Attempting to stay afloat in the modern rat race to success can leave little room for individuality.
One 2005 Wharton School graduate, however, has dared to stray from convention.
After leaving his finance job in August of 2010, Kien Lam chose instead to backpack across the globe for 343 days. Traversing six continents, visiting 17 countries and taking 6,237 photographs, Lam, now a professional photographer, can recount an impressive array of exotic experiences.
He made a time lapse video documenting his travels. The video has been featured on sites such as The Huffington Post, The New Yorker and The Atlantic.
“Most would consider it an adventure of a lifetime, but I hope I can do it more than once,” he said.
Lam’s decision to quit his quotidian life was not made on a whim, however. Since coming Penn, Lam has harbored a passion for travel. An experienced backpacker, he has explored the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone National Park and the rainforests of Costa Rica.
But it was during his year studying abroad in Australia during college that Lam discovered his desire to travel the world. “My friends and I would try to visit a new place in Australia every weekend, and we went backpacking during spring break,” he said.
“That opened up my eyes to travelling.”
Even so, it wasn’t easy for Lam to leave his career behind. “If you have a comfortable salary, day-in, day-out security, it’s hard to step away from that,” he said.
Ultimately he felt that he wanted to travel while he was still young. “My risk appetite decreases a little every year,” he said. “So I wanted to do a big trip while I still had the motivation.”
To call Lam’s trip “big” would be an understatement. After taking a one-way flight to London, Lam travelled through Europe, stopping in France, Portugal and Spain before crossing the Mediterranean into Africa. “Essaouria was the first big city in Morocco I visited … the atmosphere is almost like controlled chaos,” he said.
“You have tourists running about, shopkeepers selling souvenirs, there’s so much energy in the market places,” he added.
Describing the urban sprawl as an “expansive labyrinth,” Lam outlined the sensation of being wonderfully lost in a novel, exciting environment. “The best part is allowing yourself to explore without any agenda. You’re going to be lost without a guide, so you might as well enjoy the experience.”
Crossing Egypt, Turkey and Jordan, Lam eventually found himself in Thailand, where he took the opportunity to enjoy the beautiful landscape. “It was incredible, you just lose track of time,” he said.
A fan of diving, he whiled away many hours submerged among the coral reefs. “Being underwater, floating, it’s really peaceful. The fish don’t care about you, so you can just watch them go.” After experiencing Bangkok’s famous nightlife and motor biking around the surrounding islands, he hopped over to Indonesia, before crossing the vast gulf of the Pacific.
Lam’s next stop was Uruguay, then Argentina and Peru. Macchu Pichu and Buenos Aires aside, one of Lam’s most vivid memories of South America was — curiously — steak.
“Argentina and Uruguay are known for their beef, and I tried really good steak. But after leaving Argentina, I wanted to eat vegetables for a week.” He added that beef is so popular in places in South America that Uruguay has the highest number of cows per person in the world.
Almost as interesting were his culinary options in Granada, Spain. “In Granada, they have a tradition of serving a small plate of food with your drink, so you don’t drink on an empty stomach,” he said. But so diverse were the local appetizers, each including 10 to 15 items, he hardly ever wanted to pay for food.
In spite of his extensive travels, Lam finds it impossible to name one country as his favorite.
“It’s most backpackers’ first question, but it’s hard to single out one place. From sleeping under the stars in the desert … to being on a beautiful beach with a drink in your hand, there are too many diverse experiences,” he said.
One of his favorite pastimes, however, was sharing his experiences with fellow travelers. “I met a lot of amazing people whom I’m still in contact with,” he said. “I met a group in Lagos, Portugal, at 11 p.m. one evening and 6 a.m. the next morning we were driving to Granada, Spain. It was the driver’s second time driving shift-stick, but I wasn’t bothered.”
Indeed, one lesson Lam claims to have learnt during his travels is to go with the flow.
“Even if it doesn’t conform to your plans, it’s okay,” he said. “You should just slow down and appreciate the things you are doing.” So long as he had his iPhone to stay in touch with family, his Amazon Kindle and his trusty towel — echoing Douglas Adams in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy — Lam was happy to go wherever his travels took him.
“Just so long as you’re mindful of thieves,” he added.Comments powered by Disqus
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