Tripper of the Week: Kyle Stanton
An avid traveler, American Tripper Kyle Stanton has studied abroad in Budapest, lived in South Korea and hung out with locals in Kosovo. He is our Tripper of the Week.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I'm a 24 year old writer from New Jersey, USA who just graduated with an MA in history. Right now I'm a freelance writer but I've worked as an english teacher in South Korea and a census supervisor in the US. Currently I'm planning my first trip ever with my Father. We're going to Iceland in a month!
What inspired you to move to Budapest for a year and what did you enjoy most about living there?
I've recently returned home from Budapest after doing a Masters Degree in History there. There were a lot of things I loved about the city but I think that my favorite thing was having a great public transport system at my disposal. Being an American kid from the suburbs, I've always had to drive everywhere. In Budapest though, pretty much any part of the city was reachable within 30 mins and it was extremely easy to use. It's also great to not have to worry about finding a designated driver when going out for a night on the town. I find that you come across some of the most interesting characters on the late night buses.
One of your favorite places on earth is Somaliland. What makes it such a cool place?
Somaliland was great because Somalilanders were generally really happy to show me their country. It's a remarkably peaceful place that has had uninterrupted democratic elections yet not many people in my country know about it. It's technically not a separate country from Somalia but it has it's own government, currency, flag, etc that isn't recognized anywhere else in the world. That makes it a really unique place to see. The only drawback is that it's quite difficult to explain to passport control agents where I went and why I went there!
You've visited one place not many travelers have - Transnistria. Is it as exciting a place to visit as it sounds?
Transnistria was definitely as interesting as it sounds. It does seem like the closest thing to the Soviet Union today although like Somaliland, it technically doesn't exist on maps. It was weird for me to see a huge statue of V.I. Lenin in front of their capitol building. They have a president for life who owns most of the industry in the country as well. Being a traveler there means navigating their ex-Soviet bureaucracy. Accompanied by my host, it took me almost two hours to deal with their migration office. I also was interviewed on Transnistrian state television when I went to a concert there. So maybe I'm famous in an ex-Soviet breakaway state?
Interacting with local people is one of the things you love about traveling: what's your most fond memory of meeting locals?
Interacting with local people is definitely central to my idea of traveling. I think it's the best way to find out what a place is really like and what local people really do. As you can tell by my profile picture I love food. I've found some of the best local places to eat by talking and staying with local people. I found the best al pastor tacos in Mexico, bureks in Serbia, kitfo in Ethiopia, and Iskender kebabs in Turkey by asking locals. You can bet that if a traveler were to ask me about the best places to eat in Northern New Jersey, I wouldn't lead them astray!
You lived in South Korea as well. What was your most memorable experience while living there?
For me, the fun part of South Korea was looking for its history. In a country that seems to be only looking forward to the future, this was a challenge. But going for hikes through unlikely places could reveal a different Korea. During one of my best hikes, I saw a 400 year old pagoda, a dog farm, and I peered into North Korea from the top of a mountain. Like any good hike in Korea it was capped off with a bottle of soju (rice wine). I find that if first impressions of a place aren't what I had hoped for, it's good to explore even more.
What is your best "one time when I was traveling in ___" story?
There are so many stories and memories I have from traveling that it's hard to pick just one. I'd say Christmas of 2010 in Kosovska Mitrovica, Kosovo is probably my fondest memory. I got there by hitch hiking most of the way from Budapest. Basically, the city is where the war in Kosovo ended. A bridge cuts the city into strict ethnic areas, Albanians in the south and Serbs in the north. I stayed on the northern side with Serbs who are my age. It was amazing to me, how hospitable they were to me even though a few of them had actually been fighting against Americans during the war a decade ago. They wouldn't let me pay for anything and I felt really welcome. In a city that's still policed by American and European soldiers, I was the first American they had met who wasn't part of the military or an NGO. They took me to some interesting places like an abandoned Yugoslav-era spa, a rock club, and a thousand-year-old Orthodox monastery. I think that our interaction definitely changed each other's opinions of our respective countries. For me, this trip was everything I hope and look for in travel.
Thanks Kyle for being our Tripper of the Week. Happy Travels in Iceland!
Trippers, to connect with Kyle via his Tripping profile, click here.