Interview With The Amateur Traveler – Chris Christensen

The US City Traveler (Taylor): This is the US City Travelewr Podcast With Taylor Goldblatt Session Number 13, and in this episode, it is my great pleasure to introduce one of the biggest names in the world of travel, Chris Christensen, who has recorded 400 episodes of the Amateur Traveler Podcast, since it was first launched back in 2005. It has been downloaded well over 1 million times and featured in National Geographic, Men’s Journal, The Chicago Sun Times, and Best Life Magazine.

Well thanks for coming on Chris.

The Amateur Traveler (Chris): You’re welcome. Although I think I have one of the longest names in the world of travel, but not necessarily one of the biggest. We will give that title to Richard Branson or someone like that! Although the numbers, the Amateur Traveler Podcast has actually been downloaded over five or six million times, so.


Pictured above is an image of Chris & the team recording This Week In Travel (Courtesy of Chris).


Taylor: Very impressive, Chris. I also saw that you have also run online communities for companies like Marriott, HBO, A&E, and QVC, so that’s really incredible. It is truly an honor to have you on today.

So I see that you are currently a resident of Silicon Valley, so can you tell us a little bit more about what it is like living there?

Chris: I love it. So I live in Silicon Valley and I am in the tech industry. I have particularly enjoyed it and I have lived here for over 20 years.


Pictured above is an image of The Golden Gate Bridge (Courtesy of Chris).


Taylor: Very nice, and if you had to choose to live elsewhere, where would it be?

Chris: Well my wife has a criteria. She is willing to live in the United States in somewhere that is near a beach, near a major city. So that kind of narrows us down, once we are willing to eliminate Florida I think we would choose San Diego.

Taylor: Who wouldn’t want to live in Sand Diego, haha! So do you think you might decide to retire there one day?

Chris: I have no idea!

Taylor: So what made you decide to start a travel podcast?

Chris: Well I am a fan of podcasting in general. I am a huge podcast nut so I am subscribed to about 70 podcasts right now. I am pretty much up to date with all of them. That is 70 down from 100 that I was subscribed to at one time. Back when I started listening to podcasts back in 2005, really just after podcasting had started, I decided the tI wanted to do my own podcast and I debated doing a tech podcast or a religion podcast and we had some friends over  for Memorial Day that year and all the best stories were travel stories. The idea came at that time and the show launched a month later.

Taylor: Wow, it really amazes me to think that you have time to keep up with all of those podcasts, write blog posts, record two separate blog podcasts each week, work with software development and management by day and still have time for four weeks of vacation each year. Incredible. It really shows how dedicated you are to your audience. I can relate because I’ve been working on US City Traveler part time for the past three to four years alongside begin a full-time student and even while balancing internships so I know what it is like to put in those long hours.

So Chris I have to ask, what was it like working as the Director of Engineering at TripAdvisor? That sounds like a dream job to me, so why exactly did you decide to give it up?

Chris: It was good. TripAdvisor is a very well run company of all the companies I have worked for. I have worked for a number of start-ups for about 18 years, including Hewlett Packard, IBM and Apple and other well known brands as well and TripAdvisor was probably the best run, at least from the time that I was there. They really know their business but the commute was really long, I had a 2700 mile commute, so that is what eventually led me to leave TripAdvisor.


Pictured above is an image of The Sydney Opera House (Courtesy of Chris).


Taylor: Yeah, yeah I can’t blame you, well if you had to pick one celebrity to travel with for a day, who exactly would it be?

Chris: I would probably pick someone who is a good travel writer, maybe Bill Bryson whose writing I have particularly enjoyed. I think he would eb a good travel companion.

Taylor: Absolutely, I’m sure you could really learn a lot from him. And for those who don’t know, Bryson was Chancellor of Durham University from 2005 to 2012 and some of his mod recent travel books include Walk About And A Day In A Sunburned Country. A Very wise man indeed. So getting back to your podcast for a second, this may sound a little cliche but our listeners have to know. If someone could only listen to one episode of your podcast, what would it be? What is your best episode to date? I believe you have about 400 episodes?

Chris: So we have nearly 400 episodes of Amateur Traveler and 148 of This Week In Travel, which is our second travel podcast. In terms of favorite episodes of Amateur Traveler, it is bought to choose but probably one of my favorites is when I talk to Andrew and Freda Frant about their trip to Iran, they biked across Iran for three months. They were abler to do it because they were on a Canadian Visa. Canadians can do it and American’s can’t so it’s notp a trip that I would ever be able to do legally, but their interaction with locals was quite interesting. One of the best was when they were trying to use a local pay phone because they were trying to go to Central Asia after this and wanted to get their Visa’s in order. Apparently the phone system in Iran is notoriously unreliable so someone stopped by and said “hey do you want to borrow my cell phone?” They talked to five different people to get five different Visa’s and it’s jus ta completely different picture  than what we have so I think that is why that one really sticks in my mind.

Taylor: Well how about that, who would have ever known. I don’t believe I’ve heard that episode, I’ll have to check it out.


Pictured above is an image of Chris in the Island of Lanai in Hawaii (Courtesy of Chris).


Well while you do have many impressive accomplishments, what may have been the most impressive was that you have done some business with Bill Gates os can you tell us a little bit more about that?

Chris: Wow! We’re going back in time… so I met Bill in 1989 when I was working in my first start-up and I went up to Microsoft where I was trying to convince them to work with us. It was a little odd because I was being introduced as our hand writing recognition expert and it was sort of true because I had done the most reading of anyone in the country at the time but it was a little nerve-wracking when you’r meeting someone who you’ve heard so much about . People said to pay attention to how Bill rocks in his chair because if hew starts rocking that means that he is interested so you are keeping one eye on his body language and it was an interesting experience.

Taylor: I would have been nervous as well. I can not even imagine, I would have been shaking, stuttering, sweating,  and all that! That is really something to be proud of.

Next I have to ask, what is your favorite travel book? Do you read a lot or are you more into podcasts?

Chris: I am more into podcasts, in terms of reading about travel, my leisure reading tends to be more about history or business or something like that. I mentioned Bill Bryson so I’d probably have to pick his “In A Sunburned Country” as my favorite travel book as he talks about traveling around Australia with his particularly rye sense of humor and all of the things that can kill you there.

Taylor: And with travel it’s all about seeing it and doing it. You can read about it all day but until you have actually seen it in person, there is nothing else like it.

So next I have to ask you about your dream job. Are you living it now or do you have something else in mind?

Chris: Well hopefully I’m about to start my dream job. I leave my day job actually in two days. I’m going to start working for myself. The plan is to work from the road as long as I don’t work too much from the road because I have a house and a mortgage. The plan is to have the flexibility to work from anywhere and connect with travel bloggers so I am hoping that is my dream job.

Taylor: Well congrats on finally taking traveling to the next level .You can travel more and at your own convenience.

I would like to ask, what exactly is your favorite city to photograph. I know anything can be good to photograph but there is certain cities that have that extra element of architecture or nature that is better, so what would that be?

Chris: Well Venice is probably one of my favorites but since most people have heard of that, I am going to go with Istanbul, because fewer people go there and I am ah ugh history buff and I lope walking the walls of Istanbul that have stood through the test of time. That was pretty amazing along with seeing the ancient monuments and colors of the Spice Market.

Taylor: Yeah Istanbul and Istanbul is a city that man wouldn’t think to visit and it is a true hidden gym form what I have heard.

So what exactly is your favorite camera?

Chris: Probably what ever camera I’ve got right now. I’m just using an old Cannon T1i which is an SLR camera. There are actually three generations newer in that line. I don’t like to carry a camera that..especially somewhere like Tanzania where your camera can be more than a years wages to someone there. But I am a fan of the Canon family of cameras and I love to use a lens that is adaptable to I can zoom in on the details of that person over there or that piece of the building in the distance.

Taylor: Wow, a years wages, that’s hard to even imagine but year I can definitely see, even in the bad parts of New York, Atlanta, anywhere, if people see a nice camera they are not afraid to come up to you and homeless people will ask where you need to get and as soon they finish trying to help you they will start asking for money. I know it’s not a good thing. But that’s just pine of the downsides of having a nice camera.

But speaking of photography, do you have any photography tips the thou would like to share?

Chris: Are you looking for any specific types of photography tips?

Taylor: No, just photography tips in general.

Chris: Okay, I mean the biggest tip, I have a surefire tip to make everyone think you are twice as good of a photographer as you are – delete half of your pictures before you show them to anyone. And I think that seriously, the best part of being a good photographer is trying out different shots – up high, down low, different settings, and then throwing away the ones that didn’t work. That will have people think you are twice as good of a photographer if you just do some editing, cropping, it doesn’t have to be anything fancy. And for those developing a photographers eye, which I am still trying to do (I am getting better!), but there’s still people better than me. That’s the one thing I love about taking digital, there is no cost to taking a photo, you ca delete it if you do not like it, it just tales up space on your card. So carry a lot of cards, carry enough battery life to last you all day and go with people who are patient enough to wait while you take some pictures. But try different angles, try different framing, different things the thou are taking a picture of. One thing I like is, especially if you are doing landscape photography andy I tend to like landscape photography, think like a movie director. You have a long shot that establishes the scene and you have the close up shot so just think when you look at a scene… so let’s say you’re looking at the Taj Mahal, now what can you zoom in on? For instance, to get different levels of interest. So sometimes you want shots that are more zoomed in and a lot of times framing jus ta piece of the picture can be a lot more interesting than when you are trying to get everything in. I think a lot of beginner photographers are trying to shoot the entire building or the entire landscape, ask it looses something interesting by niot getting those other shots.

Taylor: So yeah, just spending that extra five seconds and really thinking about what is the best feature of this entire building… maybe it’s a sculpture out front or a certain aspect of the landscape… and that’s why it’s good to get a camera that can really zoom in and get exactly what you like. The last thing you want is to have to cary around a big backpack of lenses everywhere you go. Photography is fun but it’s not that fun! Especially when you’ve got your cell phone right there in your pocket. For most people, there’s just no reason to spend over $500 or even $1,000 on a camera unless you are doing video editing or taking professional photography. Unless it is your favorite hobby and you can afford to then by all means do.

But I am planning at rip to Europe this December and I just got the Canon EOS 6D and it wasn’t cheap but I got it mainly for my video editing but I do not want to look like a target so do you have any tips with that?

Chris: The one thing to do is to make sure the thou are not carrying a case that is obviously a camera bag or you know just not putting the name of the Camera on the bag, and really just begin conscious of where your camera is. I usually have one hand on my camera at all times.The weight of the camera can make a big difference, especially at the end of the day.

And I take a lot of iPhone pictures, I like always having that in my pocket so of course the two really have their advantages. So just take advantage of the different ones. With the full size chip or scanner at the back you tend to be able to shoot at low light more. So that’s an advantage when you get to the full size camera, that’s the full size CCD.

Taylor: Yeah and I noticed on some of the newer cameras they have the WiFi capabilities where you evan send the images straight to your phone, tablet, or computer but it seems like a pain to have to do. You have to switch your WiFi networks and different things so I think there is some improvements to be made in that area.

Chris: Yeah and there’s also the EyeFi that you can get that will turn any camera into a WiFi enabled camera after you put this special smart card in. So some photographers will use that to. Some photographers, where they have their camera’s set to WiFi, there shots will automatically go to Facebook and some have it where their shots wil automatically go to an iPad, for instance, for showing your photos off to someone else or for getting a huge view finder so you can tell more about the details of your shot.

The thing about travel photographers is that if you miss the shot, the cost of going back to that city or back to that country to get that picture is… one of the reasons you want to take that extra picture is because somebody is going to be standing in that picture, something is going to be out of focus, in one of the photos that you didn’t notice, so one of the reasons you wan to take more photos is because the opportunity cost of missing that shot is higher.

Taylor: Right, right. Well do you have any tips for first time Europe visitors?

Chris: Go!

Taylor: Haha it amazes me that over 50% of American’s do not have a passport. Do you know if that is correct?

Chris: Right. It depends on the region. I live in a region where more people are immigrants do have passports os it is about that number. Even those that do, not everyone travels.

And of course there is the expense of Europe, not everyone can afford to go there. The cost of a nice hotel and all of those sorts of things can be more expensive. I love Europe though as a travel destination – because it’s easy is one of the main things. You’re talking about a place that we have so much in common with from both the language point of view as well as the culture of so many of the European countries.

You know start in London where they speak the same language and then if you like London, go onto Paris. If you like Paris, go on to Berlin. If you are a wine lover then go somewhere in France. You know there’s so many different places to go. Most people can enjoy a trip to Italy. If you like pizza and pasta then what’s not to love. Throw in pizza, pasta, wonderful architecture, and expressive people and beautify landscapes and how could you go wrong. In terms of trips, don’t do too much. Our worst trip to Europe was when we did Spain in 10 days – we saw madrid, Tolaos, Selia, Los Paulos Blancos, Granada, Barcelona, LaSeia, and Banila and that is too much. You are really pushing yourself to hard. Assume you are going to go back, spend at least two nights in each place. Stop, spend some time at sidewalk cafes, do more of the European pace and you will probably enjoy yourself a lot more. You’ll see a lot less but you’ll enjoy yourself more.

Taylor: I agree its is such a shame that people feel the need to do that and just ruin their trip and rush, rush get up early in the morning and get three or five hours of sleep and just ruin their whole vacation. And especially with theme park trips, people have to get there right when they open and leave right when they close, even if it is at midnight. People will just way overdo themselves and a lot of times there will be one person in the party at least who will be ready to leave and everyone else won’t but it’s just not fun.

And that’s really something to think about with my Europe trip because a lot of the place we are going are just for one night. Geneva, Switzerland is a smaller city and we were just thinking one night for Madrid, which of course is in Spain, and Lisbon, Portugal, so three places right now, we are planning on just staying for one night. And so it’s definitely something to look back over. And the bigger cities like London and Paris are going to be three or four nights and so… but you just don’t want to be rushed and miserable so I’ll definitely have to look into changing that. But speaking of beiugn limited on time, what exactly is it that you would do if you had an unlimited travel budget for just one week and you could go anywhere you anted and do what ever you wanted to do. If I had just the week, I would get on a plane and go someplace. An unlimited budget, probably means I’d go to Africa, just an amazing place. Or maybe India, I’d go some place that is expensive to fly to if I’ve only got a week. And maybe I’d go to South Africa because I haven’t been there yet. Or maybe I’d fly to Mumbai or Delhi in India. With Delhi, that”s obviously going to be jumping more int othe depend if you haven’t traveled before but I’d see something with colorful pictures because I’m someone who likes to travel for the visuals. I’m a travel photographer, well not a professional photographer, but some place like India or Africa that has amazing museums, or architecture or amazing people, that’s what I would do.


Pictured above is an image of Chris volunteering in Tanzania, Africa (Courtesy of Chris).


Taylor: Right… so somewhere completely different. So where do you plan on visiting next?

Chris: Well not counting a trip to Southern California, my next trip is Ireland. I’m going for a travel conference. The TDEX Conference exchange conference is in Dublin and I’m dragging my whole family along, my wife andm y two kids and one boyfriend and three friends and we are going to go tour around Ireland and looking forward to that. Haven’t been to Ireland yet.

Taylor: Alright well thanks a lot Chris.

Chris: You’re welcome.

Taylor:  That concludes today’s interview, I do hope you enjoyed it. You can learn more about Chris at If there is anyone else you would like to see interviewed, don’t hesitate to use the contact form on this site or tweet at me @uscitytraveler.


Taylor Goldblatt

After years of research, travel, and dreams, I have created this website for people like you who want to experience the things that only America can offer. My passion is to explore and share America's greatest destinations and attractions. Follow me on Twitter @USCityTraveler for additional travel tips and ideas.

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