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The Gap Year Blog

Into The Wild Meets: World Traveller Chris Wilpert

13 Jun 2019 13:55 PM
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Photo Credit: Chris Wilpert 

Edited with Permission by Frontier

He has climbed the 19,974 feet high Huayna Potosi in Bolivia, has witnessed the disastrous extends of plastic pollution and climate change first-hand and is currently on his second world travel tour since 2016. Chris Wilpert has been all over South and Central America as well as Asia and South East Asia. At the moment he is in North America and does not think of settling soon. Into The Wild Meets spoke with Chris about his adventures, life as a digital nomad, volunteer experience and how he deals with the information overload from seeing so many different things and places.

You have been travelling the world for quite some time now, how long has it been?

Of course, I did a lot of small trips and journeys when I was a teenager, but the first long term world tour was in 2012 for 15 months. After that I had a break, saved some money and built up my business. At the end of 2016, I started my second world tour and I won't stop anytime soon. In the last 2,5 years I travelled all over Central and South America. And there is still a lot to come. I want to see Asia again, Oceania, South Asia, Africa and the Near East.

How many countries have you travelled to so far?

I deny to give a number. Simply, because I don't think it matters. I often see people on Instagram or Dating Apps writing down a specific number and ask myself: What does it tell you? You can travel to 100 countries and spend a week in each and you can travel to 20 countries and spend a year in each. Neither is good or bad, but a number does not really say anything. It is like comparing a computer, a smartphone or a camera. Everyone needs or want something different. For me it does not matter, how many countries I visited, and I keep myself out of comparing numbers.

Which country and highlights did you like best?

Somehow, I always go back to Colombia. So, I definitely would say that I made the biggest connection with that place. In general, I love the culture in Latin America. Asia is awesome because it is cheap, and you can afford a nice living standard. I do remember some highlights like Angkor Wat, Taj Mahal, Niagara Falls, Machu Picchu and the Crand Canyon. Maybe not all of it in a positive way – some things are simply overrated.

My personal highlight is climbing on top of the Huayna Potosi mountain in Bolivia. One of the easiest 6000er in the world. It was still a big challenge and the hardest thing I did in my life. Talking about memorable things – seeing an active volcano (Fuego) during night in Guatemala was a magical experience. It does look like a fire flower. Very dangerous, but also incredibly beautiful.

Photo Credit: Chris Wilpert - Acatenango Vulcano 

How is your life as a digital nomad?

It is good so far. Just for people, who are not very familiar with the label. It simply means you work location independent. I work around 60 percent of the time. The rest of my time goes into travelling or personal time. My work allows me to work only on my computer and I don't have fixed working hours. The working hours can be actually really difficult. Depending on your location you may need to stay awake or get up early in the morning. Other issues are a proper Wi-Fi connection and a good working space. I for myself can never understand how people claim they work on the beach, a couch or on the bed.

Do you have something like an everyday life?

I would say that most of my days are different, but chances are good that I spend time in front of my computer. I don't go out exploring every day. I not even go out every day. I am really flexible.

How do you process meeting so many different people, seeing so many different things and cultures?

Well, for fact I don't go to museums anymore. It just kills me getting this information overload and I can't remember most of the stuff after couple of months, but I do remember the atmosphere and some impressions. Of course, there are exceptions. With people I am fine. I don't meet too many, because I don't stay in hostels often. I sometimes feel bad for a lover when she expects more communication and I am just living in the now. I kind of do loose a few people because of this. 

Socially I am living in the now. Someone who lives far away can't fill up my social meter as someone I maybe just meet. It is not nice to say, but I just want to be honest – I can't get enough of seeing new places, hikes or collect impression of cultures and countries. Yes, I get regularly tired. Every once in a while, let’s say every three to five months. Then I take a break and stay at a place for a month. That mostly allows me to digest a couple of things and also fills up my motivation to go on. I also put some relaxing days in between my travel when I do nothing else than playing games and watching series or movies.

Photo Credit: Chris Wilpert - Mexico

What did inspire you to travel?

Culture, people, places and moments. That’s what comes into my mind. I am tempted to say learning, but I would not at all sit down and be a student again. But life! I want to learn about myself and about my place in this world. I am far away of finding the life’s purpose for me. On the way I want to experience different cultures. Meet people and create moments. Thinking about that makes me happy. Through, I spend much more time working and finding people is not easy as well. Maybe that's why I travel alone. The world is so big and there are so many things, which make it worth to find.

What is your biggest regret?

I don't have one. Everything happens for a reason. I wouldn't be here if not. I wouldn't do some things again. I would sell one position on the stock markets 10 years ago, which I lost a lot of money with. I would not take Tiger pictures in Thailand again (I was young and naive). I would start to learn doing business earlier. Anyway, I have no regrets! It is also proven that people rather regret something they didn't do, than things they did.

Has there been a place you thought “here I could spend the rest of my life”?

There is not a single place, but I do feel kind of "home" in Medellin (Colombia). I also know it will be one of my bases after the world tour. Overall, I want four of them. One in Amerika, Asia, Europe and something mobile.

What makes you leave places and travel on?

Well, the "pressure" to see more and explore is still there. I am always tempted to extend and stay longer in Medellin. I already visited the same place for X-mas the last three years. I am not done with my journey. I do will have a break there in around one to two years to buy an apartment, get some other stuff done and make further plans. But I will not settle for the next five years, I think.

What do you plan on doing after your world travel?

I will travel between and from my four bases. It will travel much slower. I hope I can be more active in local communities and hopefully find my purpose in life. I don't know yet. I have a 15-year plan, but I don't know yet how my life exactly will look like. It is a difficult thing to plan. Everything could happen.

Photo Credit: Chris Wilpert - Arches National Park

How do you finance your travels as digital nomad?

I work ten days a month for a SAP Partner company in Belgium. Normally for a Company in Germany (now), but my contract is via Swiss for a company in Belgium. I worked with my "boss" for four years in three different companies. He supports me and my lifestyle. I worked with him before on site in London. It makes it much easier. I also own a small one-person company doing SEO, but I don't do a lot anymore because I don't have enough time. Just some old customers.

With my two travel blogs (globesurfer.de and backpacker-reise.de) I earn some passive money. It would be not enough to survive, but not to live. I trade on the stock markets and work on automatic trading this year. Next year I would like to start with eCommerce. I like to focus on passive income sources, but my IT job is still the main income source. If I buy my first apartment next year, I will also start doing AirBnB if everything works out. I try to keep chris-wilpert.de up to date. It is kind of an online business card.

What was your travel budget when you started?

When I started? In my first world tour my budget was around 1.000 EUR a month. I often spend less. The budget didn't change. My rough plan is still to spend around 1.000 EUR per month, but in some countries it is not easy or possible. In US I spend around 2.000 EUR a month. People would love if I tell them that a private room in Central America on Airbnb could have the same price as dorm bed. I try to organise my own tours if possible.

What is the scariest thing you have come across?

Nothing comes into my mind. Maybe seeing someone trying to rob someone else. Maybe an accident with a machete in Laos (I was a bit scarred to get an infection). I would call myself lucky.

Photo Credit: Chris Wilpert - Koh Tonsay

Did you witness any event or action that can be connected to climate change or plastic pollution during your travels?

Oh yes! More often than people would expect! I remember a situation in a restaurant somewhere in South America. They had a picture of a mountain in different years. You could see how the ice on the mountain becomes less and less every year. I don't know anyone, who is on holiday and doesn't see plastic on the beach. It is just a matter of the amount but is there any beach without plastic on earth?! You might not see any on some beaches because the current takes it away, but the amount of plastic in the ocean (also seen when diving) is crazy!

Global warming also influences La Niña–El Niño cycles. If I understand correctly that was the reason why in 2018 the east coast was flooded with seaweed. That’s not the first time that something like that happened, but at the end I think a lot of results from global warming become slowly visible. I think after the world’s cultural adoption of the West; climate change is the most visible matter to observe while travelling.

What is the best foreign food you would go miles for?

A proper Berlin Kebab is still worth some miles. No matter what I tried. That "dish" is not replaceable. My grandfather makes the best fried potatoes on earth. For me food in that case is an emotional thing. The weirdest thing I tried was in Vietnam - Gecko! The most surprising thing was bamboo water in the Amazonas, which taste like sprite and not to forget Lemon. I am not a foodie, but I try whatever I can.

Photo Credit: Chris Wilpert - Food in Vietnam

Is there anything you miss from back home?

What’s home? Seriously I don't see Germany as my home. I was born and raised there. Home is where I am.

Have you ever volunteered during your travels?

I volunteered during my first world tour in Java, Indonesia. I was teaching Acting and English in school. It was great. I loved my students. The reasons why I did it wasn't noble. I simply wanted a break at this time, and they offered a free place to stay. If I would volunteer again, I would like to do something with children. I think giving something back is something very important. I have to pledge myself guilty for not doing enough. I am simply not ready yet and I thank everyone out there who gives something back!

Is the anything you would recommend your fellow adventurers?

"Plan for expensive countries and be flexible in cheap countries". Means that it will probably help you to save money if you prepare better for expensive countries. In cheap countries it won't get too expensive (if you don't book your place ahead). In expensive countries it does!

"Sometimes less is more!". Don't put your journey full of to dos or try to travel Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam in one month (yep I meet these people). Having a day in the park talking with different people, maybe brings you more than visiting another tourist attraction nearby. It is your decision anyway, but I learned to travel a bit slower.

"Don't be a tourist, be a traveler". You want to be that one in 1000 person or you want to have the feeling that you explored something? I tell you the best feeling you will ever get while travelling is when you have the feeling you are the first one there, or you explored something really unique. Ask locals for those secret places! Last but not least: I know it is annoying to hear but watch out for the environment and your own footprint. Let’s live in peace and have other generations enjoying this world!

Want to keep up with Chris Wilpert’s world travel adventures? Check out his two travel blogs for globesurfer and backpacker – both are in German language though – or follow him on social media at Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

By Desiree Schneider - Online Journalism Intern

Frontier runs terrestrial & marine conservationcommunityteaching and adventure projects in over 50 countries - join us and explore the world!