I never expect to bump into anyone famous on my travels. But on a humid and breezy evening in a restaurant in Mandalay during my Myanmar adventure last year, I sat down at a table for dinner with one of a handful of travellers who have ever inspired me to continue my dream of a life of travel. This man was Bill Passman.
Not recognizing him by his face, I spent a short time making small talk and discussing how everyone spent their day in one of the most fascinating, but tiresome cities I visited during my trip to Myanmar. Mandalay is a fast paced city that has the ability to consume you, make you fall in love with it but make you despise it all at the same time.
He then began telling us that he had journalists on his back asking him for interviews. At this point I thought this traveller had probably had too much to drink and was going to go on a boasting rant about his travels and his amazing blog and how it was funding his amazing travel lifestyle, a story I heard a lot on my travels. But then he lifted his shirt and I immediately knew who he was! He was the man with the crazy tattoo of the world map on his back!
Just weeks before our trip I had read about him and from that moment on I was completely in awe of his amazing life story that got him from being a small town lawyer in Louisiana, to a nomad with a growing iconic tattoo! I told him how he was famous in the UK and he looked at me surprised! “I just have a tattoo…nothing special!” He seemed pleasantly surprised that his story had reached the UK!
But his story of how he sold all his belonging to travel the world has inspired hundreds of people of all ages to live the nomadic life. So I sat down to interview him this month about his current travels and his future plans…
What inspired you to get the map on your back?
I was inspired to get my world map tattoo after traveling to Thailand. I wanted something that expressed my passion for traveling. Then I met a girl in 2010 who had an outline of world on back and was going to place a red dot wherever she traveled. I decided to expand on that idea and after doing some research I found no one had done what I wanted yet. So I got my world map tattoo as a way of recording my travels. I quit my job as a lawyer, sold up all my belongings and headed to Tanzania where I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. So far I have made it to 84 countries and all 7 continents including Antarctica, but I still have the last 14 to color in. My latest additions include a lot of Eastern Europe.
What was the most painful country to fill in?
Probably Russia. It is the largest country and the first time they messed up the color so I had to have it filled in a total of three times. Thats over 6 hours of pain!
Are you planning on adding anymore tattoos to your back or body?
I recently got an opened compass tattooed on my back that includes my favorite Thoreau quote “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.”
What are people’s reactions to your tattoo? Have you had any bad experiences or opinions?
Not really, I get mostly amazing reactions, especially from young backpackers.
What has been your favourite country so far?
Guatemala is my favorite country but also love New Zealand and Nepal. Anywhere with mountains.
What does your family think about your travels?
In the beginning my family thought I had lost my mind. But now they think it is incredible.
A lot of people may ask how are your travels funded?
When I began I sold EVERYTHING including my house and I quickly learned how to travel inexpensively staying mostly in cheap countries such as Asia and Central America. Right now I guide a few trips around the world to help fund my travels.
Are there any countries you wouldn’t want to revisit? Perhaps a country you didn’t enjoy?
I really did not enjoy Vietnam, mostly because the people I encountered almost always wanted to cheat me out of my money but I will probably want to give it another chance in the future, possibly in more remote villages and away from the touristy places.
Do you plan on always travelling or will you eventually head home?
I plan on traveling the majority of my life that remains. My Wanderlust does not make that an option. But current and future grandchildren will always have me returning home for several months a year.
Where are you heading next?
I am taking my grandchildren to visit Peru and Guatemala in July! I am also running a few guided trips to Ireland, Portugal and Spain this fall, then Africa, South America and possibly New Zealand in near future.
Do you have a crazy travel tattoo? Would you consider getting a tattoo to document your own travels?