For the majority, travel is a short-term luxury, where you squeeze a massive amount of activities into a two-week vacation. But for some, travel is a lifestyle. We first met Stephen in Chiang Mai, Thailand a few months ago, and were immediately intrigued with his long-term travels (4 years running) and his hit travel blog A Backpackers Tale. We wanted to know more about what inspired Stephen and the peaks and valleys of his travel experiences and he graciously agreed to do an interview and share some of his travel wisdom with us.
All of us nomadic types have had that one memorable travel moment, when we knew that the travel bug was not just a temporary itch. What was yours?
The spark was ignited when in May of 2006. I was in college and went on a trip to Ireland. For two weeks we drove around the rocky, green, coast of the country. It was unbelievable. By the end of the first day, I knew that travel would be a massive part of my life.
If traveling is to be more than just one-off trips, you either need some savings or a remote work arrangement. You chose travel blogging. How did you get into it?
Haha, it is funny because I first started blogging because I was looking for a quick and easy way to make money while on the road. I soon realized that making money blogging is neither quick nor easy. However, by that time I was obsessed with my blog (A Backpacker's Tale) and helping others travel.
How did you become successful?
I think to get ahead in such a competitive market you have to be obsessed with what you are doing. Blogging isn’t for people waiting to clock in or out. It is literally a 24/7 business. I put way more than 40 hours a week into it, but the rewards of the blog, and this lifestyle are insanely good, and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.
After 4 years you must have seen a lot! How do you pick where you will go next?
Well, I am not going to lie. Travel is an addiction for me. Just the act of moving is now an addiction for me as well. If I am in one spot too long, I get the shakes. I thrive off new places and want to go everywhere. So picking destinations has never been hard for me because I would go anywhere. If I have a lot of work, or don’t feel like exploring someplace new I just return to a couple of my favorite spots.
That being said, time is a factor. For example, right now is the last year I can do a working holiday visa in New Zealand. I am just going to keep working online, but it lets me live in the country for a year. So I just got to NZ a couple of weeks ago and am going to try to stay in the same country for a year...that would be the longest I stayed in one country for 8 years.
Who is the most interesting person you have met on the road?
This might be the first time I have been asked this question. I love it. I meet a lot of interesting/crazy people on the road. I think I am drawn to the wild people.
One of my favorite travel quotes is by Jack Kerouac, “the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars….”
I think I am the same one. I always seem drawn to the mad ones. One time I watched the stars all night on the bank of the Nile with a Bedouin, who kept talking about his girl problems. I meet a guy that got rid of all his clothes in his backpack and just carried around a massive speaker. So many people to choose from.
Long-term travel is great but it is has its highs and lows. Working around the world can add another layer of complication. Some days contain amazing adventures, while other days can be extremely frustrating making you want to curl up in a ball in your hotel room. What do you find most challenging about long-term travel?
Haha, I love this question because it lets me vent a little. Long term travel is not what people envision it. When I tell a lot of people what I do they imagine it being all rainbows and sunshine. The truth is traveling long-term is not always easy, and it is not for everyone.
I don’t have any close friends around; I have to pack everything I own and carry it around every few days. I spend hours by myself on buses, or sleeping on cold airport floors. Every few days I have to start my life from square one. I love seeing new places, experiencing new cultures, and trying new food, but honestly, sometimes long-term travel sucks.
I just mentioned some of the sacrifices it takes in my latest post about my Sak Yant tattoo. A magical bamboo tattoo given to me by a monk in Thailand.
We couldn’t agree more with you regarding loneliness on the road. With YonderWork that is why community is an essential part of our experience. When things get tough, what keeps you going?
- The desire to see and experience as much as I can. I want to live!
- I know if I gave up I would regret it in a few months.
- Despite all the sacrifices, travel is my deepest passion and love. To give up travel would be giving up who I am.
As digital nomads ourselves, can you share some tips on how to stay productive on the road?
Never say no to anything. Then you will have so much work that you’ll have no choice but to be productive. Also, do what you are passionate about at the moment. One joy of working remotely is that I can do whatever I feel like doing that day. If I don’t feel like writing, I can edit photos. If I don’t feel like going through photos, I can work on another project. Do what you feel like doing and nothing ever feels like work.
Lastly we have to ask, where to next?
Right now, I will be backpacking New Zealand for an undetermined amount of time. I have some exciting things in the planning stages here. Including two major projects which I can’t talk about at the moment. They will be the biggest things I’ve ever done, though.
Stephen is the author of the super popular blog A Backpacker's Tale.