“I’m not afraid of the unknown. I’m excited to embrace it.” #P2P Vol. 7: Spencer Bing
My friend Spencer Bing is a 26 year old soccer enthusiast mere days away from one of the biggest journeys of his life: he’s packing up his things and catching a one-way flight to South America, where he’ll be living for roughly six months. A New Baltimore, Mich. native, Spencer’s going to be leaving behind the world he knows to make his way across a new continent — and he couldn’t be more excited about it.
I caught up with Spencer to see what motivated him to take such a risk, what he hopes to accomplish and what he hopes to find while he’s there.
The start of something new.
So, what’s your plan?
“My initial plan is 2 months in Columbia, but I’d like to spend a couple of weeks in Brazil because the World Cup is there.”
What are you going to be doing down there?
“When I first fly in, I don’t really have any plans. I’m going to probably meet up with some of the people I met the first time I was there, but it’s very flexible plans and nothing’s concrete for the first couple of weeks. I just want to be able to experience anything as it comes along.”
You’ve gone to Columbia before?
“Yeah, I did.”
“In 2009, my church was going to Columbia and my dad messaged me asking if I’d be interested in something like that. So, I went down with a group of about 15 to 20 and we served for two weeks in Bogotá, the capital of Columbia — that’s where I’m flying into. I’m very excited.”
What’s the plan after that?
“After a week or two, I’m going to another city. I’m not sure what city — maybe hit the coast of Columbia for about a week and a half before I head over to Medellin where I will be volunteering for six weeks at a eco-hostel.”
What’s an eco-hostel?
“It’s a hostel that grows their own food. You’ll probably meet a bunch of travelers with stories to tell and it’s very cheap. You pay between $15 to $30 a night.”
Oh, great. So what are you doing there?
“I’ll be volunteering there teaching English for one hour a day, then working in the field for three hours a day. And that four hours of work covers my stay so I don’t have to pay for a room during my stay. And I’m also paying for a Spanish class the hostel offers, and that covers my food.”
That’s pretty great!
“Yep, and I still have my weekends free so I get to do some traveling on the weekends.”
How long will you be gone for total?
“My goal is six months, but I’m not 100 percent sure I’ll stop at six months or that I won’t make another jump before the six months is up.”
Are you afraid at all to be leaving the country for that long?
“Uh … not really. I’m actually very excited. I think about the things that I might miss, like my family and friends, but I’ve been out of the country for that long before in Korea and The Philippines for an internship.”
Were you homesick then?
“Well, the more I think about it, near the end of that trip I was convincing myself I was homesick. But when I got home, I realized how little had changed and all I could think was ‘Ugh, I miss The Philippines. Why did I ever come back?’ So I’m sure that I’ll be alright when I’m over there. Plus with technology, I’ll be able to have a Google Hangout with like four or five members of my family while I’m there.”
Why buy the ticket?
Do you feel like you have this natural curiosity about being somewhere other than home?
“I think initially I was a shy kid growing up. I wasn’t very outgoing. My best friend growing up was really social and his family helped me get out of my shell to interact with people. And, when my parents got divorced, they moved a lot. Movement became something that was very normal in my life. It helped form my feelings on movement, seeing new places and meeting new people because I was doing that every year or two.”
How many times did you move?
“I finished high school in a Port Huron school district for five years, but other than that I had never gone to a school more than two years.”
So, you got used to meeting new people and that encouraged you to continue doing it?
“I never really thought about it as something I definitely wanted to do. But it inspired my traveling, definitely.”
How did this trip even come about?
“I was considering going to teach English in Korea in fall 2012, so I started getting my visa paperwork together. And then in December, my grandpa — who was sick at the time — took a turn for the worst. So we went down to Florida to visit him, and I decided to stick around just a little bit longer. While I was working, I listened to audio books and that’s when I came across Tim Ferriss’ book.”
What book is that?
“The 4-Hour Work Week — and it’s more than just someone looking for only a few days to work because they don’t want to work; it’s about changing your lifestyle and how you don’t have to live a standard, conformed life to what people in the past have. There are so many possibilities to create something someone has never done before.”
Sounds like an interesting read.
“Yeah, it is. So, I stayed home and I realized early 2013 that I wanted to go on another trip because I was aching to go somewhere, but I had no idea where. Then, I lost my aunt in May to cancer — which was a complete shock.”
Oh, no! That’s terrible.
“Yeah, she had only been diagnosed a couple of months prior and the doctors didn’t say she only had a couple of months to live. That held me in place longer, too. So, by the time summer came along I realized I definitely wanted to go somewhere. I started narrowing down the places. I figured I’d spend about three months saving so that I could get ready to go. This past fall, the plan was to do three months in Costa Rica. Then, it evolved into a month and a half in Costa Rica and a month and a half in Columbia. Now, it’s in its current state of two months in Columbia, about a month in Brazil, a couple of weeks in Peru and a couple of months in Argentina.”
“I’m really excited. I’ve saved about half of everything I’ve made since last summer, which isn’t a lot of money but it will work because a lot of the places I’m staying I’ll be volunteering to pay for my food and housing which will offset the cost. But even if I had to pay for a hostel to stay in, it would still not be that unreasonable.”
What is it about your everyday life that makes you embrace opportunities like this?
“Hm. I guess what I would say to that is in the last year I’ve lost four loved ones — my grandfather, my aunt, one of my childhood best friends and one of my fraternity brothers.”
Oh, wow. That’s rough. So the loss you’ve experienced makes you want to go?
“Realizing how finite life is in the last year especially, seeing how people have to react to situations like that and dealing with it myself — it’s a lot of loss. And the more I think about it, the more I want to go out and do this.”
To go out and do what makes you happy.
“A lot of people say put aside your dreams, like traveling, and wait until retirement. A lot of people live the normal 9-5 life, and that’s okay for them to do that. But for me? I don’t see myself working a 9-5 the next 40 years so that I can retire and travel when I can travel right now.”
“You know, these are the moments I’ll look back on and be most fond of. If I can make it work, why shouldn’t I? I’ll have stories to tell and friends to share it with.”
A blank page.
Essentially, what you’re doing is putting your life in Michigan on hold to live somewhere else. Are you afraid that when you get back, things won’t be how they were?
“Well, a lot of the inspiration for my trip and my thoughts on travel are derived from that book.”
What sort of things from that book inspired you?
“One thing he said was to physically write down what the worst case scenario is — if this trip doesn’t work out, how would you get yourself back into a normal situation? Worst case scenario for me is I move back home, I find a job and start from zero again. For me, that’s not an issue. Worst case scenario for me doesn’t seem that bad.”
“You know, I don’t really necessarily view it as putting my life on hold because I’m not sure the entirety of my life is meant to be in Michigan. People say ‘You’re going on a trip’ and I say ‘No, I’m moving.’ It’s because I have no idea where I’m going to be after that.”
Do you have something else in mind?
“I don’t have a concrete plan yet, but at the end of this year I may move over to Asia to be in Thailand or China. To me, it’s more than a trip. I want to learn about the culture, I want to be involved with family and friends down there, I want to learn Spanish.”
So it’s kind of a leap into your next chapter?
“Yes, absolutely. This is something completely new for me, it’s something I’m really looking forward to. It’s not really an experiment, but it’s a first attempt at something to see how easily I can recreate it somewhere else.”
How’s it feel to have that blank slate on your life without knowing where you’re going?
“I think for me, I’ve never really had a super end goal. Even when I went to college, I never had a solid idea of what I wanted to do. After I got the internship in Korea and the Philippines, I had an idea I wanted to work in the video game industry but I’m not 100 percent I still plan on doing that. Maybe I’ll do that when I get to Asia after this trip.”
So how do you connect with people that you don’t know?
“Soccer, or football as it’s called around the world. It’s something I’m passionate about.”
How is that?
“I played all four years of high school, but I never really had a passion for it until senior year. In college, I played club and that led me to opportunities to play for a semi-pro team when I was in the Phillipines.”
“It was cool. One thing I really like about that passion is that it helps me connect to people in another way. A lot of people enjoy the game, so even if I don’t know these people or I don’t have anything in common with them, I know they like the sport and it’s something to talk about even if we don’t speak the same language.”
Do you use that as a universal language to relate to people?
“That’s definitely what I’ve done. When I was in Korea, very few people over the age of 30 or so spoke English in any capacity. I’d have to get by with a hello or a thank you. For the first two weeks, I was in Seoul and I started feeling a little put out. That’s when I found a team — the Seoul Gaels, a Gaelic football team — and I was able to interact with people I had never met before.”
“Yeah, the same happened in the Philippines. I looked up a team that might be interested in having me play with them, so the first weekend I was down there I went to a soccer tournament the team invited me to watch. I brought my gear because they invited me to train with them. But during the game, one of the players didn’t show up so they threw me a kit and invited me to play with them. We ended up winning that tournament, and I played with them the entire time I was in the Philippines. So, it’s definitely a way I connect with other people because I have such a passion for it.”
That’s pretty cool. So then, what are you most excited about for this trip?
“The unknown. What if I meet a girl and decide to stay for a couple more months? What if I’m playing soccer with someone and I get invited to play for a team, then maybe I end up in a semi-professional league? What if I get offered a job teaching English or working in the video game industry? There’s a lot of unknowns, and that’s the most exciting thing for me. I’m not afraid of the unknown. I’m excited to embrace it.”
On the three things he absolutely wants to accomplish this year.
“One would be to become somewhat fluent in Spanish. Two, I would like to go to the World Cup in Brazil. I want to make that work. And finally, I want to help someone in each place I go and reach out to someone who needs it. In any way possible.”
On where his love for volunteering began.
“My volunteering came from church when I was younger. I used to go a lot. That led me to go on a couple of different mission trips. I went to Philadelphia, I went to Detroit to serve and I’ve also been to Indiana to serve.”
On Restless Reserve.
“Our passions, the things that drive us to do what we do, become our ‘restless reserve.’ It becomes what motivates us to go further in our daily life. My goal is to share my restless reserve with other people — my passion for soccer and travel — and share the pictures and stories about other interesting people in interesting places they’ve reached because of their own restless reserve.”
Do you have an end goal in mind?
“I’m more so taking the next step, and the next step after that. I don’t have an end in mind, but I do have steps along the way that I want to take and I’m taking it one step at a time. I’m kind of excited to see where it leads me.”
Spencer’s story is a part of #P2P, a recently launched blog series that profiles the choices, risks and lifestyles of influential people I come across. For more on my personal journey with #P2P, subscribe to my blog, follow me on Twitter or subscribe to me on Facebook.