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Would you walk around the world?
Tom Boerman, a Dutchman, started last May to walk around the world; a trip like that will take many years to complete. We spoke about his fascinating journey, his motivation, and his experiences.
On the morning of May 8th, 2021, Tom Boerman shouldered his backpack, added some food for a few days, waved goodbye to family and friends, and walked out of the Dutch town of Sliedrecht. Then he started a walk around the world of 40.000 kilometers, which is about 25,000 miles. Tom hopes to become the first-ever to follow a route that includes all seven continents, including Antarctica.
I started following Tom on Instagram last summer, when he had already left the Netherlands, had walked through Belgium, Luxembourg, and France, and had arrived in Switzerland. Since then, I followed him every day for the rest of 2021, through the Alps, and the Western Balkans, to Turkey and Jordan. And every morning when I woke up, the first story I saw on Instagram was a smiling Tom Boerman, walking in a beautiful landscape and saying "good morning" with his engaging smile.
I had the chance to interview him while he was briefly back in the Netherlands to prepare for North America's crossing and raise funding for his travels and a schooling project in Nepal. I asked him about his motivation, challenges, and experiences during his first 222 days of walking, but my very first question was: why would anyone walk around the world?
Why walk around the world?
Tom smiled and admitted that walking around the planet is indeed crazy, but then told his story and convinced me that there is method in the "crazy" path he has chosen in life, making his endeavors even more interesting to follow. Walking around the world is not something you decide overnight; for Tom, the idea started six years ago when he watched a video of older people who regretted what they hadn't done in life. The main lesson was that you don't have unlimited time to pursue your dreams. It inspired him to make a list of all the things he wanted to do in his life. But when this bucket list kept growing, he decided to stop postponing all his plans until his retirement.
I hope you will listen to his story in the podcast, and I won't repeat all of it here, but these are eight insights I learned from a long talk with Tom (full disclosure: we continued talking for a long time after the podcast, which is the predictable outcome when Dutchmen meet who both like walking and talking)
1. Kindness: "I truly believe that most people are good."
One of the things that struck me most when listening to his stories is the kindness that he experienced in all the countries where he traveled. For example, even though he walked during a pandemic, people invited him into their houses and gave him a bed and food for the night. Tom mentioned especially the hospitality and kindness he experienced in Turkey.
"Happiness is something that you're entitled to, not something you need to earn. So why should I not wake up in the morning with a smile? I'm from Holland; why should I blame others? I have so many opportunities that I feel almost ashamed for it, especially when I'm walking through poorer countries. And that's why I always wake up with a smile in the morning."
3. If you need to change your life: change your life
Tom is overwhelmed with the success of this project in the first year, he gets more and more media attention, is asked for presentations, and the number of followers on Instagram is now rapidly growing. But life hasn't always been easy. He has coped with depression and addiction and was unhappy with his life. So, I admire the strength he found to change and become a full-time traveler.
Talking about a trip with a friend in Bulgaria, he said: "I really wanted to do something life-changing. I remember waking up in the morning, leaping up in bed, and I was like: I know what I'm going to do, I'm going to walk around the world."
4. Positive communication.
Now that Tom is growing fast on social media platforms and has a monthly column in one of the most published Netherlands newspapers, he is more aware of the often negative bias in the news. However, he believes in a positive message: "I want to show people a different side of the world, the good side."
"Many years ago, I used to be a materialistic person, until I realized that materialism is just an identity crisis. It's a runaway; it's an escape from reality. Therefore, everything I carry in my backpack is functional. Minimalism is not about what you own; it's about why you own it. So with that in mind, I started to pack my bag that weighs only 6.4 kilograms plus water, food, and camera gear."
6. The business model and Tom’s support for Nepal
Tom focussed in the first year of his round-the-world journey on developing the iwalkaroundtheworld company because he needed first to secure the funding required for hotels, food, and equipment. Now that the project is effectively on the rails, he will focus on both the company and developing the foundation in this second season. Two years ago, he had already started developing ideas for the foundation because he wanted to give something back to the world. "Because I deeply believe that in the end, it only matters what we took and what we gave the world." Several years ago, he walked the length of the Himalayas to Nepal and saw firsthand the poverty and lack of educational possibilities. So he decided, together with the boards of advisors, to start building a school in Nepal, which is not just the building, but the entire education structure needed for at least the next 20 years.
7. Walking in the U.S. and Canada in 2022
This year, in late March, Tom will start the next challenge in North America. He will begin near Washington DC, likely in Annapolis, and walk west from there, crossing the midwest and crossing the border to Canada. This route means that there will be endless farmland regions to travel in areas where hardly any tourist ever goes. He wants to show people a different view of the United States and Canada, but he also looks forward to spending time in a region where he will likely not meet any tourists. In Croatia, he made the mistake of staying close to the beautiful coastline. In the eyes of the local population, he was just another tourist at the end of a holiday season where everyone had worked very long days. Tom wished that he had taken an inland route, where he would have met more of the hospitality that he had experienced in less-visited regions. Once he reaches Banff and Jasper and crosses the border into British Columbia on his way to Vancouver, he will likely enjoy the spectacular nature while no longer being a unique tourist.
“More people walked on the moon than the 11 people that walked around the world.”
You can listen to the full interview here.
You can follow Tom Boerman on most social media by searching for Iwalkaroundtheworld.
The account I most enjoy is on Instagram.
But Tom just started a brand new account on Twitter (he would love some first followers there too, the content will follow soon).
Above all: Tom can only do this with your support; he didn't ask for it in the podcast, nor did I ever hear him ask for it (and nor did he ask me to write this), but there is a donate button on his website.
If you need another good reason to visit his website, have a look at the live-tracker world map, where you can follow his route of 2021 and where you can continue to follow him and see each moment of the day where he is walking.
I write this newsletter with stories like Tom’s walk around the world journey because I believe that together we can do better on this beautiful but fragile planet.
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