We have a very interesting traveler guest this month. Our guest is originally from Azerbaijan who traveled 62 countries and started his first solo trip when he was 14 years old. His name is Magsud and he recently continues traveling around the world. His next trip is from France to India. He is planning to publish a book when he will visit 80’th country.
Magsud Mammad shares with us his best traveling moments abroad, the dangerous situations that he faced in a trip, his working experience in Tanzania, the most important lessons that he learnt while traveling. He also gives tips to travelers on how to stay safe while traveling and how to enjoy traveling with minimum expense.
Please tell us a little about your background: Who exactly is Magsud Mammad – an MBA student? A Professional in Conflict Resolution? A traveler or an adventurer? – As a hobby, I am very passionate about discovering new cultures, traditions, languages, religions, culinary, etc. My educational and job experience were also main reasons to travel around the world. First, I received my BA in International Relations/Conflict Management in Texas, USA, and later MA degree from SAIS, Johns Hopkins University, School of International Advance Studies in Italy and in Washington D.C. I participated in different trainings and language courses in several countries such as United Kingdom, Argentina, and currently pursuing my MBA degree at the Edinburgh Business School. I worked for different government, non-government and international organizations in the USA, Azerbaijan, Tanzania, and United Arab Emirates. As you see, I studied and worked in different countries that were a great opportunity for me to travel many countries.
Please tell us about your travels: How did you first start to travel? – My first international travel started with a family trip to Tabriz, Iran when I was 13 years old. Although Tabriz has a very similar culture and tradition with Azerbaijan, I was fascinated to observe different life style of people who speak different (Farsi) language. That first experience encouraged me to travel abroad and discover the world. I started my first solo trip when I was 14 years old. I traveled to UK, and then studied in the USA, and the rest were followed.
How many countries have you been to? – I have been to 62 countries in 5 continents – starting from Cusco, Peru to Jakarta Indonesia, from Zanzibar Island, Tanzania to Kathmandu, Nepal, from Helsinki, Finland to North/South Korean Border, from Igauzu Fall, Brasil/Argentinan border to Seam Reap, Cambodia. I’m going to explore 63rd soon – my next trip is to India.
What kind of a traveler are you – do you plan or do you just head off? – I rarely go to a new place without planning. I usually plan in advance an every minute of my trip, including the exact time of the places that I will visit and transport I will use. It helps me to manage my time properly and enjoy my trip.
What is it that fascinates you about solo travel? – Solo traveling helps me to discover myself as a person while I discover new places. I do get criticism from friends and families about solo traveling, as they tie it to egoism:) However, traveling is the only time that allows me to concentrate on my personal life, rethink the situations and life over again, get new ideas and implement them to my life once I get back from the trip. I think, solo traveling also encourages a person to immerge himself into the new society of his traveled destination, such as, struggling to order a food in an unfamiliar language; getting lost in a new city; socializing with locals – all these can be limited when a person travels in a group.
How can solo traveler stay safe when travels to conflict regions? – Staying safe is a big challenge not only in conflict regions but anywhere a person travels. I used to dress and behave like locals in order to avoid a ‘visitor’ attention. Although it’s easy to be differentiated among Asians and Africans because of the obvious physical features, but I always try to blend with locals and dress as simple as possible.
Have you had any serious problems or been in dangerous situations abroad? And how did you cope with that situation? – Oh, I faced so many dangerous situations that don’t know which one to share. However, the most dangerous situation that I have faced was life and death risk in Slovakia. I usually enjoy walking through the old towns of eastern European capitals at nights, and carried my tradition in old town Bratislava, Slovakia. Once, I was walking in one of the narrow dark street of the old town in Bratislava. A car stopped near me suddenly, the driver got out of the car with his gun and started shooting into air. There was no one on the street except him and me at that time. I maintained calm and pretended nothing is happening. I was saying my death prayers silently and thinking ‘this was IT’ while he was shooting constantly. I tried to walk slooooowwwllyyy in order to pass to the parallel street, and the gunman started to call me in Russian saying “ey tavarish…. “(hey, friendish). I looked up, down, left and right, but just not to his direction and pretended I am not aware of anything. The gunman continued shooting, as I got onto the next street. Later, I heard he closed the door of his car and drove off. The most fascinating part of the story was when I saw the same person sitting two seats away from me on the train next day to Prague, Czech Republic.
What is the best thing that has ever happened to you on the road? – It was during Ramadan and iftar time when I was flying on Sri Lanka Airlines to Bangladesh. The plane was full of Muslims who demanded the flight attended to wait until Dhaka iftar time to serve the food. Food was postponed for 40 minutes when it was time to break fasting in Dhaka. As a group, many started praying, and we all broke our fasting on the sky.
The other interesting moment was when I took a boat from the world’s southern city Ushuaia, Argentina to Antarctica. The feeling is impossible to put into words. As the boat was moving away from the port, I started to think that I was leaving the world – leaving all the problems, concerns, joy, happiness, sadness, dirty behind for few hours or days.
What’s your favorite country? Why? – I always struggle to answer to this question, because I do not like to compare the countries. I find all the countries unique and fascinating, and I have special memories and stories for each of them. I change my opinion about my favorite country every time when I discover a new country. However, I have to admit that Italy has remained at the top of my favorite country. Among my favorite cities are Venetia, Buenos Aires, Hanoi, Istanbul and Tunis.
What are some of your favorite places so far? – My favorite places are Machu Picchu in Peru, Ha long Bay in Vietnam, Angkor Watt in Cambodia, Pyramids in Cairo, Grand mosque in Abu Dhabi, UAE, Panama Canal in Panama, Sicily, Italy, Kathmandu Nepal, country side Lithuania and Switzerland. See, I can prolong the list 🙂
What draws you to a place – How do you choose where you’ll travel and what you’ll do? – While every corner of the world draws me for a visit, the documentation process, especially my Azerbaijani passport, prevents me to travel to some countries that I am eager to visit. For instance, some countries, like Africa, take 1 to 3 months to obtain a visa for Azerbaijani Citizens; other countries, mainly European, require mass amount of documents. Therefore, I have covered 70% of the countries that are not requiring visa for Azerbaijani citizens, for instance, Ecuador, Malaysia, Cambodia, Russia, etc. The logistic side is also a crucial factor when I choose traveling destination. I enjoy traveling to developing or least developed countries. People, culture and traditions that I discover in developing countries open a new and fascinating world for me. In fact, I try to cover these places because I think that my future life partner might not be interested in visiting third world countries and face challenges there 🙂
Can you describe a ‘typical’ day on the road? – I try to behave like locals and observe people during the first part of the day when I arrive. This way helps me to investigate the place without drawing a ‘foreigner’ attention. I try to discover the place as a tourist during the second part of the day, after observing the situation around. My favorite activity in a new city is to wake up early morning; run through the streets, especially where locals live and communicate more, such as bazaar, schools, park, residential areas, etc. Yet, it is my travel tradition to have typical breakfast like locals too. It could be grabbing a coffee at a coffee shop, eating leftover meatball with lavash from previous day, drinking Pho soup for breakfast, or rich creamy crepe, etc
Most embarrassing travels moment? – There have been several embarrassing moments when I tried to immure into different cultures or experience every single thing in the traveling country. My most favorite activity during the trip is crashing into wedding and observe wedding traditions. I attended Chinese wedding in Thailand, Indian wedding in Singapore, Arab wedding in Texas, Jewish wedding in NYC, in Luxemburg, Poland, Sri Lanka, and Ecuador. Crashing weddings either occurs at the wedding hall of the hotel where I stay, or churches, synagogues, temples that I usually visit. One of my favorite weddings crash adventure was in Jakarta, Indonesia. I walked into the wedding hall of the hotel where I stayed and started to observe the wedding. Sister of the groom greeted me with a big smile, as soon as I entered into the Hall, and welcomed me and showed me ‘my’ seat. I was very surprised with the hospitality but went along with the flow. I congratulated groom and bride and sat at ‘my’ seat. I was served with different tasty foods and was invited to a dance several times. I was even asked to give a toast for the married couple whom I didn’t know how to name. Groom’s sister came to me at the end of the wedding and asked how long I have known her brother. I found out that groom works at an international organization and she thought that I was one of his international colleagues. Yet, then it made sense why I was invited to participate at the wedding, get pictures with groom and bride and tell a toast. The embarrassing moment was when I told her that I don’t know either bride or groom and I was a staying at a hotel just for my own travel reasons. She laughed heartily and showed me more hospitality; and even asked me to teach her how to dance salsa.
As I know you worked in Tanzania. Please tell us about your experiences working and living in Tanzania. The challenges you faced there? The first culture shock? Culture differences? – I was teaching English and Math at an elementary school first half of the day, and later volunteering at an orphanage for the remaining part of the day in southern Tanzania. While my teaching experience at the elementary school was rewarding, my experience at the orphanage was not very pleasant. Knowing that all the kids have parents who can’t afford to live with them or have HIV and had to live apart from their children were difficult enough to live through. The pain and suffering of those kids influenced to my life and every moment of my travel. Observing how they were informed about dying parents from HIV was very dramatic, while low living conditions at the orphanage was a different big issue as well. The living conditions were as low as to walk several km to bring my own bucket of water for bath; to keep having proper medicine in order to be protected from catching malaria; to live with a limited electricity, to eat unfamiliar food. Plus, the negative influence of the rainy and humid season that was hard to pass through the day. However, the positive side of this experience is that I learnt to value the things that I have back in my country. I understood that I did not take anything for granted that was offered and accessible for us in Azerbaijan.
What is the most important personal lesson you’ve learned as a traveler? – As I mentioned earlier, I discover more about myself every time when I travel. It might sound cliché but I realized how we take many things for granted or make big fuss about our small problems which is nothing compare to what millions of people are going through in their daily life around world. Seeing people living on the street in Bangladesh, bad living condition in Peru, Egypt, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, and political tensions in Kosovo, North/South border of Korea, Sri Lanka are all life teaching lessons that definitely lead me to take different appreciation of my own life.
Of all the countries you have visited, where would you most like to live? Why? – This is also a tough question to answer. I have found out that while Latin America, especially Colombia, Argentina, Puerto Rico, Mexico is very close to my soul and spirit with its culture and vivid lifestyle, but Asian countries, like Hong Kong, S. Korea, Singapore, Vietnam is very close to my taste and appetite. Yet, If I have to choose one place, it has to be Italy. I find this place very special to live. One can find warm yet hot-tempered people with their appreciation for food, sharing, family ties. Their sound of language, lifestyle, food, and way of seeing and reacting to things/problems/events are all fascinate me. There is one place that remains the central meeting point of Italian culture – the piazza (square), including from the largest cities to the most rural of villages. No matter how big or small a piazza may be, you can be sure there will always be people sitting, strolling, walking, talking and interacting with one another. It is hard to explain how, but I indeed get energy from this country. Many things go wrong when I visit Italy each time – including losing my luggage, bad hotel facilities, etc. However, none of these issues effect to my mood since I am in Bella Italia. Even all those negative events themselves add flavor to Italian dolca vita. I feel like I am at home when I am in Italy.
What are some of your dream future destinations – and why do you want to go there? – Southern India, Trans-Siberia Railway – Moscow –Beijing Train via Mongolia, Tibet- China, Bhutan, and Myanmar are the countries are on my top list to visit. I dream of traveling to Karabakh one day and I know that I will visit there one day soon.
What is the single greatest piece of advice you’d give to travelers? – Never hold back on traveling when the opportunity arises and always take advantage of your current location. Most locations are bordered to one or two countries at least that you can travel and explore. No matter where you are but just travel, even on a weekend if possible. Also, always plan in advance and stick to the plan in order to travel cheap but good quality. I have covered some European countries such as Lithuania, Czech Republic cost for 120 euro for 3 days (including hotel, flight and food), $200 Trinidad & Tobago, and $300 Hong Kong due to advance planning. I have taken flights such as Bangladeshi budget airlines, 4 seats helicopter from Zanzibar Island to Northern Tanzania. I have stayed in a hotel where room was as small as 2 meter, or no window hotel room in Caracas, Venezuela – but both of the trips were among the most memorable ones since I spent most of the time outside discovering the place.
Thank you Mr. Mammad. It was really interesting to interview you and hear your traveling experience. I would be happy to interview you again and hear your other traveling stories and tips. Enjoy your trips! 🙂
Photos:Belong to Magsud Mammad. Please, click on each photo if you would like to enlarge it.