If you have ever wondered what it’s like to pack everything into a Land Rover and drive around the world with two friends, have a look at Vincent Urban because he had the idea first. A traveler and freelance video editor from Munich, Vincent creates montages of his travels that could re-ignite even the most dormant feelings of wanderlust. The In Asia series is split into five parts, beginning in Malaysia and stopping off in Laos, Thailand and Cambodia. Since then Vincent has released two more similar videos, In New York and In South America. Each film ends with us wanting to know more so I caught up with Vincent and asked him some questions about his travels.
Emaho : When did you start travelling and creating films?
My first real eye-opening travel experience was in Japan in 2004. Before that I was mostly travelling to common destinations like the beaches of Italy or the mountains of Austria. Sitting at home and visiting the sun every once in a while was good enough. But the enormous culture shock that probably everyone experiences when they visit Tokyo for the first time really sparked an interest to see the world, all of it. That was also the time when I started making films – snowboarding films – and travel in all kinds of winter destinations the coming years. But by 2010 I realized that we miss out a lot from this planet if we only go to places where you could possibly find snow. This is when we started the first Land Rover trip to Southeast Asia.
© Vincent Urban
Emaho : There is evidently a close friendship between you and your travelling companions. How did you meet Clemens and Stefan? Do you always travel together? Do you have specific roles that you stick to?
I have known Stefan since I was born. Our parents are close friends so we grew up like brothers. Almost every holiday or trip that I did was with him from childhood to now, with a few exceptions during the snowboarding years. Clemens was part of the snowboarding film crew for many years and is now a cameraman so we work together a lot in our daily business. Plus, he was Stefan’s roommate for some years. I guess all that is enough to claim that we’re very close.
We can sit in a car for hours and hours without saying a single word. When you can do that without feeling socially awkward, you know you’re around very good friends.
© Vincent Urban
Emaho : Your videos certainly inspire people to travel. For anyone undecided about taking a trip, one glance at your videos would be enough to persuade them to buy the plane ticket and just get out there. What first motivated you to start seeing the world? What is there to be gained from travelling?
I already mentioned Japan – that was the first great motivation; just to get a glance at how different this world can be from what you’re used to. Another really strong experience was my first trip to New York in 2006. It was always high on my list but it wasn’t really a place you can go for making snowboarding movies. So one summer I decided to go there on my own for 9 days. I got off the plane and went via train to Pen-Station where you arrive underground. I ascended the escalator and stood in this valley between crazy skyscrapers, wild sounds of police cars, cabs, ice trucks and street musicians all around me. I was completely alone on the other side of the ocean, I felt like the smallest piece of grain in a huge world.
At first that might sound like a rather negative feeling but your whole perception of things gets so much more intense when you get out of your comfort zone. Travelling to new places is like switching your brain into advanced mode. You see, hear, feel, smell and memorize so much better than you would when you’re just at home. You notice every little detail and remember it for years to come.
You reflect on things you see, you think about why things are the way they are and that way you learn so much about your life at home as well.
Emaho : I love the scene of the water fight from the In New York video. Do you ask permission before you start filming people? Does anybody ever object?
That really depends on the situation. Sometimes you just start filming and no one really notices you. Sometimes you just try to get eye contact, smile and show the camera and then start shooting when there’s no obvious objection. Then there are occasions where you ask directly. We’ve been to Morocco recently and had to bribe most of the people because they always asked for money when we wanted to shoot them. But in New York, we never asked anybody. I guess there’s no other city where people are used to cameras like they are in NYC.
© Vincent Urban
Emaho : Your Land Rover is almost like a fourth person in your party. There must be a certain bond that builds with an individual and their vehicle that takes them so far. How did you manage to travel all over a continent with such a large and robust travelling companion?
There is indeed a very strong bond between us and “Landy” as we call him, mostly because he isn’t as robust as you might think. There are always some little things wrong with him. Electricity that just shuts off for no reason, little holes where water comes pouring in during heavy rain, strange sounds coming from nowhere and so on. But all these flaws and his moody behavior make him seem very human.
© Vincent Urban
Emaho : I see that you had some car trouble in the Cameron Highlands yet you luckily managed to get some help from a local car garage. Have you any other similar experiences with your Land Rover?
We had an even worse situation in South America. Just after we left Buenos Aires we noticed a strange sound coming up when we drove faster than 80kmh. In Puerto Madryn in Northern Patagonia we tried really hard to find someone who had experience with Land Rovers and after a while we got an address. When we got there this funny little dude with this big mustache stood there with just his short swimshorts on, he beamed at us when he saw the Land Rover. He was a real fanatic. We spent almost 5 days in Puerto Madryn in his workshop. We got to know him, his colleagues and his family pretty well although none of them really spoke English. Sometimes you just have to communicate with your hands and it’s amazing how well it works.
They even took us out on a trip to a hidden beach one day, serving a real Argentinian BBQ for everyone. It was great! Most of the time you struggle, you end up in new and unforeseeable situations that you’ll remember the rest of your life.
© Vincent Urban
Emaho : I love the shot of you in the Salar De Uyani (salt flats) in Bolivia, the image of you being pulled along on a board by your Land Rover echoes your background in snowboarding and the videos you created for isenseven.tv. Tell us about this; what kind of places did snowboarding take you?
Of course we spent most of our time in the German, Austrian and Swiss Alps, but we went to Canada, the US, Sweden, Finland and Norway quite often too. Those are the usual suspects when it comes to making snow movies. They have good infrastructure and usually lots of snow. The first trips were always really exciting but after a while you realize that when you visit skiing resorts they are pretty much the same everywhere and usually far away from the cultural core of the country. The most memorable trips were always in Norway – the nature there is breathtaking. No wonder the planet designer from “Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy” got an award for sculpturing the fjords of Norway!
Emaho : Your video of your South American adventure was selected as one of the Vimeo staff picks. I think part of this is due to the variety of culture and nature that you managed to condense into a 6-minute video. What was the most memorable part of your time in South America?
It’s just way too hard to pick one place or experience in particular. But the most memorable thing about South America in general is the winds. As soon as we entered Patagonia we had strong steady winds for weeks – with almost no break. And if you just live outside and got nothing else but your car, you realize how hard life can be without walls to protect your cereal bowl randomly flying away. Sleeping in a tent with the walls flapping loudly in the wind every night is what is still strongest in my memory when I think back.
I also remember that one morning at Torres Del Paine, where there was suddenly no wind for a few hours. You could hear flies and all kinds of insects coming to life all of a sudden. It was quite a magical moment as you suddenly hear something so common that was just not there for a few weeks.
© Vincent Urban
Emaho : The In New York video is similarly idyllic, but obviously your environment is far more urbanized. Fewer waterfalls and more skyscrapers than your other videos. The vibe from the video is intoxicatingly uninhibited and carefree, what was it like spending a summer in New York?
You have to consider that I am from Munich in Bavaria. Except for the time during the Oktoberfest this is probably the cleanest and safest city you can imagine. It’s only beautiful old buildings, green parks with clean rivers and lakes and moderate middle class people everywhere. It’s a perfect place to raise your kids but it’s not exactly an urban metropolis. One could say, in all its perfect modesty, it can get a little boring. Since 2006 I spent a few days in New York every year, just to get my fix of urban excitement and inspiration. It’s such a cultural melting pot with so many extremes wherever you look. If there’s a guy in a pink rabbit costume sitting next to you in the subway at 9am singing some rap song, it’s just an every day event, but this would be unthinkable in Munich.
In 2011 I spent the whole summer in New York, rather spontaneously and it was a great time. However, I was really happy to get home as well. Just the fact that you can jump into the river when it’s hot is quite a missing quality in New York.
© Vincent Urban
Emaho : The choice of soundtrack impacts significantly on the way that your audience will receive your videos; is this something that is considered whilst on the road or do you edit everything once you’re back in the office?
That depends. I usually don’t really know which song is fitting before I look at the footage in greater detail. But I write lists whilst I’m on the road with songs I could see fitting. The track from the South America film was an exception. I knew I would want to use that for months. It was just perfect.
© Vincent Urban
Emaho : Your videos illustrate the importance of whole-heartedly embracing other cultures when travelling. One of the most enlightening aspects of travelling is the change in perception of one’s own home. What have your experiences led you to realize about your own culture?
Everything you usually answer to this kind of question is cheesy in some way. And I think my answer won’t be an exception. You learn that your way of life is not the only one and most of all not the necessary one. You start questioning all the things that seem so important in your culture, like fame and possession. And you start to think a lot more about the environment than you did before.
But believe it or not, I’m not one of those guys that came back from a backpacking trip with hemp-shirts and dreadlocks being cocky to all my friends about how bad they are behaving by shopping at H&M. I actually think that our society in Europe and Germany does a lot of things well when it comes to human rights, tolerance, redistribution, education and attempts to save the environment. But it would still help every European citizen to go on some trips to other parts of this world to raise their own awareness to global problems, so we can actually use our wealth and education to fix stuff – and not make things worse.
Emaho : The scenes of you tubing in Laos reveal the social aspects of travelling. What kind of people do you typically encounter whilst on the road?
Well, tubing in Laos was actually what you’d call a guilty pleasure. We usually avoid all kinds of mass-party-tourist-attractions – but in this occasion I have to admit it was quite fun really. I probably wouldn’t do it again but I don’t regret it either. We met some fun guys from the UK that day but we never saw them again ever. There are many people we meet all over the world but who never appear again in your life, except for in your Facebook newsfeed maybe. But there are also good friends of ours in Bangkok for example; one girl has visited us twice in Munich already. There’s no way you could describe the usual encounter. You meet all the different kinds of people there are, young ones, old ones, nice ones, assholes, whatever you can think of.
© Vincent Urban
Emaho : How much do you prepare and plan ahead for your trips? Now that you have successfully covered two continents and a bit of America where else do you want to travel?
For the Land Rover trips we do plan months ahead because shipping the car on a cargo ship is very complicated. It’s not a usual thing private people do so it’s not like going to DHL to send a little package. But other than that, we just search the Internet for interesting things we could see and do and mark some spots on the map. When we are there, we want to be spontaneous and have the ability to go wherever we feel like – that’s why we ship the car in the first place – so we don’t plan a certain route or anything like that.
As for the other question – of course we already visited more places than the ones we made films about. But this world is huge so there’s still so much to see. We might go to New England this fall and to Peru in spring for shorter trips. For the next big one Mongolia is a favorite right now. But we’ve also never been to Australia or India, which I guess are quite amazing places as well.
Art & Culture Interviewed by Max Grobe