Presenting: Brandon Wilson – Author, Photographer and World Traveller Shares Tales of a Pilgrim

As I have gotten older I have found myself getting increasingly disenchanted with my regular rat-race life, and I have actively searched out individuals who have walked a different path. On my website you will find many people who have quit their corporate jobs and created new lives, much more spiritual and meaningful lives that are not dominated by the quest for consumption and material gain.

One of these people is author and photographer Brandon Wilson. Read here about his unique path and his special insights as a world traveler and pilgrim.

1. Please tell us about yourself. Where are you from, what is your background?

I grew up in Pennsylvania’s Ohio Valley, went to university in the South, and have been moving farther and father west throughout my life. Now I live in Hawaii. If I head west again, I run the risk of starting all over again as I cross the International Date Line. I’m facing a weird time-space dilemma.

Brandon Wilson, author/pilgrim, amid the poppies of Hungary
Image © Brandon Wilson

2. Some events shaped you and kindled a passion for travel when you were very young. Please tell us more.

I discovered the freedom and addictive lure of travel at an early age. When I was six years old, my father and I set off across America in a red and white Chevy with a burlap bag full of water strapped to the grill. To a bright-eyed kid, there was something magical about the open road, not knowing what lies around the next bend. Hey, there still is. My father and I feasted on a now-extinct America along Route 66, complete with teepee motels, plastic cactuses, and characters straight out of a Tarantino film. I was hooked. That trip planted a seed in my fertile imagination that grew into a passion for travel and exploration.

3. In the 1980s you decided to change your life. What were you doing before, what made you want to make a change and how was your transition to a more unconventional life?

Up until that point, like many people, my chance to get away was limited by my job, bank account and perceived responsibilities. I’d been trained in communications and tried to fit into the bizarre mold (or algae) of the corporate world. Well, I never adapted well to cubicle-life. Thank God. I ended up on the creative end of the biz, but even then I realized that this was like dressing a pig in pajamas. It was still a pig.

In the mid-80s, my wife Cheryl and I quit our jobs in a remote Arctic Eskimo village, bought a round-the-world air ticket and took off for a year. It was a chance to defrost as we worked our way though a mental checklist of all the places we’d ever dreamed of exploring: from India’s Taj Mahal to the tombs of Luxor to the nude beaches of Greece and spas of Japan. It was an exhaustive and eclectic list.

Brandon Wilson at Mt. Everest base camp
Image © Brandon Wilson

Traveling on just $30 a day, we learned how to travel and live like a local wherever we landed. That was a valuable lesson, as it easily dispelled the myth that you have to be “rich” to travel. Independent travel was far better anyway than being stuck in a tour group and surrounded by all the folks you hoped to avoid at home. Besides, it was a lot more fun to hop a ride on a Thai train, teach “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” to local guys and buy grilled kabobs out the window.

4. Your first big pilgrimage happened in 1992: you and your wife went to Tibet. Why did you decide to go on this trip?

Honestly, at first it appealed to us as the ultimate adventure. We’d grown up with the mystery of Tibet. The Land of Snows had been cloistered for so many centuries. After the Chinese invasion in 1950, its borders had been closed off and on for decades. Travel was limited to a few propaganda-laden tours.

So there was little surprise when we applied for a visa and were told that it was an “impossible” journey: there was no food, no place to stay, no maps, extreme weather, nose bleed altitudes, no way to communicate, yada yada. The more the Chinese insisted it was “impossible,” the more I wanted to do it. To top it all off, visas weren’t being issued. So we decided to go to Nepal and apply again there. If we couldn’t get a visa, we’d sneak in and move from village to village relying on fate or karma.

Prostrating Pilgrims in a cloud of incense, Jokhang Temple, Lhasa, Tibet
Image © Brandon Wilson

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