Featured Traveler: Brendan Lee of Brenontheroad.com

Brendan has been travelling full time since 2011. His passions include volunteering, learning languages, and discovering local cuisine. He is an accountant by profession but he decided to leave his 8-5 job to explore the world one destination at a time.

Looking out over El Nido
Looking out over El Nido

Learn more about Brendan by reading his interesting responses to our travel questionnaire below.

Tell me something about yourself:)

I grew up in a semi-traditional Chinese family in New Zealand, where the priority was always to do well in school and then graduate from university. In our culture, there’s a lot of pressure to get good grades and find a well paying career. We often joke that we can be anything we want to be, as long as it’s a doctor, lawyer or accountant. I actually did become an accountant and didn’t enjoy it much. Once I qualified as a Chartered Accountant, I decided there was nothing left on that path that I wanted to pursue. Some people say I’m brave for leaving my career at such a young age, but I had very few reservations about my decision. As the cliche goes, life is far too precious to waste doing something you don’t enjoy.

Bren and his class in Tanzania
Bren and his class in Tanzania

When did you start traveling, inspirations? 

I had travelled to a few places with my family as a child – I did Disneyland, China, Fiji, Australia. I was only 8 or 9 years old during most of those trips – too young to really appreciate how different the world was. However during my short lived career as an accountant I took a 2 month extended leave just to get away from the office. I spent that time studying Spanish in Spain, as I’ve always been fascinated by language. That place blew my mind – their lifestyle and culture was so different to anything I’d ever seen. A year later I quit my job, and my first trip was to Tanzania to work as a volunteer teacher. That was an incredibly powerful experience. I began to see the worthlessness of material things and learned to appreciate the value of community and human connection. My students literally had nothing, some of them not even a pair of shoes. Yet they were the most spirited and joyful people I’d ever met. Even though I was the teacher, those kids taught me more than I could ever dream of teaching them. It inspired me to see and learn everything I could about the world.

Relaxing on Boracay
Relaxing on Boracay

Destinations on your Bucket List? 

My dream is to visit every country, although I’m not rushing. As for places high on my list, I’m dying to visit West Africa, and also the Caribbean.

Beach or Mountain? 

If I’m in shape, beach. If I’m fat, mountain.

Standing above Machu Picchu
Standing above Machu Picchu

How often do you travel by air / land?

New Zealand is an island country, so if I want to go anywhere I need to fly. But as a budget traveler, I try to use buses and trains wherever possible once I’m overseas. If the bus ride will be over 12 hours, I think seriously about flying instead.

What’s your favorite airport? 

I recently wrote this post about Singapore Airport. The place is like a theme park, I could spend all day in there.

What is your favorite Hotel?

On my first trip to Tanzania I stayed at an independent volunteers hostel called Hostel Hoff. It’s not a 5 star hotel by any means, but the energy in that place is infectious. The volunteering community is magical, you’ll meet some of the most ambitious, intelligent, and passionate people you’ve ever come across. There’s usually around 20-25 volunteers staying there at any one time, working either on their own individual projects or with local partners. It’s one big family in there. I’ve been to Hostel Hoff 3 times, this year I’ll probably make it 4. It’s like a second home to me.

Walking through the villages in Ethiopia
Walking through the villages in Ethiopia

What is your preferred Airline? 

The best airline I’ve ever flown is Qatar Airways – just incredible. Emirates and Thai Airways are a close second. However as a budget traveller, I most commonly fly Jetstar.

How do you beat jet lag / Motion sickness? 

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This is easy for me, since I usually travel long term without too many plans. I just spend the first 2 days sleeping, do my exploring once I’ve recovered, and then move on when I’m ready. I must say it’s quite bad, I waste a lot of time sleeping when I could be out adventuring. I don’t really get motion sickness, although there was one ferry ride in Fiji where I felt like I was going to die. I feel so sorry for the people who get that all the time!

With my Filipino boxing teacher on Boracay
With my Filipino boxing teacher on Boracay

What are your favorite travel gadgets? 

I think it helps to carry an old smartphone, especially the ones that use the original full sized simcards. These cards are cheap and easy to find in most countries, which means you can get connected with a local sim much easier. Also, it’s not a big deal if you end up losing or breaking your phone. I currently use the iPhone 3GS.

Any Tips on how to travel light? 

I’m guilty of packing too much most of the time. However I think the best tip is to take less clothes. Clothes take up the most space, and are also the easiest thing to buy when you’re overseas. Also, I never take a full sized towel. Towels take up a ridiculous amount of space in a backpack and take forever to dry. I take one of those mini gym towels instead; it takes some getting used to, but they still get the job done and they dry in about half an hour. Otherwise I just use a t-shirt. One last thing, don’t take books. Books are probably the most clunky, annoying things to travel with. Invest in a Kindle and you’ll never look back.

Best Backpack Brand?

I’ve used both Kathmandu and Eagle Creek, although my Eagle Creek bag just broke in less than a year. It has a lifetime warranty, but I’m not keen on having my bag break while I’m on the road. I’m back to using Kathmandu.

Top 3 Philippine Destinations? 

Boracay – I stayed on Boracay for about a month and never wanted to leave. It’s such a soothing place. It’s busy, but peaceful, if that makes sense.

El Nido – El Nido is out of this world – I could not believe how few tourists were there. I imagine it’ll get popular pretty soon though. I’d suggest people go and see it asap.

Cagbalete Island – I love places like this; completely off the grid. It’s one of those places where you feel completely hidden away, where nobody can find you.

Things you love about the Philippines? 

I’ve written about this here in detail, but more than anything I loved how it is still relatively unknown. The Philippines had some of the most beautiful places I’ve ever set eyes on and were literally empty, not a person in sight. It still baffles me how this is possible. I’m just glad that I got to see these places before the inevitable tourist avalanche.

Other than that, I love the country’s very strong appreciation for family and community. You can feel it all around you.

Things you hate about the Philippines?

I hate how your flights never leave on time due to “mechanical difficulties”.

What made you decide to visit the Philippines?

I actually wanted to learn martial arts, and I discovered a new martial arts gym on Boracay called Legacy. I’d never been to The Philippines, so I thought it would be good to visit somewhere new. For the first 3 days I hated Boracay, then, I fell in love with it. I made a lot of great friends there and really felt at home on the island. There’s a great family like culture there, just like the rest of the country. I was there for a month, and could’ve easily stayed for another 3 or 4!

Top 3 International Destinations?

It is way too hard to choose favourites, but if I were to recommend countries to visit, I’d say the following:

The Philippines – Because it’s so different to what you’d expect. It’s paradise, hiding in plain sight.

Ethiopia – Because their history is so original and unique; there’s incredibly strong cultures and traditions there.

Colombia – Because it has a terrible reputation in the media, which is not deserved at all. It felt like the safest place on the continent.

Favorite Travel Quote

“I see my path, but I don’t know where it leads. Not knowing where I’m going is what inspires me to travel it.” – Rosalia de Castro

You can follow his adventures by visiting his blog www.brenontheroad.com and Facebook Page Bren on the Road.

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