Why We Travel: Craig Heimburger’s Story
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.
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:
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.
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.