Hello there, my name is Luis and I love to travel around the world. It wasn’t until very recently that I discovered this passion in my life, and it took some time to find a way, but gather ’round and listen to this story about how I started this adventure and managed to make money while exploring the planet we live in.
First of all, I wish to welcome you to Pateando Calle, a series of articles I write about travel stories and ideas that I’ve experienced as I backpack across the globe. I write these articles in my spare time and with them I try to document my life so that my grandchildren will know I was once cool and also help other people who (maybe like you) wish to travel, but aren’t sure or just don’t know where to start.
A word to the wise: not everything I’ll write here will be merry and/or suitable for everyone. In my time traveling I’ve lived through unforgettable joys and of course, equally unforgettable pains. This is a common risk you face whenever you strap that backpack on your shoulders, especially if you roll with little money like I do and even though I don’t recommend it, it’s good to live a bit of hardship every now and then. If it wasn’t, where the hell would I get good stories to write about? That being said, I repeat: not everything I write will be apt for everyone, especially those without an open mind and a desire to learn new things.
So with that in mind, let’s do this again: my name is Luis Landero and I’m 29 years old. I was born in Panama and I’ve lived there for more than a third of that time. Very early on I took a liking to video games and then comics, but I’ve also had the chance to travel as a musician in high school and to see my neighboring country of Costa Rica and part of the United States too.
Now that I’m almost 30, I’m a freelance graphic designer with clients in Panama and other parts of the world, who count on me to help them with their businesses, charity organizations or personal websites. It’s a very flexible gig that at times can be restrictive with regards to money and long-term life plans. Have you ever emptied your bank account on a necessary expense with no idea of how you would eat the next day? If the concept is familiar, you’re probably your own boss as well and you’re bad at handling money, like I am.
Luckily, in spite of being a marginally profitable career, the good thing about being freelance is that I get to control my time as I choose and I don’t need to be put in any physical space to work with other people. Thanks to the internet and laptops, I can send work to a client in Liechtenstein while sitting at a cafe in Barcelona.
Sounds cool, right? It is, but getting to that level professionally took me years slaving at ad agencies, going in at 8 in the morning and leaving at 11 at night or later. After some time I started thinking about the value of, well… time! About how many hours I was spending on buses or taxis just to get to and from the office or the extreme work hours that were destroying my eating habits and taking away precious sleep time.
I thought there must be a way to do what I love without losing my sanity and health in the process. So I threw myself into the fires of freelance design and like many others, I was back working in an ad agency after a few months. My first trial was really bad for a number of reasons, like: some clients were “late payers” (meaning they didn’t pay me when I needed the money to pay my bills), I wasn’t charging enough out of fear of scaring the few clients I had, I didn’t save enough money for an emergency fund; basically a heap of problems for which I was ill or not prepared at all and which forced me to go back to what I knew would help bring the cheese.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=82u3IxEuCuc
So two more years in ad agencies passed, and I gained the experience and knowledge to not go crazy working long hours. The team I worked with included some of the best professionals I know and we did awesome stuff like the video above. I learned the value of managing money properly and above all, of saving it. I felt ready to try it one more time, and when I plunged into the fires again I felt like Spider-Man jumping from the roof of the Empire State building (told you, comics!).
With a decent client wallet and more experience under my belt, my second going as my own boss was way more fun. I was handling my clients better, I had more money to party and on top of that I saved enough to have a car with which I could go to a rented Coworking space when I didn’t want to work home alone. In theory this would’ve been the best moment of my career in the last 10 years had I not been a curious kid with a car.
One night after leaving the Coworking office, I went to a nearby bar to have a beer and I bumped into one of my ex-colleagues from the high school band. She is younger than me, but at that time she happened to be the manager of a hostel right above the bar we were in. I said hello and after talking for some minutes she asked if I would be interested in working at the hostel. I hadn’t thought of it before, but in the moment I said “why not?” and after a brief interview two days later, I was the newest receptionist at Luna’s Castle, which I would later find out is the best youth hostel in Panama City.
For the next 9 months I worked at Luna’s, meeting people from all over the world, from Colombians next door to people from Finland, Japan and Switzerland. That last one is key to the story, so keep it in mind.
Like I was saying, the hostel was bringing in folks from all over, especially people with extremely different mentalities from those of the locals I knew, some even weirder than anyone I had ever met up to that point. So I started to see the human condition with new eyes. People who travelled all the way from Argentina to Panama without ever hopping on a plane, or people who cooked in every country they visited and then sold their creations to keep travelling.
I met ship captains, plane pilots, pirates, DJs, tattoo artists, painters, writers, cabaret dancers, punks, bums, musicians, punk musician bums. All kinds of personalities and currents of thought which blew my mind, but among them one made me want to leave Panama and see the other side of the world.
Like Any Story Worth Telling…
One night, three days before my birthday in 2011, I left the Coworking and went to visit my colleagues from the reception desk at the hostel. By then I’d been working for 6 months at Luna’s and the staff of the place was like a second family to me, and to this day they still are. By then it wasn’t unusual for me to show up out of shift and fool around and talk shop.
That’s when it happened. Dancing by the reception (you know, as you always do), I turned to my left and there was this girl dancing next to me. She took me by surprise — sucker punched the shit out of me and my dumb face. She was there with her friend who laughed from the chair by the big table in the middle of the room. They were Swiss.
I started talking with this girl and she told me she’d be returning to her country after the weekend and she liked dancing, so we agreed to go out to a club on Friday night. After that night we kept talking on Skype and on January of 2012 I made my first leap across the Atlantic to see Europe and yes, to see her again. Blame it on me being latino, or a man, or simply a person looking for an excuse, but like any story worth telling, my adventures began with a girl.
I’ve been traveling between Europe and Panama routinely ever since, staying for up to 3 months in Europe and returning to my country so I can wait 3 more months before heading back again, as per the restrictions of my Panamanian passport. In the process I’ve kept working with clients and visited Spain, Italy, Austria, Germany and France.
I’m writing this note from Zurich, Switzerland while sitting in the kitchen of a shared house, with people I met roughly 3 years ago and whom today are good friends. A month ago I ended my first trip across Southeast Asia, where I visited Philippines, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam across 4 months, and even though I still wish I could kick some more streets (patear calle) and meet more places, for now I think the best thing to do is to rest. And write.
With this introduction to Pateando Calle I hope I’ve given you a rough notion of who I am and the different things I’m passionate about. I’ll continue to write columns like this during the next days, weeks and months as time allows and I would like to know what type of things you’d like to read about my travels, so please write in the comments below!
Pateando Calle (Kicking Streets) is a weekly column about my backpacking adventures across the world, documenting how a Panamanian traveller survives with little money and no clue of what he’s doing. For more adventures, read the archive.