This week we would like to introduce Nicole and Frank of The Wondernuts, a couple of American travelers with professional day jobs. The United States has one of the shortest vacation times on the planet, and they want to show other Americans that they, too, can maximize their short vacation times. For them, travel isn’t about escape. They have no desire to leave behind their lives of career advancement, being newlyweds or planning for our future kids and retirement. Instead they travel to enjoy all the wonders of the world. There is no greater inspiration than to see just how insanely beautiful this planet really is and they do that with a good sense of logical planning and some goofballism.
1. What inspires you to travel, and how would you define the word ‘traveler’?
Ever since I was a kid, I would tear out maps from my subscriptions of National Geographic. I would study the maps and the photos, so I grew up jonesing to see everything. I’m happy to do that with my husband. Traveling feels so great when we discover the world’s wonders together.
For Frank, he has a very intense career. He owns his own business so he’s consistently on contract with production studios. However, owning his own business gives him time to travel whenever he wants. In essence, travel is his hobby and a recharge as well as inspiration for his artwork.
For the longest time, we never really had a definition of traveler. When we were kids, a traveler was just someone who got to see another part of the world. We don’t like to give labels to anything and we still haven’t deviated from that definition. So, to us, a traveler is anyone who leaves their comfort zone. If you home is your comfort zone and you left it, to try something new or even re-experience something with a brand new mindset, you’re a traveler.
2. Where has been your favorite destination? Where has been your least favorite?
The first time my husband introduced me to shaved snow was at a Taiwanese cafe in Rowland Heights, CA. It was delicately shaved, flaky, layered ice cream topped with condensed milk and fruit. I just had to visit the source of this delicious dessert. That place is Taipei. But, it’s not all about the shaved snow: there’s savory street food, amazing bakeries, night markets, stinky tofu! Taipei is the place where you can get it all. The city is so alive, especially at night. And, my first time there, I was floored by all the shopping. Seriously, it puts Paris to shame. There’s also a genuine traditional culture in Taiwan that we love, where people are kind and just want to help you out. As an educator, I appreciate their educational system and their respect towards teachers. The US could really benefit from this alternative structure.
In all our travels, we’ve had a great time. We just love how beautiful the world is and we’re amazed every single time we travel. So, it’s difficult to find a least favorite destination. If we have to choose, Dubrovnik would come to mind first. There’s a lack of genuine hospitality in Dubrovnik and they seem to have a love-hate relationship towards visitors. Prices at the end of August are exorbitant and it’s crowded. But, we can see why it’s so popular: the coastline is gorgeous.
3. You travel while maintaining a career and are not location-independent, what is one piece of advice you have for those who would like to maintain this lifestyle?
In the words of Arnold Schwarzenegger in his role as Kindergarten Cop: “stop whining.” If you do what you love and love what you do, travel will never feel like an escape from your life, a way to flee a heartbreak or find fulfillment by getting “enlightened” by a sunrise over Angkor Wat. Instead, it will feel like an accompaniment to your happiness. So, stop making excuses for yourself. If you don’t want to travel, then don’t. For those who do: in the words of Arnold (again) “Get to the choppa (or plane)!” And tell your friends and family “Hasta La Vista, Baby.”
4. Out of the two of you, who often ends up doing more of the travel planning? Do you have any advice for traveling as a couple?
Frank has the role of the planner. He’s a whiz at locating travel deals and at travel planning. If you’re traveling as a couple, it’s important for both to accept that one person will be more of a planner and the other will be comedic relief. Never try to control one another’s travel experience. Whatever happens, happens and remember: these are patio rocking chair memories you’re creating.
5. Have you ever had high hopes for a destination, only to be disappointed in the end?
We read this article that talked about Paris Syndrome: where you build up a place to be so amazing that when you get let down, you suffer from delusion and anxiety. Needless to say, we don’t have many expectations when we travel. We love the thrill of experiencing a place with eyes wide open. But, if we had to choose, I was hoping to use my newly learned conversational German in Vienna. So, I spoke to a postal worker… and he spoke back to me in English. Ich möchte lernen, bitte!
6. What’s the funniest, weirdest cultural norm, tradition, etc. you’ve either witnessed or experienced?
We can understand a lot of cultural norms that would otherwise seem odd to us. We can get behind eating bugs, drinking snake whiskey, or eating things that aren’t traditionally accepted in the States. But we’re consistently bewildered by the lack of ice cubes in Europe. It blows our mind every time.
7. What souvenir do you have to buy at all your destinations?
We have a rule with family and friends: “please don’t get us anything and we’ll do the same.” However, we’ll send home artistic-style postcards. We also buy useful household items. Like, super cute pillowcases in Bangkok or instant soups from grocery stores all over the world. What can we say, we love food.
8. How about the one thing you cannot travel without?
Frank swears by his double-layer blister-free socks. In fact, I would agree with that. That means I have far fewer blisters I have to rub for him (Can I get a slow golf clap for married life). I can’t travel without sunscreen and a parasol. The sun causes wrinkles. People may gawk and laugh now, but we’ll see who gets the last laugh lines when I’m 60.
9. Why did you begin blogging? And how did you come up with your blog name?
Initially, we started blogging because we read quite a few travel blogs with misinformation. Bloggers were referring to Los Angeles as “La La Land” and referring to Taiwan as “the second China,” to name a few. That’s actually pretty offensive and it seemed like these bloggers were just traveling merely to travel. There was no deep thought or consideration given to their interactions with culture.
In the blogosphere, we’re fairly new. We’ve been blogging since Valentine’s Day of this year. It’s actually a pretty funny story about how we came up with our name. It took us over a year to come up with The Wondernuts. We were contemplating the name “Douchebags Abroad,” since everyone assumes Americans are jerks. But the name is NSFW. On the other hand, we love our Wondernuts name. We’re a couple of goofs who are nuts for the world’s wonders.
10. Do you have favorite travel blogs that you read regularly?
We like gadling.com because it has all the latest travel news. I really like mapwanderer.com because the blog has a lot of cool travel-related craft ideas. My husband reads kristinmock.com because she seems to be accountable for her career and family while still maintaining a life a travel. And of course, Besudesu Abroad, because I was intrigued by the pretty layout and stories.
11. How has travel changed you?
For the both of us, travel has changed us immensely. Overall, we’re much more prepared. We embrace change and we’re ready for surprises, not just on the road, but everywhere. We’re much more flexible with our lives, too. We also have a bigger understanding of the world. Travel really opens us up to how other people live. Sometimes the grass really is greener. Sometimes, it’s not. But whatever it is, we love every minute of it and we appreciate what have so much more.
Personally, for Frank, travel has changed him in that he has a lot more inspiration for his artwork. Seeing art in person makes a much bigger difference than seeing it online or in a book and it’s quite the muse. For myself, I have so much more I can give back to my class: more lesson plan ideas, more classroom management and ideas to engage my students in higher learning. Travel helps you think outside the box. There is no education psychology class on the planet that can prepare you to understand your students. The only way to do that is through experience and through interaction. And that’s what travel does: it helps you understand people.
12. What’s next? Any big trips planned or that you’re hoping to plan?
We’re desiring to go to Oman. Iran has been a wish for us for quite some time, but as a U.S. citizen, we know that can be pretty difficult. In the meantime, we’re headed to Tokyo for Christmas and Taiwan for New Years! Wooooooop!
Backpack or suitcase? Carry-on sized backpacks.
Window or aisle? Aisle.
Solo or group? Solo travel and couple travel.
Tapas or sushi? Sushi! Mmm…toro.
Beach or mountains? Can we say “urbanscape”?