Americans tend to have one two-week vacation a year. Europeans often have “holiday” for a full month or all summer. What we have in common, is we turn the vacation mindset on, and off. For many, it can take a few days to wind down before getting into the relaxed stage. The return can be a bummer, too.
The majority of us relegate a very finite period for R&R or exploration. We can’t fathom living the life of a nomad. When we hear stories about people that circumnavigate the world, it’s an us vs. them reaction: “I could never do that.” In reality, anyone can. But it takes a certain type to make the sacrifices to travel on a shoelace, without a return ticket or a plan.
A Backpacker’s Life
Walter has spent more than half his life traveling the world. He is decidedly not a tourist, though ironically, he has spent much time working within the tourism industry. At one point, he was married, had two cars, two motorcycles, a condo, and an important social status. But he wasn’t happy. He gave it all away.
He’s lived for extended periods in Argentina, the United States, Spain, and Mexico. His real home is wherever he and his life partner, Ivette, take their backpacks. “It’s a personal path,” says Ivette. “It’s more compassionate than the norm.”
“I got my adventurer’s spirit from my father, and I’ve passed it on to my children,” says Walter. “I let my children know that life is very short. Live without limitations.”
He says one needs to live their own dreams.
As a kid, Walter wanted to be a musician, but his parents wouldn’t have that. “I’ve always tried to teach my children to live their passions,” Walter says. His son seemed to be the happiest banging on things when he was little. So, Walter bought him a set of drums when he was eight. “Today, he lives his passion. He’s a musician.“ Walter is living his passion too, and he’s in a good spot.
Good and bad things are still going to happen. But that’s life. Walter doesn’t like being within his comfort zone. He prefers not to have expectations. Rather, expect internal and external changes. Just live in the present. That’s Walter and Ivette’s motto. It matches that of another pair of world backpackers. The two couples share living space in Nicaragua. They have been working as volunteers at a sustainable living farm, Rancho Regeneración.
“The best and worst experience in my life, was taking off in a sailboat from Cartagena, Colombia,” says Andrea, who worked as a physical therapist in Argentina. She was headed, with a friend, on a four-day journey to Panama. Without GPS or a motor, it took them ten days, under the leadership of a captain who seemed to have some screws loose. They persevered through heavy thunderstorms and non-stop vomiting.
“It seemed like a month that we never saw land,” Andrea says. “In the end, everything is a great learning experience.”
Rare Birds Soaring High
“I told myself I’d be in Mexico in three months. It’s been three years, and I still haven’t gotten there (Mexico).” Andrea recalls leaving her private practice, friends, and family in Argentina.
But, she’s gotten so much more. On her journey north through Latin America, she met the love of her life in Montañitas, a small town on Ecuador’s Pacific coast.
“We are rare birds. What differentiates us from the others,” Walter says, “is that we are adventurers. We are on a journey inside. The journey is giving us lessons. Most don’t understand us. Our way of life is also hard to maintain.”
“There aren’t many necessities in life when you live day to day in other cultures,” adds Andrea. She feels that her off-the-beaten-path, rare-bird lifestyle corroborates the shortcomings of materialism. She believes that our society is on overdrive. In the fast lane. She hopes that her choice of living as a carefree traveler carries over to more people.
Claudio, her life partner, shares her perspective. He says most tourists have detailed plans and itineraries. Those expectations just set them up for failure. When you take it one day at a time, you can more easily go with the flow — and enjoy life.
“My mother gave me the freedom to be happy,” acknowledges Claudio. “My father wanted me to be a lawyer. But, I think he really would have wanted to live the life I’m living.”
“I always yearned to get to know other places,” Claudio adds. He earned his degree, to please his family. But, he never set aside his love for music or travel. He ventured on a voyage to find himself, beyond the obvious. Unlock the gates.
“Life has many gifts to offer when you leave your comforts behind,” says Claudio. “The same old routine, with the same characters…same old life,” is not the way to live. “There’s nothing set in stone. Open yourself up to another way of living. Get to know yourself, and the world.”
“I feel that my backpack gets lighter, all the time,” concludes Walter. Literally, or figuratively? Most likely both.