For Chris German, it’s all about stepping outside his comfort zone.
German, a Warren County Public Schools (WCPS) systems technician, has racked up a passport full of entry and exit stamps while traveling to nearly two dozen countries, and six of the Seven Wonders of the World. He’s planning on visiting the remaining one, Christ the Redeemer, in Rio de Janeiro, at some point.
Chris had planned to visit the last site on a layover there while en route to Antarctica, but scheduling issues forced him to scrap the trip.
With WCPS for about eight years, German has also had seasonal jobs with Front Royal Outdoors and Mountain Trails for the last six years. This summer, however, German is planning for a little downtime. Perhaps his passport will have a few more stamps by summer’s end.
Chris, who only traveled domestically when growing up, said he got the travel bug after hearing a relative talk about his own travels, which included backpacking across Europe using the extensive train system. “His adventures and mishaps during his travels sparked something within me,” German said.
“I got curious about other places and wanted to see them for myself instead of watching it on the Discovery Channel or reading a book about it.”
German and a friend soon bought one-way plane tickets to Europe and then ”backpacked around with no plan whatsoever for three weeks; I’ve been traveling the world ever since.”
He says that one of the things that bring this world-traveler joy is getting lost in local culture. He was greatly influenced by the late American celebrity chef and author Anthony Bourdain, who was world-famous for his travel television show, Parts Unknown, which focused on the exploration of international culture, cuisine, and the human condition.
Of Bourdain, German said, “His shows and the way he did things—stepping outside the comfort zone, interacting with locals, getting lost in their culture—really helped mold me into the traveler I am today.”
This spring, Chris took a trip to Morocco, made friends with the locals, and even got a chance to serve up camel burgers at a local restaurant, after befriending the restaurant owner.
The Kingdom of Morocco is the northwesternmost country in the Maghreb region of North Africa. Morocco overlooks the Mediterranean Sea to the north and the Atlantic Ocean to the west. It has land borders with Algeria to the east and the disputed territory of Western Sahara to the south. It also lies directly across the Strait of Gibraltar from Spain.
German said he had a list of reasons for choosing Morocco, including a chance to tour the Chouara Tannery, which is where leather is dyed in stone pits. He also was interested in exploring the landscape; he said that being in the Sahara Desert was” mind-blowing.”
“You can literally hear nothing, and it takes some time for your body to adjust to it. It’s like something out of Frank Herbert’s novel “Dune,” he stated.
A richer experience can be had, German said when tourists step outside their comfort zone. “While your typical tourists won’t step outside their comfort zone, staying in hotels or resorts and never leaving the touristy areas, I think stepping outside that zone, embracing the culture that they offer you gives you a better experience that you will remember for a lifetime.”
“Go out and have a drink with the locals, accept that invite to have tea with their family. Don’t fear the mystery meat, go down that alleyway that leads you to amazing street food…place that bet on a pigeon race!”
During his spring trip, German got a kick out of the locals calling him “Ali Baba”. He shared, “I believe every person I ran into in Morocco called me Ali Baba, including the children trying to sell things on the streets.
“I have a beard, so I believe they were referring to me as the “Ali Baba” from the story Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. I will never forget that moment when a nomad who lived in the mountains grabbed my beard and said, ‘Hello, Ali Baba!’ with the biggest smile! I had a great time talking with him and his family over some tea and bread.”
That experience was not his only memorable one in Morocco. He relays that while getting a camel burger from a small kitchen, “the owner loved that I was there and visiting his country. Somehow, I ended up behind his counter cooking camel burgers while he took pictures of me. I had to crawl inside that kitchen; it was 3-foot by 3-foot big! He told me to post the picture on Facebook and comment that this was my new job!”
So far, the world traveler has been to 22 countries, the territories of the Galapagos Islands and French Polynesia, six of the seven wonders of the world, and six continents–Antarctica is still on his list. Ironically, German has been to more countries than he has U.S. states, with 21 visited and 29 more to check off his list.
Most of his travel adventures are not typical vacations. He said, “I’m mainly winging a lot of things and going with the flow, which, so far, has worked in my favor. I camp a lot on my travels and stay in hostels or cheap backpacker hotels. You get to hang with same-minded people, exchange information, and create lifelong friendships.”
The shared experience connects Chris to travelers he has met along the way. He says he could write a book from all his memories. He relayed meeting “three amazing Canadians I ran into in Byron Bay, Australia at a camp hostel.” He said they were right by a beach, and when they weren’t surfing, they were off on local adventures.
To this day, German said, “We stay in contact and will hopefully meet back up during our travels.”
He has other tales, such as when he was In New Zealand. “I was picking up hitchhikers and giving them rides, which is a normal thing to do there. I met some awesome people, whom I still stay in touch with. I met a couple on a hike called “Hooker Valley” by Mt. Cook. We exchanged information on the trail and a year later they were in Byron Bay when I was there. We didn’t even plan that, it just happened!”
While traveling In India, Chris said he ran into a solo female backpacker from New Zealand, a teacher on vacation. “We had a lot of fun exploring India together and shared some crazy moments, like when we saw one rickshaw wreck into another rickshaw. We, too, stay in contact with each other. I’m hoping one day we will run into each other again.”
As for other memorable trips, German recalled that while In Egypt, “I had my first camel meal at this really cool reggae restaurant. I met the owner, who also owns a felucca (sailboat). He told me, “Don’t trust any captains that don’t fly the Bob Marley flag.” So, he asked me to join him in his sailboat with a Bob Marley flag, and we sailed down the Nile for two days and stayed with his family for one night.”
Asked about what traveling means to this globetrotter, Chris replied, “Traveling has changed me; it has enriched my life tremendously and truly widened my view. Traveling helps you see things differently. If I’m an advocate for anything, it’s this: travel as much as you can while you have the chance. You have one life to live, don’t bet on doing it later. That is the most dangerous risk of them all.”
Besides traveling every chance he gets, German also serves as a volunteer search team member with the Shenandoah Mountain Rescue Group (SMRG), a regional professional volunteer group that responds to emergencies in the four-state region of Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. SMRG volunteers are certified to conduct searches for missing persons or aircraft in wilderness areas.
A member of SMRG for about 11 years, Chris said,” I thought this opportunity would be great to learn a lot of things and to help people. It means a lot to me because I can help when people are injured or trying to find their loved ones.”
It’s safe to say that no matter where Chris German is, he’s enjoying life and having an adventure. With six of the Seven Wonders of the World under his belt, it’s a safe bet he’ll be checking in soon from Rio de Janeiro, as he visits the site of Christ the Redeemer.