(CNN) – He embarked on a world round trip in December 2012 and almost a decade later, traveler Tom Grand still travels around the world.
The Dutch blogger, who previously worked for the Dutch government, now describes himself as a wanderer and says he has no plans to return to his former life.
Grand has traveled to about 130 different countries, including Syria, Jordan, Colombia and Burkina Faso, taking 58 flights once a year.
Before embarking on his ongoing journey, he saved enough money to survive a continuous journey for almost three years, and set himself a $ 30 a day budget.
Like many backpackers, Grand, known as “Travelatomtom”, stayed in the hostel and lived as frugally as possible to reduce costs.
“People think you come from a rich family,” he says. “Yes, I am very privileged. I am from the Netherlands, so I have a really good passport.
“And I saved a lot of money to travel. But I limited myself to living on a budget. That’s really what kept me on the road for so many years.”
Tom Grand has been traveling the world for almost 10 years, but he says it was his 2019 trip to Syria that made the biggest impact.
Social media began to evolve in the 2010s, and with platforms such as Instagram gaining traction, Grand realized he could make money writing and posting about his adventures around the world.
“I was already traveling and posting photos of cool places,” he notes.
Grand started an Instagram account in 2014 and quickly gained significant followers, gaining about 30,000 followers in a relatively short time.
At the time, although travel blogging was certainly not a new phenomenon, the popularity of “travel influencers” who make a living by sharing their worldwide experiences on social media and personal blogs or blogs was growing.
As a result, Grand was approached by hotels and organizations offering free investments and experiences in exchange for promotions.
“I couldn’t believe my luck,” he admits. “Initially I liked it. People will recognize me, which is really nice.”
But Grand began to struggle with the constant pressure to produce content for social media and saw that this particular lifestyle was not sustainable for him.
“It’s a secret to be a full-time blogger [for me] Indeed, “he admits.” I am very happy.
This ultimately means that he evolved from a backpacker to what he describes as a “mid-range traveler” and the days of living in stuffed dorms are behind him.
“I did it for three or four years, maybe, and I liked it,” he says. “You meet a lot of interesting people, you get inspired by other tourists.
“This is a great way to explore countries. You have the most wonderful adventures. I remember those days. But I don’t want to sleep in a dorm room anymore.”
Grande has visited about 130 countries, including Myanmar.
His accommodations may be fancy now, but Grand says his approach to travel has not really changed.
“I still want to find and meet the locals and see what their life is like,” he says. “Without this passion, I would have stopped doing this a long time ago.”
Of course, it’s not just the social media landscape that has changed while Grand is on the road. The world almost came to a standstill in 2020 due to the global epidemic, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has added even more uncertainty to international travel.
But when the restrictions meant he was eventually forced to stay in one place for more than a few weeks, Grand traveled to places like Mexico and Turkey, where the Covid-19 restrictions were less stringent, and boarded the plane as soon as possible.
Although he is committed to a nomadic lifestyle, Grand points out that one downside to being in constant motion is that relationships can be conflicting, acknowledging that as he gets older he becomes more aware of this.
“It’s impossible to maintain a relationship,” he says. “Certainly, nowadays everyone has access to WhatsApp and social media, but I’m going to a new place every two weeks, sometimes every two days.
“It can be difficult if you meet someone you choose to hang out with. You’re basically always saying goodbye. Every few days, I say goodbye to people. It’s been a struggle.”
And while he has had mainly positive experiences during his travels, there have been some obstacles along the way.
Grand says he was recently detained by immigration police in Gabon, a country on the west coast of Africa, over a misunderstanding, and the ordeal further revealed how far he was from his loved ones.
However, he emphasizes that positivity is far greater than any negativity, and that he is in constant contact with his family and friends returning home, as well as the friends he has made during his travels.
“I don’t have time to miss people,” he says.
Grand says he has no plans to return to his ex-partner, and considers himself a “wanderer.”
Of the many places he has visited, Grand says it was Syria that affected him the most.
“It was a really expensive trip,” he explains. “I had to pay for security and all sorts of things, but it was all worth it. Some cities were completely destroyed.
“Except for one or two buildings, nothing was left. Everything was in ruins. But still, seeing the determination and confidence of the locals we met, he was just mad.
“They had nothing left, but they were determined to rebuild their lives, and believed that everything could be back to normal. It was a journey that definitely shaped me in many ways.”
After his visit to Syria, Grand traveled to Pakistan and Iraq, and he was annoyed by the response to his online post from people with preconceived notions about these specific places.
Although he had already been traveling for seven years, it was at this point that he decided he wanted to visit every country in the world.
“It’s really nice to go to these places and change perceptions,” he explains. “So I got a lot of inspiration. I wanted to go everywhere and show people what these places really are like.”
But Grand is in no hurry to meet this particular challenge. In fact, he plans to take his time, and he gets frustrated when he comes across other tourists who appear to be running their way around the world to tick countries off their bucket list.
“I quit that rat race of life in terms of getting a degree, getting a job, having a career and having a family,” he says.
Grand visited Jordan, his 100th country, in 2019.
“But when I see all those people trying to visit every country in the world online, it seems like it’s about numbers. [to them]. Everyone asks ‘How many countries have you been to?’ I don’t want to be a part of the rat race again. “
He says he has traveled to at least 71 of the nearly 130 countries where he has traveled more than once and will often return to places he particularly loves.
“I have been to Pakistan four times,” he says. “I have been to Thailand 17 times and twice a year to Turkey. I like Istanbul.”
Grand tries not to plan too much in advance and often has no idea where he will be, or where he will be in a week or so. He is currently in Panama, but will move to Bogota in the coming days and then to Paraguay.
“The rough plan is to spend a few weeks in South America and some time in Central America. Then I will actually go to visit my family. [in the Netherlands]”
He will also travel to West Africa in the coming months and plans to spend eight weeks traveling to places like Senegal, Gambia, Sierra Leone, Ghana as well as Equatorial Guinea.
“I’m really excited to be back in Africa,” he says. “It’s been a really, really interesting part of my journey over the last couple of years.
“People always ask me when I’m going home. But I don’t have a home and I don’t know when I’ll stop traveling.”
Grand will officially celebrate a decade on the road in December, so will he mark that day in any special way?
“I didn’t really think about it,” he says. “I don’t even know where I’m going to stay for the next two days. Soon I’ll be passing 3,333 days of continuous travel. Actually, it could have already passed. I’m not really sure. But it’s a great number anyway. “
Top image: Grand in Burkina Faso. Credit: Tom Grand