Alex: Hi Stephan, it's an honor to talk to you today. We always start off our interviews with the same question: Who are you and what do you do?
I am a 40 year old adventurer, who's back in Germany since about two months. Before that, I travelled for about nine years (with a few small breaks inbetween).
Alex: What does adventure mean to you? How important are adventures in your everyday life?
For me, an adventure means "starting" something and not knowing exactly how it will end. I also define it as not having complete control over everything that happens to me along the way. When I talk about adventures, I immediately notice that I get a big grin on my face and I just enjoy it. That's why I try to incooperate adventures into my everyday life - just outside the front door.
Alex: You've experienced countless adventures. Which one was your greatest adventure?
That was certainly my trip to Tibet. I just went there without a plan, and it was very adventurous and also scary, especially at the beginning. I also had a huge fear of failure. I had told friends and family what I was planning to do - that is, to walk 13,000 kilometers to Tibet - and nobody believed that I could do it. That's what I was afraid of – of having to go back to Munich and hearing “we told you so” from everyone.
Alex: How did you deal with that fear of failure? How did you manage to not let the fear take over?
Whenever I did things I was afraid of, I was so full of adrenaline that I wasn't actually afraid anymore - things like asking for food or a place to sleep. I noticed that I was no longer afraid while talking. For me, it was always just about the next day – just getting ahead one day, and then another. In the evening I always “celebrated” that I had made it another day.
Alex: How long did it take you to make the decision to really go to Tibet by foot?
In the end it took me about 3 years to get started. In 2009, I walked the Camino de Santiago in Spain and that's when I started to think about walking someplace far away by foot. I then tried to save money for this trip, but that didn't really work out. So, after doing some research on the subject, I decided to travel without money. Aside from the money, the question also arose as to whether one could walk that far by foot at all. And even if there are other people who have done something like this, it was still not clear to me whether I could also do it.
I then slowly started to gather equipment and I quit my apartment, canceled contracts and so on. Of course, my mother never believed that I really wanted to do it. When I then asked her what she could use from my apartment, she was totally shocked. But that's how it was for many people around me - I was a completely ordinary person until 2012. I honestly didn't know why I wanted to give up everything I was used to. I guess I just was curious and wanted to be on the road.
Alex: Were you convinced yourself that you could achieve your goal? Was the trip more of a mental or physical challenge for you?
In the beginning I didn't really believe that I could make it to Tibet - it was the first time I tried doing something like that. But I almost never had to force myself to get up and walk in the morning. I was able to meet so many people on my trip and experience great things. I was always looking forward to what the next day might bring. In the end, my journey lasted for four years - and that wasn't because I didn't want to go any further, but because I was fairly afraid of arriving. I knew that as soon as I arrived, this exciting journey would be over. I had only planned to be on the road for two years, but then I often just stayed longer in one place and was able to get to know the language and culture there. I had a very "romantic" idea of what Tibet was going to be like and I was afraid that these expectations would not be fulfilled.
Alex: Were your expectations in Tibet met then?
I could not move freely in Tibet. At first I was, of course, really disappointed and sad. Although I was allowed to enter the country, I had to join a tourist group and it was defined precisely which places we were allowed to visit. We weren't allowed to talk to the locals either, and I actually felt very lonely in Tibet. After four years of being so free, this was obviously an intense change. But then I realized that I had arrived - I had done it. I was able to look back on a four-year journey through 13 countries with an incredible number of beautiful encounters and experiences.
Alex: In Tibet you felt lonely for the first time. Was that never a problem for you during your trip or did you sometimes wish you had a “travel buddy”?
Well, both. During my trip I never was alone because I was always the "alien with the huge backpack" and everyone wanted to know who I was and what I was up to. I didn't really have much privacy on the trip because people always wanted to know more about my adventure. But in Tibet I really missed that. I didn't want to go from one sight to the next on my trip, I wanted to live with the people and understand their culture.
Alex: Is there any particular encounter that you particularly remember?
For me, one of the most important encounters is also one of the first. My plan was to walk an average of 16 kilometers every day and arrive in Tibet after two years. Of course I wanted to go further on some days so that I could take a day off on others.
I walked 30 kilometers on the first day and arrived in a village in the evening. The weather was cold and wet, and there was only one inn in the village. I then asked the owner of the inn if he had any idea who I could stay with. Without thinking twice, he offered me to stay at the inn. I was allowed to sleep in one of the rooms and had dinner and breakfast. The owner of the inn didn't think twice about that and I was speechless. The owner then told me that he would have liked to travel more as a young man, but couldn't because his father had died and he had to take over the inn. So he wanted to help me and, in a way, be a part of my story. That evening – and quite often during my trip – I simply felt “picked up” by the world. If I had had to sleep in the tent the first night, I probably would have gone back to Munich the next day. That's why this encounter was so important for me.
Alex: Are you still in touch with people you met on your journey?
Yes, definitely - via Facebook or Whatsapp, for example. Not everyone, mostly people I've spent time with or connected with more deeply.
Alex: What else is on your "to-do list" - do you want to go somewhere else by foot? Or are you currently trying to find adventures back in Munich?
I was nine years "on the road" with only a few interruptions. For me, it's more of an adventure at the moment just to get back to Munich and a more "normal" life. I've also learned that I can find adventure anywhere and have an exciting life here as well. But to realize that, I had to travel halfway around the world (laughs).
Alex: Do your experiences help you in difficult times? By that, I mean the knowledge that there are so many nice and good people in this world?
Yes, my adventures have definitely changed me a lot as a person. It made me much more extroverted and open. I didn't expect to have so many wonderful experiences. I grew a lot from it, it gave me a lot of strength and I still approach new people differently today.
Alex: Do you have any tips for our readers? Which things have you learned from your adventures?
Just try out the things you want to do. If you can't (yet) imagine walking for a long time, you can try it out for a day, a weekend, or a week. I also always love meeting new people on my adventures. Simply approaching other people with an open mind can give you a lot of strength. And of course I would like to mention at the end that I also wrote a book about my adventures - so if you want to know more, you can. :)