How 6 young friends started chasing the world

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Before I filmed an entire season of Chasing the World in cutting-edge virtual reality, my closest friends and I set off to create a separate project of the same name. It was a television pilot that we made right after graduating University in the Sumatran jungle, and it even won the Independent Television Film Festival.

This is the story of how that project came to be, which subsequently led me to create the virtual reality travel series today.

Well, I wish I could tell you that we fell into a windfall of funding. That would have made everything so easy! But the real story is much crazier— a chaotic mix of irrational decisions, blind optimism, hard work, and maybe even a little bit of fate.

Let me begin with a question:

What did you do when you graduated from school? Many people dive straight into a career. Or sometimes, they apply to go back to do more school. To us, both of those options just don’t seem right. I mean, we’re young, and we’ll only be this young once. There must be a way to escape a life sentence of doing what everyone else is doing. But… how?

Our Answer: Australia.

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Yes, we all just randomly up and moved to Sydney, Australia. Woah.

“What?! You’re moving to Australia?!” was the consistent reaction among our family and friends. But the six of us made the decision together: me (Danny), Arielle, Patrick, Kelsey, Katy and Champion. That’s right, we were temporarily moving to Australia, and with the purchase of a one-year working holiday visa ($350) we were departing the “Land of the Free” and entering the land of higher wages and no worries. Champion was the first to depart, proving to all of us that it was possible. Then, after a few months of penny-pinching until each of us managed to scrape together $3,000, our adventure down under began.

But we knew we wouldn’t last long unless we found a job in Sydney immediately.

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We called these tiny hostel beds home for a while…

The gritty details of our time together in Sydney will be saved for another post, so I’ll summarize by saying this: we lived in shitty accommodation and worked ridiculous odd jobs. We applied to a myriad of temp agencies and bounced between the weirdest jobs imaginable— cereal factories, hospital offices, beach bars, bakeries… you name it! We were backpackers living a carefree adventure and each weird experience was a chance to step out of our comfort zone. Furthermore, we soon discovered that Australia pays all of its employees generously ($25 an hour to stand on a street corner and gather signatures?! I’ll take it!)

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We did not just work… we did other things too

Suddenly, we found ourselves saving some money in a way we never could in America… too easy! We were on the other side of the world and we had each saved an extra $1,000 to do something crazy. But we wanted to create something in the process. Before long, the obvious conclusion came to us: a travel show.

I mean, think about it– what travel show out there actually captures what it’s really like to travel as a broke young backpacker? Most travel shows are scripted and revolve around a celebrity, or have massive film crews following them around. The stars had aligned for us to self-document and create something truly unique and real.

We soon discovered that round trip flights to Singapore were only $300 due to a lucky promotion. After scouring the depths of the internet in search of an exciting off-the-grid travel destination near Singapore, we stumbled across a message board where a lone faceless man recollected his remote adventure in the Sumatran jungle with a mysterious guide named Obi Wan.

 

And the rest is history.

 

3 Reasons To Drop Everything and Travel Now

1

It has never been easier to discover new places.

Thanks to the explosion of the internet and social media, it has never been easier to experience adventures that were previously only discovered by word of mouth. The internet is flooded with accounts of personal discoveries made by travelers just waiting for you to follow in their footsteps. While researching where to go for the pilot episode of Chasing the World, we knew that we needed to find a real adventure. We had heard that all the jungle treks in Thailand highlighted in the Lonely Planet books were safe, comfortable and tourist friendly. LAME. So after digging deep into google, we stumbled on a message board where a lone man in the depths of the internet recounted his adventure in North Sumatra, Indonesia with a jungle guide named Obiwan. One month later, we found ourselves stumbling out of a sketchy van in the middle of the Sumatran jungle at midnight, and… well, by now you know the rest.

We all had a panic attack while following Obiwan through the jungle at midnight...
We all had a panic attack while following Obiwan through the jungle at midnight…

New, epic adventures that are truly off the beaten track have never been so accessible. You just have to know what type of experience you’re looking for— and a mysterious man on the dark side of the internet is waiting to help you along the way.

Disclaimer: Please don’t get kidnapped.

 2

The world will never be the same as it is right now.

While the information available due to social media is great, it does have its downsides. One of the greatest joys of traveling is the freedom to spontaneously meet locals and discover secret destinations. The world is changing at an ever-increasing rate, and these secrets are becoming public knowledge.

Some countries such as Myanmar/Burma have just recently opened the door to travelers, and are in the process of going through a lot of changes as they transition to accommodate tourists. When I traveled to Bagan, we befriended a local who took us to a hidden pagoda with an underground system of tunnels. While descending into the depths of the ancient pyramid with no other tourists in sight, I was hit with the realization that this was one of the craziest moments I would ever experience in my life. In 2 years from now, I won’t be surprised if that same temple develops a $20 price tag and becomes packed to the brink with camera-crazed tourists who have just stumbled out of their tour bus.

We explored the Inthein Temple near Inle Lake in Myanmar, and we were the only ones there.
We explored the Inthein Temple near Inle Lake in Myanmar, and we were the only ones there.

The world is still full of plenty of secret adventures—you just have to discover them before everyone else does, and that might not be so easy in the future. After all, once a travel secret becomes public knowledge and the tourists arrive, it becomes less of an experience and more of an attraction.

3

Once you start traveling, the rest of your life will be an adventure.

Seriously, once you make the initial leap into a life of travel, it will free you in ways you never even knew were possible. When living in your home country, you are bound by a certain set of expectations and rules, and this is especially true for the millennial generation. In my case, my life had been relatively structured by society since birth, and now that I had graduated from college, the next logical step was to secure a job and begin my career like everyone else. But, instead I bought a one-way flight to Australia with $3,000 in my bank account, my friends and no plans.

When you embark on a flight to the other side of the world, all your preconceived ideas, biases and societal pressures go out the window. You are free to try new things, work odd jobs and do whatever your intuition wills. It’s liberating.

Arielle had to climb to the top of this cliff to show the world how liberated she's become.
Arielle had to climb to the top of this cliff to show the world how liberated she’s become.

We worked a series of odd jobs in Australia such as Greenpeace canvassers, filling cereal boxes for Kelloggs, assistants in hospitals and temps in random technology companies. Each new job didn’t necessarily look good on our resumes, but we gained life experience that we would have never experienced back home. In my free time, I purchased and learned how to ride a motorcycle, became and advanced scuba diver, tried skydiving and consistently/spontaneously bought plane tickets to various destinations around Australia. Our experience culminated in our decision to purchase a whirlwind ticket to the North Sumatran jungle to film our travel-based reality show pilot.

For the rest of my life, I seriously doubt that I will ever lose the adventurous spirit that has been instilled in me since beginning this journey. Even when I do move home, I’ll continue to push the boundaries of my comfort zone.

I understand that traveling is not a realistic option for everyone. Commitments such as family, relationships and career often get in the way. However, if there is even a remote possibility that you can make it happen, go for it. Life is an adventure. Don’t let it be anything less.

So travel. Now.

Traveler Spotlight: Kelsey Johnson / “5 Things I’ll Change Next Time I Travel”

KELSEY:

Traveling in many ways is like the ultimate sport.
 

There are time changes to deal with, illnesses to avoid, languages to comprehend. Traveling presents you with a load of physical and mental challenges that you get better with over time. I am no travel pro, but there are a few things I would do differently the next time I travel, minor tweaks I’d make to improve my personal experience.

The 5 Things I Will Change the Next Time I Travel:

5) Be More Physically Adventurous

I’ve never been great at sports so doing athletic activities on holiday has always seemed daunting to me. Before our jungle trek in Bukit Lawang, Indonesia, my stomach was a volcano of roaring nerves. I almost considered staying back but after chatting with the locals I decided to go, and going was one of the best things I’ve ever done. Sure I may have been one of the slower members of our group, but that is actually the reason why I had a crazy chance encounter with a  wild Orangutan (more on that later). Plus, you get the best travel pictures in the  places that take the most work to get to. That being said…
 
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Here I am trekking in the rain in the Sumatran Jungle with cameras following me around. Madness.
 

4) Take More Pictures

I really can’t stand when someone has to pause a trip every few moments to take a photo. Like, “A trash can, wow, let me instagram this– just give me 20min to choose a filter.” My disdain for these people has led me to be someone who avoids taking pictures altogether. That, however, sucks when you get home and have nothing to show for your travels. The next time I travel I want to stop being so cool and embrace my inner tourist. Who cares if you slow down the group for a minute to grab moment. Remember the rule: Pics or it didn’t happen.
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Was this an inappropriate time for an Instagram? Okay, maybe… 🙂

3) Pack Less

There’s a part of me that feels like Occam’s razor rules my life. You know the rule that says that if I don’t pack my dressy gown and motorcycle boots, Brad Pitt is going to show up at my hostel door and offer to take me to an evening gala on the back of his bike. Fortunately/unfortunately this has never been the case. Instead I’ve usually ended up lugging around a giant backpack full of unnecessary outfits and styling tools (oh my god, what if I want to crimp instead of flat iron?). I’ve begun practising the Parisian fashion mindset of bringing a few items that can be styled many ways. I know my back will thank me and I’ll have that extra space for anything new I do pick up along the way.

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The Parisian fashion mindset is all you need.
 

2) Take Myself Less Seriously

It was only towards the end of our trip to Indonesia that I finally decided to get my carefully posed hair wet and let the Afro out. I was so worried about what people would think or how I’d look in pictures, but swimming in a natural waterfall washed all those reservations away, along with the makeup off my face… Traveling is the perfect reason to let go of self consciousness, forget about how you appear, and try new things. Who cares if you don’t get the hang of using chopsticks right off the bat… you will feel like a king when you finally reach your mouth without losing a noodle.
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1) Tell Myself Not to Sweat the Mistakes

Getting lost, running off schedule, and booking sub par accommodations are all a part of the travel experience. Things like this can be especially stressful when you’re traveling in a group or running on a tight budget (or are a plan-obsessed Virgo, like me), but mistakes are also inevitable. There are so many times where I’ve looked back at myself and thought “Man, why was I tripping over that?” Remember what Pumba said.
 

Breathe in: hakuna breathe out: matatta.

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What’s your 20/20 hindsight on traveling? Share your wisdom in the comments!

xo Kels