Henry Biernacki – A Postmodern Bohemian
We are introducing a new section on the site that will profile different people in the world of survival, hiking, backpacking, and prepping. We hope that you’ll enjoy reading about their adventures, and learn from their experiences.
To kick off our interview series we are talking to Henry Biernacki, a world traveler and postmodern Bohemian. Henry has traveled traveled to over 120 countries, sleeps in the streets, and has even traveled around the world with only $3700 and a rucksack.
Can briefly introduce yourself and tell us who you are?
I am a traveler by nature, it seems, and a postmodern Bohemian. What I mean to say with postmodern Bohemian is that I know I need to make a living somehow without being a burden on modern society so I do work what we call a “job,” although I have more freedom to explore. The way I travel is certainly more work than flying airplanes.
I have been traveling with my rucksack since I was 17 years old when I took a Greyhound Bus from Colorado to Mexico. In 1997, I went around the world, sleeping in the streets and spent only 3700USD. I met Mother Teresa 2 September 1997 (3 days before she passed away) and had a personal audience with her. I have traveled to over 120 countries and continue to travel. When I travel, I still sleep on the streets, in airports and if I am lucky maybe a guesthouse.
I earned a BA in Romance Languages (French/Spanish) and International Affairs. In high school I was a four-sport letterman and two-sport letterman in university. I have lived in France, Germany, Taiwan, the West Indies and Mexico before returning to the United States.
Today, I am airline Captain for one of the top airlines in the United States. I have flown Airbus319/320 and Boeing747-400/757/767.
How did you get into Backpacking?
As I stated above, I began traveling with my rucksack when I was 17. The moment I crossed the border into Mexico I realized something occurred. I began to reshape the very foundation on which I built my ideologies. I never feared losing my identity. On the contrary, I took notice of new experiences as aggregating to my being.
Even before this, I knew I wanted to study languages and travel. The exact moment I stepped across the US/Mexican border I recognized I would travel for a very long time to discover more of this world. I see each trip now merely as a step away. There is no country far off my radar to visit: it all begins with a small step in some direction. In October 2010, I traveled to North Korea.
To have an idea does not take heart. To live out an idea truly comes from the heart. It takes a depth, a level of trust within oneself to take a journey with a rucksack as your only companion while on the road. I did learn not to be careless with things that are important and careful with things unimportant.
I read a little bit about your trip around the world: can you share your story with our readers?
I had 3700USD to travel for however long that money lasted. I had student loans to repay since I just graduated from university. I saved some money from odd jobs so I could pay my monthly student loan bills. You see, that is where I am a postmodern Bohemian!
During university, I lived in Mexico and France to study languages and international affairs. After I graduated I wanted to learn about the world rather than living in just those two countries. I left to travel to place together the puzzle of cultures next door to one another and see the similarities between people and cultures. My one thought: how would I do this on only 3700USD?
I decided to grab my rucksack and takeoff with a single ticket (one way). I did not plan. I went wherever I wished during the day, slept where I wished and left when I fancied. That year I visited forty countries, which have now climbed to over a 120 countries. I traveled by land from Western Europe all the way to Hong Kong. If I stayed the night in a guesthouse, youth hostel or a hotel that would cost too much and my money would be gone in a few months. That is the reason I began sleeping on the streets. Every five or six days I would stay in a room. When I needed to wash my socks I went to a bus or train station. I always looked appropriate and clean since I hitchhiked most of the time. People would not pick me up if I looked like a homeless person.
As months wore on, being on the road was more natural. I began finding the coziest spots to rest for the evenings.
I met Mother Teresa three days before she died that year, 1997. We had Mass together at 5am. I was told to return at 10am if I wanted to speak to her and possibly have breakfast with her. I was able to speak to her for thirty minutes.
Why did you decide to make this trip?
As the dial of the clock of life twists and turns I thought, why exactly am I not traveling? There is never a moment to postpone something I want to do in life. I knew I would find a way to travel for a year. I did have that question about how I would travel on that amount of money, but at the same time I did not worry about it. I knew the process would take care of itself. I figured the world was too small of a place to try to escape discovering it!
How did you travel around the world on only $3700?
Traveling can be a dizzying labyrinth so why not go out and get lost a few times during our lifetime?! That was how I remained sane for that year! I did not care where I went, what I did, what I saw or anything else. This is how I travel to this day: never planning. I just went daily to discover something new. My feet were the worst thing that year. My feet have never been the same since 1997! I also ate one meal a day. I shopped at grocery stores and coupon shopped! (Joking) I always sought a good deal on bus, train, plane or any other form of transportation.
One of the most important messages I could rely on traveling: not to care where you end up, but rather truly enjoy the path to arriving wherever it is you are going; to take in the entire process due to the fact you are going to have to change directions at some point. If you are too focused on going to a certain place, you may never see what is truly the brilliant experience you could be having.
What kind of pack did you carry and what type of gear or items did you bring?
I carry a La Fuma rucksack. I had a Swiss Army Knife, but a Dutch traveler in Hat Yai, Thailand stole that when we shared a room. Other than that, I only carried the bare necessities of the given region where I was at that time. If someone travels for a period of time, you have to change with the seasons. If it was cold, I had cold weather gear. If it was hot, I only had hot weather gear. You have to get rid of and gather the things you need for the next geographical part of the world. The thought process of ideas are light and objects occupy space in a rucksack. I seem to travel with more ideas than I do clothes and without other tedious objects that prohibit me from moving at the pace of the local people. As a traveler, I submit myself to the widest range of experiences and without a care to find the truest outcome of this sort of experiment.
You can see amazing things around this brilliant world. You realize your journey by doing the simple daily things: cooking, shopping for food, washing your socks in the sink, sitting in some random part of the city to observe the people and city and to fill a day with conversations. If I carried an excess of anything, I would spend more time paying attention to these things than for the very reason I am traveling- to learn.
Did you worry about your safety? Did you carry a weapon?
I do not carry any weapons.
I was born with a grand amount of naivete. I did not think about safety much of the time, partly because, I am in the mindset that humans move towards what we think about and if I thought about dangerous experiences I may find them. This does not mean I am not acutely aware, because my senses are very aware. This is why I write in very descriptive ways: the readers can put themselves into the very situation I am trying to describe.
I did have one experience as I entered Muzaffarabad, Pakistan. That is up in the Kashmir region of Pakistan and India. I was the only Westerner on the bus and I was pulled off the bus. For five hours I had guns pointed at me as they tried to find out why I was there.
What was the best part of your experience?
I truly learned the monuments of any city, for me, is sharing an experience with someone from that given city. There was a time I began and a time I returned and in between there was this wondrous process of learning about myself through the world.
From Chapter III No More Heroes:
Traveling is a mode of getaway, une evasion, a refuge that all romantics get themselves into. Some people think a person cannot always be going nowhere because they think somewhere is catching up. Tourists have to have a destination, that is why there is always somewhere to go for a tourist. Whereas a traveler knows that the somewhere does not matter. The only important part of any trip to a destination is the entire process of getting to a country.
What were the hardest parts?
A true test of ones character is not just doing something, an action, which you know you can perform; but rather having the sureness of doing something of which you are completely ignorantly naïve, yet still making it all work in your favor. Anyone can claim responsibility for a known action, but the unknown can create a deep level anxiety. Thus, one of the hardest things in any journey with exactly and barely no money is to allow the path to unfold and you, the traveler, adapt to the multiplicities of experiences going on around you in a very foreign area of the world of which you barely know anything.
Do you have any tips for those who may be thinking about taking a similar journey?
I certainly try not to speak about what people should do while traveling and what they should see. If I say something they should see or do, they may have a preconceived notion about the city or country. I would not want that since their experience would then be tainted by my words.
I would recommend people to travel with things they do not mind getting stolen. Assume anything you have will be stolen. Separate your money and make copies of your passport. I say this because you are going to be distracted, lost and trying to find your way around a city. You are going to be asking a lot of questions and the touts can sense who is lost. Also, do not travel with a roller board suitcase. Those suitcases become a nuisance when going up and down stairs. Travel with a medium size rucksack and a few Ziploc bags since everything will be soaked at some point. You can place money, passport, journal or anything else that is paper documents inside the Ziplocs. Why not save yourself the hassle of being pissed and foresee this problem? You can throw the rucksack on your back or your front while in a crowded bus. You can move quickly through airports with a rucksack.
A thought: imagine the most uncomfortable situation you can think of. Then imagine that with heavy luggage, trying to move around and hustle from gate to gate then clearing customs/immigration. I do not find that a pleasant thought.
When we left yesterday for today; somehow did we forget to see the glory in it all-life
Author: No More Heroes