Backpacking is a commercialized form of traveling, but that’s okay
By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. April 7, 2016
Recently, there have been a lot of critics against the popular youthful form of travelling known as backpacking. What people are saying is that backpacking no longer represents what it once did, when it came into prominence in the 1970s during the “hippy trail,” when hippies traveled across Asia and Europe in search of… themselves. Backpacking is now as much a part of conventional tourism as all-inclusive resorts and walking tours. It’s not an independent experience, but rather an experience composed by those who run businesses around tourism. Nevertheless, you should still try it.
Let’s be honest: no matter what we do, we cannot get the same experience as those hippies in the 70s. We cannot have Woodstock, no matter how many music festivals we go to. We cannot experience the thrill of special effects, no matter how many Star Wars movies we make. And we cannot expect the world to revert to a time when tourism was as new as virtual reality is today. All we can do is set off and have our own experiences, even if they are tailored for us.
The tourism industry is huge in countries where the hippy trail originated. Today, it supports the livelihood of millions of people in regions where earning a living is not always easy. Even though backpackers are known for their thrifty form of traveling, the locals recognize that an American dollar can go a long way in a place like Cambodia or Myanmar. So they want you to spend as much as possible. They don’t care about the genuine backpacking experience. They want you to buy. The genuine backpacking experience, to them, must sounds like the most pretentious piece of bullshit. Just go to their country and have fun.
Travelling is a great way to gain a perspective in the world. It’s a good way to learn independence and communication skills. However, I don’t believe going on a trip will change a person significantly. The old cliché of finding yourself in India or having an Eat, Pray, Love moment is something that doesn’t change who you are when you return home, even if you want it so much that it seems to exist in your mind. So to say that your backpacking experience is less because you planned everything on Expedia is a terrible way to look at travelling in general.
Backpacking sounds like a lot of fun, but it is also a rigorous and sometimes frustrating experience. There are brief moments of spirituality now and then, but those moments can occur in your apartment condo as well. So go backpacking, and don’t think about all the baggage that the travelling style carries with it. Go with the flow of the journey. If that means taking a flight instead of a bus, do it. If that means going on a tour instead of venturing alone, do it. If that means staying in a hotel for a few days instead of a hostel, do it. It’s your trip; there doesn’t have to be rules.
What to expect when you invite a couple over to your place
By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. February 3, 2016
Behind closed doors, it doesn’t matter what two people do. Regardless of who’s home or where you are—as long as it’s private—people deserve their privacy. You cannot govern someone’s sexual behaviour even if it is on your property. Naturally, when you invite people over to your place for a sleepover, a weekend, or a vacation getaway, you don’t often jump to the conclusion that your home would turn into a sleazy hotel room. But people do have sex, and you’ll have to accept it.
As a host, it’s impossible for you to keep track of your guests 24 hours a day. Should you hear some bump in the night, remember that they are just enjoying themselves and it’s temporary. Brush it off or laugh it off. If it’s too obvious to ignore, it’s your right as the host to pull your guest aside later on the next day and let them know that sex is okay, but they should perhaps be more discreet.
As a guest, it’s your job to be respectful. Depending on the person’s home, you can gauge whether raucous noise in the middle of the night will be frowned upon or if others in the house are probably getting some as well. There’s a difference from staying at your in-laws’ and your friend’s summer home.
I’m quite liberal with sexual freedom. People should be allowed to have sex, especially when it is private. Even when it isn’t, I live by the rule: if nobody knows, nobody cares. Yes, afterward someone will have to clean up the sheets, but hell, if the hosts weren’t prepared to do a bit of cleaning, they shouldn’t have invited people over.
You cannot welcome people into your home and say things like “make yourself comfortable” and then get angry because they did something you didn’t want them to do. When you open the door to people, you have to accept that they will do what they do. Your house is not a prison and you’ll just have to trust that your friends and family members will just behave and be respectful.
One of the worst fears for many people is walking in on others having intercourse. If that is a genuine concern while you are hosting, then maybe you shouldn’t have them sleeping in the living room or in an area without a closed door. If you don’t have any other options, then that is just a risk you are going to have to take. Maybe when they are “asleep,” you shouldn’t go wandering into where they are staying. If they are in their room, don’t go barging in. Follow the old rule: before you turn the corner, knock.
Let’s be adults. Sex isn’t that big of a deal. There are far more traumatic things in the world. Get over it and stop acting so stuck-up.
How to Take Control of Your Nomadic Lifestyle
Originally published on Medium.
There has always been this negative connotation to the phrase: “Taking work home with us.” It’s as if the act of working is a burden to our lives. It’s as if our unfinished assignments are keeping us up at night. It’s as if our profession is harming those we love and ourselves.
I like to believe that while some of us work to live, many of us live to work. Our professional accomplishments are not just our livelihood; they’re a part of our identity. Sure, our jobs bleed into everything else we do, but that doesn’t mean we are shackled to the desk, or that we have to omit time with friends and families to meet deadlines — and it sure as hell doesn’t mean we have to miss an episode of our favorite television show just to send a last-minute email.
Yes, work is home with us, it’s in the car with us, it’s on the airplane with us, and it’s turning down our hotel room beds when we are at an out-of-town conference. No longer do we need an alter ego for the work we have. Ourwork follows us around because it is something we are proud of, something we want to share, and something portable that we can manage in a coffee shop in Los Angeles or a bar in London.
“Don’t think what’s the cheapest way to do it or what’s the fastest way to do it… think ‘what’s the most amazing way to do it?’” — Richard Branson.
Get A Life
A high school bully once told me to get a life after I finished talking about all the novels I’d read and how I wished I had more time to read more. Life? What the bully didn’t understand was that his values — video games, aggressively loud music, and misogynistic jokes — did not align with mine. Because he hated reading, he assumed I was flawed for enjoying it. How we spend our lives is up to us, not some argumentative bully.
At times, it can feel as though a job can become this bully, telling us that our camping trip is less important than the next deadline. It is and it’s not. When I use the word freedom, it does not mean doing anything whenever we want. Freedom comes when we are able to control and prioritize our work, interests, and, of course, life accordingly. Why shouldn’t we be able to have a three-day weekend if we hunker down and got the job done on Thursday? Why can’t we bring our work on the road trip when we know we can accomplish it in the hotel after the drive? Why must we drag ourselves so early into the office just to lounge around sluggishly?
For every quality worker in our area there are probably hundreds of equally talented people who are scattered around the country. Most aren’t willing to just pack up and leave their lives. Work has become mobile, but many other things aren’t. If you want to attend a prestigious school, go for it. If you want to take up a new hobby, do it. As long as you find the time to work, the sky is your limit. And don’t let bullies tell you otherwise.
“Self-employed people work where they live. Entrepreneurs live where they work.” — Mokokoma Mokhonoana
Make Time For Office Hours
I’m not your boss so I’m not going to tell you that all your work should be done remotely. I’m also not telling you to quit your job to become a travel writer — although that would be pretty cool. I’m saying that we don’t need to be centralized anymore to accomplish significant tasks.
Still nothing that matters happen in a vacuum. Good things can be done independently, but world changing, disruptive innovations are often collaborations between talented people. So take that into consideration. Although email, instant messaging, Google Drive, Skype, and other digital/telecommunication tools have connected us together, there is still nothing more important than face-to-face real time conversations.
Communication with four people in the room is hard enough, but communication with 10 people in message thread is just pure chaos. In a global survey, 67% of senior execs and managers believed that their organization was more productive when superiors communicated with employees personally. Emails, instant messaging and all the other technology slows down the decision making process. Passing the conch around might work, but when a problem needs to be solved, meet in person.
Understanding when it is appropriate to take the conversation offline is probably the most important aspect of working remotely. Sure, the work will get done through the cyber networks, but there is nothing that nurtures camaraderie and team bonding like face-to-face problem solving and celebrations.
“You think you can see the light at the end of the tunnel, but it’s only some bugger with a torch bringing you more work.” — David Brent
Home Is Where Your Work Is
There are countless distractions when you are working out of the office. After all, the world is a beautiful place; it’s hard to stay focused when your desk is beside the window or when you are one click away from YouTube. So needless to say, the most important aspect of working independently is self-discipline.
Without supervision, it becomes ever more important to be entrenched in a project you are actually passionate about. If you aren’t motivated to get up in the morning, brew a cup of coffee, and sit down and actually work, perhaps home is not the right environment for it. Working at home might be convenience but sometimes good work happens in a less ideal environment. Many people who live in apartments with fitness facilities don’t actually use them. It doesn’t matter if its convenient, what matters is if you find it meaningful.
After all, what’s worst than waking up to an undesirable workload, already waiting for you at the foot of your bed?
“To get GoPro started, I moved back in with my parents and went to work seven days a week, 20 hours a day. I wrote off my personal life to make headway on it.” — Nick Woodman
Work’s A Beach
We’ve all had this romantic fantasy of bringing our work on vacation with us. We’ll be by the pool, soaking up the sun, and catching up with our assignments. Approximately 60% of US employees have worked while on vacation. While it might be worth an attempt, working and relaxing are separate entities and even though you love your job and the scenery, you can’t enjoy both at the same time.
In 2013, I had an opportunity to escape the early spring rain of Vancouver and visit Brazil. While I choose to limit my workload, I still had a few assignments stored in my carry on for me after I landed. With three weeks aboard, the job needed to get done. No excuses! So I had to treat the work time as sacredly as I would treat my flight’s boarding time.
I split up my work schedule. In the mornings while everybody was milling about getting ready for the day, I’d check my email and tackle the less stressful tasks. Then I’d disconnect completely. There is no place for work on the beach or on a scenic hike to a waterfall. In the afternoon after the excursion, I’d find a quiet spot, plug in and work a bit more while some took naps and others started pre-drinking or preparing for dinner. Truth was, I didn’t miss much while working. In fact, I made money while on vacation. It didn’t pay for everything, but it was rewarding.
“If you live for weekends or vacations, your shit is broken” — Gary Vaynerchuk
How important is your work?
Is it more important than a text message from a friend? Is it more important than your favorite sports team making playoffs? Is it more important than your high score in Candy Crush? Probably. So treat it as such. If you can respond to your flaky friend cancelling a dinner date with you last minute, you should be able to respond to a fraudulent payment. You should be able to notify your team about a large successful transaction. You should be able to see your company’s analytics on the go and make actionable decisions on the fly.
Control, a mobile app dedicated to supporting the nomadic lifestyle of modern day entrepreneurs, artists, and business managers. The app utilizes the API of mobile payment platforms (i.e. Stripe) and enables users to track transactions, manage payments, and ultimately take full control of their company anywhere in the world.
Many of us want the freedom to live and work simultaneously; Control is a tool that flourishes on this idea. Start your 14-day trial with Control today and see where it’ll take you.
By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. March 31, 2015
There is often this bludgeoning urge to go out and seize the day. On a Friday night, it sure seems like everyone is eager to make something of it, but more often than not, it just means going to the same restaurant or bar, with the same people, and stumbling home to a well-deserved Saturday morning hangover. With such a great desire to make it to the weekend or holiday break, maybe we should take some time to relax and just stay home.
I love travelling. It’s the passion that drives my very existence. Knowing that I have some place to go in the near future excites me the same way a new superhero movie may excite other people. I love travelling, but commuting sucks. Being out of my natural environment, the little niche I created for myself, sucks. I dislike long bus rides, and I can barely speak English let alone any other languages, so communicating in a foreign place is always a lengthy game of charades. I love travelling, but I can’t imagine doing it all the time.
Staycation, the term coined for the act of staying at home during a long weekend or a holiday season, is a perfectly reasonable way to take a break. Regular day-to-day life is stressful to say the least, and travelling—especially with a group—whether it’s down to the pub or to the other side of the world, is no less exhausting.
It’s a good idea to get out of the house once in a while and experience something other than television shows and instant noodles. But if you find yourself dashing here and there on a daily basis, stop, take a moment, lie down in your bed, walk out into your garden, open your closet, look out your window, scan your bookshelf, survey your pantry, and experience the very place you live in.
The grass may always seem greener. You look at a picturesque image of a beach in Thailand, you look at the happy photos of friends drinking in a bar, and you feel tempted. Embrace that temptation should it happen. Don’t force yourself to stay at home, but don’t force yourself to go out either. The choice is yours. Nevertheless, if your choice is to stay home, know this: you are going to have the freedom to do whatever you want, wear whatever you want, and nobody will kick you out or charge you a $10 cover to enter. You can fall asleep without having to transit home. You can leave a mess and nobody will get angry. You can listen to your own music, watch the shows you like, read the books you want, and eat the food you cooked.
Home is not a prison; it’s where your stuff is, and you’ve worked hard for all your stuff.
By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Originally published in the Other Press. May 5, 2o14
Canadians live for the wilderness, especially British Columbians. We anticipate our camping trips all winter long, and for many it’s our vacation from a stressful urban life. We want to escape our emails, our social media, and anything else linking us back to our offices and desks. Camping brings us back to the majesty of nature—and there is nothing natural about Wi-Fi.
The current initiative by Parks Canada is to install Internet into 150 national parks locations over the course of three years. While some spots will offer the Wi-Fi for free, others will charge a fee—either way, it is implemented so that visitors can stay connected with all their worries back home. How wonderful, right?
For those like me, who work mainly from the computer, having accessible Internet everywhere is a great commodity. But do I want to do work while I’m camping? Hell no! I always have this romantic idea of taking my work on vacation and doing it in the midst of travelling. I believe that type of work ethic is harmful to both the product and the worker. Separating work and play is essential to living a happy, healthy life. “I’m going camping” should still be a valid excuse for a break, even if Wi-Fi is available.
It is true that we are becoming addicted to our mobile devices, laptops, and other technology. Whether we are on social media or we are playing games, technology has proven that we no longer need to go outside or even converse with real life human beings. One can live perfectly happily from the confines of their home or office. If you think Wi-Fi in parks are going to get people outside, then you have missed the whole reason for being outside.
Going out into nature should be an opportunity to reconnect not with your digital devices, but with the world around you—the world you probably forgot while you were busy studying for your finals, or working overtime, or simply doing other things. There is a lot to see out there and you might miss something because you were too busy looking down at your phone.
Technology is excellent for bringing people together, but once people are together—at camp grounds for example—then it’s best to spend some quality time with them and not worry about others far away; there will be time for them later.
Parks Canada has stressed that there will be many places in the back country where Wi-Fi will probably never be enabled. That’s good, but the fact that so many outdoor locations will have accessible Wi-Fi scares me. What if one day Wi-Fi disappears and we can’t YouTube a video on how to build a fire or set up a tent? What will happen when we aren’t able to get lost in the beauty of Canada? What makes us Canadians great is the fact that we are survivors in the wilderness. Take pride in having a weekend where you go to the bathroom in the bushes, or cook meals from a can, or log off of the Internet, because in a world where we can take it or leave it, it’s always harder to leave it. Better memories go to those who take risks, so be a courageous camper and power off.
I was somewhere on Las Vegas Boulevard heading south from my hotel, which seemed like a mirage in the distance. I was 18 years old, too young to enjoy any standard entertainment and too old to tag along with my family.
Vegas was a sad place for a family vacation. My father and I would hop about from one slot machine to the next, fearful to commit, but too curious to worry. My mother would attempt to wrangle us all together for quality time. At night we would see shows and eat buffets, but the days were long and there weren’t much for an adolescent boy to do.
We weren’t staying long, just four nights. And in that short amount of time, I managed a lot of walking—but I refer to it as an urban hike. On my own I wandered the promenades searching for something spectacular. There weren’t many streets like it in the world. There were landmarks on every corner and swarms of tourist crisscrossing, traveling from one hotel to the next with no intention of staying.
The day was hot and I was already too far-gone. I would enter a hotel for rest, savoring the theme of each casino as if it was some novel location. I enjoyed the idea of a place in the world where nobody really lived in, where everyone was just visiting. A part of me feels like this is how every city should be, how all citizens should be—Nomadic, just aimlessly wandering, winning and losing.
Outside I could only locate myself by the signs and building structures. Bellagio, MGM Grand and Treasure Island, everything seemed so close at a glance, but that was Vegas’ greatest illusion. The city is deceptively big, and my attempt to visit every hotel on the block was a failure.
I took a wrong exit out of MGM and ended up on a highway. I went back in, wandered around for a bit, looking the proper exit and for the prize lion they have locked up behind glass, but the cage was being cleaned and all that was there were two maintenance men. I eventually found another exit that didn’t look familiar. It was too late though; I was already on the move.
I left the strip and was struck with a moment of fright when I crossed through a construction site. A new hotel perhaps, should be ready for accommodations the next time I visit. Until then, I needed to find my way back to my current hotel, miles away.
The gulls it takes to call a place “paradise”. A man hands me a couple prostitute trading cards. How delightful. I tuck it into my pocket and continue on my way. I arrive at a courtyard at Caesars Palace. I snap some pictures of statues and monuments and realized what I was doing. I was fooling myself into believe I was some place special. I was in Rome, New York, Paris, and Egypt. Vegas is a travelers’ lie. Too frightened to travel? Don’t want to deal with language barrier or snooty locals? Well Vegas.
For vacationers, Vegas can be a terrific all-inclusive experience, but for travelers, Vegas is a warm up, an appetizer or even just a menu. Nobody really gets lost there, they just get returned.
Welcome back from your little holiday break. I hope you got a chance to rest and spend some valuable time with your friends and family—or I hope you got an opportunity to get out of the city, away from the hustle and bustle of the holidaze, and do a bit of travelling. When it comes to travelling, there isn’t an incorrect way of seeing the world, but with limited chances, it’s important to do it right.
Contrary to popular belief, backpacking across a city, country, or continent is no more dangerous than any other form of travelling. Just because you aren’t staying at a five-star hotel doesn’t mean you won’t have a good time. There is a freedom to backpacking that other forms of travelling can’t replicate. You move at your own pace and decide where and what you want to eat, sleep, and do. You push yourself to get to rural destinations and see the breathtaking National Geographic sights.
Moreover, backpacking allows you to constantly meet new and interesting people, the kind you won’t meet at a resort. It also enables you to be fully engulfed in the cultural experience—especially if you don’t have a translator. Suddenly body language and patience become so important. All the skills and ethics your parents tried to instil in you from a young age are applied while backpacking. It’s a very human feeling of completeness, not in the way buying a new car or a computer makes you feel complete.
Not many North Americans are born nomads, but there is a beauty in trying new things. Limited to a backpack full of essentials, backpackers can just pick up and go. In a way, backpackers are really the only type of legitimate travellers—others are just passengers.
Is there anything worse than being told what to do? In normal life, you are always obeying your teachers, bosses, or parents—why should you be so obedient on your vacation as well? Tours are traps for travellers; it’s a way for big companies to make money. Often, tours will usher you to a popular destination and allow locals to leech off of you, selling you knick-knacks and other novelty foreign garbage that you can bring home and show to all your domesticated friends.
Of course, tours are sometimes the only method of seeing certain attractions. But more often than not, the most attractive places are ruined by the sensation that comes with being on a tour. In 2012, I was fortunate enough to visit the Galápagos Islands. As a fan of science and Charles Darwin, the archipelago off of Ecuador was a place I longed to see; sadly the only safe and legal way of exploring the island was to go on a tour with a naturalist. Let’s just say that it’s hard to have an adventure when a law-abiding environmentalist is practically holding your hand the whole way. Sure, the trip was worth it and I got to see all I wanted to see, but the experience was tarnished by the fact that it was a tour.
Perhaps at a certain age, tours will be an acceptable means of seeing the world, but not in your 20‘s. Take this opportunity to see the world without a leash holding you back.