“Ramblin'” Randy Williams is an internationally syndicated radio personality whose Sunday Night Slow Jams air on over 200 radio stations in 17 countries. When he’s not in the studio, he’s probably on a plane, train or a boat, heading somewhere far away. Randy’s close to completing his mission to see every country in the world – at the time of this publication, he’s checked in at 165/193. You can find expansions of all his anecdotes below on his travel website.
What are three of your favourite countries, and why?
A hard question for most. When anyone asks me what my favourite country is, it’s easy for me to answer. I can, with confidence, proudly say Brazil. Why? It’s the only country that I loved enough to pack up everything, leave my entire life behind, and move to!
Brazil was the first international destination I’d ever travelled to by myself, and it left such a lasting impression that after my first trip, I found myself in literal tears at the airport when it was time to go home. I fell head over heels in love with the country for so many reasons – my heart ached as I had to leave. I promised I’d come back. Not only did I return, but I ended up staying. At 30 years old, I’d quit my job, kiss my mom goodbye and start a new life in Recife, Brazil.
Why Brazil? It’s the language, the food, the people, the music, the land…everything! Never has a country touched me in so many ways. Sometimes, I wish I had saved Brazil for later – it’s what I judge every other country against, and that’s unfair. No other place has made me feel the way Brazil does. It’s beyond any words I can write or speak. I must have been Brazilian in a past life.
The Philippines is a country I cannot wait to get back to. Though I only spent three nights there in 2018, the impression I left with was more than memorable. I’ve never met friendlier people anywhere than in The Philippines. I’ve only seen Manila—and for such a short time—I look forward to coming back and spending at least a few weeks travelling around the country. I can hardly wait.
Indonesia was another country that I felt immediately close to. While I only spent one night there, I did so much, saw so much, and met so many wonderful people in a short amount of time. Unlike most tourists, I didn’t choose Bali, and I’m so glad. Instead, I opted for Jakarta, a city I fell madly in love with, immediately.
I remember its wonderful and welcoming people, the best jasmine iced tea I’d ever tasted, expansive city parks and a bustling city centre – Jakarta is somewhere I’d totally live. I can’t wait to get back, and this time stay a while. By the way, I’ve never seen more giant shopping malls in such a small radius in my entire life – so many, that I wondered how they could all support themselves: just giant city malls, one after another. I feel there is so much more to know about Jakarta, and I’m chomping at the bit to return.
What are three of your favourite travel moments, and why?
First trip to Brazil
As I mentioned earlier, nothing will ever compare to my first trip to Brasil. I was a young man at 26, with very little travel experience. After my best friend cancelled on me twice, I hesitantly ventured to Brasil on my own. I was scared and nervous and wondered if I’d hate travelling somewhere so far away by myself. Instead, what unfolded was probably the best ten days of my life ever. It’s hard to explain all the feelings I “caught” in my short time in Brasil – it was just so much. Wonderment, excitement, curiosity, confusion, enlightenment, passion, love. All of my senses were excited in ways I’ve never known.
My ears were dazzled by the Portuguese spoken and the wonderful music that seemed to be playing all around. Exotic fruits and food I’d never heard of tickled my taste buds. The landscapes wowed me—from Barra Tijuca to Sugar Loaf, the hills of Petropolis and the sprawling city of São Paulo. But perhaps it was the Brasilians themselves that captivated me so much. I met and spent some quality time with such wonderful people and began some very special, lifelong friendships with at least half a dozen Brasilians during my trip, who asked for nothing in return but my friendship. Brasil left a mark on my heart and a deep scar on my brain—a good one—and would change my life forever.
Visiting North Korea
North Korea was such a thrill to me. I’d booked the trip eight months out and waffled back and forth on whether I was actually going to go through with it or not. At least a half-dozen times, I’d backed out in my head. I was downright petrified to go – I was convinced something bad was going to happen to me. I am so glad I went through with it. Experiencing Pyongyang felt like I was in a movie – a complete fantasyland in every way, and I was the star. Regardless of how you feel about the DPRK’s politics, visiting there is just surreal, and I recommend it to all.
Touring Europe during the pandemic
You don’t really appreciate something like world travel until it’s taken away. Our wings were literally clipped in 2020 due to the pandemic, as just about every country in the world slammed their borders shut and international travel grinded to an immediate halt. I could not let that stop me – I would go mad if I wasn’t able to do what I loved most. So through a special exemption from Hungary, I was able to travel to Budapest. And well, once you’re in the EU, you can pretty much roam about. So here I was, gallivanting all over Europe in June of 2020 – pretty much the only American in the entire continent. I had many places all to myself.
I’d normally consider Europe one of the less-exciting places to visit, however, this big European trip smack-dab in the middle of the pandemic was one of my most thrilling trips ever, for obvious reasons. Being able to experience so many usually uber-crowded European destinations with little or no other people around was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I am so thankful for. And it’s always a little more fun to go places you’re not supposed to be.
What are three of your worst travel moments, and why?
Cayenne, French Guiana
I was walking along the quiet and quaint streets downtown when I stumbled upon a pile of personal effects in the middle of the street. A radio, a chair, some clothes, a fan – all broken and sitting helplessly in the empty street between those beautiful old French-style apartments, complete with rickety shutters and little wrought-iron balconies with flower pots. I quickly came to the assumption that some poor bastard must have been “caught cheatin’,” and that his wife must have just recently hurled all his stuff out of a second-story window. I couldn’t help but chuckle – you only see this in the movies; did this really just happen? I whipped out my iPhone to take some pictures of the heap of property without noticing that said “cheater” was standing right there.
Obviously upset that he was (one) caught, and (two) had his stuff thrown out of his apartment into the street, he was now furious at the laughing tourist (me) taking photos of his embarrassing situation. He got in my face, and I spent the next two minutes (seemed like an hour) backing up and convincing him not to kick my ass. I could’ve taken him, but by the looks of the teardrop tattoo on his eye, I knew he wasn’t one to mess with. I didn’t want to get cut! To make it worse, there was not another soul in sight – the Sunday streets were completely deserted. I finally turned the corner and then quickly sprinted away to escape the danger. He told me he’d “find me,” but the joke was on him: My flight out was just two hours later.
I was so paranoid about seeing South Sudan on this particular trip. I completely passed over researching Burundi. I thought it strange when we approached the land border between Rwanda and Burundi, and there wasn’t another soul in sight. Weren’t international borders supposed to be humming with trade, commerce and people in transit? Where was everyone? I hadn’t realized the intense tension between the two nations, thus the reason for a desolate crossing between the two. This was like the North and South Korea of Africa. After crossing into Burundi, I was approached by the curious local police and a deputy who decided he’d be my full-fledged escort on the two-hour drive into the village of Kirundo.
Half of me was excited that I was getting the royal VIP treatment, but something didn’t seem right. Soon the forced bribes began, and it seemed that every time we turned the corner, I owned the officer money for something. Looking at the lake? That came with a fee. Passing the checkpoint (there were many)? That cost money. Entering the village? Had to give the deputy a “gift” for the chief. That night the entire police battalion enjoyed beers at the local bar – on me, of course! What stressed me out the most was, I didn’t know when or how it was going to end. How far would this go? Would it end in arrest and demand for $10,000 to let me go? I’d never been so happy to leave a country that next day when I finally reached the Rwandan border. I remember the deputy asking me for final payment. I’d reached Rwanda, so I felt it was safe enough to kindly tell him to leave.
Once I was home and had time to do some real research, I realized just how tense the Rwanda-Burundi border was – and why there was virtually no one else there but me. A few locals noted that I was lucky I didn’t end up missing or skinned alive. I don’t know if they were exaggerating, but it certainly made the hairs on the back of the neck stand up and was a stark reminder to do more research, especially when overlanding.
Bangui, Central African Republic
This one really wasn’t too bad – more just annoying. My plane from Bangui to Nairobi simply never showed up.
“Well why not just get on another flight?” asked all of my non-travelling friends. They didn’t understand that there literally were no other flights out of Bangui for days. To make it worse, the communication from the airline was non-existent – they didn’t have any airline staff physically at the airport. No one knew what was going on. The plane ended up not showing up at all that day.
I missed my connection home to the USA from Nairobi. The worst part was not knowing when the plane would show up at all. Would it be here tomorrow, the day after, next week? Bangui is not a place you want to end up stranded. Thankfully, the Kenya Airlines jet finally decided to show up the next day. I just wanted out of there. I hated feeling stuck.
What are three of your best travel tips?
Stop checking bags!
Many years ago, I suddenly became liberated when I resolved to never, ever check luggage again, sticking to carry-on only. Not only does this save you money (thousands over time!), but it is so freeing to be able to land in a new destination and simply pass up hundreds of fellow passengers, all lingering around the luggage carousel that hasn’t even started! I’m already in a cab, speeding to that beach chair, my piña colada, while those folks are still huddled around a crowded conveyor belt. Not to mention, this takes away any stress of “lost luggage” or valuables that can have a habit of growing legs. Packing light is definitely a special art and science – but try it! After all, think about all those times you came home from vacation and unpacked clothes you never even wore!
Taking Care of Business
If you’re able to write off your trip(s) at tax time, do it! Definitely advise a licensed accountant before you deduct that flight you took to Berlin to sample steins at Oktoberberfest – saving a few bucks isn’t worth going to jail for tax fraud. But ask yourself, is there a way to combine work with travel to be able to score some business deductions? In my case, I am a travel blogger, so yes, I’m travelling for work. I also visit clients on most of my trips, so if we’re ever audited, I’d have lots of proof that this was indeed a “work” trip. Come up with a plan, check with your accountant, and then get to “business!”
Let Someone Else Pay for Your Airfare
No, not a sugar daddy – I’m talking about a bank or multiple banks. Most of my overseas airline tickets—in business class, mind you—are compliments of the credit card companies. I sign up for cards that offer obscene amounts of airline miles as a welcome bonus. Usually, a minimum spend is required, but it’s money that I would spend anyway. I’m often raking in 40-, 50-, sometimes even 100,000 miles-plus each time I sign up and use a new credit card for purchases I already planned to make anyway. Over time, I’ve racked up over two million miles in sign-up bonuses alone. These credit card welcome bonuses are, without a doubt, the fastest way to stack up a ton of miles super-quick.
An important rule of thumb if you decide to play this game: Make sure you’re able to pay off your full balance every month, with no exceptions. You only come out on top if you’re paying zero interest. Once you’re paying that sky-high interest on a credit card, those miles are now costing you. Also, make sure that minimum qualifying spend is an amount of money you’d spend anyway – do not go into debt chasing miles.
Do you have any favourite hotels or restaurants?
One food item every traveller should put on his bucket list is The Sonoran Hot Dog. Endemic to the “Sonoran” desert of Southern Arizona and Northern Sonora (Mexico), your life is not complete until you’ve enjoyed this special taste of heaven. I like to eat them at BK’s Carne Asada and Hot Dogs in Tucson, Arizona. Get everything on it, but hold the mustard.
I have a special “Best Of” list of random things on my website, and I hope you’ll take a look. Everything from “Best Grapefruit Juice” to “Best Elevator Music” to “Best Place to Take a #1” – you should really check out this list!
Do you have any favourite cities?
I love this question, because: Yes! In no particular order: Recife; Brasil; Buenos Aires; Argentina; Jakarta, Indonesia; Dakha, Bangladesh; Yerevan, Armenia; Miami; Flordia.
What are some of the worst places you’ve stayed?
I didn’t love Kathmandu. It was just such a letdown after Bhutan. I’ll never forget all those motorcycles nipping at my heels. One walk around the block, and I’d made my mind up. I stayed just one night and got out of there, cancelling my two last nights there. I literally booked a trip to Yemen with those two extra days. I’m not even joking!
What is another good travel story you haven’t mentioned so far?
My favourite part about travelling the world is the surprises. When I first began this crazy hobby of trying to see the entire world, I asked a few people what their least-favourite place was. A handful of folks answered the same: Bangladesh – crowded, dirty, chaotic. So when it was time to check that one off the list, I booked just one night in Dhaka. I’d get in and get out – as quickly as I could. I was dreading going, actually. What I didn’t expect was that I would fall madly in love with Dhaka, and it would quickly become one of my favourite places in the entire world! Crowded, chaotic and dirty – yes. But absolutely beautiful in so many ways and filled with so many nice people. I didn’t see many other tourists at all, and maybe I was foolish to explore the city on my own – but just getting lost in Dhaka for a day was one of the most memorable experiences of my life. I had no map – I just jumped on rickshaws and into rickety wooden boats and went where the tide took me. It was one of the best travel days of my life, and I yearn to return to Bangladesh for more. Who knew?
If you can only choose one:
Favourite airline: Qatar and Asiana
Favourite airport: Philadelphia International (because of the music! More airports should have music!)
Favourite city: Recife, Brazil
Favourite island: Fenrando De Noronha, Brasil
Favourite people: Filipinos
Favourite small town: San Carlos, Mexico
Favourite travel book: The Wild Coast
Favourite travel movie: The Middle of The World
Favourite travel website: everycountryintheworld.com