By Gary S. Nellis
I was a 19 year-old aspiring photojournalist on a trip abroad, the intention of which was to, well, photograph the world. My girlfriend and I had been classmates in high school, and reconnected with each other in the months following graduation. We shared a dream of traveling and set about making elaborate plans to make it happen. College could wait, the world could not.
Travel required money; we’d have to work for as long as it took to pay for flights to Europe and living expenses for at least a few months. Our elaborate plan consisted of the following… fly to London, buy an old van, and take it from there.
So in July of the year after high school, we flew to London and bought the van. It got us as far as Paris. The best of intentions gave way to abandoning the wretched thing, and hitting the road avec our thumbs. (Spoiler alert – we never boarded a plane again until we boarded a plane in London for the return trip to Los Angeles, a year later.)
Over the next six months, we traversed thirteen countries via hitchhiking, train, boat, ship, bus, rickshaw, mini-van, carriage, and finally dump truck, arriving in Kathmandu, Nepal.
It is, or was, possible to travel this way for a year, rent rooms and even houses along the way, and spend the sum total of $5K between two people, all in. However when you reach the apogee of your geographical journey and are running out of anything close to enough money to go on, let alone return home, you must be resourceful. Wishing to not alarm parents, from whom we’d already borrowed a small sum via wire transfer, we were determined to find a solution.
Yes, we had gotten this far on sheer, undaunted determination and an almost naïve willingness to accept advice from more seasoned nomadic expatriates. Indeed, our entire journey from Europe to Nepal had been so plotted on a single sheet of steno paper (both sides); everything from buses to boats, vaccinations to visas, hippie hotels to black-market student card discounts, to the location of Buddha’s enlightenment.
But now we were talking finance, as in the need to invest with very respectable returns and as quickly as possible. We were talking business. We needed a game plan and that meant consulting experts – people with experience, people we could trust with the solution to our dilemma. Influencers, if you will. We were strangers in a strange land with a problem to solve.
The fact is we were surrounded by all the influencers we needed – a wide and growing collection of fellow travelers who had, in effect, become accidental merchants based on the same need, driven by similar circumstances. They had gained expertise from experience and the advice we received was simple and effective. Since we were based in countries with an affordable and ample supply of exotic clothing and jewelry in high demand in Europe, we should invest every dollar possible and stock up on these goods for the journey west. Great idea – now all we needed to know was what to buy, what to pay, whom to buy from, and how to engage our potential customers.
In May, some 10 months after our travels began, we arrived on a small Greek island with duffels full of merchandise… and $25 US left in our pockets. The Greek friends we had made the year before let us stay with them and they helped us get the message out to the local tourists and ex-pats – two Yanks had returned from India and Nepal and were opening shop, as it were. Within 2 weeks we had sold every last Benarsi scarf, silver anklet, Nepalese bracelet and Rajasthani toe-ring; every coral necklace and hand made garment we’d had hand-made. In fact, we made enough to carry us nicely over the next few months, through Europe, back to London and home to the U.S.
The financial necessity that arose within the first 6 months of our travels became the source of much of our education and joy in our day-to-day life over the next 6 months. We learned more about the foreign countries we were in, the history of their artifacts and ornaments, the value of the goods we were procuring and selling, and discovered within ourselves a penchant for entrepreneurial endeavors. That we made many a new friend amongst the locals was a bonus.
The lessons learned then seem universal and any success within the trajectory of my own career and business is easy to link back to them. I’ve developed countless friendly professional relationships and we help each other every day. I’ve grown my business within a niche of the asset-protection marketplace allowing me to focus, to learn from experts, to know my market and to develop expertise within that space. I was willing to bet on my experience, launching my own agency practice after 13 years representing others. And every day, I try to hone the skills that allow me to know what products and services to provide my clients, what they should cost, and what carriers to source and how to engage new prospects.
Gary S. Nellis is a Long Term Care insurance & asset-protection Specialist, employee benefit Broker, worksite benefit Expert, contemporary art & photography Collector based in Los Angeles.