World traveler Clown Tom Bolton
Adventure stories & photos
Tom Bolton’s world travels
Adventure stories & photos
Destinations include Asia, Africa, Europe, North America, Central America, South America, Australia, New Zealand & Papua New Guinea. Check out my newest pages: Ethiopia and Ethiopia-2 added on 26. Feb. 2018. In July 2018 I added more photos of Venice to my Southern Europe page from my latest trip.
A little about myself and how I became an international traveling performer. I’m a professional clown and juggler living in Stuttgart, Germany. I grew up mostly in Dayton, Ohio but was born in 1960 in in San Juan, Puerto Rico. My father was doing his military service at Fort Brooke and the Rodriguez U.S. Army hospital, where my father was a doctor, was built by the Spanish in colonial times. Last I heard, this space is now used as an art school, which is kind of symbolic karma-wise. My paternal grandparents were my initial inspiration to see the world. They were freshly married in 1926 and rather than put their money into the stock market they opted to make their first trip around the world. They lived a number of years in Spain, where my father was born, eventually settling in Mexico City for 40 years. They were often traveling in exotic lands starting back before jet planes and TV were even invented none-the-less Lonely Planet guides.
Studied before becoming a world traveler
Growing up as one of 10 kids, we didn’t manage to travel a lot but made trips to Chicago, the Baltimore/Washington area, eastern Canada, through the south to the gulf coast of Alabama and a trip to California via New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado. At 15 I went alone to Switzerland for a month to see relatives. I studied Finance at the University of Dayton from 1978 to 1982 where I took every opportunity to travel around the States and Eastern Canada mostly by hitchhiking. In 1983 I went to Europe which has been my home ever since. I now live from paying gigs but at first I made my way just making comedy-juggling shows on the street. I would spend the winter months in warm places like Asia, Latin America, Morocco, Hawaii, Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea. I often make free little shows for the people in third world countries during my travels. This often opened the door to peoples’ hospitality and interest, creating the opportunity to photograph them without it just being an intrusion.
Photo site is a work of passion
I’m no web designer and this whole project grew out of a simple 2-page overview of my travels. Unfortunately, I don’t find the time and money to travel as often as I used to, so most of my experiences are from the 1980’s and 1990’s. I have presented many of my favorite photos, others are not great shots but are relevant to the text. Sometimes I don’t remember all the details, so if you find errors or see a photo falsely attributed, just let me know! Most of the photos were scanned from my prints and slides. I choose a rather small format and low quality when I started this site (2007) to lessen the chance of people stealing the photos and so that the pages would load quickly. In the meantime, most everyone has DSL connections and any updates have been in a slightly larger format. The site has been redesigned in WordPress in 2017. I have reformatted most of the original photos but doubt I will ever find the time to do them all. Worse, some of the prints and negatives have gone missing so that I cannot redo them. In the meantime, I have continued to add pages and content based on further travels. As of mid-2018 the site has around 4000 photos. The next intended phase will be to add details from the diaries I kept on most of my third world travels. Until now I have only consulted them for basic facts and intineraries. Thus some pages are visual overviews without much description.
Enjoy and recommend this site
So, enjoy my site and I hope it might make people realize that despite occasional conflicts of culture, the diversity of mankind is fascinating. Also that we have a nice world and it’s the only one we have so let’s take care of it. And need I mention that both the photos and text on this site are copyrighted. For good charitable causes I might give permission to use material for free but ASK first. For a commercial purpose we would have to negotiate a deal and it would have to be for something I don’t object to! Money is NOT the most important thing in the world to me but I have been struggling lately to keep food on the table and to continue my travels and support of various third-world circus projects. So if anything on this site inspires you, don’t feel reluctant to make a donation. Better yet, check out my clown site and hire me for your next event. I’m not a registered charity but can use all the support I can get. And the best help that more people might find and enjoy this site is to set a link to it and/or give it a recommendation through Google+.
Travel tips from my years of experience - Awareness of ones surroundings
One of the biggest issues people have when considering travel in third world countries is safety. When one is the only obvious white westerner it can be difficult to go unnoticed. Not that most people are criminally minded even in situations of poverty but as they say “shit happens”. The first thing is awareness of ones surroundings. One can often see trouble coming if looking for it. Wandering around strange surroundings without noticing who and what is around is dangerous, especially after dark. It’s best to keep your eyes open and avoid areas that seem questionable. If approached to buy drugs or other illicit things, just ignore the people and keep walking. But chatting with market sellers or shop owners will often pay off in getting suggestions of where to avoid. At least in much of Latin America I often experienced this.
Be incognito when traveling
The other side of this is to try not to be noticed. A predator looks for the weakest victims. Wandering around, looking lost and like you have valuables is an invitation for trouble. Best to walk with purpose even if you don’t really know where you are at. Rather than looking at maps in public, try to be discrete or go into a shop and ask a local without advertising the situation to the whole neighborhood. And of course wearing gold jewelry, an expensive watch or having a fancy camera strung around your neck is like painting a target on your back.
This is also the downside of fancy travel clothing and accessories. If one is on the way to climb Everest or some similar activity where special equipment is needed then fine. But strolling in a city decked out is such gear makes one stick out as a stranger with money. There are of course advantages of high tech clothing. It is often light weight, compact and dries quickly. Dressing down too much can also be a mistake. If one is dirty and in rags then people will assume you are a drug addict or something. I suggest people find a middle ground. Mix and match or drop the high tech clothing while in big cities.
Rice sack as backpack cover
I still find it better to use a backpack rather than a suitcase of any kind for third world travel. Dust covers have become popular to protect them. They also add a level of security that one cannot see how fancy a pack is or easily zip open a pocket. But a cheaper alternative is a used rice sack. They are often in a standard 100 kilo size and one can cut wholes for the pack straps to fit though. Just melt the cut edges with a lighter so they don’t unravel. I’ve often had to do long bus trips and my pack was on the floor or on a baggage rack. When it looks like any other local sack then it is less of a target for theft. One can usually find them for free or next to nothing in markets as they are commonly used to package rice, beans, lentils etc. More often than not they are otherwise thrown away when empty. For extra protection against bag slashers, one can put a layer of chicken wire underneath. I’ve never bothered as it makes it more difficult to remove and access the pack.
Accidents and vehicle maintenance
Another safety issue is accidents. Many third world countries have little regulation or don’t enforce what they have when it comes to traffic laws or vehicle maintenance. Traffic lights or signs are often ignored if they exist at all. Cars, buses and boats are often in terrible shape with bald tires, faulty brakes etc. And road conditions in rural areas are often bad. Trains tend to be less at risk and one should also consider paying more for a better condition express bus if available. Such buses exist in many countries on major routes. They also save time and discomfort. When on a tight budget one might think; “oh, that cost 3 times as much.” But paying 6 dollars instead of 2 to get somewhere in one piece is usually worth it.
Travel light - buy extra cloths locally
This is often repeated but few manage it well. Keep your wardrobe basic and practical. Better multiple layers of thinner cloths than thick sweaters or jackets. If one is going on a trip for 3 or more weeks, one does NOT have to have enough cloths for the whole trip. Bring the essentials and buy that extra t-shirt or sweater locally. And if you no longer need to carry something, give it away. Face that one is going to probably have to wash cloths along the way. Take advantage of possibilities to wash a few items at a time rather than wait until you have nothing left to wear. I often put a t-shirt and a couple pairs of underwear on the floor of the shower so as not to take up a lot of extra water.
The biggest problem is usually drying cloths. Difficult if you have to wash secretly and then have no place to hang them up. And nothing is worse than having to pack wet cloths into your pack especially when you are constantly changing cities. Probably the best high tech product for traveling is a microfiber towel. A small one will do and can be wrung out nearly to the point of being dry. For drying purposes, nothing larger than a hand towel is needed because one wrings it out and finishes drying. My first one was ridiculously expensive but in the mean time they’ve become much cheaper.
What to take along?
So what should one carry? This depends a lot on the type of travel one does
If one is mostly trekking as opposed to seeing cities it makes a difference. I still like to use a backpack. Anything on wheels makes things easier as long as one has smooth surfaces where they can roll. Trails, unpaved streets or even cobblestones in European cities will destroy luggage pretty quickly. Yet if I go for just a few days to a single destination then a small suitcase of course comes in question.
I always have a small quality flashlight like a Maglite with me. Even in cities there are power outages, unlit streets or one needs to find one’ room at night.
A Swiss knife is still almost essential for longer travels.
In most 3rd world countries it is no longer a problem to find reliable drinking water – but a scourge of pollution from throw away bottle. I bought a Safestraw in 2018, which is a water bottle with attached straw that filters the water as you drink. The advantage is that one avoids chemicals and filters out additional impurities. On the other hand it is not super cheap and takes space. Thus I would still take along a small amount of water purification tablets as an emergency alternative on some trips.
Another consideration is a mosquito net and/or mosquito repellent. Again, best to research the conditions of the country and the seasonality of the problem. Tropical regions that are humid year round can be hell without some sort of protection. If one is staying in upper class accommodation then one can expect mosquito nets being provided in problem areas in cheaper places not.
I own a good quality net made to hang over a bed and always have some thin nylon rope but short of driving your own nails into the walls, there are not always places to attach it to. The main disadvantage is that while compact it still takes the space of a couple pairs of full length pants. I have another net that is like a small half tent. It is compacter than a normal net but one still needs to cover the feet with a sarong or something the mosquitos hopefully can’t bit through. The problem with this product is that the net is so fine that it becomes stifling in hot weather.
Malaria prophylactics; yes or no? Again, such a decision is very much dependent on your trip. Malaria is still a major risk in some tropical regions, especially the newer resistant strains. And no, eating lots of papaya or other home remedies will not cure it. But the first line of defense is always physical protection. Malaria carrying mosquitos are mostly active from dusk to dawn. Time to wear long pants and tops, with material sturdy enough that the insects can’t bite right through it. Not fun if it’s hot but necessary. I met people in PNG that dressed accordingly and managed to live years without getting malaria without use of chemicals or prophylactics. In the same place, others didn’t cover up in the evenings and came down with malaria within weeks.
Money. I used to carry most of my money in traveler’s checks but have given up on them. Too few places accept them anymore and now ATMs are found in virtually all countries. One needs a major credit or debit card to use machines but one should still have a supply of cash. It can be that machines don’t accept all cards or that one doesn’t return your card. I get fresh US dollars in large denominations and hide them in various places. One should have a money belt but still have a hidden reserve elsewhere. In more risky countries I have even folded up a bill or two and sewn them into the seam of my clothing.
Copy of passport, credit cards, travel insurance number, important addresses. I used to make multiple copies of such important documents and distribute them in various places in my belongings. Now days I make fewer copies but have such things as attachments to emails so they can be called up anywhere one has internet. In a real emergency it will save a lot of trouble. I also take an USB stick with me with copies of important documents. I have one that has a safelock software so nobody can see the documents without using password. This is important in case of loss or theft.
Micro-fabric towel. Many of the low budgets places I’ve stayed don’t have towels. Normal towels take up too much space and take too long to dry. Nothing worse than having to pack wet things into your luggage. So it is worth buying a modern micro-fabric one from any outdoor supply shop. I take a small to medium sized one. They can be wrung out so well that a large one is not necessary. Of all of the cool stuff one will find for hiking, this is the one I’ve really used on a regular basis.
Footwear. I often traveled with a decent pair of running shoes and then some sort of flip-fops for beaches and extreme warm weather. For many trips this was sufficient. The problem was often when I had opportunities to hike where one needed a more protective hiking boot. Most traditional high top hiking boots are simply too heavy and take up too much space. Thankfully over the years new materials have been developed to offer robust but much lighter boots. But even so, my experience was that such boots were impractical in hot, humid weather. But I put off on buying low cut hiking shoes because I figured they were hardly better than running shoes. With hindsight this was a mistake.
Despite having 4 or 5 pairs of high top boots of various qualities I finally got some low cut trekking shoes that are top of the line. Luckily, there is now a Decathlon sporting goods store in my area that offers quality products for considerably cheaper than the competition. Vibram soles are still the standard for having the best grip in wet conditions. I’ve had a number of experiences with running shoes or even hiking boots that went from acceptable to a struggle because of rain or snow. And the stiffness of my low cut trekking shoes adds a lot of protection without being more uncomfortable.
For my second footwear I have also gone for more protection by using sports sandals or crocs. Both breathe well in warm weather. I‘ve had a number of times where I was on a beach with flip-flops where there were nails or glass – or ended up going off on an adjacent jungle path where I encountered long thorns. All situations where flip-flops were next to useless. Crocs are not as protective as good sports-sandals but more so than flip-flops and very comfortable.
Travel Guides - Lonely Planet, Bradt, Footprint
Lonely Planet guides are still fairly popular among backpackers. And yes, they are better than having nothing. But I have been increasingly disappointed with them over the years. As they gained popularity they tried to widen their appeal from shoe-string travelers to more mainstream tourists. The problem is that they have done this at the cost of searching out the cheap options for sleeping and eating. I don’t care how quaint a place is; 100 dollars for a night blows my budget. Another problem that is not really their fault is what I call the LP effect. A place gets a good recommendation and suddenly it is overly popular that one has no chance to get a room without long term reservations. Such places often then raise their prices and not uncommonly let their standards slide. They know that a new edition only comes out every 5 years or so, so they milk the recommendation for what they can get. And unless the edition you have is printed in the last couple of years then it is likely out of date.
In the past I used the South American Handbook and the Central American Handbook by Footprint publishers. These were concise guides with more in-depth information about cheap travel. The company now has a large range of travel guides to individual countries or smaller grouping. The handbook guides managed to cover so much information by using small type and few graphics but were very recommendable. Some of their individual country guides advertise that they are slim enough to fit in a pocket.
As of this writing I am planning a trip to Ethiopia. Footprint has no guide there but I found an excellent one by Bradt. I had already bought the Lonely Planet after seeing that it was a brand new edition. Yet reading through I got little feel for the country as it is written like an advertisement trying to push things rather than give an honest review. It is also clearly slanted to travelers with a larger budget and not backpackers. The Bradt guide is much better written. It is much more informative but also thicker and a larger format than the LP. If I feel it is too much to carry, I plan to cut out sections that I don’t need. Maybe this is one of Bradt’s best guides and one of LP’s weaker ones but it definitely gets the better review from me.
So, those were just a few tales from my many travels over the last thirty and something years. I hope you've enjoyed another side of a traveling clown! If you want, write me an email or better yet, book my show or set a link to this website or just state me as the beneficiary of your will!
To book or see more information about Tom's clown show and entertainment, visit one or both of his clown websites: