How I Travel: Kyle MacDonald

Kyle MacDonald: Trading in Adventure

Kyle MacDonald got his start as a writer by hawking photocopied booklets of his travel e-mails on Montreal street corners.  A few years later he set up a blog that detailed his quest to trade one red paperclip for a house.  After a few trades, the project caught steam and MacDonald became an internet phenomenon. Eventually, he swapped a movie role for a farmhouse in Saskatchewan and wrote a book about the entire adventure.  Since writing One Red Paperclip, MacDonald has continued to treat his work much like he treats his travels: with an open mind, curious spirit and a taste for the unusual. He tours as a motivational speaker and has his sights set on another curious internet project: trying to figure out who these five stylish guys are and going to meet them.

My first travel experiences were with my family.

Mom, Dad, and my brother Scott. We’d get in some sort of van and drive to lakes and campgrounds all over British Columbia. Highlights of these trips were mainly getting pulled behind boats on tubes at high speeds and eating candy at high speeds. My Mom and Dad had a home-based manufacturing business in our basement employing a dozen or folks, so they worked from home, and we were around each other quite a bit. It was a marvel we didn’t take separate holidays just to get away from each other. We still travel together all the time.

Hanging with blue-footed boobies in the Galapagos

Hanging with blue-footed boobies in the Galapagos

From my experience, there’s no way to avoid jet-lag.

My only real advice is to get on with your life at your destination and tough it out. It’s just jet lag.

I usually have a rough cut idea of a big trip a few months in advance…

but more often than not, I buy a ticket somewhere at the very last minute and just figure it out.

I try to go blind as much as possible.

I always find the information in a place much more vivid and useful than pre-planning.

Guidebooks have their place, and are terrific tools.

But like all tools, they can be heavy and cumbersome. My advice is to travel with people who have guidebooks. That way you won’t have to lug them around, but you’ll still get the benefits!

Visiting rural Canada

Visiting rural Canada

I try to eat healthy and exercise wherever I am.

So many people seem to give up on exercise and eat junk when they travel. Why? Although it might be more of a challenge on the move, there’s nearly always a way to get exercise and find some safe healthy food. I always travel with running shoes and try to run 3 – 4 times a week, no matter what, no matter where. Some of the best travel experiences can happen while running in a new place, getting completely lost and then finding your way back to where you’re staying. Food can be tricky but buy some good fruits and veggies when you can and take some accountability for yourself! Find what works for you, and keep it up. Being healthy is better than being sick. Anywhere.

A deep fried Scorpion tastes exactly like what you’d think it does.

You can find them in Bangkok, and probably other places. Some guy bet me a beer to eat it. I pulled off the stinger so I’m not sure how that bit tastes. I wouldn’t recommend eating scorpion unless you have a guy buying you free beer to do so. Payment for dares in beers is always a good thing.

Making fowl friends in Costa Rica

Making fowl friends in Costa Rica

If it doesn’t all fit in your bag, push down harder.

People continually claim they’ve invented a miracle packing method. “Roll your pants” “Put your socks in first”  “Put everything in ziplock bags and push the air out.” Phooey. It’s pretty simple: your pack is a fixed amount of space. If your stuff doesn’t fit, push harder, or throw some stuff out. You probably don’t need all that junk anyhow. Buying a giant backpack is for suckers. Or people with big backs.

Dental floss is the ultimate thread and strong enough to use as a clothesline.

Why pack thread when there’s dental floss? It’s the strongest stuff ever for repairing holes in clothes or even backpacks. And throw away that giant clothesline with those huge pulleys! Once again, dental floss to the rescue. Also, it’s often mint-flavored, which is always nice. It’s not that bad at getting those chunks of corn out from between your teeth either.

Mugging for the camera with wife, Dom

Mugging for the camera with wife, Dom

The best museum in the world is the New York Subway Museum in Brooklyn.

What can I say, I’m a total transit nerd. Anything with trains and tunnels is a winner for me. One of my favorite things to do in new cities is just get on a bus or train and see where it goes.  Growing up in a place where a car was pretty much a necessity, it’s all a fun thrill for me. I’ve never been stoked to hit up the Louvre or the Guggenheim, but I’ll definitely go back to the NYC subway museum.

There’s nothing funnier than people who’ve stayed somewhere for a few days, think they’re locals and treat new arrivals with attitude.

Seriously dude? Backpackers can be some of the pettiest, most uptight and snobbiest people in the world. Hipsters with backpacks! But I wouldn’t want it any different. It makes the ‘hostel scene’ more interesting to say the least, and most of all, folks like this always make for great writing material. Sure, it may be sad, but it doesn’t mean it’s not funny!

When I travel I like to meet people and have fun.

Being out of my comfort zone is always interesting, but I find it gets old fast without fun breaks in between.

I’ve never really thought about pushing my limits or traveling better.

There’s actually very little difference between my daily life and “travel mode”.  I’ve had some of my most interesting travel experiences in Vancouver and Montreal, places I live the most. It’s amazing what’ just around the corner from your house. Just when you think you’ve figured it all out, wha-bam, crazy stuff transpires.

Riding the rails in Bangkok

Riding the rails in Bangkok

Bangkok, Thailand, is a favorite of mine.

It’s smelly, hot, busy, happy, full of travelers who say they hate it but secretly think it’s the best place ever, crowded, tasty, and infinitely interesting.

I rarely stay in places long enough to really get to know people, but when I do, I seem to get to know them very well.

I met this girl once on the road, stayed a couple nights, then a couple more, and never really left. We’ve been together for 8 years and married for 3.

I am horrible at making the decision about where to stay or eat when traveling in a group.

Most other people I travel with care about those sorts of things more than I so I hand over the reins and concentrate on things I’m better at, like purchasing outlandish clothing, or finding a place to buy beer.

My favorite place to visit is wherever I haven’t been yet.

I’ve had many enjoyable experiences in places that I’ve already visited, but it’s always more exciting to enter a new land filled with strange foods and people, and just soak it all in. Luckily the world is really big and there’s always another place to check out just around the corner.

Have Fun!

Online Kyle can be found at the site above and at

“How I Travel” is a new BootsnAll series publishing every Tuesday in an effort to look at the unique and diverse travel habits of some of the world’s most well known and proficient road warriors. Got ideas for who we should talk to? Drop us a note.

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all photographs provided by Kyle MacDonald and may not be used without permission


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Older comments on How I Travel: Kyle MacDonald

Stephen Bramucci
24 March 2010

Post Script: Kyle joined the project while traveling through India with his wife and best friend. He was putting his travel philosophy into words and actions at the same time and, when you read it, you can see what a fantastic job he did.

Trisha Miller
24 March 2010

I love the idea of having someone else carry the guidebooks. That’s actually a pretty brave move, but sometimes you have to give up a little control in order to relax and just experience things.