Welcome to the Roamers Corner! An interview series that spotlights how travelers, experts, and eco travel advocates we admire incorporate travel into their lives, to live more fulfilling and mindful lives.
A self-proclaimed vagabond, Johannes Malchow has a very interesting relationship with travel. Born in Germany, Johannes moved to Malta at 18 years old where he lived for two years. He then lived in New Zealand for seven years where he studied tourism and psychology. While there he also learned how to run ultra marathons (100km), fly paragliders, skate downhill, photograph, and appreciate nature. And for the last 4 years, he has been a vagabond...
We met Johannes through our friend Julia Schönstädt with whom he went on a 7-month road trip from Germany all the way down to Kyrgyzstan. They both run the travel video collective, Mountainhigh Collective. We're very pleased to speak with Johannes, a true traveling and adventurous spirit!
RW: What do you do and where do you call home?
JM: This question always delights me. Most people would answer with their current job but I think that this gives you little information about the person itself. Since I don’t have a "regular" job, my answer is often very different depending on my interest at the time. Right now I would consider myself a farmer and an athlete. A month ago, I started leasing a large piece of land to learn more about living sustainably, permaculture, and natural life cycles. Over the last few years, I've worked as a fundraiser, photographer, farmer, or barkeeper. My lifestyle is simple with little fixed costs. That’s how I manage to do the things I love or I'm passionate about instead of doing work that does not interest me.
The definition of "home" has changed for me over the years but it's always been where I am together with my parents and/or girlfriend. That changes a lot because my parents move quite often! In the past four years, they were without a flat or house. That's why “home” in the past few years has been France, Nepal, Vietnam, Morocco, or Germany. While traveling, home is where I sleep. It can be in the car, hammock, accommodation for the night, or just on a mattress in the forest. I adapt very quickly and feel comfortable in most circumstances. Uncertainty for me is more enjoyable than a routine. Finally, and most of all, I would consider "home" the outdoors, from lakes to mountain tops, my most cherished moments are the ones spent in nature. It's where I gain a deeper understanding of myself and everything else that surrounds us in this crazy world.
Sleeping In Nature © Johannes Malchow
RW: Generally, how often do you travel and why do you travel?
JM: Under normal circumstances, I travel every year for at least half of it but actually it's probably even more. You see, it's hard to actually put a time on it because traveling encompasses so many things. It doesn’t just have to be the country you're traveling to on the other side of the world, it can also be the mountain range 100km away or the forest behind your house. It’s a way of seeing the world through different eyes. You will walk through a forest very differently depending on whether you're a photographer, a biologist, or a trail runner. Being a traveler you can choose what you are today or this month, and therefore learn new connections even in familiar locations. To come back to the question, I didn’t have a flat or ‘’home’’ for 4-5 years. It means that I was always between places never staying somewhere for more than a month but then also returning to a base like a friend's house or the village where my mum grew up. Without family and friends, all this would not be possible.
RW: What’s your favorite destination/trip and why?
JM: An answer to this question would change a lot depending on the trip. In general, I would say it’s a result of my nature. I used to be (to a degree still am) very restless, always on the move wanting to explore, see new things, find explanations for why things are the way they are, and what else is out there. I was fascinated by the stories from Amundson, Sven Hedin, or Alexander Humboldt, the real explorers who went where few people have been, learned about and documented their surroundings. It's like staying a child for much longer, you're constantly confronted with different ways of living and unique situations that challenge your way of thinking over and over again. Adventure sports and photography have been the linchpin of the last 10 years of my life; they're deeply integrated into my soul and they establish my routine while traveling. I'm always looking for the next mountain to climb and/or documenting people and their cultures. Just thinking about it now increases my heart rate, there's so much to do.
The huge amount of factors making up an answer to this question makes it impossible for me to answer. To narrow it down it would be a place where people live a simple life, mountainous terrain, and preferably with the possibility of views with no sign of human impact. You can find these places in most countries but one that resonates with me greatly is Nepal.
Three Girls in Nepal © Johannes Malchow
Nepal From Above © Johannes Malchow
RW: What’s your craziest traveling experience so far?
On the way to Mt Wilhelm, Papua New Guinea © Johannes Malchow
"Me and the boys" © Johannes Malchow
JM: There are a few that would easily deserve the attribute of "crazy"... I have the gift of getting myself into interesting situations and at the same time getting out of them fairly well. My trip to Papua New Guinea was one of those experiences. I stayed there for a month to experience the local life, sleeping in a hammock, and not using any accommodation. Public transport, alone, can be crazy, to say the least.... I heard the worst stories from blogs or talking to people before I went and I thought I would get robbed or just vanish. There were indeed many situations where I really had to weigh my options and wrong decisions could easily have turned pretty bad. I nearly got robbed by ‘’Raskols’’, the local gangsters, if a friend I'd met a few days before hadn't stood up for me so bravely. Or the time I climbed Mount Wilhelm in two days and became very sick. I had to sleep in a random mountain village next to the oldest women in that area, and people, especially children, came and watched me, sometimes poking me, I think to check whether I was still alive. All in all, the hospitality was intense. Wherever I went people asked if they could help and many invited me to stay with them.
RW: How has COVID-19 affected your travels? What did you decide to do about it?
JM: At the moment I live in Freiburg investing all my time in farming, reading, sports and exploring the area close by. In July, I have a unique crossing of the Alps planned. If I'm still allowed to travel there the pandemic would not have affected me much. [UPDATE: Johannes did cross the Alps, nearly 400 km with 40,000 meters elevation gain in one month. On the last day, Johannes and his friend, Ivan, climbed the Mont Blanc.]
Johannes on the Mont Blanc © Johannes Malchow
Even if I couldn’t travel there are so many things I'd still like to do that can be done anywhere. It's actually unbelievable how lucky we are to be able to just do what we like. Once you've seen the hardships of people and internalized the pure luck of being born here instead of somewhere else where life is dictated by "needs" rather than "wants", it's easy to feel happy with just about any circumstances and the urge to stop harming people and nature through your way of life becomes paramount.
RW: Has the pandemic also impacted your income and if so are there any ways our readers can support you in this time of hardship?
Boy in Lunik IX © Johannes Malchow
JM: Sometimes when I fill out a form where I have to state my occupation I write "Artist of Life" (Lebenskünstler). I will always be alright. Through unfortunate events other people would need that help much more than me, I'm sure you (the reader) will find a worthwhile cause to support. Money is not everything that you can help with. Show interest, learn, act!
RW: What impact do you think the current crisis will have on the future of travel and sustainable travel?
JM: I hope dearly that people will reflect on their travel behavior and the impact of it. There's a need to shift away from the fast-paced transportation that sucks the life out of this planet. Maybe we can learn to have a healthier understanding of time, that faster does not equal better, flying as little as possible, and thinking about closer destinations would be a great start. The pandemic has given many people more free time, I hope they've also used it to get to know themselves better. I think a person who understands themselves reflects better on their actions and how they affect others. It starts with decisions each day like food supply but also thinking about more sustainable ways of traveling.
Glacier Melting Into The Sea In Iceland © Johannes Malchow
Oman © Johannes Malchow
RW: If you could travel now, what would be your number one destination?
JM: For a while now my heart has sought vast, open spaces. Where the landscape runs seemingly unchanged till the horizon and beyond. A place where your senses are activated by a small change, having a break from this overstimulated life most of us live. Somewhere near the poles would be interesting.
RW: What a fascinating life you have, Johannes. Thank you so much for speaking with us.
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