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Traveler Interview: Raam of RaamDev

Raam Dev is someone whom I consider a good friend of mine. He’s stayed in my house twice now. Yeah, he came back for a second visit! It might have been the beer, I’m not sure… Anyway, I’m really happy to be presenting today’s traveler interview with Raam Dev.

raamdevRaam, thank you for this interview! Could you please tell us a little about yourself first?

I’m a thinker, writer, and explorer. At 8th grade, my parents handed me the responsibility of teaching myself (I was home schooled my entire life). Fascinated by computers and technology, I taught myself web development and computer programming in my teens, inherited my parents anything-is-possible mindset, and jumped straight into working instead of pursuing a college degree (employers didn’t care much that I didn’t have a degree after they tested my knowledge).

Many years of climbing the career ladder and chasing dreams went by before I realized they were not my own and decided to redesign my life to better suit my nature of curiosity. I now live and travel with one backpack and a laptop. I’m fascinated by life, purpose, and meaning. How can we live better? Why are we here? What does it all mean? When I’m not writing computer code, I’m pondering those questions and writing about them.

Why did you decide to start travelling?

I’ve always wanted to see the world, to know that it was actually out there, to experience it with my own two eyes and my own two feet. I grew up without a television in the house, but my parents had a VCR and TV monitor and they would buy entire series of videos from National Geographic, PBS, and NOVA. I watched those series over and over, fascinated by everything.

But there came a point where I would watch those videos of kangaroos in the Australian Outback or the lions in the African Serengeti and I would be frustrated. Watching the world through a television, or later reading about the world through a computer screen, just wasn’t enough for me. I needed to be out there. I wanted to be the person behind the camera, not watching an edited version of what the camera captured.

So since I was a little boy, I’ve always known that I would travel the world one day. In my mind it was just a matter of when, not if.

One day, after putting it off for so, so many years and telling myself that I’d get to it eventually, I felt something inside me begin to die. It was that hope, that belief that I would one day travel and see the world. Something inside me was giving up. I knew right then and there that I needed to go now or it may never happen.

So the very next moment I opened a new text file on my laptop and started drafting my resignation letter. I emailed it to my boss that evening. Six months later, after selling nearly all my stuff, I packed one small backpack and left for India, just shy of my 28th birthday.

How long have you been travelling?

Technically I’ve been traveling since I was a little boy. My parents took me on a six-week trip to India when I was three years old. That trip is the basis for some of my earliest memories. My parents are entrepreneurial and they were always running a business of some type, often requiring some form of travel.

I spent a large amount of my childhood in the car gazing out the window during business road trips and marveling at the Earth from the sky on short flights to major cities around the USA. But even outside the actual traveling, I think of my childhood as being one long adventure. I was always outside in the backyard, turning over rocks and exploring the big world of tiny bugs. I would swim with fish and turtles and catch frogs. In my mind, I’ve always been traveling somewhere.

However, outside the family business trips I did as a child and early teen, I traveled very little. Until my trip to India in 2010, I had never been outside the USA (with the exception of Canada and the trip to India when I was three). I wanted to travel, but I always found a reason to make work more important, no matter how stressful or unfulfilling.

What’s your favourite country, and why?

That’s hard to say. I’ve only been to a few, namely India, Vietnam, Nepal, and Australia. I’m on a flight to Montenegro (in Central Europe) as I type this. Of the former countries I would have to say India was the most amazing. I’ve spent five months there and barely scratched the surface. India is incredibly diverse and culturally rich. Those five months felt like a lifetime and I can’t wait to go back. I still have so much of the world to see and explore.

What’s been your most memorable experience?

When I was in Nepal, a non-profit contacted me through my website and asked me to write about the work they were doing. I told them I couldn’t do that without meeting the people running the organization and seeing firsthand the work they were doing. To my surprise, I received an email back informing me that the owners’ brother could pick me up the next morning and show me around. I was a little wary about going somewhere with a stranger in a country that I didn’t know very well, but I took a chance.

The next morning I was picked up, on a motorcycle, and rode for the entire day through the rugged mountains of Nepal. The next day we got off the bike and hiked up into the mountains, across streams and fields of corn, to a little school nestled above the clouds. The non-profit was helping build schools in remote parts of Nepal so that children wouldn’t have to walk six hours to get to class each day.

After a lunch in one of the nearby huts, they led me out to the courtyard of the school where a hundred school children stood, all the boys on one side and all the girls on the other, creating a path for me walk between them. Every single child was holding a handpicked bouquet of wildflowers. As I walked past them, each one handed their flowers to me.

I had done nothing but visit and yet I was treated like a king. A few minutes later the teachers stood up one-by-one and gave a little speech in Nepali. Then they asked me to say something. I had never given a public speech of any kind. I was home schooled my whole life. I had never even stood in front of so many children before. But how could I say no? So I stood up and I said a few words (the words escape me now).

Wealthy donors had given millions of dollars to this non-profit and here I was, with a few hundred dollars in my bank account. What could I give? What could I do? That’s when I realized what I had that they didn’t: access to the world, physically and through my voice and my writing. I could reach people that they couldn’t. I could share their story. I could encourage others to give. I could encourage others to travel and see the world for what it really was. And that was likely worth more than any money I could donate.

What’s your average cost of travel per week?

That varies greatly by country. On my first trip outside of the USA, to India in 2010, I only had $1,500 USD in my bank account. I knew I was going to be gone for six months (I had a round-trip plane ticket with a return six months out), so I divided that $1500 up and made my budget $250/month.

Believe it or not, with a little effort $250/month is actually very doable in India. I ended up going to Vietnam and Nepal during those six months and this trip wasn’t about staying within budget, but rather enjoying this new experience. I did a little freelance work online while I was there to earn some extra money.

While I didn’t stay within the $250/month budget I did manage to average about $500/month, which included the additional expense of flying from India, to Vietnam and then to Nepal, and then back to India.

During my trip in 2010, and for a few months after, I kept a detailed record of exactly how much I spent living this lifestyle and I published the reports on my site. Lots of people found those reports helpful and I intend to start publishing them again.

What do you do to earn money?

For the first few years after I left my job, I found occasional remote freelance work using my programming and web development skills. The work was extremely sporadic and budgeting was challenging — some months I made $0 and other months I made $800 — but it was worth every ounce of the freedom.

In late 2012, I was approached by a small software company called WebSharks. They make a popular WordPress Membership Plugin calleds2Member. I was hired on to help with various aspects of the business and that work currently pays the bills. It also allows me to remain location independent, as the entire team works remotely.

My long-term ambitions are with making a living through creative work and I’m working towards making a full-time income through my writing.

What do you like and dislike about your lifestyle choice?

There’s nothing that I don’t like about this lifestyle. I’m living exactly how I want to live. I know that my lifestyle isn’t right for everyone, but everyone has a different path. This path feels right for me.

How has it changed you?

I see the world as my home and humanity as my family. The world feels both bigger and small all at the same time. I feel more grateful, more happy, and more at peace. I’m no longer so focused on myself and my own tiny world and instead see more of the bigger picture (but definitely not all of it; I’ve only scratched the surface). I feel a greater sense of purpose, even if I still have no idea what that purpose is.

What advice would you offer people who are thinking about doing the same thing?

Get rid of anything that doesn’t help you with your goal. If you want to travel the world, owning a car (or a bicycle, or a house, or a toaster) probably isn’t contributing to a goal of traveling indefinitely but rather keeping you from it.

Put yourself in the shoes of a future version of yourself who is living the lifestyle you want to live and ask that version of yourself what their world looks like. What does that future version of yourself have in their life? What kinds of choices do they make? What do they find important? Now start applying that mindset to the you of today. Start working towards that.

I was brought up believing in reincarnation, but who knows if we’re reborn? Why take the chance? If you only live once you may as well be the person you want to be, the person you feel inside that you were meant to be. You already have everything you need to get there. You just need to take the next step in that direction.

Thank you Raam, I really appreciate you taking the time to answer these questions. They’re inspirational. To the rest of you, I’ve been a subscriber of Raam’s letters for quite a while now, and I wholeheartedly recommend them to you. He’s a great thinker with some great insights about life, the universe and everything. 

You can find him over at raamdev.com

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