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115: How this former medical student traveled the world in a motorcycle and became a travel vlogger with Alex Chacon

On this weeks episode, I speak with Alex Chacon who is a Videographer, Photographer, Inspirational Speaker, Blogger, and Vlogger.

Back in 2012, he graduated from the University of Texas; took a break from medical school, sold all his belongings and drove his motorcycle from Alaska to Argentina and back in 500 days on an Epic Travel Adventure for Charity.

Since then his conquered over 50 Countries, 80 Border Crossings on 5 Continents backpacking, flying, hitchhiking and even riding over 250,000 Km across 75 Borders by motorbike.

Listen on to find out how Alex became a successful traveling vlogger.

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Show Notes:

Debbie : 

Hey everyone, thank you so much for joining us. I am here with Alex who is the founder of Conquer The World. Hey Alex, how are you?

Alex:   

I’m pretty good, Debbie. Thanks for having me on the program.

Debbie :   

Thank you so much for being here. Can you tell us a little bit more about you and why you live in offbeat life?

Alex:  

Absolutely. So my name is Alex Chacon. I was born in Texas in Old Paso and I was in medical school. I was going to do the whole thing of being a doctor and then one day I decided to discover what the world was like, what was out there, and how people were surviving.

So I decided to jump on my motorcycle and drive from Alaska to Argentina and back in 500 days. I had a blog, the blog became youtube, put one video up on Youtube which went viral, got 3 million views. And that’s when I said, wow, I was able to reach more people with one video than I ever could have as a medical practitioner. So I said, I’m going to continue this type of life. So I continued traveling.

I made my next video, which got 14 million views on youtube and then eventually went worldwide, it put me on Good Morning America, put me on CBS this morning, with interviews on Fox and I said, wow, you know, this video now reached 200 million people worldwide. And I said there was something very deep and profound about what I’m doing.

So that eventually just became blogs and more viral videos. It became cinematic productions. It became inspirational content. It became Instagram, it became Facebook and became mini videos and basically has now become just me living an epic life and being able to share that with people and showing people how to do it themselves and motivating, inspiring, and bringing people along into my very off the beat life.

Debbie : 

Well, that was a really amazing journey you had, especially since you were pretty much prepped to be a doctor and go into that field. What was that transition like? Was it very hard for you to make that decision once you figured out that you really loved what you were doing with video and your blog?

Alex:  

Yeah. You can imagine my mom’s reaction when I said, I’m going to just take off. I’m selling everything I have. I’m quitting medical school and leaving my girlfriend and she says, what about my grandkids? What about your house, what about your car? What about everything you were supposed to be doing? I’m like, you know what, mom, there’s plenty of people would be doing that.

So I said, I’ll be back. I’m going to go off for two months and then I’ll come back and I’ll continue. But I never went back. The hardest thing about what I did and how it all started was just doing it that very first initial step, in just being mentally prepared, physically prepared, financially prepared just to take this leap of faith and do something that was completely against the grain in my culture and my society and what I was already doing.

That was the hardest part. So when I first started all this, I really had no idea where it would go. And it wasn’t until I had some success where I said, oh, I could probably continue doing this. And I kinda like it. And it was a whole process of this first 500 days traveling around the world. I went to 23 countries. I went from the polar end of the earth and Alaska to the very bottom. in Argentina And it took that entire process to figure out some photography, to figure out videography and figure out that I actually liked it.

travel vlogger

And I liked sharing a unique adventure and people were being inspired by me. They were following me. I even have people donate to me back then, a dollar or $2 or they would find me on the road or would hear my story and would have a meal with me. I would meet families. It was incredible. Just the support and what I was doing somehow made sense for those around me and myself. So that’s just kinda how it all kind of began and what it transpired to.

Debbie :   

There’s a lot of up and down that goes along with this type of lifestyle and obviously, we all like to watch you go through it through all the pain, through all the good things. But there’s a lot of preparation that comes with it too. How did you actually do the prepping before you started this long journey of traveling all over the world and not just preparing physically but also mentally?

Alex:  

I think the hardest thing is mental preparation. And for me it was when I was around nine or 10 years old, even younger, I believe I was at school and I would see a globe and I would look at the globe, I’d be like, wow, this world is very, very big. And I said, all right, I’m gonna promise myself, I’m gonna explore this place. So what I did is I spun the globe around and I closed my eyes and I put my finger on the globe and I let it just naturally stop spinning on some part of the globe. And the very first place it stopped was at Picchu in Peru. And I said I’ve always heard about it. It sounds interesting. And I’ve promised myself one day I’d go. So the first step was just saying, I have an idea.

I have something I’m motivated to do and it doesn’t really matter how, whatever it takes to get it done, I’m gonna do it. Um, so the mental preparation was the hardest part. And then obviously it was telling my mom, I’m doing this and whether you like it or not, it’s going to happen. So I had to build up the courage from a young age. Up until 23 years old to have the skillset, to have the survival skills, to have the education, the knowledge to kind of, be comfortable enough in my abilities to say, okay, I’m going to go off into a world. I may speak the language, I may not be able to communicate, or I may have medical knowledge, right? Or something’s gonna happen that’s not good or I’m going to get wrong.

So basically I said, I am ready for any eventuality. I said, if I get robbed if I get sick, this is the plan. This happens plan B. So getting prepared in that respect really allowed me to say, okay, cool. I know how to change a tire and a motorcycle. And that’s the basic mechanical skills I have. And I think that’s enough. And the same thing with personally. I say, well, I know how to survive this and how to do it and I’ll be okay. And along the road, the basics really helped me out. And then I learned along the road all the little more detailed, intricate things that have made me the man I am today.

So it’s a process and that’s the journey on one end because when I left, I was a child and I came back as a man. I learned how to change the entire components of all the motorcycles. I learned how to survive in the wilderness. I learned how to deal with people trying to rob you with meeting beautiful kind people sharing myself, people sharing themselves with me in different ways. So that was that preparation. Then came the other preparation with a motorcycle, which was, you know, what gear might take you? What camera gear. How am I going to share this adventure?

Debbie :

Alex, did you actually do all of your traveling in a motorcycle? Cause that’s crazy.

Alex: 

Yeah. So, I’m a backpacker, but I’ve traveled 70 countries on motorcycles and that’s my preferred way of traveling for sure.

Debbie :

That’s crazy. What was that like? Because I mean, traveling in a car is difficult enough for that long. I can’t even imagine what it’s like to be in a motorcycle for a year.

You know, that’s your mind. My butt was definitely one of the most difficult parts of the whole journey. But I embody what is truly a nomad. I know this term gets thrown around a lot, digital nomad, right? Where the guys work around travel and everything. But I see all these digital nomads that are working in Bali and they got this nice little lifestyle thing going on, eating fruit out of the floating plate in the pool. And I just remember the time I was in Bolivia.

I hadn’t seen another human in two, three days. I ran out of gas. I was stuck in the mud. It was raining, was pouring, it was freezing. And I’m going like, here I am expressing myself, recording all this and I’m thinking there are people sitting on a beach somewhere writing a blog post and I’m here filming this crazy stressful thing. I’m just about to break my camera because I’m so stressed out.

Debbie :

That is hilarious. Well, that’s true though. It’s a different, your more of the adventurous type of nomad. And you definitely go above and beyond that, especially when you’re doing all of these crazy things on your motorcycle and you go to these incredible places and we all see that on your video. So Alex, let’s talk a little bit about your background because your family is from Mexico and you do go there quite often. And did they immigrate to the United States? Are they originally from Mexico?

Alex:  

I’m in this country, in the United States, basically, I’m just known as Latino. That’s a very broad term. It can mean you’re from El Salvador, it means you’re from Puerto Rico, it means your from South America. So yeah, most of my family are from Mexico. My mom was born here in Texas. My Dad was born in Mexico City and they kind of met on the border and then the rest of the family just followed after that. And my roots are Mexican roots for sure, which definitely has helped me out while traveling.

So I came from an immigrant family and I am an immigrant as well. And when I told them that I wanted to pursue something completely different from the norm because usually would immigrant families were expected to be a doctor or a lawyer or a teacher. And in my case, the Filipinos, most of us are expected to be a nurse. And when that didn’t happen, oh my goodness, there was a lot of crying.

Debbie: 

What was it like for you? You mentioned that your mom was kind of disappointed in a way or shocked about what you had decided, especially since you were going to become a doctor. I mean, that’s the biggest thing that we can be right. And also once you actually made your career that you have now successful and you’re actually able to make a living, did they finally accept it?

Alex:  

You know, once you’re successful it’s fine, which is what happened. But yeah, I think my mom was shocked. I don’t think she was disappointed. She was just shocked because remember we are the millennials, we now live in a different generation than our parents. And I think our parents had that upbringing of what was financial security. It was to be able to have a family. I mean this is the baby boomers. This is the most prolific generation ever of producing the most amounts of children in the history of humankind. So, of course, that’s a big thing for them cause they know with education and the good job comes financial stability. So definitely shock was my mom’s part.

It was difficult, it was kind of jumpy for a few months. But then once I started getting traction and then two years, three years later that I finally got the viral success that I needed to my mom was like, wow, I’m your biggest fan. So what used to be my biggest obstacle is now my biggest fan.

Debbie :  

That is incredible. And, you know, with any parent, they’re always there to support you. And obviously they don’t want us to make mistakes and they can be shocked when we do certain things that are out of the norm. But at the end of the day, they’re always there to support you. Hopefully, that’s the case for everybody. And that’s the case for you and for most of our parents. So that’s really good. So if you’re listening to this and you’re having some setbacks with your family, don’t worry, make it work and they’ll be on your side. And I’m sure there’ll be on your side even when you’re not, they’ll try to support you.

Alex:  

Yeah, that’s the biggest thing for me was knowing that my family is going to love me no matter what to an extent. And I knew that I always had a backup plan. I said well if I fail then I know I have my family to lean back on for a bit. So that to me was able to give me the confidence to go do what I did.

Debbie :  

Absolutely. That’s always good to know as you have something back home to keep you also grounded and to realize that there’s always going to be somebody there who has your back, like you said. So that’s pretty awesome. Now can you tell us a bit more about the setbacks that you have encountered during your travels, during your journey? What was the biggest one and how did you handle it?

Alex: 

Speaking of longterm travel, I traveled probably 300 days out of the year. I’m not home and the biggest thing for me, the first 500 days of my extensive travels was loneliness, was just being completely and utterly alone and just being off in the world and being so far away from what I knew when I was used to. So that’s one of the challenges. The other challenges have been, well when I first did this trip, from Alaska to Argentina, your passing through Central America, your passing through South America, the border crossings via lands are difficult when you have the motorcycle.

travel vlogger

What’s also difficult is being out in the wilderness and having mechanical issues with your vehicle and that’s always an issue. But I think the most difficult part is definitely the mentality that you have because if you’re not strong mentally, you’re not going to be able to handle somebody stealing your stuff. You’re not going to be able to get over corrupt police who will try to get money off of you and not knowing how to handle that or just the stressful situations of not being able to communicate in a certain language or certain way. So I think the mentality is the biggest thing that really helped me grow from little kids to an adult quite quickly, which was a big challenge.

Debbie :  

I’m sure the loneliness was really hard and obviously having the right type of mentality to do it. And I say this all the time, if you are going away to travel just to get away from things or to escape certain problems and issues when you are on the road, it’s still going to come back. But to escape and to do that, it’ll still come back at you. And if anything, you have more time to think about it.

Alex: 

That’s true. Your problems don’t leave when you travel. And that’s a good point, not everybody’s meant to travel. Some people are tourists, some people are adventures and some people are travelers.

Debbie : 

Absolutely. There are different types, right? There’s really no wrong or right way to do it. It’s just finding the right setup that’s right for you. And sometimes you find that out the hard way and that’s a good thing because then now you know what type of a person and what type of traveler you are as well.

Alex:               

That’s true. Don’t think that you got to go through a hundred days out of a year traveling to have an amazing life. You can do it on the weekend.

Debbie : 

Yeah, absolutely. And I don’t think I could do that either. I mean, right now even having little breaks in between, it’s so exhausting and I think a lot of people just see our lives and they look at the pictures and videos that they see and they think that it’s glamorous and adventurous and wonderful, but they don’t realize how it takes a toll on your body physically and mentally. It really takes a toll on you and doing that all the time like you’re doing Alex. It’s a hard thing to do.

Alex:

Yeah. I think a nice example is how social media gives us that false perception of reality and there are these comparisons where you see this great amazing picture of this person that will be a great time. Then you see somebody who sees this person who takes a candid shot and they show that this person may not be in the same physical condition that their pictures are showing or that the sky’s not the same color or it’s over photo-shopped. So it’s really funny to see the comparisons between what the reality of this whole life and situation is to what we represent and showcase because that’s what people buy. That’s what people sell. That’s what works the best in our society.

Debbie :  

And you know, honestly, we all want to see those things, especially for someone who is in their nine to five. They want something to look forward to and people like you do give that scenery for them to look at and something to look forward to in the future. And maybe something to do as well because they look forward to that or they look up to someone like you who is adventurous and maybe they can’t do it yet, or they’re striving to do that as well. So that’s good. It’s a good and a bad thing, right?

Alex: 

Yeah. That’s great. You have to be very careful though, I know we all like eye candy and things that look perfect but the reality is the same. I like to think that my content is not that perfect shot and my content is not about everything’s great and dandy. If you see my Instastories, you’re going to see like, oh my gosh, I want to punch myself in the face for doing this. Or Man, I made a huge mistake doing that. So I like to keep it a little more real. And I think that’s what kind of separates me a little bit from the rest of the people.

Debbie :   

Definitely, a balance between the two is always a good thing. And you don’t want people to have false hopes and expectations of certain things when you know it’s not the truth. People will listen and they will follow what you’re doing. So that is a good thing to know.

Alex: 

Yeah, that’s right. Well, that’s all nice and fun and everything. But you know, speaking of professionally the videos, I get the most views than the nice polished ones that seem like a fantasy. So you’ve gotta be careful to not lose yourself in that environment.

Debbie :

And it’s a downward spiral from that because there are so many people that look at that and really believe it’s the truth. So Alex, let’s talk about how you were actually able to create income when you first started your career and how do you continue to create income today?

Alex:   

Yeah, so when I first started, the first three years was no money. It was me using my savings for three years is what it was. And somehow I was able to do it. I was eating canned beans on the road. I was camping everywhere. I was doing couch surfing, I was meeting people randomly. I was sharing costs of hostels of rooms, I was sneaking into national parks sneaking in late at night and leaving early in the morning.

So I was doing everything possible not to spend money and that allowed me to travel for a long time and that created a lot of content for me. So the way that money started coming in is people would house me, people would give me food. I remember I was in Alaska and I was just driving.

I saw this camper van and I stopped over and I saw a lot of scuba gear. And I asked the guy, hey, that looks like a really cool thing you’re doing. What are you doing? He’s like, well, I’m going to go scuba with grizzly bears. I’m going to go see them salmon hunting and everything. It’s very cool and I say, wow. And they say, what are you doing? I’m doing a road trip. And he’s like, wow, that’s really cool. It’s like here I have a bunch of food. I’m not gonna eat. Do you want it? And he gave me a bunch of food. So funny enough this guy was actually, I didn’t know this until two years later. This guy was Paul Nicklen one of the best stuff photographers for National Geographic.

traveler vlogger

You always see stuff on polar bears and bears all over the world. I had no idea who he was, but he was just so friendly cause he was kind of inspired by my story, just giving me stuff. So that was my first way of getting some sort of income. It was just survival as well. It was eventually the blog, I had a few ads on the blog and that blog I used to write. So I got maybe over the course of two or three years, I got maybe $500 over the course of three years on ads on my blog. Eventually, that became the videos and the videos are really where the money came in.

This was back in 2014 so ad revenue was a little better for them for the youtube video. So I got a good amount of money off my viral videos, which allowed me to travel for another year and a half. And then eventually the branded projects came in and you know, that’s companies looking to work with you in some way in some capacity, tourism boards,. And then also the income comes from selling licenses to my videos in my pictures, like commercials for Google and stuff like that. They usually find my viral videos and they license out 10 seconds to three seconds of the content. So that’s one of the ways I produce financial stability.

Debbie :  

It’s been a long journey for you and a lot of people will think this just happened fast and you received all of these successes and the viral videos really quickly. The one that really hit big was your selfies video that you took from all over the world. And that took a few years to do. It took you said three years? So it was a lot of work to do that.

Alex:

If you go on youtube and you search three-year Selfie, you’re going to get my video on there it’ll be the first one, and it took me about two years to film, then it took me another six months to edit cause I didn’t know how to edit at that time. Then it was finding the song, which still took another three months.

It’s a process and that’s what I like to tell everybody is if you think you’re going to get online on social media and say, oh, I have this really great picture, it’s gonna go viral, it’s most likely not going to go viral and you’re not going to start making money on social media in digital media within the first year. Nowadays you can, if you really work hard in a year or so you can establish yourself and then you can start making some good income, but it takes at least a minimum of a year of investment on your end in content and with producing and creating traction to really, really start seeing the payoff.

Debbie : 

It takes so many hours to do it, especially if you’re still at your day job and you’re doing this, maybe you don’t have the financial power to be able to hire someone to do your editing or writing any of the content. It will take a long time for you to do that. So just be aware that success doesn’t come at a very low price. It comes at a very high price and there’s a lot of sacrifices you have to make in order to do it, but if you really love it, that’s what’s going to keep you going. Even if you’re not making money and you’re exhausted all the time.

Alex:    

I think the keyword there is a sacrifice because it truly is, and here’s the funny thing is that most of us were on social media and have quite a good amount of success. I would say a good 70 to 80% of us all start because we have that one viral thing that picks up to the thousand views, 20,000 views. In my case, it was 2 million views, but you have that one initial spark and you say, wow, that’s really cool. That makes me feel good. I was able to produce something that was great and people liked. And that’s the first initial spark where you say, Ooh, I could do this.

Debbie :     

That’s really what’s gonna keep you going is that passion that you have because it’s not always pretty. And I mean, once you get it going, it becomes more stabilized. But in the beginning, and even when you have it going, there’s still a lot of ups and downs. So it’s just what you love about it. Process and the project you’re doing as well.

Alex, let’s fast forward to 50 years from now and you’re looking back at your life. What legacy would you like to leave and what do you want to be remembered for?

Alex: 

I’ve always had this dream and people ask me why you keep doing what you’re doing? And I’ll say, well, I’m making people think differently about their lives. You know, we’re in the very first generation. I think that our passion can become our job. And you know this way of living online and digitally wasn’t available to us 10, 15 years ago at all. So it’s really great that our generation is able to experience this type of life. And that’s why our parents, again, going back to that question weren’t so much in agreement to what we do because it’s just unknown territory. We don’t know how this is gonna play out. So 50 years from now, who knows what’s going to happen, who knows if this is going to fizzle out in the next five, seven years because social media is becoming very saturated.

And in order to maintain your financial stability, you have all this other competition, you have all these other mediums of distribution and it’s all gradually changing. So, who knows what’s gonna happen in 50 years? But what I do know that will stay is video, is visual stimuli and stories. Storytelling’s been around forever. So visual storytelling to me I think is the future. And it’s where it’s always been and will always be to some extent.

So my legacy in my mind is if I’m able to say I have lived the most epic life, I can think I’ve been able to live and do amazing things. I’ll never forget and have stories to share with people and have it live for eternity, which is the Internet. If I inspired as many people as I think I could have inspired or helped as a medical practitioner, I would’ve completed my job, my contribution to society in a certain way.

And what I do a lot Debbie is I do social work. And I help organizations and charities when I travel even to my webpage where I go in person or I showcase online. So if I do a combination of keeping myself happy, of showcasing that, of being able to help inspire others in some way, I’m a happy camper. And one little secret about me is when I’m dead, when I pass away, my goal is to just have people show up for two hour funeral and what I would do is leave all the best videos that I’ve ever made for my entire life and just have people sit down and enjoy the beauty of the earth and the world and experiences I had for 50 years of my life.

Debbie : 

Now in our generation, there’s so many images and so many videos of us, I can’t even imagine what it’s going to be like 50 years from now and what type of mediums are going to come out and also showcasing the work that we’re doing now and just reliving all of that stuff. And seeing yourself as a younger person, what you did, are you going to be super proud of that moment? Are you even going to remember it? What’s going to stand out? So it’s pretty incredible where we are and you’re right, we are at a time where we can actually create a career from what we are passionate about.

Alex: 

Yeah, for sure. Tables have turned into a different way. I saw statistic of the day and it said in two seconds there are more pictures and content populated on the internet or more pictures taken on the camera that are uploaded on the Internet. Then I think there’s ever been in the history of humankind or something like that. I wonder what’s gonna happen in 10 years from now if we’re doing that already.

Debbie :  

Yeah. It’s crazy the amount of content that’s being put out there.

Alex, what are you currently working on that’s really exciting to you?

Alex:     

What this platform has allowed me to do is make the jump to TV. I think that’s a nice little avenue that’ll always be around. So that’s all my major things to do. But while I do that little thing of TV, I continually travel the world in different ways. It’s not always in the motorcycle. And if I do on the motorcycle, I don’t showcase the motorcycle as much. So you’re going to see travels soon in Mexico and I’m going to do great videos. Like, you know, what, $10 can get you in Mexico. Is Mexico safe to travel to? Giving people resources and education and some sort of entertainment in Mexico for the next two months as the next project.

Debbie :

That sounds really exciting and I can’t wait to see all of those videos that you’re going to be doing in Mexico. So Alex, if our listeners want to know more about you, where can they find you?

Alex:   

Yeah, if you guys are interested in anything that I’m doing, it’d be great to have you along for the ride and the adventure. You can find me as Alex Chacon on Instagram. Alex Chacon official Facebook is Alex Chacon and on Youtube Alex Chacon if you want to see my most viral video, it’ll inspire you to get off the couch and maybe go out for a run or walk your dog. Or I’m even thinking about taking a trip for the weekend or for the summer, just search three-year selfie on Youtube, you’ll find me.

Debbie :   

Perfect. Thank you so much, Alex, for being here with us. I really appreciate it.

Alex: 

Thank you. Thank you so much for inviting me on the program and I can’t wait to see you again on the road.

 

GET THE EXTENDED INTERVIEW WITH ALEX WHERE HE SHARES HOW TO CREATE VIRAL VIDEOS ON YOUTUBE.


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Show Credits

Audio Engineer: Ben Smith


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