The desire to abandon the usual 9-to-5 routine is something that unites many travel bloggers. But it’s what travel means to them which sets each one apart. For Colombian blogger and Instagram influencer Christian Byfield, his foray into the world of travel would end up seeing him turn his back on the world of investment banking and heading off on journeys around the world to spread happiness one smile at a time!
More and more people are having the courage to leave the familiar 9-to-5 working life that we all know and pursue the interests and passions that are truly important to them. As we all know ourselves, travel is one of those things that you can never really get enough of – but it’s so much more than just crossing off the destinations from your list.
Travel is a means to learn about the world. You see your home country in new and broader perspective, you experience different cultures, and you even learn more about who you are yourself as a person. Christian Byfield is one travel blogger who can certainly attest to this. A Bogotá native, Christian travels the world to foster better understanding between the different cultures of the world and “collect smiles”. In addition to the mighty landscapes and areas of natural beauty, Christian shares wonderful interactions with peoples from all over the world – and it’s these little pictures that help remind us that deep down, we are all human at the end of the day! I was lucky to find the time to chat with him for the most recent episode of the podcast. :)
You may be asking yourself “What’s a Smile Collector?” – I certainly did as well when I first stumbled upon Christian’s Instagram! I suppose many respects, it’s less of a job but more of the ethos that drives Christian to travel as much as he does.
His love affair with travel started when he was 18, when he set off on a his first adventure which took him to Peru. But Christian quickly realised that his work commitments were getting in the way of his interests. Having studied industrial engineering, he was working a job at a prominent investment bank that saw him working very long hours and even forcing him to skip on personal commitments with family. It was a fateful meeting with an American man that Christian got speaking to during a break in southern Colombia which really set everything in motion for him. The man reminded him that you have to keep your dreams in mind and just go for it. By now it was clear what Christian had to do.
If you’re not happy with something, you have to change it.
Working several small jobs, Christian began saving up for an around-the-world trip. He booked the first flight to Ethiopia and quit his job at the bank there and then. The first step had been taken, but this was the hardest one for Christian to overcome. It meant having to leave financial security and convincing friends, family and work colleagues that this is the best choice from him to make. He encountered lots of mixed reactions along the way, and as he sat on the plane he felt like he really was stepping into the unknown.
For those of you looking to pursue travel full-time, Christian will be a great person to look up to. He doesn’t hide the fact that the beginning of the trip was very emotionally taxing and difficult for him – social media can make travel look almost effortless, but of course that’s not always the case! Christian says that it’s the people you meet on your travels that really help you to overcome your fears. Backpackers, nomads and travellers you meet on your journey share an open mindset and they have countless experiences and stories to share. Despite the fact that everyone is on the move, talking to these people will feel like you’re being welcomed into a familiar community no matter where you are in the world, and it was these people that helped Christian to stay motivated to pursue his dreams. You may be travelling solo, but you’re not alone!
The idea of becoming a ‘Smile Collector‘ began when he was in Ethiopia. As he smiled at passersby while walking down the street, the locals smiled back at him. It sounds like such a small, mundane detail, but it was this little moment that made Christian realise that we all “smile in the same language”. I don’t think I’ve seen a single post where Christian isn’t smiling, and the same goes for the people with him! Amazing how something as simple as a smile can go such a long way.
One thing that’s always interested me about Christian is his outspoken love for his home country, Colombia. I think with the legacy of TV shows such as Narcos and the events surrounding Pablo Escobar and the cartels, people are quick to associate Colombians with drugs. Even when you’re on the move it really surprised me how even now this preconception has managed to stick around for so long. When I was doing a quick weekend break to Denmark, others were quick to make the typical Narcos jokes when a Colombian arrived to our dorm. She wasn’t happy!
Christian clearly wants to show the world that our Western perceptions of Colombia are way behind the times. Despite having visited 60-odd countries during his lifetime, Christian still maintains that Colombia is the most beautiful country of all. And I think it’s easy to see why – the country is essentially South America in miniature. To the south you have the endless expanses of the mighty Amazon rainforest, housing some of the world’s richest biodiversity. Then there’s the desert of Tatacoa, famous for its otherworldly rock formations, the mighty peaks of the Andes Mountains, and even Caribbean islands such as San Andrés and Providencia which boast snow-white beaches and wonderful coral reefs.
On top of that you have the rich culture and heritage of Colombia’s peoples. The country is home to many indigenous cultures who all speak diverse languages, and places such as Cartagena and Santa Cruz de Mompox boast wonderful examples of Colonial-era architecture. Christian maintains that if you visit Colombia, all of your preconceptions will melt away in a heartbeat, so the fact that he’s constantly sharing the beauty of his homeland on the regular certainly puts a smile on my face!
Self-discovery and travel
Something that Christian also spoke about in the interview that really touched me in particular was him finally being able to come out as gay while on his travels.
Travelling alone gives you a lot of time to simply think. You start looking at yourself as a person, and its these moments of introspection that help you understand more about yourself, and perhaps even discover something completely new you might not have realised before. Christian always knew that he was gay, but as he grew up in an environment that was sceptical about homosexuality -he could never fully embrace it for fears of what associates might think or say.
As Christian went to Australia as part of his around-the-world trip, he saw first hand how the LGBT community in Australia was openly accepted. He realised that it was actually possible to be openly gay without having to worry about any repercussions. I was delighted to hear that his time in Australia finally helped Christian to muster the courage to come out as being gay. It’s such a major turning point in anyone’s life, but the uncertainty of not knowing how people can be a huge fear to contend with. It’s always fantastic to see the ways in which travel can help people, whether it’s on a larger scale supporting communities around the world, or even coming to terms with who you are.
Be sure to give the full interview with Christian Byfield a listen to. Those of you who are planning big adventures or around-the-world voyages but are feeling a bit hesitant or are having doubts, then check out the advice that this guy has to give. His own experiences that he shares will be very relevant and I’m sure he’ll provide you with a welcome bit of motivation! You can listen to the podcast over on YouTube, or just check out our iTunes or Soundcloud feeds!