Until recently, Ben Groundwater spent much of his time interviewing bikini models for FHM. But over the last couple of years he’s also developed a growing fan base as the man behind the Sydney Morning Herald’s The Backpacker blog. He’s just travelled the world, staying only with readers of his blog, and written a book about it. So we gave him a call…
Hey Ben. So what was the trip about?
I just put the call out on the blog, saying if you do live overseas and you’d let me come and stay, send me an email. I ended up getting about 400 replies.
Was that more than you expected?
Absolutely. I really wanted to get to every continent, except Antartica, so I was just praying I’d get enough to do that. It far exceeded my expectations. People were a lot nicer than I gave them credit for.
Anywhere you really wanted?
The Netherlands. I just absolutely love it over there, so as soon as I got an invitation with Amsterdam in the title I was like, “yep, lock that one in”. I’m not sure what it is about the place. I used to live in the south of the country for a little while and I’ve still got friends there. Plus, there were some invitations I was just never going to turn down, likethe guy who ran an eco resort in Brazil.
Why always stay with ex-pats?
I was just really interested in how people live. You know, everyone teaching English is a big thing, but there’s so many other paths that you can take. Like my favourite was these guys in Ethiopia who I assumed would be aid workers, but they turned out to be uranium explorers.
You’re surprisingly honest about some of your hosts…
I did struggle with it a little bit, thinking should I be writing this. People invited me into their homes and everything. In the end I erred on the side of honesty, just telling people how it was. Hopefully that doesn’t backfire with the people who are now going to go and read it.
Between FHM and travel writing, many people might say you’ve got it made?
It sounds awesome, and it is mostly, but there’s sort of downsides to it as well. You know, this trip I just did was super tiring after a while, just staying on peoples’ couches for four months. You always have to be on your best behaviour. It certainly wasn’t a relaxing way to travel.
You’re an Aussie football fan with English family. How do you feel about the prospects of England v Australia in the World Cup?
I’ve been thinking about this for a long time actually. When I was a kid I used to support England because Australia didn’t really have a team and I followedthe Premier League. But when Australia started coming good I switched. Now it kind of feels a bit weird to go for England, but I suppose I will if and when Australia gets knocked out.
Who’s your team?
I support Blackburn Rovers for no good reason other than I always liked Alan Shearer when I was a kid, so when he moved from Southampton to Blackburn I thought Blackburn will be my team. And then a whole lot of Australians played for them so that made it easier as well.
You didn’t switch to Newcastle then?
Ha, no. I’d already got a jersey.
You get masses of comments on your blog, not always positive. How do you take that?
Yeah, sometimes you get a comment saying, “great blog, well done,” and it gives you a lift. Other times people are like, “mate, you’re a wanker”. It’s bizarre, people can be pretty mean onthe internet. Ultimately the good bits outweigh the bad bits. It’s nice to be able to make contact with people like I did, which you wouldn’t get with a normal newspaper column.
Do you ever hold yourself back from replying?
Yeah a little bit. If I decide I’ve got a good comeback then I’ll put it on there. It’s bizarre how confrontational it is, for something about travel. Travel is something everyone likes and does because they enjoy it. You’d think It should be everyone being nice.
Five Ways to Carry a Goat, published by UQP, is out now. Check out The Backpacker at blogs.smh.com.au/travel