In October 2015, a young man from a well-to-do English family hitchhiked from London to LA without any money. Six months later his body was found on the West Coast with his fingers wrapped around the worn plastic casing of his phone by a man and his dog on their morning run. Shortly after, my editor at The Travel Almanac issued me an article on the unique life, and death of the boy.
His name turned out to be James Westfield. He hada family, friends, and girlfriend. He had left them all behind, however, to establish a new ‘family’ online with people from all over the world. His teachers described him as polite, intelligent, and a joy to be around. Although, his blog detailed a disillusionment with school, and later on, with his 9-5 job as well. His boss gave a similar appraisal to his teachers, however, she added that he had seemed ‘empty’ toward the end and caught him reading ‘Walden’ by Henry David Thoreau on the job a few days before he quit. That book, as well as ‘Into the Wild’ by Jon Krakauer, and ‘On the Road’ by Jack Kerouac were part of a stack of books in his bedroom that his parents claim he re-read over and over again.
There was little else in his room but a simple bed, wardrobe, plants, globe, record player, notebook and a canvas featuring a women touching the earth drawn in biro. However, it was evident from the moment I walked into his house that his tastes weren’t simple because he hadn’t been able to afford anything else. His mother asserted that she had always tried to make him happier, offering countless times to buy him clothes, but he refused. Even on his birthday, or at Christmas, his father said he would kindly accept his gifts and then pack them away in a box under his bed never to be touched again. I had expected the box to be full of socks, and other such things that young boys and girls aren’t interested in at such an age. Although, much to my dismay it contained games, an iPad, and an Apple pencil to accompany it to name just a few items. Except, when looking through the box, I didn’t feel as if the gifts weren’t appreciated, simply unnecessary.
In next to no time after quitting his job, he enrolled himself onto a year long photography course, and came away with something he had rejected the year before, a grade. However, before long he left that behind too, and started to prepare for the journey ahead. The notebook in his bedroom that was adorned with a leather cover, filled with craft paper, and wrapped with a string that threaded a small compass emblem was filled to the brim. Inside the journal was scribblings of quotes from his favourite books, philosophy, and a schedule that planned out every minute of every day for the next year, from eating and sleeping, to learning key phrases in different languages and going to the gym. After just a few short months of following his schedule, he wrote on his blog that he was stronger, faster, and had learnt more than school had ever taught him. But he was still here, at home. Still, in the same town he’d always been in, and that feeling of being stuck had slowly began to creep back in.
Over the course of the year, he hadn’t just been preparing for his journey, but publicising it as well. He had created a YouTube channel, started Instagram stories, and posted more regularly on his blog. All of which was receiving some positive feedback, and he had begun to attract an ever-growing fanbase. His content was mostly a reflection of his notebook, everything that he had felt, and thought in the last few years that had led him to want to do this. He didn’t want people to feel how he had felt before. As if they were defined by grades, or living for a paycheque, and wasting their life away. He wanted to prove that people could travel far and wide with little to no money, and so he set off after a years worth of training with little else but a backpack, some essentials, and absolutely no money.