Interview with Seasoned Hitchhiker Irv Thomas: Part 3 “Living & Travelling Subjectively”

Below is the last of a three part series in which I interviewed author and record-holding hitchhiker Irv Thomas. See part one of this interview if you haven’t read it yet.

In this final part of the interview, Irv and I discuss how life itself is moldable, and we touch on some subjective reality concepts and how they relate to travel. Irv also gives us straightforward, practical advice on how you too can drop out of the system, just as he did all those decades ago. We also talk about the true meaninglessness of age and why Irv is a “Boy Octogenarian”; and we wrap up this in-depth interview with a prediction from Irv about where the world might be headed and some encouraging trends he sees as we head into the future.

Irv Thomas Interview
Part 3: Living & Travelling Subjectively

64. Let’s start to wind it down. What advice would you give to people who want to exit the system or “drop out” as you did? I’m sure the way you could do that has changed a lot since 40 years ago.

That’s probably true. And you need to have people you can rely on as fallback. Today, I found my little travelling address book that I used back then. It’s just a little looseleaf wallet-sized binder; but it had everything, all the people I connected with, in every state. With this book in hand, I could go anywhere in the country and find people I knew. It’s a wonderful resource.

You essentially are relying on your connection to other people. And you have to be a good friend maker, and not press people. Don’t push yourself on people, which I did at times. And I found out only later that I was a little less than welcome in some places.

65. And you would have been in your 40s, right?

Well, more like my 50s or 60s by this time. This took a while to grow. I started out with a backlog of $500 that I didn’t want to get below or I’d go looking for a job, just to be on the safe side. And each year that was $100 less. And after 5 years, I was comfortable having no backlog at all!

66. Wow, an adjustment to your comfort zone, wasn’t it?

Yeah. So you just gradually get used to this way of living, and you’re learning all the time. And one of my key ideas was that if you can live as though something is true for 3 years… it becomes true. That was my time limit for something like that.

67. Do you think that’s how long it took for your belief to change then?

Well, that could be equated to creating your own reality. I was learning these things way back then. Why it ever surprises me now, I don’t know. I guess I fell out of it eventually just like eventually I fell back into it. You can create your own reality as insecurity, just as easily.

68. That’s true. You can create a situation where you’re miserable. You can create a situation where you don’t think you can create your own reality. You can use it against itself!

And I think that our world is changing.

69. Any other advice for people who want to exit the system? Support structure is huge. Changing your beliefs about money sounds like is another crucial aspect to it.

Yeah, that’s true. And just in general, realize that life is moldable. It’s not a stable, static thing.

70. No, and that’s one of the things that you write about in the newsletter that I really like. You often talk about how objective reality interacts with our minds, that there’s this complex relationship between ourselves, others, and the universe… Maybe that description is a bit too hippy, haha!

No, because I know enough people and try to interact as well as I can with all of the people I know, at least long enough so I can put myself across to them and understand who they are. It’s marvelous just to pay attention to the people you know and learn who they are as you’re showing them who you are. To accept them. To just live with the differences.

71. The core of empathy…

I think a lot of my incentive, which I figured out later, came from the fact that my world dried up of friendships in the time that I was married. They just got shallower and shallower, and I need people. I just need people to interact with, to validate each other’s reality.

72. We talked before about how one of your old girlfriends considered your subjective framework as an “unproductive” way to live, but that doesn’t seem logical to me. I mean, aren’t you still making stuff? From the consistent work you put into the newsletters and revising your books, you seem pretty productive from my side.

Yeah, but both of us, you and I, are still on the minor fraction of the country’s consciousness.

73. What do you think makes us different?

Well, I tend to think you’re more representative of your generation. I think that that’s a part of your capability of living in the world as it is. I’m not a part of your generation. I’m intruding on it… or I’m trying to borrow from it or learn from it, perhaps.

74. Well, you’re invited here.

Yeah, but I’ve gotten so far stretched from my own generation that it’s become pretty loose and filmy. I mean, my connection with your generation isn’t really strong enough for me to ride on.

75. Although when you first dropped out, you were out of synch with that generation, as well, weren’t you?

Yeah, there was but it was close enough that I could make the leap. And the one following that one… I’m not even sure if that’s even your generation yet.

76. Probably not, haha. I’m part of Generation Y.

Okay, yeah. Well, the boomers are in their 60s. And the ones in their 40s, I can still manage. And the ones in their 20s, which is you… boy, I don’t have much connection with. But you’re one of my few guides to it.

77. Well… I’m honored.

Well, you dropped in. And I sometimes wonder why you did! What brought you here?

78. You mean when I visited Seattle almost 2 years ago?

Yeah, what brought you here?

79. Well, I told you. I saw your posts on Couchsurfing’s discussion boards, and you seemed like a fascinating person. I remember responding to some of your threads, too.

That’s been my only source of connection to your generation… Well, I actually took a class at the U in my department late last year. And I could connect with a couple people there, too; but only briefly. But it’s like they faded out just as fast as they faded in.

80. Yeah, my generation can have severe attention deficit disorder… which I try to write toward, haha!

How many people on your mailing list?

81. Oh, the newsletter is still relatively new, so not a ton yet. The thing I look at is how many people I’m affecting, how many visits I get; and that’s been growing consistently. As long as I continue to get better at what I’m doing and providing more value to more people, I’m happy.

And I did want to say one thing about my generation: while many of Generation Y do have attention deficit disorder, as easy as it may be to fall out of talking with them, I think you’ll find it’s just as easy to fall back into talking with them.

Okay. Well, I know people on the web in your generation, but certainly not in person much.

82. Anyway, during the West Coast trip, I wanted to visit Seattle and then I realized, “Hey, I know someone in Seattle!” And I sent you a Couchsurfing request.

That’s the magic of Couchsurfing. One day you could be reading someone’s thoughts on the discussion board and the next day you could be crashing on their couch. Perhaps you even realize things that you have in common that you didn’t think you had in common with anyone else. While you hosted me, we had conversations where I was thinking, “Is this guy really in his 80s?”

Yeah, I’ve always had a problem with “being my age.”

83. But is that anything more than just an expectation, a social construction?

Well, sure it is, but we all have them. We all have them personally, and we have them societally. And that’s the problem. Because you obviously have an image of somebody in their 80s since you’re making the contrast.

84. Sure, but you’re not the only person I’ve met in their 80s, either. So, I guess my surprise was your energy. And you’re much more open minded than most people in their 80s that I’ve met!

I kid myself about it. You remember when I signed myself “Irv Thomas, Boy Octogenarian”? Hahaha!

85. Haha, that’s catchy, like a superhero name.

The thing is, I’ve always been a kid in my head.

86. Maybe that’s not being a kid though, maybe that’s just the way we are, and we somehow lose that.

Well, that’s what I finally figured out. This was me when I was a kid, this was me when I was middle-aged, and this is me now… and it’s the same me.

87. Mmm hmm. Maybe that kid thing, maybe that playfulness, curiosity, and energy that we associate with childhood is really just… being human.

Well, it’s hard for me to realize that all these other people around me have grown old and died. And of course if I look in the mirror I can see that I’m among them, but if I stay away from the mirror I’m fine.

88. Stay away from the mirror, Irv!

Yeah, I should do away with mirrors in my house.

89. To start wrapping this up, I’m going to ask you a few “future vision” type of questions, because I think it’s fitting:

What do you see for the future, Irv? Do you think hitchhiking will go away? And also what do you see for the future generally? Feel free to elaborate… Just an easy question to finish on, of course.

Haha, yeah a simple question. I think things are definitely going to change, and it’s going to be caused by the realization that our society isn’t going anywhere. Maybe it’ll go bankrupt, I don’t know. In fact, I just got word today of an organization called and they’re setting up an action for October 6th in Washington, DC. You should try and get to it if you can, because it has a lot of big names already signed on to it. And the reason they chose October 6th is because it’s the 10 year anniversary of the war, I think. And they’re going to say, in effect, this isn’t what we want. We want a different world.

90. We don’t want war…

Don’t want war…

91. How is that different from what happened in the 60s?

It seems like the current movement is what it seems like. It seems like this year’s 1960s. That’s the feeling that I get. Check the website out, and you’ll get a feeling for it. Other than that, even if it’s not done on a level of revolt, it’s being done at a level of community organization. We’ve got a good one going here, and it’s a replica of one that was started in England: the Transition Town Movement. And these are popping up all over.

92. What is that, exactly?

Neighborhood community organization getting back down to basics in interactive community in what they can do with and for eachother.

93. Sounds like a Twenty-First Century Tribe.

Yeah, composed of people older than the youngsters were then, floating on both sides of the boomers.

94. It takes all ages… Wow, there’s so much good stuff in this interview, Irv. I may have to break it up into two or three articles.

Well, I won’t fault you for that.

95. I’m looking forward to it! And that about wraps it up.

You know, it’s been good talking with you, and we should do it occasionally now that we’ve got this link.

96. Yeah, now that Skype is up and running. And thank you so much Irv for doing an interview with me today.

Well, thank you for bringing it up and making it happen. I appreciate that.

97. Yeah, I had this gut feeling that it needed to happen soon, so I made it happen. Thanks again, Irv!

A big thanks to Irv for agreeing to do this interview. If you missed the first or second parts of this interview be sure to check them out for valuable context.

More on Irv can be found at:

How to Spot Limiting Beliefs While Travelling: Magic of Choice (& Couchsurfing)

Joy is a choice.
So is chaos.
So is stability.

As we learned in the previous article, our perceptions affect our experience of reality in a profound way. I experienced firsthand how other’s perceptions and influence can dramatically shape my experience of a place while exploring Washington DC last year. The extent at how my perceptions can be shifted depending on who I allow to influence my experience was profound. This effect can be for ill or for good, and it is compounded if the person in question is hosting you.

CS members can be Divine

First I should explain how I met my hosts, and then I’ll show you how each affected me in a very different way and consequently my perception of DC.

I’ve been using for years to make new friends in cities I visit, as well as find good people to host me. It’s much better than simply staying at a hotel because staying with a local allows you to see the city through a local’s eyes, and often the local will have helpful information you’d never learn if you were just staying at hotel. And, more importantly, it never ceases to amaze me how fantastic the people I meet through Couchsurfing are.

Without exaggerating at all, I can honestly say I’ve met some truly divine people through Couchsurfing that were more hospitable, caring, and generous than words could ever do justice to. These are the kind of people that make the world glow. In fact, Couchsurfing is completely free to use, and it’s ability to connect communities together has been shown time and time again; so it’s not surprising to me that CS has been growing like wildfire over the past few years. In 2009, they reached 1,000,000 members, and in 2010 they doubled that number. Today, they’re nearly at 2.5 million members globally.

Sometimes travel experiences go beyond words, and my experiences with Couchsurfing very often do. You probably won’t “get” CS if you don’t have a basic belief that we are all part of the same human family, but I highly recommend you check it out if you’re interested. Even if you don’t want to host or couchsurf at a host’s place while travelling, CS also hosts events like potlucks in many cities around the US and the rest of the planet. And these events tend to attract really cool, intelligent (and often inspiring) people.

I was lucky. Both of my hosts harbored a positive attitude toward DC, which was fortunate because I was still forming my own impression of DC since it was my first time there. They were both kind people; but, as I soon learned, one proved to be much more conducive to my enjoyment of the city than the other.

The Tale of Two Hosts

The first host I had in DC conducted a rather chaotic life. I don’t normally stay with rather chaotic people; but I’d had some trouble finding a place to stay, and my intuition told me this would be an acceptable first host. However, some things were uncertain that should have been more stable. My host had a lot of roommates, none of which were particularly organized, which also lent the place some instability. (And it’s worth mentioning that this isn’t a typical experience with CS. Couples, people who live alone, and even families host travellers on

Thankfully, my host was friendly and cared about my experience there, but I soon realized that my perception of DC was somewhat fragmented because the place I went back “home” to (so I could recharge after a day of exploring) was somewhat fragmented itself.

As within so without.

Because of this, I was on the lookout for a new host, and that’s precisely what I found at a Couchsurfing event about a day later. It was a potluck-party-thing, and a local CS member was hosting it at their apartment. At the gathering I met a very cool couple in their 30s, both working professionals, and new to Couchsurfing. We had a great conversation, and I got a really good intuitive feeling about them; but when they mentioned they were technically in Virginia, I put them in the “maybe” category in my head.

“They were just too far…” I thought to myself.

The following day, I was pleasantly surprised. I did some research, and it turned out that DC’s metro system made staying at their place more convenient than the place I was currently staying at! They were much closer to a subway station, and they weren’t as far from downtown DC as I thought. So after talking with my first host, I gracefully transferred to my new host’s place.

It was then that I saw DC begin to change before my eyes.

A Stable Foundation

Because I had a stable foundation, my energy went back into high gear, and I felt positive about being in DC again. This couple had a much more regular schedule, their place was incredibly clean, and they really payed attention to how I was doing as a guest in their home. This couple’s positive attitude was delightfully contagious, and soon I was seeing DC in a more holistic way. From this new stable foundation, I set out and explored DC with vigor. After moving to my new host’s place, DC didn’t even seem spooky at night… even after I kept running into this one homeless guy, but that’s a whole different story!

So why didn’t it seem scary?

Because from a stable foundation, I was able to elevate my level of consciousness. I was able to refine my attitude about what I was experiencing.

My remaining 4 days in DC were action-packed, seeing everything from the Lincoln Memorial to the Natural History Museum to the view from the top of the Washington Monument! I saw so much (most of which was free since it was federally funded), and to this day my time in DC remains one of my all time favorite travel memories. I really had a blast, and I’m very excited to share those experiences with you in future articles on this site (though not before I finish telling you of my West Coast trip, of course). We still haven’t gotten to San Francisco and Vegas yet, and I think you’re going to find my explorations of those places quite interesting.

Question Your Lens. Break Your Shell.

Just because someone harbors fears about a particular place, doesn’t mean you should subscribe to that fear too. Just because someone perceives a city or person a certain way, does not mean it will be in alignment with your experience. Always question your beliefs. Test them out. Ask yourself why you actually believe one thing instead of another. What would life be like if you changed that belief? You don’t have to just swallow what you’re told without examining it; be it untested faith or untested fear. Realize that you shape what you experience more than you could ever realize. This is the Magic of Choice.

Remember, beliefs are like a lens that you look at the world though, and some lenses have huge dark spots that the wearer never sees. Continually probe at your limits and discover the truth for yourself. Only through doing this will you continue to make breakthroughs in what is possible. Only though doing this will you finally begin to break the shell that encloses your understanding. Don’t let dark spots on your lens limit your freedom or your joy.

Be the washer of your own lens.