“So what brings you here?”
“We’re from Outpost Travel Media,” explained our videographer as Lena hopped in the pool for a swim. “These girls write for the magazine, and we’re the camera crew. We’re making a web series.”
The Americans’ eyebrows sprung skyward in unison like cuckoo-clock figurines. “No way!” whistled the blond Floridian. “Wow, you’re like… actually living the dream.”
“Well, it’s not our day job,” I explained. “Lena’s a business writer and I’m a yoga instructor.”
I paused, gazing beyond the rooftop pool over Bangkok. Buddhist wats sparkled like lost coins amidst Chinatown’s smog-stained, Lego-like edifices. In the distance, the Chao Phraya River reflected a sky the colour of porridge.
I yawned, my mind still stuffed with cottony jetlag. “But, yeah, this is pretty awesome.”
Of course, despite my attempts to play it cool, the Floridian was right: being paid to travel is every backpacker’s dream. It wasn’t something I’d truly aspired to—my articles and memoir were passion projects, storytelling long after the fact—yet here we were, thousands of kilometres from home, travelling for a purpose and a pay cheque.
“So, is it everything you hoped for and more?” asked the Californian soccer player.
In many ways, Tan Your Mind was more incredible than I could’ve imagined. The Yi Peng lantern festival in Chiang Mai was one of the most majestic experiences of my life—a sudden rush of fizzy dopamine and a rejuvenated love for the world, one of those moments that backpackers live for.
And even though I’ve been to Thailand many times, most of what we did was new to me, like the White Temple, the Opium Museum and Chiang Mai’s cabaret.
Plus, from the moment we bonded over dumplings in the Cathay Pacific lounge in Vancouver, our crew became best friends—supporting one another and keeping each other laughing.
However, there were also obstacles. The first was attempting to do so much in so little time. When you’re travelling for fun, you can take a few days to recover from jetlag, enjoy the sights at a leisurely pace and spend an extra day if you miss the train.
But our packed schedule demanded 18-hour days and rendered no room for error. This made it especially difficult to stay within our budget, as typically you can either travel the fast way or the cheap way, but not both. On the upside, I learned how to write quicker and produce quality work on little sleep.
The biggest challenge for me was being on camera. Writing about an experience happens after the fact, and you have time to contemplate, edit, rewrite. But we’d begin filming the moment we arrived at our destination, forcing me to form opinions on the fly—and there were many occasions where we’d be returning to the hotel and I’d think of something more clever I wished I’d said.
Additionally, Lena and I had to be much more aware of our word choice as not to misspeak—after all, the Internet is not a forgiving place. This was atop the expected insecurities that proclaim, “Ohmygod, I sound like that?!”
Overall, Tan Your Mind was one of the most amazing opportunities and certainly the best job I’ve ever had—but there was no mistaking it for a vacation.
I turned to reply to the Californian soccer player but the conversation had already moved on.
“We got the shot—you guys ready to go?” asked our photographer as he and Lena swam over to where Mike and I were hanging out with our new friends. “I wish we could chill and enjoy the view but we have to hit up Khao San before it gets too late.”
I took a deep breath, mustering my energy. “Let’s do it,” I replied, and we clambered out of the pool to go take on the night.