I first met Maartje Smit in a hostel in Bogotá, back in 2013. I hung out with her and her Australian friend Choppy for a few nights and we all ended up becoming friends on Facebook. When I got home to the Netherlands, there was nothing but rain—unlike on Maartje's wall, where there seemed to be nothing but sunshine, pearly beaches, and groups of scantily-clad backpackers.
How long can somebody keep a vacation going for? In Maartje's case, it's been three years. I skyped her to get some insight into how the hell such a jaunt is even possible.
VICE: Hi Maartje, where are you right now?
Maartje Smit: At the moment, I'm in Israel. I'm staying with a friend that I met in Honduras. When I was planning my trip here, I discovered that I had 32 Israeli Facebook friends so looking for a hostel wasn't really necessary.
You're quite good at making friends. We went out for drinks as soon as we met, even though you were tired from a long bus trip.
That's true. I believe that when you're traveling for this long, it's all about making friends. If you have less time, you usually just hop from one landmark to another. I go sightseeing too, but it's not my main goal. I stopped buying souvenirs years ago. No one needs a bag full of unnecessary shit.
Is there anything in your suitcase that was there three years ago?
Yeah, my gray sweater. Oh wait, no, I bought that at my first stop. So nope, nothing.
What do people think of your permanent vacation?
Most people wonder whether I refuse to go back home because of something bad that happened to me. But that's not true: I worked as a project manager at a software company and my life was just fine. People often wonder what I'm doing with my life and how I can afford all this.
Well, how are you able to pay for all this?
I saved a lot. Like, more than a few thousand. I'm also an extremely low-budget traveler, and sometimes I'll take a job if I need to. I worked for five months as a diving instructor on the Honduran island of Útila. I worked on commission for a tour company in the Galápagos Islands. Usually, the work just covers my expenses, but sometimes I'm able to save up a little. It also helps that I keep making friends who have a couch I can crash on.
The underlying theme of your Facebook photos seems to be "beaches and cocktails." Doesn't that get boring at some point?
Oh, those are usually just the pictures I get tagged in. I don't live a shallow life: The friendships I make are profound and sincere, and we sometimes travel together for months. We're in the same bus for hours and hours, we share rooms—basically, we share our entire life. If you know you'll only hang out with someone for a short amount time and then likely never see them again, you're more likely to open up to them. It's that confession phenomenon—taxi drivers and bartenders have it happen to them all the time.
Don't you miss your family and friends?
I love my family, but I don't miss them or anything. We Skype regularly and when we don't, they just think that no news is good news.
Have you gotten sick a lot?
Not really. I've had food poisoning twice in three years. The first time was when I was in Guatemala, and I honestly thought I was dying. I went to the hospital and they handed me this mug. At first I wasn't sure because of the language barrier, but then I realized they wanted me to poop in that mug. I was like, "Hell no, I'm not doing that in a million years," but then the nurse brought out a rubber tube and told me to lay on my side for an enema. Suddenly the mug didn't look so bad. They gave me a strong antibiotic treatment and everything was fine after that.
Have you been in a lot of dangerous situations?
I never got robbed or anything, but I have ran into a few awkward situations. The other day I was in Jordan, and the bus dropped me off in the middle of the desert at a spot where there were only three cars and no taxis. I had no choice but to get into one of the cars with men whose language I didn't speak. That wasn't exactly a pleasant ride, especially because the driver took a turn I knew we didn't have to make. But nothing bad happened in the end.
Is it hard to keep your love life going when you're traveling all the time?
Love abroad is different than at home, in that it's less about investing and more about just having a good time. You say to each other: If I miss you, I'll meet you somewhere soon enough. I have no problem making arrangements to meet, but I'll never let it mess up my schedule.
So you haven't met the love of your life yet?
At some point I considered going to Australia with this guy I met, but the timing wasn't right. I was in Honduras and I had just gotten my diving diploma. I missed him a lot for a few weeks, but I got over it quickly enough.
Will you ever come back to the Netherlands?
When I was booking my one-way ticket three years ago, I never imagined it would all last this long. But this is my life now. If I want to work, I'm always able to find a job, and I always make sure I have a minimum of savings in case something happens. I don't think it would be a big problem getting my old daily routine back when I return. I know a lot of folks, and I think I can always find a job through my connections. Or maybe I could just start my own little business. I don't know.
It sounds pretty straightforward when you put it like that.
But it is! Sometimes I wonder why more people don't do this. Maybe folks are too insecure about practical details like insurance or something. I'm sure that everyone who is working away in an office, enviously looking at my Facebook albums could live the exact same life. I don't understand why more people don't do what I do.