About a year ago, I was practically bankrupt. I remember looking at my Paypal balance, all six dollars of it. My bank accounts were both overdrawn. A huge credit card debt loomed upon the horizon. I had been working my ass off for the last few months, pulling hundred hour weeks to improve The Broke Backpacker and to start up my SEO agency. My ever chill partner, Nina, remained calm throughout it all but I knew that she was concerned as well. I had no more funds available to me anywhere, I could not go to my parents, my brother, or any bank.
Luckily, I had an ace up my sleeve… My travel blog.
Starting a travel blog changed my life. To run a successful blog is to become a jack of all trades and owning a blog can open up an incredible number of opportunities. I’ve learnt a huge amount over the last four years and I love to tinker, to experiment and to expand into every opportunity I come across. My dream is to show others that they too can ditch their desks, travel the world and earn money as they go.
Back in November 2016, I had invested significantly more money than I had available and had drastically overstretched my means. Oscar Wilde once said that “a man who lives within his means lacks imagination” and this is a quote that has always stuck with me. I’ve never really cared about money, I’ve never really had any money, not until recently. I’ve always been confident that I could weather any storm – I don’t mind being uncomfortable. The thing is that this time, for the first time in my life, it wasn’t OK for me to sleep rough on the street or sell party enhancers to make ends meet – I have a wife to provide for.
Nina and I couldn’t afford our rent, or even to eat properly and all of my money was tied up in unfinished ventures – to abandon them now would be to lose everything. Desperate for a cash injection, I broke out my whiteboard and scribbled down various money making ideas…
I decided to run a broke backpacker adventure tour to a far-flung land, a concept I had been thinking of for a while. Out of all the options available to me, the choice was obvious. I wanted to run my adventure tour to the adventure capital of the world… Pakistan.
Pakistan is a land of towering peaks and lush alpine meadows, a place of plentiful hashish, endless cups of chai and legendary hospitality. This is a country where time stands still. To travel here is to journey into a true adventure wonderland.
Best of all, Pakistan is a country where I am blessed to have many truly close friends.
Excitedly, I picked up the phone and called my main man in Lahore, Soodi.
“Soodi, I want to bring a bunch of foreigners to Pakistan on an adventure tour, do you think it’s a good idea?”
“Aw yes mon (it helps if you imagine Soodi talking in a Rasta accent), this is a great idea! This will be great for Pakistan!”
And so, it was settled.
Admittedly, I was a bit nervous about bringing an unknown group of people to Pakistan. This would be a fresh learning curve for me and I knew that Pakistan would present its own unique set of challenges as a destination. However, the more I thought about it the more I realised that an adventure tour to Pakistan was the perfect choice…
Pakistan is awesome, but it can be difficult to get around and it’s a country where you really do need local contacts to get behind the scenes and see some of the truly magical hidden gems. With four months backpacking experience in Pakistan, and close friendships all over the country, I realised that I was in a unique position to help open up Pakistan to the world and help some awesome adventurers, many of whom were short on time and only had a couple of weeks holiday, have an experience that they would never forget and which, frankly, wouldn’t be possible without my contacts and expertise.
Excited about the idea, I took to Facebook and Instagram and announced that I was now taking deposits for the first ever Broke Backpacker Adventure Tour to Pakistan. The tour sold out in five days!
Looks like we’re going to Pakistan baby!
And so, in September 2017, I lead the first ever Broke Backpacker Adventure Tour to Pakistan. For this first Broke Backpacker adventure, I took a group of eleven adventurers deep into the mountains to meet with my Pakistani family. We slept under starry skies, crossed sketchy glaciers, tackled swaying suspension bridges, rode horses into the night and enjoyed some top quality hash under the gaze of Nanga Parbat, the ninth highest mountain in the world.
I took my brother Alex and my good friend Aiden on this trip as backup and Soodi, my main man from Lahore, came along as our local fixer.
It was an incredible experience.
It was however also one of the most challenging things that I personally have ever done. And like any challenge, I picked up some lessons along the way…
7 Things I learnt on the first ever Broke Backpacker Tour.
1. Tourism in Pakistan can change lives
Our tours always seek to provide for local communities, and we’re extra proud of being able to employ knowledgable and hard-working Pakistanis all throughout Gilgit-Baltistan and beyond. This was one of my major goals with Epic Backpacker Tours and I’m happy to say we’ve accomplished it. It is my hope that future tours will enable us to continue to provide opportunities for both the people of Pakistan and life-changing experiences for our international guests through cultural exchange.
2. Adaptability is key
Lot’s of minor things went wrong on this tour. In Pakistan, time doesn’t work the same way as in other countries. You can call to a restaurant two hours before you are due to rock up to pre-order your food and then confirm again thirty minutes before you turn up only to find that nobody has even started cooking when you arrive and it’s going to be at least an hour. Roads get washed away in Pakistan and sudden changes of plan are par for the course with travelling in this part of the world. I was really proud of our ability to roll with the punches and reformulate our plan on the road and although things didn’t always go to plan, we always worked it out.
3. People from all walks of life are pretty awesome
I was really lucky to have such a great group of guests on this tour. Before the group rocked up to Lahore, I was somewhat nervous – I hadn’t led a group anywhere before and would very much be figuring it out as I went along. After a few days, our group had formed into one ultra-awesome-mega-cohesive unit and people were getting on well. Friendships were formed, amusing tales of woe from the road were told and we all thought about sleeping with each other – according to the drinking game ‘Never Have I Ever’ anyway. I’m still in regular contact with a couple of the guests I got on with the best and I hope to see them again on the road real soon. I was very lucky to mostly have guests who were willing to dive in and grab the adventure by the horns.
4. A digital detox is good for the soul
I’ll confess, in the months leading up to the Pakistan tour, I had been balls deep in my laptop, hustling hard to create the passive income which will enable me to live the lifestyle I want. I’ve been involved in so many projects recently that it’s been hard to find timed to focus on my mental wellbeing. I made the decision before the tour that I would not look at my phone or laptop the entire time I was in Pakistan. This proved to be a huge blessing. I left my workload with my team and was able to properly focus on leading the tour and being the best tour leader that I could be. The mountains have always been my happy place and to be back amongst the jagged peaks of the Karakoram range with a bunch of new friends was simply splendid.
5. Pakistan is simply incredible
OK, OK, I knew this already. But being on the tour and having the privilege to watch other people form their own opinions about this magical land and its heartwarming people reminded me just how special Pakistan really is. The Garden of Eden ain’t got nothing on Pakistan… Pakistan is simply the most stunningly beautiful country I have ever been to and is filled with warm, wonderful, kind people.
6. Pakistan isn’t for everybody
A real adventure like Pakistan requires a certain kind of mentality and a willingness to work as a team and to roll with the punches. I need to be certain that I am bringing the right people to Pakistan, luckily almost all of the group was sound but in the future, I’m going to only take experienced travellers to Pakistan. This ain’t a holiday, it’s an adventure.
7. If you build something, be careful who you trust…
I hired an additional staff member to help me out with this project at the end of 2018 and foolishly gave them 50% rather than paying them just a wage, I wanted them to feel additionally incentivised through ownership, but this was a significant error to impart 50% of a venture I had worked on solo for three years.
This chap pretended to be a good friend but took advantage of the fact that I was completely overwhelmed running several other businesses simultaneously, and going through a divorce.
I ended up parting ways with that business in 2021 and reaped little for the 7 years of my life I had put into opening Pakistan up to adventure tours. I had bankrolled the tour company on my own from the start, and kept it afloat for a whole year during Covid. An initial warning sign was when this individual started referring to themself as the ‘founder’ of the company despite only coming aboard several years after the enterprise was originally established. I didn’t want to burst their bubble or expend energy to conflict, I figured perhaps the understanding and nuance of the term was unknown to them. Ultimately though it was a red flag that indeed ended up costing me dearly. The one condition of me stepping away from that business was that my legacy of work within the company would be respected but unfortunately it was not, to the point they essentially swapped their name for mine in my original bio copy, claiming they visited Pakistan in 2015 (which is not true) and leaving no trace of the company’s true history.
Moral of the story; don’t give away equity without reasonable and upfront investment of some kind from a potential partner, and if somebody shows they are untrustworthy, be wary of giving them the benefit of the doubt. Sometimes conflict is inevitable, stick up for yourself and don’t let anyone maneuver a wedge between you and your hard earned equity. Some people out there would rather get in on a good thing than build something themselves as they simply don’t have the balls to do so, watch out for those people.
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