Knut, Norwegian, 27 is an online entrepreneur and has been travelling for the last 6 years of his life. Never far from his next chuckle, or beaming smile, Knut is the type of person who approaches life with wonder and a gleeful cynicism. He also has the type of confidence in himself that can tilt you off balance – if you are not firmly standing in your own boots.
We met in Medellín, Colombia where he stayed for 4 months. I remembered being amazed and sometimes puzzled about the way he saw the world and his ability to laugh at pretty much every-and-any thing.
I have to say that this interview was really insightful for me. Knowing him today I could never imagine the radical changes travel had on his personality and confidence in himself; but the beauty of it is that these past moments didn’t seem to shake him.
He laughed at himself, the world, and gave us a really raw look at Knut behind the smile. There are some really great gems in here so I hope you find it useful, as ever.
When did you first realise that travel was going to be a big part of your life?
I always wanted to go travelling, since I was about 6 years old. Where I lived in Norway, there are like 7000 people on the island, and nothing going on. Being in this small place I was really drawn to bigger places; I used to watch all these movies growing up, like “The Island” and “Into the Wild”. However I never travelled until I went to Cuba for two months. I was 21, and up until that point I’d been no further than Greece, with my family….
I remember the moment I decided to take my first trip. I was in a coffee shop complaining about the weather (I know!), and my friend said to me “isn’t your business online now? Can’t you just go?” Then, he brought an old globe to me, spun it and hit the Caribbean. Where specifically? Cuba. Five minutes later we bought a ticket, and he was coming too.
And how was it?
My first week was incredible.
Cuba was a Caribbean paradise frozen in time since the 1950’s. Sheltered from the consumerism of the modern-world, with no advertising or smart-phones, and a culture stacked with music and dance.
By the guidance of my friend, I explored Cuba in Old-fashioned American cars, horseback riding through the hills of Viñales, and diving deep into bottles of rum and cigars.
For a clean-shaved Norwegian arriving in white shirt and dress shoes for his first ever backpacking adventure – it was a fairy-tale ride beyond anything I had imagined…
That lasted for about a week
…when my friend decided to leave Cuba with his life-saving Spanglish, and I was left alone in a country that I didn’t understand, and not an English-speaking amigo in sight. So I’m alone on an island with no Internet, no Wi-Fi, no Google, no tourists, no one speaks English, and I’m scared. While my friend was there he was the one speaking to people, finding places to sleep, getting taxis. I realised he was the one leading, and I was just following.
The first time you do the whole solo travel thing you feel paralyzed – everything is new, something as simple as finding a place to sleep is a scary proposition… So the first few days I stayed exactly where I was. The following days I travelled a bit, but after 2 weeks, i started feeling so alone, stressed and inadequate about everything – it caught up with me. I locked myself up in my room for three days. I was sad, depressed, and lonely.
I had to create everything for myself
No people who would invite me to a party, or strike up a conversation unless they wanted to hustle me. If I wanted to have fun, I would have to make it. If I wanted to make friends I would have to do it.
I realised I had always been sheltered from ever really having to “create life” like this before. Back home I had my communities to rely on. I met friends at work or school, and there was always a Facebook invitation to an event, or Google to ask for the way, or at least a movie to distract me from ever feeling alone. But here in Cuba, I felt isolated and helpless and inept. It took those days of crying about it to realise: I have to create my experiences here.
If I wanted to have fun, I would have to make it. If I wanted to make friends I would have to do it. It was the biggest growth experience of my life. I started engaging in conversations with people – even without the language. I opened myself up to be hustled, and to my surprise I found out there were actually people who really wanted to talk! I felt myself opening up and changing so much, as new people came into my experience. Doors opened for me too. I learnt how to find my way without a map, to pick up some words for goodwill, to let my guard down and trust in people I didn’t know; to get burned a few times of course – but to walk out alive.
Going Home: the end of a trip, the beginning a life
I’d been away two and a half months when my plane departed back to Oslo. And I was sitting in tears on that airplane feeling so grateful and alive. The trip had touched something in me I didn’t know existed. I couldn’t believe the things I’d done, the people I’d met, the person I’d become.
The Knut who crossed the Atlantic was not the same who returned.
When I went back to Norway, all I could think of was the movie playing in my head of everything that happened in Cuba. Like I’d been living a dream, and all I wanted was to do was go go go.
It was then I met the guy who changed my life, and he didn’t even know it. He was 52 years old, and had been traveling for 20 years. His eyes were shining, his energy alive and vibrant – like the sparkle of his soul had a different age than him.
He told me:
“At the end of your life, all you’ll have are the people you love and the memories you made. Always follow the path that leads to the most memories.”
He said sometimes people accumulate so many things, that the things end up owning them instead of they owning their things. I took a hard look at my life, and a year after Cuba my stuff was gone, and my life was packed up in a carry-on heading for the Americas.
How often do you travel?
When I started I just wanted to see the entire world. I wanted to see everything; so it was 3 days here, 1 week here… I just bounced around Latin America, and Europe. But as time progressed I slowed down. And it was more: 6 months here, 4 months here… I’ve been travelling since I was 21 and I’m now 27. I definitely switch locations less frequently than when I started.
I travel differently now. In the beginning I thought that the best experience comes from seeing the most things: the waterfalls, the monuments, the restaurants and churches – it’s the tourist mentality. You know, you see the top 20 things in the guidebook, and you feel like you’ve been to Barcelona, etc, but I’ve been to many spectacular places that I don’t even remember until I see the photos. And there are places that aren’t as beautiful for example, that I treasure so much that I could never forget. The type of places where you get to become part of the ebb and flow, rhythm of the place… It’s not about seeing the place, but living the place.
How do you financially support travelling?
I think the first thing to note is travelling can be a lot cheaper than people think. For example, I had a friend in Oslo that rented out his room on Airbnb and then he made enough to buy his flight. The amount of living in London for example is not the same as cost of living in Asia or Mexico. Just my monthly rent in Norway was the same price as my total living expenses in Mexico for a month.
Before I would stay in hotels and I didn’t understand that when I went to a touristy place, things are 10 times more expensive; and that things can be so much cheaper two minutes down the road. When you start to understand how things work, everything gets cheaper.
I think people are scared about getting out of touristy places, staying in hostels, or eating like the locals – but, you gotta get burned to learn. If you want to be careful, go on a cruise ship – but for sure it’s more expensive.
I have a business online, and I work on my laptop as I go – but for most of my time travelling I made far less money than people thought I made. The thing is, the same money that would have me struggling to get by every month in Norway, was funding a life of travel and adventure in exotic places. The $5 coffee in San Francisco is a $5 tenderloin steak in Argentina.
There’s a book called The 4 Hour Workweek that I highly recommend. In 2017, so many jobs don’t require you to be in one place. You can find jobs online. Many people I met used the book to negotiate working remotely instead. They told their boss “hey can we try a project where I work from home for a week?” They deliver amazing work, and are able to do their work from the beaches of Rio. Obviously you can find work in the place too.
I know a lot people talk about travelling and starting a “lifestyle business”. I’m a little reluctant to hype that, because it’s really hard to start up a business, and no matter what the people say – there’s an immense amount of luck and skill and hard hard work involved with the very few people who make it.
I think people sell the benefits without speaking of the risk and challenge, and I see a lot of people buying into that, but it doesn’t work for everyone. For every one that succeeds, there are thousands who don’t. It’s not easy to do. If you’re not an entrepreneur or already or have that mind-set – I think it’s waaaay easier to get a job that allows for working remotely – or earn the trust of your boss to give you some freedom.
Either way the 4 Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferriss is a great place to open your mind to a whole world of new possibilities.
What are some of the obstacles you gave yourself in regards to travelling? And how did you overcome them?
Cuba was a crash course for me in overcoming obstacles.
Like really… it was literally like being sent back in time. I think a lot of people travel with their phones now. Every problem you run into has a Trip Advisor thread, or a Lonely Planet article. If you’re lonely or bored, Facebook is right there with a million friends waiting to talk to you. You’re never really alone. Being in Cuba I had to face the demons, the loneliness, the uncertainty, and doubt.
Without Internet or language, the only way of finding out who serves the best food is by eating it. I think a lot of people go online and look for someone else’s experiences to follow. But this situation meant I had only my own experiences and opinions to guide me.
I went to Cuba and I learnt to trust myself. To make friends where you are. Not posting pictures for likes mid-trip, or Skyping your friends. After that I had an immense trust in myself that most things will turn out well – and that I’ll figure things out if they don’t.
I remember one time the bus crashed and I ended up in some random place at 4am Cuba, and there’s no hotels, right? The only thing they have is Casas Particulares. So here I am, all alone with a bag on my back, knocking on peoples doors at 4 am with dogs chasing me in the dark hoping some sleeping cubano will wake up and let me in! (Knut laughs). And I was like “Hola quiero dormir” (Hello, I want to sleep). A lot of people got pissed off but eventually someone let me in – but charged me double; but I was so grateful I stayed for five days. (Knut laughs again).
After time you become a travel cat… you learn to land on your feet!
Did you have any preconceptions about the type of people who travel and how did you personally fit into that?
I don’t know… I think there are so many different people with different stories that I’ve met – so no. It’s easier for me to relate to people who travel all the time, than people who never moved further than their city walls. I think since I was never like that, I have more preconceived notions about those people, than the travelling kind.
What are your notions about those people?
Yeah, like… I think there are a lot of people who haven’t had a chance to really expose themselves much. You grow up in a place, and your environment tells you who you are, what to do, what’s right, what’s good, what’s bad, and what’s definitely dangerous.
Your parents, the media, school, friends and family all have ideas to feed you -often good ideas – but at some point it’s hard to know what’s really your idea and what is someone else’s. I think when you travel so much, to experience yourself in different locations, to see so much of humanity, and to experience the world through the eyes of the people and their cultures –it strips away from what they taught you back home, and you start thinking more for yourself. You become less of what you’re not, and more of who you are.
It’s very hard to travel the world and still be a racist. It’s hard to see so many cultures and lifestyles and people, and say “my way is the only way”. You would literally have to walk around with blinders to maintain it. I think it’s easy to get caught up in this box… and think small, when you could be thinking big.
I get two reactions to me all the time:
Wow that’s awesome, I wish I could do that it’s crazy and I love it…
Then I get people who are sceptical and think I am weird and escaping reality’…
What’s your favourite type of accommodation? Give an example.
The shittiest, shittiest apartment building in Chapinero, Bogotá.
I got an invitation to stay with my friend from Australia. I get there and it’s a fucking shithole: no hot water; when it rains, it floods inside. There’s water on the floor, radiator screwed – it’s cold as fuck, and I have all these summer clothes. The kitchen is shitty, the streets are full of garbage and dogs.
My friend has a room there for me to crash in a few nights, but the landlord is a dick who wants to charge me to sleep on my friend’s floor. But as a self-proclaimed “really nice guy”, he finds me this old kinda dirty storage room and ‘cleans it’ for “just a few pesos more” (his favourite words). The bed in this room is so hard you have to be careful not to break your hips when you sit and there’s mould on the walls! (He is laughing/ smiling while explaining).
But the people that were there: me, my friends, the other people staying at the house, made such a magical atmosphere of family, chaos, fun, adventure, love. We had people from all around the world staying there. Some rich, some poor some had never travelled before. The rawness of the place being so shitty united us, and we spent every day together. We played guitar outside till the night was dark, drank, sang and explored the thrilling life of Latin culture. Sometimes I would go to bed with my chest hurting from laughing so much.
With all my experiences, luxury hotels, paradise islands, and beautiful apartments around the world… I have memories and friendships from this place that no dollar could ever have paid for.
I also like Couchsurfing, I think that’s something everybody needs to do. The coolest place I’ve stayed through Couchsurfing is a contemporary art museum in Venice. It opened the door to a world beyond the tourist front, and into the “life behind the scenes”, drinking wine on a rooftop with fireworks lighting up the canals all around us..
My best advice: Always choose the place that opens the door to unpredictable experiences. Stay in hostels, go couchsurfing, rent a room with Airbnb. Where people are, the magic happens. Say hello, and open yourself for adventure.
And travel alone, always.
Think of a moment for you that sums up why travel is important.
The crazy thing about travel is how much it shifts and shapes you. You forget about your life back home and everything you live is right here, right now. The experiences, the people, the moments, the memories. They all have an impact. But caught up in the adventure, you don’t realize how much you change. How meaningful it all is. How grateful you are.
On my plane home from Cuba, I had 18 hours of solitude to think about what happened and how I showed up. I didn’t watch a movie in the whole trip. I was writing and writing, so many moments came back to me. Everything I lived here had become part of me. And now all would be different because of it.
Travelling solo long term shakes up everything you thought to be true, and sometimes it’s only in these spaces in between, on a train or an airplane, that you realize how much it all meant.
Most interesting person you’ve met because of your travels?
Hm, well I would say this guy, I met him only briefly on a layover in Istanbul. He was a journalist from Croatia. But he made himself this career of travelling and putting himself in dangerous situations and writing the stories for magazines back home. He’s been kidnapped by the guerrillas in Latin America, almost killed in Africa, held at gunpoint in Serbia, almost drowned on a fishing boat in Iceland because he just had to push the limit.
He put himself in all these crazy positions on purpose, and has a ridiculous bag of stories to tell. You’d picture this Indiana Jones Action Man here oozing with confidence, but here’s a skinny looking, slightly feminine guy, with not an ounce of ego in his bones… Modest, curious, and friendly – but with courage of a different world. I thought: this is a man that really lives.
He connected with everyone as if he already knew them. And he was so humble too, that I had to drag the stories out of him! I think he’s lived the life of 20 men, and he’s like 26…. He totally broke off from what his family expected and carved out his own job and life as an adventurer and writer.
Do you have a favourite travel experience or location?
Cuba was the best… unmatched. I’m into history – for that of course you can go to museums; but when you go around Cuba and it’s like nothing has changed. No cars, no commercials, black and white pictures. It’s a crazy place to go…
What do you like to do when you visit a destination?
I like to arrive with as little planning as possible. I tend to begin finding my way through the place: go to a restaurant or café. People are usually really friendly and ready to tell you all about their home. I then find my accommodation, take a walk, get lost – it’s different every time.
Thoughts on solo travel?
When you live in one place – everyone has a certain expectation of who you are, how you’re supposed to be. You live and bathe in the ideas and philosophies of the people around you. You step into patterns of who you’ve always been.
Solo travelling breaks all that. You come to a new place, and whoever you were before don’t matter. You’re free to be the most truest you in that very moment. You become more independent. You start thinking for yourself. You’re forced to trust in your instincts. To find your own truth in life.
It is the hardest but the most rewarding way to travel. It’s the scariest to start, but the way to make the most incredible memories – and potentially change your life.
Favourite website/ app for travel?
- Airbnb (TIP: rent out your own place, and go for a weekend trip for free)
- Kiwi flights (you can search for wider areas than one city. I.e. it’s half the price to go to Poland and take the bus into Ukraine, than go straight to Ukraine)
- Momondo.com – searches multiple airlines to find the cheapest flight
- Travel Wallet (only for iPhones, let’s you track your expenses in local currency, and show you how much you spent in your home currency)
- Google Maps
- Facebook Events (ok this is the new thing. Facebook has a function under events where you can go to see all the events in your city. Great for finding unique local events that’s happening right now)
Most practical travel item?
- Minaal Travel Bag – It’s a cary-on travelbag that fits a shocking amount of stuff, is very durable, and looks good. I love skipping the baggage line.
- Inflatable support pillows for your head – it’s the most underrated item. Take it with you and make train rides and long flights a thousand times more comfy.
- Soov Bite Gel (!) – got this from an Australian traveller. If you get a mosquito bite it takes away all itching instantly, and symptoms are gone in a day. How much does it add to your experience when you can have a bite, but no itch – ever — it’s like bacon with food.
- USB battery packs – even the bad ones are such a life saver
- Microfibre towels — super lightweight tiny towels
- Packing cubes – with these you can compress all your baggage to take up way less space, and makes your backpack/suitcase manageable over time.
- Hairbands, or something to wrap your wires so they don’t become messy
- GoPro Camera – With expensive cameras I often tend to leave it at home afraid it will get stolen or destroyed – but the Go Pro is small, virtually indestructible, and takes great photos in quick snaps, so you can be right back in there living the moment.
- Noise-cancelling headphones – for the feeling of being on a noisy train or crazy airplane, only to pull out your “container of silence” and soothing music. Priceless.
How has travel changed you? What skills have you gained that you can apply to either your personal or professional life?
In terms of the personal: trusting myself, becoming more of myself, becoming more confident and more relaxed. Also the ability to not take myself so seriously, and not be scared to put myself into experiences that might be embarrassing (like dancing salsa as a stiff Norwegian with all the girls laughing at you!) It has brought me so many experiences I’d otherwise miss out on.
With Career it’s… standing on your own two feet, independence in decision-making. But also the empathy and understanding for a lot of different people/ backgrounds has made me a better team player. There’s this quote that says “wherever you go, there you are” – and I think that’s so true whether it’s romantic life or business life, the me that changed while traveling will always be with me.
Don’t want to say bye to Knut just yet? Join his journey on Instagram.
About the series
Meet the Travellers is a series profiling travellers from different backgrounds, talking about how they do it, why they do it, and how it’s contributed to their life in a positive way. Aside from fun travel tales, I get them to get useful with their chat – offering you guys some real takeaways for your own endeavours. Looking for their go-to travel apps or most useful item? See the full series here.