We Call This Home: World Traveler Walter Chang
We all love to take a vacation off once or twice in a year, but there are few who have managed to turn travel into a way of life. Walter Chang is one of them. He is a New York-based photographer, who planned to quit his job back in 2010 and travel Southeast Asia for three months.
Walter Chang’s idea eventually turned into a crazy three-year-long break and he traveled around the world with nothing but a backpack. Having traveled 60 countries over the span of three years, Walter is currently working on his photography and film-based project, ‘We Call This Home’.
Through this project, he wishes to share his story with you and inspire you with a bit of wanderlust.
Aradhna: How did the idea of full time travel pop up in your mind? Was it a childhood dream?
Walter: No, it was never a childhood dream. Even during I was in university, I hated going on family vacations and never really took an interest in traveling outside of the USA. Sometime during 2010 I came up with a plan to travel for a year. When I was reading Carl Sagan’s “Pale Blue Dot”, a light bulb went off. I realized I had barely seen or experienced life outside of the New York City area.
Aradhna: What has been your most memorable ‘out of my comfort zone’ experience?
Walter: The most memorable out of my comfort zone experience was probably visiting Varanasi, in India for the first time. It was the first city I visited in India and the sights, smells, and noises were just completely out of this world. The whole experience was the polar opposite of what my life was like growing up in the USA. My visit there was amazing and it sparked my curiosity about other places further.
Aradhna: Didn’t you miss your family and friends?
Walter: No, I was away most of the time in college and though I was only 40 minutes away from my parents, I hardly visited then. I think going to school in New York City helped me become independent really quickly. However, I did miss my mom’s cooking a lot at times.
Aradhna: Have you had any serious problems or been in dangerous situations abroad? Did you ever feel like giving up and coming back home?
Walter: I had all my belongings stolen except a bag of clothes in Chile while waiting at a bus stop in a city called Calama. I also rolled my car in the deserts of Namibia but was lucky and did not get injured. I felt like giving up during both those moments but decided to not let these incidents break me from continuing what I wanted to keep doing.
A little more detail on the car accident in Namibia … I wanted to head back home after my car accident in Namibia. This was almost 2 years back. Luckily, when I was on the phone with Hertz, the lady told me a new car would be on the way. I would have chosen to head back to the capital, fly home and end the whole thing; instead, I had an amazing time for 5-6 months in Africa.
Aradhna: What is the most common misconception about full-time travel?
Walter: The most common misconception is that it’s a glamorous vacation. Most people are on a budget so there’s a lot of discomfort involved trying to make it affordable.
The other misconception is that you are somehow wasting your life. I think anyone that comes away from an extended trip will corroborate that so much wisdom and knowledge is gained from traveling that is hard to get any other way.
Aradhna: What advice can you share for those who want to travel full time but are scared to take the leap?
Walter: It’s scary to take a step into the unknown. Living with a stable job and the comforts of your home is hard to leave. You have to ask yourself why not? The worst thing to me is regret. There’s nothing worse than wasting your one chance at life and constantly thinking, ‘what if’?
Aradhna: What is the best saving tip you can give to anyone trying to save up for full-time travel?
Walter: I think it’s best to write down a list of all your expenses and find out what isn’t essential. If you really want to make it work you can easily cut back on going out, cooking simple meals at home, living on a friend’s couch, and selling a lot of the things you don’t actually need.
Aradhna: Favorite country and why?
Walter: I really enjoyed Brazil for the people, landscapes, and culture. The country is really big so there are a lot of areas that differ from one another. However, I really loved how friendly the people were. Brazilians are incredibly welcoming and it was so easy to befriend people of my age.
Aradhna: Would you like to tell us how you care about the environment when you travel?
Walter: I do my best to clean up and pick up litter in places when I run across it. I walked as much as I could and used public transportation as much as possible.
Aradhna: Having met different people across the world, would you say people are aware about the growing concerns to the degradation of our environmental quality and are taking steps to improve it?
Walter: I think it’s slowly happening. Unfortunately taking care of our environment can only happen when people attain basic needs and have the time to actually care about what’s happening with our Earth. Developing countries are slowly taking notice but we still have a long way to go.
Also, traveling to beautiful places and seeing trash next to you is always a healthy reminder to keep our planet clean. I think that an image of that place itself will help people make the necessary changes needed in those places they call their home.
Aradhna: Based on your traveling experience, what is your message for the world from the sustainability point of view?
Walter: I’m no expert on this matter, but I find it pretty sad how much plastic is used. If we all just got used to keeping a reusable bag and bottle with us we could go a long way in keeping the environment a bit healthier.
Aradhna: Any environment-friendly practice you observed which you want to tell everyone about?
Walter: Making use of simple waste separation and compost bins are always something that I hardly see at homes and sincerely hope that can be practiced more often.
Aradhna: Do you plan to settle down and have a more fixed lifestyle now?
Walter: Yes, I want to settle down in a bit and avoid moving around so much. I’m looking forward to live abroad. I think the experience will be very different and I’ve never done it before, so I hope to continue my travel experiences this way.
Making use of simple waste separation and compost bins are always something that I hardly see at homes and sincerely hope that can be practiced more often.
Aradhna: What’s your advice for aspiring travelers?
Walter: Try not to plan so much. I was so focused on following my itinerary in the beginning that I missed out on a lot of opportunities. When you plan less you have little to be disappointed about and you can go along with the flow. There are so many things that can happen and people that you can meet while traveling.
If we all just got used to keeping a reusable bag and bottle with us we could go a long way in keeping the environment a bit healthier.
Aradhna: Thank you so much for your precious time, Walter. We wish you all the success with your film project.
Listening to Walter, I have to say, travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer and Walter has earned this wealth of travel. I hope you enjoyed this interview and if you’d like to know more about Walter’s globe-trot, have a look at his amazing blog, “We Call This Home” where you can read about his travel quest. You can even follow him on twitter.
– Interview by Aradhna Mahajan. Edited by Vandita Morarka
Aradhna Mahajan is currently pursuing her B.A L.L.B(H) from Amity Law School, Delhi. She believes in standing up for a cause and joined Earth5R to write compelling articles for EarthJournal. She wants to raise her opinions about the damages done to our environment and to suggest some of her own ideas to curb the damage.