Blogtober · Travel Interviews

Promoting Geographic And Cultural Literacy Through Travel – Interview with Rohith and Molly of The Lost Geographer

Can you share a little about who you are and your backgrounds – where you’re from, what you studied in school, how you met each other, and how much of it was solo travel vs. with your family?

Rohith: I was born and raised in Northern Virginia, close to Washington DC. Molly reached out to me after finding The Lost Geographer and asked if she could be involved at a time when I was focused on growth and needed a helping hand. In terms of my background and schooling, I studied chemical engineering and economics at the University of Pittsburgh. My initial goal was to have a six-figure salary lined up in the oil and gas industry for me upon graduation from college. Up until I was 18, the majority of my travel was with family. After 18, I’ve primarily traveled solo.

Molly: I am from Michigan, born and raised. I attended Michigan State University where I studied cultural anthropology. I actually met Rohith after finding his podcast online back in 2017 and reaching out to him to see if there was any way I could get involved with the awesome work The Lost Geographer was doing. Most of my travel growing up was with my family, but in college, I began traveling with friends, and now I will go on solo trips, although I still love to travel with family and friends as well.

What sparked your interest in travel?

R: Growing up, my father traveled a lot for work. He would tell me all of these stories about his trips and all of the cool places he visited. I became curious about all of these places and wanted to learn as much as I could about them since I couldn’t necessarily travel there. That is what sparked my interest in geography and culture. Once I was older, this was transmuted into an intense desire to travel. My father also taught me about frequent flier points and miles at about the same age when I learned addition. Needless to say, I’ve been hooked ever since.

M: My parents were big travelers before I was born, so my very first trips were back to back trips on a cruise and Idaho when I was less than a year old. I guess from then on I was hooked because it was always a part of growing up and the interest has always been there. I remember as early as second-grade telling people that geography was my favorite subject in school because I wanted to see the places we were learning about in person.

Tell us a little about the Lost Geographer – when did you start this and what made you want to start a business in the travel realm?

R: I actually don’t consider The Lost Geographer a travel business as much as I consider it an educational platform of which, travel is a significant part. The overall goal of The Lost Geographer is to promote geographic and cultural literacy through education and travel. We aim to help people understand the personal benefits of understanding geography and culture and how to become more educated in this realm. One of the best ways to understand geography and culture is to become a more conscious traveler, which is where travel comes into the picture.

I was inspired to start this in July 2014 because I noticed how much being geographically and culturally literate benefited me. I noticed that a lot of the people around me were not geographically and culturally literate and were, therefore, missing out on the amazing experiences that I was having. This lack of literacy is due mostly in part to the lack of emphasis on geography education in a lot of the world. Therefore, I started the platform to show people the benefits of being geographically and culturally literate as well as offer resources to help them on their journey.

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What services do you offer as part of the Lost Geographer?

R: Our primary service is our Signature Cross-Cultural Consulting. We help travelers, expats/immigrants, and businesses navigate a new culture. Based on what our clients are looking for, we outline a process and system that involves understanding the culture(s), taking care of logistical issues, dealing with homesickness, recognizing the environment, and dealing with professional relationships to advance their career/business interests.

In addition, we offer an online course to help people maximize the value of their travel dollars. It’s called The Ultimate Guide to Maximizing your Travel Dollar, and is offered under our sister brand, SkyCARD ONE, which is more geared toward air and hotel experiences. In this course, you learn about the fundamentals of the travel industry and work on setting up an automated system that allows you to earn rewards points without even thinking. It also helps with cutting back on unnecessary costs such as foreign transaction fees, overpriced airfare, and sneaky hotel expenses.

What is a common misconception about travel that you’d like to address?

R: Many people travel with the misconception that travel and tourism don’t affect the locals and their environment. While travelers should have a great time and make the most out of their trip, they should be more aware of this fact. Many people travel to “take” from the destination. Developing a “give-and-take” mentality instead when traveling not only benefits the locals but also creates a more fulfilling trip for you as well. Conscious and sustainable travel is a win-win for all parties involved.

M: I would love to end the notion that travel is only for the rich. There are so many different ways to travel and especially tools nowadays that just about anyone can find something that fits their budget and lifestyle. Especially when there is so much to learn about yourself and humanity through travel, there is really no excuse not to.

What resources would you suggest for children or adults who are interested in learning more about Geography before they start their travels?

R: One of the things I like to emphasize is that effective learning often comes from experiences that are both educational AND fun. For children, a great way to learn geography is through interactive geography games. For example, when I was a child, I had a toy globe that had games and fun facts about countries. For adults, one of the best (but certainly not the only) ways to become more geographically and culturally literate is to explore food and drink from around the world. Learn about each dish and drink, and as you do, you’ll naturally begin to understand the country’s geography and culture. What I just illustrated is what we do with our Culture Cuisine event series. 

We also offer plenty of resources on our websites. We have articles that cover certain geographic and cultural topics, Country Snapshots where you can learn all of the important things about a country in under two minutes, and a podcast where we get people from different countries to talk about their home countries in addition to related topics.

M: If you have the means and the time, another great way to learn about a specific country/culture in depth is to open up your home for hosting. Growing up we hosted exchange students from Japan and Spain and it was a great way to foster lifelong relationships and a deeper understanding of where the students came from. This was really useful when I eventually traveled to Spain, and I actually got to stay with our student’s family for a few days while I was there. 

What is the most rewarding part of what you do?

R: For me, it’s opening people’s minds, and doing it in a way that isn’t forceful and doesn’t make them feel bad for not knowing. It seems like today, everyone is telling each other how they SHOULD act based on what they believe is right and wrong. We believe that we can (and should) only point people in the right direction about becoming geographically and culturally literate. It’s up to them to act. However, once we effectively get our message across to people, they are so incredibly thankful for the new viewpoint to which we have opened them up. They then willingly go on to become more conscious citizens of the world.

M: I think the most rewarding part for me is getting to meet so many amazing people from around the world through The Lost Geographer. Every single person we interview has so many stories and so much information about their culture and home, and I think the passion people have for their home country is really contagious. It feels like a gift to connect with others and share an hour or so just learning directly from them.

What are the hardest things about what you do?

R: The hardest thing is to properly articulate and convey what geographic and cultural literacy is and its benefits. This is especially true in a society where geography education has been incredibly deemphasized since the start of the Cold War in favor of STEM fields. More than anything, being geographically and culturally literate is a state of being that brings about so many great experiences in our lives. We continually work to improve our messaging to make it accessible to everybody.

M: I think the hardest part for me is trying to share authentic information about other cultures and countries without putting myself into the message. I’m very careful not to put words into someone’s mouth about their own lives or to speak for them. Rather I try to let The Lost Geographer be a platform where people can let their voices be heard directly from them to the people who want to learn about where they are from. 

Do you have jobs/sources of income other than working with The Lost Geographer?

R: Currently, I work in financial technology. It’s a rewarding field and allows me to grow The Lost Geographer on the side.

M: I am currently working at a community college in its testing center.

What is your favorite mode of transportation and why – plane, boat, train, bus, bike?

R: I would have to say a train. I love the idea of speeding through land and getting to see the land around me. There’s always something exciting about being in the middle of the area through which you’re traveling. Also, train seats tend to be a lot more spacious and comfortable than airplane economy seats, and you don’t have to deal with traffic as you do with a bus.

M: I think I like air travel the most because it allows much easier access to so many places around the world. It’s faster and easier to reach other continents when you fly. Plus, call me crazy, but I actually like the sensation of going through security and then getting to stroll through the airport watching the people rush by as you make your way to your gate.

 

If you had to choose the top 3 destinations you have visited, what would they be and why?

R:

  1. Warsaw, Poland – Warsaw is an incredible city to visit that is full of culture and neatly juxtaposes the old with new. I think Warsaw truly embodies the resilience of the Polish people in the face of all of the adversity they have faced historically.
  2. Singapore – It’s a city that, well, just works. As someone with an engineering background and who appreciates urban design and architecture, I think Singapore is just a fantastic example of proper planning and foresight. I also appreciate the use of sound economic principles to address its social issues as well as dedication to creating a sustainable city. It’s hard to believe that just 40 years ago, it was nothing more than a third-world backwater city. Of course, it’s not perfect. However, the overall ingenuity of the place is what intrigues me.
  3. Sea-to-Sky Highway, British Columbia, Canada – I included the entire highway because I also love two destinations along the highway – Vancouver and Whistler. Vancouver is a great city with so much to do, and Whistler offers incredible experiences for the outdoor types. Connecting the two is the Sea-to-Sky Highway. This highway provides breathtaking views of the sea to the west and the mountains to the east (hence the name).

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M:

  1. Barcelona, Spain. I have fallen in love with this city. The people are warm and inviting, the food is some of the best I’ve ever had (don’t even get me started on jamon serrano), and there is so much to do. The architecture is stunning, and the Spanish tile work has become a favorite design style of mine. Although I will say if you’re looking for amazing beaches skip the city and go about 30 minutes south to the town of Castelldefels. The beaches are just as beautiful and much less crowded, plus you can take the time to visit the medieval castle while you’re there.
  2. Rome, Italy. Talk about a city with some history! I was floored by the sight of active archaeological digs happening right in the middle of the city where fiats and Vespas zoom past. The way that Rome has mingled new and old works in a way you wouldn’t expect. There is something about the way the sun hits the buildings that creates a sense of magic, or maybe that’s just the amazing Italian wine from dinner. One of the highlights of my trip there was a presentation on the history of Caesar Augustus projected right onto the ruins of his forum, that’s definitely a must-see if you visit.
  3. Whitefish, Montana. The mountains in Montana are some of the most stunning natural landscapes I have ever seen. Glacier national park is nearby and is a great place to hike, see wildlife, and freeze your toes off by wading in the crystal clear streams fed by snowmelt. The actual town of Whitefish is small and quiet and the perfect place to appreciate rural America.

What tips or advice would you give to those interested in traveling more?

R: Prioritize it more in terms of your time and money. When I was in college, I had an internship that paid me well over that summer. I knew that I didn’t want to take classes or do another internship the next summer. Instead, I wanted to travel. I saved up money and cut back on a lot of expenses and was able to spend two months traveling Europe. All of this, while using money that was initially earned during a college internship and saved for 6-8 months.

M: Stop making excuses. Money will come and go in your life. There will always be work or things to do that you may think are standing in your way, but if not now, when? You don’t want to let your life pass you by waiting to travel. That being said though, I firmly believe that nobody is too old to travel even if they haven’t done it before. 

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What is one must-have piece of gear you won’t travel without?

R: A wallet with a coin purse. This may be odd to some people outside of the United States, as it is probably the norm for wallets to have these. However, the vast majority of men’s wallets in the United States don’t have this. And unlike in the United States, a lot of places in the world (particularly those with strong currencies) tend to value their coins. The first couple of times I went to Europe, it was a pain holding onto all of these coins and trying to use them after spending nearly a minute fumbling around my pocket. The coin purse helps with that problem.

M: Gum. If I’m flying that is. My ears pop a lot on flights and so anytime there is air travel involved I will bring a pack of gum because it is the most effective tool I’ve found so far to prevent the pressure build-up in my ears (and trust me, I’ve tried quite a few products).

Where can we find you on social media?

Facebook: The Lost Geographer

Instagram: @thelostgeographer, @rohithamruthur (Rohith’s personal IG)

Twitter: @tlostgeographer

Pinterest: The Lost Geographer

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