Peter Steyn is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of GlobeRovers, an independent magazine for the intrepid traveller, available online and in glossy print. Peter was born in South Africa but lived in Canada before moving to Hong Kong and Thailand. He has been to over 122 countries and posts his travel stories at globerovers.com, from where his magazines can be accessed via a free app and online PDFs.
What are three of your favourite countries and why?
I’ve been to Japan 26 times, and in my years of world travel, I’ve found that the more you explore a country, the more you appreciate it. This is probably why I love Japan so much. For me, Japan has a wow factor around every corner. I love them all: the people, culture, history, food, drinks, landscapes, hot springs, winter wonderlands, autumn scenery, spring flowers, mountains, rivers, volcanic activity, beaches, islands, cities, entertainment, shopping, markets, electronics, the list goes on and on! There is so much to explore, and I will never get enough of Japan!
I was born on a beautiful ranch in South Africa and lived in this country for my first 26 years–which probably explains why I love South Africa so much. Since moving away over three decades ago, I have returned multiple times to explore more beautiful locations. South Africa is truly “A World in One Country” because it has it all: tropical jungles, snow-capped mountains, golden beaches, deserts, wildlife, canyons, rivers and more. The culture, food, wine and people are simply the best!
My third favourite country is shared by Russia, Iran, Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar, Canada, Costa Rica, Iceland, Argentina, and Nepal. Choosing just one is hard, but I’ll go with Russia. I’ve already explored Russia four times and can’t wait to soon photograph the rugged and remote Kamchatka Peninsula, northeast of Japan. Travelling through Russia has been very rewarding for me.
Just before Covid19 closed international borders, I visited frozen Lake Baikal, the world’s deepest lake and largest freshwater lake (by volume), in southern Siberia, which was such an exhilarating experience. I love the Russian culture, people, food, nature and different lifestyles. Best of all, I have to admit, are the vodka and canned sardines. They complement each other very well, especially when having a picnic on a frozen lake with a temperature at -30°C (-22°F).
Are there any countries you don’t like visiting?
If I let my political views determine which countries not to visit, there would be so many countries that would not be politically correct for me to visit. Fortunately, I am a traveller, photographer, and travel writer, so I leave my political views at home and travel to meet people so I can understand and photograph their daily lives, and tell their stories of suffering under oppressive regimes. You can’t form your own opinion about a country until you’ve been there and talked to the locals, so I have no objection to visiting any country. For example, I recently visited North Korea, which gave me some understanding of what the people living there go through.
What are three of your favourite cities, and why?
Hong Kong has been both my home and a second home for over 25 years, so it will be no surprise that I love this city so much. Aside from having one of the most beautiful skylines and the best shopping and restaurants in the world, it’s a great city to live in, especially if you love street photography as much as I do. Hong Kong has a pulse that few other cities can match.
I’ve lived in Toronto–one of the world’s greatest cities–for almost a decade, which is why I love it so much. The city is so cosmopolitan that even if you can’t travel and experience different nationalities around the world, you can just hop on your bike and cycle to the city’s many neighbourhoods. Within no time, you will be meeting people and eating food from all over the world.
One of the reasons I love Japan so much is because I love Tokyo so much! The city just has it all, and it would be impossible to get tired of it in a lifetime! The people, street scenes, shopping, restaurants, and entertainment are among the world’s best.
What are three of the worst places you’ve stayed?
It’s hard for me to label any place I’ve stayed as a “worst place” because all the “not so nice places” I’ve stayed have always been experiences that became part of my travel stories. For example, in Myanmar I couldn’t cross the river and had to stay with locals in a very basic house; in El Salvador, I stayed in a really crappy hotel full of prostitutes; in East Timor, I stayed one night in the most disgusting guesthouse of my life; and I’ve tried sleeping in rowdy hostels.
Still, I can’t call these “worst places” because they are all part of what separates a traveller from a tourist. Tourists want everything according to plan and complain easily when things don’t go well, while for travellers the unexpected inconveniences open up new experiences and give them more reason to appreciate their life.
Do you have any favourite hotels or restaurants?
As I am an explorer and traveller, I prefer to stay in small guesthouses and in private homes to get to know the locals and financially support them. Even when I return to the same destination, I try to stay in different places and eat in different family-run restaurants. So I don’t have any “favourite” hotels or restaurants, just memories of very pleasant homes I’ve stayed in and the wonderful local food I’ve been served.
What are three of your favourite travel moments, and why?
Here are three of countless moments that I will treasure for as long as I live:
Hiking to the top of Gokyo Ri Peak in Nepal at an altitude of 5,357 metres (17,575 ft) in the Himalayas and watching the sunrise over Mount Everest. It was such a magical moment that I will remember for as long as I live. I can only imagine what it would be like to stand on top of Mount Everest, but I’ll leave that for my next life!
Searching for polar bears on a dogsled on Norway’s Svalbard Islands near the North Pole while shouting “I’m on top of the world” out loud was one of the best days of my life!
Sitting high on a mountain in central Yemen overlooking the old city of Shibam Hadramawt, known as the “Manhattan of the desert.” What an incredible sight!
What are three of your worst travel moments, and why?
Overnight bus from Guatemala to Mexico
I have been very blessed in my years of travel and have never had a really terrible experience. However, there have been some bad moments that I hope won’t be repeated.
I was travelling overnight by bus from Guatemala to Mexico and around 3:00 am we were stopped by the Mexican military. I was the only non-Latino and non-Spanish speaker on the bus. After a while, a soldier came onto the bus and held up my backpack, which I had packed and locked into a US Army duffel bag with the letters “US” scratched out. I feared they were going to plant drugs in my bag and I could only imagine the consequences. After they unpacked everything, they grinned and told me I could go back to the bus. What a relief!
When the United Arab Emirates changed its visa requirements
I was on my way to Iran via Dubai. While checking in at Hong Kong Airport, I was informed that the UAE had changed their visa requirements two weeks earlier, which meant that I needed a visa to transit between airports in Dubai. My airline tickets were non-changeable and non-refundable so I had to buy new tickets on an airline that didn’t require an airport change in Dubai. Three weeks later, I arrived in Iran. An embarrassing, costly and time-consuming mishap! Moral of the story: always check visa requirements well in advance, and also again a few days before departure as they may have changed.
Problems finding ATM’s
One of the most beautiful sounds for a traveller is when an ATM counts paper money. I had a couple of nail-biting experiences in Taiwan and South America, where I had to search for a very long time to find an ATM that accepted my bank cards until finally, I heard the sound of money being counted!
What are three of your best travel tips?
Plan as much as possible in advance so you don’t waste time while travelling
I place all my notes of how to get there, what to see, where to stay, what not to miss, my tickets, travel insurance, maps, etc. in EverNote (app sync with the web) which I can easily view on my phone, and anywhere with a browser and internet connection.
Visit the places you have never heard of before you started planning your trip
Even more importantly, don’t go to popular places you see on Instagram, because you’ll probably be competing with a lot of tourists! Seek out the unknown and unexplored areas for a truly rich experience. For example, it’s nice to visit the famous Petra “Lost City of Stone” in southern Jordan. However, my most rewarding experience was leaving the wandering tourists in Petra and heading into the mountains where I met people living in caves who I was convinced had never seen white people.
Take advantage of the latest technology to enrich your travel planning
Among those I find most useful are Google Earth, to plan all my adventures off the beaten path; MapsMe to find even remote paths in some jungles and on small islands; EverNote to keep all my notes, maps, links and screenshots; and Rome2Rio to find alternative transportation.