Phil Paoletta is a guy after our own hearts, simply because he willingly chose to go to West Africa. If you’ve been keeping up with our blog, you know that we spent 3 months in the region back in ’09. It’s an amazing place, and if you read Phil’s awesomely named blog, Phil in the Blank, you’ll get a sense of what it’s like. Don’t let his “loose stool count” scare you away. Seriously. Instead, focus on his love for drawing camels, his desire to eat more Yassa, and his willingness to suffer through long bus rides. We feel your pain, Phil. Really, we do.
By now you’re probably figuring out how this works: I asked Phil a bunch of questions. His answers were insightful, just like his blog.
Us: Tell us about your trip. Where are you going?
I am currently in Morocco, 5 months into a trip of indefinite length. I bought a one-way ticket to Accra, Ghana and arrived there on the 2nd of July. I spent two months in Ghana, a month in Cote D’Ivoire, and a bit more than a month in Mali. I had studied abroad in Ghana five years ago and I missed it dearly. I also knew that I wanted to explore more of West Africa, mainly because some of the friendliest people on Earth live here and there is some seriously powerful music.
Us: What motivated you to go on your trip?
I had been teaching middle school in Washington, DC before my trip. Urban education is a difficult field and as much as I loved my kids and the craft of teaching, it was very emotionally and physically draining. I needed a break longer than summer vacation. I saved money for three years and then bought a plane ticket.
Us: What have you learned about yourself
I took this trip on my own and I believe that solo travel affords many opportunities to learn about oneself. For one thing, I now know what kind of traveler I am, and that in turn has allowed me to get a little more specific with what I want out of life. For example, I learned that I am not an adrenalin junkie or an adventure traveler. I don’t really care for climbing 6,000m mountains, but I do love making new friends, discovering new music, and learning new languages. I’ve also learned, on a seriously uncomfortable minibus ride, that I can control my attitude and there is something unique to be discovered in every experience.
Us: How did you determine your budget for your trip?
My budget for this trip has been fixed as it is solely the product of savings and I haven’t been working on the road. That said, I’m not very consistent with how I spend it. In Cote D’Ivoire I spent $140 total in a month’s time. I did not pay for a single night of lodging while there (I was couchsurfing with some incredible hosts) and paid very little for food, drinks, and transportation. In Mali, I spent almost $1800 in a month and a half, mostly because I did not couchsurf very much and I took a ten day trip that involved going to Timbuktu and back. What I do know is this: if I need to, I can live VERY cheaply and I can typically do so without sacrificing on the experience.
Us: Any advice for other travelers?
In terms of budget, I would suggest adding Couchsurfing to your trip when possible. There is the obvious fact that it provides free lodging, but it also provides new friendships and a unique window into the place you are visiting. And on another financial note, your hosts can probably show you the cheapest (and most delicious) places to eat and some of the more reasonable entertainment options. My trip would not have been the same without it.
A few of our favorite posts on Phil’s blog include 33 Hours: Abidjan to Bamako Overland Through Rebel Controlled Northern Cote D’Ivoire and How I spent $140 dollars for the Month of September. You can read more about Phil at Phil in the Blank, or follow him on Twitter (@philinthe_) or Phil in the Blank on Facebook.
Have fun on the rest of your trip, Phil. We’re jealous, to say the least!