Sooner Not Later is all about encouraging people to live intentionally and chase their dreams. So it should come as no surprise to you that today’s interview is with a guy who is doing nothing less than that.
At 26, Tom Turcich is walking the world. Literally.
Starting in his home state of New Jersey just five months ago, Tom plans to spend the next five years walking something like 20,000 miles as he makes his way across 7 different continents and 30 plus countries. Last we spoke, he’d already made his way from New Jersey to Georgia and was just starting to head west. From there, he’ll make his way south to Argentina and then, yes, even Antarctica!
“After that, I will probably be flying home to spend some time with my family before heading over to Portugal,” he tells me.
Tom, where did the idea for The World Walk come from?
I always knew I wanted to travel the world but the catalyst was (my friend) Anne Marie’s passing in the (boating) accident in high school. It shook me to the core. It was like, “Oh yeah, by the way, we do die. You have to pay attention and you have to do something.”
It was an awakening to seize the day. That’s when I became obsessed with that.
I knew I wanted to travel the world, and I knew I didn’t have any money so I searched for cheap ways to travel and found a couple of guys who walked around the world. So I was like, “That’s it. That’s what I want to do.” Then in college, Shannon passed in a car accident. She lived across the street from me and had been close friends with Anne Marie. It was another reinforcement that this doesn’t last forever.
That is really hard. I’ve lost a couple close friends since high school and can completely understand walking away with that realization. How did you remain focused on accomplishing your goal over the last 8 or so years?
I’ve just always known I was going to do it. It was always there. Always the plan. It was just a matter of time.
My second year of college, I talked to this business professor I knew, and he helped me get the web domain and pitch the idea. Everyone thought it was cool, but no one really wanted to jump on board. It seemed too hypothetical.
Senior year I was the president of my fraternity, so I wasn’t really thinking about it, but when I graduated I knew I still wanted to do this. But at that point, I had student loans, so instead of moving out, I moved home to save money. My parents are great, but, of course, after college I would have liked to have moved out. But I was home to save money which helped me stay focused because I knew I was home for those years for a reason, and I couldn’t waste them.
By April 2014, I wanted to go ahead and leave but decided to wait to give myself time to get better prepared. I had to wait a complete year because of trying to time my arrival with the weather in Argentina.
So you spent the last couple of years saving and paying off debt, but after only reaching the halfway point, you decided to leave either way in April 2015. How did you come to that decision?
There’s this quote from Eric Thomas, “You won’t be successful until you want something as bad as you want to breathe.” And frankly that’s how it was for me. Whether I had the money or not, I had to do it, and I think that’s why I was able to go ahead (with the plan) without having enough money.
I love that quote! So how is the budget looking now?
Since I went ahead and said I was doing it, it was no longer hypothetical. Reporters started picking up the story and then Philadelphia Signs signed on to sponsor the trip. They send me a little money each week and provided me with supplies like my cart and stroller. Their sponsorship should make it so that I am able to make it no matter what. I have enough to be able to make it around the world and stay in a hostel every once in a while too. It’s phenomenal. I am getting paid to live my dream.
What was a typical day like when you were first starting out and how has that shifted?
In the beginning, I’d wake up around 7, have some oatmeal or a bagel then pack up. Packing up took about an hour and then I’d get started walking early. It was enjoyable in the morning because it was cooler, and I’d already have the first couple of miles planned out after looking at the maps the night before.
Around 5, I’d start looking for a good place to stop, so I could set up camp before it got dark. I try to find heavily wooded areas but whenever I can, I will stop and set up at a church. It’s like a haven.
But then when I came through Jacksonville, North Carolina, it was so hot in the middle of the day, probably 98 or 99 with a heat index of 105. I wasn’t used to the heat quite yet, so I tried waking up early and walking till 11. I thought I would take the middle of the day off and then walk till sunset but the problem with that is you have to nap in the middle of the day. You can’t just get sleep deprived and not nap. I’m walking for 8-10 hours a day. The body needs sleep. That’s just how it is. I tried for a few days waking up early, but it didn’t pan out. I figured, screw it, if I am not walking as far, it doesn’t matter. I am just going to let my body do its thing. If I push through the heat, I push through the heat and if not, oh well. So it was a failed experiment, but I know when I get out to Texas or so I will probably just have to be night walking. It will be August and be way too hot.
Are you an introvert or an extrovert and has the isolation been an issue?
Well, I was a psych major so we took a lot of those tests and I always fell in the middle. I can be a people person, but there’s also times I would prefer to be alone. I am definitely not an extrovert where I need to talk to people all the time to get my energy. It’s manageable.
So you’re now 68 days in, has anything scary happened? Run into any axe murderers or anything?
No axe murderers. It’s been pretty smooth sailing. The only insane thing was when I left for Charleston. The heat index was something like 118, I think. Maybe 120. It was only like 11 or 12 o’clock, and I was trying to get a few more miles before it got really heated up. I had just left the shade, like 15 minutes before, and my hands started swelling up. I was thinking, “What is going on?” My knuckles were really painful and I was watching my fingers get bigger and bigger. I started walking with them up above my heart, but they weren’t getting any better. My hands were getting massive, like balloons. I got to a Walgreens, and in the AC, the swelling went down. Luckily, that day a friend of a friend was putting me up, so she just came early and grabbed me. I later learned what happened is called heat edema – over circulation and too much heat.
When we first spoke, you had a cart, but now it looks like you have a baby stroller? What happened there?
Yeah – the other cart was too heavy. It was a good idea, but it needed real world suspension. I’m going up and down hills, off road and in the grass… and there’s no suspension to take off any of the pressure. So I ended up having an axle break about three weeks in. The tires were bending and it was just too heavy and bulky.
And it was too low. I was always hunched over to push it. So Philadelphia Signs got me this stroller, and it’s awesome. It’s the best thing. It’s so smooth, the suspension is great, and it’s the right height.
Who’s the most interesting person you have met along the way?
This guy in Virginia is definitely the most interesting. I met this group of people who lived in these little cabins — like 200 square feet. This one guy saw me heading into the woods and offered to let me camp in his yard, so I met this group of people. One of the guys was younger, probably like 34 or something like that. He said, “I used to walk 3 hours to school” and I thought, “that’s 10 miles you were walking?” and he’s like, “Yeah, yeah. I had to sleep under a bridge. My dad left and I couldn’t live with her (my mom), so I dug a hole and slept under the bridge.”
So we got to talking, and I told him my mom is an artist, and he said he was an artist too. He said, “I got stuff all over my house.” So I went over to his house to see. He replaces windshields, but they can’t recycle them so he uses them as canvases. He paints on them with acrylics. They were so cool. And in the corner he had Animal Farm, 1984, and then Cicero, or something.
He was living in this super tiny apartment. It was like a box. Tiny kitchen, tiny bathroom, and a sleeping bag that has been worn down to paper basically. He used it as a seat and as his bed and then he’s got these windshields all over the walls and paint all over the place, covering the tiles on the floor. But then he doesn’t have a good education, but he’s reading all this stuff. He was like a philosopher in a way bringing up all these very metaphysical viewpoints, talking about life and what it means to be human and how to deal with problems. It was wild. He had a lot of contradictions. Just an interesting guy.
So when he was talking about living under a bridge how does that compare to you being like, “Well. I am just doing this for fun”
He just respected that I was walking. It’s a great thing. You can walk everywhere. You do a lot of thinking when you’re walking. I definitely have it easier. I have a lot of luxuries. I have a nice cart and technology and waterproof packs. I’m definitely living in luxury when it comes to camping.
Something I talk about a lot is that even in the pursuit of something fun, like a dream, there are still challenges, but that doesn’t mean we should surrender our dream. What are some of the challenges you’ve encountered in planning this adventure or since setting out?
I’m a novice. I’ve never done anything like this before. I’ve done hikes on the AT. I’ve used my best knowledge and research, but you can only prepare so much. The rest you have to figure out as you go.
The hardest part was a heat wave in Charleston and Savannah. It was brutal for about a week, and I didn’t think it was going to break. It wasn’t supposed to break for another two weeks. Just as soon as you get up, you are already sweating. There were nights I would sit in the tent and just be pouring sweat. It was brutal and it made for really tough walking, but once I turned into Georgia, it broke. I can’t say it’s cool. It’s still like 95, but compared to the heat index of 115, it’s okay.
I also had to leave some people behind. The World Walk is a dramatic thing. I’m leaving everything. It’s not like I am leaving for three months. I am leaving everything behind. I had to give up a few friends. It was either I was with them, or I was doing the walk, and I had to choose the walk, and so I had to leave them behind. That was really tough.
What advice would you give a dreamer?
“Memento mori.” Remember you die. It’s irrelevant whether you die at 7 or 97. It’s all the same. So once you get over your fear of losing things and losing your life, a whole world of possibilities opens up.
So what do you think? Could you take on a challenge like this? Let me know in the comments below.
Photo Credit: Photos originally found on The World Walk and used with permission of site owner, Tom Turcich.