A Q&A with Eric Giuliani, who left an unfulfilling job to pursue a life-long passion for travel
Questions by Carter Miles
Photographs by Eric Giuliani
Getting lost will help you find yourself
~ Eric Giuliani
Eric Giuliani left an unfulfilling career 18 months ago for a life of travel, circumnavigating the globe and documenting his journey through photographs, film, and writing [follow at traveltall.com]. Finally living vibrantly, we catch up with Eric in Phuket for a reality check on his dramatic shift.
In Episode 1, you mentioned “hitting rock bottom.” What was this like for you?
Rock bottom was the realization that my boring job and routine will never change unless I decide to take ownership for putting myself in that position. I realized that I needed to stand up and do something about the lack of love in my life (and I don’t mean relationships). I hated what I was doing.
I was living Einstein’s definition of insanity, which is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. The rock bottom feeling would always hit me the most as I would drive to work and sit in my car for a few minutes before getting out. That time alone, knowing that the next 8 hours were going to be awful, was always the low point for me. My buddy and I called that the “car sit.” It’s when you sit and drag out the last few sips of coffee, send a few more text messages and then listen to one more song on the radio, because you don’t want to get of your car to face the day.
How did you cope with the life you were living?
I think on paper my life was great; I had a well-paying job with flexible hours and all the modern amenities of a young professional living in Miami Beach. So it was a bit confusing for me, because I had all the things most people would strive for. There wasn’t much to cope with in that sense, almost like ‘ignorance is bliss.’ I didn’t know what I didn’t know. But when I really got down to it and started to tap into myself and who I wanted to be, the thing I had to cope with the most was the lack of creativity in my life. Everyday was a carbon copy of the one before it, and in that realization was a spark that demanded change. A creative force was churning inside me and I had to stifle it every day until finally, it began to force its way out.
Did you have a distinct moment when you decided, now’s the time to change?
About 5 years ago, I took a leave of absence from my job and flew around the world to see the places I’d always dreamt of. I spent all my money and I only had 90 days for the journey, but it was such an eye-opening experience that when I returned from that trip, I knew that I needed to figure out a way to get back to that vibrant way of living.
What classes/information did you seek out before embarking on your travels?
Since I had no background in photography, filmmaking, writing or website design, I needed to learn everything, which was overwhelming. So I broke them down into simple, easy-to-manage categories. I wrote down the steps I needed to learn and then checked them off as I moved my way through them — that really helped me mentally in the sense that it was like, Okay, here is step one, just do that today. Step one for photography, for example, was simply learning about how to buy a camera. Then I registered at our community college for classes in photography and writing and attended free photography workshops at my local camera store. I enrolled in online writing and filmmaking classes at Matador U and watched thousands of Youtube videos. I took a website design workshop to learn how to build and maintain my own site. I also read several self-help books in order to really work on my thought process — that began to expand my limited view of what my life could be.
To practice photography, I would get up every morning before sunrise, walk to the beach with my camera and film things as the sun was coming up. Afterwards, I would workout on the beach and then go to work. After I finished one job around 3pm, I would go to a second job until about 7pm. People always say they don’t have enough time or money to do what I’m doing and that was the case for me as well, so I had to find more time and more money. But during that time alone, early in the morning with the sand and the sun, I could visualize this life coming into being — and this is why I believe it is all working out now.
Why start in Africa, and more specifically South Africa?
I wanted to start at the southern tip of Africa and work my way up. I figured Africa would be the hardest continent to cross, so I wanted to do that first — because I knew that if I could make it across Africa, the rest of the world would be easier — or so I thought…LOL! As it turned out, getting stuck in Siberia in the middle of winter rivaled some of the hardest parts of Africa.
Describe how you felt on the plane to South Africa?
It’s funny, I wrote a chapter about missing the only flight on this journey and thinking, If I can’t even make the flight out of Florida, then how on earth am I going to make it around the globe? It was a mad scramble to rebook and race to another airport to make my connection at JFK; so to be honest, I was just happy to have made the flight at all — I didn’t really have time to reflect upon or to prepare for what was in store.
Who is the girl that you travelled with halfway up Africa?
I don’t want to say her name, because she asked me not to, but she has been a central figure in my life and some of the chapters I’ve written along the way. I guess you could call her my “girlfriend,” although we don’t use labels like that. She is a really special human being and I’ve never met anyone like her. It’s hard to change your life, and she was there for many of my growing pains. She picked me up many times when I was down. And even though we are no longer traveling together, and don’t speak as often as I would like, she is still very much in my life and at the end of the day, I would do anything for her — and I believe she would do the same for me.
What essentials do you carry in your backpack?
I try to travel as light as humanly possible. I have just a few pairs of shorts, two pairs of jeans, one pair of sneakers, about 8 t-shirts and some workout clothes. Other than that, I just have a small backpack for my camera and tripod. My iPhone, Macbook and Canon 7d camera are the most essential things I carry besides my passport. I’m always looking for ways to get rid of things and downsize, even though I don’t have much to begin with. I see people traveling with these monstrous backpacks and just shake my head.
Were there ever moments along the journey where you literally asked yourself, Am I nuts? Do you ever question yourself along the way?
I question myself everyday; I wonder where my next creative idea will come from and if I’ll then be able to carry it out. Now I question myself less and less, but it also comes in waves; some weeks I don’t question myself as much but then others…it’s like my mind is relentless.
What words would you share with someone reading this, sitting in a cubicle, feeling unfulfilled and passionless?
You’re there because you put yourself there. And the only way out is to get yourself out. At the end of the day, we are where we are because of the choices we have made. I hated my job more than anyone, but I’m grateful for that now, because that is what pushed me to learn all these new skills and change my life. Even when times are bad, I know that I’ve created those bad times. Once I took ownership for not just the good I created in my life, but also the bad, my whole perspective on what is possible in this life changed.
Do you ever get lonely, or break down emotionally?
I recently started getting lonely; it took about a year of traveling to feel lonely for the first time, which happened to be around the holidays. I was crossing Russia and China at the time and no one spoke English, so it was difficult to communicate. On top of all that, it was freezing cold — and I hate the cold. This is also when I had a bit of an emotional breakdown, because I had asked the girl I had been traveling with in Africa to meet me in Beijing, which was not far from her location at the time; when she said no and decided to fly back to Miami instead, that really hurt.
Do you have any moments where all doubt/insecurity is momentarily suspended?
I have a lot of those moments. I feel super-human at times and when I get into that groove, that’s really the reason why I am doing this — that feeling is better than anything else. If I could bottle it, I’d be financially secure. But on the flip side, there are many times each day when I question and doubt my self and my work. It’s a constant battle in my mind and I have to coach and train myself to rise above my doubts and to push on, no matter what.
Do you have any music or literature to keep you motivated on your journey?
When I travelled around the world 5 years ago, I ready about 10 books that really changed my life. This time I don’t seem to be reading as much, but my favorite is The Alchemist. I also read a lot of Eckhart Tolle and Dr. Wayne Dyer-type books, because they help keep me inspired and focused. I like the way Elizabeth Gilbert writes as well, so I am a big fan of her work. And I like The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron.
What relationships have persisted throughout your travels?
The one with myself, and with God, which to me can be one and the same — not that I’m God, but that God lives inside all of us. At the end of the day, this all boils down to, How well do I want to get to know my true self and Do I really have a burning desire to do that?
How have your travels changed your perception of human nature and culture?
I think the news is often not telling the whole story, which is why I made one episode about all the dangers along my route in Africa. However, if I traveled based on the U.S. Department of State website, I would have not visited about 75% of the places I did. People have been nice, helpful and kind to me everywhere I’ve traveled. I’ve spent time learning about other religions and beliefs and that has really opened up my mind to views that are not necessarily my own.
Do you believe that life has a purpose?
I believe that the purpose of life is the purpose you give it. I don’t believe in the limitations of circumstances, but rather that anyone can do anything they want at any point in their life. There are people from disadvantaged backgrounds from all over the world that are living their dream, so what excuse do I have? We can learn any skill we want and in turn, we can create any future we like.
Do you have any last message to depart our readers with?
I want to thank everyone that has joined my journey on social media, the comments, ‘likes’ and emails I get — during some tough times, they really makes all the difference for me.