• Dawn Chapman

An Experiment in Long Term Travel

A recount of one-way ticket travelling from New Zealand photographer Dawn Chapman.

Dawn Chapman   |   NEW ZEALAND


Dawn Chapman, New Zealand based photographer and travel writer reflects on her experiences travelling as an adult without an end date. The freedom of no plans and no itinerary met with navigating Visa’s and last minute accommodation. From biking single lane roads through the Gap of Dunloe to Swedish seaside beach cottages, Dawn offers a reminder why it’s so rewarding to pack everything into storage and set off exploring without the end in sight before you’ve even left.


Sometimes I feel a nearly unbearable desire to travel. Have you ever felt that? Where all you want to do is upend your comfortable life, to experience something new? It’s not that I dislike my daily routines, but there’s just so much to see and do in the world that it’s almost impossible not to feel restless.


The last time that feeling struck was around this time last year, and it ended with me booking a one way ticket from my home in Wellington, New Zealand to Barcelona, Spain. We had just experienced one of the wettest summers to hit the city in years and it felt like spring had melded straight into fall without any gap in the grey skies. I needed a change, and within four weeks I had booked a ticket, put all of my belongings into storage, moved out of the house I was renting and packed my essentials into one check-in bag.


Dawn Chapman


I had picked Barcelona at random after a search for cheap flights to somewhere warm, and while I’m usually the type to pre-book my holidays, before I left New Zealand I had secured only one week of accommodation. Beyond that, I had no itinerary. By moving everything I owned into storage I had prepared for long-term travel, but as an adult I’d never travelled on a one-way ticket before, and I had to wonder if I was making a mistake by not having more of a plan.


I knew that it was either going to be an amazing experience to travel with complete freedom, or I would be booking a ticket back home within a few weeks.


Luckily, it ended up being the first of those two potential outcomes, but it wasn’t without a lot of ups and downs. Perhaps my biggest problem was travelling on a one-way ticket without any sort of long-stay visa, so if anyone is reading this looking for advice, this is a point I have to make. While I knew I could expect a visitor visa to be issued on my arrival into most countries, I was frequently asked to provide proof of my intent to travel onwards or essentially, to not overstay. I was questioned even before boarding my first flight out of New Zealand, and this continued throughout my travels.


Dawn Chapman


I had heard mixed stories online but luckily I had erred on the side of caution, picked a random date, and booked the cheapest flight I could find to Ireland about two months out from when I arrived. I figured at worst if I returned home early and didn’t use it I wouldn’t have lost too much money, and in the meantime, it would be my proof that I intended to eventually leave Europe. In the end, it was the only reason I was allowed to board even my first flight out of New Zealand.


A problem I hadn’t anticipated was how expensive it is to travel without a plan. I knew I would need to keep a careful budget if I wanted to travel long-term, and while giving up the house I was renting back home helped, I wasn’t prepared for how difficult it is to secure last-minute backpackers accommodation. Frequently I had to change my plans to avoid overspending and not only was this often stressful, it sometimes also meant missing out.


Dawn Chapman

Dawn Chapmand


Any problem becomes minor though when I consider what a privilege it is to be able to travel. To have a comfortable life at home that can be voluntarily disrupted simply for the sake of experiencing new things.


In the end, I spent three months in Europe visiting Spain, Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden and Portugal, before finally Ireland and a stopover in South Africa on my way back to New Zealand.


Dawn Chapman


In Spain, I was able to take my time exploring and falling in love with the architecture of Gaudí, taste a paella in a restaurant by the sea, witness Castellers build jaw-dropping human towers, and spend a week swimming in the ocean along the Costa Brava. In Switzerland, I hiked through the mountains, walked through tunnels carved in ice, witnessed the largest glacier in the Alps curving towards the horizon, stood behind waterfalls, and saw my first marmot.


Dawn Chapman


Denmark and Sweden went by in a rush of colourful buildings, the friendliest people, and stops at beautiful autumn beaches. The last was a surprise to me and I was absolutely charmed to find roses blooming along the sand dunes and tiny beach houses neatly lined up on the shore. I enjoyed the long hot days in Portugal visiting castles and admiring the tiled buildings, standing at Cabo da Roca, the westernmost point of continental Europe and travelling to the Algarve to take a dip at some of the most incredible beaches I’ve ever been lucky enough to visit.


Dawn Chapman

Dawn Chapman


By the time I got to Ireland the weather was heading deep into Autumn and this led to wet, misty days in the countryside and nights inside around the heater. During a break in the clouds, I took a day trip on a boat across the lake from the town of Killarney to the starting point for a bike ride through the Gap of Dunloe. Riding down this winding single lane road past lakes and golden autumn hillsides was an experience I hope I never forget.


Dawn Chapman

Dawn Chapman


Finally, the wet weather got the better of me and I decided to head back to New Zealand in time for summer in the Southern Hemisphere. After a lot of research, I eventually found a flight home via Cape Town in South Africa. This was a place I had been wanting to visit for a long time but hadn’t expected to. I was absolutely amazed by the city, nature, and the wildlife. Turtles roamed happily in the gardens, and the sunsets were some of the most spectacular I have ever witnessed.


Dawn Chapman

Dawn Chapman

Dawn Chapman


When I eventually returned to New Zealand I had experienced so many new things that it’s difficult to even now to get them all down onto paper. It was an absolutely incredible opportunity and adventure, and I feel so lucky to have been able to quench that restlessness for a time. If you find yourself in a position to be able to travel long-term without a plan, I can only say give it a try. It may turn into one of the best things you’ve ever done.




Dawn Chapman


Dawn Chapman — Photographer

dawnchapmanphotography.com   |   @dawnchapmanphoto

Auckland, New Zealand


How do you make a living?

I’m a content manager and creator.


In your words, what do you do?

Mostly, I take photographs and I write. I love to get outside, travel, experience new things, and this is how I’ve learned to document it.


What gets you up in the morning? And what’s the first thing you do when you wake up?

I wake up with the sunrise because my bedroom faces the morning light. The first thing I do is check what time it is and try to figure out if I should get up right away or if I can nap a bit longer!


Film or digital?

Film all the way.


Name some inspirations, photographers or otherwise.

My biggest inspiration comes from finding new places to visit or explore and seeing what other people are doing so I find outdoor magazines really inspiring, travel blogs, travel channels, etc. Going for a walk, doing or trying something new, talking to people — especially other creatives.