The Perpetual Wanderer: Interview with Craig Heimburger

CraigCraig at Machu Picchu.

In 2005, Craig Heimburger left his native United States behind to become a “perpetual wanderer”. Now on the road for over two years, he has visited over 40 countries in the Americas and Southeast Asia.

He is currently living in Lima, Peru, where his girlfriend, Tatiana, is expecting their first child in the near future.

TravelBlogs caught up with him to talk about leaving the United States, travelling with a pregnant woman in Southeast Asia, and cross-cultural experiences in Peru.

On your site, you mention that you grew up moving around the USA quite a bit. Do you think this is what gave you a love for travel?

I abandoned my U.S. residence because I was scared of falling into the routine of want and desire that life inside Corporate America fuels.

Growing up, I certainly didn’t love uprooting my life every few years, leaving behind friends and the comforts of a known environment. This is a hard thing for children and teenagers to experience, and even for many adults. I hated it.

Later, in my teens, I would meet kids and try to imaging living in the same home my entire life. What it would be like having the same bedroom, the same backyard, and the same school system filled with the same familiar faces and feuds for as long as I could remember. The feeling this mental image gave me was not warm and fuzzy, but discomforting.

In a way, I felt sorry for them. I grew up knowing the NASA shuttle launches off Cape Canaveral, a few dozen miles from my home; exploring the nature and wildlife of North Carolina; and the rush of holding an open umbrella like a sail in a strong wind (with roller-skates on) in Kansas.

So, even though growing up in locations stretching from Florida to Oregon didn’t spark a love of travel, it taught me independence and self-reliance. Absent in me are personality traits that require reliance on others for my happiness. I am self-soothing. I do not need or desire “roots”. This, coupled with an inquisitive personality, is what makes me the emotionally equipped traveler that I am today.

Have your reasons for travelling changed over time, or do they remain similar to what they were when you first started travelling two years ago?

Travel is inherently selfish. People travel for many reasons, but ultimately, the truest of these will boil down to a person and their desire to something for themselves.

Traveling to learn a language or more about the world; traveling to add experience and perspective; traveling to see monuments, taste the regional beer, or perhaps taste the regional men and/or women: all of these are about travelers improving themselves.

People volunteer, many even pay to do it abroad; but gosh, that does look good on the résumé or curriculum vitae though, doesn’t it? Green Peace and working with NGO’s are often used as platforms into government positions, and teaching English can pay quite well in some countries.

Now, that’s not to say there aren’t selfless people and travelers in the world–I’m sure there are plenty–but their selfless actions are few compared to the actions of the many.

I abandoned my U.S. residence because I was scared of falling into the routine of want and desire that life inside Corporate America fuels.

At that time, I’d lived in Arizona longer than most places (three and a half years), and felt like I’d lived inside the bubble of comfort and predictability that the United States endows on many of its citizens more than long enough.

Perhaps it was a midlife crisis at 25. Perhaps a 2004 trip to Thailand reawakened a great craving of freedom, danger, and excitement that was lost in the shuffle of formal education and corporate employment. I wasn’t bored, it’s just I found something more fulfilling, and was brave enough to make a radical change in my lifestyle.

Whatever it was, I’ve yet to look back or regret the decision after over two years of continuous travel.

And after all that wandering, I’ve really come to the conclusion that I’m just searching for smiles. If I’m not smiling, I do something about it. Typically, that means changing my home, city, country, or continent until I find just that–sort of a “maybe the grass is greener” mentality, scaled to a global level.

I told a young traveler in Malaysia to “do what makes you smile, and do it every day.” For some people it’s carpentry, for others it’s teaching the disabled; for me, it’s traveling. And in return, I try and share as much of that experience as I can with others, because you never know if the travelogue you keep is what gives someone else their daily smile.

How do you fund your travels?

I’m still living off savings.

Lifestyle, speed, and location dictate exactly how much a traveler will spend in a given place. Living comfortably off US$10/day isn’t difficult to achieve, but I’m a curious fellow, and constantly find myself paying to answer questions about my environment. An example of this could be purchasing a food item that you’ve never seen before, just to see what it tastes like, regardless of your state of hunger. I wrote more about this subject in my travelogue, in a post entitled ‘Curiosity Killed the Travel Budget‘.

I’d say I’m living more than comfortably on an (aggregate) average of about US$800/month. Life is easy at this level. Some months I’ve spent less than half that amount, and in others, I’ve spent much more (like when enduring the expense of traveling through Brazil and attending Carnival).

My advice: Travel slowly, and skip the round-the-world ticket. Why paint yourself into a corner with dates and places? Throw away the security blanket.

You spent a few months travelling around Southeast Asia with Tatiana while she was pregnant. What kind of unique challenges did travelling with a pregnant woman present?

Tatiana on busTatiana: Pregnant and on the road between Thailand and Cambodia.

Aside from the pregnant women herself? …hehe (ducking). Several.

When I reflect on the difficulties of travel with a pregnant woman, they really boiled down to one thing: Food.

…Well, food, clothing, and people staring at her belly.

It’s not what you’re probably thinking with the food. There were no odd cravings for things like peanut butter mixed with Gummi Bears, rather cravings for sizable portions that were not based on a foundation of fried rice or fried noodles. Simple requests like pancakes, baked potatoes, generous amounts of meat, and packets of artificial sweetener (or foodstuff without excessive quantities of sugar in general) required exceptional amounts of energy to locate, if at all.

I found that Bangkok was truly the only place in SE Asia where a traveler, pregnant or otherwise, is able to indulge in just about any craving the mind can conjure.

Finding attractive clothing to fit a traveler who does not share the figure or bra proportions of the typical Asia woman also presented quite a problem. Do not underestimate how disheartening it is for a woman to repeatedly put on clothes that do not fit her.

I wrote about all this, and more, as a portion of the five-part, two-year travel anniversary post I placed online in December, 2007: ‘Backpacking SE Asia with a Pregnant Peruvian‘.

You’re currently living with Tatiana’s family in Lima, Peru, which is obviously a big change from the independent/nomadic lifestyle you had since you first started travelling. How hard has it been to adjust to the change?

Though this home is certainly a far cry from the hostel that I stayed at last time I was in Peru, I’m a highly adaptable person, and find myself experiencing minimal adjustment pains.

Truth be told, I’ve been keeping myself busy with Internet-intensive projects that I couldn’t have done without the convenience of a persistent connection, in a place as comfortable as this. What wanderer would turn down an offer to switch off the hunter/gatherer mode for a few weeks and get fed amazing home cooked meals from a region of the world they weren’t raised in? What’s relatively normal for them is exotic to me. Nearly a dozen people are being cooked for in this house already, all I have to do is show up if I want to eat good food without thinking.

I spend a lot of time in Tatiana’s bedroom working; too much, really. But I know that this is just a layover of sorts, and might not have an opportunity to focus like this again for some time. Lord only knows what will break loose when the child is born.

I’ve really only complained about four things to Tatiana since arriving: Waiting to see doctors; when someone didn’t pay the phone/Internet bill (and the service goes down); getting hot water for a shower; and the loud/crying children and dog, or deafening noise pollution from the school activities and late-night parties held in the structure behind the home. Important things like privacy and the family’s willingness to communicate have made my time here better than I ever could’ve hoped for.

On the other hand, has staying with a Peruvian family deepened your appreciation of the local culture?

My advice: Travel slowly, and skip the round-the-world ticket. Why paint yourself into a corner with dates and places? Throw away the security blanket.

I think it’s really given me an insight into what it’s like for several generations to live under one roof. This is something that is particularly absent in North America, a region of the world where children get their own suburban apartments or run off to attend university in a different region of the country while their still in their teens. It would seem that the parental empty nest syndrome is not as prevalent in regions of the world outside my own.

Stereotypes about Italian men who live and are fed at home by their mothers until they marry (at which point they’re fed by their wives) seem to hold water, as similar actions take place in Latin America.

I look in amazement at Tatiana’s siblings, and wonder how it is that they can be in their mid-20s to late-30s and live at home with their parents. Her brother and his girlfriend have two young children, and they too live here at the house.

To be constantly watched or nagged at because I came home at 3:00 in the morning is something that I couldn’t handle as a 27-year-old, yet it happens to her siblings here. It’s funny how so many attributes of family life are the same everywhere in the world.

This is where my fundamentals and that of this culture differ. I believe that you’ve really got to leave the comfort zone to grow. Perhaps that means moving into your own studio apartment, cooking your own food, decorating your own home, and paying your own bills. Some try this and fall flat on their faces–maybe that’s why there’s so much credit card debt in the United States: kids run off and try and be self-solvent before they’re ready–but lessons are learned with every failure.

To be an adult, and not have adult things like ownership and privacy, I could not tolerate.

Saving to move out of a parent’s house is like saving to start traveling. You shouldn’t put a dollar value on it; but a time limit, because there’s always going to be some purchase or other obstruction of desire that will only serve to impede your departure. Taking the leap is the hardest part; don’t procrastinate. Things are always clearer in the freefall.

To keep track of his latest travels, check out Craig’s website, Travelvice.

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Discussion »

  • #1Leigh

    Wow, this is a great interview. Insightful and to the point. I love the last lines… ‘Taking the leap is the hardest part, don’t procrastinate, things are always clearer in the free fall.’ I agree totally.

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