Sam’s Playground is a great resource for those who are thinking of travelling to Europe, US and Canada as Sam has travelled to these places extensively.
Sam also writes about a lot of travel tips that are really really helpful. If you’re planning your first backpacking trip outside your country, go and check out his travel tips section.
Get to know more about Sam and visit his blog at Sam’s Playground.
But before you leave this page, check out my interview with Sam.
How did you discover your passion for travelling?
“I believe it was started by my parents, when as a family we set out to travel when I was five; we began by sailing from New Zealand to Australia. However during the eight or so years we spent sailing around the world it was not all spent feeling passionate about travel. Many times I just wanted a ‘normal’ life; but in hindsight it certainly formed a nomadic inclination. I think it was later in life when I discovered my passion for travel, for myself. When I travelled to Thailand with my university friend James, away by ourselves properly for the first time, that I think is when I truly realized I was passionate about travel and wanted to keep doing more.”
What’s the most horrible experience that you’ve had on the road?
“I think everyone who travels will eventually experience a horribly long time of non-stop travel and transit. Getting from Koh Phangan in Thailand to London took a whopping 50 hours for us; it was horrible, no shower, mostly no access to my main bag, only fitfully short naps on chairs and the airport floor. In some ways I’m proud of being so stubbornly cheap that we opted to take the bus up Thailand and the cheapest flights with the worst lay overs, but 50 hours, I’d never recommend anyone else do that now.”
What’s the best travel experience that you’ve ever had?
“I’d say my childhood memory of swimming with humpback whales off the island of Moorea in the South Pacific Ocean. I’ve had some pretty good memories since, but this particular experience was just so close, and so authentic, and I was young so it’s understandable that such an experience would make a big impression. It was during my childhood of sailing with my family. We’d sailed to Moorea, ultimately we were on our way back to New Zealand. We heard that humpback whales were passing outside the atoll, so a group of my family members and some friends dumped our snorkeling gear in a Zodiak dinghy and we sped out to intercept the whales. We took a wide berth and stopped the boat in their path. There was a small group of these large, magnificent creatures and they were heading right for us. We’d come out to swim with them, to see them underwater, but still the act of getting into the water with these huge creatures heading right for us was nerve racking.
I couldn’t help but realize that some of them were twice, perhaps even three times the size of our boat. This wasn’t an organized tour; this was just a small group of us in a small boat, getting into very deep water. I’ve always found swimming in deep ocean a little uncanny, sometimes I prefer not to have a mask on because then I don’t have to deal with the fact that I can’t see the bottom. Looking down into the depths you can see the sunrays reflecting off some of the small micro-particles in the water, you don’t know how far you can see – you just know that you can’t see far enough to see the bottom. So we jumped into the clear water and in the distance we could clearly see the whales, still quite a way away and heading towards us. I remember there was a mother and a calf, we could hear them communicating.
At first I stayed close to the boat, but as I saw that they weren’t going to hit us, but rather were passing below us and to the right I gained a little confidence and was able to swim away from the boat and even dive down to get a little closer to them when they were passing us. The impromptu nature of our outing, the clearness of the water, and the closeness of these mammals all made for such an amazing experience, one I’ll never forget.”
What’s the biggest realization that you’ve got out of travelling?
“Things are not always the same as they are at home, in fact they’re mostly different, sometimes you find things that your home does uniquely different. I always find the differences interesting. “It’s not wrong, it’s just different.” My Contiki tour guide in Europe said this to us all the time, it’s simple, but I think if you keep this in mind at all times you open up and you can get more from your travels.”
What keeps you going? What keeps you motivated?
“There is always something new to discover. I find if you shorten your forward thinking everything becomes a lot more manageable. Instead of thinking of the next three months on the road, I prefer for instance, to think about what I’d like to do and see tomorrow, or next week.
I think this simplicity of thinking helps me keep going, and keep enjoying travel. However it doesn’t help me plan for big trips. My girlfriend and I have been trying to plan for the last few months a two month plus trip in Alaska, we’ll be there next month. But because I don’t like thinking very far ahead I really don’t enjoy planning. I find it a complete chore, which seems weird because you would think I’d be excited about a trip to Alaska, and planning to see bears catch salmon and all that kind of stuff. I am of course excited, I just don’t really enjoy planning.”
This is a silly and hypothetical one. If you would be given a chance to travel with a popular person or a celebrity, who would it be and why?
“My knowledge of famous people has always been pretty shaky at best. However, I actually have an answer for this question. For some odd reason I’ve thought about it before. I would travel with Roger Federer, the tennis star. I like watching him play, and with his career he obviously travels a lot. So I just figured it would be cool to travel with him. I’d get great seats for his games, and then afterwards we’d go explore the city and have a few beers. Hopefully we’d have something to offer each other in the way of expanding each other’s view on life. Maybe I’d be able to show Roger how to get properly lost in a new place, and to love it. We’d be a winning team for sure.”
Where’s your favourite place in this planet and why?
“I’m counting on it being somewhere I haven’t found yet. Part of what I love about travel is the discovering of new places, I just don’t think it would have the same appeal if I were confident that I’d already found my favourite place. That said, there are heaps of awesome places I have already been. I always use to say my favourite was the Chagos islands – right in the middle of the Indian Ocean just below the equator, my family sailed there when I was about seven. Stunning islands, clear water and no obvious signs of civilization. It is often described as a real ‘Robinson Crusoe’ island experience for ‘yachties’.”
What’s your best tip for newbie traveller?
“When in a new place, to observe the locals and try and do the same.
When you’re home and you know how the culture and society work then I think it’s important to think for yourself and often to act differently. However, when you are in a new place, I think it is important to try and observe how the culture works and then to just do the same – eat the same foods, dress the same, try and talk the same language. You don’t go somewhere new to be exactly the same person. Imitate the locals and you’ll get a more interesting, more genuine experience from your travels – and likely safer too.”
What’s the funniest and silliest thing you’ve ever done while travelling?
“I’m going to say one of the silliest things I’ve ever done travelling, lets just call it ‘dumb’, was to get on the back of an 1800cc motorcycle in Florida while wearing only a t-shirt, ‘jandals’ (sandals/flip-flops), shorts and no helmet. The driver was my couchsurfing host, I’d only met him two minutes prior and next thing I found myself being driven somewhere at approximately 80km/hour wearing no safety clothing, pretty much nothing at all. A couple minutes into that ride and I was thinking, damn is this dumb. Luck would have it we didn’t crash, so no harm came.
In hindsight one of the funniest, silliest things I’ve done travelling was almost losing my passport on my first flight out of New Zealand. I’ve been away from home, travelling, for over two years now and it almost never happened at all. In the Auckland airport I lost my passport going through customs and didn’t realize till I was at the boarding gate and heard my name being called out on the loud speaker – luckily I was able to recover it in time and the rest is history.”
What do you think about yourself?
“He’s ‘alright’. I’d travel with him; he seems open minded and genuinely interested in giving everything ‘a go’. Fortunately it’s rare that he chooses to speak in third person narrative, but he has lately picked up a rather annoying habit of spending ages photographing the same thing.”
My blog is my musings on travel; my experiences and some destination and general tips from my time in Thailand, all over Europe, and extensively in the United States and Canada. I try and take a lot of photos to really ‘show’ places, and videos occasionally too.
On 18 August 2012 we’ll be heading to Alaska for a little over two months to explore what some call the last of America’s wilderness. I’m hoping to photograph a lot of beautiful landscapes and wildlife during the trip.
We’ll be heading back to New Zealand, where I hope to show my country from a travellers perspective returning home. – Sam
Editor’s Note: All pictures are provided by Sam.