Colin Wright is a full-time traveler, author, speaker, and notable minimalist featured in the Netflix documentary, Minimalism. A perfect candidate that would understand the Rogue and Vagabond lifestyle. He is also the host of podcast and co-founder of a publishing company called Asymmetrical Press, accomplishing a great deal at a young age. When I reached out to Colin he was in Seattle, and a few days later in England, so I conducted the interview via email.
Was there a particular event that pushed you in the direction of minimalism? What was enticing about the minimalist lifestyle that was so drastically different from the one you had been living? And when and how on your journey to minimalism did you meet Ryan and Josh, because didn’t you introduce the lifestyle to these creators of the Netflix documentary “Minimalism?”
Wright: It was more of a slow buildup that led to a moment of clarity, during which I realized that I was killing myself with work, trying to achieve a set of goals that weren’t important to me, and trading my most finite resources — time — for things that didn’t matter as much to me as the things I was putting off.
I didn’t realize that what I was doing had a name, at first. I was just trying to simplify things, and focus on what was really important. Only later did I come across that label for this concept, and begin to refine the transition I was making under that header.
I had been writing about minimalism for about a year when Josh contacted me, wanting to discuss the topic. We met up and chatted, and I shared some of what I had learned about this philosophy up until that point. They then took the concept and ran with it, creating their documentary, but also all their books and essays and other media on the topic, which has carried the concept further than any of us could have imagined, back then.
So, I see that for the past decade or so you have put the fate of your travels in the hands of your audience. Can you explain that process a little and how you manage to keep up with work when you’re being pulled in different directions?
Wright: For about 7 years from when I started traveling full-time in 2009, I had the readers of my blog, Exile Lifestyle, vote on which country I would move to next, leaving me to choose the city. I would then move to that city, rent a flat, and do my best to live like a local for about four months, learning what I could in the process about the culture, the town, local traditions and economics and pastimes, and things of that nature.
After 7 years of that model, I began to experiment with changes to it, trying shorter and longer periods, and spending a few years in the US — quite the interesting experience after that long on the road, living out of a bag. I got an apartment in Wichita, Kansas, then Memphis, Tennessee, and tried my hand at something approaching a more conventional living situation, in an attempt to make sure I could still be happy and fulfilled and challenged in a beneficial way while holding still; living in a more familiar place, but still able to find valuable frictions, still able to grow.
That experience was wonderful, but after Memphis I was ready to try something new again. I developed a plan that revolved around setting up my own year-long speaking tour, but which also included living full-time in a vintage motorhome that I bought and fixed up. I’m still on that tour, currently (a little over halfway finished with it), and it’s been a wonderful, educational experience.
Throughout all of these different living situations, my work-load and routine changes, adjusted to fit my lifestyle, rather than the other way around. Much of my work is timeframe-flexible, so I can do a lot of work ahead of time to prepare for a few weeks where I know I’ll be too busy to record a podcast or write anything, but I can also settle in to a more chilled-out and moderated routine when I want to, and when my lifestyle allows it.
All of my deadlines are self-defined, which is nice, but I’m also kind of a stickler for meeting those deadlines: a necessary requirement if you’re going to work for yourself and make unusual business models viable, over time.
So focus in the moment is vital, but laying out those structures (lifestyle, deadlines, routines and rhythms) are, as well.
I read in your latest blog post that you like to “stack the deck for serendipity.” I really like that. I have believed, for some time now, that we create our own luck. With that, you also talked about how the person you were five years ago would not be the best person to handle your life five years from now. Can you talk to me a little bit about stacking our deck as we evolve as a person?
Wright: Stacking the deck for serendipity allows us to recognize our power over what happens to us, while also acknowledging that we don’t and can’t control everything; there is such a thing as luck and happenstance, and all we can do is try to ensure we’re able to take advantage of the good luck when it arrives, are capable of making the best of bad situations, and are more likely than not able to utilize opportunities when they occur (and recognize them for what they are).
This is also a great way to stay aware of context, and a reminder to be aware of how lucky you are for the good things you’ve got.
I often say that I don’t know where I’ll be or what I’ll want five years from now because the person I am today is wildly different from who I was five years ago — and it stands to reason that this trend will continue.
It makes little sense, then, for a younger, less-informed, very different version of myself to make decisions of vital importance for a future version of myself.
This leads me to build systems and structures that are flexible, then, so that I have platforms upon which to stand and build, but am not locked in to any one life path. I like to be able to invest in my future without reducing the number of options I have when that future arrives.
Obviously, you believe making travel a priority for you now instead of a “maybe someday” dream is important. Do you think it’s essential or there is a power in making those “maybe someday” dreams a focus in our current, present life instead of putting them off for another day?
Wright: I think it’s very easy to give day-to-day routines so much prominence and priority that our ‘somedays’ never arrive.
That isn’t to say that only these pie-in-the-sky ambitions are valuable: there’s a lot to be said for building wonderful, consistently enjoyable and healthful routines and rhythms in our everyday lives.
But if you sacrifice a whole lot for something that you may do someday, there’s a chance that you’ll never get there, for a variety of reasons. So, it’s important to be careful in what you give up, and important to set concrete deadlines — moments when you’ll finally take that leap — lest you wake up one day, decades from now, and realize that you never got around to doing that thing that was supposedly so important to you.
I’ve traveled with people before that had a tough time dealing with the shock of being in a developing country. In one of my blog posts I talk about taking a friend to Costa Rica one time who had a difficult time adjusting; although, initially, she wanted to take a trip to India. That would have been way too big a leap for her. You’ve said that you had never been outside of the United States before you picked up and left LA to travel the world. What country caused you to experience the biggest culture shock?
Wright: Travel is often just one culture shock after another. And most travelers, with time, come to recognize that those differences are one of the most valuable things about travel, rather than being a difficulty one must endure.
A lot of my initial shocks of this kind were silly: products or brands or services that weren’t available outside the US, and a lack of things like public bathrooms and water fountains; infrastructure I never appreciated until they weren’t there.
Later, though, these sorts of superficial differences become commonplace, and you begin to notice the deeper, structural differences. And again, ideally, you begin to look at them as just differences, rather than absolute pros or cons, advantages or disadvantages. Every country in the world is doing something better than every other country. We all have things to learn from each other, and to teach each other.
These culture shock moments are shocking because we are being exposed to some new way of seeing things; a valuable moment for anyone to have.
I like to consider myself a cultural traveler. I pursue music, art, food, drink, dress and rituals with an almost hedonistic approach. Whatever the common person is doing I want to join in. I think staying at resorts overseas is no different than booking a high-end hotel in any major city in the US--you’ll get a similar experience. However, complete immersion may not be for everyone. If there is any single piece of advice you had to give to anyone thinking of traveling for the first time, what would it be?
Wright: I tend to prefer to see things like locals see them, as well, but I can’t fault people for pursuing their own preferences when it comes to travel. Everyone has different priorities and ambitions, so if you prefer a cruise or a resort to renting a flat in an actual neighborhood, it’s better than you realize that so you can get what you want from the situation, rather than investing in someone else’s dream.
That said, I would suggest that anyone who’s traveling consider allowing themselves to say “yes” more than they might back home—to allow themselves to consider pursuing opportunities that arise, even if those opportunities don’t fit within the schema of what they planned or what they typically enjoy. Some of my most memorable experiences have resulted from this approach, because the most memorable moments are often those we didn’t plan for, and couldn’t have planned for, because they were outside our perception of what to expect or what was possible.
I’m fascinated by what is considered taboo in different societies. Although becoming more acceptable, polyamorous relationships still have a negative stigma. Friends in the poly community like to give me advice on how I should seek my relationships. Friends in more traditional relationships constantly ask me when I’m going to settle down or insist my mind will change about having children when I “meet the right person.” I, personally, believe there is a gray area we don’t normally acknowledge. You’ve said before that “non-standard relationships” are practical for you. How does that work for you when you are constantly on the road?
Wright: I don’t think there’s a wrong way to do relationships, as long as there’s no coercion involved, there’s plenty of clear communication, and everyone’s getting what they want out of the situation.
I’ve had a variety of different sorts of relationships over the past decade, and all have served their purpose wonderfully, in that regard. Each relationship has been unique, based on the people involved and the circumstances in which we found ourselves.
Trying to put ourselves in boxes that aren’t made for us, that aren’t custom-tailored to our unique needs, is the issue here, I think. There’s nothing wrong with more traditional relationships if that’s what the people involved want, just as there’s nothing wrong with polyamorous, open, or other types of relationship, if that’s what the people involved want.
I find that when I keep that in mind, things tend to work out quite well — even when the lifestyle or circumstances are quite non-standard.
In one sentence, what is confidence to you? And how can people find you, follow you, get involved?
Wright: Confidence is knowing who you are, what fulfills you, and what you’re capable of, while also being aware of how much you have left to learn—humility mixed with an understanding of your own capability.
I’m also on Instagram and Twitter: @colinismyname
Trevor is a freelancer and working musician who has traveled to six of the seven continents. He scours the earth in search of wonderful people, taboo events, and ultimately, all the culture he can absorb. You can follow his gonzo-style travel blog at roguevagabond.com.