Having earned a degree in creative writing just before the Great Recession, Robert Schrader likens his early professional path to Homer Simpson falling down the stairs: A string of progressively less-fulfilling jobs, ending with a position as a restaurant server, from which he was fired in early 2009. With little left to lose, Robert moved to China to teach English later that year, a big gamble that paid off huge.
These days, he makes his living doling out idiosyncratic, sometimes NSFW advice on travel, teaching abroad, writing and just being yourself on his travel blog, Leave Your Daily Hell. I had the honor of speaking with one of the most intriguing (and inspiring) travel writers on the Web. Here are Robert’s responses to some of our idiosyncratic, sometimes NSFW questions, which – of course – made him feel right at home.
LR: Do you think being gay and being different from the rest of your family had an influence on you wanting to travel?
RS: The underlying issue is not that I’m gay. It’s just that I’m different in so many ways. I’m open-minded and rational. Any way you can slice it, i’ve always been really different from what’s around me. I think obviously being gay, if anything, made it even a little bit easier to make an exit because I didn’t have any societal expectations cast down upon me. I wasn’t expected to get married and have kids or even have a life partner.
LR: What’s the nearest you’ve come to death?
RS: I got extremely bad food poisoning in Burma, ironically the night before the temple excursion to Bagan, which was supposed to be the purpose of my trip.
LR: Where are you dying to go that you haven’t been?
RS: You know, to be honest, after half a decade of circling the globe (essentially) at my leisure, my thirst for travel isn’t nearly as intense as it once was. This is not to say I don’t fantasize about places, or get excited when I board a plane en route to somewhere amazing, but I can legitimately say I am not “dying” to go anywhere. I am, like all of us, “dying,” however, which is why travel (in my mind, the surest means of living) is a key part of my existence.
LR: If you’re not dreaming of new places, why do you travel?
RS: One of the strange things that happened to me when I started traveling was that my already huge ego became even more inflated, and I think for a while I genuinely thought I was better than others. Now my goal in travel is remove that judgement, negativity, and that hatred from my body. It sounds really hippy-ish and new age, but I really just reached that point where I realized that – at their root – every single person on the planet is the same as me. And that is all I really need to know to live my life. I am unfortunately not there yet. I think it illustrates how much I still am in the process of growth.
LR: So what the heck do you dream of?
RS: I feel like I almost dream more of being able to sleep in my own bed and just chill. It’s more natural for me to hop on a plane and fly over the ocean than it is to go to the grocery store. The equilibrium flips and the normal becomes novel, and all of a sudden, you dream of going to the grocery store.
LR: Who do you miss most when you travel?
RS: American fast food. No joke. Like, the special kind you can’t get overseas. Jack in the Box; Taco Bell; iconic Texas favorite Whataburger. It’s probably just the addictive chemicals in the food, but there’s really no more satisfying feeling that can be obtain for such a small price.
Let’s Roll: What’s the best movie you’ve ever seen on a plane?
Robert Schrader: World War Z. I was really pissed off at the Israeli authorities after my last trip to Israel because they detained and questioned me on the way out, and generally made me feel unwelcome as they tend to do to the only people who actually support them. Anyway, in the movie, Israel is initially the only place that survives the zombie invasion, ’cause they’re security experts and they build this big wall. When the wall got breached – i.e. disproving the notion that Israelis are actually very good at security – I felt satisfied, even though it was fiction.
LR: What travel app can’t you live without?
RS: It’s not designed as a travel app, but I can’t leave home (let alone the country) without Grindr. It’s an app that uses GPS to locate all the other gay/bi/curious men within a certain radius of you. I’ve gotten good travel tips on it, found partners for beach- and party-going and even fell in love with someone I met from it once or twice.
LR: So it really is kind of an essential gay travel tool?
RS: Well, t’s really nice in places where it’s maybe not so gay friendly, because it allows people to find each other without maybe having to expose themselves publicly – in places like the Middle East where you could face punishment for being gay.
LR: Who’s your dream travel companion? (Living or dead.)
RS: My paternal great-grandfather. My family members, all of whom hate traveling, tell me he traveled the world with his wife in the early 20th century, and I would want to see if we share more than our raw wanderlust. I’m nothing like anyone I know in my family, and I often wonder if he was the missing link.
LR: Have you ever been arrested in a foreign country?
RS: Yes! Well, kind of. See, I was smoking weed behind the Bundehaus in Bern, the Swiss equivalent of the White House. It sounds crazy, but according to the friend with whom I was smoking at the time (and literally everyone I’ve spoken with since, including non-smokers), it’s like the place to smoke in Bern. I say “kind of” because there no handcuffs and I was never behind bars, but I was in police custody; and I had to pay a couple hundred francs to get out of it.
LR: Where is the strangest place you’ve peed?
RS: A trough-looking public toilet in an extremely local shopping mall in China. The worst part is that I didn’t just pee there – I never would’ve resorted to using such an undignified waste receptacle if it was just a matter of peeing.
LR: What destination disappointed you most?
RS: Malaysia. I found it to be extremely boring and un-special, which to be fair could be because I only visited the peninsula – I doubt Borneo is boring. But Kuala Lumpur is one of the worst cities in the world, as far as I’m concerned.
LR: Which country has the best food?
RS: That’s tricky – can I name three? France, Lebanon, and the United States.
LR: Where was the most beautiful sunset you’ve seen?
RS: Probably one in Storm’s River, South Africa, if we’re talking about raw sunsets. But as for sunset experiences, remember that boy I mentioned meeting on Grindr and kind of falling in love with? Well, early in our “relationship,” we saw a really amazing sunset here in my hometown of Austin, with fluorescent pink and purple streaks painted across the sky. We’d just had the most magical time together, and it seemed like the Universe signing off on our relationship. Unfortunately, that didn’t end up being the case in the long term, but it was nonetheless one of the most beautiful experiences of my life.
LR: OK, now for the bonus super-speed question round.
LR: Cash or credit?
RS: Credit. I actually go out of my way not to support cash-only businesses and their stone-age-ass business practices.
LR: Coffee or tea?
RS: Coffee. Thai iced tea.
LR: Coke or Pepsi?
RS: I prefer not to induce my own cancer, thanks.
LR: Buy new or carry extra?
RS: Buy new.
LR: iPhone or Droid?
LR: City or beach?
RS: Cities with beaches.
LR: Kids or pets?
RS: Pets, unless you have a child leash.
LR: Shark or bear (attack)?
RS: Depends on what kind of bear.
LR: Price is Right or Wheel of Fortune?
RS: TV is poisonous.