This month, I interviewed Sander for our Talking Travel series. Sander is a travel-loving web developer from Holland who you're sure to have come across if you've spent much time on the Travellerspoint forums. In this interview, we chat about how travel has impacted his life, his thoughts on travelling with laptops and his future travel plans.
You travelled for two and a half years after you finished studying. Looking back, how much do you think those two and a half years of travel impacted your life?
Trying to imagine my life without that period, I come up with a life which is recognizable only in vague outlines. I'd still be working in IT, and I'd have the same friends (in this country at least), but the qualitative difference would be huge. Travel has made me a much more confident person; where once I neurotically triple-checked every little detail about everything and was preparing for things weeks in advance, now I revel in my ability to leave things like packing my bags until the very last minute, and still bring exactly (and only) what I need. I'm far less anxious or stressed out about things I can't influence, and a lot more willing to attempt changing things which I can influence. Travel also allowed for meeting vague acquaintances from online communities, many of whom have progressed to being genuine friends, whose lives have shaped and enriched my own. And I only ever was able to start up my own web development company here in the Netherlands because being a freelance web developer was the norm in Australia, and taught me how easy and good it is to be your own boss.
The Opera House and Harbour Bridge
On your profile, you describe that trip as a real soul-searching sort of trip. I find it interesting that many people seem to have trips like that. Why do you think travel is such a good way to answer (or at least try to answer) some of life's big questions?
I think the main reason is that when you're travelling, you can rediscover who you are, free from the constraints of everyday life. When at home, people know you and have expectations of who you are and how you behave. You have obligations and responsibilities, deadlines, routines and recurring events. In the midst of all of that, it's really hard to first find the time to thoroughly think through how the web of all these things affects you and steers you in certain directions, and to then actually effect changes.
When you're travelling, there is no one who knows you. No one wants anything from you, no one expects you to do anything. You don't have to try to explain or justify your actions, not even to yourself. At the same time, you're exposed to a much wider variety of experiences than you would at home, where most days the horizon barely stretches far enough to cover the distance from home to work, and so you can discover how you react to and feel about a wider variety of input. Moreover, where the same things would also hold for a short vacation, the difference with long-term travel is that a vacation is mostly seen as a break from your life (and so what you do during it has their air of "it doesn't really count"), while long-term travel by necessity has to be your life. You have to act in a sustainable manner; be a person who you can continue to be for years. What you do and experience during this time counts - but the only one who'll *know* about it (no matter how many blog posts or emails home you write), is yourself.
Of course you're starting out on travel still set in your old ways, and a lot of these ways really belong with who you are. Yet other ways are formed through social pressure, and so can slowly bend back to their natural inclinations over the months and years where that pressure is missing. Changing your life isn't a particularly swift process, and at least for me there was no all-consuming moment of epiphany. Rather, as over the many months of my trip I mulled over aspects of my life and what I put value in, I was able to come to a series of small conclusions and value-adjustments, and keeping those in mind, I was able to later re-align my life to be more to my liking.
I very much don't have all the answers, but what travel has taught me is to keep examining my life and the choices I make, including the ones where I'm not at first aware that I'm making them, and to adjust who I am to the result of those choices, or to make different choices next time, to get closer to who I want to be. I have many memories of long bus journeys where I'd gaze through the windows without seeing anything of the landscape I was passing through, instead mentally reviewing conversations and events and realizing how those had affected me. Having these times is one of the things near-inherent in long-term travel, and in itself a minor reason for me to keep returning to it. I've occasionally feared that I'll become so familiar with the travelling lifestyle that it itself becomes a routine with set expectations and constraints, but so far the world
has been vast and varied and unknowable enough that this hasn't been a realistic fear.
You're a web developer by trade. Do you take your computer with you when you're travelling?
Heh, the question of whether or not to take a laptop while travelling is such a common one on the forum that I could nearly dream my response to this. Yes, I take a laptop on any trip lasting more than a handful of days. I'd do this even if it wasn't for the ability to do web development work (which I try not to do when I'm just travelling). My reasons for this can be summed up in two words: security and convenience.
The main part of the security aspect is the old computer security adage, "If a bad guy has physical access to your computer, it's not your computer anymore". This means that for anything where you care about security, such as online banking, the private conversations you have over email, etc., using a public computer (whether to be found in an internet cafe, at a hostel, or wherever) is batshit insane from a computer security point of view. The only thing protecting people in everyday life is the law of big numbers: There's not nearly enough criminals (and they're not nearly advanced enough) for a significant percentage of public computers to have been compromised in such a way that a random travelling user of that computer will suffer the consequences. However, the damage which can be done to your life (or the lives of people you care about) if you're the unlucky person to hit that compromised computer, right when you were writing that email with really private information, is just way too large to trust in "being lucky". Beyond that, for me personally I enhance my security by sending a large percentage of my emails encrypted with OpenPGP and use various other tools, all of which wouldn't be found on public computers, and so I need my personal computer with me to be able to do these things.
The convenience aspect starts with having all my bookmarks right there, continues to being able to burn DVDs with photos at the end of the day (during my last three-month RTW trip, I took 33 DVDs worth of photos; needing to have those burned at internet cafes would've been a royal pain) as well as being able to review and edit and email or upload those photos, and from there on meanders to lots of other little communication-related activities. I live a large part of my life online, with friends in a vast number of timezones, and online communities which over the course of the last decade have become a second home. Having all of that in easy reach is a great goodness. When I first set out travelling in 2003, bringing a laptop along was rare. Yet on my RTW last year, I was barely able to enter a hostel's lounge without seeing half a dozen laptops, and WiFi seems to have become a standard service offered at most any hostel. This easy connectivity greatly enhances the value of carrying around a laptop, so the choice to do so has only become easier.
What are some of your favourite places to visit in the Netherlands?
I'm quite partial to the Japanese Garden at Clingendael, though its very limited opening times (just a few weeks each year) combined with my travelling habit means that I'm hardly ever in the country to enjoy it. The city centers of Delft and Leiden (both student cities) always appeal to me, particularly this time of year, when nice weather results in a wonderful bustle of activity. Beyond those, favorite places are tied to specific times of the year: the flower fields in spring, the polder on a snowy winter's day, any wooded area during autumn, any dike alongside a canal when a storm is brewing and I have the need to struggle against the wind on my bike, or fly along with it.
Do you have any dream destinations you want to visit one day?
I do indeed, and the list is ever-growing. Right near the top of it are Patagonia, Iceland, the Himalayas and of course Antarctica. (Also, do places you've visited before count? If so, Lake Tekapo all the way!) I love wild and barren places, where nature shows its true power, as well as mountains to conquer and admire views from. My absolute dream destination, which it would take a near-miracle for me to ever actually visit, would be the Îles Kerguelen, a French territory in the Indian Ocean, far to the southeast of Africa. The only people who ordinarily get to visit it are French climate scientists, but I would love to one day hike my way across a part of the main island, photographing the gorgeous desolate landscape, glaciers and birds without count.
Speaking of which, do you have any trips planned for this year?
None, actually. This will be the first time in six years that I'm not out of the country for three months or more. I do have the tentative idea to go see some cities come September/October; probably Rome and Budapest, and if timing happens to work out with acquiring a next big project to work on, I might yet go and take a vacation of a couple of weeks somewhere (Croatia? Estonia/Latvia? Ireland? Iceland?), but mostly I'm focusing on 2010/2011 with planning: 2010 will be the last year during which I can enter Canada on a Working Holiday Visa, an opportunity which I don't intend to miss, and hope to make the main part of a new RTW trip. I've come up with some crazy itineraries to include the aforementioned dream destinations of Patagonia and the Himalayas in the same trip, as well as familiar old mainstays such as Australia and New Zealand to get to hang out with all my friends there again. It's still completely unknown what the final trip will look like, but I'm having a lot of fun with exploring options.
Check out these past interviews in the Talking Travel series:
- Talking Travel with Rob and Pol
- Talking Travel with Michael Johnson
- Talking Travel with Izzy and Marisa
- Talking Travel with Marlis
- Talking Travel with Gretchen
- Talking Travel with Andrew and Courtney
- Talking Travel with Purdy
- Talking Travel with Maria
- Talking Travel with Niels
- Talking Travel with Amy and Wim
- Talking Travel with Hien
- Talking Travel and HIV/AIDS in India with Dave Reidy
- Talking Travel with Utrecht