Storyteller Greg | Vagabonding Life travel blog

Greg joins Bull Run in Pamplona, Spain

Today’s Culture with Travel interview is with storyteller Greg from the Vagabonding Life travel blog.

Why do you love to travel? How do you think travel unites us or teaches us more about the world?

I’m Greg Rodgers. On December 31, 2005, I took one last look at the IBM building where I worked, then walked away forever. I did so at age 30 after eight years of Corporate America cubicle hell.

Running off into the night with only a backpack feels good. Really good.

Vagabonding travel turned out to be the best catalyst for self-development and life experience. It isn’t for everyone, but it definitely worked for me.

Before I woke up and unplugged, I was mired in an American Dream that wasn’t my dream at all. In a moment of clarity, I realized the things that make me happy cost very little. Outdoor adventures, reading, kung fu, growing food, time with loved ones – why wait until retirement?

I sold possessions and rearranged priorities. Obtaining happiness now gets more effort than obtaining money. Since 2006, I’ve been inspiring others through my vagabonding blog and backpacking travel site. I take no responsibility for grammar-induced eye injuries that may occur.

Greg in Indonesia
Greg in Indonesia

What surprising aspect of culture do you love about where you’re from (your specific town/city) that travelers may not be aware of?

Unless you’re into bourbon, racehorses, or Bluegrass music, you’ve probably never heard of my hometown: Lexington, Kentucky. All three are a serious business there.

Lexington claims the title as “horse capital of the world.” Real bourbon comes from the region. Both are the best in the world because of limestone in the water. It makes bones and bourbon strong.

One of Lexington’s lesser-known cultural blessings is the number of Irish people who settled in the region. You’ll hear the accent and see the flags all over town. Makes sense when you’re flying into the pleasant airport there: rolling green hills and horse farms abound! Plus, there’s good bourbon.

Which dish do you feel best represents where you’re specifically from? Share a picture and tell us why you love it!

First, out of a sense of duty, I’ve got to mention something. Hailing from Kentucky is inconvenient for international travelers. I dread the default “so where are you from?” question travelers answer 20 times per day. A certain, unmentionable fried chicken chain brutalized the good name of my state.

That unmentionable acronym was the first Western restaurant allowed to open in China in the 1980s. It’s still way more popular in Asia than it is here. We don’t eat it. Seriously.

Unfortunately, the most famous dish from my state was created by a sadist in Louisville. He may or may not have been trying to kill his customers with a heart attack on the spot. Look up “hot brown” and you’ll see what I mean.

Give me a giant, bloody, grilled-outside burger any day.

Greg in Rajasthan, India
Greg in Rajasthan, India

Share about a custom/tradition you observe, and talk about the role of family in your life. What does family mean to you?

My family doesn’t travel internationally. They’re also ninja worriers. Vagabonds who amass bad karma probably come back as the stressed-out family of bad vagabonds. It hasn’t been easy on my family knowing I’m usually doing something dangerous in the boonies.

In 2013, I was in the Philippines during Typhoon Haiyan. It was the largest storm ever recorded at landfall. The evening news at home aired plenty of death and destruction. Meanwhile, I was trapped in an affected area with no power and couldn’t contact home. Needless to say, I’ve made my family worry a lot over the years.

In 2016, I was lost in a blizzard while trekking in Nepal. Although wet, frostbit, and about to collapse, I pressed on at night until I found safety. I did so mainly because I didn’t want to hurt my family. A custom I observe is keeping a daily gratitude journal. I write four or five sentences every morning first thing. An entry always includes “I am so grateful for my family. Thank you.”

Greg in Mount Everest 2016
Greg in Mount Everest 2016

Art and dance can tell a deeper story about local culture. Tell us the story of a specific artwork or dance that has a meaning for you. Share a photo, if you can. (i.e. street art, festivals, paintings, architecture, woven artwork, a family heirloom, etc.)

I’ll go out of my way to see cultural dance. Polynesian, Latin, and Bollywood give me wonderful goosebumps. I’ll also go out of my way or feign injury to avoid dancing. It’s that bad. I can clear a beach party on a full moon. If I can find a brave enough teacher, learning Latin dance is on my bucket list of life goals.

Greg joins Bull Run in Pamplona, Spain
Greg joins Bull Run in Pamplona, Spain

Languages not only give us the power to communicate but also can unite us across cultures. Share a favorite saying you have, or teach us something in your native language.

I subscribe fully to the concept of linguistic relativity. Thought and world view are affected by language and available vocabulary. Myanmar is an excellent example. There are no words in Burmese for “democracy” or “racism” — two hot topics there now.

I’m very blessed as a native English speaker to be able to communicate easily while traveling. But the biggest step a traveler can take to better understand a local culture is to start learning some expressions in the language. Attempting the local language changes the entire experience.

When language fails, a smile is the most universal form of communication — except with monkeys. Don’t smile at them. Showing your teeth will get you attacked.

Greg in Sumatra, Indonesia
Greg in Sumatra, Indonesia

Have you ever met a stranger during your travels who made an impact on your life in a certain way, or maybe it was you who helped someone else? Share the story!

In January 2006, I was holed up in my Bangkok hostel. It was my first ever week outside of the United States. I was sick, alone, nervous, jet lagged, and dreadfully shy. I had made a terrible mistake by quitting my job and buying a one-way ticket. I just wanted to go home.

I decided to give Thailand one last chance by visiting Kanchanaburi. I didn’t have a guidebook, so I randomly picked the riverside town on a map. It was just four hours from Bangkok. I could still get that flight home easily enough.

At the Jolly Frog guesthouse, I met a 19-year-old German traveler who had been away from home for years. Her budget was $200 a month. She was hitchhiking, camping, and generally kicking ass on the road. She mentored me, taught me how to negotiate in Thai, and pretty much convinced me not to give up. We picked fruit (tamarinds and rambutans) for breakfast to save money.

I was a 30-year-old Army veteran and Corporate America escapee, but this 19-year-old traveler taught me a lot. Age doesn’t matter; life experience does. A month or two later, I was certain that vagabonding would be my new way of life. I didn’t know how at the time, but I wanted to help others share in the wonderment this world has to offer.

Over the years, inspirational people have arrived in my life with perfect timing. Thank you! I know I’ll never return to the cubicle. Instead, I’m going to spend my time on earth helping others to find happiness, and if they wish, to run off into the night.

Follow Greg’s adventures on his Vagabonding Life travel blog. You can also keep up with his travels on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

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