– by Wendy Morley, Publisher –
So many people have the dream of taking a year off and traveling the world, but for most people it remains a dream; it’s just too tough to save enough money, to be away from family and friends, to take a year away from a career. But some people manage to live their travel dreams without giving up the rest of their lives, and Gareth Chen is one.
I met Gareth in an unusual way, when he moved into my house! A very easy person to get along with, Gareth soon became friends with pretty much anyone who happened by – friend, neighbor or relative. Unfortunately the living arrangement didn’t last more than a few months because he happened to be moving to the other side of the world, but we’ve remained friends.
Something that has always impressed me about Gareth is his traveling. With barely a second thought, once he decides he wants to go somewhere, the next thing you know you’re seeing gorgeous photos of that place appear on his Facebook thread.
I feel a strong affinity for people who get an idea in their heads and then make things happen, and since Gareth’s photos are true travel porn, I thought I’d interview him and share with you. Here’s my interview, along with a number of photos from his travels. It took me hours of sifting through seemingly endless images before I could manage to whittle them down to these, and I still keep finding myself wanting to share more.
Wendy Morley: You grew up in Singapore. I’ve noticed when I’ve visited that city that people who live there travel an enormous amount. Did you, growing up? If so, where?
Gareth Chen: I caught the travel bug early on. My parents used to bring us kids on group tours to neighboring countries like Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand when we were in primary school. And you’re right; Singaporeans tend to travel out quite a bit for vacation as we can’t just drive to the countryside to view spring flowers, for example. [Singapore is both a county and a city]. It helps to have cheap flights and wonderful beaches a short two-hour flight away.
WM: Since I’ve known you (about three years) you’ve been to a lot of countries. Which countries have you visited in your life?
GC: In Asia, I’ve been to many parts of China (including Taiwan and Hong Kong), Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Russia, and also Australia. In Europe: Belgium, Iceland, Norway and Sweden. I’ve also been to the UAE, Canada and United States.
WM: I remember one day you said you wanted to see the Northern Lights, and next thing I knew you were booking a trip to Iceland. This was a similar circumstance when you went to Inner Mongolia, and then more recently, Lofoten Islands, Norway. Is this your MO? You just get a trip in your head and you make it happen?
GC: I don’t have a fixed schedule for work, so when the opportunity comes up to go somewhere, I gravitate towards the destination that appeals most to me at that point. I had always wanted to see/ chase the Northern Lights, and a friend happened to suggest the idea just when I had some free time from work.
With Inner Mongolia (which is actually part of China), I had met a fellow traveler in Jiangxi, China who came from that region. He, his wife and friends were going on a road trip during the summer and invited me along. I asked for some time off as it wasn’t a busy period, and next thing I was on a plane to Inner Mongolia.
WM: It must be asked: How do you afford it? Is this the only thing you spend money on?
GC: I guess most people who love to travel will find a way to fund their adventures. It’s just like people who spend on hobbies other than travel. I do not spend money chasing the latest technology like the newest iPhone, and I don’t splurge on expensive clothing, bags etc. You find ways to afford what’s important to you.
WM: What is it you are looking for when you travel? Does this change?
GC: These days I usually look for an opportunity to go somewhere interesting to experience and photograph. Or just for pure relaxation, like a weekend on the beach.
WM: Do you generally go with a specific purpose in mind?
GC: I didn’t start traveling with a particular reason. I bought my first digital camera after I left Singapore, and reconnected with a childhood passion for photography. Since I started traveling more the past few years I’ve been to a lot of naturally beautiful destinations. I enjoy the journey to these hard-to-reach places, and also interacting with the locals there.
My trips tend to be loosely planned and the next day could change based on a suggestion or recommendation from someone I spoke to the day before. My focus could be photography, learning about a culture that appeals to me or taking an opportunity to live or experience something as the locals do.
WM: Can you give me an example of a journey where you really found what you were looking for?
GC: Lake Baikal, in Siberia. These days photos of inspiring places turn up a lot on your Facebook feed. The blue ice of Lake Baikal was an image that stayed with me long after I first read about it. Nature, hiking and the opportunity to do something I had never experienced, trekking and camping on a frozen lake, this really appealed to me. Perhaps because I grew up in a densely populated island city, I tend to like heading to off the beaten path places with lots of nature and hiking/ walking
[Note: I also notice that Gareth, hailing from hot and humid Singapore, often chooses cold places to travel to. And for the record, he has about 100 gorgeous images from his trip to Lake Baikal in Siberia that were incredibly tough to choose from.]
WM: You also travel quite a lot for work. When you are traveling for work do you consistently look for side trips? [Gareth is currently based in China and his work is sourcing items as a buyer.]
GC: If there is an opportunity to do a side trip while traveling for work, I tend to grab it. I travel quite a bit around China for work, so I sometimes take an extra couple of days or the weekend traveling to a nearby destination.
WM: Is there something in particular you seek to show in your photographs?
GC: I like to show the journey, and not just the marked places of interest in the guidebooks.
WM: What are some of the most pleasant or wonderful surprises you’ve encountered?
GC: Meeting like-minded travelers in places with names I struggle to pronounce. Visiting with people you’ve met in their country, and they offer to show you around places that locals go.
WM: What are your accommodations usually like? Do you seek inexpensive comfort?
Do you camp? Do you stay at hostels, in hotels?
GC: It varies, depending on whether I’m traveling by myself or with friend(s). For my personal travels, I usually just seek an inexpensive and clean room. I love to camp when the opportunity arises, but have not had that many chances to use the tent I bought last year yet.
WM: Is the journey the destination?
More images below. All images Copyright © Gareth Chen.