In this Interview Series, I will be highlighting a white guy named Jerome – aka my buddy Jerry!
Funny story on how I met Jerry.
We were staying at the same hostel in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. One of the nights, I went out with some of the ladies in the hostel (KL has popping “Ladies Night” all over the city!) for some drinks and convos. Casey, a young woman I befriended from South Africa that used to live in South Florida, told me there were a few people staying in our hostel from my hometown of Orlando! A few minutes later, Jerry and Tara (both from Orlando) come in. He told me he was “a white dude named Jerome” and I thought that was HILARIOUS! We’ve been friends every since! When I am in Florida, Jerry and I always make sure to meet up for coffee!
- So, tell the world about yourself!
Let me start this off, proper… My name is Jerome Leonard Eckerman II, but I go with Jerry 🙂
I was raised in a small town, in the middle of NOWHERE, Nebraska—
I moved to Tallahassee Florida 10 years ago—on accident… I was supposed to stay in T-town for five days then fly back, I never left. I had two outfits in my bag and the clothes on my back, and that was it BOOM… left EVERYTHING back in The Neb, including automobiles, job, fam, girlfriend of 4 years (EEEEK)—I didn’t even go back to visit for nearly 3 years (double EEEEK)…
- What made you decide to up and leave your life in the States to travel the world?
I felt as though I lived most of my 20s doing what I thought I was supposed to be doing; living it for other people, or other’s expectations of what your 20s are supposed to be… grinding away to put one’s self in some career stability, work towards a 401k, etc.
At 29, I assessed, I wasn’t married and I didn’t have kids, SO no time like the present!
When I sold or got rid of everything, I didn’t know if I was going to be gone for 2 weeks, 2 months, or 2 years—I just went for it!
- How long have you been traveling?
In the autumn of 2011, I sold my car, got rid of my phone, and left for England on Christmas Eve. I’ve been traveling for 26 of the last 36 months having visited 25 countries in that time.
I traveled here and there in my 20s, England a couple of times, Italy, and as a small child my dad was in the Army, so we were in Germany.
- As travelers, we get this question pretty often. How were/are you able to sustain yourself while you were traveling?
Initially, I saved. I saved about $5,000 when I left for Western Europe. I was able to stretch that for almost the entire year of 2012. Now, I didn’t work for any money whatsoever. I did work for food and a roof over my head. I also camped and Couchsurfed. As Americans, it is next to impossible to get work without a legal work VISA in European countries. Not impossible, though. You also have the language barrier impacting your money-making efforts as well.
- So we have talked about our travels plenty of times, and you have some pretty awesome, wild, and hilarious stories! Can you share one with us?
The best stories have been shared with friends, either new or old, and my adventure through Germany as an adult is no different.
While in Amsterdam Couchsurfing, I reached out to a friend from Florida State University, who was traveling in Europe at the same time. He had bought a 1972 Renault Estefan, van. The trailer was tiny, like an early 90s Ford Escort small. NOW it had two dudes living in it for a month.
We met in Luxembourg City, Luxembourg, and drove across into Germany. There would be many consecutive days where we would not shower—so that van smelt like two dudes had been living in it!
Some nights it would be a task to find a place to park. Most mornings were awful because Europe is full of pay restrooms, little to no public restrooms. I might have to walk about in the winter of Germany, for a mile or 2 looking for a bathroom, in the morning.
One time we met bartenders that fell pity upon us and would invite us over to their houses for a shower.
Because we were ballers on a budget, we ate twice a day—in the morning we would eat a piece of fresh fruit somewhere, drink a ton of water throughout the day, keep our stomachs full, and then, for dinner, we would buy a baguette each, and a can of tuna or something like that, some cheese, and drink a cup of wine from a box.
This van had a top speed of 50 km, and that’s about 34 miles an hour! So we weren’t driving on the autobahn. We did end up there once or twice, on accident, and we thought we were going to die!
So we saw most of rural Germany at a slow speed, stopping in small villages and large cities alike. Every day was a full-on story. Most nights we watched the same movie, “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.”
Berlin was a city that we could have spent weeks in and not seen or experienced it all. Constantly changing since the fall of the Berlin Wall, every step seemed steeped in history and culture.
The more time that passes since being in Germany, the greater my longing for it grows.
- What has been your most inspiring experience?
I just wrote this long dissertation on sunrises and sunsets—how majestic, and pure, and powerful they are, etc. BUT that wasn’t the most inspiring thing I experienced—American Women would be the most inspirational. From landing my first day in Barcelona I met AMAZING American women, from the ages of 22 to 48, traveling by themselves. That was inspiring. American media, in all of its aspects, projects this modicum of paranoia. That woman should be wary of going. A horrible incident happens to one woman; it makes national, primetime news, and we are fed this fear that it could happen to anyone, at any time. I’m not discounting an isolated incident’ severity, but I believe American media are fear-mongers. So, to see American women overcome that, and travel by themselves even, that was inspiring.
In my first year of traveling Western Europe, I didn’t meet an American male, alone or otherwise, until seven months into my trip.
- With traveling for three years straight, what has been the most valuable lesson that you have learned?
“It takes a village to raise this idiot.”
I say that, tongue-in-cheek, but with sincerity, as well. If it weren’t for the kindness of strangers, I wouldn’t have made it this far. In the last three years, having been as far north as Trondheim, Norway and as far south as Queenstown, New Zealand… those are accomplishments I don’t make without the kindness of strangers, friends, family, and everything in between.
I’ve made some friends for life. There is men and woman out in this world that I have spent a few days in person with, but we remain steadfast friends to this day. We are individuals cut from the same cloth. I am fortunate to be a part of this group of people that have befriended me.
- What is your greatest piece of advice for those who aspire to travel the world long term?
Don’t rob the world of your presence.
It’s never too late. You will never be too old. At 30 I went to New Zealand with $1800 and a one-way ticket… I lived there, I thrived there, for a year, and it could have been longer.
- If we want to follow more on your journey, where can we find you?
My Vimeo page is https://vimeo.com/jeckerman56 where you can find videos of my travel, most shot with GoPro—(just ignore the CrossFit vids lol)
I’m on the Instagram too, JEckerman56!