Interview with Jason Gastaldo by Anton Gerasymenko
In the middle of May 2017 Anton visited Bucharest and stayed in a hostel named Podstel, interviewing the founder, who has a huge experience in travelling and volunteering.
Anton: Tell me about yourself.
Jason: I am Jason Gastaldo. I was born in an apartment building Portland, state Oregon. I grew up there and moved about seven times to different places in Oregon and California. When I was a child I didn’t go to school and I didn’t have any formal education. My parents just taught me to read, write, basic mathematics and that was it, and the rest of the time I did whatever I wanted – playing video games mostly.
When I was 16, I went to university for about two years and then quit, because it is very expensive in USA. I had not enough money from my jobs, something like gardening, restaurants etc., and my parents could not support me.
Anton: Why did you decide to change your life?
Jason: I was just doing the same things every day. I felt this deep sense of dissatisfaction. I was unhappy for some reason, but I didn’t know why, I just had the feeling that I was unhappy.
So, one day I just decided to take some fruit, a pen and paper into the forest next to my grandfather’s house. I wanted to write down my thoughts in lists. The first was what my life looked like right then, and I wrote down things like:
- I am speaking English every day
- I am not exercising
- I am not eating good food
- I am not around people that make me grow, I am just around the same people every day
- I am afraid of not being successful
- I am driving everyday
Then I wrote down another list: “How I want my life to look like” and I wrote down things like:
- I want speak other languages
- I want to feel freedom
- I want to travel
- I want to meet new people
- I want to eat new kinds of food
- I want to experience the world
- I want to do more things that make me happy for my heart
This list was very easy to write, because it was from my heart. After writing this list and eating my apples I really felt sure that I need to do more things from the second list and less from the first list.
I wrote another list of possibilities what I could do to make these things true. Travelling felt the most urgent and I decided to buy a ticket to Europe.
Jason: Exactly. I didn’t know how to travel, I had never travelled before. I looked up websites for couch-surfing, farming etc. Instead of sleeping in a tent and being alone, they give you an opportunity to travel and be stable somewhere. I organised where I would stay and work the first two weeks before I bought the ticket, so I would feel more secure.
I first went to Switzerland as a volunteer. The basic rule is that you do 4-5 hours of work every day, and they give you a place to sleep and food. The work was a very small organic garden and I worked with plants, planted and watered them, fed animals and so on.
Anton: Since then you have been to 44 countries…
Jason: After I spent a couple of weeks on that farm I also tried couch-surfing, staying with a host who had a huge experience with many hundreds of guests. He was very interesting to talk to and he gave me a perspective on travelling, explaining what is (not) possible. I stayed in the most exciting place I could, yet still I was in my comfort zone, because all this was new, but also things I wanted to do.
I learned new techniques in order to “need less”. I would need less money using them. One was hitch-hiking. You could go anywhere and you don’t need money. Another technique is to save money from food, like getting food for free from supermarkets, markets or even restaurants, before they throw out outdated products.
During the last ten years of my travels I explored how to need less. Now I am comfortable anywhere, I know that I don’t need much to live on. All I need is a place to sleep, basic food and also be around people and to have good emotions around me all the time. This is my priority now, but when I started I had more needs, I thought I needed a car and other things that I actually don’t need.
Anton: Which are your favourites?
Jason: My top two countries in terms of feeling close to the culture probably where India and Brazil. I like India, because people understand what it means to live on very little, they are improvising and happy, they have humour in everything they do, it is very important for them.
Brazil is very similar. In both cultures food plays a very big role. They have very nice food and fresh delicious things. The feeling of community is very important, people are very warm, they touch you, they come close physically. It feels like home to me.
Their traditions seem exotic, but for them it is daily life. You can think that your life is boring, but for them your country is exotic. People have different ways of living, but in reality everybody wants the same things, really basic: to be loved and accepted and to feel part of something bigger, for example a community or a project. The whole world is one culture in that way.
Jason: After ten years of travel, I became tired. I realised that I was in my comfort zone when travelling. For me it is important to go out, develop, do something new. I decided to grow further as a person. I met my partners, and for me it was obvious that they were doing something I really love. They had a vision of a positive change of travel and education, something I had lived for years. They were different from me and people whom I met before.
I have become more modern in my views, being around people like Dan and Sam. They also travelled and they have seen a lot, but they took a different turn of mind. Instead of saying: “Capitalism is terrible, we should get off the borders, we should make everybody live in a happy magical life”, we say: “There is so much potential in the world, let’s make something happen. We can give people a platform and inspiration to do something great.
Know what you want
Most people know what they want and what to do, they are only afraid. We want to help people and show that the most dangerous thing is not following the inspiration you have. The regret afterwards will kill you, if you are not ready to follow it.
“What if I just follow my dream” is one of most painful sentences that I hear from people. I have heard it from hundreds of people. A lot of them spoke about things they wanted to do, but then they chose the safe option and have deep regrets.
I would rather be burning brightly and maybe not succeed than not burning at all. And I think that is how Dan and Sam also feel. We would rather be doing something and try to make it happen, than take the easiest option.
We have now a space here, a stage, an open space for people to do whatever they want, events, workshops based on their passions, yoga or writing or drawing or different exercises or just eye contact. Something that makes them happy and share happiness with others.
Anton Gerasymenko was a European Voluntary Service volunteer at Lecti / IBI in 2017.
(c) Jason Gastaldo, photos 2017