One of the cool things about travelling is meeting other people – something that’s surprisingly easy. It’s a great way to find inspiration about where to move onto next or even to take the leap and head out with a backpack yourself. So, I’ve decided to get some of the people I met on my travels for guest posts and hopefully inspire others to get out there and explore!
Back in April, towards the end of my trip in Chiang Mai, I switched guesthouses and met Michael, an American traveller who was staying in the same place. Like a lot of other people, he’s documenting his trip but what’s cool is that he does his via his podcast Walking The Earth, and I even got to be featured on an episode. I’m stoked to have gotten him on my blog for a quick Q & A. You can find details of his podcast and social media links below – so say hello!
I’m an American backpacker who is finding his way in the world! After working as an engineer for 5 years, I left my job in August 2013 to travel for an extended period and eventually try my hand at entrepreneurship. For almost a year now, I have been solo backpacking, learning about myself and the world around me. During my trip, I have also been keeping myself busy hosting a travel podcast.
A podcast you say . . . tell me more
Walking the Earth Podcast is a show about the backpacking experience. In the initial episodes, I share my personal journey via Skype calls to my childhood friend Justin Cassel who is back home in the US. The show has since evolved to feature guest appearances by a diverse array of fellow travelers and locals who share their stories and perspectives. One guest I had the pleasure of bringing on the show was you Natalie! (For folks interested to hear, you can check out that episode at: wtepodcast.com/2014/05/01/episode-21).
What was your ‘aha’ moment? (i.e. the moment you decided you wanted to hit the road)
I can point to a few key moments. In 2009, I took the full 2 weeks of vacation my employer gave me to travel Europe. That was the first time I met people who weren’t simply on vacation for a couple weeks, but were traveling long-term as part of their lifestyle. From that moment, I said to myself, “One day that’s going to be me!” A few years later, I found myself having what you might call a “quarter-life crisis.” I was “successful” with a “good job” (i.e., making good money), yet I was still unhappy. In September 2012, I took a trip to Peru and participated in several ceremonies with the psychedelic medicine ayahuasca. In those ceremonies, I had many revelations and “moments of clarity,” but one of the big ones was that I was living my life backwards. I was living a life where my highest priority was my career, the conventional wisdom being that career advancement will lead to higher salary and therefore more opportunities to do what I want and be happy. But in fact, I realized this was the “tail wagging the dog” and I should be taking the reverse approach: what do I want to do, and how much money do I need to achieve it? I wanted to go long-term backpacking. And turns out, I already had enough money to do it. It then became strikingly obvious to me that I should do precisely that, instead of listening to the fears implanted in me by my family, society, etc. We speak in depth about ayahuasca in episode #28.
Where’ve you been so far?
I began this trip in India, spending a total of 4 months there. Since January, I have been exploring the countries of Southeast Asia — Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia, and currently making my way through Vietnam.
What’s the single best thing about travelling?
Meeting so many wonderful people! It’s kind of funny, but while backpacking, it’s actually easier to meet people than back home. Not only that, but I also find that most of the people I meet are extremely like-minded in terms of values and life philosophy. I can meet somebody for the very first time, from a completely different country, and within an hour, I will often make a deep connection that I rarely share with people back home, even those who I have known for years. Meeting the locals in all of these countries also constantly opens my eyes to new perspectives.
And what’s the single worst thing about travelling?
Saying goodbye to so many wonderful people! As a solo backpacker, your relationships are inherently transient. In the beginning, it didn’t bother me as much because I was always meeting new friends. But now that I have been backpacking for almost a year, it has started to feel somewhat lonely. It is still very easy to meet people, but I know the relationships are temporary (and the intro conversations can become repetitive!).
Where are you planning to go next?
I never have plans – I have trajectories! I’m figuring it out as I go along, but based on some of my current feelings I just described, it seems I might need a little bit more stability. I don’t intend to move back to the US just yet, but I am thinking I will most likely “settle down,” at least temporarily, back in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Chiang Mai, of course, is the same place we met and recorded our podcast episode together 3 months ago! I just relistened to that episode, and funny enough, I even alluded to this vague plan back then, and we talked about all the reasons why Chiang Mai has everything you could want in a place to live!
What are your top 3 tips/advice for anyone considering backpacking?
Don’t plan. There’s a tendency to research and figure out exactly where you are going to stay, what you’re going to do, etc etc. Don’t do it. It will only cause you to miss out on opportunities. Go with the flow, follow your gut, and you will find even better experiences than you could have possibly planned! (Another topic we touched on in our episode)
- Don’t plan. There’s a tendency to research and figure out exactly where you are going to stay, what you’re going to do, etc etc. Don’t do it. It will only cause you to miss out on opportunities. Go with the flow, follow your gut, and you will find even better experiences than you could have possibly planned! (Another topic we touched on in our episode)
- Bring as little as possible. There’s another tendency to overpack, which kind of falls along the same lines as overplanning, because you want to be prepared for every possible case scenario. But in fact, it’s better to forget something than to bring too much. If you forget something you urgently need, you can probably get it wherever you are, usually for much cheaper. But if you bring too much, you’re now stuck lugging around on your back a bunch of shit you aren’t even using.
- Be independent. Go alone or in a small group (the smaller the better!), and be willing to split up and re-converge sometimes. Everyone has different priorities, and you should not have to feel like you are missing out on an experience or forced into something you don’t want, just because of your travel companions. There are also certain experiences that you simply cannot have when you restrain yourself to always operating within a clan.
Big thanks to Michael for featuring on the blog, I’m not at all wildly jealous that he’s still exploring the world! You can find his podcast here: wtepodcast.com