Most people can only dream of traveling to far off and exotic places. Imagine being able to go wherever your wanderlust takes you – backpacking in the Himalayas, exploring dense forbidding jungles, rafting down killer river rapids, bartering with skilled merchants in Mozambique, Cairo, and Katmandu, and living the life of a globe trotting nomad. Sadly, cramming a lifetime of thrills into a few paltry weeks of an annual vacation just serves to make a person ache all the more for adventure.
Fortunately there are a growing number of people in the world who have figured out how to turn their love of traveling into a lifestyle and are willing to share it with the rest of us, especially those of us who can only travel as far as our TV clicker will take us. Living to travel is what Andy Griffin does better than anybody. He has turned his passion for traveling into a profitable business, thanks entirely to the invention of the internet. Andy gave up the life of a workaholic real estate agent in 1998 and has never looked back.
“I work on my websites which takes up a lot of my time each day.” Andy, (a.k.a. the Hobo Traveler)
While doing research for my trip to Thailand, I came across Andy’s site Hobotraveler.com. Bangkok now serves as his home base, a far cry from his boyhood home in Indiana. After exchanging emails, he agreed to meet with me over lunch when I arrived in Bangkok. The burning question in my mind was how can a man who doesn’t work, is not independently wealthy, and has no property or investments, afford to travel ad infinitum?
Without the benefit of exchanging photos to identify each other, we arranged to meet in the lobby of Andy’s hotel, the D&D Inn on Khao San Road, a.k.a. backpackers row. The lobby was jammed with people checking in and checking out. I stood there in the middle of the room looking around hoping to catch the eye of someone looking for me. I felt like I was back in high school waiting for someone to ask me to dance.
Luckily, I didn’t have to wait long. At the stroke of 1:00 pm, an incredibly handsome middle-aged man about 5’10” tall with shoulder length blond hair, piercing blue eyes, and a perfectly tanned and shaped physique, walked straight up to me. Exuding an air of confidence and congeniality, in matching red and white t-shirt and shorts, Andy greeted me with a warm and friendly smile. Based on his youthful writing style, I had been expecting someone half his age. It never occurred to me the hobo traveler was a man almost the same age as me.
Andy suggested we go to one of his favorite places for lunch. He led the way. We sauntered down Khao San Road. Noisy retailers hawked their goods vying for our attention. We dashed across a busy road and through the grounds of a huge temple which opened up into a modest outdoor café. All the tables were shaded by a canopy of assorted trees.
Over an enormous portion of chicken fried rice, I asked Andy about his lifestyle and how he pays all his expenses if he doesn’t work. “I work on my websites which takes up a lot of my time each day.” He politely answered all my questions and said that his website gets over 7,000 hits per month from curious would-be travelers and contains literally thousands of pages of useful information on how to travel on the cheap in comfort and safety. The website is linked to Google Ad Sense which has something called an affiliate marketing program. Andy has dozens of links to other sites that are all connected to travel. Whenever someone clicks on an advertiser and goes to that site, Andy gets paid up to 10 cents per click. With over 7,000 people looking at his site each month and clicking away to his advertisers to book a hotel or etc., Andy is able to make enough money to keep him going. This never would have been possible without the internet.
Andy doesn’t have a phone and can only be reached by email, which he says is the way he likes it. I happened to mention to him the problems I had encountered using my cell phone in Thailand. He suggested we go back and meet his young friend Andrew, a young 21-year-old man whom he had met at a cybercafe in India. Andy was so impressed with Andrew’s knowledge and skill that he hired Andrew to help him to make improvements to his HoboTraveler website and flew Andrew to Bangkok to work with him for two weeks.
In spite of our combined technological skills, we spent the entire afternoon trying to make my computer hook up to the internet through my phone and never got it to work. Andy and Andrew were both extremely kind and patient and never once made me feel as though I had intruded on their time – which of course I had. The time finally came for me to say goodbye, and with some coaxing I was able to convince Andy to let me take his picture, but with a caveat. I had to promise never to publish it. Andy insisted that he remain anonymous. He said he does not like to be recognized when he travels and because of his website he is becoming fairly well known. Then he asked if he could take my picture and put it up on his website. Flattered by this kind suggestion, I agreed immediately. Now if you Google my name and the words “hobo traveler,” the item he wrote about me and my picture will come up on his site.
I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with Andy and Andrew. They both were sweet, kind, and patient men willing to try to help a complete stranger. It’s this kind of generous human spirit that served as a beacon lighting the way as I continued my journey in Thailand.
The Joy is in the Journey
(Note: I wrote this while on my trip to Thailand in 2005 doing research for my master’s thesis on the plight of Burmese refugees living in Thailand.)