Travel and Social Privilege: Inspire others to Do Great Things

By Canadian standards, we are  am not rich – more like middle of middle class. A family with two kids, living in a 1000 square foot house, drive a small car, and a couple of bicycles. In September 2014, my wife and I put our jobs on hold, rented out the house, sold the car and many other possessions, and started a year long travel adventure.  Why ?. We were getting fed-up with the day-to-day routine of going to work/school, and the rat-race of driving the kids to/from activities, tired of endless comparisons to other families  (’they do this, and that, and their kids are super awesome athletes…’), and also we wanted our kids to get a better understanding of the world, and a better appreciation for what they have. Career wise, I need a break. Sitting in front of a computer for 7 hours a day has a way of sucking the life out of me. A year long is what my soul needs to get a new perspective on your life and to see if I want to get back to my  old job or make a career shift.

So – back to the here and now in Cambodia. We are staying in a small village along a rural road. It is really sinking in. As I walk the street, I see how people live. There is garbage along the street, many people wear worn out clothes, the houses look dirty, the air is the smell of sewer and burning household waste, and fresh drinking water is non-existent. There are few cars – nothing more fancy that a beat-up old Honda. Most people have motorcycles and there is enough room for a family of four, or a large pig on the back, several large bags of rice or corn. It seems that no load is too much – if it still runs, than load more bags of rice. Despite all this, people still say ‘Hello’ and wave at me. I politely wave back, though deep in my gut I feel this horrible sickening feeling. Guilt makes my stomach cramp. Why do I have clean clothes, a choice of food (other than rice everyday), a car, municipal garbage pickup, and a decent house with clean water, flush toilets and a septic system; yet they have none of this. In a better frame of mind, I would like to photograph what I see, though pulling out my camera makes me feel like some ignorant tourist looking at them as if they were in a zoo.

The local school does not have any computers (even though one class is called ‘the computer room’), hard wooden benches, no craft materials, no text books, no workbooks, only a well used whiteboard and a couple of very faint markers, no resources for teachers and often no teachers. During this year away, my kids are home schooling (some call it road schooling). They have their school curriculum on their iPads (one for each kid), a pencil case full of markers, pencils, notepads and access to the internet.  For the first time in my life, I feel very rich and privileged. Not simply because I have money to travel here (airfare from Canada), and accommodation is $10-15 USd per day, and food for a family of four another $10-15 USd per day, more importantly, I feel enriched and very privileged to be on this journey and living these experiences. Here rural in Cambodia, the average annual income is a mere $135USd (Farming – Resource Development International They would certainly never have the opportunity to travel as I do. I am indeed privileged — born to middle class parents, got a good education, am endowed with skills, talents and desires unlike anyone else on the planet.



Social Privilege and Guilt…

It is a real privilege to travel like we do and the inequality of this privilege is something I consistently struggle with. I am assuming you are privileged too, with access to a computer and the internet to read this. When it comes down to it, most people in rural Cambodia do not even have computers, approximately 75% can read or write their own language and a tiny percentage can read or write english (Dec 04, 2014:

I know I should not make comparisons with my own lifestyle and should not feel guilty, though is gets to you. Being here and seeing this it gets under your skin. Yes, it is a luxury to be able to have all the comforts that I have at home, and to have sufficient disposable income to visit travel to other countries.  I am not saying that travel is a bad thing. Tourists (like me) traveling to and within other countries are buying airline tickets, staying in hotels, eating at restaurants, traveling by taxi, and taking adventure tours (zipline, elephant rides, white water rafting etc). Each one of these activities means that local people are getting money, money to feed their families and supporting the local economy and improve the quality of life of those people less fortunate than yourself.

But – we all know that most money goes to the company, and only a small percentage of the money filters down to the staff. The folks behind the hotel facade, those that clean the rooms, do the laundry, wash the dishes, get the groceries etc..they are missing out on what they really need. Yes, they have a job, and your money does help them to feed their families and pay their rent. Is this sustainable ?. Yes, sort of.

Using Social Privilege to Inspire others to do Great Things…

Think back to those families in rural Cambodia. I could give them money to buy some new clothes, or money to buy clean drinking water.  Would this solve the problem ? For one, I would also be poor, and my money could only help a small number of the needy people. There has to be a better way. What can WE – the privileged world travelers do?. Being privileged is not my fault. We can sit on our rear ends and do nothing (and feel guilt about it), or find a way to help others.  I like to believe that if we, the privileged, travel with a purpose that we can make a difference in people’s lives. One way, is to find ways and means to expand freedom and opportunities for others by volunteering. Some folks call this ‘volunteer tourism’. Volunteering in a school, and passing on your skills accomplishes so much more than simply giving money. Back to the here and now; I am in a small village in rural Cambodia teaching English to children ages 5 to 12.  It is an amazing way to soak up the local culture while also providing a benefit that is better than renting a room in a hotel. One day, these children will be able to read and write english and have the opportunity to get well paying jobs, instead of simply making enough money to provide for their families. That being said, we are not teachers, although we have both taught children (including our own) on a add-hoc basis. We are both fluent in English so there is nothing extra to learn or research before class. The children are keen, and motivated, and in many ways more enthusiastic to learn than kids in my own hometown. Here, there are no computers, no text books, reading books, a chronic shortage of whiteboard markers and a seat-of-your pants curriculum. Despite this, this is by far one of the most rewarding experiences, particularly when the kids still want to be your friend, and actually thank you for teaching them.

Like many people we are traveling to foreign destinations to better understand and appreciate other cultures, and gain a better appreciation for what we have. We are privileged to be able to travel to foreign destinations, though what we see, and smell may bring on a feeling of guilt – why can we travel, whereas these citizens in those lands may hardly have enough money to buy enough food, or clothing. The feeling of guilt can be erased by providing opportunities for the people (and not simply making a donation). Take the time to make a difference in their lives by teaching them a skill so they they can be inspired to do great things. Before your next trip, consider ‘volunteer tourism’ as a way of using your privilege in a in positive and meaningful way, so that one day, those people can have the opportunity to get well paying jobs, instead of simply making enough money to provide for their families.




Do What Makes You Happy

Do What Makes You happy




These kids – they are doing something that makes them Happy. Bicycling through the puddles in the rain. Getting soaked, or even falling over in the mid was no problem. They went biking it the rain for no other reason – Simply they did it because it made them happy.

Think back to your childhood, and doing things that made you happy. Doing some of those things, unfortunately, probably got you in trouble. Yes, you got in trouble for not rearing a rain coat, not wearing rubber boots, getting your clothes covered with mud, and probably for getting your bicycle wet too.
We adults still do things that make us happy, but it isn’t the same. Adult would probably fuss about what to wear, would the splashed mud wash out of their clothes, wear a hat to keep their hair dry ?.
So – what are you waiting for ?


Go out – and — Do What Makes You Happy
Don’t question why, don’t over think, don’t worry what others would think, or what others would say.
Just do it.

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11,791 Photos – Now What ?

I’ve been in Thailand for three weeks, and already have 11,791 photos. That works out to 3930 photos per week….561 photos per day.  It is nuts. Really Nuts, though with a camera that can do 7 frames per second – it would only take 28 minutes to take that many photos.  I digress – it isn’t just about the numbers.

For me, photography can be compared to picking berries. You pick, and pick and pick while the picking is good and only stop when either your basket is full, or there are no more berries to pick.  Then the real works starts by making jam from all those berries. Simply, the more berries you have, the more time you have to spend making jam.

It is all about collecting.

So – assuming that there is an infinite supply of berries and baskets ?. In photography terms that would mean an infinite supply of things to photograph, and endless hard drive space. Really this is entirely possible: there is so much to photograph and hard drives are cheap.

At what point do you need to say  ….ENOUGH !.

11,791 photos. Not commenting on the quality of the photos, surely 11,791 is enough; what the heck am I going to do with all those photos anyway ?.

My basket is (at least temporarily) full, and it is time to do some thing with those images.  Step one is to categorize and rank them, and delete the obvious bad images, decide on which images to keep as-is, which images need additional post processing (touch-ups) and, which to keep for additional creative processing (stretch and pull, wring and squeeze post processing). The process of categorizing, ranking, and deciding on how to process these images can take days!.

How many Wat (Temples) photos is enough ?. How many photos of Buddha is enough ?. How many photos of the market stalls piles high with spices, fruit, or meat (?), do I really need ?. How many photos of Thai people is enough ?.

There is probably no easy answerer to these questions, no ‘Coles’ to give the short answer, and asking Buddha will not give you the right answer.

Oh – I miss the days of film. Each roll could only hold 36 exposures – so you were more selective before pressing the shutter.



Sunset at Wat Chedi Luang in Chaing Mai, Thailand.


Rice fields in northern Thailand.


Elephant in black & white, in Chaing Mai, Thailand.


Live fish in the baggie, market in Chaing Mai, Thailand.


View from the train, from Bangkok to Chaing Mai.









Leaving it Behind

So – We are on a long trip and like everyone else, there is the debate on what to bring – and what to leave behind. Some folks say – “If it doesn’t have more than one use – leave it behind”. For most of our stuff, it is easy to decide – leave it behind. It seemed so easy, until it got down and dirty, real dirty.

My beloved Nikon D700 is the latest item to hit the leave it behind pile.



Of all the things I can leave behind – why my favorite camera ?. Simply, it is too heavy.

Heavy, yes too heavy. Add on a couple of lenses (17-35mm, 70-200mm), and it all adds up to a heavy lead.

Heavy, and also hard to keep safe. At least my neck strap doesn’t say Canon 5D Mark iii, or 6D on it – letting every thief (or robber) within 100 yards that you got the goods.


So…My Nikon and all the extra lenses are now being shipped home, in water proof boxes, to wait until I get back from travelling in another 10 months.


I’ll miss you ol’Nikon. We’ve been good friends these past few years.