Why We Travel: Craig Heimburger’s Story

Craig Heimburger from TravelVice.

This is part of a series of article in which travellers share what draws them to the road. If you enjoy Craig’s article, subscribe to TravelBlogs and stay updated when new stories like it are posted.

Craig with his son Aidric

Craig with his son Aidric in Bulgaria.

I was working full-time in Phoenix and doing evening classes for my MBA (paid for by the same consulting company that I’d later leave just weeks after finishing my degree). I was happy, getting plenty of love and leisure in that lifestyle (despite the terribly full, yet routine schedule).

Corporate brass wanted to promote me to a senior level that would’ve probably doubled my salary and expanded my ability to enact change within the organization. By most standards these dimensions of personal and professional success would’ve been enough to keep the lips of most any 25-year-old grinning from ear to ear, behind a glass of rum at least half his age.

But a seemingly innocuous visit to Thailand in the winter of 2004 (that mostly took place during/after the massive Boxing Day tsunami that rocked the region) set in motion a mindset that has since seen me living quite “comfortably” (warning: very subjective) out of a backpack for over three continuous years, in over forty countries all across the globe.

Years back, I’d had the notion that I’d seriously commit to learning German and become a knowledge worker of some sort in Germany. (I’d been rather captivated by the place on a high school exchange back in ’96.) Pursuing my Master’s put an end to that idea, but not the notion of living abroad.

And when my 2004 holiday visit to Thailand came along, the overwhelming desire to escape from the uninspiring game of corporate chess (political posturing, elbow rubbing, etc) came crashing down on me like the nearby tsunami that could’ve very well claimed my life.

But deciding to up and abandon your stable life for one of pure travel is a vacation delusion that few actually follow through on.

I reflected on several things during and shortly after this initial Thai experience:

  • My mother passed away at a young age from cancer when I was only 17. This can age a young man considerably in his youth. This teaches you that life is fleeting. That life is short.
  • There’s more to a short life than working in an office building, sitting under the sterile blue-white light, chained to a computer monitor.
  • That materialistic wants are far from the materialistic needs that I actually need to be happy, and that being in a corporation, surrounded by individuals perpetually looking to upgrade their lives by purchasing the next best house, car, phone, or television was not an environment that I wished to surround myself with any longer (especially since it’s so tempting and easy to get wrapped up in the behavior yourself when all your peers are doing the same).
  • That I should have to ask permission from someone for my time — to beg a boss for permission to please, pretty please, can I have a three-day weekend? I give my time to a company, not the other way around.
  • That I couldn’t allow the idea of living abroad to become an unrealized pipedream.
  • And if not now, when?
  • It took nearly 11 months to finish up that degree, design and build a Web site that would best allow me to share my knowledge and experiences with others, prepare a successor at work, and shut down my life. Belongings were lovingly sold, tossed, or donated to charity, friends and family. I spent a lot of time researching not where to go, but what to take. And ultimately, my life was compressed down to that of a backpack small enough to fit in the overhead bin of most any commercial passenger plane.

    And that’s the way it’s been since December, 2005.

    Craig, Tatiana and Aidric

    Craig, with his girlfriend Tatiana and their son Aidric in Slovakia

    Sometimes I get asked by folks if I was running away from something, or someone, back in the States. Sometimes I get asked if people told me that I was throwing away my career, or not living up to my potential. Sometimes I’m asked if people inspired me or encouraged me to adopt this lifestyle.

    To the curious, I explain that truly one of the best ways you can leave a company is to tell them you’re doing it for travel. Not for another company, or for any other myriad reasons people give notice for, but to go and do the very thing that your peers are afraid to do themselves. And this, this response is even more motivating for the individual shedding themselves of their environment for reasons of wanderlust.

    The plan was simple enough though: not to necessarily travel forever, but to live abroad for the rest of my days.”

    Still, years later, I get furrowed brows and letters of what amounts to dissatisfaction with the choices that I’ve made (and continued to make) with my lifestyle from my mother’s side of the family. Perhaps more than a little xenophobic at my grandmother’s level, down to the ‘long vacations are what retirement’s for’ mindsets of her children and their families. They could just never really grasp what I would want with more than two weeks of vacation time per year and a stable, well-paying job. To toss it away to live an unscheduled life in the (comparatively) impoverished places of the world seemed certifiably nuts.

    On some level I found that parts of Rolf Potts’ book Vagabonding articulated a handful of the thoughts and feelings that I was having in 2005. And as I slowly expanded the circle of people around me whom I was revealing my intentions to throughout the year, I’d refer them to this book as some insight into my state of mind.

    I’ve since discovered that many of my coworkers thought I’d be back after only six months. I had the undying support from my father and brother, but there wasn’t a single person in my network of friends, colleagues or acquaintances I knew that could offer me any inspiration or advice on perpetual travel. Perhaps if I was from Australia it’d be a slightly different story, but such things are just not a part of the culture in the United States.

    The plan was simple enough though: not to necessarily travel forever, but to live abroad for the rest of my days.

    About the author:

    In December 2005, Craig sold most of his possessions and took off for an extended travel adventure around the world. He's still travelling, with his girlfriend Tatiana and their son Aidric in tow. He blogs about it on TravelVice.

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    Discussion »

    • #1Craig | travelvice.com

      Again, a tip of the hat goes to Eric for approaching me on this. Thanks!

      For those interested, I’ve written up yearly a review/summary every December. Most recently, it covered 2008: Three Years of Travel. Previously: Year Two, Year One.

      Want a quick visual snapshot of where I’ve been these past 3+ years? Take a peek here.

      These posts have some pretty pictures to look at: The Textures of Eastern Europe, High Dynamic Range Travel Photography.

      The travelogue has heaps and heaps of stories after such a prolonged period of time. Unfortunately, I’m still struggling to get current with entries, as over half a year of nonstop CouchSurfing (much of it with Tatiana and months-old baby Aidric in tow) has stretched my time very thin. I’m working such things as quickly as I can. :)

    • #2Audrey

      Thanks for sharing your story, Craig! I think it’s wonderful and inspirational that you are able to continue with a young child.

      Although we do have supportive family and friends, I completely relate to “the ‘long vacations are what retirement’s for’ mindsets” and the idea that we are throwing away our “potential” by leaving our stable and comfortable jobs/lifestyles. Life is short, so everyone needs to do what keeps them engaged and fulfilled.

      Good luck and enjoy the rest of your days abroad!

    • #3Beth Whitman

      People in high-paying jobs are usually bogged down with payments of all sorts and can’t imagine walking away from it. In fact, they CAN’T. (Or, think they can’t.) Resistance to long-term travel often comes from these folks because they got the golden handcuffs keeping them chained to their desks.

      I think that there IS a culture of acceptance in the U.S., you just have to find it. I’ve managed to surround myself over the years with people who totally “get” the fact that I need to travel for weeks, a month or a year at a time. Sure, sometimes they are concerned about my safety, but all in all, they have been very supportive.

      Kudos, Craig, for having the guts to take off on such a journey.

    • #4Craig | travelvice.com

      Thanks Audrey & Beth! “Golden handcuffs” is right!

      For those interested, here are two travelogue entries on what I’m hauling around these days:

      What’s Inside My Backpack for Europe, and Beyond

      Essential Baby Backpacking Gear

    • #5Jack

      Thanks for sharing the reasons behind your ‘trip’. I follow your writing on Travelvice, but haven’t before dug into the beginning of the posts on there so I don’t know if you’ve written about this before. In any case, it’s inspiring to see the guts to shuck all that stuff and do something more fulfilling.

    • #6Craig | travelvice.com

      Thanks Jack :)

      You know, there’s another fun interview on TravelBlogs (from about a year ago) that speaks a little more things…

      The Perpetual Wanderer: Interview with Craig Heimburger

    • #7Lindsie

      Wow – you are amazingly inspiring to have been traveling/living abroad for so long. Especially non-stop couchsurfing for 6 months with a baby! My husband and I were told we were going to end up in the poor house when we broke the news to his grandma that we had quit our corporate jobs to travel for a year but most people just said, “I always wanted/wished I had/could do that.” I remember all the days (years!) I was sitting at my desk and dreaming about the something more…our year abroad has been the most amazing experience and as I sit in a hotel in Frankfurt, Germany on our very last night in Europe at the end of our one year adventure – I’m not freaking out about returning home. Because I’m going home a changed person, with a much smaller bank account but rich with experience. Jobless, homeless and pregnant – we are ready for a new adventure to begin! Good luck with the rest of your journey, wherever it may take you.

    • #8dijo

      its inspiring for sure…but what do we do when the money runs out???
      living abroad doesnt excite me soo much…but travelling wild definitely does…
      maybe after i earn enuf i have to go on an year long travel…u definitely are inspirational!!!

    • #9Andy

      I’ve been doing much the same for the last two and a half years, and enjoying every bit of it. I’m not really traveling in the traditional sense of the word because I go somewhere, settle for a while, get to know the culture and language, then move on. It’s a fantastic life and one I won’t give up for all the corporate glitz in the world. I’ve had my day in a leather backed chair and a corner office, now I enjoy casual clothing and doing things on my time.

    • #10liudic

      We are just about to on our never ending journey. Saving up for another six months then we’re going to continuously travel and live in different places. Its taken us alot of hardwork and research to put ourselves into a position which we wont have to work for anybody else and can earn money whilst on the road. I look forward to meeting other people doing the same in my journey :)

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