Losing your job is never good, but one man turned his layoff into a life-changing adventure.
Alex Strand found himself unemployed in December after his company, the camera maker GoPro, shut down his entire division.
The 32-year-old media producer, who lives in San Francisco, knew he’d have to look for another job soon. But first, he wanted to take advantage of his “newfound free time.”
So he decided to go on a trip — with one big catch. He gave some trusted friends $2,500 and told them they could send him anywhere in the world. He then challenged his friends on Facebook with the hashtag #PlaneToNowhere.
His friends would buy the tickets and plan the itinerary, and his fiancee, Emily, would even pack for him. Strand wouldn’t know where he was going until he got to the airport.
“(I) thought, how cool would it be to relinquish all control and just say, ‘Hey, you guys, send me anywhere,’” Strand told TODAY. “As adults, we’re in control of everything in our lives ... our schedules, our finances, our relationships, and we rarely relinquish control. And so, when I got laid off, I kind of saw it as an opportunity to let go.”
He admitted he was a little nervous to put the entire trip in the hands of his friends, but said he was mainly "intrigued" to see what they would come up with.
More than 20 of Strand’s closest buddies from childhood, college and work joined forces to plan his mystery adventure. After rounds of emails and conference calls, they decided to send him to India and Nepal.
Following Strand’s wishes, his friends didn’t make the trip very luxurious. Instead of fancy hotels, they booked him at youth hostels. Instead of shorter, more comfortable flights or train rides, they sent him on crowded, 10-plus-hour bus rides from city to city.
“We had this feeling of, all right, if we’re planning this awesome thing for him, we’re going to make him earn it a little bit,” Brandon Burmeister, a childhood friend of Strand’s who led the planning process, told TODAY. “We want him to have a great time, but he needs to experience some things that aren’t quite as easy and posh as he might like.”
In fact, the vacation, which kicked off Jan. 4, was so no-frills that it came in well under Strand’s budget. The whole two-week trip, including airfare, cost about $2,100.
Strand’s friends didn’t plan out every moment of his days, giving him time to explore.
One of his most unexpected adventures began when he spotted a billboard advertising a local half-marathon in Darjeeling, a city in northeastern India at the foot of the Himalayas.
On an impulse, Strand decided to join, even though he didn’t have athletic shoes with him.
“I don’t run, ever,” he said. But, in keeping with the “whole idea of letting go of control and saying yes to things, it was just something I had to do.”
So, he powered through the half-marathon and made some new friends in the process.
Another highlight was an impromptu “parahawking” trip. A fellow traveler in a youth hostel tipped him off to the unusual sport, which combines paragliding with falconry. An organization in Pokhara, Nepal, offers the experience, and proceeds go toward wild bird rescue and rehabilitation.
“It sounds like this extreme sports thing to do, but it’s a really thoughtful way to combine tourism with awareness,” Strand said. “It was exhilarating.”
One of the most meaningful experiences of Strand’s trip was his two-day homestay with a family on a tea farm near Darjeeling.
Communication proved tricky because of the language barrier, but Strand marveled at how his hosts prioritized downtime and family bonding.
“They woke up at 5:30 and spent essentially 2 1/2 hours playing soccer and eating breakfast together and chatting,” he said. Then, after work and school, they relaxed and spent more time together.
“It didn’t bother them at all that they weren’t at work; they weren’t checking work emails,” he said. “I’m not saying that’s entirely achievable here in the States, but it was certainly admirable, and hopefully I can take some of that with me wherever I go next.”
Strand said his trip reminded him to be adventurous as he looks for a new job and plans the next phase of his life.
“It’s given me an appreciation for the need to get out and explore and try new things, and to explore new points of view,” he said.
He added that you don’t need thousands of dollars to take your own "plane to nowhere."
“I’d say you could do it for less than two grand,” he said. “You’d have to focus and try, and you would be out of your comfort zone, but that’s kind of the point.”