I met Harvey “H-Bomb” Silikovitz of H-Bomb’s Worldwide Karaoke in typical blogger fashion – online! But, since he lives in New York City, we’ve met several times in real life at different travel events we’ve both attended. H-Bomb is always fun to catch up with, as are his adventures around the world.
H-Bomb is an attorney and worldwide karaoke singer. He has a full-time job practicing law in New York City, but he jets off from his home base as often as he can to explore all parts of the globe and to continue his ongoing World Karaoke Tour. As of August 2016, the H-Bomb has sung karaoke in 42 countries plus Easter Island, as well as 23 U.S. states and territories.
If you could only explore one continent for the rest of your life, which one would you pick and why?
Africa, because it’s so vast and most of its endless expanses remain for me to discover. If you include its island nations it consists of 54 countries, and I’ve only been to three of them so far (Egypt, Morocco, and South Africa). There are so many different cultures, cities, and natural wonders to see in the other 51! Plus, I would love to get back to South Africa and Morocco, which themselves are such diverse countries.
With that said, I want to continue to explore the whole world, and not be limited to one continent!
Tell us about your most memorable trip
North Korea in June 2016. To be able to see a totalitarian regime from the inside, and be directly subjected to the government’s propaganda, was quite a distinctive and unforgettable (if somewhat sad) experience. And North Korea was only part of a larger trip during which I also saw, among other things, the Great Wall of China and the Terracotta Army in the Chinese city of Xi’an. On top of all of that, I sang karaoke in North Korea and sang in a karaoke taxi in Taiwan. By any measure, it was a trip to remember.
Are you a light packer or a heavy packer?
I tend to fall on the side of “heavy packer.” I know some travellers who can fit all their supplies for a multi-week trip into a carry-on. I’m not such a traveller. I don’t do laundry when I’m on the road (although sometimes I’ll send some items to be dry-cleaned or laundered at my hotel), and other than jeans, I think it’s gross to wear most clothing items multiple times on a trip without washing them. So for a 2 or 2.5-week journey (which is the length of the longest overseas trips that I take), I’ll pack quite a few changes of clothes — even taking into account the expectation that I’ll purchase souvenir t-shirts in some of the cities I’m visiting.
Plus, I’m usually toting my DSLR and tripod as well as my laptop; and those items and my other electronic gear are accompanied by chargers of varying bulk (in addition to the voltage converter and outlet adapters that are necessary for most international voyages).
I also pack a fair amount of pharmaceuticals — mostly over-the-counter products such as pain reliever and cold and cough medicine, as well as basic first aid supplies and a thermometer. Better to already have these meds with me if I need them, so that I won’t have to worry about figuring out what the local equivalent would be in a pharmacy where no one even speaks English. Also, I don’t want to wake up in the middle of the night with a fever or sore throat and have nothing immediately at hand to provide relief. (And when visiting certain countries, depending on what my travel doctor may have recommended, I may also be carrying prescription drugs — typically, malaria prophylaxis and/or antibiotics to take in case of foodborne illness.)
For trips lasting 6 days or less, I can usually fit all of my necessary items into a suitcase that fits in the overhead bin. For those shorter voyages, I’m happy to be able to avoid checking luggage.
Favorite way to keep busy on the plane?
On a long-haul or ultra long-haul flight, I’ll watch a few movies — some on my laptop, and some on the screen in front of me. During the course of the flight, I alternate that movie-watching with reading a book on my Kindle. I will also get out of my seat frequently to stretch; deep vein thrombosis is real! Often when I’m up and about in the cabin, I end up in the galley at the back of the plane, where I like to strike up conversations with flight attendants and/or with other passengers who are hanging out there.
On flights that have functioning wifi, I”m also not above wasting some time Facebooking and Words with Friending. I think it’s okay to have some downtime.
One thing I’m almost never able to do on any flight, regardless of length, is fall asleep.
Do you have any tips for jet lag?
I actually consult a sleep specialist in my home city of New York, and before I embark on a major overseas trip she works with me to develop a game plan to manage the jet lag issues posed by that particular voyage — as well as the challenges that I’ll face re-adjusting to New York time when I get back home. Specific measures required to cope with jet lag on a given occasion will depend upon factors such as the direction in which I’m traveling from my home city of New York (east or west); the number of time zones that I’m crossing; the length of my flight or flights to get to my destination, as well as the particular hours of the day that those flights cover; and the time of arrival at my destination.
Some general principles that I’ve learned from my sleep doctor over the years include: If I arrive at my destination during the daytime, don’t take too long of a nap. Whether or not I’ve been able to catch any zzz’s during the afternoon hours, I should force myself to power through and go to bed at 10:00 pm or later in my first night after arrival. Then, upon waking up in the morning, I should get outside as quickly as possible and spend at least 15 minutes outdoors within an hour after arising. This exposure to natural light during the local morning helps reset my body’s circadian rhythms. And at least during the first few days when my body is getting used to the new time zone that I find myself in, I shouldn’t use my laptop or smartphone or even my backlit Kindle too close to the time when I want to go to bed, as the type of light emitted by the screens of those devices can confuse my body into thinking it’s daytime and thereby interfere with the adjustment of my circadian rhythms. However, it’s okay to watch television right up until bedtime, because TV screens give off a different type of light that doesn’t have the same effect of sabotaging my fight against jet lag. I’m also not above takng Nyquil or Zzzquil as needed to help me fall asleep while my sleep cycle is getting acclimated to a new time zone.
These precepts and techniques have worked for me on numerous overseas trips over the last few years.
What are your favorite accommodations abroad?
Whether travelling domestically or abroad, I always stay in hotels — never in hostels or Airbnb accommodations. As I’ve gotten older, being comfortable and well rested when I’m on the road has become more important to me. Well, except for during my recent visit to Las Vegas when I averaged about 5 hours of sleep per night. Vegas hijinks aside, the quiet of having my own room, as well as blackout drapes (which I specifically look for when making hotel bookings), help me adjust to jet lag and to sleep better regardless of which time zone I’m in. (I hate when I’m awakened early in the morning by sunlight streaming in through the windows! That’s almost as bad as when housekeeping knocks on your door before 9 a.m.) I also like my privacy.
Another reason I stay in hotels relates to the karaoke side of my travels. Concierges in hotels that have them, or at least hotel front-desk staff, can be very helpful in providing me with “on the ground” information about local attractions and tours, and in finding venues with karaoke. Hotel employees have also proven valuable by making calls to karaoke bars to ask about things like hours of operation and whether food is served — or even whether a place that’s listed online as having karaoke still offers it. This is especially crucial for me when I’m in a country where I don’t speak the language.
Based on food alone, which country could you live in forever?
Greece! I frequently dine on Greek cuisine when I’m home in New York, but the food that I enjoyed during the two trips to Greece that I’ve taken so far was even better. And like other Mediterranean cuisines, Greek food is also quite healthy. A further note pertaining to this question: I haven’t been to Greece since 2004, so I need to get back!
How do you keep in shape and stay healthy while on the road? Do you have advice for others?
I don’t even do a great job of keeping in shape when I’m at home. 🙂 That said, I find that even though I indulge in a fair amount of food and drink during most of my trips, I usually don’t gain weight during them and often lose a little weight. This is because I’m constantly on the go. Just walking as much as possible to get around in cities is a great way to get exercise when you’re travelling. Even taking public transportation forces you to get a certain amount of exercise (for example, the nearest metro station might be a 10-minute walk from where you’re staying), and is better than lazily jumping in a taxi or uber. Also, I like taking day-trips that will give me the opportunity for a lot of hiking; the most obvious example of that in my recent travels was my approximately 3 kilometer trek on the Great Wall of China (which was even more strenuous than it sounds, as there were steep inclines and stairways to walk up and down).
Sometimes I’ll work out on cardio equipment in my hotel’s fitness center if it has one, but it’s often difficult to make time to squeeze that in. Because every minute that I’m in my hotel is a minute that I’m not seeing the location I’m staying in.
What is your favorite kind of day tour?
I have two kinds of favorite day tours: the kind where I visit a spectacular historical site (I’m talking bucket list items like Machu Picchu and the Taj Mahal, as well as other really cool sites that maybe rank a tier below), and the kind where I’m exposed to many different parts of a city in a comprehensive overview where I also learn about the history of the various landmarks that are being pointed out to me.
No matter how I’m spending a travel day, I place a high priority on taking photos. Before I get to a destination I’ll often have ideas for some specific shots that I want to get, and I often research the best vantage points from which to photograph various landmarks. If I’m on my own as opposed to on an organized day tour, I attempt to plan my itinerary so that I’m hitting specific sites at the times when the light is best for photographing them.
How do you make friends while traveling?
I often make friends at karaoke bars in various cities. The activity is a great way to meet locals, and a terrific icebreaker (because everyone is there for the same reason, so it’s easy to approach someone and say something along the lines of, “Great job with the song you just sang!”). I also often end up remaining in contact with the people who run the karaoke shows; and similarly, I’m Facebook friends with the drivers of the karaoke taxis I’ve ridden in Washington, DC and Taipei, Taiwan.
I think that group tours are also a good way to make new friends while traveling, but I don’t often go on group tours. However, I’m still in touch with several of the people who were in my Egyptian tour group in 2012.
What’s the scariest moment you’ve had while traveling?
When a taxi driver in Mexico City robbed me of money and my phone and then forced me to exit his car and left me in the middle of nowhere at about 2:00 a.m. on a Saturday night. I was most terrified at the moment when he pulled over the cab on a quiet street in an unfamiliar area that was nowhere near my hotel, because I didn’t know if I was about to be abducted or worse. Then, when he let me go and drove away, it was scary wondering how I was going to get back to my hotel.
But it all worked out in the end, and fortunately I’m still around to tell that story.
Honorable mention for most frightening travel moment goes to a white-knuckle ferry ride in the Aegean sea off the coast of Greece. My friend Dave and I were returning from the island of Santorini to Athens. The ferry made an unscheduled stop on another island. An announcement came over the PA system in Greek, and about 2/3 of the people on the boat immediately emptied out. My friend and I wondered why. About 5 or 10 minutes later, we heard the English translation of the reason for the stop: someone had phoned in a report of a bomb on board the boat. At that point, my friend and I got off as quickly as we could. After about 45 minutes of everyone just standing around, with no search whatsoever having been made of the boat to see if there might be explosives, the officials in charge told the passengers to get back on board. I asked one of those officials why they would let people back on without having conducted a search of the boat. He replied, “Well, they said the bomb would go off at 3:30, and it’s now 3:45, so it must have been a hoax. This happens every now and then.” Needless to say, I didn’t find those words very comforting. What if the caller had been slightly off about the detonation time? Ultimately, my friend and I got back on the boat and resumed our journey. I was nervous the whole way until we disembarked at the port of Piraeus in Athens.
The media tells of a world that is scary and dangerous, what’s a travel moment that has proved to you that this isn’t true?
While there are definitely some bad actors in the world, I believe that no matter where you go, most people are fundamentally decent and kind. One example of this from my own travel experiences: a few years ago, I rang in the new year in an Irish bar in Istanbul. When I was ready to leave, some locals that I’d been talking with helped me get a taxi (which is rarely easy in any city on New Year’s Eve) and then insisted on riding with me to make sure that the driver got me safely back to my hotel. What a contrast with my taxi experience in Mexico City!
Do you have a funny story about a travel mishap that you’d like to share?
In Marrakesh, Morocco, I went for a camel ride. Well, more accurately, I sat on a camel and had a photo taken that I could use as a Facebook profile picture, because I was too much of a coward to go through with the actual ride. Anyway, in the area where the camel handlers kept their animals, there was a baby camel lying down next to his mom. My taxi driver claimed it was only one day old, although that may have been an exaggeration. The handlers led the mom away and held on to her while I was allowed to pet the baby camel and be photographed with it. Then the mom was brought back to rejoin her baby. The mom suddenly glared at the alien intruder (i.e., me) and charged at me. I ran as fast as I could. Meanwhile, the camel handlers were laughing at me. They did rein in the angry mother very quickly.
In your home country, what’s a destination that you think people should visit?
Savannah, Georgia. I visited this jewel of a city for the first time in July 2016, and was totally smitten. It’s a beautiful city with a lot of history; and the historic district features a unique layout consisting of over 20 public squares, most of which are surrounded by handsome homes. It’s also very walkable. And bonus: Savannah is one of the most haunted cities in the world. The ghost tour that I took one night there was definitely one of the top highlights of my last year of traveling!
What is your favorite mode of transportation. Why?
Airplanes! I love the fact that I can board a plane in one city, and land literally on the other side of the world less than one day later. To paraphrase the famous Southwest Airlines advertising slogan, when I go to an airport I’m free to move about the planet. It wasn’t so long ago in human history that at the fastest speeds then possible via existing modes of conveyance, it took days just to travel through one U.S. state, or one European country. I feel so fortunate to live in an age where we take jet travel for granted. I do hate turbulence as the World Wanderer knows, but even though plane rides aren’t always comfortable I find them magical.
Do you overplan before you arrive, just show up at a destination, or have a mixture of both?
My planning process falls somewhere in between those two extremes. I don’t script my activities for every minute of every day in advance. But I do research things to do in my destination during the weeks or months leading up to my trip, so that by the time I arrive there I have a pretty good idea of what i want to see and do. And some of my activities will usually involve day-trips with tour companies that require booking ahead of time because they can sell out. But I try to maintain sufficient flexibility to, for example, go to a museum on a day when it’s raining and on which the conditions for outdoor photography are therefore poor. And recommendations from locals may cause me to decide that a particular attraction isn’t worth my time, and to substitute a different attraction for it. Also, it’s not uncommon while I’m at a destination for one of my Facebook friends who’s been there to recommend an activity that for whatever reason hadn’t been on my radar. This has resulted in some very enjoyable discoveries for me.
Why do you travel?
I think there are so many amazing places and things to see in the world, and in my opinion there’s no substitute for experiencing them in person! In addition, I have a passion for history, and for me the best way to learn about history is to visit historical sites firsthand. It really puts the dry facts in context. I also enjoy being exposed to other cultures and cuisines, and meeting people who’ve grown up in and live in different societies from my own.
In explaining the reasons for my travel, there’s also the matter of my World Karaoke Tour. 🙂 However, that tour isn’t only about checking off countries on a list. Usually I choose a destination because it’s a place that I want to see; and then, as my trip approaches, I’ll start researching venues in which to karaoke at the destination.
If you could take one epic journey in the next year, what would it be and why?
I’m lucky enough to already have two epic journeys lined up within the next year! First, in late December / early January, I’m headed to Israel; Jordan (including Petra); Doha, Qatar; and Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Second, in late May / early June I’ll be hitting Bhutan and Mongolia, with a few days in China thrown in because that’s the Asian country that I’ll be flying in and out of. (Although I was just in China a few months ago, I’m excited to spend more time there! And my Chinese visa, which I just acquired in March 2016, is valid for 10 years, so I might as well get a lot more use out of it!)
There are many reasons why I’m eagerly anticipating both of these trips. Regarding the Middle Eastern one: As I was raised Jewish, Israel is my ancestral homeland, and in addition Israel is rife with historical sites. Given my passion for history, I’m excited to explore some of those sites. I’ve also heard that Jerusalem is a beautiful city. And that’s just Israel! On the same trip I’ll be hitting Petra, which is easily a bucket list destination; Doha, which has an amazing skyline; and Dubai, which also boasts some spectacular skyscrapers, including the tallest building in the world. As you may have deduced from my preceding comments, architecture — particularly in the form of skyscrapers — is one of my passions.
Regarding the Asian trip: Bhutan seems like a fascinating country, and the fact that few people visit it adds to the mystique. While in Bhutan I’m going to see some really cool temples and monasteries, featuring the iconic Tiger’s Nest Monastery that’s dramatically situated high on a mountainside. And Mongolia is also a unique place, with such attractions as monuments to Genghis Khan (even the international airport in Ulanbataar is named after him) and the iconic local dwellings known as gers.
It goes without saying that I hope to sing karaoke in each country I visit during both of these upcoming epic journeys!
If you want to follow more of H-Bomb’s adventures around the globe, you can find him here: