Welcome to the latest installment of our Traveler Interview series! We randomly asked world travelers we know and don’t know to answer a series of questions for us about how and why they do what they do. And maybe, just maybe, it’ll give you some insight and inspiration for your own adventures.
Today we’ve got this one guy. This guy named Bram Reusen. Bram is a Belgian, now married to an American, and he’s been on the road all over the world for quite some time. He takes amazing pictures, and the posts on his blog, Travel. Experience. Live., are always motivating for those wanting to get out and see the world.
He also spends a lot of his time blogging about his home country of Belgium, as well as his adopted second home with his wife in Vermont. He’s a hiker and a cyclist – he basically covers athleticism for the laziness of people like us – and has written a book about cycling to the edge of Europe. You can pick up a copy of Sunglasses and Reindeer right here.
Okay, let’s get into it!
1. How long ago did you begin traveling, and what made you start?
Although my parents took me all over Western Europe when I was a kid, I first started traveling independently five years ago, at age 24. That’s when I hopped on a plane to Australia – my very first flight ever – to go backpacking and work my way around that enormous country. I still don’t really know, and probably never will know, what encouraged me to go to the other side of the world all by myself, but I have strong suspicions that it was a photograph in a magazine or book.
In Australia, I was immediately hooked on the absolute freedom that backpacking and traveling provides. Never before had I been able to go wherever I wanted, whenever I wanted, without having to explain myself to anyone. It’s that feeling of freedom that, to this day, I keep pursuing.
2. Do you consider yourself a traveler, an expat, an explorer, or something else, and why?
In the past several years, I could have been classified as many different types of traveler. From backpacker to adventurer to tourist to expat, I’ve been all of those at a certain point in my life. I like to try new things, which, I think, is essential in life. Without new experiences and trying something new, it’s impossible to compare. And by comparing, you know what’s best (and worst), and you can form a solid opinion on whatever subject.
At the moment, I consider myself to be an adventurous expat. I moved from Belgium to the USA, but I still like to spend a good chunk of my time in the outdoors, exploring the mountains and valleys of Vermont and New Hampshire.
However, I’m sure that, at a later point in time, I’ll be something else entirely, which is why I don’t like to pin myself in a certain category.
3. Where are you from, where are you now, and where are you going next?
I was born and raised in the province of Antwerp in Flanders, the Dutch-speaking northern half of Belgium. In the past year and a half, I’ve lived in Vermont with my American wife, whom I met while backpacking around Australia.
Our next trip will take us to Europe again. We will be visiting friends and family in Belgium for a few weeks, but we will also spend some time road tripping along the Adriatic Sea coast, visiting Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Montenegro on the way. Additionally, we will also hike a large section of the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain.
4. How do you find living expenses to be, compared to your home country?
Belgium is expensive as it is — it’s one of the most expensive countries to live in in Europe, if not in the world. Living costs in the U.S. are somewhat similar, though, but the fact of the matter is that you pay a lot less taxes.
5. Where was your first big travel stop? How and why did you choose that to be the first one? How long did you stay?
My first big travel stop was also my longest stop so far. I arrived in Australia in October and didn’t leave until June the following year. I picked Australia because it’s one of the easiest countries to travel around in for first-time travelers. It’s extremely backpacker-friendly, and the landscapes are incredible.
6. What’s the average amount of time you spend in one place?
That really depends on where I’m going and with whom I’m going. I spent about nine months in Australia, three months in Ireland, three months cycling around northern Europe, and a year and a half in the U.S., but I’ve also spent a week in Madrid and a weekend in Amsterdam, for instance.
In the recent past, my travels have been limited to a weekend here and a couple of weeks there — there haven’t been any long-term travels in a while. However, my wife, Caroline, and I will soon head to Europe for more than two months.
It’s hard, if not impossible, to estimate the average amount of time that I spend in one particular place. It just changes too much!
7. Are you a planner, or do you tend to fly by the seat of your pants?
That also depends on the type of traveling I do. If I’m embarking on a long-distance cycling trip, I can’t really plan much beforehand anyway, and I just tend to play it by ear. Shorter vacations, I do try to plan somewhat before going. I like having some kind of direction to follow.
Having said that, I always leave enough room for improvisation, for the most memorable travel experiences happen when you least expect them. I think it’s more important to have knowledge on where you’re going than to plan the entire trip. A strict itinerary will only cause stress, which is the last thing that should be associated with traveling.
8. What do you do for a living, and is travel an integral part of it?
I depend on travel to make a living. Although I have degree in horticulture, I now earn my money as a travel writer. I make money through my travel blog and with book sales, but most of my current income comes from my work as a freelance writer. I write for a host of different travel blogs and online magazines, which I’m sure I wouldn’t be able to do if I couldn’t draw from my own experiences.
9. Do you think you made the right choice overall by leaving behind the typical life in your homeland?
Absolutely! I don’t think I’d ever be able to live a conventional 9-to-5 life. There’s just not enough of a challenge in that way of living. Don’t get me wrong, though; if people are comfortable living such a life, that’s exactly what they should do.
Choosing my own lifestyle, however, has opened up so many doors for me and has brought me to places I’d never imagined I’d ever go to. Also, even if this type of work and life stops being satisfying, I could just go back to a simpler life of working for someone else. But I don’t see that happening anytime soon!
10. How do you think your life has changed for better or worse since you left for your adventure?
That’s an easy one: absolutely better. That’s not to say that I had a bad life or anything though — my life was great before. But travel has resulted in meeting my wife and my becoming a self-employed travel writer. I couldn’t imagine my life turning out better than it has now.
11. Do you still feel a connection to your old home, or did you really leave it all behind?
No, I still feel a very strong connection to the place I grew up, even though I don’t actually live there anymore. That was the place that formed me and where I met all my friends, most of which are still close friends. I’m pretty sure that, wherever I end up living, I’ll always be connected to Belgium.
Even now, when I travel, I find myself comparing certain features, such as local habits, food and land- and street-scapes, to what I knew when I was growing up. That’ll never change.
12. Do you go back often, and do people come visit you while you’re on the road?
In the past year and a half, I’ve been back to Belgium only once, but that had to do with the fact that I was waiting for my green card to arrive, without which I wasn’t allowed to travel outside of the U.S. Things are different now, and I will most certainly visit a couple times a year from now on. While I was waiting in the U.S., though, several family members and friends have crossed the ocean to come and see where I live now.
13. Is there anything you miss from your home country that you can’t find when you’re traveling? If so, what is it, and how do you manage to get your hands on it while you’re on the road?
There are two things that I miss most: family and food. While family can’t be found anywhere else, there’s a Belgian beer bar in pretty much every major city in the world — always a last resort in times of homesickness, which luckily don’t happen very often. Specific food items that I miss most are freshly baked bread from the local bakery, my mom’s, dinners and sparkling iced tea, which, surprisingly, I haven’t been able to find anywhere else.
14. How is the language barrier for you when you go somewhere new, and do you make an effort to learn the local tongue?
Having grown up in Belgium, pretty much the crossroads of a few major European cultures and languages, I’ve always had some decent linguistic skills. I understand French and German, supposedly my second and third languages, and am fluent in Dutch in English. You can get a long way with those four languages. French allows you to recognize Spanish and even Italian words and phrases, while English is spoken pretty much all over the world.
The only place I’ve ever been where I didn’t recognize any words whatsoever was Finland; but then again, they all speak excellent English over there. No linguistic troubles for me so far!
15. What has been the biggest challenge for you? Bureaucracy? Finding new friends? Something else?
While I’ve never really experienced any real difficult challenges on my travels, I have to say that moving from Europe to the United States does throw some obstacles at you. The amount of paperwork it takes to get a visa and a green card — I’m married now — is huge, but the biggest challenge is the wait. It takes forever to get your paperwork approved and to get updates on the status of your application. And, while I was waiting for my green card, I wasn’t allowed to travel outside of the U.S., which was a challenge as well. For example, I had no idea when I would actually be able to see my friends and family again. Everything’s all set now; but, if I had to pick one challenge, that’d be it.
16. How hard is it to make friends and have a social life? Do you ever feel alone?
I’m lucky that my wife is also my best friend. We share the same passions and have the same views on things, which is extremely comforting. So no, I don’t ever feel alone. Even earlier in my life, when I traveled solo, I was never lonely. I’m perfectly comfortable being on my own, even for extended periods of time.
17. If you could change something about how and when you became a traveler, what would it be?
Not one, single thing. I really like how everything turned out after I made the decision to hop on that plane to Australia. I made a bunch of new friends, got new perspectives on various things, and found my wife. Seriously, I wouldn’t change one thing.
I firmly believe that if you always, 100% support your own choices when you make them, there’s no need to regret them later on. Regret only follows when you have doubts about a certain decision in the first place, and then continue to do it anyway.
18. Do you think it’s easier or harder to become a hardcore world traveler today, versus when you started?
I only started about five years ago, and I don’t think much has changed since then. Sure, every day there’s more information to be found online; but when I started, I got everything I needed to know from the Internet, too.
19. What crazy story can you tell us about a terrible travel experience, and what, if anything, did you learn from it?
Yes, absolutely. This particular story took place in the Flinders Ranges, a series of mountain ranges in South Australia. I had heard and read good things about a beautiful, unpaved road through the Ranges, a road that, apparently, was suited for two-wheel drive cars. So, I went for a drive. At the beginning of that road, there was a sign saying “Road Closed,” which I decided to ignore. I drove for about twelve miles, a distance that took me nearly an hour. After it had become too dark to drive any further, I stopped, cooked some dinner and crawled into my sleeping bag in the back of my station wagon.
In the morning, I continued on what was a beautiful winding road, running over hills and through valleys. After a while, it got bumpier and I started to notice more rocks and fallen tree branches on both sides of the road. I kept driving on anyway, convinced that it would get better. And, of course, it quickly got worse. The road conditions worsened until the point where there was a little stream crossing the road. I had driven across some puddles before that, but this was when I realized that I couldn’t possibly go any further. I reluctantly tried to turn around my car. I backed up and when I wanted to go forward again, I felt that the car didn’t move. At all. I was stuck in the riverbank.
This was the first time in my life that I really panicked. My car was stuck in a riverbank in the Australian Outback, at least 25 miles in any direction from the nearest paved road. I quickly regained my composure, though. I always made sure that I had plenty of water and a sufficient amount of food in my car. I could stay there for several days if I had to. The biggest problem, however, was that no one knew where I was, and there probably wouldn’t be any cars passing by. The road was closed. Walking back was an option, but that would take at least nine or ten hours. Walking also meant that I’d have to spend the night on the side of the road. Temperatures were soaring; carrying enough water, food, and a tent for such a long hike in the sun was nearly impossible.
Before starting to walk back, or simply waiting for someone to pass by, the most logical thing to do was try and free myself. So, I started trying everything I could think of. I pushed and pulled, but, of course, I didn’t have the strength to move my car myself. Next option: trying to remove the mud around my tires. I got in my car and tried to drive backward and forward. Nothing happened. An hour went by as I tried to dig deeper and deeper, resulting in my car only sinking more into the riverbank. I ended up using all my cooking pots and pans to help dig away the mud. Suddenly, I felt something hard beneath the mud and water and I knew I had reached a rocky surface. That was the moment when I realized that this could actually work. Behind and in front of my tires I put several small stones, which hopefully would create some traction. I tried driving again, a few times, and suddenly, smoothly, my car jumped forward. I can’t even start to describe the relief that I felt when I drove my car back up the slope. Completely soaked and covered in mud, I washed myself in the stream, put on some clean clothes, and returned to the inhabited world.
The main lesson I learned from this experience is obvious: Do not (ever) ignore a road sign. They’re there for a reason.
20. What about a good experience you had that makes it all worthwhile?
Luckily, good travel experiences outnumber the bad ones. I’ve been invited to a local couple’s house in Australia after helping them out with their broken down car, and I’ve had dinner with an elderly farming couple in rural Sweden, for instance. The best feeling in the world is when strangers invite you into their homes and share an afternoon or evening of their lives with you.
21. Do you have any favorite places that will always bring you back, or that hold special memories for you?
Bunbury, Australia, is a place that changed my life forever — that’s where I met my wife Caroline. Australia in general is a place that I truly cherish, a place that has opened my eyes and mind to the rest of the world and has turned me into a passionate traveler.
Other places that come to mind are the absolutely gorgeous Lofoten Islands in northern Norway (for their natural beauty), Stonehenge (where I celebrated the summer solstice with hundreds of other people) and Ireland (where Caroline and I spent three months traveling around).
22. What about places that are nothing but a turn-off, regardless of whether you have visited them before or not?
Honestly, I’ve never been to a place that I found disappointing. I try to look for the good in everything, and I do that when I travel, too. A place always has something good to offer, whether it’s food, nature, the people, or something else entirely. There are, however, some countries that, for a reason I don’t know myself, I have no desire to visit. Two examples of such countries are Japan and China.
23. What dos and don’ts can you offer a burgeoning traveler?
Regarding the “dos,” I can only offer advice based on my personal experiences. What has worked best for me so far is always following my gut, and leaving enough time and space to change my mind. I guess you could call that flexibility. I think it’s vital not to over-plan a trip — for a dense and concentrated trip has the potential to cause unnecessary stress — and there are some things that you can’t plan anyway. So, therefore, make sure to know what you want to see and do, but don’t stuff your itinerary to the brim with activities. Another “do” would be to make sure you’re aware of the habits and customs of the place you’re going. Knowing the local currency, tipping and eating etiquette, and basic words are some things that you can and should prepare for.
The “don’ts” are pretty much the opposite of the “dos.” A particular “don’t” that, I know, works for me, is not expecting too much. It’s easy to expect places like, say, Paris or the Taj Mahal to blow you off your socks, but if you expect too much from it, it may not live up to your imagination. Better to be realistic about your expectations, and be aware that all places have their downsides. Expecting too much makes it easier to be disappointed. Of course, you don’t want that.
24. Would you recommend people follow your path?
Well, I carved out a pretty alternative path for myself. Unintentionally. I never meant to end up in the U.S., but I did and I like it. As I said earlier in this interview, it’s important to fully support your own decisions. If you do that, you’ll end up where you’re meant to be.
Therefore, I wouldn’t suggest that people follow my exact route, but rather make their own decisions and choose their own direction, based on their own feelings and their own desires.
I would, however, strongly recommend that everyone does what they like to do. There’s no reason to spend day after day doing something that you hate. I always made sure that I liked whatever it was that I did, and that still applies to the present. I recommend that other people do that, too.
25. Do you think you’ll ever stop traveling and settle down somewhere?
First of all, I’m not a full-time traveler. Currently, I’m based in Vermont, where I spent most of my days writing, hiking, working out, and reading. While I do travel much more than the average Western person, I don’t travel extensively. My travels are limited to a maximum of a few months per year, in total. Which is enough for me. It’s also entirely possible to spend weekends exploring your own backyard, which, I think, is something that’s incredibly underrated. I really like getting to know my surroundings as well as possible.
That being said, if misfortune doesn’t force me to stop travel, I never will. It’s a gorgeous world out there and there’s always another place to visit, a landscape to photograph, and an experience to have. But I do like to have a base — a home to go back to after a weekend or week or month of traveling.
26. In a parallel universe, what would be your ideal lifestyle, and why?
In all honesty, I think my current lifestyle is pretty close to my dream lifestyle. I have all the freedom to do what I want, to work when I want, to work as hard as I’d like, to spend as much time outdoors as I want, and to see an exciting new place on a regular basis. I love the work I do and how I fill my days.
If there was one thing I could change, however, it would be being able to spend even more time outside. As a travel writer, I spend much of my day inside, typing away on my laptop. My ideal lifestyle would involve less “mental work” and more “physical work.” I hold a Master’s degree in horticulture, and I love being in nature, smelling the scent of grass and pine forests, feeling the wind, and hearing the songs of birds. I love getting my hands dirty and being active. Therefore, my ideal lifestyle would be a combination of writing in the mornings, working in the garden in the afternoon, and preparing a meal with homegrown ingredients in the evenings, followed by reading (and learning) later at night.
27. If you could be a beverage, what would you be, and why?
I’d be a pilsner beer. Not only because that’s one of my favorite kinds of beer, but also because it’s simple, down-to-earth, and rather unassuming. It won’t immediately make you fall in love with it, but once you get to taste more of it, you’ll see its potential. Pilsner beers are laid back, yet, up for a big adventure — a refreshing beer to drink on relaxing summer evening, as well as a popular party beer. And, it’s the drink of freedom!
28. Any last words of wisdom or warning?
Don’t settle. Keep doing what you love, whatever it is. We all know what we like to do, and there is not a reason in the world why we should not do just that. Life is short. Enjoy it.
Do not take advice from people who haven’t been to a specific place or are not experienced in a particular field. They offer opinions, not knowledge.
Find things out for yourself. Explore. Read.
Make mistakes and learn from them. Don’t feel obliged to do things that you don’t want to do. It’s your life. Live it your way.
And that’s a wrap! Thanks so much to Bram for giving us the time and answering our questions. Hopefully, he’s been a source of information and inspiration for you as you follow your own path. You can visit and follow him at the following locations:
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