Finding the Secret to Happiness in 135 Countries
A 135-Country Quest For Life Lessons from Bruce Northam, Raconteur and all-around bad-ass
By Olivia Gilmore
In Bruce Northam’s travel book, The Directions to Happiness: A 135-Country Quest for Life Lessons, he shares his honest experiences as a traveler searching for enlightenment in a 135-country quest.
Seeking new life lessons and words to live by, Northam spends decades traveling the globe, meeting strangers who quickly transform his perspective on life. Each chapter gives a brief yet captivating tale of different encounters in each country, whether it be with a human or animal, Northam proves that there are many unique life lessons to be learned.
“Think of it as a Chicken Soup for the Traveler — with balls.” —Thrillist
In addition to The Directions to Happiness, Northam has also authored several other travel books including Globetrotter Dogma, In Search of Adventure, and The Frugal Globetrotter. Northam’s show “American Detour” accurately portrays a travel writer’s journey. His keynote presentation, “Directions to Your Destination” is popular among travel enthusiasts and it uncovers many truths about the travel industry. Street Anthropology is Northam’s other live speech which touches upon the joys of aimless wandering.
Northam’s literary recognitions include Lowell Thomas awards, Visit Britain’s Grand Prize, and top honors from the Press Club of Long Island.
Getting To Know Bruce Northam
As an avid traveler for more than 25 years, Bruce believes that travel is all about being able to have intense conversations with strangers and bond with those unlike yourself.
After hitchhiking from Long Island to Florida several times in his youth, Bruce’s love of travel was quickly fueled, setting the stage for many more years of adventuring.
“Travel is being able to meet strangers that you immediately become friends with and share stories with them, only to say goodbye. It’s like therapy,” he exclaimed.
The itch to travel began for Bruce in college, he not only hitchhiked through Virginia but all over the country.
“Hitchhiking is the ultimate expression of what travel really is,” said Northam.
Shortly after college, Bruce visited Southeast Asia for a year. With no form of communication, he began writing postcards for his friends back home.
Postcards Paved the Way
“My friends would say ‘Hey Bruce I love those postcards, you should become a writer,’ said Northam.
Simple postcards helped to start his career in travel writing. After releasing his first book, Frugal Globetrotter, Bruce started on the campus speaking circuit, helping to influence other people to explore various travel options.
As the travel writing industry grows bigger, Bruce is becoming more concerned with the greed and self-indulgence many travel writers are flaunting.
Travel writers used to be old folk who had years and years of experience in journalism and newspaper writing, it was easy to learn so much from them, he explained.
“When I dine with bloggers who gape into their phones the whole time, I’m reminded that we’re waving goodbye to actual engagement,” said Northam.
Although having traveled to 135 different countries, sometimes the best place is a small town, explained Northam. One of his favorite destinations is Bemidji, a beautifully wooded city located in Northwest Minnesota.
“I loved seeing the icebergs and glaciers in Antarctica, and the Buddhist countries of Southeast Asia,” said Northam.
Bruce is still traveling and still writing, but if he has any advice for future travelers…
“Go anywhere offseason. If trouble is going to find you, it will happen within the first 24 hours of being in a place. Find the oldest cop or bartender in the place you’re visiting and ask them what the real deal is about the place,” said Northam.
Book Excerpt, The Directions to Happiness
Hire Education (Kenya)
Know your worth.
“Acting with a voluntourism guerilla task force from the USA, I worked with the Kiseryan Girls Senior Academy, a Maasai boarding school for young women in the Ngong Hills beyond Nairobi. The school awards scholarships to impoverished Maasai girls, aged 12 to 18 years. The scholarships are vital, as most have no education options and are likely given into arranged marriages by age 14, or worse.
We sprung into action with a Nairobi-based teenage newspaper to initiate a speech-writing competition for 200 Maasai girls. I challenged the girls to express their personal views in a 250-word speech aimed at their newly established and polarized coalition government leaders.
After introducing the pen as a tool of change, I dared the students to imagine themselves presenting these petitions, live, to help foster peace in Kenya. After all, Kenya’s national anthem is a Swahili prayer.
I emphasized that powerful essays can double as moving speeches, and reminded them that the leaders of Liberia, Argentina, India, Israel, Pakistan and the Philippines are now or have been women.
My team and the teen newspaper editors reviewed the speech entries and selected three writers to read their speeches at a theatrical awards ceremony and crowned the winners for their courage to speak out. Reading the speeches sent shivers down my spine, as each was firmly handwritten so you could feel the pen’s ridges on the backside of the paper, creating emotional Braille.
I imagined each teenager pondering and then inscribing her will. With post-election violence still a daily threat and thousands in Internally Displaced Person camps, the speeches plead to stop the senseless bloodshed that also devastated tourism, Kenya’s economic jackpot.
We completed this month-long project barely two months after Kenya erupted into savagery in December 2007. The country’s youth took center stage, bearing the brunt of the unspeakable slaughter. With half of the world’s population under 23 years of age, educating and inspiring them has never been more critical. Otherwise, they become ticking time bombs.
The speech contest winner, Ann Muiruri, and two runners-up had their speeches published. And, so their voices were truly heard, the press clips and videos of their speeches were delivered to the dueling leaders in Kenya’s Parliament. Did a troubled hybrid government listen to these sage teens?
Inside the stark cement shell of the school’s largest room, we showcased making dreams come true. When Ann finished presenting her speech, Give Peace and Dialogue a Chance, her vision stirred a proverbial pot of common sense that, apparently, had been beyond the adults running the country. These young ladies – Kenya’s future – spoke for the world.
Maasai Ann’s prophecy…
‘Your Excellency, President Mwai Kibaki and Honourable Raila Odinga, I take this opportunity to share my thoughts on how to stop the skirmishes in our country.
Kenya has been a haven for refugees and everyone until 31st December 2007 when all hell broke loose, and this was no longer the Kenya I knew.
Innocent blood was shed, many Kenyans were displaced and their homes burnt to ashes, which led them to be refugees in their own country. Surely, is this the Kenya we have been building for all these years?
Urgent intervention is required to save Kenya before it subsides and sinks into the abyss joining other war-torn countries like Somalia, Rwanda, and others.
We entrusted you with the responsibility to lead us, respecting our national flag together with our national anthem, which states that we should live in peace, love, and unity.
We request you as our leaders to embrace peace and negotiate together to restore the glory for our land.
Two things have led to this unpleasant situation: Hatred that lies deep in many hearts brought about by the disputed election. Secondly, the lamentable state of our institutions.
Therefore, we request you to visit the affected areas, offer a hand in building homes, schools for the affected, and viable institutions that will address their grievances.
The development of a country takes a lifetime. Destruction takes a moment. You have the power to change Kenya if only you commit yourselves to it.’”
Bruce Northam contributes to Thrillist, Perceptive Travel, Long Island Pulse, JohnnyJet, TimeOut New York, and GoNomad. He’s also appeared in Afar, Outside, Yahoo Travel, Atlas Obscura, American Express’s Inspirato, Travelgirl, The Washington Times, Islands, CAAC (Air China’s in-flight magazine), USA Today, High Times, The Improper, Newsday, National Geographic Traveler, the New York Times, and many other publications.
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