CHRIS SCHALKX




19.09.18      



This week we chatted with writer and traveller, Chris Schalkx, from the Netherlands, and he discussed everything from falling in love and having a baby with his Taiwanese sweetheart, to the pains and pleasures of travelling solo as an introvert.






What’s your profession?

I’m a jack of all trades, and a master of some. I’m a freelance marketing consultant in the hospitality industry, and a freelance writer and photographer for several global (luxury) travel magazines. Aside from that, I also run blog together with my wife (ricepotato.co) where we share travel through the lens of art and design.



How old are you?

I’m twenty-six years old.



Tell me a bit about your background?

I was born and raised in the Netherlands, in a family that was never really ‘big’ on travelling. Growing older, I’ve felt that I’ve had to make up for the experiences I didn’t have as a child. After my first big trip (8 months around Asia) in 2014, I’ve been travelling almost every month since.



When did you first decide to travel solo and where did you go?

I needed to break the cycle of study-work-weekend, as it was making me unhappy. The only way out was a long trip. Not really to ‘find myself’, but to see what’s out there. I initially wanted to find someone to tag along, but planning an 8 month trip with a friend in tow started to seem like a very bad idea. I took the leap, booked a one-way ticket to Bangkok, and ended up moving there after 8 months of travelling solo around Asia.






What’s been your greatest achievement whilst travelling?

Breaking free of the rat-race culture, creating my life the way I want to live it: no fixed work schedules, in a country that I love (I’ve lived in Thailand for almost 5 years now) and still being able to feel like I’m on a permanent holiday.



What have you found to be the most challenging part of travelling solo and how did you learn to overcome it?

I’m very introverted, so making new contacts while travelling around has been a huge challenge. Travellers in party hostels and the likes have never been my crowd, so when I finally came at peace with myself that being alone doesn’t equal to being “lonely”, it drastically improved the way I experienced my trips. Some of my very best travel memories – a hike in Yangshuo, sleeping on the beach of a deserted island in the Philippines – were completely solo.



What’s the weirdest thing that you saw or experienced on your travels, and in which country?

Life in Asia has drastically skewed my perceptions of ‘weird’ – so what shocked me after I first arrived, is now an everyday occurrence. However, accidentally eating dog meat in Vietnam comes to mind. It has made me suspicious of unidentified bits and pieces in my food ever since.



Who was the most inspiring person that you met whilst travelling and why? Can you tell me a bit about them?

I don’t remember where exactly (Sri Lanka? Cambodia? Somewhere in Asia at least…), but I once met an older couple, they must’ve been in their late eighties. We started talking, and they shared their travel stories with me – of trips taken several decades ago to then- off the beaten track destinations like Burma and deep inside Africa. It was incredibly fascinating to hear their tales, and how they managed to build their life around their greatest passion: travel. Ever since, they’ve been an inspiration for me.






What was your best experience with a local and why? Can you tell me a bit about them?

Well… I ended up marrying one! My wife is from Taiwan, and I met her while I was travelling around the country (initially online, through Couchsurfing - which I occasionally dabbled in back then). She selflessly helped me – the lost European tourist – and ensured I had a fantastic time in the country. We hit it off right away after finally meeting her in person, and well… the rest is history.



Where was your favourite travel destination so far and why?

I am still madly in love with Lamu Island, just off the coast of Kenya. Despite spending only a weekend here, it was one of the most interesting places I ever visited. Narrow alleys, no cars, and a beautiful mix of Indian/Arabic architecture. Back in the day, celebrities like Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell flocked here to party on the beach. Nowadays, it’s largely off the tourist trail as the greater Lamu district was badly hit in terrorist attacks several years ago. Foreign governments have slowly started lifting their travel warnings – so go before it starts booming again in a few years.



Where is the next destination you plan to visit? What do you plan to do?

We have a few trips around Thailand and some back-and-forth trips to Amsterdam and Taiwan planned, but other than that, we have yet to figure out our next holiday destination! Oman? Back to Ethiopia? A quick trip to Shanghai? Mumbai again? We’ll see. We just had a baby, so I'm still getting used to having a lil’ one in tow.



How can we make our travels more meaningful in this day and age?

Go beyond the tourist highlights. Wherever I go, I want to figure out what that area’s bright young things are up to. Cool cafes, interesting galleries, new boutique hotels – these are the things that make a new destination exciting for me. Instagram has been a great help for this, as it allows me to connect to local tastemakers before my arrival already.






How has travel influenced and impacted your life? Would you change this given the chance?

Travel has taught me invaluable lessons about privilege, and how to be grateful for the opportunities and the means that have afforded me this life. Yes, I have worked hard for this, but I realise I couldn’t be here without the support I was lucky enough to have. I’ve met many people that don’t have the luxury to go where they want to go – not even for a holiday , which made me realise I shouldn’t be too displeased when a planned trip doesn’t turn out as planned!



How has solo travel empowered you?

Cliché as it sounds, it has shaped me into the person I am today. I’m open to new ideas, people and cultures. Without the ‘big trip’, I wouldn’t be where I am now.



If you could journey back to before you first travelled alone, is there anything you know now that you would tell yourself?

"You got this."



Do you have a favourite object that you bought on your travels, and what’s the story behind it?

I’m an interior design nut, so wherever I go, I try to bring back something for the house. Some of my favorite ‘souvenirs’ no grace the walls of my living room: traditional masks from Nicaragua, an antique mirror from Iran (which sadly didn’t survive the flight back to Bangkok, so now has a huge crack in it) and woven farmers' hats from Laos.






Photographs taken by Chris Schalkx (Vietnam/Hanoi: Feb 2018; Thailand: March 2018; Taiwan: July 2018).