St. Paul adventure seeker spends night near Crookston before embarking on foot to
Italy to finish global journey
735 days ago, or approximately two years, now-24-year-old Andrew Siess set off on an adventure to see the world with a backpack, a few camping necessities, some food, the clothes on his back and a sturdy pair of walking shoes. He was going to attempt to circumnavigate the world on foot.
Now that he is back in the States and nearly finished with his journey, Siess has gained many adventures, memories and knowledge of the world, its people and himself. Siess recently re-entered the United States this past Monday, July 7, and he stayed with John Reitmeier at his residence north of Crookston.
"Most of the time when I'm traveling – in fact, I'd say about 80-90 percent of the time, I camp wherever I can," Siess explained. "Occasionally, though I'll be hosted by some locals or individuals who have kept up with me via news or my Facebook page, things like that."
The young traveler explained that he was hosted the most by the generous people of Kazakhstan and Canada. "I'd say the most hospitable countries have been the Muslim ones." Siess said. "Many Americans might raise their eyebrows at that – I mean, the news paints an image that all Muslims are terrorists. However, traveling the world has taught me that this is not the case. Through this trip I've learned that the world is good. I've been lucky and have had nothing but good experiences."
Siess was found by his most recent host, John Reitmeier, via the ever-growing website Couch Surfers International, which connects international travelers with accommodations all over the world with willing hosts. "Andrew and I were able to communicate back and forth and see if we would be a good match," Reitmeier recalled Monday evening at his home. "What's neat, and what I personally enjoy about it, is that for the price of a bottle of wine and some steaks, I get to talk with – well, with someone who has walked around the world! How many people get to say that? It's something that I enjoy, and if I had kids I would want them to experience and learn from individuals who have seen more than just this corner of the world."
Siess has certainly seen the world. With 21 countries under his belt, the adventurer started in Italy and plans to return to his home city of St. Paul, Minn. on July 20 before walking back to Italy to complete the circle. "There's not necessarily a point to the trip – I mean, it's a circle. [The point] is to have fun, meet people and learn about the world. It's kind of the ultimate challenge," Siess said. "When I initially conceived the idea, it seemed like the hardest thing anyone could possibly do. I guess if you had to put a rhyme or reason to it, it would be to raise awareness for adventure."
The St. Paul native always liked adventures and had a sense for it. When he initially began preparing for the trip, his parents and family were reluctantly supportive. "I think you have to be a little crazy to attempt something like this, let alone finish it," Siess explained. "But, I mean, look – they said that Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi were crazy. I'm obviously not them, but it just goes to show that people with perhaps revolutionary ideas or simply those who have the passion and strength to achieve their goals – whether it be a crazy adventure or not – might have to be a little crazy."
Initially, Siess shied away from the news and was conservative in publicizing his journey. "The first man to walk around the world was actually from Minnesota," Siess explained. "He traveled with his brother, and when they were in a Middle Eastern country, they were televised on the news. They were supporting UNICEF, and said that they would be taking donations. However, after it was publicized they were robbed by bandits, who I guess thought they had all the money for their cause with them. But they didn't, and only one brother came out alive.
"I hope to survive – that's the goal!" Siess continued as he laid out what he hopes to accomplish with the rest of his trip. "There's a high mortality rate among walkers – I mean, we're kind of just there. It's very vulnerable.
"I think it's something that people either understand or they don't," Siess continued, speaking about those who might question his adventure. "I think it's something about freedom versus safety. I mean, you can be in a padded room, the safest place in the world, and still not be entirely free. You have to be willing to take risks to experience life. And I want to do that – that's another point of this trip, I guess you could say. I want to experience life. I want to feel isolation, cold, extreme heat, love – and I think for the most part, I have. You can do absolutely anything – nothing can stop you."
This isn't Siess' first extreme adventure. He has traveled the entire Mississippi River and has even biked from St. Paul to the southern-most tip of Argentina. He prepared for this adventure by running or walking everywhere. "I never drove anywhere," Siess said. "I didn't even own a car."
He has gone through only four pairs of shoes. "Yeah, that's surprising to most people," Siess said. "But I wear them until you can basically see through them, about 5,000 km or 3,000 miles, each!"
On a diet of mostly sandwiches and cookies, Siess has made a living for himself with not only money saved up for the trip but by playing his violin in places such as Italy, where he was picked up to play at a restaurant, a wedding in Kazakhstan and in the streets of Istanbul, Turkey. Siess is loaded with a makeshift "wheelie" cart that he was given in Kazakhstan, which carries his traveling necessities including a tent, sleeping mat, sleeping bag and food. "If I had to explain what it [the cart] was, I'd have to say it looks like a bum grocery cart," he said.
However, traveling the world is not as expensive as most would initially think. "I guess it really depends on how comfortable you wish to be," Siess explained. "I mean, if you don't include the price of hotel rooms, air fare, gasoline and restaurants, it's pretty cheap to be able to travel and see the world in the most basic human form: walking. Almost anyone can do it."
Siess has seen his fair share of trials along the trip. "Weather has definitely taken a toll – just different extremes in different countries. Sometimes, you find yourself doing pushups before bed just to try an stay warm. And sometimes it's just the hassle of logistics, what with getting visas for different countries and things like that," Siess explained. "I'd say the hardest border to physically cross was the American one, however." That's due, he said, to the heightened security and extensive questions he was asked by U.S. Border Patrol agents. "However, it's exciting to be back in the United States – especially in my home state of Minnesota!" he said. "Even just seeing the license plates, something, anything familiar, that was exciting!"
Siess met up with friend and world traveler Tom Mylnarczyk in Minot, North Dakota. Together, the two will continue on to St. Paul before the quest for adventure separates them.
For anyone who is interested in following in Siess' literal footsteps, the young traveler has few words of advice: "Good luck! And bring waterproof stuff!"
So what is the next big adventure for Siess? "I hope to write a book about my experiences," he said. "It should be done by next spring. Maybe next the Amazon River? I want to have as many come along for the ride as I can. But as for for now, I have to finish the current adventure. Life is an adventure."