10 Contiki Questions with Spencer Spellman, The Traveling Philosopher

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A big shout-out to all of our travel blogger community friends who are traveling to Denver, CO, this weekend for The 2012 Travel Blog Exchange (‘TBEX’) Conference!

Many of the attendees at this conference graciously took the time to answer our 10 Contiki Questions, and this week we’re honored to interview Spencer Spellman, otherwise known as “The Traveling Philosopher.”  Check out his favorite destinations, his travel rituals, and how a trip to Costa Rica changed his life!


When did you decide to become a travel writer and when did you decide to create The Traveling Philosopher?

It was a natural progression. I remember traveling at a young age. I flew on a plane for the first time when I was five and by myself for the first time at 7. Shortly after starting to grow my writing portfolio I got hired by a local travel guide publisher as a writer and editor and it grew from there.

A year and a half ago when preparing to travel for a year I wanted to have an outlet to write what I wanted beyond the outlets I was contributing for where I could draw outside the lines. With a degree in philosophy, it just made sense to start The Traveling Philosopher.

What is your travel philosophy and why do you think it is important for young people should see the world?

Travel is deeply personal and transformative. Sure I can paint a picture of a place, but one’s experience of it is subjective. Two people can see a destination the exact same way, yet how they respond to it is going to be different. I think travel really helps us evolve. I’ve always said that travel is the greatest form of education. There’s nothing like removing yourself from your day-to-day comforts and spending time in a place that is foreign. I also think it’s a good date. What better way to learn about someone than to travel with them!

Costa Rica sunset

Is there a particular trip or travel moment that changed your philosophy on life or changed your writing? 

It would definitely come from my one-year trip in 2010/2011. Toward the end of the trip in Costa Rica, I had this moment while watching the sunset over the Pacific Ocean that really stands out more than any other time in my life. Before traveling I had been through a particularly difficult part of my life and the trip really helped bring much needed perspective and direction. After that night on the beach, I felt like I could really plant roots somewhere and really start pursuing my writing career even more. It was just a couple weeks later that I moved to San Francisco.


Do you prefer to travel alone or with travel companions?  What are the benefits of either travel style?

For so long I preferred to travel solo, but now find myself enjoying both. There are pros and cons of both. Traveling solo allows me to travel at my own pace and do things when I want to, yet it doesn’t have that sense of connection that traveling with a companion does. There are certain travel moments that are just better when they’re shared with someone you love.

Which destinations are you consistently drawn to, and why?  (Places you’ll always come back and visit more than once)

Any place that I feel a deep connection to the people and the culture. While two very different places, South Africa and Ireland have been two of those places to me. There was just something about the hospitality and the culture of both of those places that are draw me back time after time.

Fireworks at the Golden Gate Bridge, SF

What are 5 destinations that you recommend the 18-35 year old Contiki travelers MUST see?

  1. San Francisco, California
  2. Granada, Nicaragua
  3. South Africa
  4. Dublin, Ireland
  5. Paris, France

What are some of your top tips or travel advice for travelers who are looking to either travel alone, or to travel as part of an escorted tour like Contiki?

Don’t wait to do it. Friends, family, or jobs can be a deterrent to traveling when you’re young, but there’s just nothing like it. If you really want to travel, then make it happen. The first step is to book a flight. Even if you don’t have money yet, book your flight because that’ll get the wheels turning when you have something to work toward.

San Francisco Sunset

What are the must-have items that you pack with you every time you take a trip?

A good pair of broken in walking shoes. These become your best friend when traveling. I personally like something lightweight, such as Chuck Taylors that are easy to slip on and can fit comfortably in a carry-on. My other must-have is my Kindle. It really cuts down on the weight of my bag to have a device for reading.


What are your favorite travel rituals? 

First thing I do when I get into a city is to go to a busy local bar. As handy as guidebooks and magazines can be, there’s nothing like the advice of a local!

Even though you’ve settled in San Francisco (for the time being), what destinations are next on your travel list – or where do you hope to live in the future?

Next up this summer is my first cruise, a cruise to Alaska, which is one of five U.S. states I haven’t been to. After that it’s to Europe for a few weeks. After seeing how transformative my big trip was last year, I can’t afford not to take a big trip like this every couple years.


About Spencer Spellman

Starting out in travel four years ago, Spencer got his start as an editor for a travel guide publisher. Unsatisfied by the demands of the cubicle, he’s been freelancing from the road the last two years. While Spencer maintains a regular travel schedule, he’s put roots down in San Francisco, where his addiction to travel is curbed by street food, wine, and the outdoor adventures that Northern California has to offer. You can follow him on his blog, The Traveling Philosopher, and on Twitter.

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