Following His Retirement From 35 Years Of Teaching Howard Launched A New Career As A Full-Time Adventurer & Travel Blogger
What is GAFFL?

GAFFL connects solo travelers with similar itineraries to explore destinations together. Whether you are backpacking in Asia, road tripping in Australia, or exploring national parks in the US, simply type the destination you are traveling to, find travelers who are going there at the same time as you, connect with them, plan trips, meet, and travel together.

Howard runs Backroad Planet, a website that publishes high-quality, photo-intensive stories and resources for road, river, rail, and RV travels.
21st Jul | 12 min read

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    At GAFFL, we love to publish inspiring travel stories from adventurers around the world. You can connect with adventurers from 170+ countries on GAFFL, meet up, and explore destinations together. In this post, we are featuring Howard Blount.

    Howard runs Backroad Planet, a website that publishes high-quality, photo-intensive stories and resources for road, river, rail, and RV travels. Readers can follow his travel adventures on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest.

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    How I Started Traveling

    My parents were ministers and missionaries, and so I have been traveling almost from birth. I got my first passport at age 11, and during my teen years I lived abroad in Mexico, Chile, and Paraguay. I guess you could say travel is in my DNA. I have a strong desire to see other places and experience other cultures, but unlike many of my nomadic friends, I need a soft place to fall on my very own. As much as I love to travel, I also like to come home. 

    I Try To Travel Every Month

    My goal is to travel somewhere at least once per month, although that does not always happen. I am an avid roadtripper, and any scenic or historical location grabs my attention. I am not an adrenaline junkie, but I enjoy walking and driving tours, hiking, and other forms of soft outdoor adventure. 

    How I Choose Where To Travel Next

    I am open to traveling almost anywhere, and so my eyes are always open to new opportunities. Because I am a travel writer, I partner with travel brands and tourism boards on hosted trips. So sometimes I just go with the flow and see what offers come my way. 

    I also plan and pay for trips of my own. Ten-day to two-week trips are the norm for me, even when I drive up to Pinebox, my North Georgia mountain cabin. The longest I have stayed there is three weeks.

    To make sure I cover all the bases before leaving town, I use a standard checklist I created years ago and revise periodically. I typically do a lot of research on my destination and generate a list of potential activities and attractions, as well as dining and lodging locations. That said, I am not above flying by the seat of my pants when my schedule does not allow time for much planning. 

    Earlier this year, I surprised myself and discovered I can be more spontaneous than I thought I was. 

    After not traveling for more than a year due to the global pandemic, I got vaccinated and bought a brand new Class B RV. This camper van was tricked-out with all the bells and whistles. I spent a month (a record for me) touring national parks and monuments in Texas, New Mexico, and Arkansas. I had an incredible journey, but I learned that van life and van maintenance demand more work than I am willing to give. So, I sold my van for a great price, and I am now focused on doing more cruise travel. 

    How I Pack For My Trips

    I hate to check luggage, so I travel light. Whether I am on a road trip, going on a cruise, or flying to a distant location, I pack two pieces of luggage: a backpack and a rolling carry-on suitcase. Because I am a shorts and t-shirt kind of guy, my wardrobe doesn’t typically require much space. When I travel, I have to be connected, so my iPhone and MacBook Pro always go with me.

    Memories Meeting New People During My Travels

    By nature, I am not a gregarious person, but when other people initiate a conversation, I can talk to anyone. I have met more people than I can count during my travels and many of them have become forever friends. 

    Several years ago, while planning a road trip through Canada’s maritime provinces, I connected with a gentleman online hoping to share travel expenses. When we met up at the connecting airport, I discovered he was quite older than his profile revealed. Although it turned out to be a “Driving Miss Daisy” road trip, with me as chauffeur, I still had a great time exploring the region. 

    I met the woman who would eventually become my “travel wife” online before we ever met in person.

    Like me, Melody Pittman is a travel professional, and although we had become Facebook friends, I knew nothing about her. One day, I received a message from her inviting me to meet up at Disney World. The invitation came out of the blue, and I did not know whether this strange woman was stalking me, or what? I later learned that Melody just assumed every Florida resident would have an annual Disney pass. I had to break the news to her that theme parks are not my thing. Months later, Melody and I met in person at a travel conference. It didn’t take long for me to learn that she never meets a stranger, and she can talk the paint off the wall.

    That was in 2015, and since then we have traveled many miles together on road trips and cruises. 

    During my RV phase, I joined a Facebook group for owners and wannabees of the Thor Sequence and Tellaro camper van. There I connected with a guy from Florida whose van was identical to mine. Unlike me, he had sold his house, picked up his van from the dealer, and headed out on a cross-country trip. As it turned out, he was in California headed east while I was in New Mexico headed west. We met up for lunch in Las Cruces, compared our twin vans, and then got back on the road.

    States And Countries I’ve Traveled To So Far

    Not including countries and states where I have had airport layovers, I have visited 30 countries and will be adding Belize, Honduras, St. Maarten, St. Lucia, Barbados, Antigua, and the Bahamas to the list within the next few months. I have traveled to 40 states to date and will be adding Alaska this month. 

    Instead of keeping a bucket list, I focus on possibilities. That said, I would love to cruise countries that border the Baltic Sea and road trip through all of the Balkan nations. 

    Why I Started My Blog

    In 2015, I retired from a 35-year career as a middle school reading, language arts, and history teacher. During the 1990s, I had published several professional books for teachers with Simon & Schuster and McGraw-Hill.

    I knew in my second chapter that I wanted to travel and write, but I knew nothing about travel journalism nor how writers partner with brands and destinations. But in anticipation of my retirement, I launched Backroad Planet in 2013. I put my heart and soul and lots of hard work into my new venture, and within the first six months following my retirement, I attended my first travel media marketplace and started going on press trips.

    Even though I was a novice with little influence, major brands such as Viking Cruises and Visit Florida reached out to me to partner on campaigns. 

    The mission of Backroad Planet is to introduce my followers to destinations where they have never traveled and show them what is possible. I write for avid travelers and armchair travelers alike and publish long blog posts with lots of photos and links to planning resources. I hope to always create content that inspires travelers and offers virtual experiences so that people who cannot or will not ever leave their hometowns can travel vicariously. If my readers find pleasure or inspiration in my stories, then my efforts have been successful. 

    How I Manage Work And Travel

    I am not one of those people who works well on the road. While traveling, I like to be totally immersed in the experience. I can manage to do social media posts for my followers, but when it comes to writing travel stories, I need to be at home in my quiet space so I can edit and curate photos, gather my research, and create in peace. 

    Some Of My Best Travel Experiences

    It doesn’t take much to get me excited while traveling. I can get lost in exploring a historical site, and a scenic view can give me all the feels. Whether it be the humble gravesite of blues legend Robert Johnson, a mystical prehistoric monument like Stonehenge, a peaceful roadside meadow, or the majestic Yguazú Falls, I enjoy them all.

    One of the times I was most moved by natural beauty was while on a Green Tortoise Bus 16-day National Parks Loop. My young mostly-European travel companions and I were living like hippies and having a total blast! But by the time we reached Bryce Canyon I thought I would take a break from hiking and have a day of rest. My plans changed suddenly when I walked to the edge of the canyon and its stunning beauty unfolded before me. Tears sprang to my eyes, and I said to myself, “I’m going down there!” 

    On my third visit to Cologne, Germany, I had the rare opportunity to join a behind-the-scenes tour of the Kölner Dom. Construction of the church, built to house relics of the Three Wise Men, began in 1248. The massive structure was completed 632 years later in 1880. At 516 feet, the Dom is the tallest Gothic cathedral in the world. A utility elevator took our group soaring up the towering edifice. Then we climbed stairs even higher and exited at the top in time to witness a magnificent sunset over the city through intricately-carved spires. 

    How I Budget My Travels

    I always try to travel with a budget in mind, but I am not opposed to splurging if there is a destination or activity I strongly want to experience. When it comes to booking flights, hotels, or rental cars, I have no secrets about finding the best deals. I just hop online and do a lot of searches until I locate prices I can live with. 

    To find cruise deals, and especially those with zero to low single supplements, there are three resources I use almost daily.

    Vacations to Go is a travel agency with an old-school website that makes finding any type of cruise a breeze. You must provide your email address to use the database, but you are not required to make bookings through the website.

    CruisePlum is not a travel agency, but rather a cruise search engine and deal finder that anyone can use.

    Solo Cruisers USA is a Facebook group for sharing great travel deals for single travelers around the world, not just in the United States, as its name suggests. 

    Challenges I’ve Faced While Traveling

    It was the first day of a Rhine River cruise from Amsterdam to Basel, and I was touring the windmills at the UNESCO World Heritage site of Kinderdijk.

    Suddenly, I saw black spots in my right eye, and a gray veil began rising into my visual field. The ship concierge made a medical appointment for me in Cologne the following day. The diagnosis revealed that the retina in my right eye had detached and torn, and would require immediate surgery. For this laser procedure, a surgeon fills the eyeball with gas to hold the retina in place while it heals. If I had the surgery done in Cologne, I would not be able to fly home until the gas bubble dissipated in two or three months. So I made the decision to evacuate back to Florida for the procedure.

    Fortunately, I had travel insurance. Representatives booked my flight, scheduled the airport limo transfer, and reimbursed most of my expenses.

    How I Think GAFFL Can Help Other Travelers

    I am new to GAFFL, but I am excited about everything it has to offer. My regular travel partner is not always available when I am planning a new trip, so hopefully, I will be able to connect with compatible travel companions online when needed.

    Fresh out of the camper van travel phase, I am now looking to do more cruises. I currently have three cruises booked within the next five months.

    Cruises for solo travelers can be tricky because cruise lines want to book staterooms with double occupants.

    If you cruise solo, you frequently have to pay a single supplement that can range from zero to 100%. I was lucky to find two of my currently booked cruises with no single supplement. The third cruise had a 50% supplement, but the overall rate fit my budget.

    There are other cruise itineraries that interest me, but they require 100% single supplements. I will need to find cruise mates to share staterooms for those itineraries so that we can avoid paying double the price.

    Lessons I Wish I Had Known When I First Started Traveling

    Because I have been traveling all of my life, it is difficult to answer the first question, but I could write a book about the countless lessons I have learned during my travels.

    Although I aspire to become a member of the Travelers’ Century Club and envy the handful of people who have traveled to all 190+ countries of the world, I am content to just keep traveling at my own pace and doing what I love. 

    I know people whose idea of travel is visiting a theme park, and I have met others who have vacationed every summer at the same beach rental for decades. I want to tell them, “You do know there are other places in the world to visit.” But I really can’t judge. Although one of my goals is to expose readers to new and different destinations, in my heart I believe that travelers should do what makes them happy. 

    By far, the greatest lesson travel has taught me is that travelers are the most loving, accepting, and open-minded people in the world. I believe American author Mark Twain summed it up nicely more than 150 years ago in his book The Innocents Abroad (1869): 

    "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime."

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