Oh boy do I have a treat to share with you!
I had the absolute pleasure of interviewing Walter Chang who can only be described as a modern day inspiration. Feeling exhausted with the rat race in New York he quit his job in 2011, in the past 3 years he’s travelled to a whopping 60 different countries and never looked back.
What made you decide to quit your job and travel the world?
Before I embarked on my trip, I was working 60-70hr weeks and didn’t really have a life outside of work. Sometime in 2010 I remember overhearing one my friends talking about someone he knew that went traveling alone for a year. I had never heard of anyone doing anything like that so it was surprising, but I didn’t really think much more about it. Later on in the year I started reading and listening to the works of Alan Watts. One quote that hit home was: “We thought of life by analogy with a journey, a pilgrimage, which had a serious purpose at the end, and the thing was to get to that end, success or whatever it is, maybe heaven after you’re dead. But we missed the point the whole way along. It was a musical thing and you were supposed to sing or to dance while the music was being played.” I had always wanted to go places but never really thought that I should spend the money to do it when none of my other friends were going abroad. I thought back to the traveler my friend had talked about and realized I needed to make a change.
How has travelling changed you?
Traveling has ultimately made the world a bit more manageable for me. I just feel a lot more aware of what’s going on. I’ve been able to see how people from other countries live, how they think, and what they care about. It has made me a more understanding person because so many things that I believed were normal are in fact viewed very differently on the other side of the world. Despite our differences, the kindness I’ve received from strangers all over the world has made me become a nicer person and has pushed me to empathize more with others around me.
How do you keep costs to a minimum when travelling?
While I was backpacking I kept costs down to a minimum by staying in either hostel dorm rooms or using websites like couchsurfing. I hitchhiked a bit and usually cooked at least one meal a day if I was in a more expensive country.
What’s one piece of advice you would give a backpacker?
Plan less. During my first half year of traveling I booked every flight I was taking ahead of time, tried to plan out each day’s itinerary, and was pretty adamant of keeping to my scheduled route. You end up meeting a ton of people while traveling and being able to go with the flow is crucial. I missed out on a lot of experiences early on because I had already planned everything and refused to be spontaneous. This was partly because of the type of person I was back then, but I wish someone had given me this advice before I left.
What has been your biggest challenge so far?
My biggest challenge was getting ready to travel abroad again after being robbed in Chile. I was coming from Santiago, Chile and bought a cheaper ticket to Calama instead of going straight to San Pedro de Atacama (near the border with Peru). The bus took around 24 hours to get there so I was exhausted when we arrived. I met another traveler on the bus and we went to find the bus station where we could get the mini bus to San Pedro. It was really empty at the station but at around 12:50pm the place started getting crowded. I had my bag with all my valuables to my right leaning against the chair and the bag with all my clothes in front of me. We were outside in the waiting area when a man approached us from the left and started speaking to us. I turned to face him but I couldn’t really make out what he was saying and he walked away after a brief exchange. I turned around and my bag was gone. I had fallen for one of the most common tricks in South America. I was devastated because I had lost my bag with all my photography gear, passport, and money. My backup harddrive was broken so I didn’t have any photos from the last two months. I felt like calling it quits. But after a long ride back to the capital where I had some time to think, I realized I couldn’t let a setback like this win and force me to stop doing something I love. So I recollected myself, got all the necessary equipment again, and went back on the road.
Which travel apps do you use and why?
My main travel apps are XE Currency for exchange rates, Google Maps for gps, and Turdus for offline Wikitravel articles. Turdus is especially handy because it gives me an overall idea of a city/location before I get there. The Wikitravel articles may not be up to date, but it gives me a rough starting point to then figure everything else out.
In the future how do you think technology will change how we travel?
It’s making everything a lot easier of course. People are going to be able to connect much easier using various apps. Websites like AirBNB and Couchsurfing are making travel a lot more affordable. At the same time with new technologies like VR I’m a bit worried that people will think twice about traveling to certain places. Of course the opposite effect can also be true and allow people to experience even greater wanderlust. It’s important to realize it’s not just seeing these beautiful places but also interacting with the people around them. That is something that can’t be replicated.
Which adventure scared you the most?
I lost control of my car in the Namibian desert on the way to the Namib Naukluft National Park, and it flipped several times off the side of the dirt road. I’m lucky to have gotten out with nothing but a slight bruise on the top of my head. I could have easily been killed. After about 30min on the side of the road soaking in everything that had just happened, a car passed by and I was able to borrow a phone. I was on the verge of telling the rental car company that I just wanted a lift back to the capital of Windhoek so I could book a flight home, but before I could say anything the representative told me she was sending out a new car. I was caught off guard. My mind did a complete 180 and I figured I might as well carry on. It was the best thing to have happened because traveling around Africa was the most rewarding part of my whole trip.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
In five years I hope I’ll be able to live in a foreign country or move to a different part of the USA. It’s taken me some time to transition back to life in the USA, but I’m slowly working on building up my resume so I can work abroad. I think my days backpacking for long periods of time are over so I’d like to settle down in a foreign country and get really immersed in a different culture.
What’s next for Walter?
I’m currently working with a travel agency creating media for a new product they’re launching. If all goes well I hope to work on videos for the other countries they are planning to launch services in. I’m also looking forward to giving a talk about my experiences at the Festival de Antigua in Guatemala.
“Traveling has ultimately made the world a bit more manageable for me”
Walter’s tale is a reminder that anything is possible if you just leave your comfort zone. Walter also proves the point it’s never too late to dream a new dream, so with courage in your heart and a backpack on your shoulders it’s time to get going. Be sure to holla at us when you do for some great deals!
All photos belong to Walter, for more information on “We Call This Home” and Walter’s Kickstarter campaign click here.
So whatcha waiting for? Stop wishing. Start doing.