With my Escape from America series, I’ve interviewed American ex-pats who have settled in Mexico, the Philippines, Hungary, Costa Rica, Brazil or England, etc., but you’re constantly escaping from one country to the next, with the goal of experiencing all 180 of them! What made you choose such an unusual lifestyle, and how did you prepare yourself for it?
No preparation whatsoever and, in fact, no plan. I’d had what’s called a ‘liquidity event’ back in NYC. Two, actually: a startup sale and then an IPO. Which just means I don’t have to work again if I don’t want to. I was burnt out. 15 years of 10 hour days, grinding towards some pointless goal of accumulation. When I cashed out I wasn’t sure what to do next.
I looked around and decided it was time to leave NYC and the US in general. The path the country was heading down was pretty obvious to anyone willing to look.
So I threw a bunch of stuff in storage. Locked up the apartment. And left. That was 2017 and I’ve only returned now and then: for weddings or near-deaths. I hope to never have to return permanently.
In Tirana, I ran into a folk singer who performed in Turkish, but was actually an American! In his early 40’s, “Dandelion Lakewood” left the States nearly 6 years ago, and has been in Europe ever since, mostly in the Balkans. Busking, he needs just \$12 a day to survive. In Tirana, Dandy was paying \$8 daily to share a room with another American. Dandy has slept outside, it’s not a problem. Different people have different requirements. You’re obviously in a different category, but most Americans with cash would not have made your choice. You told me you once drove from Atlanta to Juarez to sample an interesting Chinese buffet. Do you think you’ll ever get tired of traveling? If so, where might you settle down, and why?
Right. And I don’t make the money point to brag or anything. I just got lucky. Right place, right time. The bigger point I wanted to make is that guys like me are leaving the US in droves. Even before the pandemic. We are not better or smarter than those that didn’t get lucky. But I think some of us realized that the “juice wasn’t worth the squeeze”. So we bailed. I feel a kinship with anyone that has left America, regardless of their situation.
In terms of traveling and settling down. I don’t know. I have a reckless streak. I always have. Going to Juarez to eat Chinese food, or moving a bunch of gold over the Burmese border, or spending weeks in a Thai jail, or designing the interior of some Chechen billionaire’s yacht. I just can’t stop collecting experiences. That, to me, is real wealth.
I’ve been to around 90 countries at this point. There are a handful of places I could see myself staying long-term. For me, they have the right combination of cost of living/quality of life. Decent infrastructure. Nice people. Low-ish inequality coefficient.
They’re usually Muslim/Asian countries. I think that was the biggest surprise. I want to avoid the forced degeneracy of the West. This is weird as, in my youth, I was the biggest champion of orgies and drugs and personal freedom and all that faux-liberal youth-culture decadent bullshit.
I like being around happy, multi-generational families. People eating together as a family or flying kites in a park or a group of old-timers nursing a 3-hour conversation over a cup of coffee. They still do that!
I am not ready to stop. Perhaps that is the recklessness I was referring to earlier. In German, real estate is ‘Immobilen’. It’s ‘immobiliere’ in French. Even without knowing Kraut or French, I bet you can deduce the meaning… purchasing a home renders one immobile. A lease is a landlock. You’re stuck in one place, one culture, one point of view. To stay in the same place still seems like death to me. Or perhaps a series of small compromises, small deaths, that add up to a more prolonged expiation.
The goal of travel is to court and embrace discomfort. Otherwise, you’re just a fat Boomer on a cruise!
What did you do to spend weeks in a Thai jail?! And how were you treated by the other inmates? To many white nationalists, Muslims are just low IQ losers, and Orientals are just conformists with disgusting culinary habits, yet both groups have managed to maintain their heritage, and hence dignity, better than the degenerate West. Is there any hope for white people, or are they condemned to rage impotently online as their societies unravel? Is Europe better off than America? And which European countries do you think have the best prospects?
The Thailand story is sad–and typical. I’ll tell it here as a warning to anyone reading. This stuff happens and, in retrospect, you should not handle the situation in the way I did. Linh, you can chop this if you don’t think it’s relevant.
I was in one of those seedy beach resort towns filled with decaying, SPAM-tinted Anglo men and their 21-year-old Isaan wives, talking to as many of the men as I could, as they figure fairly prominently in a book I am working on.
A few of the blokes had warned me of a scam going on in that particular town. The locals would wait until you rented a scooter and had a few beers at some local bar, then, when you scooted off home, they’d put three teenagers on a shittier scooter than yours and drive full speed into you. The cops would conveniently be nearby to handle the proceedings.
I ignored this warning as typical ‘falang’ fearmongering, but sure enough, a week into my stay this happened to me. I’d had a big Chang and puttered off home. Three kids on a crappy Vespa hit me out of nowhere. Cops come out. from behind a nearby building: ‘You drunk Mister! You come to station and make right!’ They sounded like some Hollywood-stereotype from the 80s. But they were real and extremely angry.
I was terrified. I had had a beer and driven my scooter (like everyone else in that town) but I had no idea what my ‘rights’ were. Ha! We went to the station and the officer demanded 40,000 baht to make it go away, plus some money for each of the three teenagers that were on the scooter. In the meantime, they had already gone to the hospital after the accident and returned, bandaged up, with hospital bills ready to go. They’d done this under an hour. All three presented the hospital bills to me meekly. I think they were another 60,000 baht.
Conveniently, 100,000 baht is the maximum you can withdraw from a Thai bank branch in one day. Around \$3k.
I told them this was absurd. I ‘knew my rights’. Typical American arrogance. After two hours of yelling at each other via Google Translate in their sweaty little station, they made me go back to my apartment and give them my passport, told me they’d be in touch and that I was not to leave Thailand.
Americans that travel a lot can legally have two passports. Not a lot of people know this. It’s the same passport number but you can usually bank on the fact that if you get into trouble somewhere, it will take time for the various government departments to communicate with each other, and you have a window to clear the country.
I’d talked with a nice local lawyer girl after this happened and her advice was to get the hell out of Thailand. So that’s what I did. I was gone within 48 hours, this time via a land border, which I assumed was insecure. I crossed into Cambodia, made my way to Phnom Penh, and then flew to Bali for a few weeks.
Stupidly, I returned to Thailand a month later. I thought somehow the problem would have ‘gone away’, as it was all a scam. Ha!
They grabbed me at the airport, after clearing customs. That’s always the shitty part. They let you clear customs and grab your bag, thinking you are free. And then they grab you.
My passport number had been communicated to Border Police. They were as surprised as I was that I had returned!
The charges were now serious. In addition to injuring others on a scooter, I had tried to flee the country. A few other minor charges. Worst case: I was facing up to 3 years in a Thai prison. I would now be remanded until I had a chance to appear before a judge. There were a series of holidays going on, related to the new King’s ascension, so the whole country was closed for at least a week. Bad timing on my part. I spent around two weeks in a Thai jail back in the town where the crime had been committed.
The Thai jail is not a place I’d want to return to. I was new so I had to sleep with my head directly next to the open toilet in the corner, my head getting kicked every time someone went to shit in the middle of the night.
I did meet a lot of nice Burmese guys in there, who insisted on sharing every single meal they had with me. They taught me how to sleep with a water bottle under your neck, as it helps your posture on the concrete floor. There was a Dutch man who’d killed his Thai wife. A few Americans and Australians recently nabbed on drug charges. Lots of Iranian guys. They were the most aggressive towards Americans. The common theme from everyone was, ‘I was set up’. I began to doubt my own story.
Fast forward a few weeks later. I am out on some sort of conditional release. They have both passports this time. I have to check in every week to a ‘parole’ office and wait for my official trial date which is set 4 or 5 months in the future. I can’t leave Thailand.
And before you ask, no, the embassy does nothing. You’ve watched too many television dramas. They only intervene in capital crimes or a crime that makes the US look bad. While I was in the jail, they told me to hang tight and let them know if I was being mistreated. When I got out they gave me a list of lawyers. I picked the one who bragged to me that ‘Her husband was a high up police officer’. In any other country, this would have been a warning sign, but I figured in Thailand, it was a golden ticket.
I hang out in Thailand for a while. Avoiding scooters and bars. freaking out, obviously, but pretty powerless. No amount of American money could help me at that point. The government didn’t care.
The “trial” was bizarre. No visitors are allowed. The courtroom I was in was underground. You’re brought to a jail before the trial where you have to take off your shoes and belt and then stand in a cage inside the trial room. I was with three other guys in the cage. There’s no one in the courtroom aside from some grim-looking guard with a rifle.
After an hour of waiting, a prim little woman walks in, sits down at a table facing the cage. She calls out your name and you walk to the front of the cage. She reads your file out loud: the charges, I guess. It’s all in Thai.
My lawyer is then allowed to enter the room. They talk quietly for a few minutes in Thai. She’s very deferential, not making eye contact with the judge. The lawyer then approaches the cage and asks if I am sorry. I’m ready: I know this is my cue to turn on the histrionics. I bow and wai repeatedly at the judge, the guards, the other Thais in the cage. My lawyer had prepared me. I repeat the Thai phrase I had prepared, over and over again and again. “I am so sorry and ashamed. I am so sorry and ashamed.” Likely mangling the pronunciation. I cry. I plead.
The judge looks at the lawyer. Laughs. Scribbles something on the file and then proclaims something in Thai. Before the lawyer has a chance to translate, I’m taken by a guard from the cage back to the primary jail in the courthouse. I sit there for two hours.
Eventually, they call my name and my lawyer is at the jail door. She’s smiling.
If you’re interested, my total penalty was…wait for it…a 100,000 baht fine paid to the court and an agreement to ‘not do anything bad in Thailand’ for one full year. I pay my lawyer another 100,000 baht, wait to get my 100,000 baht bond back from the courthouse (which has to be fronted by a Thai…in this case, my lawyer), and I am on my way. I fly to KL that night.
I bear no ill will towards the Thai people. I made a stupid mistake and, in retrospect, should have paid the fine upfront. Scam or no scam. The normal Thai people live in a shitty, corrupt system. They’re just trying to get by. At least they have the comforts of family, community, culture, and tradition to return to after a long day of sentencing Americans to prison.
To answer your earlier question, I think most of the white nationalists are the disgusting pigs. Potato-shaped genetic-mutt trash dropping rancor and CheezeIt crumbs all over their cum-stained keyboards. There is no hope for the United States if these guys are the vanguards of “our” future. I’ll take the “Orientals” or the Muslims any day of the week.
Europe is a weird case. As a political or economic union it’s toast, but the individual states will still have a lot of interesting possibilities. In many ways, Europe’s inevitable dissolution is good for guys like me. It will be easier to get in and purchase citizenship, or property, or whatever. The fragmentation of Europe will be a boon for those fleeing the West.
The ‘least developed’ European countries have the most interesting long-term prospects, at least as places I like to live. I’d look for those that are food-secure and have good access to clean water. There are some nice towns in Bulgaria (mostly in the Rhodope foothills) and Albania that I’d consider long-term. Portugal was great until the Golden Visa, and will now be flooded with Brits heading back to Spain or Chinese opportunists. I’ve always been a fan of Poland, of Polish cities and people. Georgia and Abkhazia are gorgeous and ripe for sustainable development–whatever that means. Northern Spain, west of Basque country, towards Galacia, is gorgeous and peaceful. There are some great small towns in Slovakia but you have to be ready to handle Gypsies. Northwestern Greece, in the mountains, has a great climate and food culture. No one will bug you there. There’s also East Asia, but that’s a whole other article.
Reading about your adventures everywhere, some readers might think you’re just an anchorless hedonist, but you’re actually happily married, and your wife does travel with you. Since it’s nearly impossible to synchronize wishes or demands on the road, this is very rare. You’re very lucky. To wrap up, do you have advice for Americans who might want to get out?
Yes, for much of the past 5 years of non-stop travel my wife has been by my side. It’s been pretty amazing and I am incredibly fortunate to have someone so willing to be ‘unsettled’ throughout the world. It’s always fun to travel alone but having someone to wake up and make breakfast for–no matter the weird city we’re in–is pure pleasure.
For those looking to escape, my advice would be to have a plan but not to commit to it too firmly. Too many people over-utilize the Internet to the detriment of on-the-ground intelligence. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met who’ve ‘sold everything’ back in the States and then bought a one-way ticket to Fethiye or Chiang Mai without ever visiting these places once! All based on some Youtuber’s drone videos. It’s ridiculous. These are, unsurprisingly, the people that go back to Michigan in a few years.
Once travel opens back up, get your money right in the US first. Don’t burn bridges. Then, pick a region. Pack minimally. I recommend warmer countries first simply because there’s less to pack. Don’t worry about booking an apartment for a month. Book a few days on Airbnb. Move around to a different neighborhood. In a city like Jakarta or Yangon or even Milan, you can have a dramatically different experience based on your neighborhood.
Keep in mind, no matter where you travel, you’ll always bring yourself along. If you aren’t happy in your own head, in your own body, then no amount of wandering will change that.