HANGZHOU, China- I first met Loren Everly in the windswept, desolate city of Ulanbaatar, Mongolia. We were both staying at the Golden Gobi guesthouse and bonded when I offered him an orange (a real delicacy in the non-fertile shrublands of the Gobi) and, out of sheer courtesy, he refused to accept more than half of it. In this way, we became fast friends and lazed around the comfortable couches of the guesthouse for the next week. We both needed to rest, as Loren just finished a hitch hiking journey across China and I had been traveling in India and China for the previous eight months. The empty plains of Mongolia seemed to be the perfect decompression center for the both of us, and we passed day after day just idly chatting with other travelers, lazily reading from books, and working on our websites. But soon this easy life reach the end of its tether, and one morning Loren said to me, “I am going to get a train ticket back to China, do you want me to pick one up for you as well?”
I needed to ponder Loren’s offer for a few moments, as I was planning to be in Mongolia for the next three months, and this was a proposition to travel in the exact opposite direction. But Loren was full of glorious talk about hitch-hiking back across China and making it down to a beautiful lady in Suzhou. It seemed as if this journey would be a truly romantic adventure in all regards, and I have a very difficult time turning my back on such propositions. My choices were presented before me: three months of the beautiful, yet somewhat lonely emptiness of Mongolia or a mad hitch-hiking journey back across the Old Middle Kingdom, so a knight of a traveler could scoop up his princess at the end of the road. As Harry Franck once wrote, “Plans are quickly made in the vagabond world,” and I actualized this sentiment as I had Loren pick me up a train ticket.
During this hitch-hiking voyage across China, I realized that Loren Everly is not an ordinary traveler: he is a wandering man displaced from the old glory days of the vagabond, a tramp who ventures far beyond his own time of tourism and phoney pay- per- adventure vanity. Loren is a real traveler in the flesh, the kind of vagabond that you often read of in books and only seldom meet in real life. After a couple days of being with him, I realized that he was not man, but traveling machine.
First off, he has the makings of a photographic memory and can permanently memorize maps, highway junctures, and landmarkless, barren roads with only a brief glance. I remember the lax way that he consulted an internet map before our China journey. He simple pulled up a really awful illustration of China’s highway system, looked at it for a moment, took a few brief notes on a yellow post-it note, and memorized the whole thing. At this time, I thought to myself that there would be no way that he could utilize that horrible internet cartoon map and his sketchy notes, and that we would be standing out in the middle of some knotted, Beijing highway cluster with no idea how to get anywhere. But I was wrong. Loren navigated the Chinese highway system with a deft agility that was beyond my comprehension. We would be standing on a ramp of a busy highway with trucks and cars screaming by at top speed in all directions, and Loren would just calmly point to a far off juncture in a sea of overpasses, on ramps, off ramps, and Chinese road signs and be like, “I think that is our road.” And he would be correct. I am still bewildered by his astute navigational ability. If I am ever cast adrift in the middle of a great ocean, I can only hope that Loren Everly is sitting right there with me to find our way back to shore.
Secondly, he knows how to hold onto his bean money. I feel that this is one of the greatest skills that a wanderer can have in his bag, as, “the traveler who saves a dollar today, has a dollar to travel another day.” Loren seems to know this little adage well, and is ingenious at coming up with little ways of saving money while on the Road. He knows that cheap can always be cheaper, and lets it show in all aspects of his travels. At multiple junctures in our hitch hiking voyage we would be picked up by people who wanted us to pay them for their transportation service. Loren would not hear of such an impropriety, as Americans do not pay to hitch-hike, and would promptly jump out of the vehicle without shedding a dime. He also is not afraid to push the limits a little, and give a crooked bus conductor the old “stone-face” to avoid having to pay an inflated price. We were in a particularly rough stretch of highway in the industrial wasteland that surrounds Beijing, so we flagged down a bus just to get to a better location for hitching. The conductor on this bus tried to charge us a ridiculous amount of money for the short distance that we wished to travel, so Loren directed me to sit in my seat and look out the window without saying anything. This tactic proved to be a success, and we were able to ignore the conductor’s banter until we jumped off the bus at the next highway juncture without losing any money.
Loren Everly also seems able to go without many basic life necessities while traveling, and is not afraid of uncomfortable circumstances. One thing that really impressed me in this regard is that he doesn’t seem to need much food while on the Road. I suppose the fact that being a life long vegetarian and travelling in such a meat centric country as China may have had something to do with this, but the fact still stands that he was able to make the entire trip from Ulanbaatar to Shanghai on a lump of cheese, an ice cream cone, and a bag of cookies. Loren is also able to put general creature comforts and so-called basic necessities on hold while on the Road, and is able to make the most of the conditions that providence dishes up for him. If traveling calls for being thirsty, Loren does not drink; if there is no food, Loren does not eat; if a cheap bed is not available, Loren sleeps under a tree; if the cost of public transport is too high Loren walks.
In point, Loren Everly is a traveller’s traveller. He is truly an all-star shining out in this profession of survey vagabonds. I learned a lot about living and traveling from Loren’s example.
But his steadfast astuteness proved to be a little too much for me as we were standing on the highway outside of Tai Shan for five hours with empty bellies and no evident prospect of getting a lift. My biological needs were crying out to me to call it a day and go into the city for a big dish of eggs and tomatoes with white rice and a bottle of beer. So I bid farewell to Loren with a big hug, ran to the other side of the highway, and flagged down a bus going into the city. This put a cap on my travels with Loren Everly, but as I turned around and shot one last look back at him stubbornly standing on the side of the highway with his thumb defiantly stuck out at his side, I knew that I would someday walk down the Open Road with him again.
I found out later that he got a ride around ten minutes after I left him on that highway which took him all the way to his lady in Suzhou. So it is written, Loren completed a hitch-hiking journey from Mongolia to Shanghai on a lump of cheese, an ice cream cone, a bag of cookies, an ingenious memory, and brilliant travel instincts. So being, he firmly earned my respect.
Loren Everly is now 27 years old and has been on the Road since his late teens. He grew up in Hawai’i and made his first jump up to Alaska while still a university student. From here he has traveled and lived in Iceland, Scandinavia, Western and Eastern Europe, Russia, Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, Tibet, China, Korea, and Japan. I once asked him what all of this travelling has taught him about global culture, and he simply replied, “ This is what I have found. That there are differences around the world, but they are more minor than they are made out to be.” Wise words from an incredibly astute, seasoned traveler.
After traveling with Loren across China, it became apparent that he possesses a large amount of hard earned, traveling knowledge. Henceforth, I was provoked to conduct the following interview with him to serve as the feature article for the first issue of Vagabond Song, as Loren is a true vagabond in ever sense of the title.
Can you give a brief descriptions of your travels up to now? What countries have you been to? For how long?I’ve been to a lot of countries, between seventy and eighty. So a list of them would be a bit excessive. I’ve lived most of my life in Hawai’i where I was born and raised, when I first moved away I went to Alaska. This was for an exchange program during university, and I ended up transferring there and spending two years in Alaska. Next I lived in Quebec for five months, and for a university exchange program. After that I used university again to go to South Africa where I lived for six months. While not at university there I wandered about Southern Africa. Going as far north as Malawi. After finishing my bachelors degree back in Alaska I moved to Iceland. On and off I ended up spending two years in Iceland. In Iceland I wanted to get a job teaching English but I wasn’t qualified. So I went to Hungary for a month to take a CELTA course (Cambridge English Language Teaching Adults). While I was in Iceland I started going to university again and to broaden my studies I ended up taking a four month detour in Finland. Eventually the wider world was calling and I left Europe for Asia, ending up in South Korea for six months. There are other countries I have spent a decent amount of time in, more than a month, sometimes a few months, but since I was traveling the whole time, or staying with friends and family I don’t consider them places I’ve lived. These are Russia, China, India and Japan.
Why did you first begin traveling?I have had a significant interest in the wider world for as long as I can remember. I started collecting coins when I was eight years old and that helped to fuel a great interest in geography, and history. Also I didn’t have a lot of opportunity to travel while growing up. I come from a rural island in Hawai’i and it may have contributed to permanent feelings of cabin fever.
Before you set out on your journeys, did you ever think that you would have spent this much time on the Road?
I didn’t really expect to spend so much time traveling. It wasn’t part of a grand plan. It has become a lifestyle and I am always drawn down the road, around the next bend and to the next city on a map, or a beautiful waterfall someone tells me about. The roads are all connected and you can never really come to the end of it.
How much money do you usually spend per day in various regions of the world? (Example: Europe- how much?, East Asia- how much?, South Asia? Africa? China? SE Asia? North America?)It varies a lot. I tend to be very cheap, less so if I am traveling with someone else. I am also quite bad at keeping track of exactly how much I spend per day. Probably the two cheapest countries I have traveled through are Bangladesh and India. The most expensive was easily North Korea. Although that is a special circumstance. I will save money by sleeping outside sometimes, although it is also a laziness, I don’t like to look for lodging after dark, and sometimes it just isn’t convenient to find it. The last year and a half I have used couchsurfing for free lodging, and more importantly nice people to meet along the way and show me around. I can’t give concrete dollar figures to my daily expenses. Generally I have found South Asia to be the cheapest part of the world, followed by South East Asia, Africa and China, next is East Asia, then Europe, Japan, and North America. Japan is far more expensive then anywhere else in Asia.
How do you get money to travel with? Do you work on the Road?
I work. I take whatever job comes my way, generally I am not particularly satisfied with it and I quit before too long. I tend to live simply and I am usually able to save a lot of money. I don’t feel that I am working on the road, for me it feels like I set a series of temporary bases to use as launching pads to explore the surrounding region. So while I lived for a while in Iceland I made frequent trips around Europe, South Africa was a base for the southern third of the continent, and South Korea for most of Asia.
What is your usual mode of transport while travelling?I like to travel overland (or oversea) as much as possible. It has become rather an obsession. The root is that I feel a need to see what is between any two places, and I don’t feel I get that in the air. Once I have traveled by surface between two points I am less opposed to air travel. Also after months on the road a trip in the air is magical. It is so quick and comfortable. Also air travel tends to be expensive and the less I spend the more time I can stay on the road. I love trains and ships, if those aren’t an option then I will take buses, now and then I like to hitchhike, it is a good change of pace. You meet interesting people you wouldn’t otherwise come across. Sometimes it is good to do a walkabout, to ride a horse. This isn’t really traveling transport though, it is more side adventures.
What are your feelings about guidebooks?
I have mixed feelings about guidebooks. I think there inaccurate, heavy and expensive. But they can be quite helpful at times as well. I used to search more for the road less traveled exclusively. Now I am more mellow about it. I have found that if a place is important in a Lonely Planet book then it will be full of travelers. What I generally like to do now is to travel out in the middle of nowhere for a while, and when I get tired of not having anyone to talk to and the comforts of tourist infrastructure then it is nice to go where the tourists are. I don’t generally travel with guidebooks myself, but I will often ask to take a look at the guidebooks of others. So sometimes I use them, but I don’t trust them, and in using them I feel like I am cheating ;).
How do you think travelling has changed you as a person?
The short answer is not much. I feel I am the same person I always was. Looking at my effect on others I think I have become more patient, and resourceful.
How has travelling changed the way that you view the world?
Going to a place, even for a short time always gives me a greater depth of feeling about it. It is very different to read about some country in the news and remember what it is like to get a meal there, to find somewhere to sleep or have a chat with a local. The general view is always a stereotype. It has to be because you can not have depth in the feeling of places you have never been, and least not in the way of a walk in their streets gives you.
Why do you travel?
I travel because I am lazy and it is the easiest way to live.
After being on the Road for so long and travelling through so many countries and cultures, what, in general, do you think about the present state of the human species?
I think times are good, the world at the moment is probably easier to go around in then at any time in history, the infrastructure is getting better in most parts of the world and most societies and governments are if not welcoming at least not closed. I think this is a calm before a more chaotic period as problems with energy production, water supply and environmental damage create a less stable world.
What advice do you have for someone who aspires to travel but hesitates because of economic/ perceived conflicting responsibility/ fear of the future/ fear of the unknown factors?Just get out there. It is easier than you think. I have never made much money, and I spend a good deal of my time traveling the world. You don’t need so much stuff, and without it you are free. Most people in the world are wonderful and will help you when you are looking for something. You don’t need to know the language. I fear the future too, so get out there while it is easy and before times get tough.
Could you tell a me a story from your travels?In the spring of 2001 I was a student at university in Alaska. Spring break was coming up and I didn’t have any money to head out of town. This was early March and snow was still on the ground. I’d heard of a nice hot springs down in British Columbia and decided to go and check it out. My boss said it was crazy and my friends as well. I was not prepared very well at all. I had no tent, borrowed a sleeping bag, had no large backpack to throw it in and so I took a duffel bag.
The first day wasn’t so bad. I got heaps of rides, long ones and short ones. A lot of interesting folks, religious fundamentalists and hippies. Old and young. My last ride came as night was coming on, it was a very drunk Indian who dropped me off at a pull out. There was deep snow on the ground and one of those signs telling about the landscape below. This sign was a sort of box and I noticed there was a board missing from the back. So with freezing hands and my leatherman I pried another one off and crawled inside. It was very cold, but at least I was out of the wind. It was a long night, too cold to sleep, and I was in too small a space to lie down. At some point in the night I decided to light a fire with a book I got from one of my religious fundamentalist rides. It made my little din smoky and I almost burned my borrowed sleeping bag, but it was much better. In the morning I caught a ride with a guy going all the way to Seattle.
It was a nervous time for me at the Canadian border at Beaver Creek, the guard took me inside to ask a few questions, but he was nice. Just wanted to know if I had enough money and knew what I was doing hitching to Canada.
There was the rest stop with coyotes. I remember their weary fear, them devouring an apple I threw their way. I wouldn’t want to spend a night with them though.
Lunch in Whitehorse. Warmth. The Alcan is a beautiful road, you can be on it for hours alone, it winds endlessly through the forests and swamps, here and there they work on it. In all seasons, battling against the permafrost that always opens holes, creates waves in the road. By the time my ride was ready to sleep we were by Liard hot springs in northern B.C. not quite at the place though. He slept in his car and I curled up half under it. In the gravel by the roadside, a truck passing now and then. It was warmer than Alaska at least. In the morning I was at Liard. A park closed for the winter. Trudging through thick snow. Board walks. Then warm pools, hot pools. All to myself. There were two areas, one main one and another a little way away. Closed for some reason. I spent the whole day in and out of the hot water, surrounded by snow and forest.
At night I decided to sleep in a changing room to be out of the wind. Late at night or in the early morning hours some group came through drinking and loud. Fortunately they didn’t need to change as I was too tired to be social, and why was I sleeping in a changing room anyway?
So in the morning I decided to head back. I bought some water from a shop across the street, and started walking. I went along for some hours without any luck. Then a guy picked me up who was heading to Alaska from Florida. I had my ride all the way back to Fairbanks! He stopped for the night in Haines Junction and let me sleep on the floor of his motel room. So I had a luxury time going back. I was dropped at my door after about 2100km and 4 nights out. My friends were happy to see me and surprised I was back so soon after going to B.C. It was a lovely trip and one of the stupidest things I’ve done. I don’t recommend hitching in March in Alaska and Northern Canada. You will meet some nice people, but it is too cold to be a very wise thing to do.
Where are you planning on going next?I will be teaching English in Saudi Arabia. On the way I will visit some friends in New England and Ontario.
To close this interview, do you think that you will always be on the Road, or do you have fantasies of settling down somewhere for the long haul?I don’t plan to stay a vagabond forever. I do fantasize about a permanent base. Somewhere I can relax, make cozy. I would like to try traveling in a grander and more expensive style. To do that I will have to work longer before quitting or get a better job. I suppose my ideal is finding a well paying job that requires travel and allows for a lot of side trips. I don’t think I could ever completely settle now. But I do want a base.
Loren Everly is a traveller and a writer. Please visit his website at www.loreneverly.org to read his travel writings, travel blog, and awesome collection of license plate and telephone booth photographs from around the world.