Tamara Hardingham-Gill, CNN
He set off on a round-the-world trip in December 2012 and, nearly a decade later, traveler Tom Grond is still globetrotting.
The Dutch blogger, who previously worked for the Netherlands government, now describes himself as a nomad and says he has no plans to return to his former life.
Grond has traveled to around 130 different countries, including Syria, Jordan, Colombia and Burkina Faso, and once took 58 flights in a year.
Before setting off on his ongoing trip, he’d saved enough money to sustain a life of travel continuously for around three years, and set himself a $30 a day budget.
Like many backpackers, Grond, known as “Traveltomtom,” stayed in hostels and lived as frugally as he possibly could to keep costs down.
“People assume you must have come from a rich family,” he says. “Yes, I’m very privileged. I’m from the Netherlands, so I have a really good passport.
“And I saved a lot of money to go traveling. But I restricted myself to living on a budget. That is what actually kept me on the road for so many years.”
As social media began to evolve in the 2010s, and platforms like Instagram gained traction, Grond realized that he could earn money by writing and posting about his adventures around the world.
“I was already traveling and posting photos of cool places anyway,” he notes.
Grond launched an Instagram account in 2014 and quickly built up a significant following, gaining around 30,000 followers in a relatively short space of time.
Back then, although travel blogging was definitely not a new phenomenon, “travel influencers” who make a living by sharing their globetrotting experiences on social media and personal blogs or vlogs were rising in prominence.
As a result, Grond found himself being approached by hotels and organizations offering free stays and experiences in exchange for promotion.
“I couldn’t believe my luck,” he admits. “In the beginning I loved it. People would recognize me, which is really cool.”
But Grond began to struggle with the pressure of having to constantly produce content for social media and found this particular lifestyle was not sustainable for him.
He launched his blog Traveltomtom, where he shares updates on his adventures around the world, in 2016, and is now able to fund much of his travels through the income it generates.
“The blog is the secret of being a full-time nomad [for me] really,” he admits. “I’m super happy.”
However, he still uses Instagram, as well as TikTok, to post about his travels, and has around 300,000 followers combined across the platforms.
This ultimately means he’s evolved from a backpacker to what he describes as a “mid-range traveler,” and his days of staying in packed dorms are behind him.
“I did it for three or four years, probably, and I loved it,” he says. “You meet so many interesting people, you get inspired by other travelers.
“It’s a great way of exploring countries. You have the most amazing adventures. I kind of miss those days. But I don’t want to sleep in a dorm room anymore.”
His lodgings may be fancier now, but Grond says his approach to travel hasn’t really changed.
“I still want to explore and meet local people 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 Grond has been on the road. The global pandemic led to the world being pretty much brought to a standstill in 2020, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has brought yet more uncertainty over international travel.
But while restrictions meant he was finally forced to stay in one place for more than a few weeks, Grond hopped on a plane as soon as he was able to, traveling to places like Mexico and Turkey, where Covid-19 restrictions were less stringent.
Although he’s committed to the nomad lifestyle, Grond points out that one of the downsides to constantly being on the move is that relationships can be a struggle, admitting he’s become more mindful of this as he’s gotten older.
“It’s impossible to maintain a relationship,” he says. “Sure, everyone is within reach with WhatsApp and social media nowadays, but I’m moving to a new place every couple of weeks, sometimes every couple of days.
“It can be difficult if you meet someone that you like to hang out with. You’re basically always saying goodbye. Every few days, I’m saying goodbye to people. It has been a struggle.”
And while he’s had mainly positive experiences during his travels, there have been a few setbacks along the way.
Grond says he was recently detained by immigration police in Gabon, a country located on the west coast of Africa, due to a misunderstanding, and the ordeal made him all of the more aware of just how far away he is from his loved ones.
However, he stresses that the positives far outweigh any negatives, and he’s constantly in touch with his family and friends back home, as well as the friends he’s made on his travels.
“I don’t have time to miss people,” he says.
Of the many places he’s been to, Grond says it was Syria that had the biggest impact on him.
While all travel to the country is currently advised against due to the ongoing conflict, he was able to visit in 2019 after finding a tour agency who were willing to arrange a visa and take him around.
“It was a really expensive trip,” he explains. “I had to pay for security and all kinds of things, but it was all worth it. Some of the cities were completely destroyed.
“There was nothing left but a couple buildings. Everything was just completely in ruins. But seeing the determination and the confidence that the locals we met still had was just insane.
“They had nothing left, but they were determined to build up their lives again, and confident that everything could go back to normal. That was a trip that definitely shaped me in many ways.”
After his visit to Syria, Grond traveled to Pakistan and Iraq, and was struck by the reaction his online posts received from those with preconceptions about these particular destinations.
Although he’d 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 actually cool to go to these places and change perceptions,” he explains. “So that got me inspired a lot. I wanted to go everywhere to show people what it’s really like in these places.”
But Grond is in no hurry to complete this particular challenge. In fact, he plans to take his time, and is disheartened when he comes across other travelers who appear to be racing their way around the globe in order to tick countries off their bucket list.
“I left that rat race of life in terms of getting a degree, getting a job, having a career and a family,” he says.
“But when I see all those people online trying to visit every country in the world, it feels like it becomes about the number [to them]. Every person is asking ‘how many countries have you been to?’ I don’t want to be part of a rat race again.”
He says he’s been to at least 71 of the nearly 130 countries he’s traveled to more than once and will often return to destinations he’s particularly fond of.
“I’ve been to Pakistan four times,” he says. “I went to Thailand 17 times and I go to Turkey a couple times a year. I love Istanbul.”
Grond tries not to plan too far in advance and often has no idea where he’ll be staying, or where he’ll be in a week or so. He’s currently in Panama, but will be flying to Bogota in the coming days and then moving on to Paraguay.
“The rough plan is to spend a couple of weeks in South America, and a little bit of time in Central America. Then I’ll actually go to see my family [in the Netherlands].”
He’ll also be heading 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 go back to Africa,” he says. “It has been a really, really interesting part of my travels in the last two years.
“People always ask me when I’ll go home. But I don’t have a home, and I don’t know when I’ll stop traveling.”
Grond will officially celebrate a decade on the road in December, so will he be marking that day in any special way?
“I haven’t really thought about it,” he says. “I don’t even know where I’m staying in the next couple of days. Soon I will have passed 3,333 days of continuous travel. In fact, it may have already passed. I’m not really sure. But it’s a cool number anyway.”
Top image: Grond in Burkina Faso. Credit: Tom Grond
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