Travel presenter series – Zay Harding

Where do you call home, and what’s your inside secret for someone who is a visitor there?

To me, HOME is a state of mind, and I’m always in it. There is a wonderful lyric to a Metallica song called Wherever I May Roam which says, “Where I Lay My Head Is Home” – I absolutely love this. I quite often sing it when I’m traveling abroad. It makes me realize that everywhere I go, that IS home to someone, so why shouldn’t I feel right at home while I’m with them or in their city sleeping under their stars in their environment under their conditions?

Somehow, no matter how extreme the place is, it comforts me and I don’t get homesick because I’m already home. Where is home to me, you ask?  Right here, right now. And that will always be my answer. It’s comforting to me.

In a more literal matter, I had the good fortune of being born and raised in Hawaii, the most beautiful place in the world by my standards. Originally, one of the wettest spots on earth, Kauai, was my home. Then our family moved to the island of Oahu when I was eight years old and that became home to me until I finished high school and moved to Dallas, Texas for college. Then THAT became home to me for four years, until I graduated and moved to Los Angeles, California, and THAT has become home to me.  Since I’m here tonight, THIS is home for me and it usually is, as my wife and I live in LA. But whenever I’m out on the road traveling and filming Globe Trekker, that’s always home.  But I’m not like a snail or a tortoise because although I am always home, I don’t like taking a lot of baggage with me. I don’t think that’s fair to yourself or the places you go.

I like to live simply so I can simply live. Try it. Next time you travel, challenge yourself to bring less, as it will force you to get outside your comfort zone and experience places more. The best advice I ever got growing up (and I apply it still to my life everyday) is:  “Always keep an open heart and an open mind!”  It is a form of respect.

My advice for visitors is just that:  “RESPECT other people’s homes!”  A little respect goes a long way, especially abroad, and you’ll be surprised how mutual respect is. You want it? Then give it. A good way to do this is figure out what makes you genuinely interested in them as a culture. People sense this and as a result, not only will they welcome you into their homes, they’ll even invite you into their cultural world and proudly teach you a few things about their people and show you places that none of the history or travel books ever mention.

What’s the easiest way to start a conversation in a foreign land?

The most respectful thing you can do when you travel is to learn what I call, ‘the basic survival phrases’ in the language of the country you are visiting. “Hello”, “Goodbye”, “Yes”, “No”, and “Thank You”.  Also, if you can manage to learn the numbers 1-10 in that language, you will love your experience so much more. The best way I can illustrate this is to turn it around on you. Imagine when a foreigner approaches you in your own country and they act like they don’t understand you when you use these basic phrases with them. Don’t you just get so offended? I do. I think, “Why would you even want to come here if you have absolutely no interest in relating to us as a people?!!” It doesn’t make sense. Put in the effort to learn those simple phrases. I promise it will be worth it.

What’s on your travel bucket list?

Where do I begin with this one? Before I die, I would love to be able to say that I have traveled to every place in the world at some point in my life. But we all know this is impossible. Even in the many places I’ve been to in all seven continents, I am curious about their smaller cities and villages.  Once you get the travel bug, you can’t stop it. And you shouldn’t stop it. Every time you travel, your blinders are lifted a little higher and you see a bit clearer. Things start making sense in relation to other places you’ve been. And since everywhere you go has something interesting to offer, it doesn’t matter where you go, it just matters that you make time to go!

Most bizarre food you’ve tried?

I’ve had to eat a lot of crazy things for our show, all of which are eaten by locals. In fact, that is something I always make sure of before I try something strange on camera. Do the locals in fact eat this craziness? If the answer is yes, I will make someone else try it first, and then if they survive, I eat it for the show.

We never eat weird things that nobody else eats, just to freak out the audience. We are doing these things to show travelers and tourists that if they wish to expand their horizons, this is something unique that locals do in a certain area, and if you wish to bridge the gap between these two cultures you will try it and stop judging them for living differently than you are used to. The ‘norm’ is always relative to where you are and to who’s doing it.

Again, the key is to have an open heart and an open mind. Don’t pre-judge, because that’s prejudice, and no one likes a prejudiced person. When abroad, try new things! You might just find that you like the very things that you think would turn you off the most. For instance, I loved eating barbequed flying foxes (bats) in Papua New Guinea. The meat was so tender, like steak, but the flavor was incredibly close to a juicy barbequed chicken. Or the time in Vietnam, when we sliced an Iguana lizard’s tail and mixed the blood with rice whiskey, which was gross looking but sweet and delicious and is supposed to have medicinal value with vitality. And this is not to say you will like everything you try, like the time I ate fish-eyes or boned goose tongue in New Zealand, but at least you will know.

Best/worst sleeping arrangement you’ve encountered?

I think the best nap I ever had was on a hammock that was set up on a boat, as we drifted south along the Mekong River in Indochina. The sound of the water along with the rocking of the boat, and you know hammocks have their own rocking sensation you can’t beat. Plus, factor in the warm breeze of the summer air at dusk, after a long day of traveling. Now put them all together… and that’s about the feeling I was experiencing. I felt like a happy baby!

Worst was on top of the glaciers of Mt. Rainier. It was my first time sleeping on ice and so I really went about it all wrongly. I was advised to sleep with no clothes on so that my body heat could bounce back onto me (which in fact is the best thing to do). But as I was getting into my sleeping bag, I knocked over my canteen, and wouldn’t you know it, the cap was not fully tightened, and it spilled all into my sleeping bag almost turning to ice. I put on every bit of my clothing items that I had packed, and I was freezing through most of the night. A horrible sleep, then a 12.5 hour hike up the snow the next day. My other crappy sleep that stands out was also on ice. I wanted to be able to say I spent the night on the continent of Antarctica, so I dug a little bedding area into the snow there.  Of course, about a foot deep and I was on solid glacier ice-rock. While I was warm enough, this time sleeping naked in a sleeping bag, the flooring was so hard, I kept tossing and turning and I think I bruised both my hips that night. But, hey, at least I can say I survived an open night of camping on Antarctica. And the sunset and sunrise were both breath-taking – like clouds that reflect the orange and pink glows of the sun, so would the snow all around me. Totally worth it!

Best place you’ve been to that’s ideal for people traveling on a budget?

There are a million places you can get great deals on when you travel, especially if you check the internet. Of course, Thailand, China, Bali, Portugal, India (wonderfully colorful places like these) will always be on the list, but for me, I am partial to Argentina. I felt like a king as I ate the best steaks I’ve ever had (all local and inexpensive) and drank the best Malbec wines in the world, from the organically fresh source, and I felt like a king without hurting my pocketbook. That is living. No wonder everyone there is so happy and friendly. Not to mention, the view is pretty stunning as well every which way you look as you feast.

One life lesson learned while traveling that’s stayed with you?

This is a tough one, because how do you sum up all of your lessons into one main one? Every time I travel, I grow, which is another reason I love to travel. I learn about others, but I simultaneously learn about myself. I make vows to never do certain things again, or vow to help out certain causes.

Traveling opens your senses and raises your awareness. I try to travel with an open heart and see what I can learn from everyone I meet. I have learned it is possible to live a satisfying lifestyle living 100% off of the land. Everything we need to survive and be happy has been put on this earth for us to enjoy and use. The trick is that we must always think of others as we feed ourselves and grow. Perhaps that is the most important lesson I have learned – that we all live under the same sun, and therefore we must monitor every country’s pollution practices. Otherwise, we will all suffer in the end. It becomes very apparent in Antarctica, as ice shelves are calving at an extremely fast rate. I’m not even kidding when I say you can sit there for an hour and watch about three avalanches pull themselves off during that time, sometimes more. This is raising the water levels and changing water temperatures everywhere, which impacts everyone on the planet. We must all be more careful and each take responsibility to care for our Earth.

What are your current pet projects?

Whenever I am home in Los Angeles, I get inspired by the entertainment community around me and I always try to put together something creative to work on. I like to paint and draw in my spare time, as well as write. I have a screenplay about Hollywood that I am trying to get produced into a full-length feature film; I have a dramatic pilot about the Sunset Strip in the 1970s I am pitching around town as well. I have a traveling show of my own, too, that I am working on (to be revealed when it takes off), as well as a music show I am trying to get going, promoting local artists around town. I am a very creative person with a lot of creative energy. I studied theatre and acting at college, so anything involving cameras, stages and entertainment, I love. I’m also filming a bunch of new short films with friends – all for fun, and all very rewarding. I need that balance in my life. Without it I think I get frustrated.

What do you think the future of this medium/format is, given the shift in content creation thanks to the digital revolution? How do you see people consuming and gathering their travel info and inspiration in the future?

I think what’s happening in the digital world is extremely exciting. It’s only getting better and better and more and more convenient. Especially when traveling, we now don’t have to bring so much camera and lighting equipment. We are traveling lighter and therefore we are faster to catch things on the fly. I love being able to post stills of wherever we are. As long as there’s Wi-Fi where we are at, the world is connected with us on the road. Also, I think (true to what www stands for) we are creating a worldwide web that we are all a part of. People are starting to get caught in the media when doing shady stuff and awareness is raised in every sense. Corruption is not being tolerated and everyone is starting to unite as a whole, realizing we can and do make a difference, no matter where we live in the world. We are one!

We are constantly asked how to get a job like yours: what’s your advice for anyone who wants to become a presenter/producer/content creator within the travel realm?

My advice to anyone who wants to do what we get to do on Globe Trekker is to get on out there and do it. Why wait? No one is stopping you from traveling to the places you want to see, or telling you not to film your experiences there. So do it. If you can’t afford to go far, cover your local area and all the fun things in your local area. It’s not only great practice for hosting, but you’d be surprised at what you can find within your own community that no one knows about until explored.

Furthermore, if everybody does this in their own towns and cities, we’ll have an incredible resource of videos online, made to accuracy, by the locals who feature it.

Describe yourself in a Tweet (140 characters):

Creative and adventurous, Zay has a knack for connecting with cultures. He believes in respect and celebrates life, love and humanity.

Tweet @ZayHarding1


–By Sarah Blinco │ More on Zay and our presenters here