Tom Turcich walks 21 miles a day. Sometimes more; never less. For the past two years, Tom has been on a quest of Forrest Gump proportions: a walk around the world, tracing a path through all seven continents. He has three more years to go.
Since he first stepped out of his New Jersey home in 2015, Turcich has been all over the American South and South America; currently, he is kicking up his feet in Montevideo, Uruguay. We caught up with him to extract the knowledge he’s gained so far on his epic pilgrimage — and to find out what the hell’s up with that baby carriage he’s pushing.
Q: You started in April 2015. How did you prepare for this trip? How much was planned out in advance versus just winging it?
A: There isn’t much of a roadmap for what I’ve done. A lot of people have walked across America. But long-term walking is much different than walking something like the Appalachian Trail, where you can use a backpack.
Basically, I took Karl Bushby’s route from the bottom of South America up to Alaska, and then I took this other guy’s route who had walked around the world in the ‘70s, and then basically combined them so I would hit all seven continents. I saw that some long-term walkers used a cart — a baby carriage or something to push their things so their back wouldn’t be destroyed over so many years.
I got a bike trailer and was planning on hitching that to my belt or something, and then I went to this local maker’s space right by my house, looking to see if anyone could modify an aluminum arm. I ended up meeting the owner; he and I became good friends. He said bike trailers aren’t such a good idea, and that he’d build me a custom cart, get me some sponsors, get me in the newspaper. That was all perfect, because it’s not really my personality to go talking about myself. He built the cart and got me my first sponsor: Wildfire Radio. They helped me with my website and things like that. And then we had a press conference, there were some news articles; I was on Fox and stuff like that. That got me my main sponsor, Philadelphia Sign. That set me up for long-term travel.
Q: You had a close friend who passed away several years before you began walking. How did your friend’s passing influence you to go on this trip?
A: My friend AnneMarie — she was 16, I was 17. We were pretty good friends in high school. She was in a freak jet-ski accident. It was my first close experience with death. Up to that point, you’re young and you think you’re invincible and everything is bubbly and great — so her death was really formative for me. I remember not being able to really think clearly for like a month. Everything that I thought was set in life was shaken to the foundation. I had to rebuild to my philosophy, or build a new philosophy, knowing that you could die at any moment.
Then someone in my Speech Communications class put on Dead Poets Society. I was like, “Oh, that’s it! Carpe diem.” So that became my mantra, and I was trying to live it out, and toward the end of the year, I was looking for ways to travel cheaply. I googled something along the lines of “walk the world,” and I discovered Karl Bushby and others who had walked around the world, and it just stuck in my head. Then it was seven or eight years of planning and trying to make it happen.
Philadelphia Sign, my primary sponsor, said they’d donate one dollar per mile walked to [AnneMarie’s] scholarship fund. Her death, now, is something far off — more of an idea than anything else. But she was the catalyst. I wouldn’t say I’m doing the walk for her — I’m doing it because of her passing.
Q: You’ve been walking for about two years now. Where has your journey taken you so far? Where are you going next?
A: I have the map planned out for the length of [the trip]. I walked from my home in New Jersey down to Georgia, over to Montgomery, Alabama, then down to New Orleans and over to Texas, entered Mexico, walked down to Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras and Costa Rica, then Panama, and then from Panama City I flew over to Bogota, and then to Ecuador, then Peru, then down to Chile, then crossed the Andes into Argentina, then over to Uruguay. Those were the first two legs — North and South America.
It was really, really solitary, and when I was in it, my mind was just so blank. It took on the shape of the landscape, and one day would bleed into the next.
From here, the plan is to go over to Ireland, then possibly up to Scotland; walk down to England and mainland Europe, probably walk over to Germany and then down across France and Spain; cross the Strait of Gibraltar and then do Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia; then back up to Italy, over to Croatia, then probably walk up to Poland; then it’ll be over into Russia and Kazakhstan, Mongolia and into China a little bit, and then across Australia — I’ll be doing a long walk in Australia, I don’t know all the details yet; and then the last leg will be from California to back home. A six-month-long victory lap in the U.S.
Q: You’re flying too, though, right?
A: There are separate legs, if you want to call them that. So the first leg was New Jersey to Panama City, then because of the jungle there, I flew over to Bogota for the second leg. In between legs, I fly.
Q: Of all the places you’ve been so far, which has left the biggest impression on you?
A: I guess I’d have to say the first country out of the U.S., which was Mexico. I had been abroad before, but it was just to Europe. Going into Mexico and not speaking the language, and people living very differently — I just had to adapt so much. The first week or so near the border was super stressful. Not really being able to communicate with anyone, not being able to trust anyone, seeing the constant police and military presence. People would say to me, “Why are you walking around here? I don’t walk around here.” After I got further into Mexico, I was able to relax. Feeling the start of the world walk, and getting my legs for it, was a great feeling.
But every place has its effect on me. Colombia was incredible. I’ll definitely be going back. In Peru and Chile, I was in the desert for, like, four months. That really affected me. I hit a town maybe once every three days. It was really, really solitary, and when I was in it, my mind was just so blank. It took on the shape of the landscape, and one day would bleed into the next. At night, there’d be millions of stars overhead. It was pretty intense.
Q: Have you had any crazy near-death experiences?
A: I had a guy in Panama City stick a knife to my neck. I sat down for breakfast in this kinda shady area that I shouldn’t have stopped at, and suddenly I felt something cold on my neck, and I look up, and this guy with red eyes and stringy hair was looking down on me. I jump up, and then he starts coming after me with the shiv, and we go back into this convenience store, this Chinese couple was yelling at me trying to get me to leave, and this guy’s still got the knife. After a minute or so, something went off in this guy’s head, and he took off. I went back outside, and there’s a crowd out there. They’re all pointing down an alleyway, and this other guy had taken my backpack. Amazingly, the police got him, and they were throwing him against the wall with my backpack and my passport, [my dog’s] paperwork and my laptop. Thankfully I got away with everything.
Q: What’s the benefit of seeing the world on foot?
A: First of all, the first four months were really, really meditative. When you walk, you look within yourself a lot, and I think that’s an important part of traveling. A lot of people who travel do it for reflection. Walking is the best way to reflect on your life and where you want to go.
Beyond that, it’s the truest way to get to know a country. I passed through these little towns where they haven’t seen a white guy maybe ever. I remember walking through Mexico and I didn’t see another white person for four months. Then I got to Lake Atitlán in Guatemala, and all of the sudden I’m in this town with all these gringos, and I couldn’t relate to them. You’re much, much more immersed, versus just bouncing from destination to destination.
From my perspective, when I arrive at these “destination” areas, the travelers there are getting this modified version of what the country is actually like. They’re getting the Americanized version. Whereas if you’re out there in the jungles of Colombia, and you find this little restaurant, you’re getting the real thing.
Q: What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned about the world?
A: The world is bigger than it seems. Especially related to the urban-sprawl, reach-of-man kind of thing. There’s still a lot of the world that’s totally untouched. When you’re reading the newspapers, you get the impression that it’s so hard to find an unaffected area. And really, most of the world is unaffected. You just have to go there.
Tom Turcich’s World-Walking Essentials
Cascadia 12 Trail Running Shoes by Brooks $130
“Since I’m mostly just walking on roads, I don’t need any serious support like hiking boots. I’m not stepping on weird angles. I just wear sneakers, and they usually last about a month or so — 600 or 700 miles.”
Cougar One-Child Carrier by Thule $483
“It’s this hyper-engineered baby carriage with insane suspension. I could easily push a hundred pounds and it’d handle it, no problem. Really, it’s the only option if you’re going to go long-term walking. You could do it with a backpack, but to bring enough gear to live comfortably and to not destroy your back, you gotta have the baby carriage.”
Metal Vent Tech Short Sleeve by Lululemon $68
“It has silver thread in it, so it doesn’t smell. That’s actually super important, because if you’re wearing synthetic, it ends up smelling really bad. If you’re wearing cotton, it gets hot and heavy and uncomfortable.”
UltaMid 2 by Hyperlite Mountain Gear $715
“Until Argentina, I was using a Hyperlite Mountain Gear tent. I had that for almost two years, and it was amazing. I’d love to get another one. But I switched it up to an MSR Hubba NX.”
Project Fi by Google Learn More
“I’d recommend Project Fi a thousand times over. It’s the greatest thing ever. The service is fantastic.”
Sherpa 100 Power Pack by Goal Zero $300
“I used to have two sixty-watt Goal Zero solar panels that I laid on my cart, but in the Southern Hemisphere, the sun is at my back, so it loses a lot of its efficiency. So I just gave those to a Colombian family. But I still use Goal Zero’s Sherpa battery. With that, I’m able to charge up whenever I stop at a restaurant or something like that.”