A psychologist by degree, photographer and natural explorer by choice.
Sami Altokhais did something quite impressive: He quit his job in banking to travel in South America. Since we only dream of quitting our jobs to travel the world (hi, bosses, we’re just kidding we swear) we immediately bombarded Altokhais with requests of how he did it. Wouldn’t you like to know too? We know you do.
When did you first find out you have a permanent case of wanderlust?
I have always had chronic wanderlust. I was born in the US and most my life was spent going back and forth to Riyadh, due to my father’s studies in the US. When I grew up, traveling extended outside the two countries.
What brought up the idea of traveling to South America?
I love Latin America: the history, culture, landscapes, people and food. I have had a lot of Latino friends and we got a long very well. My first trip there was in 2008 when I went to Guadalajara, Mexico. The second trip was in December 2012 when I attended a friend’s wedding in Guatemala. I fell in love with the country and decided to come back four months later to study Spanish. I went back in March 2013 and stayed in the colonial town of Antigua for a full month. After going back to my job in Riyadh I decided to plan my Latin American trip for the following year. I wanted to experience long-term travel that wasn’t tied to specific dates or locations.
How long were you on the road and what were the countries/cities you visited?
I travelled around Latin America for 14 months. Twelve of those were done through ground travel (buses, boats and ferries) from Cancun, in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico until the very south of Chile, passing through the Strait of Magellan to Puerto Williams, in Isla Navarino, the southern most city in the world. I then catapulted myself to the north until Guyana at the border with Venezuela.
How did you manage to afford to backpack for that long?
I saved up from my previous job. It’s not really expensive to backpack. The slower you go, the more you don’t spend. I mainly stayed in hostels and the food wasn’t expensive. When I found a town/city that I liked, I would stay there for a week or two. Long-term travel turns you into a budget expert. My motivation was: the more I saved, the longer I could travel. This does not mean that you have to be stingy rather you have to use your money wisely.
What were the things you carried with you at all times?
I was traveling with two backpacks: a big one with my clothes, shoes and big camera. The small backpack had another camera, laptop and personal belongings. The beauty with this style of traveling is that you usually don’t have much space other than your belongings. The only way to buy something new is to get rid of something old. In terms of trekking and hiking, you can always rent gear like jackets, hiking boots, pants, and so on.
Most memorable memory in your trip?
I have many but I think the most memorable was being in Patagonian Chile. Trekking for eight days through Torres del Paine and going to the isolated town of Puerto Williams in Isla Navarino.
Worst incident you encountered?
Forgetting my sunglasses in a bus in Argentina.
There’s so little information on your Instagram on where you stayed or who you met. Was it intentional or was it due to the nature of your travels?
I believe both. Although I chose to document some sights and sounds, this trip was also a personal one; it was mine. I get asked a lot to document more on other mediums, as well, but I chose to limit everything to mostly Instagram. I was traveling and enjoying the moment that a camera can sometimes disrupt. If I was on a fully paid/sponsored trip, I would have documented everything to my dirty laundry (seeking sponsors, wink wink).
One thing that you’d change if you could go back to the start of your trip?
How did your family handle it?
Generally speaking, my family thinks I’m crazy, and I think that helped a lot. A trip like this was kind of expected. I broke the news to my parents, about quitting my job and going on this trip, a year earlier. So they had a full year to absorb it. During the trip, communication was easy given the state of technology now.
Any plans on where you’ll be going next?
I really want to go back and complete the circle around South America. Venezuela was the only country that I did not visit, in the mainland of that continent. There’s a lot to see in the world and I want to see it all.
What advice would you give to anyone who wants to go backpacking?
Do it! It’s a wonderful experience. You learn a lot about yourself and your needs through traveling. You also become less attached to material. Most importantly, long-term travel forces you to tackle your fears and insecurities, and calibrates your preconceived notions and prejudices.