Featured Traveller: Mike Barr – BJJ Globetrotters

Mike Barr - BJJ Globetrotters

Age: 26

Belt: Brown

Profession: Freelance photographer

How many years in BJJ: 8

Other martial arts: None!

Where do you live: Currently living in a tent while travelling around the world on my motorcycle.

Where are you from: Westchester County, New York, USA.

Other fun or curious information you would like to share: I’d be remiss NOT to mention my website, www.mikebarrphotography.com, which is where I write about my journey and sell my photography prints!

Mike Barr – BJJ training

Tell us what inspired you to travel and train?
So this trip – and I say this trip because I actually did another BJJ Globetrotters trip back in 2017 – has been in the works since February/March of 2018.

I graduated from college in May 2017, did a 7-week road trip around the US, and then immediately dove into my first “big boy job”. I was a property manager at a real estate company near where I grew up. It wasn’t a job I’d ever pictured myself doing, but for a 21-year-old kid with student loan payments starting, I couldn’t complain. For the first time in my life, I had a large amount of disposable income, so I went out and bought my first motorcycle – just in time for winter to hit New York. I put the bike into storage for the winter, and pulled it back out of storage the first warm weekend in 2018.

The idea to do a RTW trip (round-the-world) didn’t really come from anywhere special – the idea wasn’t there, and then it was. I’ve come to realize in the last few years during the planning stage that there’s a number of deep-seated reasons for this trip, but they all come back to the same thing: I want to live a life that I’ll be proud to look back on when I’m older. I want to be able to sit my kids down one day and tell them about the crazy journey I experienced when I was in my twenties, and I want to do that journey now, BEFORE I settle down and start a family of my own.

Tell us about your most recent travel and your upcoming travel – where have you been and where are you going?
At the time of writing this, I’ve been on the road for a day shy of two months. I left my hometown in New York on September 10th, and immediately headed up to the Adirondack Mountains for a weekend wedding. I spent a few weeks in the northeast, cutting across Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. While in Maine, I spent four days sleeping on the mats and teaching classes at Acadia Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, an awesome school just outside Acadia National Park run by Kris Douglas, a brown belt under the MassBJJ Banner.

After my time there, I started south, ultimately spending a week in Virginia with my older brother. I had to take a two week intermission for his wedding (which is a whole story in its own right that involved flying to Oklahoma, driving back to New Jersey for the wedding with my father, then driving my father down to Florida, all before flying BACK to Virginia to get my motorcycle.)

After flying back to Virginia, I spent a few days there before riding south. I hit the Blue Ridge Parkway during peak fall foliage, which was AWESOME. These last few days have been spent at Open Source Jiu Jitsu, a small Jiu Jitsu “compound” just outside of Asheville, North Carolina run by Bobby McMasters. It’s the closest thing I’ve ever experienced to a Jiu Jitsu hostel. I love it here!

As for future travels, there’s a really long-winded answer, but ultimately it’s a true “round the world” journey; I’m riding from Alaska to Patagonia in 2022, then from Australia to Portugal in 2023. The entire route is outlined on my website, www.mikebarrphotography.com (shameless plug!)

Mike Barr – BJJ trip


What are the things you enjoy about traveling?
Oof. That’s such a hard question to answer. I really love the freedom of being able to wake up every day and live my life. It’s kind of selfish, but I love not having to wake up and report to a job I hate, working for a boss who doesn’t like me all that much, and with people I don’t particularly see eye-to-eye with.

On the road, I just get to wake up in the morning, pack up camp, look at a map, and think, “Okay Mike, what are we doing today? Where are we going?” It’s unbelievably freeing, and it’s the first time in my life where I feel like I’m doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing at exactly this point in time.

There’s also the classic answers: seeing new places, collecting experiences, meeting all sorts of new and fun people, etc.

Can you give us some examples of experiences you had that makes it worth traveling and training?
Training up in Maine was a big one for me. I’d been on the road for about two weeks at that point, and I’d only trained once at a small gym in Concord, New Hampshire. I hadn’t even called ahead like I usually do – I was literally riding down the road, saw a sign that said “Acadia BJJ”, and pulled into the parking lot on a whim.

I walked into the gym, and was greeted by Kris, the owner. He was so unbelievably kind and welcoming, and didn’t even mind that I hadn’t arranged to pop in beforehand. He’s since been promoted to brown belt, but he was only a purple belt when I visited. I only bring this up because after warming up for class with some light rounds, he asked me to teach some of the aspects of my passing game that he wanted more details on. I was surprised by the request, but I was more than happy to oblige and share some knowledge. At the end of class, Kris and I were talking shop – all about Jiu Jitsu, and about my travels. He asked where I was staying, and I told him that I wasn’t all that sure, that I was probably just going to put my tent up somewhere nearby. He didn’t even hesitate – he offered me a corner of the mats to sleep on while I was in town.

I had just met this guy. We only trained for an hour, and he barely knew anything about me, but he was willing to let this total stranger into his home away from home. It’s experiences like that – the ones that totally depend on the kindness of strangers – that make all of the hard travel days worth it.

What has so far been the most surprising experience for you when traveling?
Just like I said above: the complete kindness of strangers, and their willingness to help out. This surprised me a lot, and I was kind of shell shocked the first few times it happened. With how divided the world seems to be these days, it’s always really refreshing to have total strangers come into my life to lend a hand.

I’ve had people offer spare beds in their house for me to rest for the night; I stayed with a really kind gentleman named Tom while up in Maine for three days waiting for a motorcycle part to be delivered, and he helped me out of a bind when they sent the wrong part.

Christian G. messaged me after announcing my trip completely unprompted that he’d send me a free gi for my trip, telling me that it made him nostalgic about his trip.

Heck, I met an older guy just two days ago. I was packing up camp when he came up to the bike while walking his dog. He must’ve been in his 60s. We got to talking about my trip, and he wished me luck before continuing on with his dog walking. Five minutes later, he came back and told me that I was welcome to follow him back to his house where I could shower, wash some clothes, all while his wife would cook me some breakfast.

I’ve got a link on my website where people can donate money to keep me on the road – I say that “$15 gets me 200 miles further down the road.” I’ve had total strangers send me $20, $40, $100 here and there. It’s insane to me sometimes, and I find it hard to express how appreciated those little things all are.

Mike Barr – BJJ Globetrotters

Are you a budget traveller – and if so how do you plan for a cheap trip?
I’m absolutely a budget traveller. I camp out almost every night – I’ve only paid for two nights accommodation in these first two months: every other night was either spent camped out in a tent, or on someone else’s couch (and/or Jiu Jitsu mats). There’s even been two nights so far where, not being able to find a campsite, I literally threw a tarp down next to my bike and went to sleep on the ground. I’m the definition of “houseless and unemployed.” As for food, I try and cook for myself as much as I can with my camp stove, not to mention some trade-secrets for on-the-road cuisines (e.g. 3/$3 taquitos from 7/11. No, I’m not ashamed. Yes, I do have heartburn sometimes.)

As far as planning for the trip itself, I spent about three years saving up as much money as I could. I’d say the biggest tip I figured out in that time is this: stop focusing on accruing more, and instead focus on spending less.

I realized about a year into my savings journey that by paring my spending down to just a few categories, I could readily be saving $1k a month for my trip. So outside of my living expenses, I only spent money on four things: Jiu Jitsu, my motorcycle, photography gear, and rock climbing.

Part of that comes from also making the decision to go after your dreams. Once you decide that something is GOING to happen, rather than thinking it COULD happen, your brain starts conjuring all sorts of ways to make that thing possible. You stop eating out as much. You stop buying stuff you don’t NEED. You stop buying things to impress other people.

Overall, you stop spending money on THINGS, and start spending money on EXPERIENCES.

If you were to pass on travel advice to your fellow Globetrotters, what would it be?
Just go for it. Do it. YOLO.

I’m kidding, kind of. This whole experience has taught me that living your dreams is absolutely possible as long as you’re willing to work hard, and work through the hard days. Not every day on the road has been easy; I destroyed my MacBook Pro on the first real day of my trip, and nearly lost $6,000 worth of camera gear in the process. That was hard. But waking up to a misty Adirondack sunrise the next morning made it totally worth it. Swimming in a natural stream the next day made it totally worth it. Seeing the sunset over Acadia National Park made it worth it.

Furthermore, go into every day on the road with an open mind. Slow down. Take the road less travelled (seriously: I avoid interstates like the plague.)

Beyond that, I’d caution everyone to realize this: time is the one thing we never get back. Never. Death doesn’t show up at the end of your life and go, “So I see you worked 30 years at that job you desperately hated: here’s a voucher for 30 more years. Go cuddle some puppies.” No – our clocks are all ticking, and one day they’re going to run out. You don’t want to wake up one day and realize that you let life pass you by because you were afraid to try for what you really wanted.

Thank you to Mike Barr – BJJ Globetrotters for making this interview!