Quit your job to travel the world like…Jeroen Swolfs

Tell us a little bit about you?

My name is Jeroen Swolfs, I’m a Dutch photojournalist now living in Amsterdam. After working for Dutch newspapers and magazines for a couple of years, I decided it was time for something bigger so I started the Streets of the World Project, which took me to 195 countries in seven years. I wanted to photograph normal street life in all the capitals of the world by taking one identical photo to show what connects humans all over the world.

Where was the first place you visited outside of your native country?

Well, I tried to make it to Paris on my sledge during the winter of 1979. I only made it to the edge of town before the police picked me up and dropped me off at my doorstep, where my mother was frantically waiting for me. She begged me to never do something like that again. I was five years old.

What do you like most about travelling?

The adrenaline already starts pumping when I smell the jet fuel arriving at the airport. You just know that there’s adventure coming up, no matter where you go. Who will you meet? What will you see? And, in my case… what photos will I return with? When you look at life as a collection of experiences, the best thing to do is to try to have as many experiences that move you. I think one of the best ways to do that is to leave your comfort zone and experience the unknown head on.

Where is your favourite country and why?

With a 195 under the belt that’s a tough question. After these seven years of travelling I feel there are different categories – like nature, people, government – which make up how you feel about a place. I am now thinking about moving to Canada for instance. I think it has so much to offer. But I also love Costa Rica. Pure Vida! (Pure Life!) That’s their motto and they really try to live that way – 100% renewable energy, no army, beaches, tropical rainforests, volcanoes. It seems they have it all in that small country.

Where’s the worst place you’ve ever been and why?

That’s a tough one too. I would say North Korea for obvious reasons. It is the scariest place I’ve been too. If a government is the enemy of the people on a total scale, and it is everywhere, that is very frightening, even for me as a visitor. Imagine living there. I don’t think we even can. Personally, Somalia was, I think, the most dangerous for me as a photo journalist. But the thing is, I did meet very nice people over there who wanted to change the country and are trying to do so. So, it’s not that simple to qualify a whole country as ‘good or bad’.

Is there a city you consider your second home?

I fell in love with Bangkok the first time I got there and have loved it ever since. A lot of my trips start there. It is such a different world. I immediately feel that I’m back into my traveling life again. I have friends over there, the Thai are lovely people, the food, but mostly the insane energy of that place always gets me.

If you could visit anywhere in the world right now, where would it be and why?

It’s funny, after seven years of non-stop traveling by myself I’m quite happy to be back home in Amsterdam. I am curious about how things are on the Pacific islands nowadays. It would be lovely to have a peak at Nauru and see how they are doing with the secondary mining of phosphate. They were starting that up when I visited. The first round nearly destroyed their whole country. It did make them the second richest people in the world per capita but the paid a very high price for it and of course the money didn’t last. Also, the lovely atoll of Tuvalu I would like to see again. They play volleyball on the country’s airstrip every afternoon at sunset. It was lovely to join them and lounge out afterwards with a cold beer.

Tell us about your best experience on the road?

I set out with Streets of the World to see what connects us as human beings around the world. That was the primary goal of my project. After seven years and 195 countries I think I can now say that there is a lot more that we share than we realise around the world. I have met the most amazing people in the most difficult circumstances. We share a lot more positive qualities than you would think reading the news every day. Those combined experiences for sure made this trip the trip of a lifetime and adds up to an amazing travel experience.

Tell us about your worst travel experience?

Gun held up against my head in Liberia, being beaten up in South Sudan, couple of car accidents in taxis, having my appendix taken out in Egypt, seeing murdered people in the streets in Central African Republic. Flagrant corruption. Extreme poverty. It’s hard to choose. But it all pales in comparison with the beauty I’ve seen. With the strength people are capable of.

What has travelling taught you about yourself?

I’m just one insignificant guy among seven billion people around the world who’s trying to realise his dreams like all those other people out there. We can only successfully face the massive problems of our time if we face them together. I have found out that putting my energy into that goal is what matters to me most.

What advice would you give to anyone thinking about quitting their job to travel the world?

Do it.

Streets of the World is a photography book by Jeroen Wolds published by Lannoo Publishers and can be purchased here

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