Meet Rob Dyer who is from England and has been traveling since he was a young teenager. The youngest of three children, Rob mainly travelled with his parents, as his siblings are 10 and 9 years older than him. As a blogger, Rob created his blog, TheRealJapan.com, in 2015 as a resource for those who want to discover and explore Japan beyond the clichés, and to share his passion for travelling in the country. Rob has been exploring Japan for almost twenty years, and yet he says he still feels like he has only seen the tip of the iceberg of that amazing country.
He has also travelled extensively throughout Europe, as well as the Middle East, including less well-trodden countries where he has experienced some of his most memorable adventures, in places like Bosnia and Herzegovina, Lithuania, Montenegro, Jordan and Syria. His wife is Japanese and the two were married in a traditional Shinto ceremony at a shrine in Kobe, Japan. Together, they travel the world.
1. When did you fall in love with traveling?
Aside from a school day trip to France, my first real time travelling abroad was going to Greece for a two week holiday with my then girlfriend in 1989 – I was just into my 20s. We flew into Athens, caught a bus to the coast and then transferred to a tiny island called Poros. We used Poros as our base but did a lot of island hopping. It was then that I guess I truly fell in love with travelling (and Greece – which remains a firm favourite).
2 What’s your travel style?
Comfortable – without breaking the bank – whilst avoiding the well-trodden tourist routes. I had a relatively modest upbringing where money wasn’t in plentiful supply, so I learned at an early age the importance of money and making the most of it.
For example, aside from getting a free upgrade to the upper deck on a 747 to Japan one time (we just asked if there were seats available when checking in and if we could get a free upgrade – and they said yes!), I’ve not yet travelled in First Class when flying, but do have access to benefits like airport lounges that make flying in particular more civilised.
I travel with my wife and we have no children. So we maybe have more disposable income than those with children, meaning we can frequently treat ourselves.
I’ve stayed in a luxurious 5 star hotel and a hostel during the same trip – it’s just whatever suits the circumstances at the time and the experience we’re after. We also had an unforgettable trip to Jordan and Syria in 2009 (just before the war started in Syria) where we constantly moved around, and stayed in a traditional nomadic Bedouin camp in the middle of the Wadi Rum desert in Jordan.
Getting up early to sit on top of the rocks to watch the sunrise didn’t cost a penny and is one of my most treasured travel memories.
3. How often do you travel?
As much as possible – which at the moment means several times a year. They’ll typically be two or three long haul trips mostly to Japan (my second home) and a number of smaller short breaks – frequently in Europe. Having a home in the south of England is the perfect base to travel to Europe – either by train or flying. That makes taking short breaks and long weekend trips very easy.
4. Why did you start travel blogging?
Well, because we’ve been exploring Japan for almost twenty years, anyone who knew us who was interested in going to Japan, or knew anyone who was going, they would always get in touch with us asking for travel tips as Japan is often seen as a bit daunting or at least challenging, particularly for first-timers.
I’ve always been a writer and a publisher, so turning my hand to a travel blog about Japan seemed the logical step.
5. How do you budget for traveling?
With any travel I always start from thinking about what type of experiences (and therefore memories) do I want to create and come away with and then begin a plan of places to visit and things to do – and only then look at the cost. Down the years I’ve discovered that two different people approaching essentially the same trip can come up with two very difference budgets to achieve largely the same things.
I have always travelled independently. Meaning booking directly with airlines, accommodation, restaurants, etc. rather than relying on package tours. They are convenient, but you’ll always pay a premium for that convenience and you’ll be taken to the same places that everyone else goes to – which isn’t for me. If you do it yourself, you can make huge savings. It’s easier now to do than it has ever been with so many businesses being online.
6. What is your least favorite destination? Why?
Hmm, not easy to answer this one… My least-favourite is likely to be somewhere I haven’t bothered to go to yet!
7. Are you a full-time blogger?
I am as of a few weeks ago. I’m looking forward to spending a lot more time in Japan and anywhere else that takes our fancy. Greece is likely to be back on the list for next year, and I want to return to Switzerland before too long – the landscapes there are stunningly beautiful.
8. What’s your favorite city you have visited?
Oh, that’s a tough one to answer! It’s hard to single one out, but I’ve always adored Prague in the Czech Republic. I immediately fell in love with it the first time I went there in the mid-90s with a bunch of mates, and knew I’d return more than once. My wife and I were last there in 2014 and it felt very different, mainly due to being more extensively developed for tourism. It had taken the wonder out of it a little for me, but it still has an irresistible charm about it and some magical, hidden oases.
9. What’s one thing you always travel with?
A notebook and pen. I’ve always been a writer and have been taking notes of my travels since I was school age. I don’t always use them, but I find it rewarding to take time to pause when travelling to make notes of my thoughts and to record how I felt about something I’ve experienced. It’s a way of recording the ‘inner experience’ I was feeling at that moment – something that photos or videos cannot capture.
10. What have you learned from traveling?
A lot. This world in which we live is a glorious one and far more so than you’d imagine if you restrict yourself to the mainstream media – where everything seems to be perpetually going to hell! There’s so much beauty and wonder in the world – I could never get enough of it, no matter how much I travelled.
We are a global village and that travel and experiencing other cultures is the single best way for us all to get on and to avoid conflict. We’re all on one world, under one sky. It’s easy to lose sight of that. Travelling reminds you that, wherever you are in the world, most people are decent, friendly and helpful.
11. Where are you off to next?
Antwerp in Belgium – on one of our short breaks. I’ve been to Belgium several times as it is so easy and quick to get to from England and it has a lot of towns and cities worth exploring.
12. Has any place you visited surprised you or been different from what you expected?
Japan constantly surprises me and even though I’d read about it extensively before I ever went, once I got there I was amazed by how much of the country is unspoilt countryside and how sparsely-populated those areas are. Japan is made up of more than 6,800 islands and over 70% of the country is forest-covered mountains.
Most people wouldn’t have that impression of Japan because the media (lazily) focus on the big cities and densely-populated metropolises like Tokyo. Whereas, when you look at the detail, most of the country’s 126 million people are living on just a quarter of the land mass. That leaves most of the 146,000 square miles of Japan where very few people live, large parts of which are unexplored by most people – especially foreign tourists.
13. Are you team solo travel or team group travel?
Neither – I’m team partner travel! Whilst I do like to travel on my own it’s usually only ever for a few days at a time. I did holiday in groups a little as a teenager, but I prefer to have the maximum flexibility that comes either from travelling with a partner who shares the same outlook and approach as I do, or on my own where I can spend entire days wandering in an area I don’t know with no plan whatsoever and just leave things to chance. That allows serendipity to occur more often.
14. Do you have any funny or interesting travel stories?
Using a black market taxi to cross the border from Syria into Jordan in 2008 was a hairy experience. My wife and I had to share the taxi with two other men travelling independently of each other (so the driver could maximise his profit). As we approached the border, the driver pulled up, and then began to systematically hide cigarettes and other contraband in various places around the car.
I was really nervous as I knew there were armed border guards checking vehicles entering Jordan. Sure enough, we got stopped as soon as we crossed over the border. Were all told to step out the vehicle by the soldiers so they could check it for any smuggled items. Despite opening up the hood and the trunk and rummaging around inside they, thankfully, didn’t find any of the illegal goods.
We breathed a massive sigh of relief that we weren’t incarcerated for smuggling on the Syrian border! The rest of the trip was fantastic though.
15. What would you say to someone who wants to start their own travel blog?
Think about why you really want to blog about travel before you do it. There are thousands, possibly millions, of travel blogs – most of which stop within a few years or even months of starting. One idea I’d suggest is to try it out on a modest scale before launching a full blog.
I’m also the primary writer and publisher of an electronic/alternative music review blog (dsoaudio.com) which I started in 1999, so knew I could consistently create engaging content for many years and have the staying power. Nevertheless, before I started The Real Japan, I blogged on Blogger for about ten months before deciding a Japan travel blog was right for me to launch. I learned a lot from doing that and so, when I launched The Real Japan, it benefited from the trial and error of my Blogger page.
All photos are copyright © Rob Dyer/TheRealJapan and may not be reproduced without permission.
Explore Japan off the beaten track with Rob over at TheRealJapan.com and via his Real Japan YouTube channel. You can also follow him on Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Be sure to subscribe to get Rob’s amazing guide to Japan that has a lot of great information! Don’t forget to comment below and contact me if you’d like to be the next Wednesday Wanderer!