By Rachel Wilson
Jos Cocquyt is part of one of the smallest minorities in the US—Flemish-American. He was born in Belgium to Belgian parents, and moved to the US when he was 16. He worked as an aerospace engineer in Southern California for about six years before giving it all up to travel the world. He decided to leave his “dream job” after watching his boss, friend, and mentor fight tongue cancer for two years and finally losing his courageous battle. Jos realized that life can be short and if you’re not enjoying every minute of it, it’s time to make a change. After donating some possessions to Goodwill and mailing the rest to his parents, Jos was ready to hit the road. He set out to see new places, meet new people, and work on his kite boarding skills. His first road trip was to Baja, Mexico to go kite surfing. He chose Baja because it seemed like a good warm-up before setting off for real, and an opportunity to use his car one last time before selling it. Jos started his own blog, 21stCenturyHobo.com, to keep his friends and family informed on his whereabouts and adventures.
Jos was kind enough to answer a few questions for The Hostel Life. This is his story.
THL: What are a few of your favorite travel destinations and what made them so memorable? Where is the next stop?
J: Brazil—the country has an abundance of happiness, optimism and future that is unmatched anywhere. It’s hard to meet a Brazilian you won’t like. They are a warm, inclusive, and funny people. As a kite surfer, I go there especially for the wind you find on the Northeast coast. Few places on earth have the consistent breeze we look for like they have in Brazil. The girls aren’t bad-looking either.
Phnom Penh—this was a big surprise for me. I ended up spending close to two weeks there waiting for a friend who was delayed due to some border unrest near Thailand. The place is the closest I could find to the Indochina of old. It’s dirty and grimy and has a bit of a lawlessness to it that is quite romantic. It’s the kind of city where you hole up for a few months and write a novel.
Northern Italy—It’s just like in the movies! Quaint little villages nestled in rolling hills covered with Cypresses and olive trees where everyone rides around on Vespas and smiles a lot. I did a trip by train from Pisa to Venice via Verona and Cinque Terre with a good friend, and we had a great time. I will definitely go back here and learn Italian for real this time.
My next stop is home—I’ve been on the road for two years, and look forward to reestablishing a little more fixed life for a while. I know the road is always there for me though.
THL: What are some of your favorite things to do when in a new place?
J: Eat the food, learn at least some of the language, and go wander around and get lost (not always a good idea—I nearly got robbed in Rio).
THL: What does the hostel life mean to you? Where was your first hostel experience? Favorite hostel?
J: This was my first time ever staying in hostels. To me hostels are all about meeting people. Everyone has a different story, but there is a common thread of courage and adventure that is apparent. Everyone’s voyage is epic to some extent, and I heard people say so many times that traveling had changed them as a person for the better.
The first hostel I stayed remains my favorite to this day and is called Lemon Spirit in Rio de Janeiro. When I first got to Rio all I did was hang in the hammock, read books, practice Portuguese with local cariocas (people from Rio), and go to the beach. I stayed long enough and enough times that I became friends with the owners and several of the staff. I now go to see them, even if I’m not staying in the hostel. All together I have had so many positive experiences, meeting new people, cooking meals together, going partying together, playing sports. I remember one meal we cooked in the south of Spain at hostel Melting Pot in Tarifa. We discovered they had a giant paella pan, so everybody pitched in and we cooked a meal for over a dozen people with tons of seafood that is so abundant there. Afterwards we all went to a local flamenco bar and watched some amazing dancing and singing till the wee hours.
THL: What are a few things you can’t live without while traveling?
J: iPhone or iPod touch—standard issue for any world traveler. Particularly the newer generation that allows you to video skype. Good sunglasses are hard to come by in other parts of the world (or they’re crazy expensive).
THL: If you could give advice to someone interested in traveling for the first time, what would it be?
J: Don’t worry about the details, and only buy one-way tickets.
\To find out more about Jos and his travels, check out his website 21stCenturyHobo.com