Is RTW right for you?
Sometimes when I completely fall in love with a place, I want to stay indefinitely.
Standing in the Sunday market in Bac Ha, Vietnam, my senses are overwhelmed by the colors.Â My camera is on overdrive. I am in heaven.
But I spend exactly one day in Bac Ha, leave the North of Vietnam, fly back to Hanoi then Bangkok, bringing back some images and the intention of going back.
Iâ€™ve only been to Luang Prabang a total of five days. My first time in Bali, I spent five days there. First time in Myanmar, seven days. The Rajasthan in India, a week. But each time, I was able to bring back some wonderful images and a sense of the place. I didnâ€™t have to stay indefinitely.
I know people who quit their jobs and became travelers full time. One of the most famous of these is Jodi, also known as Legalnomads. Another is Matt, known to everyone as NomadicMatt. They both quit corporate type jobs to do RTWs, or round-the-world trips. There are a lot of full-time RTW travelers: on Twitter alone, @solotraveler, @BKKMichael, and even an entire family, @GotPassport, who have sold everything they owned and relocated to Chiang Mai, Thailand just over three weeks ago.
Sometimes, when I completely fall in love with a place, which happened in Burma last month, I wish for a moment I too could just make like Gaugin and run back to the place I was from the place I am.
But is RTW the right answer for everyone? Does short travel make you less of a traveler? Iâ€™ve thought about these questions a lot lately. Here are some thoughts.
1. Short travel is OK if you are already an expat.
Iâ€™ve lived in Thailand and other countries. I havenâ€™t been in what most people would consider â€œhome,â€ really, since I was sixteen years old. Wherever I am at present is â€œhomeâ€ to me. So I am a full-time expat. What I love about being an expat in Bangkok is that I am able to use all the conveniences I would have back home, and (seriously) there is a direct flight to five continents from this city. So when I have the time, I can fly somewhere with my camera and notebook, and then fly back home. In 2007, for instance, my busiest year thus far, I flew 47 different times to 17 different places and was back on Monday for my full time job.
2. You have a job you love.
The people I know who quit their job to travel did not really enjoy what they did as much as they enjoyed travel. Shamelessly, I can talk about my profession for a whole day and never tire. I teach high school English and design curriculum, and I love it. I love the possibility that is in each life of each child I teach; I love the light that happens in their eyes when they understand something, when they learn. And I love that at the end of the school year, I am able to look back and appreciate that my hard work has made someone love learning.
I thought about quitting teaching to engage in my other job, freelance commercial photographer and journalist. But in all these years of being busy both Monday to Friday with school and Saturdays and evenings with photography and writing, I honestly cannot say I would be happy without either. So I am both.
3. Your travel needs you to lug heavy equipment around.
I travel so I can create images. The lightest equipment I take somewhere includes a DSLR, at least two lenses, four camera batteries, a storage viewer which can hold up to 160 GB of photos, a notebook (paper based tool I can carry in my pocket to record snatches of thought).
I also budget my reading when I travel, because when itâ€™s too dark to take photos, I usually donâ€™t â€˜go outâ€™ in the conventional sense, so I read. On a recent eight-day trip to Bali, I read the three books I brought in five days, and I had to buy Eat Pray Love and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornetâ€™s Nest for the three days left plus the plane ride.
And, sometimes I have to carry a tripod and a laptop.
If I had to lug this equipment around on my back for a whole year on an RTW, I think one of a few things would happen:
3a. I will run out of storage space for new photos. On an average day on a photo trip, from pre-sunrise to sundown, I take around 24 GB of photos. Do the mathâ€”even if I delete the mediocre ones nightly, I would still end up with at least some 12 GB of photos a day. That makes 160 GB last for an average of 13.33 days, nowhere close to a year. Of course, I could bring more than one storage device, thereby sentencing myself to a lifetime of back problems. (All this equipment on my back every day weighs 16 kilograms which I carry while chasing images.) 3b. I will spend lots of money on books. 3c. All of the above.
4. Budgets are easier to handle.
I generally like nicer hotels. And because I often travel more than 200 kilometers a day from the sunrise location to the sunset, I have to hire a car. When traveling, a nice room and a reliable car often are my two biggest expenses.
5. Every day is full of action.
Tom Swick of World Hum wrote that traveling is â€œcreative hanging around.â€ For me, that doesnâ€™t mean sitting. As a rule, I am constantly in motion when I travel. On my feet at a location, I can explore ways to make better images than if I sit somewhere and wait for a shot to walk by.
Of course, I also do hang around. I have to make friends before I make photosâ€”thatâ€™s another of my rules. So a lot of time is spent socializing with the
locals, eating with them, visiting their families, and a lot of time is spent working with the camera. The rest of the time is slow eating and sipping good coffee while writing down my thoughts. Days and days of this, then I go home and process both the photos and my thoughts.
I like being able to live episodically when I travel. It demands that I pay attention to the present, every single minute of every single day.
And it works for me. How about you? Is RTW right for you?
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