The International Writers
seems unlikely that many cars would stop for a lanky, 6-foot-4-inch
hitchhiker with wavy hair falling past his shoulders and only
a backpack to his name. Yet that is exactly how Justin Breen has
traveled the world for the past six or seven years of his life.
This 27-year-old took his post-college disillusionment worldwide
by relying on luck and the kindness of strangers.
While this might seem an unusual life to pursue, Justin claims he started
out "like many Americans who think theres no better place than
the United States." Even considering this admission, he was hardly
the average college student. As a creative writing major at Eckerd College
in St. Petersburg, Florida, Justin soon found that nicknaming all of his
friends "Johnny" made it difficult to tell a good story without
confusing his audience. Between classes, he entertained himself and friends
with his epic "Competition of the Week" and "Date of the
Week" programs. The competitions included a sundae-making contest
(which probably fit in nicely with his all-ice cream diet), a scavenger
hunt, and eating a designated, enormous amount of food before his fellow
competitor could finish a mini-triathlon.
Soon, his restlessness and love of adventure would become too great to
deny. The real catalyst, according to Justin, came through a TV show.
While watching "The Crocodile Hunter," he was inspired by Steve
Irwins fearlessness and the enthusiasm with which he faced every
situation. "Yeah it really started when I started watching The Croc
Hunter. Just watching him on these crazy adventures, I wanted to go explore
and wrestle animals, too. That show inspired me to search the Australian
wilderness for lizards, turtles, kangaroos, koalas, sharks, dingoes, leeches,
reef fish, and crocodiles."
With this inspiration, Justin set out on his first major voyage to Australia.
Here he would experience some of his best and worst moments to date. This
adventure would make up the first journal of his adventure log on travelpod.com,
entitled Modern Oddysseus. Although he did not notice the misspelling
at the time, Justin felt the "odd" part suited him better anyway.
Once in Australia, Justin was lucky enough to work at Irwins Australia
Zoo and work closely enough with Steve to realize his TV persona was completely
genuine. "He wore pretty much the same uniform as on the show only
it was olive green instead of khaki. He was always busy, usually doing
manual labor of some kind, like helping build a fence with all of the
interns and other workers. And he was always so enthusiastic, even answering
the phone he would sound so excited like Gday mate! Oh yeah
its a beautiful day, bet the animals are happy
. He was
so great to talk to." He always had a kind word or a bit of advice
for Justin, like which mountain to climb or area to explore. It is no
wonder that Irwins recent death was a bit more of a shock and heartbreak
for Justin than the average "Croc Hunter" fan.
Justins own childlike enthusiasm and lack of inhibition led him
to his first near-death experience down under. He decided to take a snorkel
mask and flippers to go explore a reef by himself. Soon, the tide and
crashing waves had pulled him out farther than he realized. He tried to
swim in to shore to no avail, and was too intimidated by the waves tossing
him around to float with the tide. "At one point I remember looking
up and seeing a tour group get off a bus and take pictures for a while
and I thought for sure they saw me but then they just got back on and
drove away. It was awful." After nearly an hour of struggle, he was
washed up on a rock that led to a trail of rocks that led back to the
shore. This would be merely the first in a long line of such life-threatening
experiences. Justins roommate at the time, Ewan Smith, remembers
the trip as it was told to him from the safety of his dorm room. "Oh
yeah, we were all pretty sure Johnny wouldnt make it
back from that trip, but I guess hes luckier than we thought."
This, along with many other adventures throughout Australia, including
attempting to play the didgeridoo with Aborigines, was only the beginning
for "Johnny" Breen. Since that inaugural trip in 1999, Justin
has traveled through 41 countries, getting to spend time and know 14 of
them well. He has also spoken nine languages fluently, although he admits
he has lost a few without constant practice. As of right now, he speaks
Swedish, Icelandic, Czech, French and Spanish. Yet another way Justin
has become a somewhat atypical American, who is proud to possess at most
While most who hear his stories are amazed at his lack of planning and
inhibition, not all find this the most admirable life to lead. Upon each
return to the United States, Justin lives with his parents, working at
the local Steak n Shake just long enough to afford another plane
ticket to his next destination. On each adventure, he has only this money
and one or two bags of worldly belongings to support himself. Therefore,
he often makes friends quickly and relies on their kindness, food and
shelter for a few days survival.
At this point, most of Justins peers have settled into "real"
jobs and maybe even started families. Like many twenty-somethings, they
learned that they must suppress their desire for adventure and tame the
restlessness of spirit in order to become a responsible, working adult.
Justin seems a descendent of Kerouacs restless travelers spirit.
He wishes only to experience as much of the beauty, pain and mystery of
life as he can through a lifetime of travel. Although some may not understand
or appreciate his lifestyle, it seems Justin truly believes that one day
all of this travel and experience will provide him with the wisdom and
ability to help mankind. Perhaps one day his lack of adult responsibility,
and therefore complete lack of cynicism, will inspire readers to remember
the spontaneity of youth and to regain faith and trust in others.
An essential feature to Justins travel blogs is his Top Five list
for each of his adventures, in which he names his favorite, or least favorite,
aspects of each city. The lists can represent anything from quality of
food, friendliness of natives or reasons never to visit a particular location
again. Perhaps this is one of the reasons he found it difficult to pinpoint
an overall favorite country. After some thought, he decided his "heart
is with Columbia." According to Justin, the Top Five best things
about Columbia are peaceful, creative and intellectual people, strong
people, things to see, Carlos Vives, and street food (with sweet, lovely
girls earning an honorable mention.) "They are such good people,
but because their lives are harder than most, they dont smile as
much as they should. I would like to one day maybe go back and help them
in some way so they can enjoy life as they should." Such a sentiment
makes it hard to believe that his actions are guided by purely selfish
South America was also the location for one of Justins favorite
memories. He shyly admits that kissing a pretty Argentinean girl was one
of his better travel moments. Another favorite occurred halfway around
the world when he traveled to the Czech Republic. To earn enough money
to live, Justin taught English to high school students several days a
week. Eventually, they invited him to their ballroom dancing lessons,
where he spent a lot of time that he still treasures. "All of the
kids were around 14 or 15 and they are so expressive at that age. The
shorter girls were a little intimidated by me at first but ended up cracking
jokes and the guys just looked happy to be dancing with the girls at all."
Although the waltz was his favorite dance, his recent attempt to use his
skills at an American wedding failed miserably. Of course, he still had
a good time trying.
Unfortunately, one of his worst memories also happened in Eastern Europe.
After hitchhiking illegally into Russia, Justin was taken to a small house
where two guards were supposed to keep an eye on him. After a few restless
hours sleep, he awoke and was certain he heard them talking about how
he must be a rich American and that they should kill him and take his
things. Needless to say, he quickly grabbed his things and snuck out the
back as quietly as possible.
Such wonderful and horrible experiences have made Justin a seasoned traveler
and quite adept at acclimating to foreign cultures. For each language,
he would learn the grammar and rules, "which is almost mathematical"
usually took him about two days. Then he would try to think and write
in his journal in the native language, which sometimes led to frustrated,
short entries. Eventually, reading childrens books and interacting
with friendly locals helped him conquer each one.
The cultural acclimation is a different story. Despite his friendly demeanor,
Justins physical appearance does not help him blend in with local
people. His only advice is to try to pick positive cultures. "When
I was in Greece and Russia the atmosphere was so negative I just couldnt
fit." The culture of South America was much more appealing, where
"it is different but good, everybody is always happy and dancing."
He recommends making as many friends as possible and always accepting
an invitation if you are invited somewhere.
For the moment, Justin is trying to acclimate back into American life
from his latest Eastern European adventure. He is back at the Steak n
Shake to save up money for his next destination, tentatively scheduled
for Lebanon. Although he sells his stories while traveling in order to
survive, he does not plan on selling them in America. "I might publish
them one day, but I dont want any money from them." As a self-pronounced
communist, selling his stories would probably only play into the capitalist
system. More distant future plans include becoming a philosophical leader
and conducting social experiments, beginning with "The Romantic Revolution."
This is hardly the accepted career path of a typical young American man.
Perhaps, though, he is a modern Odysseus who, after years of adventure
and trials and tribulations, will one day reach the home he was secretly
searching for all along. In the meantime, we can live vicariously through
his adventures posted at
© Lauren Smith June 2007
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