October 2012 Questions and Answers

It is time once again to dip into the proverbial inbox and answer the burning questions that internet has been dying to ask.

Happy To Be Homeless asks: Do you ever worry about your carbon footprint on the world? I’m not a huge environmentalist by any means, but it seems that you take numerous long-duration flights for “not-so-long” stays at your travel destinations…

When measuring your carbon footprint, I think you have to look at the totality of your lifestyle. If you look at every individual action you take, the only conclusion you could come to is that you should live in the woods if you want to minimize your carbon footprint.

Before going in-depth into the carbon impact of flights, I’d like to point out what I sort of life I lead:

  • I don’t have a home. That means I’m not constantly buying stuff to fill my house or running a lawn mower to cut my grass. I don’t have a refrigerator or rooms full of lights. I don’t have a TV set or water heater.
  • I seldom drive a car. I drive a car a few weeks a year. The vast majority of the time I am walking or using public transportation. I don’t have to commute to work nor do I have to drive around to do shopping or run errands.
  • I use a laptop computer. My laptop draws less energy than a 60 watt lightbulb and 1/2 to 1/3 the amount of a desktop computer. Likewise, all the other electronics I use tend to be very conservative in terms of energy consumption. In iPhone uses less than $0.50 of power annually, an iPad around $1.50 and a laptop is about $8. That is pretty much everything I have, where as a home will have dozens of appliances and gadgets.
  • I tend to stay in warm climates. The places that use the most energy consumption per capita tend to be colder climates, which is not surprising. Heat requires energy. I almost never require heating because I’m never in cold places. Likewise, I seldom use air conditioning where I stay because it makes me sick. Heating and cooling are two of the biggest drains on energy a person can use and for the most part I avoid it.

So before we get into transportation, I’d say my lifestyle has a significantly smaller carbon footprint than an average person in a developed country. I haven’t done the math, but it might even be less than the average person living here in Bangkok where I’m writing this.

A lot of attention has been given to the environmental impact of flying lately. The big problem with most of the analysis given to the carbon impact of flying is that it tends to assume short-haul flights. This recent article in Smithsonian Magazine provides a great breakdown of how efficient (or inefficient) air travel can be.

The shorter the flight, the more inefficient it is because so much energy is used in taking off and landing. The example given was between London and Manchester in the UK, which I admit would be a pretty silly route to fly given the train service between the two cities.

The longer the flight (roughly speaking), the more efficient it is. In fact, it can be more efficient than train or car travel if the flight is long enough. Obviously, if the flight is over the ocean, then travel by train or car is a moot point.

That being said, aircraft do burn fossil fuels. I’ve done several calculations of the amount of CO2 created by my flying and I came up with about 30,000 tons, which was the equivalent of about 20,000 miles of driving in my old car, which is approximately what I’d drive every year. 2012 saw the most flying I’ve done since I’ve started traveling (over 100,000 miles) so my annual carbon footprint has been lower than that most years I’ve been traveling.

So if I compare my current lifestyle and my old one, my transportation carbon footprint is about a wash and it is probably a bit better if you annualized it over the last 5 years.

If you factor in the carbon footprint of having a house in Minnesota, where I previously lived, I’m coming out way ahead. The estimated carbon footprint of me having a house with electricity and gas heating was 50,000 tons per year. While I do consume some electricity now, it is a fraction of what it used to be.

So, to finally answer your question…

Yes, I could certainly reduce my carbon footprint if I were to fly less and I don’t see myself flying as much as I have in 2012. Overall, by travelign I have reduced my carbon footprint dramatically. It might be as much as 60% if you believe some of the online calculators I’ve used.

Tony Ajsenberg asks: I am interested in knowing what precautions you take when eating food and drinking water in different locations. Have you had any serious health issues while abroad and what did you do?

Tony, you might have a hard time believing this, but I do absolutely nothing. I have never gone out of my way in over 5 years of traveling to worry about germs. I have never used hand sanitizer, I have never avoided any particular foods and I haven’t gone out of my way to avoid any water issues.

While there are some places where water borne illness is an issue, for the majority of the world it really isn’t a problem. Especially if you stick to drinking bottled water, beer and soft drinks.

The places which will have the greatest risk of water borne diseases are usually inland areas which rely on the same source for both their water supply and sewage.

I’ve been sick a few times traveling, but so far nothing serious or long term.

Marcello Arrambide asks: Basic cameras have come long way from what they used to be, point and shoots now have many advanced settings that many DLR’s have including shooting in raw. Would you agree, now that they are significantly more advanced & now that anyone can process their pictures in order to make them better, that you don’t need a fancy camera in order to take great professoinal pictures? This certainly has been the case for me so curious what your thoughts are on this coming from a professional photographers standpoint.

Yes and no. Low end cameras have certainly improved and it is now possible to capture much better images today than you could in the past with inexpensive cameras.

To say you can take “professional” images, however, I’d have to disagree with. Despite the improvements in low end cameras, there are still issues of physics to deal with. The first has to do with optics. There is only so much you can do with a single, tiny lens. You will never be able to do any serious wildlife or sports photography with a tiny lens because you will never have the magnification that a larger lens will (no, digital zoom isn’t really zooming). The second physical limit has to deal with sensor size. The larger the hunk of silicon that is capturing light, all things being equal, the better the quality of the image you will capture. You are capturing more photons on a larger sensor, which means you will have higher quality in poor lighting condition. While I do expect sensors to keep improving, a bigger one will always be better than a smaller one.

Physical constraints aside, the biggest difference between high end SRL’s and lower end cameras is your ability to control your settings. Most low end cameras don’t let you control factors such as aperture or shutter speed. Even if you can change those settings, it is usually difficult to do. Furthermore, most low end cameras don’t save images as RAW files, which means you will be hampered in your post processing.

So yes, low end cameras have certainly gotten better. I use my iPhone camera all the time. However, with a few exceptions, I don’t expect to see cheaper cameras in the pages of National Geographic any time soon.

Adam Overby asks: I want to know how perpetual travel is funded without a trust fund and years of saving. Because no matter what you save it doesn’t last forever so not how do you create residual income how do I as a beginner create returning streams Internet income to keep me out there.

You’ve hit on two fundamental truths to perpetual travel: 1) you need some savings to start, and 2) you need to make money on the road.

How much you need to start is very opened ended. That will depend on several factors including, if you have anything already lined up in terms of income, where you start traveling and how long you want to travel before you want to start working.

You don’t need a fortune to start traveling. I know many people who are able to travel on about $1,000/month. Depending how often you move and where you are, that could even be less. I met one man who spent a month in Egypt on $300.

Don’t expect to live on that much however if you are in Europe, North America or Australia. Those spending levels are usually only possible in places like SE Asia or Central America.

As far as income goes, there are any number of things you can do. I’ve met lawyers, graphic designers, webmasters, SCUBA instructors, English teachers and of course….bloggers.

Ricardo Villa Valle asks: For those who are interested in travelling full time like yourself. How do you do it? Or what’s needed to be able to achieve something like this? What does it take? I personally want to take this on and travel the whole world. I have a job that can be mobile if they allow it. I have already thought about the path I would go to avoid a lot of airfare fees by country hopping instead of coming back home and taking off again. Look to maybe take off in a year or two.

Ricardo, there are three things you need:

  1. Money
  2. Time
  3. Will

If you have a mobile job, then you’ve taken care of the first one. Time is a function of other obligations to friends and family you have. Some people just can’t do that if they have children or sick relatives.

The last thing is just the desire to do it. There are lots of people with money and time who never travel because it isn’t a priority for them.

Once you’ve made the decision you will have to tie up all the loose ends you have at home which will probably include putting things in storage, getting rid of stuff you don’t need, getting out of your lease, etc.

Once you have that stuff taken care of (that took me about 9 months when you factor in selling my house) you can pack your bags and hit the road.

Runaway Jane asks: Who do you think would win in a fight – a fox or a badger?

Easy. A badger. In particular, a Wisconsin Badger!

Christi Gorbett asked: I just recently started following your blog & while looking through your pictures I saw that you went to New Lanark. I’ve read a lot about Robert Owen (and almost did my master’s thesis on him) but didn’t think he or New Lanark were very well known. So my question is what drew you there?

For those who are not familiar, New Lanark is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located about 30 minutes from Glasgow. It was a former textile mill founded by Robert Owen who attempted to create a model community and workplace.

I visited New Lanark solely because it was a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It turned out, it was an interesting place to visit. Sometimes I visit UNESCO sites that are total duds. More often than not they are unexpected surprises.

I visited New Lanark knowing very little about Robert Owen or the New Lanark experiment. It was a real educational experience. Industrial heritage sites are often overlooked by tourists, yet I have consistently found them to be some of the most interesting things I’ve experienced traveling.

I’d recommend New Lanark to anyone visiting Glasgow as it is easily accessible by public transportation.

Cori K asks: Do you have any suggestions for the mobility-impaired traveler? I’m a grad student on crutches/a cane more or less permanently, and while I travel reasonably well on them at this point, I’ve had to figure things out the hard way. (The Netherlands–so many stairs. So many.)

So I don’t know if it’s something you can necessarily personally speak to, but do you have/have you seen tips for those of us who want to go places and not be held back too too much by limitations?

Cori, this is something I can’t address personally, but I can give you some thoughts based on what I’ve seen traveling.

First, there are certainly some places which may be off limits. In particular, sections of old churches (think bell towers), some back country areas of parks and other very old buildings.

Also, you will certainly find much more accessibility in developed countries than you will in lesser developed ones.

Beyond that, I wouldn’t let this stop you from traveling. Yes, you might encounter some difficulties, but on the whole you should be able to have a rich experience.

1 thought on “October 2012 Questions and Answers”

  1. Gary, thanks for the meet and greet at last Wednesday CouchSurfing.org gathering here in Bangkok.

    To cori. There are no limits. Mountaineer Graham Dingle lead a team to assist a local paraplegic special needs chap to to top of a few mountains back in my home country of New Zealand. So one way is to do it with a team or others. Make contacts via disability organisations and clubs. CouchSurfing.org has a large number of varying abilities.
    I have meet a few disabled overland travellers in my time. They have just so much paitence.
    A picture I like to paint for you of the last couple I saw that inspired me.
    February 22nd this year, Angkor Wat, cambodia.
    It was well inside the ruins of where most of the filming of “the tomb raider” was done, but around the corner of the tourist path in broken stones and tree roots. Two older well built ladies feeling the sides of the Walls and tree roots, one using sign language by touch to the other . Ie holding the others hands and making sign language shapes while holding the her hands against her cheeks as she made sounds. I then realise the first lady was blind and deaf, and the other was deaf, but could see. They were right into it. They were estatic over what they were experiencing , while shuffling their feet and sometimes walking on all fours over very broken ruins.
    I gave them a big thumbs up.
    So when will I see you on the road?

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