Last year I celebrated my 35th birthday while on a plane to Bangkok. I barely noticed, and the other passengers certainly didn’t notice. While surviving another year on this planet is a feat in itself, today is even more special: the anniversary of the start of my new life, a second chance that I am thankful for every day when I wake up.
I happily escaped the Rat Race five years ago!
January 28, 2006 — five years ago today — I landed in Bangkok with a rucksack on a one-way ticket and no bloody idea what I was doing. I experienced Khao San Road for the first time. It was a learning experience (also known as a disaster). My first time out of the U.S., I was green, a newbie, an FNG as army guys affectionately call them.
Well, I still have no bloody idea what I am doing, but I can tell you — as can the new wrinkles on my face — that the last five years have been one hell of a ride!
Wow…had I known what was in store on that fateful night back in 2006 when I clicked ‘buy’ on the Delta ticket that deposited me in Bangkok, I probably would have had a nervous breakdown.
The remains of my human possessions, artifacts from years of corporate work, sat patiently and faithfully in a storage unit for years. I naively paid the rent until realizing that, having seen and tasted the world, there was no coming back. After 29 years of trial and error I am finally living my life quest; for better or worse, it must be followed through. There is no stopping now.
Secluded paradise or malaria dunghole, I am going to experience every corner of this world until I run out of money, run out of places, or one of the places finally succeeds in killing me.
Let’s get it on…life is good
Long-Term Independent Travel
“Wherever you go, go with all your heart.” – Confucius
Do you really have to be rich to escape the “American Dream”? I sport some rotting hemp strings on my wrists rather than a blingy watch but managed to go to these places below and plenty more on a skeleton budget over the past five years. I am not wealthy. I don’t sit at the top of a pyramid scheme. I don’t (yet) own crypto. And I don’t sell widgets on the internet.
If I can travel indefinitely, so can you!
Thailand (x5), Laos, Cambodia, Alaska (x2), Ireland, Sweden, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, Netherlands, Italy, Egypt, England (x3), Mexico, Jamaica, California (x2), Yellowstone, Montana, Portland, Colorado (x2), Wyoming, China, Indonesia, East Timor, Singapore, Malaysia (x2), Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Washington D.C., Florida (x2), Borneo, Brunei, and Vietnam.
- Here is an up-to-date list of my planned and completed life bucket list adventures so far.
Amazing what you can accomplish once you stop making old, rich, fat guys even richer by buying junk.
“He who knows that he has enough, will always have enough.” – Lao Tzu
Talk to Everyone
Every person you encounter, younger or older, has a story. As great as all the above places were, all the adventures, landscapes, animal encounters, and great times would have been worthless had it not been because of the people I met along the way.
Most of the countries I visited were only possible due to the kindness of people I met in other places. Those same people shared their love, support, and couches with me at exactly the right times.
The “secret” to perpetual vagabonding and long-term independent travel? Talk to Everyone! One conversation in one bar with a stranger may change your destiny and your life — or at the very least, your trip.
I once said hello to a man sat at my table for a random work banquet. He turned out to be John Nance, a journalist and explorer who found the Tasaday Tribe in the Philippines.
You simply never know.
This Vagabonding Travel Blog
“A journey is best measured in friends, not in miles.” – Tim Cahill
Despite letting the thing collect a few cobwebs this year, I love this blog. When I began Vagabonding Begins on www.bootsnall.com five years ago, it was purely for the benefit of lowering my worrying family’s blood pressure. I had no idea at the time that this lowly blog would actually change my entire destiny.
I have met incredible, real-life friends whom I never would have known existed had they not read this blog and offered to meet in person. When somehow I hit around 1,000 readers a day, I actually began to feel accountable. I didn’t feel so alone out there on the road; how many times I found myself in a dangerous situation thinking…damn, I have to get out of here, survive, and write about this — I owe it to everyone!
Thank you to anyone, both friends and strangers, who turned their eyeballs this direction for a few minutes. Some even donated cash or used my links to keep me going. Honestly, I would not be writing this five-year summary had it not been for your well-timed generosity.
Despite being mostly a collection of bad grammar captured digitally, this blog actually helped me land my first travel writing gigs that eventually led to photography work and so on. Low and behold, the cubicle-dwelling engineer was transformed into a lower-paid yet happier creator — an artist of sorts — of intangible excretions thrown out onto the internet.
The biggest reward? I have a folder full of emails claiming that my writing motivated or gave hope to people all around the world who finally ditched their corporate gigs and hit the road. Money may not buy happiness but that sure does!
Independent Traveler First
Is my visited-country count as high as some of the “famous” travel bloggers out there with 100+ countries on their resume? Definitely not. Aside from incrementing countries systematically and making top-ten lists, most of these travelers spend a majority of their time in the field building and entertaining their social-media empire. No thanks.
One look at the dire state of my websites and following should be a telltale indication that I am a traveler first and travel-industry entrepreneur second.
“We need the possibility of escape as surely as we need hope.” – Edward Abbey
My evil plan is unfolding as planned: Women will burn bras once again, students will throw middle fingers to the system, and soon the larger corporations will be hiring mercenaries to take me out — if they haven’t done so already. Capitalism will collapse and we will all run amok naked with flowers in our hair.
No, not really. But if I can escape the produce-buy-consume cycle of the Rat Race and find greater happiness, anyone can. Grab a copy of Rolf Potts’ book Vagabonding, stop buying junk, and get your head into the clouds where it belongs.
Humans were meant to be dreamers — just look at kids. At what point does someone step in and pay us to forget our dreams?
If you enjoy your job, embrace it. If you complain every day, get the f*ck out and live before it’s too late. Write one of these five-year escape posts for yourself one day.
For the Naysayers
If you were one of the small handful of people who claimed that vagabonding indefinitely was impossible and that I would be broke, hungry, a bum, kidnapped, insane, lonely, get rabies, turn into a zombie, or wake up one day a loser: thank you for the motivation to beat the odds. 🙂
I’ll send you a postcard from my next paradise island.
“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” – Helen Keller
Just for fun, I’ll close this lengthy bragging session with a lengthy list — hopefully there’s still room left on the internet — of some of my most memorable travel experiences, both good and bad, from over the last five years.
I dedicate every adventure to my dear friend Elin, who lost her life in 2009 while vagabonding with me in Indonesia. I will see her again on that last, ultimate road one day. Also, to my family, who despite their reservations, just rolled with it and supported me.
Random Memorable Vagabonding Moments From the Last Five Years
- Studying Shaolin Kung Fu in China
- Seeing the Egyptian pyramids
- Living in a remote village in Indonesia
- Going on a traditional whale hunting trip in Indonesia
- Using a public squat toilet for the first time
- Exploring a remote temple at Angkor Wat in Cambodia
- Riding a motorbike through Northern Thailand to the Burmese border
- Trout fishing in Alaska and having an up-close brown bear encounter
- Solo climbing the Flatirons outside of Boulder Colorado
- Bungee jumping in Thailand
- Encountering angry Komodo dragons in the wild
- Drowning in Bali, Indonesia and having to be rescued
- Eating some scary travel food along the way
- Trekking through the rainforests of Borneo
- Beach camping wild on a small, deserted island in Borneo
- Seeing wild orangutans, proboscis monkeys, and other endangered animals
- Attending a 12,000-person “Full Moon Party” in Thailand
- Braving the infamous fast boat from Laos to Thailand
- Trekking through the Tiger Leaping Gorge in China
- Attending Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany
- Living in the Thai Islands
- Meeting an energy master in China who could affect my mood at will
- Trekking to Machu Picchu in Peru
- Learning about the headless Buddha statues in Ayutthaya, Thailand
- Seeing Stonehenge in England
- Learning to get around in multiple languages and making new friends
- Trying to Latin dance with locals in Ecuador
- Living on a remote island in Alor, Indonesia
- Surviving a severe fever due to travel injuries
- Horseback riding on the beach in Thailand
- Meeting the mother of all spiders
- Touching a live tiger for the first time
- Walking on the Great Wall of China
- Mountain biking in Central Laos
- Meeting Rolf Potts – author of Vagabonding
- Crying at the Vietnam Memorial in D.C. for the first time
- Visiting a small part of the American West on a road trip
- Being attacked by a macaque monkey for the third time
- Attending the Borneo Rainforest Music Festival
- Realizing that no matter how great the world is, coming home from a long trip can be the greatest feeling of all.
This is just a small sampling of a five-year experience that is impossible to summarize. Thank you for reading and here’s to another five (or more) years of travel…see you on the road!
“May there always be a road.” – Ancient Tibetan travelers