“You can always have a career in logistics if you ever get tired of journalism,” a friend at a major freight forwarding company once pointed out as we were riding together into a bonded zone in the east of China.
It’s true, there is a lot in common between the two professions.
“I became a journalist because I thought that I would be able to travel, but I never traveled as a journalist. Then I got into logistics because I thought that I could stay at home but now I’m always traveling,” another friend told me.
Throughout the course of doing research for my book on the New Silk Road I’ve found myself meeting with many people involved in logistics — freight forwarders, port administrators, rail, truck, and sea cargo transporters, and the people who develop new trade routes and hold the old ones together. These meetings generally always have additional benefit of excellent conversation — the people in this profession know more about the layout of this planet better than even I do, and many of them seem to travel through it even more than I do as well.
I just love talking to these people. Their minds seemed structured differently. You can see them rapidly working out transport routes forward and backward in their heads. They know how the rail lines, the highways, the shipping routes, the rivers, and the natural contours of this planet flow and come together. Places like Baku and Khorgos and Zhengzhou are their stomping grounds. You could throw a dart at a map of the world and they could tell you all about wherever it hits — and more than likely they’ve actually been there.
I sat down in Singapore a couple of weeks ago with a guy who personally set up a multimodal trade route that goes from Taiwan to Shanghai to Suzhou to Kazakhstan to Georgia to Istanbul using boat, rail, and truck transport. To do this he had to travel up and down this route talking to people, signing deals, settling customs issues, etc . . . He went there.
As far as the traveling professions go, logistics perhaps provides the steadiest diet of traveling and the most intimate contact with the world as a geographic, economic, and political entity. These are people who have this planet — the entire planet — in the forefronts of their minds at all times. They know this place.
But it’s probably the shear optimism of people in logistics that I’m most drawn to. In logistics, if you can’t go one way you don’t sit there and complain and pout about it, you don’t bang up against a brick wall; no, you shrug, turn around, and find another way. Anything can be possible with the right tweak . . . and this occupational mentality seems to permeate into all aspects of life. A fatalist in logistics would never do.
Now, in this era where the world is open to inter-connectivity perhaps more than ever before, this is an incredibly intriguing time to be in logistics. New trade routes are stretching rapidly across the planet, multi-modal combinations that make the most of sea, rail, air, and road transport are revolutionizing transport, and the infrastructure, technological capabilities, know-how, and desire of the countries en route are finally in sync — and the economic impetus and funding is there.
There are many ways to make a life traveling the world, make money, live well, and the Atypical Travel series on Vagabond Journey aims to take a look into many of them. Each Thursday look for a new interview with an atypical traveler right here.