“Traveling is like a drug”

“… when you start taking it, you cannot stop”, says Polish adventurer Tomek. He has talked with unique about his various journeys around the world.

by Miriam

How many of us have tried monkey stew with meat hunted and cooked by an Indonesian shaman, while living with his tribe in the middle of a jungle? This scenario sounds like a story from an adventure book, not something you experience in real life. Nevertheless, there are people that make this kind of experience, and one of them is Tomasz Walkiewicz, a 31 year-old Pole who visited 73 countries and stopped counting flights taken by the number of 300. For him, trips to foreign countries do not merely serve as a break from daily life: on the contrary does his routine involve visiting strange places and constantly adapting to new circumstances.
Tomasz, nicknamed Tomek, is a project manager, fixer and tour leader. Since graduating from university, he has been engaged in a variety of jobs all related to travel. By means of his work and on private trips he altogether spends six to eight months a year abroad. The leftover time he stays in his flat in Krakow. He refers to his place as a “base camp” he can always return to, as if it was an anchor that keeps him rooted in his home country. Nevertheless, after being at home for a few days, the young man feels the need to move and so he does: in his latest project he worked as a freelancer, cooperating with the biggest private Polish TV-channel that is currently broadcasting the documentary series The Domino Effect. The series aims to uncover local problems in different parts of the world and shows steps taken by non-governmental organizations in order to improve the situations, such as the opening of a library in the camp for Syrian refugees in Iraq. Tomek’s responsibility lies in seeking the shooting scenes a few days in advance and organizing the logistics, food and timetable of the stay. This kind of work is why he loves his job: he gets to see places he wouldn’t reach as a common tourist and his daily work involves interacting with other people and their cultures. It is the adventurousness and need to move that drives the young man, so that even in his time off work he never ceases to travel.

Expedition to the Arctic
Though it brings many benefits, traveling is also a pricey pastime. A main reason why Tomek chose his job was knowing that it would allow him to reach other countries as a part of his paid work. His private trips he has to finance himself though, such as the trip he made in 2008 that took him beyond the polar circle to the highest peak of the arctic and marked a change in his life. The young travel agent by barely more than chance came to join Marek Kamiński, a famous Polish adventurer, on his expedition to the North Pole.

Well aware of the oncoming extreme conditions, he prepared himself physically and mentally. But even in guidance of the experienced adventurer who became his mentor, Tomek nearly lost his life on this expedition: he was the last one walking in line and in two minutes the weather situation changed completely from sun and a few clouds to a terrible snow storm and a mighty wind. The temperature dropped by around 20°C and a sudden fog blocked out every vision: “Around me it was like milk, clouds and snowing and visibility for three meters,” Tomek recalls. He stopped to change into warmer clothes but by the time he was ready, his team was out of sight and the tempest had erased their footprints. That was when panic kicked in. In his head he started screaming at himself and memories of his childhood flashed up in front of his eyes. Just before losing control, he managed to calm down enough to think rationally and just started stumbling in a random direction. There was no way of knowing the right way but within two minutes of blind walking, Tomek finally saw his group waiting for him.
When at last they reached their destination, the top of Mount Gunnbjørn Fjeld, they were additionally gratified by the sight of the midnight sun. The adrenaline of the life-threatening experience added to the thrill of the whole journey, and the risks taken made the wonders of nature and the beauty of achievement more worthwhile. So after this tour, the young adventurer decided to dedicate his life to traveling: “I realized that for me 21 or 26 days of holidays per year are not enough.” He switched to a job that involved more change of places and since then his life has been evolving around traveling the world.
This was not the first major change in Tomek’s life: While during secondary school he was what he himself calls a “computer game boy”, the sudden change of attitude and lifestyle came from moving to Krakow, starting to study and living independently. “When you live by yourself, you become the driver of your own life, you are not the passenger any more.” It is the freedom he tasted during his independent student’s life that he seems to be chasing all over the world, breathing in as much as he can possibly hold from other cultures and people.

Learning to be content
The most important thing Tomek has learned from living in poor countries, is “to be happier, because the small things can make you very happy”. He learned to be content with much less and to rejoice in small things that us Western people take for granted. While his experience suggests that happiness might be more prevalent outside Europe, actual life satisfaction is hard to judge from the outside, as a friendly manner might reflect a cultural imperative rather than inner contentment. Still, this friendliness can be another trait worth adopting.
His trips around the globe also showed the adventurer the unpredictability of nature: when being exposed to the ele-ments in the high mountains, Tomek noticed that “we are just a small part of the world, there are many things we are dependent on but can’t influence so we don’t need to get too worried about many things in our life”. Contrasting the grandness of nature, traveling so much has made the world as a whole seem small to him, as you can reach any thinkable destination in 15 to 20 hours of flight. If people and cultures that seem so distant can be visited tomorrow, why do we set up such borders between ‘them’ and ‘us’?
After his trips, Tomek is always glad to come back home. His strong bond with his family and friends wouldn’t allow him to live a life of total rootlessness, being on the road every day of the year. And he enjoys having his place to come back to, in a few years he wants to buy his own flat that he will design as a “traveler’s saloon”.
Nonetheless, after a few days back home, the travel bug bites him again and the urge to move grows too strong to be ignored. Tomek’s next step will be the founding of his own travel agency. By doing so, the traveler will invest even more of his time into what is the most important thing in his life. The reason for building his own company lies in the wish to reproduce the beloved: “It will be like my baby, it will be my own.” His striving for independence and freedom might make it hard for the young man to maintain a lasting relationship, as his partner would either have to be busy enough to accept his absences or have taken up a similar way of life. His last relationship broke over her complaining about him traveling too much. But Tomek has set his priorities.

(All pictures: T. Walkiewicz)


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