Interview with Robin, a brave traveler with two disabilities

We met Robin this summer in an Airbnb apartment in Vienna, while we traveled on our motorcycle.

He told us his story as a traveler. Robin travels to show himself and to others that people with more than one disability can see the world and can adapt to different environments. He proposed us to interview him, so his story can reach more people.

Here is his story as he tells it:

Ancuța: Hello Robin,

Thank you for proposing this interview.

It’s a wonderful thing wanting to share your experience with others.




Ancuța: Where do you come from and how old are you?

Robin: I am from Redding, California, United States.  I am 26 years old.

A: How did you decide to travel?

My major, I took at my university was Geography.  Unlike my geography classes in high school, the lessons not only involved studying maps and where things were, but how people and environments were different from each other, and similar to each other, in different places.  Then we studied how those similarities and differences related to real-world issues.  For example, when we were studying aquifers (underground rivers) in Geomorphology, we studied how the giant aquifer in the Midwest region of the United States naturally irrigates the soil and makes it possible for that region of the US to have so much agriculture, and looked at the causes for why it is starting to run dry.  This way of looking at the world, being curious about how the world works and trying to figure out why places are the way they are, was new to me.  I wanted to find out more after college, and I knew I hadn’t saved enough money to continue my education after my basic university degree.  A professor recommended that I travel, and so I did.


A: You said that you want to be the first person with more than one disability to travel to every geographically distinct region in the world for at least a month each. I think it’s important to inform people and to minimize stereotyping, so can you tell me some things about your disabilities?

R: Well, having looked into it more from then, that goal is not realistic; that’s too many regions to fit into one lifetime.  My new goal is to go to as many distinct cultural regions as I can in my life.  As for my disabilities, they are bipolar disorder and Aspergers.  Bipolar is when you either have too much energy and get really excited over almost nothing, or you’re depressed.  Basically, people with bipolar find it very hard to keep themselves calm and happy at the same time by default.  For some people, medication is the only thing that works to enable the ability to be calm and happy that the bipolar tries to shut down.  For others, meditation helps too, sometimes to the point where medication isn’t needed.  Meditation helps me a bit, but medication works far better.  Since travelers endure a lot of additional stress that would push anyone towards being more excitable or depressed, I take medication.


Since I have Aspergers, my brain lacks the ability to process and express tones of voice, body language, and connotations.  In fact, these parts of the brain are shut down, so that when we are made to process them, they are instead processed on the part of the brain that interprets logic.  Since this part of the brain interprets this literally when the nature of our brains forces us to interpret non-literal communication literally, it doesn’t work and we don’t get it.  We can sometimes try and guess what those things mean by trial-and-error.  In rare cases, this works well, but by default, we do not understand non-literal communication and are only naturally good at expressing ourselves literally.  Also, since the logical side of our brain gets overloaded, sometimes we focus on just one thing for a while, seeming to obsess over it.  This is simply letting the logical side of our brain rest – when we do this, we aren’t constantly having to process multiple subjects at once in one focused area of our brain.  And often, we just shut down or zone out for a while, creating the misunderstanding that we are unempathetic.  The opposite is true.  Our empathy just goes logically, and the fact that we can’t naturally express our empathy in a way that is recognizable to most people.  And the fact that we feel it, but can’t express it only creates more and more.  It can be frustrating for many people who have it, but I just treat the people who don’t understand as I would want them to treat me: knowing that the way our brains work is different, but it doesn’t make them wrong or bad people.  This helps to calm me when I think of it and helps me do my best to express myself in a way that people understand.

A: Did you intend to do it for an amount of time or did you just start it?

R: I didn’t really have a goal when I started… that was five years ago, I believe.  I suppose my goal is always changing, that seems to be how most goals are for me.

A: How many countries have you visited until now?

R: I have been to 17 countries so far: the United States, Mexico, Canada, Ireland, United Kingdom, Spain, France, Germany, Denmark, The Netherlands, Austria, Italy, Slovenia, Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic, and Slovakia.

A: What do you use for traveling to one place to another?

R: As far as transportation, I use a variety of methods, usually the cheapest method that is tolerable.  Usually, I use rideshares, buses, and trains, and the occasional ferry.  I only take airplanes across oceans though, and even then I don’t like it… not enough leg room, and not interesting enough to write about.

A: What kind of accommodations do you use?

R: I use Couchsurfing if staying for a week or less.  For more than one week, I usually end up getting an Airbnb with a weekly or monthly discount.  I usually prefer to Couchsurf though.

A: Do you have a budget per day/month?

R: I have a budget, but it varies dramatically based on where I’m going.  The general rule is less in rural areas and cheaper countries, and more in cities, tourist areas, and expensive countries.


I also factor in tips for service workers, in many places wages for service industry workers aren’t enough for cost of living adjusted for what necessities cost in those places, so I research all of it and factor it into the standard for the extra amount I pay restaurant servers, taxi drivers, etc. in a place.

A: How do you fund your travels?

R: I do online odd jobs when possible, and when not possible I save money.  Often, I do paid surveys, freelance writing (not just travel writing, Listverse pays $100 for each ‘top ten’ list they accept), and even yard work for hosts in the United States.  All of this has to be done as I am trying to break into travel writing, so often I just have to focus on cutting my spending as I travel – it’s a good topic to write about anyway.

A: What was the most breathtaking experience that you had?

R: Going to Ireland for the first time.  Everywhere, everything was green.  Most people were friendly and hospitable as could be, but not in such a way that it seemed fake – they genuinely were and enjoyed being people with a good heart.  In the United States, too many people have this idea of ‘if you’re too good of heart, you’re either being fake or you’re being taken advantage of’.  Learning in Ireland that this was not necessarily the case took my breath away.


A: What is your favorite place to be and why?

R: Ireland, for the reason above.  I want to live there someday.

A: You said that you want to write a book about Poland. Why Poland?

R: Poland is one of the most interesting places I’ve encountered, so it would make for a great book if I were to write one about my travels through it.  It’s also where I happened to be when I wanted to write a book about traveling… that’s the main reason.  But I didn’t take good enough notes to write an entire book about it, now I’m writing a book about being in New York City for a month.  I’m definitely taking better notes now!  I would like to try again at a book about traveling through Poland if this current one works well.

A: Do you have a name for your book?

R: I do not have a title for it yet.  Most titles I write come after the rest of the main content has been written as a rough draft, then I adjust the title sometimes as I write more drafts.  I just have partial notes now since I’m still doing the trip for my current book, I’m in New York City now.


A: Where do you want to head next?

R: After New York City, I want to go to Memphis, Tennessee.  I’ve never been to the South region of the United States unless you count just being on the train through northern Kentucky on the way to where I am now.  I’ve heard the food is delicious!

A: For how long do you plan to travel?

R: I want to travel until I die of old age.  Whether that’s realistic or not, I guess I’ll find out.

A: What does your family think about your travels? Do you have their support?

R: My family was worried at first, but accepted that this was what I wanted to do and that I was going to.  I call them frequently to let them know I’m ok, and now they don’t worry nearly as much.

A: What is your philosophy about traveling?

R: I don’t know.  I guess I’m always coming up with new parts of my philosophy for travel as I’m doing it, and I always will so… 42?

A: What is your message for the people who are reading this article?

R: Travel to the best of your ability.  If you think your ability seems to hold you back, try harder.  If you’ve tried all you can and you still can’t travel, take a walk outside, around your town.  Take public transit if it’s available.  When you become curious about the world and think about it in new ways, your world can become bigger.  And in that way, you can travel to your hometown… it is truly just as important.

If you can travel around your region, your country, or internationally, do the same thing.  Look at these new people, new environments, and new concepts as a geographer would. “How is it different or similar to things back home, or other places I’ve visited?  In what new ways can I think about this?”  This way, you will never find an excuse to be bored.

You might even come up with new ideas, or new concepts that you thought of while outside your hometown, or out in your city, that relate to problems back home.  You might apply these to fix them.  When we travel anywhere outside the abode we live in, we can all help the world by thinking this way.  Traveling to further-away places just makes it easier to think that way, so don’t waste the opportunity if you can travel farther.

A: Thank you, Robin, for sharing your experience with us.

Safe travels and hope to see you soon somewhere.

If you want to find out more about his stories, you can follow Robin here:

http://www.robinheater.com/

Ancuta


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