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It all started with a car crash. A speeding SUV ran a stop sign, jumped the curb and crashed into Robin Esrock’s bicycle as he peddled to work. The accident left him with a broken knee cap, a totalled bike and a $20,000 insurance settlement.
The South-African-born 32-year-old followed his dream and spent the money on travel. Robin quit his job, bought an around-the-world plane ticket and spent the next two years backpacking across five continents, through 36 countries.
“Right after the accident, I realized I was working so hard to make money, I’d forgotten to work hard at living.”
He went from downtown commuter to world traveller: Volcano boarding in Nicaragua, dune buggying in Dubai, body flying in New Zealand and biking the world’s most dangerous road in Bolivia.
While abroad, Esrock broke into travel writing. He pitched story ideas to editors, cultivated a following on his website, Modern Gonzo, and published stories in the Vancouver Sun, the Chicago Tribune and South China Morning Post.
Last year, in middle of nowhere Turkey, I met Robin. We were both typing away on our laptops, writing travel articles under tight deadlines. It’s rare to meet a fellow writer on the road, not to mention a young Canadian one. We talked about the travel biz, swapped tales and backpacking tips.
Flash forward to last week: I’m sitting across from Robin at an all-you-can-eat Indian buffet. Between bites of butter chicken, we had time for a little travel talk:
Q: What made you decide to quit your job and go travelling?
A: On my 30th birthday, after my accident, I craved change. After thinking of all reasons why I shouldn’t go — “I’m going to get sick, I’m too old, the world is too dangerous” — I finally said, “What the hell? Life’s too short.” I never looked back.
Q: What’s your craziest travel story?
A: I’ve fired AK-47s in Cambodia, peed at gunpoint in Russia, zip lined along the Great Wall of China, hiked active volcanoes in Chile, gone spelunking in Budapest and fed crocodiles in Malaysia.
Q: Favourite countries?
A: Brazil. Brazil. Brazil. Everything you hear about Brazil is true (except all the bad stuff.) Laos is also one of my favourites. It may be the poorest country in South East Asia, but it’s certainly the warmest and friendliest. I have a soft spot for Turkey and Argentina is very affordable, with five-star fine dining at Third-World prices.
Q: Has anything scary ever happen to you when on the road?
A: No. I’ve never been mugged, attacked or had my stuff stolen. After seeing the world and meeting so many people, I believe people are good. They want to help, not hurt you.
Q: What’s difficult about travel writing?
A: I tell people travel writing is a lifestyle, not a living. I continue to live out of backpack, I don’t have a home (unless you count my brother’s couch) and I don’t have money. I flew back from my around-the-world trip with $0.14 in my bank account but, despite all that, I feel incredibly lucky. I’m honoured to share my travel experiences through my website and my articles.
Q: Tell me about your cross-Canada speaking tour.
A: Modern Gonzo Gong Show is a slide show highlighting 20 of my favourite countries. It’s a two-hour journey around the world — without the bugs. In my talks, I want to inspire people to travel. Adventure travel can be a little intimidating but it doesn’t have to be. The world isn’t that scary. I was just a normal guy who took a risk; anyone can do it.
Modern Gonzo Gong Show is a free national speaking tour presented by Travel Cuts. For dates or more on Robin’s travels visit www.moderngonzo.com.
Julia Dimon is editor of The Travel Junkie, an online magazine for independent travellers. She can be reached at www.thetraveljunkie.ca.