Todd Cohen is a world traveler, photographer, writer. He lives for travel adventures, and just got back from a 5-month trip which took him to 15 countries (and shares them on Visit50.com). Although he’s traveled all around the globe, he has a soft spot for NYC.
Tell us a little bit more about your background – Todd in a nutshell.
After a trip to to Australia after college, I came back with a seemingly unquenchable thirst for new experiences, new cultures, and new sights around the world. I’ve always been really curious, but now that carried over into travel. I started dreaming of different things I wanted to do, and places I wanted to visit. I made bucket lists with specific travel goals.
I launched a travel blog, at Visit50.com. It started as a response to all the questions I was receiving from my family and friends. “Did you really go swimming with sharks?? Were you scared to travel alone? Can you really float in the Dead Sea or is that a myth? Did you really have a python around your neck?? What was it like to be arms-length from baby orangutans?” I’m answering them all on my website with my photography from up close encounters.
The name Visit50.com comes from my travel goal – I want to visit all 50 states, and 50 countries, by age 50. Every state and every country in the world has something fascinating about it that make it worth visiting. [Trippers, take a moment to count how many you've visited...]
What inspired you to travel to 15 countries in 5 months?
I’ve always wanted to travel the world, and wished that I could. Like many people, I felt like I “didn’t have the opportunity” or the funds to take a big trip. I work in an industry that provides just two weeks vacation time (that you can’t use together), so a long trip simply wasn’t feasible. For years I’ve said that the next time I find myself in between jobs, I’m going to travel the world. So I did. You create your own opportunities in life, and this was mine.
I made travel a priority and just made it happen. At the end of 2010 I cashed in my air miles and got a ticket into Hong Kong, and back through Narita (Tokyo) six weeks later. The rest was a mostly blank canvas that would be filled with places I’ve been excited to visit for years, and new places that I’d learn along the way. I kept extending the trip, and ended up visiting 15 countries over 5 months. It was amazing!
It was the perfect marriage of my interests and passions – photography, culture, architecture, wildlife, et al. I found myself up close with monkeys, sharks, elephants, and beasts I’d never even heard of! The best part might have been meeting all the amazing people from around the world, both locals and travelers.
Of all your interactions with locals, which has been the most memorable?
It’s so difficult to choose just one because meeting locals is one of my favorite aspects of traveling. With that said, I just posted photos from one interaction that was particularly memorable. I was on a little island off the coast of Borneo, photographing sunsets, sea turtles, and little kids that lived in the village. I approached them and asked if they’d like to pose for a photo. They all refused, with the exception of one brave kid. After taking the photo they were about to run away when I turned my camera around and showed them the photo. I’ll never forget their reaction.
They were elated, as if they’d never seen their reflection in anything other than the water they swim in. I asked for another photo and this time they posed. I thanked them and put away my camera but they asked for more photos. Each time their pose got a little more creative. They were rockstars, and enjoying the limelight.
From that day on, they would spot me from across the island and ask me to take their photos and show them, and the group of kids that followed me kept growing. At the end of the week I made a little slideshow for them. Adorable!
What are 3 of the most exciting outdoor activities you’ve participated in during your travels?
SCUBA diving tops the list. I finished my PADI open-water course and got certified in Bali, and that set the stage for some incredible dive experiences throughout my trip (particularly in Malaysia, Thailand, and the Philippines). The feeling of swimming through colorful fish (and huge predators) was amazing!
My first ship wreck dive was particularly memorable – it was the first I found myself eye-to-eye with an actual shark. I was terrified! I can hardly believe that just a month later I was actually seeking out opportunities to swim in shark-infested waters. I found plenty of them!
Hiking sounds like such a common activity, but I’ve had so many unique hiking experiences with other travelers that were memorable. I’ve gone . I’ve gone hiking up a volcano in Indonesia and to the other side where they have a sulfur mining operation. I’ve explored the ruins of Ankor Wat and reached the top of the Great Wall of China .
Photographing wildlife — Photography is a passion of mine, and considering I live in NYC, travel enables me to have those experiences. I love seeing animals in zoos, but my travels have offered such great access to see them in their natural habitat. I was right near baby orangutans and camels, and at one point found myself completely surrounded by monkeys. You’re on their turf, so it’s a combination of scary and awesome (note to the monkeys – I can’t take your photo when you jump on my back! Elephants and whale sharks are both massive – I’m hoping my photos do them justice. Some of my favorite photos came from moments observing and photographing wildlife that I hadn’t even heard of – from an extremely rare encounter with proboscis monkey that had a huge nose and a pot belly, to a tarsiers that look like Gremlins.
Honorable mentions: tarzan swinging and tubing in Laos, kayaking through caves in Halong Bay, learning to surf in Bali, floating in the Dead Sea, sliding down red sand dunes in Mui Ne, wind-surfing trekking up to Machu Picchu, riding through the desert of Wadi Rum, ziplining through a cloud forest in Costa Rica, eating crazy foods at night markets all over Asia, and and more.
What are the 3 things you most enjoy about hosting?
I love exchanging travel stories, learning their unique insights and perpective, and introducing them to the city I love.
You’re based in New York. What are the top 5 attractions every first-time traveler must see?
Two of the many things I love about New York is that (a) it’s impossible to narrow it down to just 5 attractions, and (b) if you take a poll of New Yorkers on this, everybody has a different answer. It’s such a wonderfully diverse city that everyone seems to have something that they appreciate more than the rest.
Most lists start with a climb up the Statue of Liberty, through Times Square, and up the Empire State Building, and then it splinters from there. Central Park and Rockefeller Center often get votes.
My tour is always customized to their interests, but what makes New York unique is the neighborhoods and combination of cultures in one city. I often take my guests on a walking tour all around the city, through the village and SoHo and over the Brooklyn Bridge. New York’s financial district is historic, but you might be more interested in seeing the places you remember from Seinfeld, Friends, Gangs of New York, or Sex and the City. Seeing the NYC skyline is often on the must-see, but while the view from Empire State Building is impressive, there’s a dozen other places that you might enjoy the view from even more. For my most recent guests, we ate our way around the city, mixing delicious restaurants, bite-size desserts, and combining the famous sites with the little-known gems that New Yorkers love.
The beauty of NYC is that my answer for this changes all the time. My friends and I are constantly discovering new places that are awesome.
Sidenote – I’m writing a little post on the places I love visiting in New York City – look for it on Visit50.com.
Where are you headed next?
My next trip will be to San Francisco – I’m finally going this upcoming Fall. The top 10 next places outside the US on my list include Spain, Argentina, Equador (specifically the Galapagos Islands), Czech Republic, Morocco, Greece, South Africa, Japan, Brazil, and all over Scandanavia. My unquenchable thirst for new travel experiences just might lead me to meeting Trippers in an around-the-world trip. I’m excited just thinking about it!
Happy travels Todd! When you visit San Francisco, be sure to let us know. We’d love to connect with you!