I once read that to become someone you have to start calling yourself that, in other words, not labeling myself as a ‘wannabe’ or ‘aspiring’ so-and-so. Which is why I refer to myself as a traveller and never a tourist, despite the fact that I often do “touristy” things. (Note: I say “touristy” with a condescending tone.)
I am trying to wean off the need to check off my list of the must-dos and must-sees at different places I visited, but then again travelling is about the self, and if what it takes is having to see your run-of-the-mill, packed-to-the-brim UNESCO World Heritage Site sometimes, then well, I will forgive myself on being sporadically touristy.
And this I must cultivate, before I embark on my Round The World (RTW) trip. (Again, note: I say this with surety.)
I just read an article about Gunther Holtorf, hailed the modern-day Marco Polo for his extensive travels in a car around the world, having been to nearly 200 countries (that’s practically 80% of all the countries in the world, for those of you who slept in Geography class) over more than two decades.
I was awed, and about to set him up as my personal hero (among other hardcore travellers out there), when I realized that he started his RTW trip only when he was 50-something, an age where the talented, accomplished and relatively wealthy can easily retire and live in peace and comfort for the rest of their lives. And I suppose he did this at a time when he is financially secure, he is already long married (kudos to his wife whom he took on his travels!) with a son, and has sloughed enough in a high-powered top corporate job to both earn enough money and know that that’s not the way to live until the official retirement age rolls around.
I don’t want to wait until I’m 50.
Already today, I feel winded climbing up steep mountain slopes or never-endingly long flights of subway stairs (think Covent Garden of the London Underground, when you don’t want to wait for the lift), and worse, I am afflicted with the occasional agonizing back ache from poor posture and/or too heavy backpacks, and I often feel like I am jaded with the world around me as it is.
I am your regular college grad who doesn’t know what I want to do in the future. (Most people think they do, but they often leap before they think and before they know it they are 65 and wondering what they have done throughout their youth and subsequent years. Okay, I am just imagining but I’m sure this happens out there everyday.) I do not come from old money, I am not super talented in the way I can make/beg/borrow/steal/con money out of people in a time and effort-efficient way, and I do not consider resorting to joining the oldest profession in the world to get me going.
And then I went a bit deeper to do some research. Why didn’t I think of this guy before?
The hero from Jon Krakauer’s famous Into The Wild. Alexander Supertramp, who tried to travel around (the world, presumably) with limited supplies and a minimalist approach.
Someone who deserves the title of “adventurer”, when he embarked on his first and last voyage he was my age now.
24. A brave yet foolhardy man, he charged into the travelling scene, blazing with wide-eyed ambition and a burning passion for venturing out solo, with little prep work and even lesser money.
I first watched the movie (I promise I will read the book) sitting in a spartanly furnished 3x 3 m room, made of earth and stone in the Indian Himalayas, with four companions living in the same compound.
I was experiencing a truly spiritual moment in India at that time, I was forced to deal with the lack of material comforts and eventually came to terms and even enjoyed the minimalist life during my last weeks there. The whole setting lent a bohemian vibe and sense of rugged authenticity to my experience with the amazingly super and trampy Supertramp.
As I followed Supertramp’s journey, fuelled by relentless rashness and sheer courage that only the young and restless possess, I found parts of him resonating in me.
Well-educated but feeling (overly) indignant and perhaps even ashamed by the injustice and prejudice in the world. The comfortable life within reach, because the rat race privileges those armed with a degree and willing to move the cogs in the capitalistic hamster wheel, yet somehow the desire to go against the grain, to swim against the tide of cookie-cutting cubicle types, to forge out with gusto like our forefathers Cook, Columbus and de Gama.
If I am not careful, I could really end up like him.
For those who didn’t know this by now (were you living in a cave?), he did not survive after just four months in the game. Either Mother Nature was punishing him for taking lightly such a sacred quest of exploring some of nature’s wildest and most dangerous terrains, or he was simply not ready. Or maybe he shouldn’t have given away his small fortune to charity.
For me, I’m as poor as he is at the point he gave away practically all this money. Does that mean I am going to expire just like him? Like a traveller-style martyr, refusing to accept that money is still important somehow, and refusing to accept the deal that the world has with capitalism.
Travelling RTW means that I won’t be able to have a job in a fixed, permanent location.
Time to research, emulate, improvise, hustle.
With the advent of the new media age, travellers have incorporated technology into their trips, with the intent of showing off to their friends and family via Twitter and Facebook and Instagram (and whathaveyou) their conquests, or with the aim to inform the world about different ways of life and their own experiences with different cultures (like Benny Lewis of Fluent in 3 Months), or simply a personal wish to record and document their expeditions for future reference, to write a book, shoot a documentary or for safekeeping. In so doing, many of them are able to work “on the road”, making enough money in online businesses or along the way to finance their visiting the next attraction, be it the Taj Mahal, the Great Barrier Reef or the Angkor Wat.
The good thing is, this approach favours the young and tech-savvy, because we are a generation of vain and self-absorbed creatures who thrived on being able to show our counterparts our achievements and we have the means, machines and making to do it.
No, seriously, a location-independent job will be ideal to support a nomadic lifestyle, which is more or less sustainable. And, when the going gets tough, couchsurf, beg or exploit your sex appeal, or do all three. (We know the drill, don’t we?)
The downside is, I cannot get into the wild with this scheme, because:
1. Unless I have military-issue or satellite equipment, which I may be able to obtain on the black market or through Mafioso connections (just kidding), I doubt it is possible to have regular Internet access while I camp out in the brutal frozen tundra of an Siberian outpost.
2. If you need to stay in the loop, for many online businesses there is still a need to be more or less available, you need to have Internet or at least telephone access, in and out. See again point #1.
3. If the mantra of ‘whatever you don’t bring cannot break’ rings true to you, then logically it also means whatever you bring is eventually going to break.
Question is, are you going to throw your DSLR camera away if it malfunctions deep in the Amazon rainforest? You are bound to hang on to it until you reach a big city where you can get spare parts and fix it. Meanwhile it is dead weight on you. Something you don’t want on your back when at any time you might need to make a run for your life.
4. You need the space for other more vital equipment to survive in the wilderness. For example, a bow and arrow is likely to be more useful any day in a forested tribal territory than your iPad, assuming you are good enough at archery to shoot your own dinner.
Eh, wait. Of course! Silly me! Why would I need money in the real wilderness? It is going into the wild (pardon the pun) and back out into civilisation that makes this hard. For you need money in the city, for refills, repairs and replacements, and the occasional R&R, which is what most travellers do.
Unless I am going the Richard Proenneke way, I would need some funds to get me going, even if it means I will have a budget of $5 a day to get by.
And as one of my favourite quotes (by Mae West) says:
When choosing between two evils, I always like to try the one I’ve never tried before.
Indeed, if in any case I can’t have the best of both worlds, then I would rather satisfy my curiosity by leaping ahead and try a novel approach. Since making it kind of public is the only way to declare my mission and subsequent attempts to procrastinate shameful and uninspiring even to myself, then say it I shall.
Right now, I will have a serious look at this business of online business and travel blogging on the go. I love how self sustainable it can get, and location independent the whole concept is. That is the main point here, to not be tied down to one place and be able to have full control of my freedom of movement and my working hours.
And then, well you know… A girl’s gotta eat, right? And while I’m at it, I better succeed, because I like to eat and I eat a lot (for my size). ♥