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Brian Ward, 39, got his first taste of living in a Spanish-speaking country after high school graduation. Since then, his life has consisted of traveling around the world, surviving on canned tuna at some points, pretending to be pro-surfer Kelly Slater’s second cousin and spying on his Russian Mafia neighbors.
Ward decided to compile his journals of living in Mexico, Spain and other countries throughout Latin America and Europe, with travel tips on how to live rent-free for under $25 a day in his book titled “Girls with non-French Accents: Algeciras to Zihuatanejo.”
Brian is currently living in West Sacramento and works as an ESL teacher.
His book, referred to as “a modern day version of ‘The Motorcycle Diaries'” by Lulu.com, a self-publishing company, follows Ward’s adventures, both good and painful, from sharing pants in Costa Rica, to traveling the European rail system on canned tuna, to surviving Mexico’s 60-year-old buses.
“If you can’t already tell, I was a loser in high school,” Ward wrote in his book’s introduction. “The only reason I got through it was because most of my fellow students thought I was completely out of my mind. My senior quote for the high school yearbook was, ‘Is the ringing in my head bothering you?'”
While traveling, nobody knew who Ward used to be, and he said he used this opportunity to constantly reinvent himself, sometimes attempting to impress women by telling them he was pro-surfer Kelly Slater’s second cousin.
“They don’t know you don’t have a job, you did bad in high school and your car’s a piece of junk,” Ward said. “You can just invent your own identity.”
Ward first experienced the art of identity crafting while living in Costa Rica. He jokingly asked his grandmother for a ticket to Colombia for graduation, and unexpectedly, she bought him a ticket to Costa Rica, where some of her friends lived.
He learned Spanish by buying his host brother cigarettes and spending the majority of his time listening to and learning about his family’s obsession with Levi’s Jeans.
“I brought this pair of Levi’s Jeans and they didn’t fit, and the whole family wore them. They were in constant circulation 24-hours a day,” Ward said. He explained that when one family member would take them off at bedtime, another person would put them on. “They’re probably still wearing those things,” he said.
Ward said this experience opened his eyes to how people live outside of the U.S.
“They really value anything, and here, we don’t appreciate anything,” he said.
After a summer in Costa Rica, Ward began community college before working as a valet at a hotel in Monterey, Calif. He then traveled across the country with his father and entered a four-year university for a single semester before moving to Mexico.
Ward said while he liked the people of Mexico City better than any other place he visited, its bus system has created some of his worst memories. He first discovered this while taking a three-day bus trip from Mexico City to Cancun on a “60-year-old piece of junk.”
“People were bringing 50-pound sacks of chips and blankets and bananas; all these supplies like they’re leaving the country. I didn’t understand that you’re leaving civilization for the ride,” Ward said. “If you don’t bring water, you aren’t drinking.”
After returning to California and readjusting to American life, Ward turned down a job driving a delivery truck for Doritos before fleeing to Spain, where he experienced an entirely new type of adjustment.
“In Spain, the biggest cultural difference is these people are party animals,” Ward said, remembering a time when some friends asked him to go for “a couple of beers,” which turned into 15 hours of nonstop drinking.
“I slept in the door(way) of some abandoned building,” he said, adding that when he woke up “I was just trying to think what country I was in.”
Ward said another major cultural difference was the manner in which people address each other in Spain. They are very straightforward, he said, even if what they have to say is mean or offensive.
“In Spain, you can tell if they like you or not in two minutes. You know where you stand,” he said. “When you come back (to the U.S.) you can’t always be as free with what you say and what you do.”
The exception to this rule applied to Ward’s Russian neighbor in Spain, who he suspected was a member of the Mafia, which was why Ward never confronted him about his screaming, wild children.
“He didn’t speak any English or Spanish,” Ward said. “He would come home everyday at seven with a briefcase locked to his wrist.”
Ward took breaks from spying on his neighbors and traveled with his cousin, Simon, who was living in Amsterdam and had invited Ward on a tour of Europe. The two lived cheaply and slept on trains when possible instead of wasting the money on a bed.
“We just lived on tomatoes and bread and canned tuna. This guy was the expert,” Ward said. “We were living in these mansions for like eight euros a night.”
After traveling though Europe, returning to Mexico and then finding his way back to Spain, Ward began writing journals of his travels on the laptop given to him by a university there.
Ward claims he still has no idea what a semicolon is; his friends and grandmother helped him edit his travel guide biography.
“We learned a lot about each other,” Ward said about his grandmother in his postscript. “She taught me that ‘girls’ refer to pre-menstrual females. I taught my Grammy what a mosh pit was.”
The writing and editing process was long and hard, but worth it.
“It’s a brain exercise to recall all of this,” he said about remembering every experience from climbing Machu Picchu, to visiting a Mexican dental office in women’s shoe store, to carrying a 3,000-pound float with Jesus Christ strapped to the top.
Through all of these eclectic experiences, Ward said he learned how to value his life, the choices he’s made and the opportunities still out there. He said he feels like a Che Guevara without the career or fame, but his adventures have led him to the same point of self-realization.
Top Five Hostels in the World
1)Hostel Sue #2 Bogota
2)Hostel Simon Weir Galway
3)Hostel Ostinatto Buenos Aires
4)Weary Traveler Tulum
5)Iguazu Falls Hostel Iguazu
Mi Abuelo Mi Papa y Yo
Everest: Beyond the Limit: Season 1 (3-Disc Series)
Bachelor Party 2: The Last Temptation
Gotham Fish Tales
Gary Gulman: Boyish Man
Art School Confidential
The Sugarland Express
In the Middle of Nowhere
The Missouri Breaks
Music, Movies, and Books
'Tis by Frank McCourt
Days of Obligation : An Argument with My Mexican Father by Richard Rodriguez
Marching Powder : A True Story of Friendship and South America's
Strangest Jail by Thomas McFadden, Rusty Young
Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis
The Closer We Are to Dying : A Memoir of Father and Family by Joe Fiorito
Scar Tissue by Anthony Kiedis, Larry Sloman
The Alchemist: A Fable About Following Your Dream by Paulo Coelho
Makes Me Wanna Holler : A Young Black Man in America by Nathan McCall
Down Under by Bill Bryson
One Amazing Thing I’ve Done
"What do you really want to do in this life?" I asked myself. "Travel the world for free," I answered.
I decided to visit the career center website at Chico State. I entered “Teaching English in Korea” into the search engine and clicked on the link. A table then popped up on my screen comparing a teaching job in Korea with one in an American high school.
Country Salary Taxes Yearly Total Remaining
insurance $780 $0 $25,220
USA $35,000 $8,000 $8,400 $18,600
It was time for a different path in life. After seven months of waiting, I finally got a job with a Korean recruiter in Seoul (before any native English teacher can be hired from the US or Canada, they first need to go through a recruiting agency that places them in a job in Korea - most of the recruiting agencies are located in Korea). My new job was at an English academy in Southern South Korea. All I needed now was to get a South Korean visa.
I got my visa in the mail a few weeks later and departed for Korea in March of 2010. As I was clearing customs in Seoul, I ran into another American who was also coming to Korea to be a teacher. I recognized him from the San Francisco airport, he was probably the only person in Korea with a mullet. Not only did he arrive to Korea with a haircut seen sparsely outside of North American trailer parks, he had gone out of his way to sculpt the tail into a “V.” My conversation with him would be repeated thousands of times during my stay in Korea. “In which city do you work? What's the name of your academy?”
Countries I’ve Visited
Countries I’ve Lived In
Mexico, United States