88 and counting. Interview with Cezar, from Imperator Travel

Over time, I have met several travel bloggers and media personalities, passionate about a life of travel. Cezar is one of them, and after meeting him over drinks this summer in the Old City of Bucharest, I knew I had to share more of his amazing travels. This is the first of a new interview series I am starting, and I am honored to have Cezar premiere it!

I had first heard about Cezar Dumitru, the phenomenon behind Imperator Travel, from my brother. He has worked with Cezar a few years ago, and had the privilege to travel with him on business trips. They went to Budapest, where Cezar knew the historical facts of every street and every statue in the Hungarian capital; his fascination for not only travel, but the history that lies behind any destination, was evident from Cezar’s stories. Bottom line was – as my brother put it – Cezar is a human encyclopedia. You can ask him anything and he will have a thrilling anecdote, backed up by extensive details of where to go, where to stay, what to visit and so on. 

1. Tell us a bit about yourself. Most Romanians know all about your exotic travels from your Romanian travel blog, but for the worldwide audience, what is your story?

Hey. My name is Cezar Dumitru, I am 40 years old and I’ve been traveling the world since I was 19. This was also when I first traveled outside my country, Romania, in 1991. Before that, it was very difficult to do so, as Romanian borders were pretty much sealed off by the Communist regime. My first leap into the unknown was to the Netherlands, where I had an EU scholarship for 1 year in the picturesque city of Maastricht. It was there where I discovered that it’s not so hard to travel, that it can also be affordable, so I started discovering the world. So far, I’ve visited 88 countries and I am preparing for the 89th – Myanmar. In the last few years, I started blogging, firstly in my native language, Romanian, and as of this year, also in English.

2. A few months ago, you started an English version of your Imperator Travel blog, for which I had the honor to guest post a few times. What was the purpose of that?

I am a marketer, all my professional life I’ve worked in marketing, & communication and I am always interested in learning something new. I grew my Romanian travel blog to be one of the best in Romania and therefore I decided to expand beyond… learning more on how to grow a blog (you can use different means than the ones used for growing a “national” travel blog) and also interacting with other outstanding bloggers around the world.

Hampi, India

3. As a fellow blogger, writer and travel lover, I am bewildered how you manage to run two blogs, travel constantly, and have marketing jobs as well. Are you superhuman?

I try to do my best… Obviously, there are some things, which I delegate – technical aspects of my blog, SEO and even the translation of the posts (some of the posts in the English blog are actually the English version of some of my Romanian articles)… Well, it’s a hard working life, but it’s interesting and rewarding!

4. Everyone is talking about having a niche. Do you have a particular topic in travel, which you focus on? What is your opinion on limiting yourself to one area in the travel industry?

In the international travel blogosphere, it is quite important to focus on a niche, as it is a highly competitive industry. You cannot be successful if you are the 1247th blogger who decides to go backpacking to Indochina and write about his experiences. This was OK 5 or 6 years ago when the world’s most read bloggers started.

In Romania, I am probably the exotic travel guy – I’ve been to places were few Romanians have ever been and this is what makes a difference. However, in the past few months, I started to appeal to other target groups as well, providing travel tips from regions which are more approachable for Romanians, including travel in Romania.

For the English blog, I focus on giving travel tips combined with travel journals from more unusual destinations. I just finished publishing my Iran travel journal, and I am now writing about Laos… Soon to come are other special and unusual destinations like North Korea, Ethiopia and others.

Ethiopian tribe

5. Some of the most popular travel blogs out there advocate a lifestyle of nonstop travel. The “I quit my job, and I’ve been traveling for the past year” folks seem to have it all figured out and some are successfully monetizing their travels through their blogs. How realistic is that?

There are quite a few professional travel bloggers. Those on top, none of them (to the best of my knowledge) generate all their income from advertising alone. All of them have projects with different advertisers, publishing books, consulting, public speaking, organizing trips … a blog is a key tool in brand building, afterwards you need to do something aside to boost your income.

6. You travel quite a lot, but you also work in marketing. Does this mean you prefer a balance of work & travel?

Definitely! For years, I’ve been working 9 to 5 (well, 6, 7, 8pm), but I’ve always exploited any travel opportunity. And my holidays were exclusively mine! No negotiation on that. I also traveled more extensively between jobs, or even connecting business trips (and I had plenty of those) with sightseeing. At the moment, I am a part-time advertising professional and a part-time travel blogger.

In Esfahan, Iran

7. I’m sure everyone asks you this, but I have to ask as well. What is your favorite destination and/or country, and why?

Wow, that’s hard. I believe Bali is the place I find closest to how I imagine Heaven to be. I also love Nepal, Iran has some of the most hospitable people I ever met and Tibet is amazing, I loved the old-Asia feel of Laos. Visiting North Korea was also a highlight of all my travels as I visited a truly unique country. Should I forget about the safaris, about the clouds raising over Macchu Picchu or being blown away by the colors of the Venetian channels, when getting out of the Santa Lucia Railway Station. Surely, not! There are so many!

Sunset in Tanah Lot, Bali

8. What is your least favorite place, and why? Think of a destination that was below your expectations or that disappointed you.

Honestly, none. You can have some particularly bad experiences, but if you go with a positive spirit, you could enjoy almost every place on Earth.

9.  If you would ever move out of Romania, which country would you choose?

Not sure, but probably somewhere in South East Asia.

10. Most people would not travel by choice to Iran or Syria. What would you tell them to convince them otherwise?

Iran is probably the most hospitable country in the world. Everyone wanted to talk to me, to offer me food and drinks, and to even pay for my bus tickets. At the very top, you can find some of the most impressive monuments in the region – Persepolis used to be the capital of the world 2400 years ago! It’s also extremely interesting to discover a country living in 2 worlds – the official world of the ayatollahs, and the underground world of people who try to enjoy their lives as anyone else. I honestly think it is one of the most culturally rich countries in the world. I don’t know of any other country where poets who died 800 years ago have a mega-star status!

Inside an Iranian mosque

Syria is also an interesting country. You can find some really fascinating Christian enclaves, speaking the language of Jesus; it also has a divine cuisine. It is such a shame it is now being destroyed by this sectarian war between the Christian-Shia vs. Sunni factions… But we’ve seen it in the neighboring Lebanon, some years ago.

11.  The same goes for North Korea. How is it? What are some of the similarities and differences to our native Romania, during its communist era?

You almost cannot compare old communist Romania to North Korea. North Korea is an extremely robotized society. I did not see people strolling on the streets, they were marching and everything I’ve witnessed in Romania, in North Korea is tenfold more “spectacular” – starting from the cult of the leaders to finishing with the unbelievable shows on the world’s largest stadium!

In North Korea

12. What are some of the funniest anecdotes from your trips so far? You must have hundreds!

There really are hundreds, maybe even more. I do remember about this Czech guy who was traveling through Sri Lanka on a local bus. At a certain time, he received a text message saying: “congratulations, they found your SD card.” Five minutes later, the same text message from a person unlikely to know the first sender… By the time we reached the next town, he got hundreds of text messages congratulating him for the “discovery” of his SD card. So, what had happened? Some months before, while he was tracking in Tibet, he met a Canadian pilot who was doing the same thing. After the trek, the Canadian guy went to Kathmandu, in Nepal and the Czech remained in Tibet. He then received an email asking for some pictures, as the Canadian lost his SD card. It turns out the Canadian had really lost his SD card.  Found by a Tibetan lady, she traveled to Lhasa to an Internet café in order to look at the pictures. She saw nothing in particular, just some Caucasian folks travelling through Tibet, when something peculiar appeared: two guys holding a flag at Everest Base Camp. After researching the Internet, she discovered that was the flag of the Czech Republic! She found the address of the Czech Embassy in Beijing and sent the SD card by post to the Embassy. Someone there was really surprised and sent the pictures with the two guys holding the flag to some tabloids back in Czech Republic. They were published front page “Czech adventurers lose SD card in Tibet!”… Apparently, it was a high circulation newspaper and so, everyone who knew the Czech guy found out of his adventures.

So, try taking a picture with your country’s flag on your SD card; just in case you lose it 🙂

13. You just came back from your second trip to Dubai. Did you like it more this time around? What changed since the last time you were there?

It was much better. First of all, because I met some wonderful people (all of them readers of my blog) who showed me around and secondly, I think Dubai looks more friendly now than it used to in 2007 on my first visit! They acquired public transportation, there are some oases, which were finalized, and it overall looks somewhat less artificial… Well, still artificial and too much of the  “biggest in the world” obsession, but I felt happier visiting it!

The people of Mali

14. What’s your next trip on the calendar?

I just came back I from a long weekend in Albania 🙂

15. Any extended travel plans to South America in the near future?

Not really. I love South America, but it is pretty expensive to travel in most of the countries (like Argentina, Brazil or Chile). I plan to get there some day, but not in the near future…. Or who knows?

16. What’s your advice for bloggers on increasing traffic, their following, obtaining advertising sponsors and press trips?

Be yourself, write from your heart and about what you like. Don’t copy; you need to be yourself… After you have some quality posts on the blog, start promoting it – via online media, fellow bloggers (guests posts, interviews, etc). And then start pitching. I am happy enough to be in the position to be called up by sponsors and advertisers, but you should start firstly. After others see your projects, they will start looking for you!

Christmas in Lalibela, Ethiopia

17. And lastly, why should people visit Romania? Apart from Dracula, great gymnastics and pretty girls, what makes Romania special?

It’s probably the most unspoilt country in the EU – we still have lots of virgin forests, undiscovered landscapes and places, which barely changed for centuries. It is a country that requires some effort in exploring it, but when you do, you will have a lifetime experience. I’ve heard many foreigners (including bloggers) who loved it!

You can read more of Cezar’s adventures on Imperator Travel (the English blog) or on the wildly popular Imperator Travel (the Romanian blog).

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