and mastering the Bum Gun.

I am sitting on the toilet throwing my shit-stained toilet paper in the trash can under the sink when I realize: Whoops, I’m back in Germany! Before my mind fully makes this transition, I’ll try to retain some of the (also peculiar) synapse connections my mind formed during months on the road.

Barbecue with students learning English. Close to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
  • Days: 181 (Sept 2018 — March 2019)
  • Thailand (26), Cambodia (7), Vietnam (30), USA (15), Mexico (25), Bali (59), Philippines (19)
  • $/day: 75 (no flights)
  • Hostels: 40
  • Favorite for backpacking: Vietnam
  • Longest stay: Canggu (Bali) for 45 days
  • Backpack: 40L, 10kg (Boxershorts: 3)
  • Days with diarrhea: 10


Why they’re not so different.

It’s Christmas Eve and I’m waiting for my plane at LAX scrolling through my Instagram feed. An image of a turquoise ocean with a wooden pier stretching out towards the horizon displays the inspirational message: Collect memories, not things. This seems to be one of the more universally agreed upon lifestyle choices these days:

Instead of buying an Aquarium, better book that PADI course at the Great Barrier Reef. Resist purchasing those Bose Speakers to instead rave at Tomorrowland. Why spend money on an Ice Cream Maker when you can explore Antartica? Physical things have this reputation of being superficial…

10 days of silent meditation.

My ass hurt, my concentration was gone and time seemed to stand still. I squinted open my eyes just enough to see motionless silhouettes sitting like statues of Buddha in a dim-lit room. Finally, low, soothing Hindi chants, reminding me of Muslim prayers howled from minarets, broke the silence to bring sweet relief: two more hours of meditation were over. And in a sleep-walking like manner, the silhouettes erected silently from their pillows and walked, head down and with short, slow steps, out of the meditation hall.

11 hours of meditating like this each day.

The start of this 10-day camp was as straight-forward as it was terrifying…

Exploration vs exploitation.

Nowadays, the reasons for travel are assumed to be so obvious, the benefits so universally agreed-upon, that it seems almost inappropriate to ask: Wait, why exactly are you doing this? But are the benefits really so obvious, the objectives so clear or are people just running away from responsibilities? So here are my personal reasons, maybe mainstream, maybe different, but in any case, explicitly formulated. My own sanity check — forcing subconscious feelings into the unforgiving light of consciousness. Making sure I can stand behind my reasons, which hopefully exceed just pimping up my Instagram account.

These beasts casually strolling down the street of Ayutthaya are definitely cool, but not my main reason for travel.

I’ll start talking about…

Why money can help.

Of a 168-hour week, 56 hours are typically spent sleeping and 40 hours earning money. That leaves 72 hours every week to watch cat videos on YouTube — this we call spare time.

This video has consumed 10.8 million hours of humanity.

Spare already suggests its secondary priority. A left-over. Optional. Work comes first, while spare time mercifully receives the few hours in between to fill. And granted, work is important. One can feel satisfied after and even during an accomplished day at work. Furthermore, the earned money enables the benefits of modern society, such as a roof over your head or an avocado in off-season. However, work only…

Alexander Winkler

Robotics researcher at ETH Zurich •

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