Get ready to be inspired, folks. Our third Jet Set Hero is Steve Bramucci, a travel writer, professional misadventurer and wordsmith whose got a hell of a lot of perspective on life at the ripe age of 30. He’s managed to do what we at Jet Set Zero would all secretly love to do…turn that zero into a figure that actually pays the rent without sacrificing life on the road. His job is his passion, the world is his “research” and going back to his position at Merrill Lynch…well, that’s his nightmare and we don’t blame him.
I worked at Merrill Lynch and my boss told me: “every day I come to work and I feel like I’m shooting hoops.” I loved that philosophy. I quit Merrill the very same day.
I didn’t feel like I was shooting hoops in the finance world. But I do feel like that with writing, teaching, storytelling and all of the other assorted work that I do in order to make sure rent is on time. Most of all, I feel that way about travel. It might technically be work but it feels 100% like recreation.
Everything I do on the road I attribute to the “grand adventure” and chalk up as “research.” Those are my go to phrases—especially when the car gets stuck in eight inches of muck, the ferry is a day late or the hike that was supposed to take a day ends up taking three. If I was looking for a job title I think I’d call myself a Professional Misadventurer. The hardest days on the road inevitably become my favorite days of “work.”
Besides day labor, short stints in hostels and volunteering, my only experience working abroad has been as a travel writer. People always tell me how lucky I am to have that chance. Those people are right. Don’t worry, I work hard for it and appreciate the hell out of every trip. I get to indulge my curiosity, talk to people, tell stories and trust my instincts.
Over the past ten years, I’ve left a lot to go traveling. I’ve left jobs with the casualness of a person who has no clear conceptualization of the economic crisis. I’ve left cities that felt safe and comfortable. I even left college. Every one of those times it was the right choice.
I’m a gypsy. I don’t say that because I’m always traveling, because I’m not. I say it because I feel very at-home on the road. I’m used to finding comfort in situations that aren’t easily recognizable as comfortable, like camping in rainforests or treating a hammock strung between palm trees like it had been my bed for years. It just doesn’t take very much for me to get that “homey” feeling. As I get a little older, I do see the allure of having someplace where people already know & understand me. Right now I call Laguna Beach (CA) home—but I still feel very much at home in Portland (where I was raised), as well as Australia’s Northern Territory, Uganda and my family’s farm in Northern Italy.
I really think breaking out of the mold is easier to do than we think. First of all, you don’t need that much money. You can make a life abroad, mixing work and travel, with relatively little in the bank. I’ve seen people do it with almost nothing. I paid monthly college loans back home while traveling in 2006 for thirteen months. The real barriers when it comes to travel are the limitations that we set on ourselves. Our willingness to say “it’s can’t be done!”
I’m not wise enough to give advice. If I was backed into a corner and had to rattle off a truism to motivate would-be travelers, I’d quote Jason Mraz and say “Leap and the net will appear.” Applied to travel, he’s basically saying: “Buy the ticket, pack the bag, sit in the seat—and figure the rest out on the fly.”
Expat travel allows you to appreciate the little slices of everyday life—all the things that begin to feel mundane at home. I like to get my hair cut in foreign countries (I’ve had some terrifically horrible haircuts), I like going to the post office and the bank. Those little pieces of personal business can shed light on the national psyche. More importantly, you’re meeting people who don’t have any vested interest in the tourism industry. And you’re meeting them in the middle of their daily routines—no filter, real as can be.
As a 30 year-old, I think I’ve finally figured out how to make a long distance relationship work. You have to have a solid base, a lot of trust and a light (however faint) at the end of the tunnel. I recently spent three months in Australia while my girlfriend was back in Laguna. It was hard—but worth it a million times over. And the truth is, even though she was at home, she was a part of my reality for the entire time I was over there—she was very much a part of that trip.
I don’t activate my cell-phone when I’m abroad. That’s my choice and it’s liable to change. I don’t want anything to draw me out of the moment. I like to have a nice, crisp experience. I’m not an enemy to technology. I just like to keep it in check.
To document my travels I write for blogs (I just started blogging for HuffPost), take photos and do a little bit of documentary film work. But my favorite platform is the simple, old-fashioned e-mail list that I’ve built since dropping out of college in ’99 to hitch-hike around the US. It’s become a nice little community and it helps me feel connected in a way that I really thrive off of. Facebook and Twitter don’t hit me like that.
My #1 Budget Travel Tip? ASK. That’s my key: always ask. The first question you’ll hear me ask when I’m on a tight budget is “can I camp here?” I’ve camped on the roof of a hotel in Jerusalem’s old quarter, the middle of a fishing village in Fiji and next to a river in the Kenya’s Masai Mara. OK, so a lion killed a wildebeest about ten feet from my tent—and my only weapon for self defense was a toothbrush, but still, I’ve had some fantastic camping experiences that have saved me a ton of money. Also, I’ll ask a dozen locals for their favorite cheap restaurant and choose the one that comes up the most.
I was mugged by five guys in Ecuador while breaking all my own rules (wandering aimlessly, alone, late at night). Luckily they must’ve been part-time muggers because they weren’t very committed to the thing. It didn’t help their resolve that I was taller than all of them by a solid foot. I was able to fight them off and all they got from me was a single flip-flop. I came away with an interesting story, so I’m willing to call it a draw.
Travel is one of few things in my life that doesn’t suffer from the law of diminishing returns. I never tire of it. I never get bored with it. I do like to break it up in order to savor the contrast—and I’ve learned to embrace the fact that during certain stages of my life I’ll be traveling less—but the road has never failed to provide me with those moments of beauty that I gush so much about.
The next stops for me is Nicaragua. It has the whole package: enough instability to keep crowds away, warm weather, jungle, surf. Nicaragua has been on my radar for a few years now. It’s next on the list.
Jet Set Heroes is a series saluting a community of extraordinary life-seekers who “get it.” They get that a college degree and a six-figure job isn’t as good for the soul as it is for the wallet. They seek out inspiration through incredible careers across the world. They are the people whose lives you want to have (but might never think it’s possible), whose stories you love to listen to, and whose voices should be heard. If you’d like to nominate a Jet Set Hero, email me at Courtney@jetsetzero.tv.