Lessons Learned from 14 Months of Adventure Travel

Up until October 2010, I had never been outside of North America.

Fourteen months, six continents, fifteen countries, 100,000+ miles of travel, dozens of mishaps, hundreds of memories, and one ostrich later, I’m back.

This is what I saw, felt, learned, lived, and experienced along the way.

Enjoy!

[WARNING – full of stories, photos, videos, and all-around awesomeness…read at your own risk]

How did this happen?

In June of 2010, I quit my day job to focus full time on Nerd Fitness Because I can run my business from anywhere with an internet connection, I decided it was time to step out of my comfort zone, explore the world, and level up my life.

I thought to myself, “Everybody has a bucket list…but how many people have an Epic Quest of Awesome?”

So, I started writing down all of the things I wanted to do in my life that I had been putting off for any number of reasons.  Most of the things on the list involved me seeing cool places or attempting cool activities, while quite a few of them were added simply because they scared the **** out of me.  I wanted to show that if Steve Kamb, a risk averse, picky-eating, homebody nerd could create an epic life full of inspiring memories, while traveling solo around the world and also running a successful business, maybe others would be inspired to take some risks as well.

Honestly, I went on this adventure specifically because I wanted to find out if I could actually do it.

Now, how did I get where I needed to go? Thanks to some lucrative credit card offers, I was able to rack up a truckload of airline miles over the course of 2010.  I used my first batch of miles for a “test run” on a two-week trip down to Peru with my best friend, Cash.  I came out of that experience excited, exhilarated, and inspired, so I set my sights even higher.

Two, weeks later, I booked a 9-month trip “around the world” for $418.

In mid-December of 2010, I moved out of my apartment in Atlanta, GA, sold all of my belongings and my car, and left American soil in early 2011.

I remember stepping off the plane in Syndey, Australia…solo, scared, jet-lagged, and completely without any plan.

To borrow a line from one of my favorite songs from the 90’s, “I never felt so alone, and I never felt so alive.”

Where did I go?

Yes, this is my flight path over the past 14 months – 100,000+ miles.  If you’re interested, here’s what the airport code itinerary looks like.  Yikes.

These are the countries I visited since October 2010: USA, Peru, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia, China, Japan, Ireland, UK, Spain, France, Monaco, and South Africa.  Most of these countries were visited on that $418 ticket; only Peru (35,000 points on American) and South Africa ($770) weren’t.

Favorite Photos

These photos were either taken by me, or by my buddy Cash (who came to meet up with me in Peru, Thailand/Cambodia, and again in South Africa).  If it’s a really good photo, he probably took it.  He’s good.

Click on each photo for a higher-resolution version, or see all photos here.

“The Shire” – Killarney, Ireland

Kissing Penguins in Simon’s Town South Africa

Singapore at Sunset

Hanging out on Waiheke Island, New Zealand

Zebra crossing in Kruger Park, South Africa

Sands of Huachachina, Peru

Bungee Jumping in Queenstown, New Zealand (the happiest picture of me in existence)

One tired dog in Abel Tasman, New Zealand (doesn’t he look like a stuffed animal?)

Skydiving over Queenstown, New Zealand

Fire dancers in Railay, Thailand (long exposure)

Sunrise over Uluru, Australia

Old customs meet new technology in Angkor Wat, Cambodia


The stones of Giants’ Causeway, Northern Ireland

The Casino at Monte Carlo, Monaco

Handstand in the deserts of Peru

The Palace of Versailles, France

Photo-bombed by an ostrich in Cape Town, South Africa

Cash and I, buddies since First Grade, in Machu Picchu, Peru

Favorite Experiences

These are the top twelve experiences I had while traveling.  Some of them were just ridiculous (flying a stunt plane), others made me feel like a badass (playing James Bond for 24 hours), and some (like the Google talk) scared the everliving crap out of me.   Looking back, I still can’t believe I did all of this in the past year or so…dang.

Skydiving over Queenstown – It’s absolutely terrifying that first time going up in the plane.  You have a not in your stomach as you climb higher and higher, then the door opens, you stare into nothingness and almost poop your pants, and then all of a sudden you’re flying through the sky with a huge grin on your face.  Although it’s over with far too quickly, it’s absolutely worth the money.


(Sky Video Video)

My South African safariI couldn’t help but sing The Lion King in my head throughout the entire excursion.  Although I’ve seen all of these animals in zoos before, there’s nothing quite like seeing them existing in their natural environment.  Fortunately, the animals didn’t mind us playing paparazzi for the day, especially some of the Elephants who seemed like they were actually posing for the cameras.

Bungee jumping – infinitely more terrifying than the skydiving.  When skydiving, somebody else makes the decision when to jump out of the plane.  When bungee jumping, it’s just you standing on the edge of a bridge, and you have to trust that the glorified rubber band attached to your feet will hold as you leap into the abyss.  There is no feeling like it in the world.


(Bungee Video)

Flying a stunt plane I didn’t even know such an awesome thing existed until I got to Nelson, New Zealand.  24 hours later, I was living out my childhood fantasy of being a top gun pilot.  Okay so maybe I was flying a stunt bi-plane, but I still got to do flips, corkscrews, and “keep up foreign relations.”  Thanks, U-Fly Extreme!


(Stunt Plane Video)

Hiking the Great Wall of China – Although this was just a day-trip, hiking along the Great Wall of China for a few hours was still one of the more memorable experiences on my trip.  I couldn’t help but stop every five seconds, follow the wall for miles and miles in each direction, and wonder how in the Hell they built such an impressive structure way back in the day.

Hiking through the Australian Outback Uluru, Kata Tjuta, and Kings Canyon.  Breathtakingly beautiful and great hikes, followed each night with camping out under the brightest and most visible stars I’ve ever seen.

Visiting Angkor Wat – Wandering through Angkor Wat and the various surrounding temples made me feel like Nathanial Drake from Uncharted the entire time.  I cannot imagine having to build such a temple, in the jungles of Cambodia with the heat, humidity, and wildlife…yikes.  Believe it or not, Angkor Wat wasn’t even the most impressive of the temples there!

Living like James Bond in Monaco.  Does this really need an explanation?  Tuxedo, Monte Carlo, 6 hours of gambling, and even some one-handed push ups. 

Almost dying in Alaska – Probably the dumbest thing I did on my trip…but I survived to tell the tale.  I now know that climbing a snow-covered mountain in jeans and sneakers by myself is not smart.

(Alaska video)

Speaking at GoogleEasily the scariest thing I did all year, not even kidding!  Absolutely worth it though, as I get to say that my first ever public speaking engagement was at Google.  My second was at Google Dublin…wait til you hear where my third one is going to be!

Finding Nemo on the Great Barrier Reef – Thanks to Australia.com for sponsoring my scuba certification down on the Barrier Reef!  Finding Nemo on the last dive of the trip cemented this as one of the coolest things I’ve ever done.  I now want to dive on all 7 continents – so far I have Australia and Asia.

Hiking Machu Picchu Angkor Wat was cool.  The Great Wall of China was pretty breathtaking.  But NOTHING will top the feeling that overtook me as I watched the fog fade and the sun crest the Andes, bathe the ruins Machu Picchu in morning light.  Of all the places I’ve been in the world, none of them impacted me more or felt more magical than Machu Picchu.  If you get a chance in your life to go visit this magical place, do it.

Odds and Ends

Favorite beach? Koh Phi Phi, Thailand.  I now understand why they filmed The Beach here.

Favorite place? Waiheke Island, New Zealand.  I was supposed to stay for a day and ended up staying for a week.  Ooops.

If I had to live somewhere? Manly Beach, Australia.  Great beach, New Orleans architecture, San Diego feel.

Favorite hike? Kata Tjuta, Alice Springs.  Felt like I was walking through Jurassic Park for most of it.

Favorite new food? Thai – all of it.  As a previously super picky eater, I had never really eaten much ethnic food.  After a month in Thailand, I became hooked and now probably eat Thai food once a week.

Worst experience?  Food poisoning in Thailand.  Yup, I got sick…while eating at a really nice fancy hotel in Thailand!  Fortunately I had already planned for a few days of work, so it didn’t screw up my plans too much.

Least favorite place? Bangkok, Thailand.  Big, ugly, dirty.  Crooks tried to scam us on practically every corner.  I’m not really into the things that Bangkok is, uh, famous for…so I didn’t really enjoy myself there.  I’m sure there are better parts, or I would have had more fun with the right crowd, but overall I didn’t have much fun there.

Biggest “meh” – The Louvre, Paris…specifically the Mona Lisa.  It’s funny how certain paintings and sculptures are famous when the ones that are right next to them go unnoticed despite being equally beautiful.  Although I’m glad I went to the Louvre, this one felt like most “okay check it off the list.

Best surprise? Singapore.  I’m not a big city guy, so I didn’t expect to have any fun in Singapore.  Wrong!  I found Singapore to be awesome – modern, clean, incredibly safe, and full of great food.  Big thanks to Derek, Erin & Meng and the Hackerspace Crew, and the French business school students for making this one of my favorite stops on the trip.

Second biggest surprise? All of France.  I didn’t really expect to enjoy my time in France, but I loved it.  I loved Paris, I LOVED Nice and the French Riviera, I found French people to be quite nice and helpful, and I enjoyed speaking a little bit of French.  I look forward to going back.  Plus, have you ever heard a girl speak English with a French accent?

How much did it cost?

Believe it or not, this trip didn’t cost me much more than it would have cost me to stay in Atlanta and live a “safe” life.   For business purposes, I kept accurate records of everything I spent so I have a pretty good estimate – I spent between $1500-$3000 per month, depending on which part of the world I was in and how many activities or adventures I was paying for. Obviously places like Europe and Australia were relatively expensive, the Safari was quite pricey, but traveling through Southeast Asia was so cheap that my averages balanced out.  The average during my months of travel was somewhere right around the $2000 mark, and that included everything: food, transportation, lodging, and all of the activities I showed above above.

All things considered, that’s less than I would have spent staying in Atlanta and “being smart” with my money.

Now, I will say that I was fortunate to save a HUGE chunk of money by travel hacking my way through the majority of my expensive international flights, and I also occasionally saved money by getting “sponsored” by various companies to partake in their activities (most notably the Stunt Pilot experience and Scuba Certification on the Great Barrier Reef).  However, even if I had to pay for those things, it would have only added $1200 or so to my total bottom line.

On top of that, I am very fortunate to be able to make my living online.  I busted my ass to build Nerd Fitness as a business while traveling, writing two books (Rebel Running Guide and Rebel Strength Guide, and growing the blog by 7000+ subscribers.  I might have been traveling and having fun, but I was also working incredibly hard along the way.

I’m proud to say that I’m now more financially stable than I was before I left for my trip. 

I’m also fortunate that I didn’t have anything tying me down to a life in the states – I could sell my car, move out of my apartment, and get rid of all of my stuff, so that my financial obligations back home were minimal, allowing me to use all of my income towards my travel.

Lessons and Observations

People are really nice everywhere.    I met one jerk on a bus in New Zealand, but other than that everybody else I met went out of their way to be helpful and accommodating.  I made some lifelong friends despite only knowing them for a few days, which speaks volumes about how quickly things can happen on the road.

The news sucks.  Every time I announced on this blog that I was going to [new country], I’d receive a few emails from people telling me to be careful because of [something brutal they saw on the news].   I honestly never once felt truly unsafe or in trouble on my entire trip.  Yeah, there were people that tried to scam me, and I’m sure if I had stumbled drunk through parts of certain towns at 4AM I woulda got mugged or beat up.

I used common sense, remained aware of my surroundings, and never had an issue.  I never had anything stolen from my bags or lockers in hostels, nobody ever picked my pocket, and I never fell for any of the scams (though some were quite clever).

Although it’s important to be careful, don’t let what you hear on the news deter you from visiting a particular country.

English will get you anywhere. I was worried about not being able to speak the native language while traveling through places like Southeast Asia.  Instead, I found that I could use English almost everywhere (with the exception of Japan).  Yes, there were instances when I had to play charades to get my point across (like ordering chicken in China…good thing I’m not a Bluth), but overall I had no problem communicating or getting around.  Sure, I used my Spanish as much as possible while in Peru and Spain, but honestly it wasn’t necessary.

Don’t overplan.  I showed up in each town without having any sort of reservation for where I’d be staying.  If I arrived during the day, I’d go to the town’s information center (or airport’s information center) and have them book my hostel or hotel for the first two days in the city.  The only time I planned ahead was when I knew I’d be arriving after 10PM into a city and wanted to make sure I at least had a bed in which to crash.  I think only once did I walk up to a hostel and get told they were all sold out…the trip was way more adventurous when nothing was planned out!

Loss.  I was fortunate to have all four grandparents for all of my life up until I began this trip.  Unfortunately, I lost my grandfather while I was in Peru, and I lost my grandmother while I was in Cambodia – in both cases, it came out of nowhere.  Although I was devastated that I couldn’t be home with my family during their last few days and the funeral, I know that I was making both grandparents proud by living out my dreams around the world.

Life is so freaking short, and so damn precious.  Here’s a hint: there will NEVER be the perfect time for you to take a trip.  If you wait “Until I make enough money” or “until things are settle down,” you’re never gonna do it.  This world is full of absolutely amazing things, and I hope that everybody gets a chance to see some of it.  If you need another kick in the pants, check out the Top 5 Regrets of the Dying.

Do **** that scares you.  I tell ya, there’s no better way to feel alive and energized than doing something that scares the everliving daylights out of you.  Whether it’s public speaking, jumping off a bridge, taking a trip by yourself, visiting a new country, driving cross country, or even talking to an attractive member of the opposite sex, whatever.  We all have things we’re afraid of, and the only way we’re going to grow is if we challenge ourselves to tackle these fears head on.   More often than not, you’ll say “wow that wasn’t so bad!” or “holy crap that was awesome!”

As John Wayne once said “Courage is being scared to death – but saddling up anyway.”

You don’t need much.  Back before I started this trip, I had a closet FULL of clothes, gadgets up the wazoo, a car, and more DVDs than you could shake a stick at (don’t shake a stick at my DVDs though, that’s weird).   While traveling, thanks to my buddy Karol, I traveled EXTREMELY light.  I could pack up and move out of a hostel in 5 minutes; I could run my business out of a laptop; I could run carrying all of myself to catch a train or airplane with NO problem.

Before you tell me “Steve I want to take a trip but I can’t afford it,” take a look at where your money is going and where you can potentially save.  Experiences trump material goods – trust me on that.

Americans have a bad rep.  While traveling, I only met a handful of Americans…apparently we don’t get out much.  On top of that, whenever I would tell people I was from America, I’d sometimes have a snide remark or joke thrown in my direction.  I don’t know if the typical American tourist is more of a jackass than the rest of the world’s tourists, but I definitely noticed more than a few people poking fun at my country…while wearing Levi Jeans, listening to Katy Perry on their iPods, posting on Facebook, eating McDonald’s, and drinking a coffee from Starbucks.

That being said, most of the jokes were good natured; and I never once felt unsafe or threatened or belittled because I was from the “big bully” USA….though I generally stayed in developed countries.  I imagine my experience could be different if I was traveling through parts of the Middle East.

There is internet everywhere.  I can only think of a few days here and there when I struggled to find internet access on my trip.  Yes, in certain places (cough Australia) it was incredibly expensive and in others (cough New Zealand) it was both incredibly expensive and incredibly slow, but I never had to go more than a few days without the internet.  If I ever got into a situation where I needed internet and couldn’t find it, the free worldwide Internet on my Kindle 3G got the job done.

It’s funny how quickly my random lifestyle became normal.  Within a few weeks on the road, my routine (i.e. complete chaos, not having any idea where I was staying the next day, not knowing anybody, and never knowing where to go or what to do) became completely normal.  However, probably once a week, I’d be doing something random – eating lunch overlooking the Mediterranean in Monaco, sitting on the back of a boat in Thailand, or reading a book in a park in China – and I’d have this “what the eff is going on in my life right now?!?!” moment.  Those moments always kept me grounded.

I have leveled up my life.  I love knowing that I could be dropped in any random city or town in the entire world and I’d be able to find my way around within a few minutes.  I can now walk into a room full of strangers and can chat it up with anyone and everyone.  I can be in a country where I don’t know a single person or have a single contact and be completely okay with it.  I’ve expanded my horizons greatly when it comes to what I’ll eat.  I can now sleep on trains, planes, and automobiles; I can sleep through drunk travelers stumbling into a room, I can diligently work in a crowded bar, I can write a book in a crowded lobby, and I can operate a thriving business from anywhere in the world.

There aren’t many situations where I feel out of place anymore, and I now thrive on last minute changes and screw ups; that’s the confidence I’ve earned from this trip. 

Despite making new friends and meeting new people daily, I often got lonely.  I value deep relationships and friendships more than anything, so although I was always meeting new people, it sucked to have to say goodbye and start all over just a few days later.  Because of this, I could never really get past the surface before it was time to move on to the next town and start back at square one.  The only people who I managed to form truly deep bonds with were Nerd Fitness readers that I met up with around the world, as we could skip over the “oh what do you do? how does that work?” stuff and get to the fun stuff!

I often said to myself “damn I wish _____________ was here to see this.”  On many occasions I would see something beautiful or hilarious and think to myself that I wish one of my friends back home was there to experience it with me.  I love creating amazing experiences for other people – I get more enjoyment out of watching a friend have a great time than I do actually having a great time myself…I’ve learned that an amazing experience is made ten times more amazing when I’m sharing it with others rather than by myself.

What’s next?

There are a few other key lessons that I’ve learned along the way:

Permanent solo travel is not for me.  I have nothing but respect for guys like Nomadic Matt who have been traveling the world for years and years.  I like how guys like Karol, Benny, and Colin “travel” permanently, because they always stay for a few months at a time in a fixed location.  That being said…

I still value deep friendships and relationships, which is why I’m excited to start this next chapter in my life: having a home base and taking smaller trips every other month or so (like Chris).  Yes, it’ll be more expensive to rent a place and travel frequently, my trips will be shorter and more rushed, abut I’m more than okay with that.

I value my privacy. Although I started my trip staying in dorm rooms in hostels (mostly to save money), once I became more financially stable I started spending extra money to stay in my own room and it was worth every penny.  Honestly, I never realized how much I valued my privacy until this trip.   I just moved into my own apartment in Washington DC,  the first time I’ve ever had a place to myself.  I love it.

The 4-Hour Workweek isn’t for me.  I started Nerd Fitness three years ago after reading the 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss – this book changed my life and Nerd Fitness probably wouldn’t exist without it.  Anyways, after reading the book, I wanted to try and build an online one-man business that required minimum maintenance and allowed me to travel the world.  I’m proud to say that I spent almost all of 2011 living that lifestyle…and it drove me crazy!  Honestly, I love Nerd Fitness and the community; if I went a few days without connecting with readers or writing an article I started to get antsy.  Although I started by wanting to create a one-man small business, I’ve since set my sights on far larger goals (which I’ll explain in another article).  I’ve learned that I’m most happy when I’m working and building something that I’m passionate about…yeah; I actually ENJOY working and want to do more of it.

I’ve spent the past fourteen months living out of a backpack, but I am excited to have a place to come home to, a closet in which to hang my clothes, a bed in which to sleep, and a TV on which to play Uncharted 3 (for, uh, market research).  I’m fortunate enough that Nerd Fitness blew away my expectations in every way imaginable this year; I am able to live a great life in a really nice part of Washington DC while still planning trips out around the world here and there.

I’m proud of what I was able to accomplish in 2011, but I am eager to see what I can do in 2012 when I can devote my full brain power and creativity to the Nerd Fitness community.

Although I won’t rule out another long-term travel trip, I’m fairly confident the only way I’ll do it again is if I’m traveling with somebody.

Any questions?

This adventure has easily been the most exciting, hectic, scary, and life-changing experiences of my life.  I made lots of friends, crossed off a crazy amount of things on my epic quest of awesome, built a business on a laptop, lived out of a backpack, and gained a boat load of perspective and confidence along the way.

Although my long-term travel might have come to an end for now, there’s still plenty of the world to see, and a rebellion to lead.

Do you have any questions for me about my adventure or business?

Are you thinking of traveling to any of these places?

Leave a comment and let me know how I can help!

-Steve

PS – Sorry about being out of a few hoodie sizes – they sold out WAY faster than I had expected…but fear not, for all sizes and styles are now back in stock!  If you’re sitting at home, freezing your butt off…this might be just the thing you need!  Or not.  But probably.

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  • Jolene

    That’s an amazing adventure, I myself would one day LOVE to travel the world, “One day”. Thank you for sharing your experience, 🙂

  • henry

    This one here
    best describes as to the details I needed for my query. I am truly amazed by
    the said topic and got intrigue by seeing the subject pictured here.

    heater parts

  • You’re pretty much my hero right now

  • Hey Steve. What do you eat when travelling? It’s hard not to eat unhealthy stuff 🙁

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  • mamadog

    very inspiring!

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  • Zinaf

    Can’t wait to level up my life! Just one question. How did you manage to eat Paleo while travelling?

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  • Kimberly

    Steve, I am speechless. So proud and jelous you had the guts to do what we all want. Will definatly remember your story. Good luck in life and I only hope I have the courage to do the same.

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  • Wayfaring Family

    Just stumbled on your site! So glad you did it!! Your lessons are exactly what our family learned from our RTW experience. Maybe you’ll end up taking your kids around the world like we did!

  • Steve,

    I’ve done similarly, albeit for only 4 months, and noticed that jumping towns every few days is both exhilarating and exhausting. The time during these 4 months that I appreciated most was when I set up shop for 6 weeks in Cusco, Peru. I had a place to come home to every day. I had work to carry out, an office to go into and share life’s successes and battles with my co-workers, and friendships were able to be formed that are lasting. One, in fact, a Spaniard living in Cusco at the time, is coming to visit me in a few months. He and his girlfriend would likely not have felt comfortable reaching out to me had our friendship not been built over 6 weeks time.

    I learned these longer stays were important when I studied abroad in Alicante, Spain for 10.5 months while a Junior in college. The Spanish family I lived with became my extended family. I feel as if I could always go back there and am currently planning a trip with the kids to Iceland.

    Should you ever look to venture abroad again and be more interested in a longer stay, shoot me an email. This is where international can become more sustainable. Though the comforts of our own homes are never forgotten.

    Jeff
    BeMultinational.com

  • Lauren

    Love your article Steve!! Travelling is by far the best decision I have ever made. I also went from being somebody that thought she loved routine and the familiarities of home life, but once I began to travel I realised it was the uncertainty that I enjoyed the most! Not knowing where I would be flying/bussing/overnight train-ing to and where I would be staying was the biggest and best feeling of freedom I have felt.
    Really enjoyed your post. Hope to make a business of my own soon too to be able to travel and live a more free life without conforming to a boss in an office!

  • Bri

    Um. Helllll yeah. haha this is an amazinggg idea. about to travel hack asapp. Good looks (:

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  • Hallie Simons

    Love this! I’m looking to start up my own website along similar lines, and I’d love to pick your brain, maybe bounce a few ideas back and forth. Shoot me an email if you’ve got a spare second in your crazy, leveled-up life!

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