I’ve crossed paths with some of most interesting and inspiring people while traveling the world. Their stories have changed my perspective in more ways than I ever expected when we first met. I want to share their stories with you to bring you some travel inspiration. Many of these people continue to motivate me although we are miles apart and haven’t seen each other in months or years. I’ve been inspired to look at the world differently, live simply, and enjoy every moment through my traveler friends and their stories from the road.
Meet Justin. Justin and I met in Kathmandu, Nepal last year. There’s an intriguing aura around Justin that I picked up on right away. He’s confident, friendly, and extremely kind. He showed me around Kathmandu, a city that’s become a second home to him over the past few years. But Justin doesn’t even have a first home. He’s been nomadic for over two years now. I’ve been following his off-the-beaten-path adventures since we met as he’s visited the salt flats in Bolivia and lived with native tribes in Indonesia. Now Justin is motorcycling through the continental United States and documenting his journey through his killer Instagram photos. Here’s a look into his nomadic life.
You detail in your blog about your lifestyle before retiring at age 32 and what led you to give it all up to be nomadic. Has your definition of being a nomad changed over the past few years?
My lifestyle has always been partially nomadic. My parents moved around a lot and I’ve lived all over the USA, with a new home almost every year of my life. I’ve never had a sense of belonging, either in a place, or a social group.
The word “nomad” has traditionally been used to describe people who followed weather and food sources with no permanent home. I don’t know any other way.
I briefly touch on my dissolution of the modern ideas of success in my first blog post. Freedom has always been my highest ideal so being a nomad and a minimalist is what makes the most sense for me right now.
I have no sense of home in the conventional sense of the word. To me, home is familiarity and human connection and have bits of that all over the world.
What’s the closest you’ve come to hanging up your boots and returning to a “normal” lifestyle (with a 9-5 job, etc.)?
I haven’t come close at all.
In economic theory there is something called there’s something called cost-benefit analysis, where you add up all the benefits of a decision, all the good stuff, and then add up and subtract the negatives or cost. The difference indicates whether or not an idea is a good one or not.
There are costs to this type of lifestyle: lack of security, not knowing where I’m going to sleep most days, I don’t have a variety of outfits to choose from, and it’s difficult to maintain close relationships or routines. But overall the benefits far outweigh the costs, and that’s because I more strongly value freedom and adventure than security, routine, or possessions.
For me, at this point in my life, the decision is an easy one.
In your blog post about retiring, you wrote about how you didn’t have any plans to stop traveling. Do you have any plans to settle down in the future now that you’re two years in?
I get this question a lot.
Perpetual motion can be exhausting, and staying in a place and having a temporary home is occasionally tempting. I’m open to the idea of falling in love with a place and staying put for a while. I just haven’t found that place yet.
I’m curious about the world and want to have my own experiences of people and places that interest me. This may change or I may get tired of it and in that case I’ll do something else. Freedom is the ability to choose your values and adapt your lifestyle to reflect those values.
What fueled this idea to motorcycle through the continental US and what are the goals for this trip?
While I was in South America last winter, best friend Spike introduced me to a guy named Sterling on Facebook. He was planning to do a motorcycle trip from LA to Alaska and after chatting with him for a bit, I flew to Miami where I picked up my motorcycle and rode out to California to meet him.
By the time I arrived, the trip had evolved. The plan was now to spend a year on the road, visiting all 49 continental US states over the course of a year, climbing mountains, sleeping under the stars, and getting into trouble. I’ve never traveled with anyone before and the idea of having an adventure buddy was exciting.
After a few weeks of traveling through California: sleeping in deserts, meeting interesting people, climbing the tallest mountain in the lower 48 states, and taking some great photos, I’ve decided to continue on my own for the rest of the summer.
I’ve realized how important autonomy is for me. I like being in charge of my life; making my own decisions, going where I want, being in control of where and when I move or stop.
What does a normal day on the road during this trip look like? How long do you ride, where do you sleep and eat, etc?
It depends on the day. I have done some long days on the bike, but covering 600 miles on a Royal Enfield is pretty brutal. I prefer moving slower and at an easier pace unless I have a deadline to meet. I’m not trying to quickly get from point A to B so much as I’m focusing on experiencing the spaces between.
That being said, a typical day recently has been: sleeping next to my bike in the desert, and awaking once the morning sun starts to cook me in my bag. (Little road tip: if you sleep in the desert, point your motorcycle towards the North Star and sleep on the left side. When the sun comes up, you’ll get another hour of sleep because the bike will provide shade) Then pack up and ride to the nearest town for some breakfast and coffee. While I’m eating I’ll do some research about where I want to head that day and possibly interesting places to check out along the way. If I have Internet connection on my phone I’ll try and figure out where I want to sleep that night. National forests are preferable to national parks because of less regulation.
Then I’ll spend most of the day riding, stopping to take photos, hike and snack on granola bars. If I find a nice river or lake I’ll go for a swim, wash my clothes and then strap them to the back of my bike to dry.
Generally I eat as much as I can when I pass through towns. Preferring cheap American breakfast places or even gas stations for sandwiches. Occasionally I’ll sit down at a proper restaurant and eat a big meal so I don’t need to cook that night.
Before it gets dark I’ll make camp somewhere. I’ll throw a tent if I think it might rain, otherwise just unroll my sleeping bag on the ground and get a fire going. Then watch the sky turn from blue to black, maybe cook some MRE’s, write in my journal, edit photos, and fall asleep as the stars start to reveal themselves.
How do you balance staying in the moment motorcycling through the country while keeping up with documenting your trip?
I don’t like documenting things because it takes me out of the moment and selfies make me self conscious but I like having pictures and videos so what can you do?
I’ve come to accept that my best pictures will never be taken. Particularly those genuine, candid, quiet moments shared amongst friends. Pulling out a camera just ruins the moment.
But unless I get a film crew to follow me around I’ve got to do it myself. Having a film crew would probably be weird anyway.
What’s the most surprising change you’ve seen in yourself since you started traveling?
I’m going to answer a slightly different question because I’m not sure if I’ve been necessarily surprised in the ways travel has changed me, but I do think there there is an important one.
But first, a parable:
There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”
The more I travel and spend time living in exotic cultures, the more apparent the influence of culture on reality. Traveling lets you experience different types of “water” in a way that makes you more aware of its presence. Everything happens in a particular context.
In Nepal 2006 I discovered that men hold hands or casually throw an arm over one another’s shoulders while walking down the streets of Kathmamdu.
I was shocked to find how uncomfortable it made me when my male Nepali friends would hold my hand while walking down the street.
My palms were sweaty.
Intellectually I knew that there was nothing weird about holding hands with a friend but in most American culture, friendly male to male displays of affection are almost unheard of and it just seemed so, weird.
It bothered me, and it bothered me that it bothered me. That’s a good thing. I was noticing the “water” of my mind.
This is one of many examples of how traveling has caused me to question previously unquestionable beliefs about the way things are and how they should be. Constantly changing cultural environments really exposes biases and beliefs in a way that’s hard to replicate otherwise. I think the experience has value.
This motorcycle trip can’t be easy. Does it get lonely? How do you stay motivated?
It’s not easy but it is worth it.
The nice thing about traveling in an English speaking country is that I get to talk to anyone. Also I have friends all over the country so I end up visiting people along the way.
What motivates me? I’m motivated by my curiosity to see what will happen next.
If you could only save 5 items you own, what would they be?
I don’t have too much attachment to things. Nothing I own is irreplaceable. The only things I really value are my memories, photos, videos and journals. All that data is either in my brain or on my phone which I back up to Dropbox as often as possible.
I buy things when I need them and give them away when I’m done with them. I dress for the climate and rarely have more than and extra change of clothes. There are a few items that are essential for this trip though. Let’s leave money out of the list because it’s an obvious and boring one.
- iPhone and extra power bank. Not only for internet access but I keep my journal, books, photos, and videos on my phone. Besides money it’s really the only thing that I need. Without it, everything would be more difficult.
- Motorcycle. This trip would be hard without it. The amount of freedom I feel on a bike is exhilarating. It’s like flying; the cold, the heat, the wind. I’m exposed to the world on a motorcycle and everything becomes raw and honest.
- Headphones. Nothing special but I tend to listen to a lot of audiobooks and music while I ride. I also listen to audiobooks while falling asleep.
- Sleeping bag and pad. Otherwise I’d be confined to sleeping in houses or motels all the time and where’s the fun in that?
- Knife or tools. They give me the ability to fix and make things which is essential on the road. Since I was a teenager I never travel without a knife, it’s just one of those things you learn growing up in the woods. I usually carry a few actually.
Any thoughts on your next adventure?
I’m focused on this for now but am really excited to explore Central Asia. One of the audiobooks I’m listening to lately is called Shadow of the Silk Road by Colin Thubron. The area between the Mediterranean and China is really interesting and culturally mysterious. I’d like to do a long overland trip starting in Eastern Europe, heading south to the Mediterranean, back through Turkey, and explore the ‘Stans, heading towards Mongolia.