It’s a hard concept to explain. The locals invariable ask me how long my holiday is here. I’ll be spending two months in Indonesia, so that is my answer. But I’m not on holiday. I’m working.
When I was employed, I would get two weeks of vacation a year. Each year I would pick some exotic destination, buy a Lonely Planet, and rigorously plan every day. I would book a nice hotel for every night, and book all transportation between destinations. My time was limited, so I wanted my vacation to go smoothly. I also had a full-time job, so I had cash to burn. Oftentimes my destination would be a beach, where I would spend days just chilling out.
But this is different. Now my job is travel blogger, which doesn’t actually pay anything. I stay in budget accommodations so my savings will last longer. As a travel blogger, my number one priority wherever I go is to do photography. I always have my camera strapped to me, and photograph as much as I can. If I can’t photograph it, I don’t do it. Laying on beaches gets boring. I prefer to walk around taking pictures. Activities can be a big expense, so not doing most adrenaline rush things keep costs down. Ziplines, parasailing, skydiving, and scuba diving are expensive activities that I can’t really photograph, so I save my money by skipping them. Island hopping in Palawan was awesome, but also expensive. If I was on vacation I could have spent a week hopping from island to island and snorkeling. But I can’t photograph the snorkeling. I had enough shots after two trips, so I stopped.
For me, photography is an activity. I can entertain myself for hours walking around with my camera. There’s no need to pay for activities to entertain me. It also provides me with souvenirs, so saves money there too. Activities I do pay for are the ones I can photograph. If I can’t go to sites independently, I’ll hire guides or book tours so that I can take pictures and write about them here later.
When I took two week vacations, I had something planned every day. Museums, temples, cultural performances, etc. I had to maximize every day. But while traveling for a year, it’s not possible to keep up that pace. I also have to stop traveling to work. Blogging requires a lot of time to process photos, write posts, do social media, and fix technical issues.
Another thing I liked to do on vacation was have fun. Often this meant going out at night for drinks. But drinking is expensive, and I don’t like to do it every night. It was fine to go out drinking every night for two weeks, but I have no desire to drink every night on a year of travels. Most nights on this long trip I don’t drink, which saves money, and is better for my health.
So how can I make long-term travel sustainable? This is my second big trip, and on my previous trip twelve years ago, I burned out after only eight months. I was going to too many places, doing too much on every day. This time around I’m experimenting with “mini trips” interspersed with periods of work. I did two two-week trips in the Philippines, with a work break between them, and that worked pretty well. After two weeks of low-budget backpacking, I’m ready for a little break.
So here I am on Bali, in the most touristy part of it, Kuta, locked in my room, working on my blog. I’m not on holiday. I’m not laying on the beach all day and going out partying every night. After a week of work I’ll get on a motorbike and explore the island. I’d like to get over to Lombok too. But that won’t really be a vacation. I’ll be busy working on my photography.