Catching up with Colin Wright
Wright takes a break from his Exile Lifestyle to chat with Think Mag
By Hali Ortega
Colin Wright threw one hell of a party in 2009. It was a break-up party. But he wasn’t just breaking up with his girlfriend; he was breaking up with normal. At 25, he’d already accomplished more than most people. He founded Stim Magazine, a Midwest culture rag based in Missouri — that lasted two years. His LA-based design firm lasted four. If he kept at it, he would’ve been living the American Dream: cash, security and settling down.
Except Wright didn’t want the American Dream and he didn’t want normal. He had a different plan.
First, he sold everything that couldn’t fit into a carry-on bag. Next, he started a blog, Exile Lifestyle. But rather than creating a web page dedicated to his musings, it serves as his compass. His readers vote and tell him where to go every four months. Once he reaches a new destination, he settles in for 16 weeks before starting the whole process all over again.
In his four-plus years on the go, Wright has traveled through the 48 contiguous states (twice) and lived in New Zealand, Thailand, Iceland, India, Romania, South America, Southeast Asia and several other places around the world.
Think Mag caught up with Wright during a brief stopover in Boise, Idaho, to talk minimalism, entrepreneurship and adventure.
TM: Where did your sense of adventure come from? Is this something you’ve always had or is it something that came out through your lifestyle change?
CW: The travel thing in particular was a means to an end. I like learning; I like finding out new things and trying out new things and meeting new people. As a kid I didn’t say, “Yes, I need to travel. I need to go around the world.” I just said, “I’m anxious to learn things all the time,” and then figured out ways to do that.
TM: What was the hardest thing to get rid of?
CW: I had a lot of tech and getting rid of those things was tough. But as soon as I started, it honestly wasn’t that difficult. I never really had a moment where I paused and said, “No, this one computer is better than the idea of traveling.” It wasn’t even an issue at that point; possessions had taken a second rung in my priorities.
TM: How do you keep up with hygiene?
CW: Most of the places I stayed at first had running water for two hours a day. You didn’t want to drink it — or have it near any orifice, actually — or you’d get deathly sick. There was no electricity in a few places I’ve been. There were dirt floors the first two places I stayed. Trying to brush your teeth or put in contact lenses in those circumstances is incredibly difficult. You just have to roll with it. You can get stressed out, pissed off, say “screw this place” and leave, or you can just stay there and adjust to that reality. It’s a difficult thing to do — particularly for Americans. But you have to be able to bend when you’re traveling, otherwise you’ll just break.
TM: How do people react when they first meet you?
CW: It’s sometimes disbelief, sometimes horror — especially in places that are now latching on to the American Dream-style future, like India. They have a budding economy, but still have a long ways to go. Some people are all about a McDonald’s lunch and trying to build up a suburban lifestyle. They think it’s horrific that I would turn against that, especially because I come from a country where we have achieved a lot of what they are hoping to achieve. Other places — first world, very developed countries — they applaud what I’m doing. They want to introduce me to their kids, give them a sense of what’s possible; that there are these non-traditional directions you can go.
TM: So the American Dream is shifting?
CW: The American Dream is shifting toward something healthier — more sustainable, more local — while other places are just now moving toward the 1950s version of America. In my mind, that reached its apex here in the ‘90s. That lifestyle is just now starting to reach places like Russia, India and China. It’s a little bit terrifying. The reason we’re moving past all that is because it’s just not sustainable. It’s incredibly wasteful, unhealthy and polluting, and we are starting to see that. I’m hoping they are smarter than we were and able to get past it faster because it’s not healthy on a global scale.
TM: As a humanist, what advice would you give travelers on meeting people of different cultures?
CW: I would tell them to recognize that we are human first. All of the other things are unimportant, compared to that. It’s easy to focus on the differences, but it doesn’t do anybody any good. It leads to putting up walls instead of building bridges.
TM: What’s been your best cultural learning experience?
CW: The first country I went to was Argentina. It’s a very macho country — “machismo,” as they call it there, because it’s not just macho — it’s über macho. Their ideas about a woman’s place in society is diametrically opposed to mine. It was difficult to reconcile that friends I had there had opinions of women that were just atrocious, to me. If they had grown up in the same society I had, then they wouldn’t feel that way. But in their society this wasn’t a bad thing to believe; It was normal. It was really a remarkable thing for me to be able to put that aside and say, “It’s not important that I convert this person to my ideas. It’s more important that I recognize they are good people based on the circumstances that they were brought up in and that if I were brought up in these circumstances I would very likely believe what they believe.”
TM: Do you see yourself settling down?
Very unlikely — at least in the literal sense of the term. Settling, I think, is when you stop reaching for things; you’re settling for what you’ve got now. In terms of settling down with a family — it’s not a priority. It would be silly of me to say, “No, absolutely no,” because so much has changed in the last couple years. Who’s to say how I’ll feel in 20? But it’s not likely.
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