Traveling has been the underlying guiding force in my adult life. Though I’ve led several lives already, from oil rig engineer in the Persian Gulf, to MBA student in Spain, to renewable energy business developer in Denmark, to Happy Nomad all over the world, my passion for traveling is about the only constant in an otherwise perpetually chaotic and evolving life. It took nearly a decade of living abroad to figure out that my present incarnation, a wandering do-gooder, is who I am supposed to be.
Achieving my false dream
I was brought up in the U.S. by an immigrant father and a mother who was afforded few breaks in life. Both worked harder than I can imagine to achieve their sliver of middle class paradise. It was within this paradigm, the American Dream if you will, that I approached life. My hard work would lead to success, and that success would lead to happiness.
Growing up in the dot com bubble, I chose computer engineering over medicine. My personality at the time fit engineering quite well. I was rigid, introverted, and thought I was smarter than everyone else.
As luck would have it; however, my senior year of college at Ohio State University gave me an opportunity to stick my toe in non-conformist waters. I did a study abroad trip to Egypt during spring break, quite a departure from the engineering curriculum, and it completely blew my mind. Once you get over the cost of the plane tickets, traveling really didn’t seem all that hard, inaccessible, or dangerous. And it gave me the chance to fulfill my childhood dream of seeing the pyramids.
I came back from Egypt a different person. I knew I had to work abroad as my curiosity about the rest of the world had increased 100-fold. By chance, an oil services company offering global careers recruited on campus the week after I got back. It was a perfect fit, and in the autumn of 2004 I packed my bags for Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, and later Doha, Qatar.
I made a lot of money and got to travel like crazy. But I quickly saw my job as a golden prison slowly consuming me.
It was never lost on me how lucky I was, but it just wasn’t the life I wanted to live.
I started applying to business schools to change my career to something more positive. I was accepted to one of the top business schools in the world. The fact that it was in Spain was the icing on the cake.
In Spain I learned how to loosen up more, to see life from an enjoyment-maximization angle instead of an income-maximization angle, and I made tons of life-long friends.
It was also in business school that I figured out what I wanted to do with my life and where I wanted to live. I wanted to atone for my sins in the oil industry, and I wanted to live in a very progressive place. Thus, the dream was born: working in the renewable energy industry in Scandinavia.
It took lots and lots of hard work, but I achieved my dream. I got a job with a major wind power manufacturer in Denmark. But very quickly, within the first three months, I realized I still wasn’t happy at all.
I had some of the best social benefits in the world and didn’t have to worry about anything. But I was miserable. I never really got depressed, but for about a month I tried to find a way to convince myself I was living the dream. It was never lost on me how lucky I was, but it just wasn’t the life I wanted to live.
It took a while, but I finally realized that not being happy with the status quo was a gift. I’m different. Being different is ok. Embracing one’s uniqueness is often a recipe for happiness, maybe even success.
Once I accepted this gift, then came the hard part. “What do I do now?”
The rat race has very defined rules, and if I don’t want to play by them, I need to figure out an alternative for my life.
The process of opening up an internal dialog with myself was fascinating. It was as if I could find inspiration in the most mundane things, like I was in tune with the world around me in a way I hadn’t been before. Newspaper articles, books I’d never heard of, friends doing amazing things – all were inspirations to help me hone in on my inner voice.
No voice was louder than the traveler within me. I had reserved a short trip to Prague as a present to myself upon landing my job. I had never been there, and although I would be going there in wintry January, I was really looking forward to traveling again.
But whatever I would do, traveling would form the backbone of it.
I guess it helped that the weather was sunny and relatively warm, but it’s hard to put into words how great I felt there. It was as if parts of me, long dormant, were brought back to life. The stress seemed to melt away, my couchsurfing host was incredibly interesting, and I immediately felt at home in a place I’d never been to before.
When I got back I knew what needed to be done. I decided to leave my job five months later, and between now and then I had to figure out what to do. But whatever I would do, traveling would form the backbone of it.
I set off on an inward quest asking myself basic questions I had never really pondered. For example, I had never asked myself what my passions are in life. Now that I live a life based on my passions, it’s hard to imagine I was going through life without using the most basic of compasses. But at the time, it was a really hard question to answer, and I had only set superficial financial or career goals up until that point.
The passions I came up were traveling, writing, helping others, teaching, learning, and telling stories.
Traveling was easy, though I didn’t want to do the hit-and-run traveling I had become accustomed to under time pressure. I wanted to really get to know the people, to learn from them and integrate myself as much as possible. I also sought to get off the tourist trail and go to the middle of nowhere as much as possible. The monuments wouldn’t be important this time, just the people.
For writing I created my website. It wouldn’t be enough to just travel. I wanted to share what I was learning, show the other side of the story of the places I visit, and inspire others to follow their dreams like I am doing.
I love learning and it’s impossible to go a day as a traveler without learning something new.
To help people I decided to volunteer my way around the world. It would also help me meet local people. Though my goal would be to leave each place better than how I found it, I inevitably knew that I’d end up taking more than I could give. Humanity is awesome, and that’s just the way it goes. But I knew that I’d spend the rest of my life helping those in need based on what I learn on the road – probably in the form of my own NGO.
I love learning, and it’s impossible to go a day as a traveler without learning something new. On many days you can’t go an hour without learning something new. And learning through experiences leaves a permanently lasting impression you can’t forget. What you learn becomes a part of you.
Similarly, I like teaching. Whether it’s being an ambassador for the places I’ve been or the causes close to my heart, I enjoy challenging preconceived notions and stereotypes. I also enjoy helping to turn the light on in young minds, and teaching math, science, English, or anything is very rewarding for me.
Finally, I enjoy telling stories. At heart, we’re all kids, and none of us can resist a good story. I enjoy connecting with others by sharing my experiences and stories – and hopefully making people laugh.
I took these six passions and put them in a blender. After blending, what I dubbed The Happy Nomad Tour began.
Taking the plunge
When you go through the process of figuring out your passions, your purpose, your very essence, there comes a point where you can no longer look back. The life you’ve lived up until that point is valid, and it brought you there, but like a butterfly emerging from its cocoon, it doesn’t look back. It instead spreads its wings, takes a dive, and relishes its newfound ability to fly while living up to its innate destiny.
I call that process The Happiness Plunge, and it’s where I came up with the title for my website.
In my case, I had crossed the tipping point and knew I could never go back to my old life. The future was so bright, so exciting, and so meaningful.
I call it a plunge because often you can’t expect what is to come, but having gone through the self-discovery process you aren’t afraid. It’s the opposite, in fact. You are confident in yourself your ability to succeed, though your definition of success may not match with society’s definition. And the freefall is the most enjoyable part, not the scariest part. The key is to keep evolving and adapting so you never hit the ground.
In my case, I quit my job, gave myself a month to be at home with my family, and prepared for the adventure of a lifetime.
A dream come true
I never could have imagined just how fulfilling this trip was going to be. Fulfilling doesn’t even begin to describe it. Is there a word in English that means “the sensation your soul is being hugged by a fairy..and Chuck Norris?”
At each stage of my life, whether it was working in the Middle East, moving to Spain, or looking for jobs in Scandinavia, there have been “what the heck am I doing” moments. But on this trip I have never had one of those moments, not even on the first night when I was awakened at 3am at the Monterrey, Mexico bus station by a federal policeman pointing a machine gun in my face.
Instead, I’ve loved every single day of this trip so far, even the three days I was robbed and the countless days I’ve been sick. It has truly been a journey of transformation for me.
I’m naturally shy and introverted. For the past decade I’ve been trying to gradually become less and less so. This trip was exactly what the doctor ordered.
This trip is all about the people. Being shy often meant I lost something when interacting with others. By pushing my shyness to its limits and forcing myself into uncomfortable situations I had to succeed in, my shyness is now a relic of the past and confidence is the norm.
Unfortunately, any good traveler will tell you that the more he travels, the more he realizes how little he knows about the world. It’s one of those black holes you find in life – where each step you take sets you farther and farther from your destination. But knowledge and awareness isn’t a destination.
By pushing my shyness to its limits and forcing myself into uncomfortable situations I had to succeed in, my shyness is now a relic of the past and confidence is the norm.
Before this trip I was an employee and had never volunteered. During this trip I have been my own boss as well as a volunteer for countless organizations. I used to live a life serving myself, but thanks to my experiences I intend on spending the rest of my life serving others. My previous six-figure corporate life gave me financial freedom, but serving others gives me a satisfaction I would never find in the corporate world.
I had a hypothesis before starting this trip that the people of this world were inherently good and that there was more that united us than divided us. I dove in headfirst, and this is exactly what I’ve found. I’m not sure how to explain the sheer quantity of generosity I’ve been shown by complete strangers, but it’s more than any one person should receive in a lifetime.
My friends and family were relatively accepting of my decision to be a nomad when I started my trip, though all thought I was crazy for giving up my “great life.” Maybe I am a little crazy, but I find the traditional way of approaching life even more crazy. Now that things have gone well, in a way I’ve gone from outcast to accepted, and in my small sphere of influence my story has encouraged all who know me to reevaluate their own lives. Now the goal is to expand my sphere of influence. I believe the more people there are out there pursuing their passions, the better this world will be.
Maybe I am a little crazy, but I find the traditional way of approaching life even more crazy.
I’ve learned to be more accepting. There is very little we can change in the world. But focusing your efforts on things you can change related to the causes most important to you is a great place to start – and accept the rest.
I am who I want to be. Traveling has empowered me to live a life as close to my potential as possible. And I’ve just gotten started. I envision a future running an NGO. I owe a debt of gratitude to all the amazing people I’ve met along the way on my trip, and I plan to spend the rest of my life paying off that debt and making the world a better place.
But in the meantime, I still have a couple years of being a happy nomad left in me. Even if I settle down and start an NGO, I don’t think I’ll ever depart from the nomadic way of life. It may manifest itself differently, but once a nomad always a nomad…
To read more from and about Adam Pervez, check out his author bio.
Read more inspirational travel stories from normal people who have made travel a top priority and check out resources to help you do the same:
- Escape the Rat Race
- From Italy to China: A Leap of Faith in the Mouth of the Dragon
- Stop and Smell the Daffodils
- Travel in India: A Healing Journey
- Confessions of a Lifestyle Traveler
- Getting Your Boots Dirty: How Volunteering in Africa Changed Me
- From Cubicle to Coffee Shop: How Living in Santiago, Chile Changed Me
- Why We Decided to Road Trip Across Europe in a Self-Built Campervan
- Travel Made me Who I Am Today
- How a Dog Walk Changed My Life Forever
- Why You Should Forgo the American Dream and Let Travel Transform Your Life
- Getting Outside The Box: One Family’s Journey to Full Time Travel
- Check out our RTW Traveler Profiles and fill one out yourself
- Want some help planning your get-away from a BootsnAll team member?
Photo credits: Fred Hsu, all other photos courtesy of the author and may not be used without permission.