When Robin Esrock spent a year travelling the world in 2005, he embarked on a quest to discover the common thread between people across nationalities, genders, races and generations.
He asked 1,732 people in 24 countries the same three questions: What do you regret, what are you grateful for, and what inspires you?
In answer to the first question, the most common response he heard was: "I regret not travel-ling more."
Those were good words to hear for a man of 29 who had recently left a steady job and cashed in his savings for a round-the-world adventure.
Esrock grew up in Johannesburg, South Africa and moved to Vancouver in his early 20s to pursue a career in the music industry.
He soon found success, but felt there had to be something more to life.
Fortunately for him, Esrock is the kind of guy who can see the silver lining in any dark cloud.
So when he was hit by a car and knocked off his scooter on the way to work one summer morning, he took the agony of a broken kneecap and months of rehabilitation as a sign.
"It was the luckiest break in every way you can say that," he said. "These things, I think they start as a crazy idea. I thought why don't I go travelling for a year? And it's like, no I can't do that; I'm 29 years old. That's something that you do in your early 20s."
But by then his knee had healed, he had a $20,000 insurance settlement in the bank, and had recently left his job.
After a bit of research, Esrock realized it would be possible to spend the next 12 months exploring the planet if he stuck to his budget and mostly to developing countries. It wasn't long before he found himself walking into a travel shop to buy a round-the-world ticket.
Leveraging his skills in web development and writing from his earlier days with the BBC and Reuters, he launched a website - moderngonzo.com - to post his travel updates and photos, and pitched The Vancouver Sun to see if the paper would pick up his articles. As luck would have it, the newspaper was looking for a travel writer at that time and hired him on the spot.
"At the time, it wasn't like I wanted to be a travel writer, or I wanted to write a book," he said. "I (was just) going to write my story for a year because this was the year. After this, no excuses, you've got to come back, you've got to grow up, get a responsible job and then, you know, move on with your life."
But right from the first article, Esrock's writing resonated with Lower Mainland readers and he generated a huge following online. The paper soon requested his column become a weekly, rather than a monthly gig, and he realized he'd found his calling.
"That's effectively how I became a travel writer," he said.
Esrock was soon freelancing for newspapers and magazines around the world.
His biggest break came when he pitched an idea for a TV show and several networks picked it up.
World Travels is a "behind the byline" travel writer series that follows Esrock and his fellow Canadian travel writer, Julia Dimon, on their adventures. They coproduced, wrote and starred in the show, which spanned 40 episodes and took them to 36 countries in three years. Today, it's seen in more than 100 countries in 21 languages.
During his travels, Esrock swam with sharks and crocodiles, hang-glided, skydived, visited the Ferrari and Lamborghini factories in Italy to test-drive their cars, and bungy-jumped off the world's tallest tower in Macau, China.
He's stayed in some of the world's best resorts and dined on a wide variety of cuisines.
To date, he's been to 107 countries on six continents.
For all the excitement and satisfaction of knowing he's sucked the marrow out of life, however, Esrock says being a travel writer is definitely not all fun and games.
"You're not going to get rich, and it's not going to be a holiday," he said. "And you're going to work really hard to keep all your friends because nobody's going to know when you're gone. You're going to meet people and have these intense, short bursts of relationships, and you'll probably never see them again. So it's not for everybody."
But it was for him, and it did scratch that restless itch Esrock had felt for so long. Had he not taken the risk of launching himself into the world, not knowing where he'd be after a year, or what he would learn about himself and the world, Esrock says he knows he, too, would have felt the heavy regret of not travelling more.
"I think I would have been someone very disappointed with life," he said. "I was one of those kids who was always like, 'There's got to be more.'"
After living out of a backpack for five years, Esrock eventually met his wife back in Vancouver, and the couple now has a home in Burnaby and a baby on the way.
He may have more reason to stay put at least for a little while now, but he says he's got no plans to quit his rambling ways anytime soon, even with a baby in tow.
"I've become addicted to scenery changing," he said. "This is my safe space here, but I get bored out of my mind in Vancouver. Things need to change. Even the forests, I find, can get quite claustrophobic. It's just great to go into the Rockies and then go into the prairies. The prairies are amazing."
Esrock's next adventure will take him and his family this summer on a road trip across Canada, to promote his first book - The Great Canadian Bucket List - a compilation of 115 of the best adventure activities that can only be found in this country.
The book will hit bookshelves at airports and major bookstores in October.
And after that? Well, he'll cross that bridge when he gets to it.
"This whole life is all about not stressing too much about tomorrow. worrying about where your next paycheck is coming from," he said. "It just happens, right? Things just happen."
For more about Robin Esrock, visit www.robinesrock.com.
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