I wanted movement and not a calm course of existence. I wanted excitement and danger and the chance to sacrifice myself for my love. I felt in myself a superabundance of energy which found no outlet in our quiet life.
When I got the travel bug I tried to find travel blogs that would help me with advice and knowledge for my own journey. It was much harder than I thought. A lot of blogs were by post-college graduates who didn’t want to start work yet, and others were by people who wanted to feed starving children in towns without electricity. Eventually a chance discovery led me to Travelvice, written by Craig Heimburger, a man who I would say I share many personality traits with.
Craig has been traveling for three years, a year of which I’ve been following. During his journey he met a Peruvian woman and had a boy. I thought that would surely end his journey, but he takes them on the road with him. His boy, now almost one, has probably been to more countries than I have.
I follow up on a lot of his post with so many questions that I figured I might as well interview him. I wanted to pick his brain and find out why he’s doing what he’s doing, and also draw out the beliefs that drive him. So here’s part one of the interview I had with Craig. My questions are in bold and his answers are in regular text.
You had an established career after graduating from college and you also got your MBA a couple years after that. It seems like there was a decision to move up the professional ranks but then you completely changed gears to where you are today. How and why did that happen?
During my first year of travel I’d sometimes lay out a description of my former standing in the U.S. similar to the one you’ve described in the question. I was working full-time in Phoenix and doing evening classes for my MBA (paid for by the same consulting company that I’d later leave just weeks after finishing my degree).
I was happy, getting plenty of lovin’ and leisure in that lifestyle (despite the terribly full, yet routine schedule). The corporate brass wanted to promote me to a senior level that would’ve probably doubled my salary and expanded my ability to enact change within the organization. By most standards these dimensions of personal and professional success would’ve been enough to keep the lips of most any 25-year-old grinning from ear to ear, behind a glass of rum at least half his age.
But a seemingly innocuous visit to Thailand in the winter of 2004 (that mostly took place during/after the massive Boxing Day tsunami that rocked the region) set in motion a mindset that has since seen me living quite “comfortably” (warning: very subjective) out of a backpack for over three continuous years.
Years back, I’d had the notion that I’d seriously commit to learning German and become a knowledge worker of some sort in Germany. (I’d been rather captivated by the place on a high school exchange back in ’96.) Pursuing my Master’s put an end to that idea, but not the notion of living abroad. And when my 2004 holiday visit to Thailand came along, the overwhelming desire to escape from the uninspiring game of corporate chess (political posturing, elbow rubbing, etc) came crashing down on me like the nearby tsunami that could’ve very well claimed my life.
But deciding to up and abandon your stable life for one of pure travel is a vacation delusion that few actually follow through on. I reflected on several things during and shortly after this initial Thai experience:
– My mother passed away at a young age from cancer when I was only 17. This can age a young man considerably in his youth. This teaches you that life is fleeting. That life is short.
– There’s more to a short life than working in an office building, sitting under the sterile blue-white light, chained to a computer monitor.
– That materialistic wants are far from the materialistic needs that I actually need to be happy, and that being in a corporation, surrounded by individuals perpetually looking to upgrade their lives by purchasing the next best house, car, phone, or television was not an environment that I wished to surround myself with any longer (especially since it’s so tempting and easy to get wrapped up in the behavior yourself when all your peers are doing the same).
– That I should have to ask permission from someone for my time — to beg a boss for permission to please, pretty please, can I have a three-day weekend? I give my time to a company, not the other way around.
– That I couldn’t allow the idea of living abroad to become an unrealized pipedream.
– And if not now, when?
It took nearly 11 months to finish up that degree, design and build a Web site that would best allow me to share my knowledge and experiences with others, prepare a successor at work, and shut down my life. Belongings were lovingly sold, tossed, or donated to charity, friends and family. I spent a lot of time researching not where to go, but what to take. And ultimately, my life was compressed down to that of a backpack small enough to fit in the overhead bin of most any commercial passenger plane. And that’s the way it’s been since December, 2005.
Did you get comments from people close to you that you were “throwing” away your career or not living up to your potential? Or were people inspiring you and pushing you to do it? How do you respond to people who question what you are doing?
Truly one of the best ways you can leave a company is to tell them you’re doing it for travel. Not for another company, or for any other myriad reasons people give notice for, but to go and do the very thing that your peers are afraid to do themselves. And this, this response is even more motivating for the individual shedding themselves of their environment for reasons of wanderlust.
Still, years later, I get furrowed brows and letters of what amounts to dissatisfaction with the choices that I’ve made (and continued to make) with my lifestyle from my mother’s side of the family. Perhaps more than a little xenophobic at my grandmother’s level, down to the ‘long vacations are what retirement’s for’ mindsets of her children and their families. They could just never really grasp what I would want with more than two weeks of vacation time per year and a stable, well-paying job. To toss it away to live an unscheduled life in the (comparatively) impoverished places of the world seemed certifiably nuts.
On some level I found that parts of Rolf Potts’ book Vagabonding articulated a handful of the thoughts and feelings that I was having in 2005. And as I slowly expanded the circle of people around me whom I was revealing my intentions to throughout the year, I’d refer them to this book as some insight into my state of mind.
I’ve since discovered that many of my coworkers thought I’d be back after only six months. I had the undying support from my father and brother, but there wasn’t a single person in my network of friends, colleagues or acquaintances I knew that could offer me any inspiration or advice on perpetual travel. Perhaps if I was from Australia it’d be a slightly different story, but such things are just not a part of the culture in the United States.
The plan was simple enough though: not to travel forever, but to live abroad for the rest of my days.
You’ve experimented traveling without a guide book and you don’t seem to have a high opinion of other travelers who follow the Lonely Planet trail. How do you feel about the backpacking and hosteling culture? What do you think travel means for most of the travelers you meet?
The Lonely Planet trail is both a blessing and a curse, and certainly has its place in the lifestyle of even the most seasoned of travelers. For the tourist trail provides a level of predictability and comfort in unpredictable places.
It’s quite common for me to arrive at town in Latin America and dump my gear at a guidebook listed hostel or guesthouse for the first night (where applicable), using the remaining time that day and early the next morning to locate a better option. This isn’t at all hard to do once you open yourself up to making it a part of your lifestyle.
The hard part often comes into play when you have to make decisions on socializing and the cost of your accommodations. I’m often left with the choice of a bunk bed at a guidebook hostel or a private room that’s cheaper than a space in a 16-person dormitory, but with no one to talk with. In some cities you want to be alone, and in others you want to get laid easily. Hostels–especially the kitchens–are great places to meet potential lovers.
But really, guidebooks have their places, and I’m thankful they’re around (even though I’m traveling without one at the moment). People that want to be sheep can be sheep, and people that want to mix it up can mix it up. It’s a damn good safety net to have with you, but one person’s safety net is always going to be another person’s lifestyle. With time, the brave and bored emerge from the packs and trickle into the hills and villages.
Travel is what people make of it, and satisfying to one traveler is far from it to another. It’s an overwhelmingly personal, selfish thing that sometimes doesn’t extend beyond the bar, bed, museums, and monuments. But at the heart of it all is personal satisfaction—doing what makes you happy.
CONTINUED: Part 2