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Meet a traveller: globetrotting Thorn Tree member Alex Banks, AKA Fwoggie

By Jane Atkin   9 June 2014 9:41am Europe/London

When we asked our moderation team to nominate a member of our online community to feature on Lonely Planet’s blog, they suggested fwoggie. We’re blown away by this traveller’s patience and diligence in organising extensive itineraries for complete strangers. A member since 17 January 2001, fwoggie has made more than 10,463 contributions to our Thorn Tree travel forum. He is full of facts and really cares about fellow travellers – so we wanted to hear all about his tips, plans and (of course) travel fails. 

fwoggie
Smiling on the banks of the Li River near Xingping in Guilin province, China – complete with a sling from a bicycle crash two weeks prior. Sinophiles might recognise the backdrop from the 20 yuan banknote. Image courtesy of Alex Banks.

Where was your last trip?

The Algarve in South Portugal last October. One of the major budget airlines flies from my local airport down to Faro and I decided to go down for a week. I’d never been to Portugal before and booked myself a secluded quiet cottage in the beautiful rolling hills near the airport. It was wonderful: warm weather, very friendly local people, and the seafood was amazing. I ate out every night in the seafront restaurants in Olhão and loved every dish I tried, especially the local specialty cataplana.

Where is your next trip?

I have a study trip for my part-time degree so I’m off to Sri Lanka for a week and a half! It’s another country I’ve never been to but I’m really looking forward to it, I’ll be working for a charity providing help to a tourist agency that wants to start selling tours and accommodation to visiting backpackers. We get the weekend off though, so we’re thinking of maybe heading down to Galle to check it out or maybe visit some tea plantations.

What is your first travel-related memory?

I spent many a happy school summer holiday in Southwold – it’s halfway down the East Anglian coast of England. It’s as if time was suspended at the end of the Victorian age: no arcades, no enormous supermarkets, no fast food restaurants. We would walk from the campsite into town to the butcher’s, buy some streaky bacon, take the rowing boat ferry across the creek to Walberswick and sit on the bridge over the creek dangling bacon on hooks to catch the crabs. Once the bucket was full you’d pour them out onto the side where they’d promptly scuttle back into the water to sit under the bridge to wait for another piece of bacon. Those crabs had it all figured out!

Aisle or window seat?

Window for short haul, aisle for long haul. I like to stretch my legs and top up on water regularly during long flights.

Do you have any travel habits or rituals?

I like to try the local food as much as possible. Some memorable dishes have included Peking duck in Beijing, clam chowder in Boston and in Goa a red snapper that was plucked from the sea in front of us before being proudly taken into the kitchen to be cooked, still wriggling away. It was delicious.

Favourite city or country or region?

Scotland. I’m not convinced about their deep fried mars bars or haggis, but Edinburgh and Glasgow are well worth visiting, everyone is really friendly and the scenery in the highlands and islands is stunning.

What is your best or worst travel souvenir?

It’s my lifetime ambition to collect the national rugby shirt from every country in the world, much to the bemusement of my friends. My self-imposed rule is you have to buy it in-country if at all possible. My pride and joy so far is the Swiss rugby shirt which was very hard to find.

What is the best or worst piece of travel advice you’ve received?

If you can’t afford the travel insurance, delay the trip until you can. Also, read the small print – the cheapest isn’t usually the best. I’ve been lucky, but good quality travel insurance has sorted out several of my friends. One needed a medical flight home from India after falling off an elephant, another needed a decompression chamber in Brisbane after suffering the bends in midair whilst a third friend got a helicopter rescue and two weeks in a five-star hotel after having an emergency appendix operation on a remote Thai island. All got refunded in full pretty quickly.

Thoroughly enjoying celebrating Christmas Day Australian style, a 34C sunny day,  in 2003 on Bondi Beach in Sydney. Image courtesy of Alex Banks.
Thoroughly enjoying celebrating Christmas Day Australian style, a 34C sunny day, in 2003 on Bondi Beach in Sydney. Image courtesy of Alex Banks.

What’s your biggest travel fail?

I was travelling up Australia‘s East Coast with my brother one year in February and went on a three day 4×4 self drive tour of Fraser Island (which is well worth visiting). My brother refused to wear sun-cream, a hat or T-shirt because he wanted a suntan to show off when he got home. Drinking vast quantities of beer every night didn’t help matters much and inevitably he got sunstroke. I had to nurse him for several days before he was well enough to continue travelling which meant we missed out on a sailing trip to the Whitsunday Islands further up the coast. I still haven’t forgiven him for that.

Quick, an asteroid is going to hit the earth in one week! Which is the one travel dream you’d rush to fulfil?

My brother’s currently living in Dunedin on the South Island of New Zealand – I haven’t seen him for 18 months. I’d get down there as fast as possible to spend some quality family time with him in what looks like a beautiful part of the world.

What advice would you give a first time traveller?

Before you go on your trip, pack everything you think you’ll need into your rucksack and then take it out for a two-hour hike round your local area. You’ll soon decide what’s really essential. Email yourself a document listing your passport, visas, bank and credit card details plus the emergency contact details for your bank, credit card company, mobile phone company, embassy, insurance company, airline – all of it in case something goes wrong and you need to call someone in a hurry. Finally, don’t keep all of your cards in your wallet; I have one hidden elsewhere to bail me out in an emergency in case I get pickpocketed.

When Alex isn’t running FlyBudget, he can be found on Thorn Tree, where he goes by the name of fwoggie. Find him on Twitter @fwoggie.