In 2015, Tom Turcich—and his dog, Savannah—left his home to begin a walk around the world that would span 7 years, 28,000 miles, 38 countries, and 6 continents. Over the course of those years, he spoke to Jason Moore—host of the Zero to Travel podcast—three different times. And over the course of the next two episodes, we’ll hear those conversations.
In part one, Jason shares his first conversation with Tom, 15 months into the walk, and part of the second, about almost four years into the walk. Their conversations run from the logistics and reality (and pain!) of walking up to 20 miles every day to the lessons we can glean from these kind of journey—lesson that reveal what it means to be human.
- 2:30: Jason’s intro and background on his conversations with Tom Turcich
- 6:50: The inspiration for Tom’s world walk
- 22:18: Introduction to Savannah, Tom’s canine companion
- 23:40: The beginning of Tom’s walk
- 50:30: The logistics of a big walk
- 1:01:17: The beginning of their second conversation
- 1:02:35: Tom’s sickness
- 1:15:30: Algeria
- 1:35:28: How an adventure like this can change us
Aislyn Greene, associate director of podcasts: More than 6,000 people have summited Mount Everest. More than 500 people have a rowed across an ocean. 12 human beings have walked on the moon.
But only 10 people have walked around planet earth. And just one dog. Over the next two episodes, you’ll hear the story of the last person to do that, a man named Tom Turcich, who along with his dog, Savannah, took a world walk that spans 7 years, 28,000 miles, 38 countries and 6 continents.
I’m Aislyn Greene, associate director of podcasts at AFAR, and this is Unpacked, the podcast that unpacks a tricky topic in travel every week. This week and next, I’m handing the mic over to Jason Moore, host of the Zero to Travel podcast, which helps people travel the world on their terms, no matter their situation or experience.
Jason spoke with Tom three different times over six years, unpacking the lessons Tom learned from walking around our planet. And how an epic journey like this can transform an individual and reveal what it means to be human. Now because their conversations were so extensive, we broke them into two different episodes.
You’ll hear part one today and part two next Thursday. I hope you find them as insightful and inspiring as I did. Now here’s Jason.
Jason Moore, host: Greetings and welcome to the show my friend! I am Jason Moore, a former nomad and current travel junkie who calls Oslo, Norway, home. If you enjoy what you hear today and you want more, you can find my show Zero to Travel Anywhere you listen to podcast or visit zerototravel.com.
Before we dive in, a little background on how these conversations came to be. I first connected with Tom back in 2016. At that time, he had spent 15 months walking from his home in New Jersey all the way to Ecuador. And when I first heard his story, I was hooked.
Human-powered adventures and the people who undertake them have always fascinated me. And as a traveler, I’ve often indulged in what I call the Forest Gump fantasy. You know the one I’m talking about, right? One day you decide you’ve had enough of the routines of daily life—you’re outta here. So you leave your house on a whim, you bike, run, walk, skateboard, unicycle, whatever, down the block, around the corner, out of your neighborhood.
And you don’t stop, you just keep going. Perhaps you’ve indulged in this fantasy as well. But fantasies aside, what most attracts me to human-powered travel of any distance, whether it’s a walk down the street or a walk around the world, is how accessible it feels, how it keeps you in such close contact with a place and its people. It’s travel in its purest form. Although admirable, adventures like climbing the seven summits or skiing to the North Pole or sailing around the world often don’t feel attainable to the average person. They seem reserved for elite athletes, in some cases—people who have a lot of extra cash on hand. But Tom is an elite athlete and walking around the world is a rare accomplishment and one of the most difficult adventures to undertake.
So why does it feel so accessible? Why is he so relatable? Maybe it’s because walking doesn’t involve teams of people in loads of gear. I mean, I own clothes, I own sneakers. Maybe I could just walk outta my front door and keep going. It’s a romantic idea for sure, but the reality of a walk around the world is, of course, much more complicated and difficult.
And today you’re going to hear about it all: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Now, let’s get into my conversations with Tom. The first was recorded in August 2016, again when he was 15 months into his journey. The second was recorded in June 2019 and the last in August 2022, shortly after he finished the walk, where among other things, he shares the biggest lessons he learned from the experience.
Thanks for listening. Here we go.
Jason: Where are you? It’s morning for you. You’re sipping coffee. I see some bright colors in the background. I think maybe somewhere in South America right now?
Tom Turcich: Yeah, so, uh, I am in Ecuador. Uh, I’m in El Guabo. It’s a little city on the coast of Ecuador. I’m about 200 kilometers from the border of Peru. And once I leave here, it’ll be a little under a week until Peru.
And, uh, and then I’ll have to be, then I’ll be in the deserts. But, uh, yeah, wifi is rare and uh, we coordinated this, I guess last week, and I timed the walk just right so I could get into this hotel last night and be here this morning to talk to you.
Jason: Oh dude. Well, man, now I feel a little bad. Like you—I mean, I hope that it worked out okay logistically It sounds like it did. But I appreciate that.
Tom: Yeah. Make it worth my while!
Jason: We will try our best and, uh, I know the people that are listening right now appreciate it as well because you gotta a lot of stuff to share around this story. And I guess the first question is like, you know, we’re both from the east coast. I’m from outside of Philly. You’re from New Jersey, right?
Tom: Yeah. Outside of Philly. Eagles fan. Of course.
Jason: All right, me too. And, uh, you know, New Jersey isn’t exactly known as a, like a walking destination or anything. I mean, what, how did this New Jersey boy start walking on this crazy trip and is now down South America? Like what were, what was your life like growing up in Jersey? Did you travel as a kid or…?
Tom: Yeah, um, as a kid, did a little bit of traveling with my family. Not much. Went to Jamaica and we would go down to Virginia. Did a lot of skiing with my dad growing up. Um, but internationally not that much. A ski trip to Canada and then when I was in 10th grade, uh, went to England, Ireland, and Wales.
Um, but as far as the walk, uh, it’s a very specific, uh, dream I guess that I had. And it started when I was, uh, 17. My good friend Anne Marie [Lynch] passed away. She was in like this freak jet ski accident and her death came at a, you know, formative time for me. I was 17 and I’d never had someone close to me die before.
And it was this realization that this does not last forever, and you actually die, and you need to make what you have worthwhile. And so after she passed away, there was a couple months of, uh, real confusion and I didn’t know where I stood in the world, where—how I fit death into living just a day-to-day life and going to school and just going through my everyday patterns.
And, uh, so I had to reconsider everything, and I was kind of in this fog. And then a friend played Dead Poet Society, which I’m sure you’ve seen, uh, but “carpe diem, seize the day,” all that. And in kind of this raw condition that I was in, it really stuck with me, and it hit me deep and I was like, This is it. This is the answer.
You know, carpe diem, seize the day, and I was a senior in high school at this point, and I knew I needed to live and get out there and see more. And I searched for cheap ways to travel and found this guy Karl Bushby, who back in I think ’93, he started a walk around the world and he’s an British paratrooper, uh, fascinating guy.
But I found him and thinking in my 17-year-old mind with a thousand dollars in my bank account, I was like, well, I could do this after high school. I could leave and walk around the world with a thousand dollars. Like, that’s doable [laughs]. Um, obviously not doable. You need more than a thousand dollars, uh, unless you’re planning on stopping every month to work somewhere.
Um, but so that planted the idea of walking around the world in my head, and then I was going to college. I graduated with, uh, psychology and philosophy [degree], and while I was there, I worked with the head of business trying to get sponsors to walk around the world. And, uh, you know, as time went on through college, the idea just continued to grow and just took over a greater and greater part of me.
And, uh, it kind of evolved more from—at 17, it was just an idea and a dream and a goal. But as the years went on and I thought about it, you know, every night before I went to bed, thinking of, you know, I’d love to be in Ecuador right now, or I’d love to be in El Salvador and on this great adventure, uh, it kind of just grew into a part of me and I couldn’t separate it.
And so, it became this total focus, where after I graduated college, uh, I was putting in solar panels, which was good work. I was outside. I liked it, got paid well. Um, I lived at home, and I just saved just everything I had. Uh, I rarely went out. I didn’t buy anything. I just went to the gym. I put in solar panels.
I wrote at night or in the morning and just saved and saved and saved for, I guess, three or four years. And then once I had a big enough chunk of money where I thought I could bleed this out while paying my loans and I could bleed this out to, uh, Uruguay, and hopefully by then I’d have some sponsors that would see me through the other five continents.
Um, so then the day before my 26th birthday, which was, uh, last year in April, uh, I left and I just kind of took my chances. And, uh, that is the origin of the walk.
Jason: I guess every superhero has like, his or her origin story. It’s pretty powerful how long you held on to this dream and kept it alive.
I mean, it sounds like it never really wavered, it just kept getting bigger and more prominent in your mind. Is that accurate? Was there a time where you were kind of like doubting that this would be a thing or did, like, this switch flip and you were just like, I’m definitely doing this. I don’t care how long it takes.
Tom: Yeah, it was both. When I was younger, you know, 17 and beginning college, it was, like I said, small and kind of took a backseat to things. But then as it went on, and I was towards, uh, graduating college and people were talking about their plans and what they wanted to do, then it really became—it really strengthened, um, and there wasn’t anything else I wanted to do. When I thought about, you know, did I want to go into insurance? Did I want to be a psychologist? Did I want to—it was just, I just wanted to walk. That was it. I wanted to see the world slowly and meet people and be in weird situations and, uh, go on an adventure.
Uh, there was—I had a girlfriend starting junior year in college and we dated for four years. She was a wonderful, wonderful girl. I loved her. She’s fantastic. Um, if I hadn’t have had to walk, I would’ve married her. Um, but there’s a period after college, um, the most difficult period of my life where it was a choice between her and the walk.
And honestly, the walk had just grown too strong in me. And I never—I didn’t have a choice and I would’ve loved to have been with her. Uh, but if I had stayed with her, I would’ve been bitter towards her. I would’ve been bitter towards maybe, like, my kids growing up and, and I would say, you know, Give up on your dream. It’s not worth it because, you know, other things will take over. Um, so ended things with her and then after that it was—there was, you know, I had ended things with her and it was the walk. So it was one or the other, and I knew it at that time.
Jason: You weren’t gonna give up something that was awesome and not do the other thing.
Tom: Right, exactly. Thank you. Yeah.
Jason: Yeah, and I totally understand that. Um, it’s just really cool to see how, uh, how you’ve carried through on this and how you’ve had the tenacity, I guess, to like, just keep saving, keep pushing, and then even going so far as to, like, end a relationship for this dream. You know, now you’re out there doing it. Was there anybody externally that was discouraging you or that thought maybe this was a bad idea?
Tom: Well, there wasn’t—there wasn’t anyone in particular that was like vicious against it. Um, and my dad was all for it. My dad, like, he had lived in Hawai’i for five years under tarp when he was my age. He’s like a wild man.
Yeah. So he said, “Yeah, go for it.” You know, whatever.
Jason: So, runs in the family, right?
Tom: Yeah. Yeah. Um, I guess my mom plays devil’s advocate, but smartly so, just to, like—I have these wild ideas all the time and she plays devil’s advocate to test them out and make sure they’re sound ideas. Um, but I think for most of my friends and family, I’d been talking about the walk for so long and I didn’t mention it often and usually it was only like late at night over some beers or something.
Jason: Right. You’re like, I’m gonna do this walk.
Tom: Exactly, exactly. “I swear to you, I swear!”
Jason: Uh, but you did tell people, I mean, that’s an important part of the process, I think, to make it real.
Tom: Yeah. I think there’s a line where [you] tell people who, uh, care about you and who have, uh, like the best idea of you and who trust you, but don’t go around in a bar telling people you’re gonna do this wild thing that you know you don’t know and that you’re not friends with cuz it’s just, you know: Do it before you’re talking about it, right? Uh, I don’t mean—
Jason: —actions speak louder than words type of thing.
Tom: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. But yeah, so I talked about, uh, the walk with my friends in college and, uh, my family and it was—I think they always knew that it was something that meant a lot to me. But I have to give up a lot to make it happen. I mean, it’s not an ordinary dream where, uh, you know, I want my CPA to be an accountant or, uh, you know, I wanna work on Wall Street and I don’t have to give up my close friends or my family. But with a walk, I’m gone for five years and I haven’t seen my family and, uh, since, uh, Georgia I guess was the last time I saw ’em.
But no, like I said, I had to give up this girl I was, uh, very much in love with. I had to give up my family, my friends. Um, not to say that I don’t talk to them, but it’s a big cut. And my friends understood that and my family understood that. They weren’t doubtful, I’d say, but kind of the odds were stacked against me.
And there’s a reason there’s not a lot of people walking around the world. It’s because you just gotta—there’s a lot of things you gotta cut off.
Jason: Whenever you’re giving up something. Uh, like the traditional job and the girlfriend, all the sort of regular status quo things, it’s always seen as giving it up.
But actually, like, when you’re working on Wall Street or whatever it is, you’re also giving stuff up too. Like, you would be giving up the walk or you’d be giving up pursuing another career. I mean, like, anytime you do something, you’re giving something up. So basically, you just decided the walk was the most important thing that you didn’t want to give up.
And I love that. I love that when you were like finishing school, you were looking at your options and you’re like, well, you know, I wanna do this walk. I don’t wanna do all this stuff, you know, like get a job as a psychologist or start a practice or become a CPA or whatever it is. And I think that’s hugely important in terms of, like, a lesson because it’s like, take your dream seriously, right? Like it’s an actual viable option. Although it might sound ridiculous and you’re not sure how you’re going to do it, the fact that you’re saying, well, like, this is the thing I actually want to do, even though everything else is like kind of the things that you’re “supposed” to do or like that most people would do, you’re just choosing the thing you want to do essentially and prioritizing it.
And, you know, over a lot of time—sounds like about eight years of prep for you—you’ve now gotten to the point where you can do it. So I, uh—
Tom: —and I think the, I think the other thing you need to realize, or people need to realize, that everything you have, you don’t just have that thing, you have all the responsibilities attached to that thing.
So if you have a house, you have all the responsibilities attached to the house. If you have a wife, you have all the responsibilities attached to a wife. So you have to be careful about, uh, the things that you bring with you or the things that you buy or that you have, because you’re not just getting that thing. Before the walk when I was trying to decide between my girlfriend and the walk or trying to decide between, uh, you know, it would be great to have a house. It’d be a really nice life. And I could, I could picture it in my mind, but then that would mean, you know, I’d be tied into most likely, you know, 40-hour-a-week job.
And then after that, if I was living in the city or wherever, I’d have to get a car. And that means more loans. And it just starts the cycle of, uh, responsibilities. And you have—I have more responsibilities tied to me, and that’s more things I’d have to cut off to travel freely, which is, uh, like what I’m doing now and I’m fortunate enough to be doing.
And, uh, I think that’s the goal of everyone who’s traveling or who idealizes traveling, is just the idea of just less responsibilities. And it’s just being aware of all the little things that are attached to these things that we idealize. Yeah.
Jason: Philosophically then, uh, are you, are you somebody who practices detachment as like a personal philosophy? I guess that would be more of an Eastern philosophy, I suppose.
Tom: Yeah. I wouldn’t say I practice it by choice, but—I mean,I guess it is by choice now—but yeah, I don’t have a choice. It’s, uh, it’s all detachment from me on the road and it’s all, like, suppressing temptation. So I’m walking by like, you know, I don’t know, a batido, you know, a place making smoothies and, man, I would love the stop there, but I can’t. I can’t spend the money and there’s more miles on the road.
So it’s—every day is a practice in suppressing temptations for me.
Jason: Well, I mean, I hope you’re enjoying the occasional smoothie too. Looks like you got a solid cup of coffee there.
Tom: I’ve had the best smoothies in the world. When I’m drenched in sweat and it’s a hundred degrees and I’m dying and I sit down and have this pure banana and pineapple smoothie, and it’s only a dollar. Uh, I’ve had amazing smoothies.
Jason: So, uh, are there any rules around this walk? Like, I mean, I know it’s, you said you’re walking on all continents, but are you actually doing like a proper walk around the world where you’re going like one border of the continent to the other? Is this five years set in stone? Like have you kind of constructed these rules or is it loosey goosey?
Tom: Loosey goosey. So Karl Bushby, the guy who I saw at 17 and [who] inspired this, he had three very strict rules. And it was basically: Walk an unbroken path back to his home in the UK. And, uh, he wouldn’t be able to—he was not allowed to go home until he finishes that unbroken path. But he’s been on the road for 15 years through complications and visas and everything like that.
And I mean, I’ve never been one for rules. I think rules are stupid. Like, every situation’s different. And, uh, I just don’t find the need for it, you know, if there’s just—actually, in Colombia, uh, I took a car like 25 kilometers. It’s the first time I’ve done that, since, uh, crossing this bridge in Texas.
Uh, but I wanted to give myself that option because these locals had warned me off the area. And I’d never been in an area like that where the locals were so fervently saying, “If you go through here, you will be robbed for sure. Like, don’t walk through there. There’s nothing there. It’s desert. There’s people sitting in the hills just waiting for you.”
Um, and I’d never been warned off like that before, and if I’d had a rule, I would’ve had to pass through there. Um, so there’s no rule. No. I just wanna see the world. I want to enjoy it. Um, I want to—I wanna walk through as much as I can and see these weird little towns and meet weird little people. And I want to plan my feet on every continent. But as far as rules, you know, forget the rules.
Jason: I love it. Uh, you have a canine companion with you, don’t you?
Tom: Mm-hmm. Yeah, Savannah. Um, so I got her—I adopted her in Austin. And, uh, we’ve crossed every border together since. And she’s a great little companion. She helps me sleep at night. She’s listening and I can sleep.
Jason: That’s awesome. Uh, so take us back to the day that you actually woke up. You had breakfast or whatever you had or whatever you did. Like, what was it like the night before your first day, and then what was it like taking those first steps?
Like really, if you could take us there, man, I’d love to hear it. Like, because so much buildup to this, like, it’s an insane story, insane amount of buildup to just getting out there on the road. So what was that experience like?
Tom: Yeah, well, I guess it really started to hit me uh, the year before I left. I decided, I was like, I’m leaving before my 26th birthday.
And so that year I started really putting things into place. And then a couple months before I was leaving, I started laying in bed and I would have these thoughts, like in a year from now, I’m gonna be in like the middle of El Salvador and I’m gonna wake up in El Salvador. And I kept having that like every night. Like, I’m gonna wake up in El Salvador in a year from now. And then the night before I left, you know, I barely got any sleep and it was up til, I don’t know, one or two o’clock in the morning and then woke up at six or five, something like that. And in the morning, actually a bunch of neighbors came over and we had this box of, uh, L&M—I don’t know if you know L&M [Bakery], but they’re these amazing doughnuts from Jersey and my neighbor—
Jason: —Jersey pride. There’s the Jersey Pride there.
Tom: [Laughs] It’s in there somewhere. And so my neighbor, Bob, he’s like 92 years old, he’s a great guy. He came over and his favorite are these, uh, powdered cream donuts. So we had a box of powdered cream, and I ate a couple donuts and had all these neighbors over and kids, and there’s probably like 35, 40 people, um, which isn’t what I was expecting, you know, like I was prepared to just walk out the door a complete unknown.
Uh, but a couple weeks before there had been articles written and stuff like that, and so there was some word out. Uh, but then, so I had this cart, I had a different cart than I have now, and the cart was built by this guy, Tom Marchetty, who owns a makerspace in the town over from me but is from the same town that I am.
Uh, and so when I went over to this makerspace months before and said, um, “This is my plan. I need to carry a bunch of things. I’d like to have in a cart so my back isn’t being crushed all the time, and I can carry more.” And he found out I was from Haddon Heights, the same town as he is [from]. Uh, he’s like, “Yeah, absolutely. I’ll get behind you and I’ll try and find you some sponsors as well.”
So he built this cart for me, and on the day I was leaving, uh, April 2nd, uh, I had it loaded up with way too many things, like such a novice. Like I was, you know, I was going to the AT [Appalachian Trial] with a 50-60 pound pack. And then, you know, I dumped 20 pounds of it. But—
Jason: This was essentially like a trailer that you drag, right?
Tom: Yeah. Well, initially—
Tom: Yeah, I push, yeah. So initially I had went to Tom Marchetty with this burly trailer that I thought I could attach to my belt. And when I showed that to him, he said, “Oh, we can make something better than this.” So he made, it is just like an aluminum box, basically, with a top that would lock and two wheels so I can push it. So I had this thing, this crate, it was like a safe, uh, loaded up with things. And then, uh, at seven in the morning, I just walked out my front door and turned down the road and walked towards my elementary school and, uh, over the Ben Franklin Bridge.
Jason: But how did you feel? Like, how did you feel?
Tom: Oh man. I was amped. I was excited. I was like—I was delirious. You know, I was living finally, like—it was this really strange feeling, you know? I had been thinking about this since I was 17. I would lay in bed at college. I had a world map on my wall in college, and I would lay in bed and just like, think about this map, and like, I gotta break outta here. You know, I gotta see this thing through.
And then to actually be on the road, like taking those first steps, I was like, you know, I was through the moon. It was insane. I was delirious. I was walking through Camden, which is the most dangerous city in America, like, grinning, waving at people, and they’re like, What is this guy doing? This guy’s insane. And, you know, for these couple hours, like, I could have been robbed. I could have been stabbed. I don’t—anything terrible could have happened and it wouldn’t have fazed me. I was, you know, that—this thing had been eight years in the making and it was finally—I was taking my first steps. It was unreal.
Jason: Yeah. They were just like, Well, that guy just has awesome energy. We’re just gonna leave him alone. Something’s going on there. Something special.
But it’s funny because, you know, it’s this huge thing and I just love the idea of, you know, walking outta your front door. And that’s all you did, really.
I mean, like, it’s not all you’ve done. I’m not belittling it. What I mean though, if you simplify it, it’s empowering to think that you walked out your front door and now you are in Ecuador. You know what I mean? Like you’ve just been walking and um, I don’t know, there’s a beauty in the simplicity of that, I think, when you can start an adventure right out of your front door. But it must be pretty funny like the first couple nights cuz you’re like in—you’re almost home, right? You’re, like, in areas that you know. Was it kind of weird? Cuz you’re like, all right, I’m still in Philly, or uh—
Jason: —you know—
Tom: Yeah, it was certainly—actually, so the cart I had, I had it loaded up with way too much stuff. And it had these, like, run flat plastic tires on it. And only three days out—I was only just like in Pennsylvania somewhere—and the tire snapped and I just like, called my dad and was like, “Yo, dad, like my tire broke. Can you drive out a new one?” And, uh—
Jason: —he was there an hour.
Tom: Yeah, exactly. It was an hour drive, right. 45 minutes. And actually, he didn’t drive it. It was my, uh, my sponsor, Philadelphia Sign, the CEO—you know, his, like, right hand man drove me out, like, some new tires.
But it kind of brought me back down the Earth. It was like, oh yeah, you’re 45 minutes away. You’re not on this amazing adventure yet.
Jason: But you were, and that’s how it all starts.
Jason: So far now you’ve walked through the U.S. and then Central America and South America and where you are now. How do those three places compare?
And I mean we’re—I don’t wanna generalize three essentially large land masses, cuz there’s multiple countries within Central America, obviously each of these continents. And then, you know, going through different states is different. But, um, like you mentioned in the beginning of our chat, you’re like—actually maybe it was before we started recording, but we were like, there’s a difference between like when you’re in a culture that you know—and you know, you grew up in the States, so you’re familiar—and then when you cross a border and there’s a little more of like this naive sort of, you know, not really knowing what’s going on around you as much because the awareness is just a—it’s a different culture.
So, uh, how was the experience walking through your own country? And then I guess I wanted to hear a little bit more about what it’s like to go on foot through Central America and South America so far.
Tom: Yeah, so the U.S. was fantastic. Um, I mean, it’s—
Jason: Not a place known for walking, again, like as far as like—
Jason: —the highways and the roads—
Tom: —and it’s true, it’s not. But uh, there’s such a great network of roads. Um, and that’s one of the starkest things, uh, as a walker that you realize from the U.S. and then as soon as you cross out of it, is that in Central America and South America, there’s highways or main roads that are paved, but any road off of that is a dirt or a rock path.
But in the States, a dirt or rock path is, like, exceedingly rare. And even when you’re in these little back roads, you can find these little shortcut back roads and walk through the woods and you’re on this little nice paved road, and it’s nice peaceful walking. But the States was—it’s uh, I mean, I took it for granted growing up there, the States is an amazing place. So well developed. Um, and then growing up there, knowing the culture, knowing the language, the people are fantastic. Everyone’s super, super friendly. Um, supermarkets everywhere. Supermarkets are the greatest thing in the world. Never take them for granted. Amazing.
Um, but, uh, so initially, I was thinking of going to Portugal first and starting and just going through, uh, Europe. But I figured I wanted to go to South America and if I start in the U.S, it’d kind of be like my training wheels. I’d be able to get my bearings and then I’d be crossing out of the country, and I’d have a good idea of how to handle things.
Um, and so I had traveled, I guess as far down as, uh, as South Carolina before, and I’d been to Florida and stuff, but I’d never been to Georgia. I had played tennis in South Carolina and Florida. So then once I got into Georgia, it was essentially new country for me. Uh, I’d never been in Georgia before and so Savannah is a beautiful place and crossing over and then I was in the American South during summer, which was excruciating and just brutal. There was 110-degree days and I passed through this heat wave and at one point, my hands swelled up to like, my fingers were like, you know, like bratwurst. And, uh, I had to sit in the shade until, you know, it passed.
It was like a hundred—heat index was 120 whatever degrees. Um, but so that was really tough. The humidity was really tough and in Alabama there’s just no wind. And there was brutal—but it’s a beautiful country and walking through farmlands, endless farmlands, friendly people. Um, and it was nice just seeing a part of the country that I’d never seen before.
And you see that at a very slow pace. You pass through the farm towns, you pass through, uh, these one-horse towns where, you know, maybe there’s a general store and not much else. And then pass through the swamps of Louisiana, which were terrible for walking—mosquitoes and the humidity, but so cool cuz you’re seeing gators and these beautiful cypress trees and just this, this like—the country’s so big and diverse that, you know, you could spend a lifetime in the States and still not see it all and comprehend it all.
Um, so it was a really nice, just seeing a different part of, uh, the place that I’ve grown up in.
Jason: Like you mentioned, there’s a gradual shift in culture and climate when you’re walking. It doesn’t sound like the heat wave was very gradual, but, uh, you know, is that one of the appeals for you for, uh, in terms of like a mode of travel walking, being that preferred mode for you?
Tom: Yeah. Uh, well it’s very meditative, the walk. Uh, especially during the States. What I found for the first six months, uh, until I got out of the States was like, I started to think of it as, uh, like I was gardening my mind or my past. And so as I was walking—I would walk, you know, six, eight hours a day—and I would just go through my garden and prune and weed a little bit until I had everything looking a little bit nicer.
And then the next day I’d do a little more weeding. And by the time I got out of the States, it was like I didn’t have any, like right now I have no problems.
Jason: What are the weeds?
Tom: The weeds are just, uh, bad thoughts or bad habits or maybe, you know, bad memories, uh, you lost a friend, or, you know, maybe with my ex, it was like maybe if I had done this or life could have been like this.
And with walking, you’re able to play out just every possibility you can imagine. And you find that, you know, I’m glad I made the decision I made, and everything is all right, you know, like, I just don’t have any problems. I’ve thought over all the bad memories, I’ve turned them over from every which angle and every shade of light, uh, so many times that, you know, I can just cast some aside now and just look at the road ahead of me.
And, uh, it’s a really beautiful thing and I didn’t expect it. Uh, but when I, by the time I got out of the States, like I had—it was like I had been purged and it was a wonderful feeling. Yeah.
Jason: Just for that reason alone, I mean, the walk has already been worth it, right?
Tom: Yeah. I recommend it to everyone. I think it’s very easy to neglect, uh, the care of your mind. What I think about, it’s kind of a passive thing, but walking is a great boon towards that.
Jason: You know, uh, cuz we’re both from the East Coast, I know that the atmosphere there is, it’s very, like, high-paced, kind of fast-paced, I’d say high energy, sort of everybody like the hustle and bustle, like, imagine what people think of New York City or whatever, but the whole like, Northeast area has got that, like, frantic energy vibe as far as my experience. And, like, everybody—not every, I shouldn’t say everybody cause I’m generalizing—but the general energy is that it’s like very, a little bit chaotic, a little bit like fast paced. Maybe people are a little more on edge or maybe a little more angry than in other parts of the country.
It’s not always true. But, you know, you’ve spent time in New Jersey, you know what it’s like. Do you agree and, like, how has it been to get out of that now?
Tom: Yeah, totally agree. Uh, yeah. Northeast is madhouse. And then even once you get into the American South, uh, people start, you know, you’re waiting in line and people start talking to you and you’re like, what is this? They’re having a conversation waiting in line, like, let’s get down to business. And it’s, you know, I’m gonna pay for this thing. I’m gonna leave. I’m not gonna say a word to anyone. Maybe I’ll scout a few people, but that’s it.
Tom: [Laughs] But yeah. Yeah, if you get down the South and it’s, uh, the culture’s different there immediately and people—it’s a little slower—people are talking to each other and, uh, I mean, Central America is a whole other world, but it’s not like the Northeast. Northeast is a unique place.
Jason: Yeah, it is. And uh, I mean, like, there’s part of me that—I love that I grew up there because there’s certain elements in my personality that, obviously you’re influenced by where you are that I like, but now I like to, you know, if you can kind of curate the, uh, the good and the bad from every place you go, I guess. You know, when you’re traveling like this full-time, it, it can—I know in my experience, I’ve had this feeling where like sometimes I feel like, Well, this is exactly where I belong. I belong on the road and this is home and this is just the way of life. And other times I felt, like, Am I just, like, an outsider looking in everybody’s lives everywhere I go and am I just being an observer? Like, cuz I’m not really participating in these communities, like, as a community member. I’m just kind of walking through and passing through as a traveler.
It’s just a different, uh, it’s just a different way of living, I guess. And, um, sometimes I would struggle with that a little bit because you are a participant, but then you’re like temporary. You’re just, like, this ghost passing through town. Overall though, I felt like being on the road and living on the road was the right choice.
But you ever feel that, like, sort of outsider-looking-in type of feeling?
Tom: I definitely have, but I like that feeling—
Tom: I enjoy it. I definitely, I think it was most noticeable to me, uh, when I was in Barra [de la] Cruz, uh, which is on the Gulf Coast of Mexico and I stayed there for a week. My body was just really tired.
I had been—I had walked straight from the border pretty much down to there, so I took a week off, stayed at an Airbnb and I just kind of wandered through the city and saw the sites and, you know, sat in some cafés, and I didn’t know anyone. And, uh, I definitely just felt like a ghost. But I like that, uh, there’s—it’s nice, I like observing it. You’re doing something without doing anything, you know, and you’re seeing it, this different culture and you’re comparing it to how things you know, like, how things are at home versus how things are there. And so I like that aspect of it. And then when I can talk to someone and get brought in for dinner or get brought in for a night, that’s great too.
You know, you feel like you’re a little bit less of a ghost, even though it’s still in my mind that I’m gonna leave in the morning, I’m gonna leave in a few hours and we’re never gonna see each other again. You know, maybe email or something, but I’m gonna be gone and, uh, yeah, something I came to terms with a long time ago. And, uh, like you said, it was just a different lifestyle and, uh, maybe you can’t go as deep into a culture as if, uh, I were in the Peace Corps and I would stay somewhere for two years, but, uh, you know, I get to, you know, walk down the street and sample all the different spices and try a little bit of everything. And then see what I like.
Jason: Yeah, I agree. I mean, I don’t—I agree with you. I don’t think it’s a bad thing. It’s just, um, just an observation of, or—
Jason: —being an observer, I guess. And, um, you know, like when you talk about passing through or living nomadically in that way for a period of time, I mean, it’s also possible for you to do that at home. Like if, you know, if you get into this routine where like, oh, you just go to work, you come home and you just do the same thing every night or whatever, then like, you know, you could just as easily be a ghost at home too, if you’re not like—
Tom: Sure, yeah.
Jason: —doing things. So I don’t think being on the road is a bad thing. Um, but it is something that popped up for me. And I was curious what, uh, how you thought about the long-term, sort of full-time living on the road because really you’re traveling, but really you’re just living your life. You just happen to be living your life on the road because at some point when you’re traveling continuously, you’re not really traveling anymore. You’re just living your life. Like—
Jason: —it’s not, and it is a different thing because your life just has way, you know, more unpredictable, like different types of routines, but you still have your routines, right? Like, you still get up, you walk, you have your coffee or whatever it is, if you can.
And you have to set up your camp at night or find your place to stay or whatever. I want to ask you about some of the logistics. Uh, but first you just mentioned, um, like talking to people and people coming up to you, and I’m sure there’s no shortage of conversations happening. You know, one of the great things about walking is you’re like right there, you know you’re not in a car like surrounded by steel or whatever, and, uh, you know, you’re pushing this giant trailer, so I’m sure it’s a pretty good conversation piece. Uh, you know, this—
Tom: —for better or worse.
Jason: —this gringo just rolling through town. And, uh, what’s that been like? Like I wanna hear about the strange encounters and then the encounters with strangers. [Laughs]
Tom: Yeah. Ah, man, this’s been a lot. Uh, yeah. So, like you said, I’m pushing this baby carriage. I switched from the original cart and I’m pushing this baby carriage now. And, uh, it’s this big red thing. And I have my dog, Savannah, with me, and I’m tall and white.
Jason: How tall are you?
Tom: Uh, six two maybe six three. Um, you know, and outside the U.S., I’m sticking out like a sore thumb. I got a lot of people talking to me.
Uh, 99 percent of people are just, you know, just wondering what I’m doing. “Why are you passing through here? Why are you pushing a baby carriage? What’s in there?” They get kids asking me what’s in there. Kids wanting to learn a little English, or seeing if I know any Spanish, uh, women—‚mothers daughters, whatever—love Savannah. They think she’s the cutest thing.
And uh, like every day, every single day since I crossed into Mexico, all the way through Central America, South America, every day, at least like five times a day, I’ll have people asking me to give them Savannah. And at first, I’m like, “Haha—"
Jason: Give your dog away?
Tom: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. They’re like, “Oh, give her to me, give her to me.” Or, you know, “How much?” Or they’re asking if she has babies. But like in Mexico, when it first started, I was like, “Ah, that’s so funny.” Like, it’s a nice compliment. But after, like, so many times every day I’m like, “Yep, yep. She’s my dog.”
Jason: They’re serious.
Tom: She’s my best friend. I’m gonna keep her for—I’m gonna hold on to her. And, uh, yeah so I’ve had countless offers for Savannah. Obviously not gonna give her away to anyone. Um, but yeah, as far as strange encounters, man, there’s been a lot, a lot of strange people. Uh, let’s see, border in Mexico was, uh—I crossed in from McAllen in the U.S. to Reynosa.
And, uh, before I went in, like a couple months before I went in, there’s a big shooting in Reynosa and it’s not one of the safer border towns, really dusty place. Uh, and it was my first day out of the States, so I was [in a], you know, hyper-aware state. Um, but I met at some gas stations, met a couple drug dealers who worked for the cartel, and they’re telling me about working for the cartel and how little they get paid.
It’s like, “That’s interesting. I’m gonna get outta here. I don’t want to be anywhere near this.” Um, and then you meet like strange—You meet, you know, I meet a lot of homeless guys, uh, in Tahentje. Um, you know, there’s people who were living on the street too, wandering around. Um, some were crazy than others.
Jason: Had it been scary?
Tom: Had this encounter in Georgia with a guy who was really very, very sketchy. And I kind of later found out that he was, like, into me and in a very odd and dark kind of way. And so after that I became—it was a good learning lesson. Um, cause growing up in like a bubble in the Northeast and, you know, I went to, like, went to a nice high school, safe place, went to a nice college, safe place.
And I had never had to grow that awareness. Uh, like maybe like a female has to grow where you get these creepy guys. Um, I never had to grow that. And the walk has had to force me to trust my feelings with a person. And so now when a guy, or you know, someone comes up to me and I don’t immediately get that like, good vibe off of them, I’m just like, walk right by ’em.
And there’s a lot of that. Uh, I mean, there’s—probably there’s nothing to ’em, probably. They just wanna see what’s going on. But for me, it’s like, I’m meeting so many people every day. If I see a guy who just doesn’t look like I wanna have a conversation with, I’m not gonna have a conversation with you. I’m just gonna pass by you.
Um, but then there’s other people, like, the other night, uh, as I was telling you, like, this woman invited me into their house and for a brief second I thought, You know, what do you think of this woman? You think it’s safe to go in there? You think, you know, you’re gonna be robbed?Anything like that, because it’s just me. I gotta trust myself and I’m on my own, so it’s on my shoulders to protect me. Uh, so it’s important to have those thoughts. And I had ’em, and then it’s, like, No, she seems like a great woman. I have no, no bad feelings about her. Uh, she doesn’t—she seems like a genuinely nice woman.
So I went in, had a great dinner, met her family, and she was, you know, she was wonderful. Um, but as far as meeting these, you know—every day I’m meeting new people, people that I don’t know, and I don’t know their culture as well as I do back in the States. So I have to be more discerning. So I just trust my gut.
Uh, but most—99.9 percent of the people are fantastic people. And when a car stops in front of you and like two guys get out in hoodies or whatever, 99.999 percent of the time, they’re gonna smile and be like, “Oh, your dog’s awesome.” And like, super, you know “Look at this gringo.” You know, they’re gonna be nice. But you gotta have that awareness at the same time and just, you know—
Jason: That’s always a hard balance because you want to have those experiences with locals, like getting invited into the home and, you know, taking people up on their kindness if they want to offer it. But then you’re also trying to be safe.
So you have to be open enough to like have that, cuz that’s part of the journey, right? But then also you don’t wanna end up in the Georgia situation where you have this guy following you or whatever. I’m guessing he followed you or whatever.
Jason: So, um,
Tom: Yeah. Yeah. And there’s like—I remember like reading these articles of, uh, you know, kidnappings or whatever in Mexico or people getting taken and stuff like that.
When you’re first traveling and you’re young, everything is bubbly and the world is bright and you’re seeing it all through rose-tinted glasses, and that’s great. And the world is an awesome place and there’s so many beautiful things, and the people are super friendly and there’s amazing food everywhere, and the culture’s different everywhere.
And the world is this fantastic, awesome playground that you can go and explore. But, like, at the same time, people get kidnapped and there’s not—it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Like, you have to be aware of that. And so you can’t just trust everyone willy-nilly. But people in general are very, very good people and people in general just wanna live their lives.
They want to work and they want to go home and be with their family. But it’s a skill that I’ve had to develop. And, uh, one that I guess I kind of knew about before I left, but I didn’t know the weight of which, like, how important it was gonna be, uh, being on my own and, uh, just having to rely on myself.
Jason: So let’s talk about some of the practical stuff, like your budget. You know, how much did you save before you went. You said you were working in the solar industry and you’ve been saving, sounds like you’ve gotten a couple sponsors along the way. And that was no small feat, no pun intended. Sorry. So, uh, you wanna break down, like, do you have—are you keeping a budget? I’m just trying to get an idea of what this is all costing you and, and how you’ve been able to, uh—we know how you, you’ve been able to afford it because you saved up for eight years and you worked your tail off. What are you spending on the ground? Where are you sleeping? How does, uh, all m=the logistical stuff working out for you?
Tom: Yeah, so, uh, in the States, I got maybe a handful of hotels. That was only when like someone bought them for me. Um, just camped every night.
Jason: Like people would come up to you and just say like, “Hey, I’m gonna buy you a room for tonight. Like, I think it’s cool what you’re doing?”
Tom: I did have that a couple times. Um, but more often it was like a family friend, uh, who maybe came down and visited me while I was walking and got me like dinner and then put me up for a night kind of thing. Uh, or used their hotel points to put me up. But, uh, through Central America, camping mostly all the time.
Uh, in Honduras and El Salvador, the hotel rooms were like $15 a night. And I got one every night except for one night. Uh, cuz, uh, El Salvador is in a gang war and Honduras is just not safe.
Jason: As opposed to camping.
Tom: As opposed to camping. I was like, I’m not not gonna take any chances. I have some money saved up. I’m gonna do that. But camping, like here right now in Ecuador, if I camp, I’ll spend like $7 a day and that’s including, uh, breakfast and lunch. And then occasionally I’ll have to buy dog food is a little more, and maybe I’ll spend like, uh, $15 a day with the dog food and you know, maybe some, if I can, you know, get something, buy bread or whatever, uh, for, uh, when I’m in my tent.
But yeah, I mean, uh, just not getting hotel room and camping. I’m spending just like—I’m spending below like $10 a day. Costa Rica was expensive. Costa Rica is an expensive place. Uh, it varies country to country. Some are more expensive than others. Um, but yeah, I spend probably only like $10 a day I’d say.
Actually before I left, I got my primary sponsor, Philadelphia Sign. Uh, and the, the CEO and owner knew Anne Marie, the girl who passed away. And I went to school with both of his sons—or two of his sons, in college with one of them. And so this article came out about me and he read it and then he called, he invited me over to talk about sponsorship and he just wanted to get behind me any way possible.
So he gives—I get money biweekly from Philadelphia Sign, uh, and they donate a dollar a mile into Anne Marie’s Scholarship Fund. So it’s a really cool partnership and they’re a great company, very green. And just like Bob, the owner is like super down to earth, great guy. Once I got that sponsorship, sponsorship and I knew I would have a little bit of money coming in every week or biweekly, I put all the money I saved up and I just threw it all at my student loans so I wouldn’t have to be paying that off.
So now I have a little bit of student loans left and I have like nothing in my bank account, but it’s being replenished every two weeks. Uh, so yeah, I live on like about 10 bucks a day I’d say. And, uh, don’t have a nest egg, but you know, work.
Jason: Hey, well these things all, yeah, I mean, you never know where things take you and it sounds like you’re getting also some help along the way from family, friends, from, uh, strangers, beautiful strangers who are taking you in and feeding you and, uh, you know, some of the best parts about travel.
Are those, those connections, have you felt like Anne Marie’s presence on this trip at all?
Tom: I definitely feel I’m, I’m definitely aware of it. Uh, and I definitely feel, there’s times, I don’t think of it every day obviously, but there’s times where it comes into awareness and I just remember just like how fortunate I am and—
Jason: Cuz this is how it all started, really. I mean, this was the thing that kind of shocked you into—
Tom: It’s so strange that, you know, she dies and I live and it’s so binary, and I think about it that way and it’s like, it could have just as easily been me. And so I just try and enjoy as much as possible and try not to take it for granted. And, uh, just remember how fortunate I am, you know, it’s like any frigging second—
Tom: —you can go and then it’s all blackness after that.
Jason: Yeah. It’s a hugely important thing to remember, I think, and, and also such a great motivator. You know, it’s like, I always say, I’m like morbidly happy because it’s like, yeah, I always think about, you know, death a lot in the sense that like, I don’t have this idea—like none of us are immortal.
So it’s like, in that way it’s like a sense, it gives you a sense of urgency to do the things you want to do, like in a good way. Cuz you’re like, Hey, we won’t be around forever. Like, maybe your body won’t be in this condition forever. You won’t be this age, you are now forever. I mean, there’s so many things.
It’s like all I’m permanent. So like it really is a carpe diem situation. I love that.
Tom: When I was kind of, when I was 17, I was reorganizing my life in comparison to death. One of the realizations that I had is that, you know, whether you are 7 years old, you’re 17, you’re 27, or you’re 70, it’s all the same in the end.
You know, if you’re going to heaven or you’re, you know, or you’re just food for worms, whatever it is, it’s all the same in the end. You don’t get to bring any of it with you. And so just, it’s the poignancy while you’re here. You can’t let, like, you can’t let, um, This is dangerous. I can’t do this because it’s dangerous. So I’m just gonna stay inside and, and play it safe. You’re gonna die anyway. Go out and have an adventure and take your chances.
Jason: Amen, brother. What’s something new you recently learned about yourself that you don’t think you would’ve learned without this walk?
Tom: Uh, I’m better at languages than I thought I was. Not to say that I’m great, but in high school I was like, I’m never gonna learn a language. But being surrounded by it helps a lot.
Jason: Cool. What about how you imagined this trip versus the actual reality of it? How is, uh, has it been at all, like what you imagined all those many years when you were laying in bed tossing and turning thinking, Oh, I’m gonna be here then, this, like, what are your thoughts on that?
Tom: Yeah. Um, I don’t know. I mean, I don’t know really what I—I just thought it was gonna be, you know, big adventure. I don’t know. In my naive Northeast, little bubble mind—definitely put America into perspective for me. Like what a great country that is. Holy cow. I dunno. I also thought it was gonna be more like wild.
You know, when I imagined I’d be waking up in El Salvador, I thought I was gonna be, you know, like in this totally wild, maybe on a dirt path like jungle place. But it’s, no, I mean, it’s developed like anywhere else, more or less. And you know, you can get a hotel room if you want, and there’s great food. The pupusas—holy cow.
Jason: Love pupusas.
Tom: Oh my god, they’re amazing. They’re like 25 cents a piece. Um, but yeah, you know, it is just like, it’s more you have, like, I had these like, broad ideas and now it’s like filling in the details of, you know, what the world is actually like. Um, but yeah, I mean, yeah, I’m not sure. Uh, it’s different, but I didn’t go in with, like, insane expectations for anything. Yeah.
Jason: Are you planning a route along the way, or have you kind of sketched things out to a certain extent?
Tom: Yes. I have a rough path.
Tom: Uh, um, but then obviously go road-by-road kind of thing. And, uh, if I get warned off an area from locals who say, “Oh, take this road instead of that road,” I’ll go that way.
If there’s a good shoulder, I’ll take that one. So I work out the details as I go, but I have like the rough map of, uh, the broad strokes of things. Yeah.
Jason: What is the number one thing you want to achieve or do in the next five years during this walk?
Tom: Uh, man, I love to have, uh, a book published. Book published, that’d be awesome. And actually be making some money that I can save for when I get back. That’d be really nice. So I don’t have to start at zero, uh, when I get back. And I’m actually gonna be sending out queries to some agents, uh, very soon, maybe in a week or so. I have a book written already about the first year so t’s within reach, I believe.
Jason: That’s awesome. I have no doubt, um, that you’ll work that out. I mean, you certainly are somebody that, uh, you know, has dreams and then actually goes after them until you achieve them. So I’m sure that it will be the same with the book or whatever it is you want and, uh, you know, been following your work at, uh, the world walk.com and there’s some, uh, awesome articles there as well as pictures. Man, you’re a really great photographer.
Tom: Getting there. I love it. I love it. I enjoy it a lot, some days are easier than others to take it. When it’s like a hundred degrees out and I see a photo, I’m like, ah, I’m walking. I’m not stopping for that five seconds to take that photo.
Jason: Now, here is Tom when he was four years into his world walk, and this interview was recorded in June 2019.
Jason: Here you are three years later and you’re in Croatia, and you’re still walking around the world. So congratulations, man.
Tom: Thank you, man. Been a long journey.
Jason: Yeah, well, yeah! I mean, all right, so of course I have a million questions, but, uh, the first one I’m gonna ask is, how’s Savannah doing? How’s your dog?
Tom: Uh, she’s good man. She’s in perfect health. She’s a beast, uh, relaxing right now at my cousin’s house, so she’s just, you know, she just wants to walk all day, so I’m walking her as much as I can. But yeah, she’s in great health. She’s happy.
Jason: How fit are you right now?
Tom: I’m feeling good man. We do 24 miles a day pretty easily, and wake up each day, do it again. Um, no problem. So I’m feeling good, man. Uh, just moving along and, uh, it’s easy walking here in Europe, so feeling good.
Jason: You’ve been doing this for how long?
Tom: Uh, so actually on the road it’s been, uh, let’s see, 1,151 days.
Jason: OK. Wow. Have you gone home at all or anything and then like just gone back and picked up where you left off? Or have you just been walking the entire time?
Tom: Yeah, actually, after I finished South America, I went home to get Savannah’s paperwork to enter Europe and I started getting kind of stomach cramped when I was back in the States. I ended up getting really sick. I started walking Ireland. I walked Ireland into Scotland, and I got really sick.
So actually I stopped walking for almost a year, um, and I lost about 45 pounds. And, uh, I spent a month in, uh, the Royal Hospital of London getting tested for parasites, all this stuff. They couldn’t figure out what it was. Eventually, I flew back home. They were just thrown different antibiotics at it until something started working.
And, uh, I recovered and then I was working out, going to the gym, building my endurance back, and then after, yeah, almost a year off, uh, because of this illness, um, then I flew into Copenhagen and started walking Europe again.
Jason: Did you have any doubts about starting up again or did you always know you were gonna start up again after you solved this out?
Tom: Yeah, no, never a doubt. Um, no, never a doubt. Uh, you know, it was, it was, it was not a great time. I was in a lot of pain all the time, but I was just, all I was thinking about was once I get healthy again, get back out there.
Jason: I’m really sorry to hear that, man. Yeah. I thought I read something somewhere about you being sick, but I had no idea that it was such a long and intense thing. I mean, 45 pounds, you’re like a very fit guy. I can’t imagine you 45 pounds less. I mean, is there 45 pounds to take off of you, even? I know you’re tall, but—
Tom: Yeah. No, I was like skin [and bones]. It was probably another two months and that would’ve been end game
Jason: What was it?
Tom: Uh, they didn’t figure out what it was. Um, the doctors just thought maybe I drank some water. I shook someone’s hand. It was just some virulent bacteria, just some freak thing. Um, just a weird thing that kind of sat in me and grew and grew.
Jason: So as you went back to the States, you were getting stomach cramps, then you went to continue walking Europe and then hit you there, and then you were stuck in London basically?
Tom: Yeah. So yeah, when I got back stateside, um, I was just getting little stomachaches and I just thought maybe I was eating something, uh, strange or maybe it was being back with different bacteria in the water or something like that. And so it was just like little stomachaches. And then by the time I got to Ireland, the pain I was getting, like, they were kinda like spasms in the stomach.
Uh, they were so bad. I was on the ground writhing in pain for, you know, a full minute at a time. Couldn’t see. Just kind of black out for like a minute in pain. And it just got worse and worse. And then basically my body started attacking itself, so it wiped out all the good bacteria in my intestines. So I developed colitis and was bleeding internally and I couldn’t hold anything down and wasn’t, uh, everything I was eating, I wasn’t getting any nutrition from, cuz I wasn’t absorbing, uh, in the intestines.
And it was not a good time. It was just a lot of pain, you know, when I was going through it, I wasn’t depressed or really down even, um, because I had walked, I had started what I had been thinking about since I was 17. I had walked from Philadelphia all the way down to year ago, whatever, two years. And I had lived how I wanted to live. So if that had been the end, I would’ve been fine with that. I would’ve been content cuz I gave it my best shot.
Jason: Wow, man, I, that’s crazy that you were going through that much pain and you were still having that kind of positive outlook. I mean, when you say you were on the ground and blinded in pain, that’s serious pain, dude.
I mean, when you were going through this for a year, were you in that kind of pain for a year? Was that coming and going like that or…?
Tom: That wasn’t even the worst of it. Um, but from there on, it was probably about four or five months of going through the—having the spasms and uh, and then there’s like two months where I had the colitis and just like, everything I ate was just, it was just pain all day.
And I was sleeping two hours a night and it was just, yeah, there’s like two months where it was just like, just nightmarish. It was terrible.
Jason: Well, yeah, I mean, that’s, I mean, just from the exhaustion and the pain, I mean, you could easily go the other way. By that I mean, yeah, the dearly departed, you know, I mean, it doesn’t seem like it would be that far off when you’re in that kind of situation.
I mean, also, you know, when you look back on something like this and we’re talking about it, okay, well, it’s one thing, it was like, all right, well then, you know, it was like this for two months and then like, yeah, you’re chunking out time, but like at the time, you, you didn’t know what this was or if it would ever go away, right? I mean, that’s mentally taxing, dude.
Tom: Yeah, it was, uh, you know, there’s no clear end sight. When you go to doctors and they just couldn’t, you know, I spent a month back and forth at the Royal London Hospital and getting every test under the sun in infectious disease and they couldn’t figure out what it was.
Even going back to the States, they never figured out what it was. So they just, just, like I said, started throwing antibiotics at it until one of ’em started working and uh, and then it got a little bit better and that kind of, and then turned the corner, then once the bacteria was gone, then they could start fighting the colitis and everything else.
Uh, so it was a long process and I never got too dark. It was just exhaustion really from the pain and just like, just get through it ends, you know, I was the weird thing about it, I was back home. This the blessing in disguise. I was back home when, uh, the Eagles went to the Super Bowl, so that was nice.
Jason: [Laughs] Nice man. Well I hope, like, the two hours you slept that day wasn’t during the game because that was one awesome game, man.
Tom: Yeah, just, uh, months of agony for, uh, you know, for that reward. It was worth it.
Jason: In case you’re wondering why I’m giggling so much cuz we’re both from the Philly area, so we waited a long time for that, you know.
Tom: Yep, yep.
Jason: You haven’t had any sign of any of that coming back or relapse or anything?
Jason: Totally healthy.
Tom: Yeah, totally healthy. The biggest thing was, you know, after walking South America, after we spoke, uh, in Ecuador and then I would, I went through the desert of Peru and Chile for—I was in the desert for about five months.
The coast is all desert. So, uh, and then crossing the Andes where it went up to about 5,000 meters and it was extremely difficult walking and I was just in such peak physical and mental condition. I was so honed in. And then to go from like my absolute peak down to my absolute lowest physically and probably mentally too, fitness. Coming back to Europe was really just, it was perfect timing because there’s easy walking in Europe, there’s bike paths, there’s a lot of towns. It’s developed. To go from such a low back into Europe, I could really ease myself back into things, physically and mentally.
Jason: Right. Yeah. It’s kind of like a nice runway, I guess, to get the walk going again. So what do you have left now? You’ve walked from, after you got through your illness and everything, which, uh, we just heard that story, that’s no small thing, but you flew back to London or…?
Tom: Uh, so I picked up in Copenhagen, so Denmark.
Jason: Oh yeah. Where you left off. OK.
Tom: Yeah, no, no, you’re right though. I stopped in, uh, in Scotland, but it was such, it was kind of difficult walking there cuz it was so cold and rainy and I was like, I didn’t want to go back into that, not feeling a hundred percent.
So I started in, um, Denmark where I knew there’d be nice, flat, easy walking into Germany, uh, through Germany, Belgium, France, Spain, and then, uh, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, up Italy. Slovenia and now in Croatia. And so from here, uh, we’ll make our way basically along the coast, uh, to Greece, and then across Turkey, uh, into Georgia, Azerbaijan, across the Caspian Sea.
Uh, a couple months in Kazakhstan, across Mongolia, and then fly down to Australia. Across Australia. Fly to California. Across California, back to New Jersey.
Jason: Wow. So close, but not really.
Tom: No, something like halfway. Long way to go.
Jason: Uh, it sounds close when you just rattle off cause you think, Oh yeah, I just take a bus here, fly there. But, no, you’re walking.
Jason: You’re walking.
Tom: Yeah. That’s it.
Jason: Uh, you have so much experience now on the ground. I mean, look, just looking ahead and we’re gonna talk about where you’ve been, but do you look ahead and think, Oh, I’m nervous about that? Or are you just kind of literally taking it one step at a time, one day at a time?
Tom: I’m through the worst of it. Central America was definitely the most dangerous part that I’ll be walking through. Um, and the rest, the only thing that I think will be a pretty big challenge for me will be, uh, going through Kazakhstan and Mongolia, because it’s about a six month stretch there of walking. And since it’s so far north, uh, I’ll probably have to do it in summer or if I go into winter a little bit, it’ll be, you know, pushing through snow and it’ll be difficult going.
So that’s the only thing I gotta figure out the timing of how I’m gonna work that out. And, but the rest of it, um, you know, I know what I’m doing now. I got everything down pat after South America and Central America. I know what I’m doing. I know how to, you know, get water, how to find food, how to find a place to sleep in strange places.
Um, so I’m not too concerned. And the countries from here are relatively safe, so, yeah, it should be, it should be good going and, um, looking forward to it.
Jason: All right. Tell us how you do all of those things you just said: Hhow you get water—
Jason: —how you find a place to sleep, how you get food.
Tom: Yeah, so, uh, water. I carry obviously a couple water bottles. I have dromedary bags, which are just like six liter, uh, impenetrable bags. So they don’t puncture or anything. They’re very durable. That varies country to country. Uh, it depends, uh, say in Peru, for example, I would only buy bottled water. So I knew even when I was in the desert, I’d get to town, I would load up on water, get the bottled water, um, in other places, on longer stretches, maybe have to filter water or in a developed place like going through Italy, there’s fountains everywhere. It’s easy.
Jason: Right? That’s easy. I was thinking like going through the desert, that would probably be the scariest, right?
Tom: Yeah. Um, the good thing is I’m generally walking roads. Uh, it’s, uh, sometimes I walk paths, but they’re usually not that long. Roads are the best way to move internationally. Uh, so even like Kazakhstan, I’ll go through some very long stretches, uh, you know, maybe 200 kilometers, something like that without getting to a town, I should be able to bring, uh, enough. Especially up there cuz it’ll be colder, I won’t be sweating. Um, I should be able to bring enough cuz I push a cart that I can load up and, uh, you know, make that last live on two liters of water a day. Something like that.
Jason: Yeah. Food-wise, I mean, you just carrying it all in the cart and everything, or you are you, have you become, uh, an expert at scavenging or finding food along the way or what have you been doing?
Tom: No, no, no. Yeah, no scavenging. I’m not like, uh, I’m not like shooting squirrels or anything. Uh, no. Yeah, it’s just dry goods, you know, load up on granola, pasta, peanut butter, or rice, uh, whatever is available in the country that’s dry that I can bring with me.
Uh, and then when I get to town, then I just wolf as much food as I can at a restaurant. Uh, drink a bunch of milk for the protein, calories, the fat. Uh, but otherwise it’s, uh, yeah, it’s pretty straightforward. It’s just, it’s just uh, knowing how to, knowing what works and what doesn’t work to bring and that’s only just dry goods.
And then when I get into town, chow down. And then as far as, uh, finding a place to sleep that is, that’s much more convoluted, that’s much more of a feeling that you have to work out. Uh, and each country again has a very different feel. You get a feel for how far apart things are, how much people are moving outside.
For example, like uh, when I was going through Morocco, I was going through there when there were long days and people were outside until 8:30, 9 o’clock. So I had to wait until right before sunset basically to find a place or else someone would stumble upon me. And that was that. So it’s really a feeling on the country and knowing the terrain and where to look for a place to sleep. And that’s just something I’ve developed over three years of finding weird places to sleep.
Jason: Yeah. Cuz fairly recently, I think I read a post on your blog. It was something sleep-related. I think you had a policeman with you somewhere or something. Was it Albania? I don’t, uh—
Jason: Where was it?
Jason: OK. Yeah. Yeah. What happened? I mean, tell us some stories, man. You gotta have a few.
Tom: Yeah, I got plenty. Uh, Algeria was a crazy country. Uh, it’s very closed off. Uh, they are insular. Uh, if you, it was a very difficult visa process. It’s difficult to get a visa in and they don’t grant many of ’em. So I took a boat there from, uh, Valencia, Spain, the border of Morocco And Algeria is closed, so you gotta take a ferry down. And I get off the boat and basically as soon as I get to, you know, I walk with just like not many, just some Algerians. And I get to the border control, and they see the American passport and like right away, they call over the police. And from that point on, as soon as I got to the passport check-in, uh, I had police with me through the entire length, 24/7. A police escort with me the entire length of Algeria
Tom: And it was a very good thing at first because I had, it was like some of these guys spoke a little bit of English and I could get local tips. I’d get into a town and I’d say, “You know, where can I eat here?” And they’d take me to a place and we’d have good food. Uh, and it was nice to have company.
Jason: Would they?
Jason: Would you buy ’em dinner? Would they buy you dinner? How did that work?
Tom: Uh, oh yeah.
Jason: Really? Yeah. Yeah. I’d buy ’em dinner. Yeah, sure. I mean, it wasn’t expensive, you know, just sardines, some bread and—
Jason: I mean, how many, wait, how long was the walk through Algeria?
Tom: That was 45 days.
Jason: 45 days. They gave you a police escort the whole time?
Tom: The whole time, man. And sometimes it was like there was a point I—
Jason: —because they wanted to watch you or because they didn’t think you were safe.
Tom: They went through a really violent time with the Civil War, uh, back in the day. And so the police has a really strong presence just everywhere, even if I wasn’t there, there’s basically at every town, uh, at like the roundabout entering every town, there’s a police checkpoint area. And this just is like, it is make sure there’s no extremism entering the country. There’s no‑it’s a very safe country. Was it before the military or is it because of the military?
Um, but so they already have a very strong police presence. But as far as why they were escorting me, I think it was just because, I don’t know, I mean, they don’t let a lot of tourists in and I’m an American walking through there. They don’t want any bad press. I would guess that’s it. But it was an insane experience.
There’s times when I was walking, there’s like literally like 12 guys. There’s like three cars at points and I’m just a guy pushing a cart with my dog and I have like an SUV in front of me, two SUVs behind me. It was crazy.
Jason: And just going really slow because you’re just walking, right?
Tom: Yeah, just walking. And as soon as it’s—
Jason: So surreal.
Tom: It was surreal, man. And as soon as someone would come and talk to me, like normally I’m in whatever country and people—when I’m out walking, people want to come and talk to you and see how you’re doing, whatever. You just run into people. But it was in Algeria’s, like someone came over and talked to me, all the police were out like right away interrogating this guy. “What do you want with this American?” Uh, so it was, it was a very different experience for sure.
Jason: So in that way, you got to hang out with locals and meet locals, but only police locals, right? Because you couldn’t get in your—
Jason: The other locals because the police would swarm them if you did.
Tom: Yeah. Yeah. In that way it was, it was a little sterile in that way for sure.
And also the other thing was they wouldn’t let me camp, uh, just cuz they would say “It’s unsafe. You can’t camp.” So I had to get to a hotel every night and it really like wore on me where—especially the last like two weeks of Algeria, the hotels were far apart a lot. So usually it was like 30 miles and I was going through there when it was 10 hour days of sunlight and I would have to do 10 hours of walking.
So I would literally walk sun-up to sundown to get to this hotel so they could like, so I could stop. So they were really long days. And by then, I had been with these guys, and you just, it’s not that they’re not good guys, but just being watched all the time—
Tom: —it ends up driving you crazy.
Tom: And so sometimes you just wanna sit and relax and just like chill and just be in my own thoughts. Instead, I have a police guy come over to me, ask how I’m doing. It’s like, I did, You’re a nice guy, but I just wanna sit here and just be like an idiot and zone out for, I’m so low on blood sugar and tired. I just wanna zone out and think nothing. But you have these guys who come and wanna talk to you. It was a really different challenge, uh, in a lot of ways.
And, uh, yeah, like the police are, they were great, but just the presence of just always having eyes on you, it wears on you.
Jason: Obviously, you didn’t know this when you chose to walk through Algeria, right? I mean, you had no idea this was gonna happen—because you essentially picked your route, right? I mean, you’re walking around the world, but there’s a lot of different ways you can do it. Uh, what drew you to that country?
Tom: Yeah, so I wanted to walk through some of Africa, but the big problem with walking Africa is need a lot of visas. If I wanted to walk from the north to south, I’d need so many visas. It would end up taking years just getting the visas for these countries. It’s a huge continent.
And so I wanted to do some of Africa and basically the best way to do that was just do the north. Just do Morocco where I don’t need a visa. I would only need to apply for Algeria, and I could do Tunisia without a visa. I would’ve loved to have gotten to Egypt. And like, but the problem is Libya is a total mess right now.
Uh, lots of warring factions, so I’m not gonna walk across Libya right now. So it was just those three countries and uh, Algeria was the biggest and in the middle, and that’s how I wound up there.
Jason: Wow. That’s a crazy story, man. All right. So what are some other things that have happened along the way? That’s a very open-ended question, and I know you could go a million directions with this but I wanna hear some tales from the road, man. Cause I know you got a few.
Tom: Yeah, and I mean, there’s been a bunch. I’ve stayed, uh, stayed with locals in Morocco, uh, stayed with locals in Tunisia, some young people that showed me around Tunis, which is a beautiful white city that you just never really hear about.
Um, I can’t recommend Tunisia enough. It was beautiful country, super cheap, really friendly people and democratic, open-minded. Yeah. And then getting into Italy, you know, I’m sure you’ve been to Italy. Italy’s like, just, there’s beautiful country and it lives up to all the hype. Every town is so filled with history.
Everyone’s so well dressed and it’s easy going. I mean, Europe’s been a very different experience in a lot of ways than, you know, South America. South America is very wild, and Europe’s been pretty easy. So I’m looking forward to moving along into some wilder countries. But I mean, the greatest stories that have probably come out of, yeah, you know, Algeria, Tunisia, I slept in some weird places. Met strange people.
Jason: What do you mean strange people? In what way?
Tom: So, I don’t know. For example, in Algeria, I get into this town one day, and this is after, this is probably like the longest day where I walk like maybe 36 miles in this day to end up in this town and I’m like, delirious. There’s no hotel there. But the police tell me “We have a place that you can stay.”
And it’s like this big ordeal. There’s like 25 policemen in this, like all working just to find me a place to stay. And so I get in the their van, they take me up to this, uh, take me up to this, like, I think it’s gonna be, I don’t know, some government building or something like that. Or maybe like a, they have a lot of youth hostels. Um, and I thought maybe it was one of those. It ended up being like this guy, uh, who uh, like works on cars, like up in the mountains and it’s like this really kind of like—it’s like a sketchy place.
I’m way up in the mountains and they have a couple dogs who are kind of beaten up, but they’re nice enough and they have, uh, they have, uh, macaque monkeys there in Algeria, and they have a macaque monkey like tied up. And I’m like, This is like really bizarre. My head’s kind of spinning right now. And, but, so I get put into this garage and there’s this little back room, and I sleep on the sofa with this heater.
And, uh, the owner’s sitting with me there. He doesn’t speak any English. So like, they bring me some food and I’m just sitting there like in silence, nodding and he’s just sitting there in silence. And there’s stains on the wall. It’s concrete. And I don’t know where I’m at. I don’t have internet connection, anything like that.
And so I just really, you know, you have to put your trust in the police. And they got me all this way. Yeah. It felt a little off, you know, and it was just that I was so far away from everything, and I was out of internet connection and it was, you know, it was a little off. It was a little rough, but I could tell in the guy that he was a nice guy.
And so I was like, OK, that assuaged my fears. But everything else about the place, it was like I couldn’t lock the door and there’s, you know, this big hole in the wall so I put my cart in front of the door. It’s like the guy could just easily just come to this hole on the wall and I’m just thinking, you know, I’m, I’m just gonna fall asleep and that’s all I can do.
Like, I’m, there’s nothing else I can do at this point. Fall asleep, hope for the best. Uh, and it was fine. They were nice guys. Yeah, there’s certain points where, you know, you just have to trust this local and, and it’s fine. Yeah. And, and it works out most times.
Jason: I mean, for me, I think one of the most psychologically challenging things would be the finding the place to sleep outside at night, you know, night after night in countries all over the place, you’re going through urban areas, suburban areas, like outskirts of cities. You’re just in so many different types of environments. And I mean, anybody listening to this, just take a walk around and look around and just figure out a place to sleep at night. It’s not always that straightforward, right? Well, yeah, you can find a place to sleep, but are you gonna feel, are you gonna get in trouble? Are you gonna feel comfortable? Are you gonna be like scared the whole night so that you can’t sleep? I mean, how do you deal with all this?
Tom: It’s such a challenge every night, uh, most of the time that it’s like a big, it’s kind of like a game and it’s oddly fun in a way because you really—it’s like this huge puzzle you have to figure out. You have to find, you’re weighing all these different things. The best is like, in the desert, it was great because, you know, no one’s gonna show up. You just walk in the desert. It’s perfectly dark. But then, like you said, there’s other times walking through Colombia or Argentina where it’s a little more populated and you don’t know maybe how safe it is.
And you gotta find a place to hide away. But the thing is also about it is that when the sun’s going down, you got a choice. You gotta find somewhere. And some places are less than ideal, but generally once it’s dark and you’re hidden away, you’re good. I mean, it would take crazy odds for someone to stumble upon you unless you’re on someone’s land or something like that.
If I’m somewhere, if I can find a little patch woods or an abandoned house or something, tuck myself away in there, not use my headlamp, anything like that, the odds of someone stumbling upon me, you’re just gonna be wandering around, you know, at night through these forests or wherever it is. It’s really just make it until dark and then it’s probably good. Uh, so don’t get caught during the day—
Jason: Abandoned house sounds kind of scary. I don’t know.
Tom: Yeah. No, I’ve done a lot of abandoned houses. And at first, uh, at first I remember like one of the first ones I stayed at was in Ecuador, and I was just like, it was so hard to sleep and I slept, right?
Like there’s a stairwell and you know, you sleep on the second floor, but the entire night you’re thinking like someone’s gonna come in here for sure. But then all through Peru, uh, in Peru, they have this weird law where if you build a house on some land and someone is living in it for 10 years, then you just own that land.
So what happens is these rich people build like these little brick houses. They pay a homeless guy to live there for 10 years, and then they own the land. And so they’re all along the desert, these abandoned houses. And I was sleeping in them all the time. And after a while I was like, I would only look for them because after, you know, there’d be like these developments of empty houses and there’d be one guy living in this development, and you could find sleep on the outskirts of one of his houses, you’d be fine. Where you’d be in the desert and there’d be nothing around except there’s one little house.
And they were great. You were out of the wind and you have a little concrete you can cook on. And I started looking for those.
Jason: Even though the sun’s going down, you’re like, All right, we can always find a way to tuck away. But can you, I mean, there must have been some nights where you’re in urban areas and are just like, All right, where am I actually, where am I going to go? And then do you just get a place to stay or…?
Tom: Yeah. Um, I mean, through Central and South America, I was really tight on money through the entire way. So it was extremely rare that I got a hotel or something like that, unless the country was really cheap. Um, now in Europe it’s, especially through Italy, it was really difficult finding places to sleep.
But you can generally find a campsite. Um, it’s been more, it’s been more of a mix in Europe between hotels and camping. Like I said, in the Americas, I was camping like probably 28 out of 30 nights. I was camping the entire time, pretty much. And here, um, with Patreon, I’m able to get some more hotels when I need to, which is great. Um, kind of takes some of the adventure out of it, but it’s good. It is a good thing.
Jason: I think you’ve earned your adventure stripes, man.
Tom: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Um, it’s a big enough adventure. But all as to like, I remember one specifically actually that I was thinking about. Going through Panama and like, looking back on it, it was an insane place to sleep.
And actually I’ve had a couple of days, but I was walking the Pan-American and I’m kind of like up in the mountains and the road is pretty small there so there’s not a ton of cars, but I, everything was, it was so steep on either side of the road and it’s kind of really thick, almost jungle. So there’s nowhere I could get in and like find a place to sleep.
And I just walked, and this happened a decent amount of time, but I just walked and then it was dark and there was nowhere sleep, and there was literally just like a patch grass on the side of the road. So I just laid my, and it was kind of in this little ditch. I laid out my tarp and just, I fell asleep right beside the road.
It would’ve, could have been so easy to find me. I’m right there. Uh, but I just laid there, didn’t turn the headlamp on. I’m kind of hidden, fall asleep, wake up before sunrise, and I’m gone.
Jason: Okay. And this setup is just a tarp and a sleeping bag? Is that, uh—
Tom: That’s what it is in, I was up in the mountain, so there’s no mosquitoes or anything like that.
And that was low profile because, uh, if I had set up the tent, it would’ve been—people would’ve seen me. And then that’s when I could use the tarp as well. You know, there’s no rain, there’s no bugs. But generally, yeah, I set up a, I set up the tent.
Jason: Yeah. Do you set up the tarp when you have just the tarp set up, like the minimal setup, do you just set up the tarp like a tent and sleep under it? Or how do you—
Tom: I sleep on it. I sleep all on the tent or on the tarp.
Jason: You just lay the tarp on the ground and just sleep on it. Yeah.
Tom: Yeah, yeah.
Jason: Got it.
Tom: It’s nice. That’s the best man. That’s the best, best sleeping.
Jason: How did you get through the Darién Gap? That’s the connection point between Panama and South America, right? But it’s like a wooded area. Do you have to go around that? Or how does that work?
Tom: Yeah, I flew over it. Um, I think there’s been a handful of people who have crossed that—
Jason: That’s like serious thing. You can’t really just do that.
Tom: Yeah, no.
Jason: It’s super dangerous.
Tom: It’s jungle, there’s no roads through it. There’s narco traffickers through there. I mean, unless you’re like—that’s a whole thing in itself and there’s, yeah. That’s, uh, I’m not that big of an adventurer.
Jason: No, I was gonna say, if you walk through that, then that’s just crazy talk.
Jason: Yeah. I imagine you landed in Ushuaia at the southern tip of South America in Argentina, right? It’s a beautiful area down there. Um, how did you feel when you got there, when you hit the southern tip of South America? Was it anticlimactic or were you just like, fall on your knees, “Oh my god, I did it!”
Tom: Yeah. Yeah. No, you’re at the end of the world. Uh, I mean, it’s a beautiful area and, uh, to get down there. And then I took a ship to Antarctica, so I was able to plant my feet on Antarctica for a little bit. I mean, you’re just going, especially when you’re going down to Antarctica, you’re on like an alien planet. There’s no sign humans, and it’s just another world. But yeah, finishing the Americas was monumental.
And when I—even, when I look back on it, even then, I was thinking like, You, you just walked the—it’s insane—you just walked from Philadelphia, all the wat, you know, down to Uruguay. It was insane. That’s crazy.
Jason: It’s nuts, man. I mean, outta your front door, right? That’s the thing that’s even—I just love that idea.
I mean, I’ve talked about it on the podcast before, just the idea that you can leave your front door and go on some epic adventure like this, and you have done that and it’s, it’s so inspiring, man.
OK, so it says a lot that you’ve been to all these countries and you were really digging Italy. What is it about Italy that’s been so special in terms of traveling through on foot?
Tom: Yeah, I mean, Italy’s just, there’s, it’s so dense in history. I’ve never been to a place where even the little villages, uh, in Tuscany or in southern Italy or in, uh, on Sicily, you know, every village there’s a beautiful church and beautiful little square, and it’s just every square inch of this place is just, it’s just I mean it’s beautiful. It was easy walking, comparatively. Uh, but Sicily, I was up in the mountains and then, uh, from Rome to Florence, across, over the mountains a little bit. And it’s a nice variety. You walk along the coast, beautiful. Uh, the mountains are beautiful. It’s just, and the people, there’s great coffee. The food is great. They’re all so well dressed. It’s just like, it’s, it’s—
Jason: —and there you are pushing your cart, having not showered in days.
Jason: Are you showering in rivers and stuff like that if you’re outside for a while? Or do you just wait till you get hotel rooms and things like that?
Tom: No. Yeah, sure. I mean, if there’s nice water, definitely jump in and yeah, I mean, I do—when I obviously get to a hotel, I shower. But yeah, if it’s a nice river creek or something, and it’s hot. Yeah, for sure jumping in there,
Jason: You must have learned a lot in terms of like how much you’ve packed on your cart and everything. Have you stripped down things pretty good?
Tom: Yeah, I mean, it’s exactly what I need. Uh, nothing of excess. Uh, I use everything. Uh, it’s like a balance of—so for example, say, I carry some like gorilla tape with me and I almost never use it, but it’s the type of thing that I don’t be somewhere without, it’s so useful when I do need it. So that’s like a weight worth carrying. And so it’s always, it’s just weighing, uh, also how vital this thing is, uh, versus how much does it weigh versus how often am I gonna use this thing?
And I definitely have it paired down to everything I have is, uh, either extremely important or I use it every day.
Jason: What kind of reaction do you get when you tell people what you’re doing? Like, do you try to keep that on the DL when you’re interacting with somebody or if they ask, you’ll tell them? Or do you let fly because you know, it makes a good story—it makes, it makes it a lot easier to connect with people when you have a story like that, right?
Tom: Yeah, generally I just, I’ll say, you know, if I meet someone I say, “Oh”—I try and connect with ’em—“Oh, I’ve been somewhere that’s similar. I’ve been like, this is how Colombia was, or you know, this is El Salvador.”
Because when I say, uh, “I’m walking around the world,” it ends up just dominating the conversation. And I have this, I have to explain. They say, “You’re walking around the world? You’re walking?” And it’s like, “Well, how do you mean?” And then it just being the same conversation most of the time.
Jason: OK. Yeah.
Tom: I explain, “Yeah, I’m walking, I walk and I camp and I walk and I camp and I walk and I camp and that’s it.”
I usually just, yeah, I let it kind of slip under the radar if I can and try and have a conversation with the local and learn more about them.
Jason: How are you different from the guy who stepped out of his door in, uh, Philly those years ago? However many years it’s been now.
Tom: Yeah, it was 2015. Um, I thought I was somewhat worldly back then.
And looking back, you’re just such an idiot and didn’t know anything about the world. I mean, just in life, you know, you don’t change like in one moment and like, I’m a different person now. It’s kind of this gradual thing.
And I’m so much more, I’ve seen so much more. I’ve seen different cultures, different people from foods. I’ve been through, like such challenges and tests of will and physically that I’m just more worldly and more assured of where I am, where I stand in the world.
And then the other thing I would say is, uh, that came out of walking itself, it was kind of a byproduct of just walking every day. So say for example, uh, it’s getting towards the end of the day, I’m still feeling good where there’s, uh, maybe, uh, maybe I’m at a nice campsite right now and it’s, say, it’s six o’clock and the sun goes down to eight o’clock.
So at six o’clock, I see this nice green field or something. Ooh, this perfect campsite. At first I would keep walking, trying to just get as much miles as I can and then call it a day and find somewhere to sleep. But after a while, I started realizing like, I’m gonna walk another hour. I’m gonna walk three miles.
Uh, this is a 25,000 mile walk. I can wait. I can hold, save those three miles till tomorrow. And this has sort of affected everything in my life, you know, with the photography, where with my photography, I don’t really try to, I don’t have any angst over like, I need to become a better photographer. It’s just trust the process kinda thing.
Take one good photograph and try and get a little better in that and do that every day and you get better. And so it’s taught me, the way I think about it is you, you can’t walk around the world in a day, as with any project. So just take it one little piece at a time and then that’s it. Be satisfied with your day.
I walked 20 miles today. I walked 18 miles. OK, good job. Do it again. Do whatever you gotta do tomorrow.
Jason: The pace of walking around the world has slowed you down in all of your other activities, right? Uh, it sounds like. It’s, that’s a nice zen place to be.
Tom: Yeah. It got rid of, um, I think, uh, in Western culture, there’s a lot of competition and so you feel like you’re always behind when you’re trying to do something creative and that you need to do something more, but you just gotta control what you can control, do a little bit and it’ll add up to something bigger.
And I’ve. come to apply that with basically everything. And so yeah, removed a lot of angst.
Jason: That’s a big thing. I think if you’re able to shed that Western mindset, which we’re brought up in, which is that idea of more is better or always wanting more, needing more, getting, needing to get better. Like you said, this sense of urgency and particularly, I mean, I can’t speak for everybody, but I can relate to what you’re saying, totally being from the Northeast, and there is something with the hustle and bustle of the Northeast. But this is just generally in America, and I don’t wanna speak for other Western cultures, I guess because we grew up in the States, but there is this very much this what we just described, right?
So to be able to shed that is, uh, is a total life perspective change. I mean, that completely changes your life, right? Like your approach to everything.
Tom: Yeah, sure. I mean, like you said, uh, in, especially in the Northeast, which is a very fast-paced area of the States, and it’s put around these huge, uh, metropolitan areas where there’s a lot of competition, uh, you definitely have this expectation that you need to, uh, you know, fulfill these certain requirements, need to have the bigger house. You need to have, you’re in a lot of competition with basically every aspect of your life and your own show. And that kind of, the competition just forces you to think that if you’re not there immediately, then you’re no good and, and you’re, you know, or you need to get there faster.
And everything you do has to be a hundred percent. And it has to be, you have to maximize—you listen to all these podcasts, now. A lot of the podcasts—I listen to podcasts all day—but like this theme that you just hear about all the time is just like, here’s how you can learn more efficiently and do this more efficiently and this will make you more productive. And this is—
Jason: Right, right.
Tom: It just drives me freaking crazy. It’s just take the photograph, do it, write a thousand words, do the podcast, and improve that 1 percent, just a little. Just by doing it, you’re gonna improve cuz you’re gonna be critical of yourself. And that’s enough. And just chill out. Do a little bit each day and that’s it. And if you get better, good. If not, whatever.
Jason: I think you should write a—I think you should start podcast. And this is just that, it’s just a five minute episode. We’ll just take that audio clip, we’ll publish it, there it is. Everybody just chill out. You’re gonna do it better over time, everybody freaking relax, OK?
Tom: That’s it. That’s it. Five minute podcast.
Jason: When you came home, obviously you started having the pain and everything like that, but was it strange to be back in the States? Like sickness stuff aside, uh, what was that like?
Tom: Um, I remember when I first went back after, uh, I remember driving down our like, main street in our town. And I grew up in like this nice little suburbs in South Jersey. I remember driving down the street and being like, this is utopia. Like this place is so nice and I did not appreciate it. Sidewalks, everything’s clean, trash cans, nice street lights, coffee shops, like I grew up in a utopia.
Jason: You’re really seeing it for the first time in a way.
Tom: Yeah. Yeah. You see how, and it’s not to say, like in Argentina or in, you know, in the mountains of Colombia where most people live, uh, in a concrete house, maybe with a tin roof, there’s rebar on top.
So when they have money, cuz they can’t get bank loans, so when they have money they build a second story kind of thing and they live in very small square footage. It’s not that they’re more or less happy, but to see that and to see, uh, you know, the quality of things that we have in America and of infrastructure, uh, it’s like you go back and like, I went to a grade school and my town’s very safe, and it’s super calm and, you know, and there’s, it’s just a nice place.
And to go back there, you’re like, you realize, Man, I won like basically the lottery of where I could have been born and the time and everything. So it was very appreciative of that. But otherwise, um, yeah, when I was sick, it was just, I wasn’t anywhere. I was just existing.
Jason: Yeah. I mean, it must have been strange too to maybe run into some old friends and you’ve just had all these experiences and it was it hard to relate in some way? I mean, you can’t articulate everything you’ve been through.
Tom: Yeah, yeah. It’s, um, you grow. I mean, and I think I grew more than most people do in two years, so I definitely felt separated from them in a certain way. It was nice to go back and just like, hang out with them and relax and, you know, just be totally comfortable.
And after being, when I’m on the road, I don’t really have any deep connections with anyone. I meet people maybe for a day or two, and it’s nice. But to go back my friends where I’ve known these guys for years, it was great. I mean, I could, you know, joke with them and relax. We speak the same language and we have the same rhythm of humor, uh, and that’s nice.
Uh, but then, you know, uh, you know, a certain part of me is thinking, you know, I just, I’m a different person and I’ve seen different things but, you know, that’s nothing to hold against them. And, uh, it’s just, we’re slightly different people. And, but yeah, it was just, uh, it more or less, it was good to see them because I needed some good, I needed to be able to joke with people and I needed to some good conversation.
Jason: You needed some good old fashioned, uh, Philadelphia ball-busting, it sounded like.
Tom: That’s it.
Jason: Right? I’m glad to hear you haven’t, uh, lost your accent either, which is good.
Tom: I have it.
Jason: Well, you mentioned seeing friends and missing friends and uh, in the first podcast we recorded, cuz I listened to it before our chat today, and you talked about some of the things that you were having to sacrifice for the walk, right? You hadn’t, uh, seen your family since Georgia at the time.
You had to give up a girl you were in love with. All the sacrifices you’ve made to do this walk. How do you feel about the sacrifices now four years later?
Tom: Yeah, I mean, it’s kind of almost forgotten about, uh, this is just my life now. Uh, I think back then when it was a year ago, a year after I started, or a little over a year, it was still more poignant.
It was still closer in the rearview mirror, all these things that kind of—this big change in lifestyle. But now there’s just my life and when I look in the rearview mirror, it’s just walking. So, uh, yeah, I don’t really, I don’t really think about it. I mean, with the family, you definitely give away—the thing I think about more, especially I turned 30, uh, earlier in April and you kind of get like nesting syndrome where you’re like, I need to get a house and get my plot of land and have a wife and kids and something like that.
And I think that was more challenging because it wasn’t something that I like—it wasn’t some person or some physical concrete thing that I gave up. It was more like this lifestyle that I chose to push back. And uh, when I was really craving it, going through Spain and Morocco and Algeria, for some reason, I was really having these, I was just fantasizing all day of like the house I was gonna build.
It was this lifestyle that I can have. And it took me months to get past that and then just relax again and settle into the walking. That was the choice with this walk, is that life is kind of, I think, it’s up to timing. And when I’m young and I don’t have responsibilities, that’s when I need to do this.
And later I’ll be able to get the house and the wife and everything else. This is the choice I made and yeah, it’s, uh, gotta live with it.
Aislyn: And that concludes part one of Tom Turcich’s walk around the world. Come back for part two next Thursday. In the meantime, you can find Jason’s podcast Zero to Travel wherever you listen to your podcasts, and on his website, zerototravel.com. If you can’t wait until next week, you can learn more about Tom at tomturcich.com
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This has been Unpacked, a production of AFAR Media. The podcast is produced by Aislyn Greene and Nikki Galteland. Music composition by Chris Colin.
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