I was originally attracted to Leif’s website, Runaway Guide several years ago because of his unique adventures and the perspective he has gained from his travels on the cheap since the age of 16 – when he ran away from home. He has become an expert in extreme budget travel acquiring the skills and knowledge to survive on the road while spending as little money as possible. Oh and he makes cool in the moment, on the road travel videos to!
Q. What was life like for you at age 16 (the emotions and reality of being on your own) while you were on the road after running away from home – no money, no support system – I would think this forced you to grow up quickly – at an age when most kids are still living at home and or going to school.
In the beginning, I was an emotional mess. Like a frightened animal I was always tense and hid from everyone. Over time these nerves were slowly replaced by an indescribable loneliness.
Essentially I suffered, but through my suffering I grew. I became aware of the primal foundation of our emotions. I came to see all people as siblings, connected beings, and I came to understand that a search for happiness in the external world is a search without end. True content can only be found within oneself and that can only be achieved free from fear, guilt and regret.
Q. Traveling without any money or very little money is not easy. Describe some of the things you have had to do on the road to survive and keep traveling.
There’s nothing more frightening but also more exhilarating than the day the money runs dry. It spurs innovation and a will to survive. In the first few months I stole cell phones, food from mini marts, and anything to keep me going. But as my karma caught up with me (being crapped on by multiple birds), I stopped stealing and began to trust in the kindness of others. I found that if I simply asked restaurants for leftovers or asked fellow backpackers for a few euros, more times than not, they would help me out.
Q. Your site is refreshingly raw and realistic about life on the road as a budget backpacker – with how to’s and stories that are sprinkled with plenty of humor. What is one of your more memorable budget experiences involving humor that you can share with our readers.
While living in a bed bug infested hostel in Cairo, I met an Irish man named Fred, aka Falcon. He was a little eccentric but the most saintly man I had ever met. He began teaching me about eastern religions, Atlantis, and the prophecies of Edgar Cayce. And he believed that I would help him open a secret hall of records under the Sphinx. Every night for a week we snuck into the Pyramids at night. Long story short, we didn’t discover the records of Atlantis but we did discover many ancient hieroglyphs and a complex network of catacombs, which at times led us 30 feet beneath the sand. I have since never felt more like my idol, Indiana Jones.
Q. You have been traveling for a total of almost eight years – what has Independent travel taught you over these years?
Traveling has taught me that as long as I remain positive and trust in the universe, everything will work out in the end. It has taught me that I don’t need much to survive. And it has taught me that people are people no matter where I go.
Q. You list Malaysia as being your favorite country – tell us what attracts you to this country and why you feel a close connection here?
Not unlike my hometown of New York, Malaysia is a cultural mélange. It’s an Indian, Malay, Chinese, and European melting pot. As a result, there is little racism, an amazing fusion of Asian foods, and a general feeling that everyone is welcome. Being a mix of Japanese and Norwegian, I feel like I really fit in. Aside from Malaysia being culturally comfortable and delicious, Malaysia also has some great beaches, jungles, temples and quaint historic villages to explore.
Q. I saw this quote from you “The poorer the country I visited, the more welcoming and giving were its people”. I’ve also found that people in in lesser developed countries often seem more open to inviting strangers into their homes – offering food and accommodation for the chance to get to know their “visitor”. Tell us a bit more about your experiences with this, why this might be and perhaps mention a story or two about this that stands out for you.
The hospitality I encountered in Turkey, Syria, Jordan, and Egypt was unrivaled. One Turkish guy gave me 25$ for the visa to get in and then showed me around Istanbul. Another offered me 50 Euro’s to take a bus down to Izmir. On another occasion, a guy pulled a cheap cigarette out of my mouth, replaced it with an expensive Parliament and then bought me a train ticket. Finally, instead of being yelled at and kicked of the train by a robust ticket agent, he offered me food and allowed me to stay on the train until we reached Adana. Poor people know what it’s like to suffer and this makes them more compassionate.
Q. Why did you decide to start your own website, www.runawayguide.com? You also run www.atitlanliving.com which is where you are living now. Tell us about Lake Atitlan, Guatemala and what attracts you to this part of that country.
I started The Runaway Guide to share my story, to inspire others to travel, and to help kids like myself. I decided to start Atitlan Living because after all my travels I’ve never found a place more beautiful or hospitable. The Mayan people are reserved and proud, and in many ways like the Japanese. It’s remarkably cheap to live and eat well there. It’s the land of eternal spring and there are loads of interesting expats to talk with. It’s ideal for a budget backpacker in every way and my new home base. For more info about traveling and living on Lake Atitlan check out AtitlanLiving.com
Q. You are currently finishing the writing of a book called “Chasing Life” – tell us about the focus of this book and when it will be released.
“Chasing Life” is the true story of when I ran away from home at 16. Written entirely in the first person present tense, it’s fast paced and packed with action. I take the reader with me from my discontent at home to the day I leave, and on my journey around Europe and the Middle East without a penny to my name. But more than simply a travel tale, it’s a coming of age story filled with crystal clear moments and self-discoveries. I’m currently 40,000 words in and hope to release the book in fall 2014.
Q. You are very active with social media. How important is social media for you in promoting your site and /or keeping in contact with your followers? Does one outlet work better for you than others?
To be honest, I’m fed up and tired with Facebook, twitter and the rest of them. I would much rather simply travel and write, and meet people in person on the road. But Social Media has allowed me to connect with like minded travelers and writers that I other wise wouldn’t have been aware of. It has also greatly expanded my readership. So, for that, it is a valuable tool for any aspiring travel blogger.
Inspired by both Bear Grylls and Jack Kerouac, Leif ran away from home at 16 without a penny to his name. Now he is 28 and still “on the run.” The Runaway Guide is an ultra budget backpacking guide for the runaway in everyone. Visit his website at: www.runawayguide.com