Hi! I’m Chris van Niekerk from Cape Town, South Africa and proud of it. Currently, I’m a Key Account Manager in the automotive safety industry and although this may not be where my passion lies, for now, it manages to fund my day-to-day life and a couple of epic trips. I’m active on Twitter at @TheTravelGuySA
I’ve travelled Africa, Europe, and Asia with my highlights being Zambia, Romania, Czech Republic, Vietnam, Philippines, Japan in no particular order. I’m currently planning a trip to Tanzania with South America to follow in the next year or two.
Why did you start travelling?
I was brought up by two very adventurous parents and although we never embarked on a holiday abroad I was lucky to explore my country from tip to toe during my childhood.
At the age of 18, my father decided it would be best to live vicariously through me and consequently shipped me off to England on a working holiday visa, luckily not kicking and screaming. I think it was during this time my passion for experiencing new cultures, seeing new landscapes and meeting new people really blossomed.
I was back on South African shores within a year to begin studying and I had to bury my dream of overseas travel for the next six years. I managed to make some awesome local trips while I was a student but with that first paycheque in 2012 I started saving for my first trip which would eventually materialise as backpacking Vietnam from North to South
What inspires you to travel?
You know how as you get older time seems to go by quicker? I believe firmly that this is because we tend to become more and more stuck in a routine, experiencing the same things day in and day out. Same home, same commute, same work place, same everything.
When you travel, life moves slowly as you absorb every little detail around you, the smells, the sights, the people, the languages, the food, the culture, the adventure.
I currently live my life in slow-mo 7% of the time with the remaining 93% being in fast-forward. What inspires or rather motivates me is swapping those numbers around, experiencing new things a lot more often than succumbing to a routine.
Did you experience fear before embarking on your first (solo) journey?
When I ran off to England after school, I was lucky enough at the time to be joined by a good friend of mine. Unfortunately, after a month or three, we were both broke and I had to take a job alone up in the North of England.
I was a lot more nervous than fearful at the time (then again, who knows the difference really?). Funny thing is, I got over it in about a second flat after I arrived at my destination. That realisation that circumstances aren’t nearly as bad as you think gives you a lot of confidence.
How did you deal with that fear and what would you say to someone experiencing such fear?
Firstly, I bullshitted myself into believing everything was fine (which it actually was).
Secondly, I made sure that I always had some way of contacting a safe place and enough cash on me, which may mean completely different things to different people, for me it was my family and enough to live for a week.
What have you learned through travelling, both about yourself and other people?
First thought that pops into my mind are that most people are inherently good at heart and are more than willing to help, especially in less privileged areas which is a little ironic.
What I’ve learned about myself is directly related – as long as safety isn’t compromised, I’m willing to help (especially foreign) people at the drop of a hat.
In the same breath, I have learned tt accept help, something I’ve never been good at doing. The best experiences come from those times you let your guard down and allow yourself to be vulnerable. Just to be clear, I don’t mean running around an informal settlement with an SLR camera hanging around your neck. You get what I’m saying.
Do you have a travel story to share – one that immediately comes to mind?
Missing 2 flights in a row in Vietnam and having to chalk it up to a sacrifice to the travel gods. We arrived in Vietnam and due to the chaos at immigration and our cluelessness, getting our visas took way too long which ended up in us watching our plane taking off without us. We then rebooked at a some crazy cost for the next morning at 6am.
After that crazy experience, we stumbled across our first South East Asian highway to find a hotel which looked a little like a brothel, but it would do the job and sold beer! We sat up until about 4 am celebrating our arrival, slept until 6am and had to watch another one of our flights take off.
Back to the airport to buy ANOTHER ticket and finally, we were on our way couple of hours later.
What is your favourite travel destination and why?
Anywhere in South East Asia – it’s beautiful, cheap, culture-rich and the people are amazing. There’s not much more to it.
Is there any other advice you’d like to give anyone looking to travel for the first time?
Half the fun is researching where you want to go. Get lost in some Google image searches, get stuck into travel guides, just get inspired.
Now comes the shitty, realistic part – funding. I have friends who earn more than me and have fewer expenses but yet just can’t afford to travel. Make it a priority. My general budget is built around my travel budget, I start and end with it.
In the same breath, don’t be an idiot and neglect your responsibilities, it’s all about balance.
Money aside, just start planning, get excited and start booking – that’s when it gets real.
Do you have an upcoming journey planned?
Tanzania – the aim is to climb Kilimanjaro and the head to Zanzibar. The result will all depend on our wonderful ZAR/USD exchange rate.
Are you planning your first journey? Or are you a seasoned traveller?