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How to Live the Life of an International Spy

I met Scott Brills about three years ago and was immediately impressed with how he chose to live his life differently than everyone else. He didn’t settle down, get the 9-to-5 job, and do what society says we should do. Scott is an adventurer, entrepreneur, and man of the world. I always wanted to know how he gave up the trappings of life and was able to travel all around the world! I spent some time with him and asked him a few questions. Here is my interview with him.

What encouraged your curiosity to travel?
My grandparents were retired and they traveled. They were always coming back from some trip. Going to places like China and the Soviet Union (at that time) when people were not going there. They always brought back money and coins and I collected them and eagerly listened to their amazing stories.

My immediate family traveled around the U.S., but not internationally. I was the kind of kid that would go to the library and check out 15 books, encyclopedias, and history books. I was always looking at maps and reading about World War II and Knights. I could not get enough of the stories and information. I traveled all over in my imagination.

I first became interested in Asia when I read The Travels of Marco Polo. I got really focused on China. I remember, when I was like 12 years old, a letter came in the mail asking if I wanted to go on a three week trip to China as a student ambassador. The program had been going on since President Eisenhower had launched it. My parents allowed me to sign up and helped me raise money to go.

I remember the weeks leading up to the trip, I read up on everything Chinese. I was the most prepared kid. China was awesome. We had a home stay for a night in a farming village. The family didn’t know any English and we didn’t know any Chinese. We used hand gestures. I didn’t have too much trouble getting by with the very little Mandarin I had taught myself, like, “Hello”, “Thank you,” and numbers one through five.

We visited all the famous historical sites and went to a university. I was paired with two students and got to speak with them. We really bonded. It was first time I experienced the instant connection you can make with people when you are traveling. There is a certain openness of strangers that leads to developing ties really quickly.

At the end of that first trip we went to Shanghai. On the streets, a stranger, a woman approached me and spoke English. She used to live in New York. She exchanged emails with me over the years. Crazy to think that she is now a client of mine. That was 17 years ago and she is 10 years older than me. She even flew me over there and showed me around. The kindness of strangers has been very humbling.

Where was your next trip?
Unfortunately, it would be awhile before I could travel again. I took two years of Spanish in high school, but I had always wanted to take Japanese. However, I always thought it would be too hard. I took Japanese anyways. I did really well in the class. The teacher had gone on a work study program a few years before and she saw that I loved it. She gave me the information for the program. I interviewed and was selected to spend 10 months in Japan for my freshman year of college. I knew a lot about Japanese culture, from the language, the anime, the video games, samurais, ninjas, and everything.

I experienced so many firsts: from language, being away from home, first girl friend, my taste palate changed (I now like spicy food) first drink, and even my first bungee jump at a rave. It changed me, I became a lot more outgoing. I even learned how to use formal silverware placement. I was a deejay. I even climbed Mount Fuji. This was the beginning of my love affair with Japan. I have since been to Japan nine times, for a total of two plus years of my life.

I received my liberal arts degree in International Business and Japanese in two and a half years of school so that I could take the fall semester off and spend it in Japan. I was also working all year so I could take the two-to-three months to travel to and stay in Japan.

Did you travel outside of Asia?
I was sent to Turkey through the Rotary Club and spent five weeks there and then five weeks backpacking through Europe. I realized, “Wow. I had missed out on lots of travel experiences by only going to Japan.”

How did you hear about the Mongol Rally?
I read an article in Forbes magazine about the guy who started it and then talked to a friend of mine about doing an Epic adventure. I initially thought about walking the entire length of the Great Wall of China. But decided that driving to Mongolia would be really cool. It was about six months of prep. From creating a website, to getting visas, buying the car, fixing the car, shipping the car, handling customs and paperwork, getting supplies, mapping the route, and doing PR. Average teams take about four weeks, but I like to take my time and check out the sites.

One of the more interesting moments was getting stuck at the Ukrainian border for 12 hours and getting arrested in Ukraine for speeding, even though we weren’t. They just wanted a bribe.

How has traveling changed you?
Travel teaches you how to deal with adversity better — when your trip doesn’t go right, you have to be open to a new plan. In addition, the living standard is not anywhere near what it is like in the U.S., which makes you feel lucky to be born here. I always make new friends, locals and fellow travelers. I like people, culture, history, I travel to see how others live. You definitely learn more about yourself and your condition.

Some think I am postponing growing up… I like coming back and unwinding and visiting my friends and seeing my family. Going to the old hangouts. But I also like not knowing what is around the next corner and discovering new situations and things. I like challenge. Every day when you are traveling is full of new challenges. But here my life is the same old every day: Wash, rinse, and repeat. I know that Someday when I get older, I will have to tone it down a bit. As you can’t really travel like I have with children. I know that having roots and somewhere to call home is important.

What has traveling taught you?
The world is overwhelmingly populated by good people. The kindness of strangers has helped me get by. You have to rely on their kindness for help. When you are traveling you need to interact with others. Its very tough to do it all on your own when you don’t know the language or where you are going. I have tons of friends from all over the world. I have benefited a lot from the hospitality of people overseas, in so many different situations. I feel very grateful for that. Because of these awesome experiences I thought it would be fun to join that new site called Couch Surfing.

What is the most interesting thing you have eaten?
Insects, but a lot of people have eaten them. I ate donkey in China. It was pretty good. Tasted like beef. I also ate raw horse and raw chicken in southern Japan. And then fermented horse milk and ox penis in Mongolia. Everyone had a ball and a piece of the penis, so I had to eat it.

What advice would you give to people who like the sound of this lifestyle?
International travel is one of the most important things you will experience in your life. Whether it is backpacking in Europe or a semester abroad. Do it and you may be surprised at how much you get out of it. There is not a book you could you could read or a movie you could see that you could compare it to.

Want to help Scott with his next adventure? Click here to learn how he will travel from the UK to South Africa.

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  1. Scott says:

    Thanks for the interview opportunity Bev!