Meet the Gypsies : Andrew of Escape Velocity @AJWaltonTravel
Meet the Gypsies : Andrew of Escape Velocity
1. Who are you? Where are you from? Where are you now?
My name is Andrew Walton, long term traveler from Winnipeg, Canada. I’m in my final week of a whopping 15 months in Saint Petersburg, Russia!
2. What’s your packing strategy? Heavy or light packer? Suitcase or backpack?
My packing strategy is very simple: Take a backpack small enough to carry-on on any flight. That way, there’s a defined limit to how much I can take, and I have to decide what’s really important and what’s not. As a result, I’m an extremely light packer most of the time.
For example: To keep the weight of electronics down, I’ve used an iPad mini + keyboard/case as a computer and camera.
3. How do you afford your travels? Budget traveler or lean more towards luxury?
There are 3 things I do that make travel easy to afford:
1) No matter where I am in the world I have a goal of saving at least 30% of my income to fund further travel. I don’t always succeed (and other times I do much better) but it keeps me on track and it’s a great habit to have in general.
2) I use a wide variety of strategies to reduce my expenses, including traveling slowly, taking advantage of numerous forms of cheap accommodation,
3) I focus on long-term career growth on the road, the same way that most people focus on their “normal” career paths at home. Every job I take, every skill I learn, and everything I do with my website has a long-term strategic goal in addition to providing for my short-term needs.
For example, my knowledge of Russian plus a certificate proving my ability helped me get a bunch of teaching offers, translating work, and even marketing work (which is my specialty) in Russia. These things in turn bolster my resume, and all of it is material for my blog.
As for budget vs luxury, I see this not as a battle between two extremes, but as a natural evolution as a traveler. When we have little money to invest in convenient & comfortable travel we have to invest our time & energy instead. That might mean taking a bus instead of flying. Or spending hours on CouchSurfing looking for free lodging instead of just booking a hotel straight up.
Ideally, over time we’ll earn more and be able to spend our money instead of our time, which is a much more valuable resource. Eventually, when we have convenience handled, we’ll add comfort on top of it, and a luxury traveler is born.
For example, when I started out I was an extreme budget traveler. For me, Paris on $2/day was cool – back in 2011. Now I would never do that, not because it’s bad or wrong, but because I’ve grown to the point where I can afford convenience and invest more of my time elsewhere – like language learning. Someday I’ll be able to afford more comfort too, but that’s a ways away.
4. If you could go anywhere tomorrow, where would you go?
South America. Ever since I left Canada, it’s been on the opposite side of the world for me, and I’ve always had a dream of going overland from Mexico all the way down to the southern tip of Argentina on a motorbike. I would also be a great place to learn Spanish, which I still need to learn!
5. Is there anywhere you won’t travel to and why?
Only places where there are real physical threats. Meaning mainly active war zones and places with massive disease outbreaks. Or places where tourists are specifically being targeted. I won’t skip a country due to disagreeable political policy. That being said, when a country like Iran makes it so hard for Canadians to visit (don’t want a babysitter with me 24/7, sorry), I’ll go somewhere else simply because there’s so much choice and I’m not interested in the hassle.
6. What’s the most adventurous thing you’ve eaten?
I’ve eaten various insects in Thailand, but in general I don’t go for the wild and freaky stuff. I love local fare, and always try to sample as many classic dishes as possible, but I still have “westernized” food sensibilities when it comes to things like eating dog or monkey brains. No thanks.
7. You have a passion for learning languages? Which do you speak? Any tips for learning a new language?
In addition to English I speak French and Russian. I also read Portuguese fairly well, but my active vocabulary is about 1 words as I’ve literally only studied it for 3 days in my life. I’ve also learned some Malaysian and Thai during my travels but I don’t remember any of it now.
My best tip for learning a new language: There is no one “holy grail” exercise that you can do every day to achieve quick mastery. You absolutely have to mix things up so your brain makes different connections and things remain interesting.
Additionally, I’d make a point of intentionally separating active and passive vocabulary. To express pretty much any thought you probably need about 2,000 words, but to understand almost any thought you probably need close to 10x the amount.
The best exercises for acquiring both are quite different. SRS (Spaced repetition software) is perfect for passive vocabulary, but for active vocabulary you want to be speaking (or possibly writing) as much as possible about the topics most important to you.
8. What are some things you enjoy doing besides traveling?
Playing guitar, snowboarding, learning languages, doing marketing work. Most of all I enjoy spending time with the people I love and don’t care so much what it is we do. If I’ve learned anything from travel, it’s that relationships with people are far more valuable than seeing all the world’s monuments and museums and having the world’s most badass collection of selfies.
Fortunately, whatever activity it is that you enjoy, it’s probably not mutually exclusive with travel.
9. You’ve lived in 5 different countries. Which ones? Any favorites?
I’ve lived in Canada, France, Malaysia, Thailand, and Russia. To be clear on what I count as “living” in a country, I consider this as spending at least 3 months there, having a specific living space, and during that time both considering this place “home” and having no concrete intention of leaving.
My favorite has always been the place I am currently. I’ve never looked back and thought “oh gee, I wish I was still in XYZ.”
That being said, Russia is particularly special for me because it’s where my girlfriend’s family lives, and it’s a place where I’ve had a lot of personal successes that I had long been striving towards.
10. Most importantly, where to next?
I’m finally making my way to China, where I will be for the next year in all likelihood. Mandarin Chinese is my next big challenge on the language front, and should give me a fairly well-rounded set of languages going forward.