The Thrive Questionnaire With Richard Bangs

The world-renowned travel expert opens up about what he's learned from traveling the world, spending half of his adult life in a sleeping bag, and the internal "popcorn popper" of ideas that fuels him forward.

When you have the opportunity to ask some of the most interesting people in the world about their lives, sometimes the most fascinating answers come from the simplest questions. The Thrive Questionnaire is an ongoing series that gives an intimate look inside the lives of some of the world’s most successful people.

Richard Bangs, often called “the father of modern adventure travel,” is an American author and television personality focused on international travel. He is also the co-founder of www.steller.co, now the world’s largest travel storytelling platform and app.

In his Thrive Questionnaire, he opens up about what he’s learned from traveling the world, spending half of his adult life in a sleeping bag, and the internal “popcorn popper” of ideas that fuels him forward.

TG: What’s the first thing you do when you get out of bed?

RB: I’ve spent about half my adult life in a sleeping bag, in the wilderness, where afresh dawns the morn of life with wafts of unworked air, the chimes of nature, and the warmth of early sun on the face. My routine would be to sit up, breathe deeply, and drink in the scene and the moment, and say a silent thank you for being in a special place and time before unfolding upwards to meet the day. Now, more often than not, I awake in my bed, not far from the Pacific, with the windows yawned, and I sit up to the sound of lapping waves, sometimes a distant foghorn, and again say thank you for new wonder, and a thank you for the day. Then I usually put my head back on the pillow and grab a few more winks. 

TG: What gives you energy?

RB: I may be cursed with a popcorn popper of ideas in my head, as salvos fly throughout the day, little exploding kernels of energy that fuel me forward. More than food, exercise, or supplements, ideas crackle and propel, and invigorate the day. 

TG: What’s your secret life hack?

RB: In keeping with the popcorn motif, my greatest weakness is buttered popcorn, and movies always taste better with a bag so filled. But, most theaters use something along the lines of partially hydrogenated soybean oil, beta carotene, TBHQ & polydimethylsiloxane, at about 700 calories a pop. So, before heading to a theater, I cook my corn at home, with Kerrygold Pure Salted Irish Butter, and then smuggle the bootleg inside a lined paper bag. That is why even the worst B-movies get thumbs up from me.

TG: Name a book that changed your life. 

RB: The Devil Drives, by Fawn M. Brodie. The 19th century Richard Burton was a polymath, linguist (he spoke at least 25 languages) and explorer fired by bottomless curiosity. For me, he validated that to travel the world in pursuit of passions is a viable quest. And how could I not be inspired by the man who was the first European non-Muslim to step foot inside of Mecca, and then published the first English translation of The Kama Sutra?

TG: Tell us about your relationship with your phone. Does it sleep with you?

RB: I phub my phone in order to pay attention to my companions. I do check my Steller app for little sugar hits of marvel and inspiration, but otherwise I try to leave her in park. She does not sleep with me. We had some casual encounters, but the guilt was too much, so she sleeps in the other room.

TG: How do you deal with email?

RB: I try to go to places where it is not accessible. Nine days in North Korea was heavenly, and same with Iran and Cuba, and the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon is also email-free. I always liked unplugged concerts the best.

TG: You unexpectedly find 15 minutes in your day, what do you do with it?

RB: Take a nap. Or, if not possible, I try to call a friend or family member. I still have a land-line.

TG: When was the last time you felt burned out and why?

RB: Like everyone, I’ve committed to things I almost immediately regretted. I thought it noble to accept a job as president of Outward Bound, but once settled in at the headquarters in Garrison, New York, I realized that regularly seeing my family still on the West Coast was a near-impossible challenge, yet a priority.  There was a tough period of stress as I tried to make it work, and then an even more blazing sense of burn as I tried to gracefully extricate.

TG: When was the last time you felt you failed and how did you overcome it? 

RB: I had a catastrophic failure when I led an expedition down an unrun river in Africa and my boat capsized and a member drowned. I was wracked with prolonged torment and shame. It took months, but when I finally put pen to paper and wrote a lengthy piece describing the incident from start to deadly finish, I emerged feeling there was an element of The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber to the story. I’ve never stopped feeling guilty, but the therapy of writing allowed me to move forward and downstream again.

TG: Share a quote that you love and that gives you strength or peace.

RB: “Of the gladdest moments in human life, methinks, is the departure upon a distant journey into unknown lands. Shaking off with one mighty effort the fetters of Habit, the leaden weight of Routine, the cloak of many Cares and the slavery of Civilization, man feels once more happy. The blood flows with the fast circulation of childhood….afresh dawns the morn of life…”

-Richard Frances Burton, Journal Entry (2 December 1856)

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