist hullabaloo?
I think it’s totally overblown, not to mention one-sided. It’s only the “travelers” who are crying out against the “tourists.” Meanwhile, the “tourists” either don’t know or don’t care that this debate is raging on. When is the last time you saw a bunch of “tourists” proclaiming that their way is better than the “traveler” way? Never! Haha, it’s actually kinda funny. It’s just a way for people to validate why their way is better than someone else’s way. Which is ironic because that sort of goes against everything that the “traveler” claims to stand for.
Do you believe traveling is not for everyone?
I think anyone can benefit from traveling. Becoming more independent, compassionate, and broadening one’s perspective is always a good idea.
Do you keep souvenirs from your travel?
I do. I like to collect SIM cards and coins haha!
I heard you’ve been in the Philippines, which destination is your favorite and why?
The Philippines is amazing! It totally does not get the attention it deserves. If I had to choose a favorite I’d go with Sagada. Note: I’ve yet to experience Batanes, Bohol, El Nido, and a whole bunch of other cool places. So I may change my mind after my next visit (tentatively scheduled for 2016). There’s something about Sagada that really resonates with me. It possesses a simple and innocent beauty. The slow pace, clean air, rugged surroundings, friendly locals… the place just captivated me from the very start. A return visit is in the near future.
Any tips you can share with travelers who want to follow in your footsteps and want to start a travel blog?
The best advice I can give is to just go for it! Don’t wait. Dive in and figure it out as you go along. Keep it simple — pick a domain name, sign up for hosting, choose a theme and start blogging. Focus on the important things. Social media, SEO, plugins, etc… all that can come later. Actually, I’m currently working on a step-by-step guide to address this very issue. I’m making it so simple that anyone can do it. And if they can’t, I’ll personally help them do it. I really want aspiring bloggers to have a platform to share their experiences.
So if you have time to monkey around, why not follow Kris’s travel adventures in his blog, monkeyonabus.com.