Els Slots is a remarkable lady, she has been traveling around the world to UNESCO world heritage sites (WHS) since 1996. Els is a citizen of The Netherlands and works with an IT company (Sogeti).
I came across her first when Jai Bharathi shared a link of her website – http://worldheritagesite.org/, an incredible resource and an inspiration to what GoUNESCO wants to be. Find out how many WHS she has been to till now from this brief email interview!
Q. Tell us a little more about yourself.
Ans. I am a 42 year old female from The Netherlands. I studied History in University, and work for an international IT company (Sogeti).&
Q. What sparked the idea of traveling to UNESCO WHS? Why travel to heritage sites and not something else?
Ans. Actually the idea for the website existed a bit earlier than the travel goal. In 1997 I got a book about WHS, that covered all sites with text and beautiful photos. At about the same time I started at the company that I work for, and received the opportunity to build a private website. I thought it would be a nice idea to borrow that idea of the book, and make WHS the theme of the website. Only after that I became somewhat addicted to include WHS in all my travels.
Q. What were your goals at first – for yourself or for the project. What stage are you at present in reaching them?
Ans. At first I was looking at all the famous cultural spots in the world (like the Taj Mahal, Angkor, Macchu Pichu), but nowadays I am more interested in seeing countries more in depth. I have gotten to enjoy obscure WHS and natural sites too.
Q. On your RTW (round the world) trip last year, which WHS did you cover?
Ans. I covered 47 WHS in total, starting with Bahrain Fort in Bahrain and ending in Bolivia with the Jesuit Missions of the Chiquitos. I originally aimed for 50, but I got bored with the Australian forests and could not get into Purnululu NP because the roads were flooded.
Q. How many WHS have you traveled to over the years? Which sites were your favorites and why?
Ans. I am now at 484, so I have seen more than 50%. My no.1 favourite is the Kathmandu Valley in Nepal, followed by Angkor (Cambodia) and Macchu Picchu (Peru).
Q. Which WHS did you travel to first?
Ans. I am not sure anymore, it was not a conscious visit anyway. Possibly the Wadden Sea (on a school trip in 1982).
Q. As you look behind on your years of travel, have you noticed it change you in any way?
Ans. I think it made me more outgoing and persistent.
Q. Any comments on the importance of WHS? Do you think people traveling to these sites helps them in any way?
Ans. The importance of being a WHS is greater for some sites than others. The Dutch capital Amsterdam became a WHS a few years ago, but was already an important tourist destination. The biggest help lies with sites in developing countries, or those under threat from war or natural disasters or other. Maybe the list of ‘World Heritage in Danger’ is the only real important list.
Q. What perspective has your education in culture, history, literature and philosophy given you when you travel?
Ans. Do you think it helps you in appreciating travel more? Yes it sure does. But it also makes you realize how little one can know about all these sites. I would love to know every story behind each WHS.
Q. As avid travelers ourselves, we all have our own ways to balance money, work and family with travel. How do you do it? Any tips?
Ans. I am lucky that I have a job where it is easy to take days off. We also can buy extra days leave. So even though I work a full-time job, there’s enough time to go around. I also like to plan trips around national holidays. Another advantage is that the Netherlands lies quite central in Europe, so it is easy to cover European WHS.
Q. You know 6 languages (Dutch, English, German, French, Spanish and Chinese) already, which language would you like to learn next? Can you recall any instances when knowing a language gave you a distinct advantage or an interesting experience while traveling?
Ans. I always wanted to learn Japanese too, but I cannot say more than 5 words in the language (though I have been to Japan 3 times now, and I regret it every time that I don’t speak the language). Speaking the local language gives you more courage to go off the beaten track, to try and ask around for public transport to remote sites for example.
Q. Over the years, you have built a great community of travelers on your website. How did you go about doing it?
Ans. It is important to create interactivity. At first I posted only my own reviews of visited WHS on the website. But quickly I let others join in, and came in contact with a number of regular posters that are also much into WHS. When I opened the Forum a few years ago, this interaction has increased strongly. Now we can discuss about things regarding WHS.
Q. We know how hard it is build, maintain a website. Especially in the early days of the internet when you started worldheritagesite.org (1996). How have you managed to keep it going so well?
Ans. It takes a lot of dedication. You have to work on it almost every day. It takes me half an hour in the morning before work, and another hour in the evening after I have returned home.
Q. Do you have any comments on or suggestions for the GoUNESCO Project?
Ans. I like the idea for sure. Maybe it would be fun to create a lifetime score also (the # of Indian WHS visited over the years), so that international travellers can join too.
Thank you Els for the interview! Ladies like Els and Jai Bharathi inspire women around the world to go travel and break the shackles that society tries to impose.