At 16 I was granted a film-making scholarship to Innerspark, a residential college-level course for the top artists from California school districts, at Cal Arts in Valencia. The teachers there advised against art school, and said I should learn from experience. So the conventional college track wasn't for me.
How could it be? My experimental mentality was reflected in my role models: Gandhi, Ansel Adams and Alexandra David-Neel, the early 1900s explorer whose works supposedly influenced early voices of America's Beat Generation.
I wanted to be the American Richard Branson billionaire but with minimalism, or the next Kerouac, without a drug addiction.
But understanding the world — experience — was my most pressing need. I applied to a study-abroad program, but after seeing the price tag, and having already worked hard at Whole Foods to save, I realized I could do the trip solo for far less.
At 17, my summer after junior year at Paly, I went to Europe for six weeks with my bicycle.
That trip changed my life. I came home, graduated early and returned to Europe for three months. In Spain I took a ferry to Morocco, and my experience in North Africa again changed my perspective. The signs were clear: Traveling was my passion, and would help me realize my dream of contributing to Palo Alto innovation.
Never on vacation, never with a guidebook, the aim of my travels was education. I immersed myself in different cultures, and learned about the human condition and the world via direct transmission.
I studied books on history and culture, and networked with other travelers to help decide where to go next. I traveled through Nepal, rural Thailand, India, Bangladesh and all over Central and South America.
I liked the Third World because for me it made life meaningful. I was immersed in reality. There was no escaping the constant experience of minimalism and the benefits of a frugal life. All around me in the most simple surroundings were the happiest people I had ever met.
While my peers were binge drinking or using study drugs to stay awake cramming in some college, I was ordaining as a monk in rural Thailand, or working 10 hours a day building an Eco-dome and digging up Mayan artifacts in the Guatemalan jungle.
I knew I had discovered an unconventional path to success. Instead of spending thousands of dollars to study a subject, one can work under practitioners in the field, learn from experience — and get paid. I immersed myself in sustainable communities in Central America. I analyzed Buddhist and Vedic teachings in temples and ashrams in Thailand, Nepal and India.
I studied and worked in 50 countries around the world and returned to many places several times.
"So who paid for it?" I have been asked. In a given month I spent $100 to $300. I'm self-supporting from my photography business in Palo Alto.
While exploring the meaning of life around the world I expressed myself through photography, writing and video. I discovered wonderful people, visited paradisaical places and learned valuable lessons.
Many changes people want and wait for in the world already exist. I saw the difference between the lonely individualist Western ideal and non-Western culture of community: a friendly togetherness that is impossible to ignore.
The point of this nomadism is clear — to devote my life to leading a new movement in alternative travel and education. I want to inspire young people to take time before or during college to see the world from a more three-dimensional perspective, so as to maximize the value of their college experience.
I'm ready to share my tools to experience a world where people are happy with food, water, shelter and family.
Now that I've seen how people can be genuinely happier with simple lives than with money, I am free to be satisfied with any outcome of my own life. With my methods one can go anywhere and be welcomed with open arms. Bike down a street and dozens will invite you to eat with them, or inquire where you're headed.
It's important for young people to recognize that there are teachers and lessons everywhere for one's entire life and to understand that the most significant lessons in life aren't in the curricula of Harvard or Stanford. The push for high-profile education can leave one with little or no time for introspection and developing life skills, integral to deciding one's future.
After six years discovering and practicing my international lifestyle what do I have to show for it? A global community and a portfolio of media and inventions that can change the way people perceive the world. I believe I'm ready to help reinvent the travel industry, or part of it. By writing a universal guidebook I'll expose people to the possibilities of the modern world, and teach people that virtually anybody can do this.
Over the years I've taken photos, made films and created a website to share my joy in independent experiential travel.
As time goes by I understand more that one does not need to live like me to realize that simply seeing one's surroundings in an open-minded and friendly way will change everything, at home and abroad.
I'm always happy to help people make the most out of their hard-earned travel time. Six years on the road may seem like a long time, but insha'Allah, it's just the beginning.
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