Off The Beaten Path Interviews

An inside look at Earth’s explorers

Zak Erving, a self-described rambler and multi-media designer, has taken on travel as a full time reality. Read on to learn about inspiration and how to make travel happen.

Meet Zak Erving

Zak Erving - pipe

Zak deep in thought as he ponders his last adventure

Your travel-centric website, Sparkpunk: Play Outside the Lines, is inspired. What does the name of the website mean to you?

I wish I could take credit for the word “Sparkpunk,” but I can’t: it was appropriated from an offhand word mashup in a magazine ad. However, in the last few years—namely, the ones in which I’ve operated under the moniker—Sparkpunk has evolved to take on a variety of meanings and uses, mostly because of the double meaning of the word “punk,” which is both an unconventional person and a piece of kindling for a big fire. Connotatively, “spark” implies ignition, combustion, locomotion, and so on. Sparkpunk, therefore, is the beginning of something beautiful and incendiary. Maybe someone will see my website and think, “Hey, there’s this guy who isn’t anything special, but he’s doing with his life exactly what he wants to do,” and hopefully that will motivate them to strive for something. And then their example will inspire someone else, and so on—and it will spread like wildfire. Oh, and a beer bottle was the inspiration behind “Play Outside the Lines.”

You’re clearly motivated by the writings of some great minds. What quote best defines your travel philosophy?

The great minds certainly both inspire me to act and also create a baseline from which to operate. The best writers are those who have fully experienced humanity, so in a way it helps to read a good book and know what you’re getting yourself into when you travel. My travel philosophy can probably be summed up in “He who does not travel does not know the value of men,” (Arab Proverb) and “Where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the center of our own existence. And where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world” (Joseph Campbell.)

Zak Erving - swing over a cliff

Zak likes living on the edge, while “playing outside the lines”.

What’s the greatest challenge for you in maintaining long term travel? The greatest reward?

The greatest challenge to maintain long-term travel is its inherent paradox in light of my philosophy. If travel is all about the people you meet, then one would reason that you should stay around the people that mean the most to you. But travel is an insatiable curiosity, and it takes me away from those people. But the greatest reward of long term travel is the change in who I’ve become: since my first real travel experience, I’ve become more generous, compassionate, patient, and thankful.

If neither time nor money was an object, where would you travel, how would you get there and what would you bring with you?

Time or money not an object? I’m not sure if I would take that offer… the reward of travel doesn’t come easy, and if it did there would be no substance to it. I’ve noticed that the more money one spends on accommodation or an all-inclusive resort, the more one is taken out of the actual lifeblood of that place. BUT! I can say that my ultimate travel-work goal is to expand Sparkpunk Media in such a way that I can hire all of my friends to do exactly what they want to do with their lives, and we’d all live in a city that floats in the sky (I’m imagining zeppelins) and also has a launch pad for outer space and imports coffee exclusively from east Africa.

I like to think of travel as a form of therapy, sometimes it’s Swedish massage and sometimes it Gestalt, but it changes us. Give us an example of how travel has helped you face changes in yourself.

Travel forces me to adjust to the pace of the place, and it makes me intentional in searching for shreds of comfort and beauty. When I do find them—I always do—it becomes a part of me that I carry everywhere.

Zak Erving with backpackers

Zak mingling with some other backpackers. Photo Credit: Joshua T. Holm

What does it mean to be a rambler? Tell us three characteristics that make you one.

A rambler, I think, is someone who sees travel as a unique opportunity to grow, enjoy, and give back. A rambler expresses the characteristics of curiosity, contentedness, and creativity.

Your conglomeration of talents and creative genius has helped you to create the life of travel you have today. What would you say to those who feel they don’t have the tools needed to embark on long term travel?

I may be getting a little too head-in-the-clouds here, but I think that everyone on earth is here to do one thing exceptionally well, and many other things moderately well. With barriers to communication eroding on a weekly basis, there’s really no reason there can’t be a way—I’ve known nannies, editors,brand ambassadors, scientists, and programmers who have all spent a significant amount of time outside their country. It’s a lot of work, to be sure, and there’s always the risk of going hungry. Before signing a whale of a client, I was literally checking Craigslist for piecemeal jobs every friggin’ day. (I was ready to Photoshop someone’s cat into a family reunion picture for the price of a hamburger.)

Zak Erving - waterfall

Zak rejuvenating himself in a tropical waterfall.

I leveraged every connection I had, took out a loan from my parents, and scraped and scraped and scraped until I had something. Dragomirov reminds us of this tenacity in his Notes to Soldiers: “If your bayonet breaks, strike with the stock. If the stock gives way, hit with your fists. If your fists hurt, bite with your teeth.” In other words, fight for your life, because you are. Maybe not as dramatically as a bayonet charge, but you are certainly fighting for the quality of your life and who you want to be.

Big thanks to Mr Spark Erving, founder and mastermind behind Sparkpunk, for his travel inspiration and giving us the inside scoop behind what drives him to explore the world we live in, off the beaten path.

What is your passion/trade in life? Have you ever thought of ways of creating a bridge between your passion and travel? How would you or have you done it?

Please feel free to share your feedback, thoughts, and stories in the comment section below!