Volunteer Your Way Around the World – Interview with Adam Pervez

Travel is often very selfish. Most people land in a foreign country, rush around  sight-seeing  and escape again without getting a real glimpse into the people or culture. There is a different way. Adam Pervez, is choosing to spend his two-year world adventure volunteering in rural communities while getting immersed in local cultures and forming meaningful connections with the people he encounters. Perhaps the more you give to foreign cultures and people, the more you will get in return.

Alex Perez in Morocco

Please tell us about yourself.

I am 29 years old and hail from Cleveland, Ohio, USA. I studied electrical engineering, worked for an oil services company in the Middle East, then went to Spain to get an MBA (Masters in Business Administration), and then accomplished my “dream”… working in renewable energy in Scandinavia!

What was the driving impetus to quit everything to travel?

The quality of life in Scandinavia was amazing. I lived in Denmark and life was good and easy. But it just wasn’t for me. I found myself full of anxiety and stress. I’d feel pressure in my neck, my eye would twitch, and I kept getting sick. My body was rejecting the life I presented it and I had to figure out what my ideal life really was. I outline the series of events culminating in my decision to quit working in my Corporate Tool To Nomadic Idealist series.

Please tell us about your website, HappinessPlunge.com?

I call the process of self-discovery, formulating a new life, and then going after it without looking back The Happiness Plunge. You have to take the time to plan something sustainable and perfect for you and then dive headfirst into this new life.

In my case, I left behind the comfort of a six-figure corporate life to take the road less traveled. It felt like a bungee jump without the cable, yet I wasn’t nervous nor concerned whether it would work. Everything felt right and I still can’t imagine doing anything else right now.

I started the site to share my ideas about happiness initially. Then once I “took the plunge” and quit my job, I started serving as a case study for my philosophies. I don’t advocate that people pursue my nomadic life. I advocate people pursue their perfect life.

The more people out there pursuing the right life for them, the better this world will be. If I can inspire a few other people to take the plunge, and then they inspire a few people, then there will be a lot of happy and positive people out there doing amazing things, probably making the world a better place!

What is the Happy Nomad Tour?

The Happy Nomad Tour is the fun label I’ve given my Happiness Plunge. I’m a nomad, happily traveling around the world. As of mid-December 2011 I’ve been to Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, and I’ll be in Venezuela for Christmas and New Year’s Day.

Each place I go I volunteer with the goal of leaving it a bit better than how I found it. Most travelers look to take from a place, I look to give. You can see the planned Happy Nomad Tour route here.

Travelling to rural locations must pose some problems for personal supplies, internet, etc. How has it been so far?

The more rural the location, the more amazing the experience has been so far. In Panama and El Salvador I was pretty off the grid (literally and figuratively) and it was so amazing to see how they live, what they believe, and what they think of the outside world. In Honduras I helped people off the grid connect to it using 21st Century technology – a truly amazing and rewarding experience.

Alex Perez in the Honduras

In terms of personal supplies, I have minimal requirements: toothpaste, toothbrush, floss, nail clippers.. not much else. So it’s no problem to keep stocked up on supplies. The internet can definitely be a problem at times and going days without it can put a strain on me. To some extent I can prepare things offline, but even with text and pictures ready, it still takes a long time to put a post together once I get online. In some places I’ve used internet cafes, regular cafes, hotel lobbies, USB modems, and even the Panama Canal watching area to get connected and keep things up to date. I am grateful to take what I can get when it’s available. 🙂

When I’m in a remote site, I live as the locals do. I eat their food, bathe their way, use the bathroom their way, etc. It’s true immersion and I love it!

How has the experience of volunteering and connecting with locals been so far?

Every experience has taught me something, made me step outside my comfort zone, and made me appreciate their way of life. In other words, it’s been amazing! I don’t want it to end as this world has so many solutions to offer in a time when cultures seem to be converging and losing distinctness.

How do you find the volunteer organizations and how do you do it for free?

I’ll be posting a series of articles about what goes on the scenes behind The Happy Nomad Tour on my website soon. I don’t want to spoil that, so stay tuned. But yes, it’s a lot of work doing it the way I do it and keeping the volunteering free!

Are you earning an income while traveling?

As of right now, I have no income at all. So no, not yet.

I don’t have any ads on my site and there are only a few affiliate links sprinkled here and there. Right now I’d say I don’t want to load my site with ads to earn an income. In time, I’d love for it to be a community of people taking the plunge, supporting each other and sharing their experiences. Let’s see.

In 2012, I’ll start looking for income opportunities. I’d love to speak at business schools to encourage their students to think outside the box and pursue their passions since I was in their shoes not too long ago and I’m doing something totally different with my MBA.

Can you give us a rough break down of your monthly living expenses?

I don’t have a budget, but I’m frugal by nature. Again, the behind the scenes post is coming covering this topic, but when you eliminate (or as I say, outsource) housing, you can really keep costs down.

Can you please tell us some administrative details about your banking, health insurance, credit cards, etc.

I use SydBank from Denmark. I never transferred my money to my U.S. bank account, though I have one there too for emergencies. Sometimes I have to try multiple ATMs to get one to work with my Danish card. Apparently, many ATMs don’t like the chip in European debit/credit cards. Only in Colombia did I give up and use my U.S. account, but I was in a rush. I’m sure it would have worked somewhere.

I use a Chase British Airways credit card since it offers 0% surcharges on foreign purchases (though I don’t think I’ve used it abroad yet though) and it gave me a very valuable 100,000 frequent flier miles.

I use worldnomads.com for my health insurance. Luckily, besides a tooth filling and a stomach bug in Honduras, I’ve been pretty healthy.

Do you travel with a lot of possessions?

You can see my gear here. It seems like a long list, but it’s really not much stuff at all. I don’t feel like I need anything less, nor more. I can fit everything inside the big green backpack, but I usually carry the small one with my electronics separately. For some reason separating them feels more comfortable.

How long do you plan to continue the Happy Nomad Tour?

Initially, I said I’d travel for two years. If I do travel for two years, then I’m already more than 1/6 through the journey and I still can’t wrap my head around how fast time is passing by!

So yes, it could easily extend longer, but it depends on money too. I’m giving myself a year to figure out how to make things sustainable given the little amount of money I need.

What are some of the downsides of constant travel?

I’ve become accustomed to a lot of things I never thought I would, but one of the biggest things is stretches of days/weeks without a good night’s sleep. I just arrived in Colombia and I swear the neighbor of the place where I’m staying (I’m couchsurfing) is running an illegal night club next door complete with loud pounding music until 3am.

I have had maybe five hot showers since I left Honduras two months ago.

Another downside is always needing to think ahead and plan where to go in the future, where to stay, where to volunteer, etc. If I were stationary, this would be eliminated, but each new place offers so much new inspiration that I don’t mind 🙂

I speak Spanish, so I’ve been fine in Latin America. I have a feeling, though, that once I get to Asia I’ll quickly tire of the language barrier. In the past, it was always short trips and I was in the comfort of the touristy area where many people spoke English.

Do you have any advice for people considering volunteer work abroad or long term travel?

Know yourself. Know your limitations, your perceived level of comfort, etc. Do your homework and find your fit.

Don’t expect long-term travel to be easy. It’s not. You have to constantly be on guard, planning, and cognizant.

Don’t expect to see results from your volunteering efforts. Change takes time, and realize that what you think might be helping could actually be harmful. Instead, don’t try to measure your volunteering efforts. And if you do, measure it differently!

HappinessPlunge.com – Adam Pervez’s website
Follow HappinessPlunge on Twitter
HappinessPlunge on Facebook

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My name is John Bardos. My wife and I gave up our business, house and possessions in Japan to search for more meaning and fulfillment in our lives. We've discovered that a satisfying life is about rich experiences, quality relationships and meaningful contribution, NOT consumption.

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