A high-paying job, a luxurious good life…what more can anyone ask? Not so for Adam Pervez, who gave up a high-life for a nomad lifestyle. This American traveller and human compassion advocate from Strongville, Ohio who was once a field engineer and business development specialist for big corporations, came to the crossroads in his life when he realised that all the wealth in the world could not provide him a meaningful and fulfilled life.
One day, Adam decided to take a huge plunge that would make regular earnest-working mortals like us gape in astonishment and amazement, and that would change his life forever – he travelled to remote places around the world armed only with his backpack, learning the way these people lived there and making a difference in their lives through charitable works. Since then, he has not looked back. Adam’s remarkable journey has been captured by the press around the world including Business Week, Huffington Post, Economist, Oprah and now, Vida De Latinos.
His defiant “no regret” attitude towards his decision and the resulting joy he achieved in his life earned him many fans and respect that prove right time and time again the old-age saying: Money cannot buy happiness. We interview Adam on his adventure so far:
You came from the corporate world, earning a very comfortable salary, forgo that lifestyle then took the plunge to live in Latin America. Why Latin America?
Geographically, it made the most sense to start in Latin America. I was working in Denmark. I flew home to the U.S. to see my family before departing on The Happy Nomad Tour. I travelled throughout Latin America only by bus (though I took a ship from Panama to Colombia) and I could head to Mexico by bus. Another reason was that I wanted to learn Spanish. I spent a little over a year in Madrid, Spain with Peruvian roommates no less and I learned hardly any Spanish. It was an intensive MBA program so I didn’t have much time, but I still should have seized upon the opportunity. In Latin America, I studied and worked hard at Spanish and was able to learn the language – and see how it changed from country to country. Lastly, is there a better place in the world to learn how to really live than Latin America? They know how to enjoy life, how to live in the moment, and that’s what I was trying to learn!
Was living in Lain America something you planned all along?
No, I had never been to Latin America before this trip. When I traveled a lot while working in the Middle East and Denmark, Latin America was just too far away to visit. After doing my MBA in Spain and meeting so many wonderful people from Latin America, I had to check it out!
Before you traveled to Latin America, were you very nervous? What were the perceptions you had of the place prior to your visit?
I think safety was the biggest precaution I had. I knew it wasn’t the safest place, but I also knew it was full of wonderful people. I wouldn’t say I was nervous. With my skin color I think I blended in and many people thought I was Latin – until I opened my mouth. So if I really felt uncomfortable I just wouldn’t talk. And once there I developed other systems to keep myself safe. I think my perceptions were pretty on target before going since I talked to my friends from Latin America so much. I didn’t realize how beautiful the landscape would be, and how many indigenous groups there are there. I also think local people are quiet paranoid about safety, but it’s hard to gauge what is paranoia and what is justified fear. In my case I was subjected to an attempted robbery in Guatemala and Colombia, and my friend in Ecuador had her purse stealthily sliced open on a bus though her wallet wasn’t stolen.
Among the Latin America countries you have visited, which is your favourite?
All are special in some way, but Peru has to be my favorite. So many climate zones and landscapes, such great food, such wonderful people, such a rich history, and some of my best friends are from there. Machu Pichu and Cusco were just an exclamation point for me. I also had wonderful volunteering experiences there. I taught English in Casma, helped with a rural library project in the Andes too remote for Google Maps, and sold bread in the streets of Arequipa to subsidize a kindergarten in an impoverished suburb.
Which Latin American country was the longest you have stayed in?
Peru. Colombia was a close second.
Was it a huge culture shock in trying to get used to the new lifestyle?
No, not really. I lived and worked in the Middle East a few years ago. That’s a far more different culture and lifestyle than the one in Latin America.
What are the major changes you had to adjust to when living in Latin America compared to the high life you used to lead?
Some of the practical things took some getting used to. I had only taken a cold shower once before during a safari in South Africa. In Latin America I regularly took cold showers since I was often way off the tourist path in villages. I also regularly washed my clothes by hand, which gave me a new appreciation for washing machines. I always used public transport and this was often uncomfortable there, but it was always plentiful and inexpensive. As I search for an income while on the road, it was also hard to keep up with my friends who are working and still living the high life. But we made it work and everyone had a good time.
You have taken quite a number of tongue-in-cheek photos of Latin America’s weirdest side (strange signage etc.). It’s humourous to the world, but do you think Latin Americans find it funny on their end?
I think quite often they don’t realize it’s funny. They put signs in English, but it’s badly translated or there are funny typos. So I think it’s no harm no foul. On a few occasions friends from countries where I shared a funny picture would get upset, but not angry. They feared my readers would get a bad impression of their country, but I think the actual articles I write do each place justice in that regard.
What are the top 5 strangest experiences you had in Latin America?
Apart from trying all kinds of “strange” food, in no particular order:
- Trying ayahuasca in Ecuador
- Milking myself in Colombia
- Getting robbed in Guatemala
- Being scared half to death by a hen in an El Salvadoran bathroom
- Walking around Medellin with a toilet paper tail
What are some of the things you dislike in Latin America, and how do you go about dealing with them?
I don’t like that without “confianza” or trust, everyone is treated as suspect. The heart of the Latin people is very good, but it takes some time to get them to open up. In some places I didn’t like the food very much, mostly because I try to avoid fried food. I don’t like machismo at all. There isn’t really anything I do to deal with these things. Part of traveling is accepting the local culture and traditions and absorbing into your life the aspects that make you richer as a person.
Latin America does not receive a very positive image with a lot of media around the world. Do you think that the image the world gives is spot on or very bias?
I think the media is always biased. Our brains are wired to make snap judgments to survive in the wild. They aren’t wired for the complexity required to really understand Latin America, or any part of the world for that matter. I think Latin America is on the right track and finally getting its footing after years and years of external meddling in its politics. I think the image Latin America has is partly associated with that troubled past, but I think times are changing for the better. Don’t get me wrong, there are many problems. But I promise you won’t be thinking about any of them as you take a stroll in Cusco, Peru or Guatape, Colombia or Antigua, Guatemala.
What do think of Latin American people as a whole?
Warm, friendly, loyal, but paranoid. I think the Latin American heart is unique to this world, as captured by Calle 13’s song Latinoamerica.
You talk about wanting to help underprivileged Latin Americans. What should the world know about their lives that you think is important?
I think the concept of helping people is a very complicated one I’m still trying to wrap my mind around. But I think a place to start is helping the underprivileged have access to the basic necessities to help them thrive such as safe drinking water, education, electricity, teaching basic hygiene, etc. I think the world should know that these people lead dignified, happy lives. Too often we see the underprivileged and want to impose our way of life on them. I don’t think these people want to live like us at all. Rather, they just want some of the things we take for granted like clean water and education so they can thrive and be more empowered. In many other respects, they live better than us and don’t need any help.
Do you have any regrets living your life today compared to the high-life?
None. I can’t imagine doing anything different with my life!
What did your family and friends think when you decided to forgo your high life for a nomad lifestyle?
My family wasn’t thrilled, mostly because of the safety concern. But they have always been supportive and we have agreed that I keep them informed always to minimize worry. Each time I’ve been robbed and each time I’ve been sick I’ve let them know right away, for example. In general my friends have been supportive and wonderful. Many friendships have actually deepened as a result of my new life. But I think there’s always some unwritten contract in a friendship and the dynamic changes when you undertake such a big change like this. In many ways it’s a good test of friendship to make such a big change and see who sticks around. As I’ve traveled around I’ve visited many of my friends across the world. But in some cases these “friends” blew me off. I can only suppose they didn’t want to meet because they feared how they might see their own lives after what I’ve decided to do with my life. Of course, I don’t preach or advocate others do what I’m doing. I try to be as non-judgmental as possible and I can see both sides of the coin.
If you are not doing what you are doing now, what would you have done? Would you have continued being in the corporate world?
That’s really hard to answer. I guess I would have continued being in the corporate world, assuming my misery was part and parcel of the experience of life.
Any advice you’d give to those who are thinking of visiting Latin America, including participating in its charity work?
I would say go for it! It’ll be an amazing experience, full of laughter, love, and life. If you don’t feel comfortable and/or don’t speak Spanish you can stick to the tourist track and still have a wonderful time. I would advise looking for organizations to volunteer with that don’t charge money. It can be difficult, but this is an article I wrote to find free volunteering opportunities in Latin America. Finally, I’d say to go with an open mind. This applies to everything in life, but especially traveling and volunteering.
You can find out more about Adam Pervez at HappinessPlunge.com
This article was published on Vida De Latinos’ online magazine, 1 March 2013.
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