My Adventure: From Blazers to Backpacks

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You may recall seeing this picture. I posted it on facebook six months ago just before boarding an Air India flight. I was armed with a one-way ticket, a backpack and a crazy idea to adventure the world.  Initially, the plan was to travel for up to six months. I quickly realized the world is big…like really big, and in six months I’d lucky to scratch it’s surface. I narrowed my globe trotting down to India, Southeast Asia and South America. To intensify matters, it was my first time backpacking, and traveling for an extended time solo. I had no plans or itinerary. I just wanted to get out there.

I intended the trip to be a self-curated journey that would unleash me across the world. Some people choose to go for MBAs at this stage in their life, I was shooting for a ‘degree in dreamaking.’ The trip I envisioned would provide the perfect chance to rediscover myself, unlock new passions, visit epic destinations, and thrust myself into wild adventures. So, why did I want to do this? And how did it feel to shift from pitching chief marketing officers and wearing designer blazers to meeting with chiefs tribal officers carrying a handful of possessions in a backpack?

I was first inspired on my path for global exploration thru a trip arranged by Summit Series and led by Invisible Children to Uganda and Rwanda, set to take place in October 2010. I recall jumping out of my chair at the opportunity when the trip was announced at Summit DC.  It would be my first trip to Africa, a long-time childhood dream that had been put on hold, until this very moment. For many years, I had dreamed about running thru the bushes with African tribes rocking war paint, a loin cloth and a hunting spear. This didn’t turn out to be the style of my first African trip, but it did turn out to be a life changing moment.

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During a long and bumpy bus ride thru Kampala (Uganda) my trip mates began to check out the pages of eachother’s passports. I saw mine being flipped thru, it’s semi-inkless and totally visa-less pages feeling a bit naked. At that moment, I dreamed about one day filling up its pages with names of exotic sounding countries. However, the reality remained that I was due back to NYC and my blackberry in a week’s time.

When I returned back to New York, I knew something had changed. It was a taste of adventure that I had briefly experienced. The possibilities of exploring the world at that moment began to intensify. A month after my return back from Africa, I met with my business partner and we agreed that at the end of the year I would leave my full time role at the agency to explore new possibilities. It was a hard choice to make, but change was calling in my life.

Over the past six months, I’ve been backpacking, couch-surfing, camping, village hopping, and hitchhiking thru sixteen beautiful countries: India, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Namibia, Bostwana, Zimbabwe and South Africa. I have grown to love the journey from one country to next.

Usually I find myself singing, and dancing down the streets as I venture into a new town or village. At times I get funny looks, but mostly the local people are drawn to the energy I am pushing out, which has opened up many unique situations and homes.

The spontaneous and off the beaten path adventures I’ve experienced have been nothing short of surreal. From learning how to ride a motorcycle and taking it up the highest road in the world in India, to hosting a dance party with sixty members of the Sri Lankan military, to drinking goat blood with the tribes in Ethiopia, to teaching a Grade 4 class Math & English in the slums of Kibera, Kenya, to getting up close and personal with Mountain Gorillas by day and sleeping atop Africa’s most active volcano in the Democratic Republic of Congo this may sound like an unthinkable dream to many. However, it is easier than you may think to make your dreams a reality, and well before the standard age of ‘dream fulfillment’ aka retirement.

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My brother, Chris also decided to meet up for a few months in India, Southeast Asia and Southwest Africa, turning what started as a solo trip into a twin bonding experience, evolving our relationship to heights I never could have imagined. We’ve thrown ourselves into interesting situations like serving 2,000 meals to visitors of the Golden Temple in India, to emceeing the 5 Year Anniversary for a National Bank in Vietnam, to picking up hitchhikers from Himba villages in Namibia.

But it hasn’t all been about extreme adventure. I’ve been privileged to meet a ton of inspiring social entrepreneurs, community leaders, monks, NGOs, subsistence farmers, school teachers, members of the military, local business owners, Peace Corps volunteers, school kids and every day local people along the journey. During these conversations I’ve been exploring how development work can be successfully delivered to these local communities.

What I’ve come to value over my travels is that material matters don’t matter. Experience is what matters! I’ve challenged myself to avoid the tourist sites, take local transportation and push to sleep in villages and huts vs. villas and hotels. It hasn’t always been easy, but opting to not follow a guidebook, has allowed me to narrate my own story and live many days in what appears to be a dream like state.

One of the best experiences I recall feeling was sleeping in the slums of Kibera. I woke up to a freezing cold bucket shower, and with the energy of a vibrant and growing community on my back. It was part of a 36-hour experience I will never forget. Don’t get me wrong it’s nice to be spoiled at times, but I can now appreciate a hot shower as form of indulgence more now than ever.

Oh, and as fate would have it, on a mesmerizing trip back from the Congo en-route to Rwanda, I noticed two things on my passport.

First, I realized it was completely filled with visas and stamps from 14-countries and I needed new pages to get back into Kenya. Second, my entry stamp carried the date October 11, 2011, which was the exact same date I was there with Invisible Children a year prior. It’s amazing how much can change in a year!  Making the shift from sleeping in a beautiful West Village apartment to African Village dirt floors seems like an unimaginable lifestyle change to most. However living out of a backpack with a handful of possessions, I’ve never felt so comfortable, so happy, and truly free to be me.

Today I’m in South Africa getting ready to run with Cheetah’s at a conservation sanctuary. I don’t know where I’ll be the following day or the next week. While my wild adventures have been nothing short of surreal, the journey of self is something I am truly fortunate to have embarked on. Over the months, I’ve pushed myself to let experience take control which has cexpanded my traditional western thinking and broadened my comfort levels (e.g. drinking goat blood).

I’m launching this blog to communicate what I am seeing and feeling along the journey. So stay tuned for future posts from my experiences over the past six months, and whatever lies ahead. I also hope you all take the opportunity to get out there and see some of beauty which I have experienced. And always take the path least traveled!