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"We buy things we don’t need with the money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like.”  - Dave Ramsey

There are many stories of people quitting their mundane jobs to listen to their inner voices or to pursue their dreams. But this is an extra ordinary story about a family who sold everything they have to take a journey of a lifetime.

Meet Tenzin Thinley, his loving wife and his two beautiful kids. 

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A successful engineer by profession with good pay, great benefits, job security, long vacations, a nice house and a loving family, Thinley la was living the American dream. Any sane being would strive and struggle all their life to have that kind of life. But surprisingly he was not happy, deep within there was a great deal of unhappiness. This lead him to an inner journey to find himself and know himself that resulted in a few entrepreneurial ventures at the beginning but soon he realized he was getting deeper into the same world he is trying to escape from. 

So one fine day, after discussing with his loving wife and two beautiful kids, Thinley la decided to do the unthinkable - sell everything and leave everything behind to travel the world. 

Here is MeYuL's exclusive interview with the man himself. 

You can follow their journey along on their blog www.TibetanNomads.com

1. When did you start and how long are you planning to explore?

We started travel in February 2014, right after we handed over the house keys to the new owners. We have no plans on how long we will travel, we will continue as long as we feel that is what we want to do. It could be years or it could stop soon.

2. What are the inspiration or ideas behind this? Why you are doing what you are doing?

At the beginning of 2013 I was sort of cozy. I was 44 yrs old and going on almost 18 yrs working as an engineer with King County. I found myself in quite a comfortable situation. But deep within there was a great deal of unhappiness.I found myself in a great deal of confusion. I remember indulging in self pity, being angry all the time, quarreling with my co-workers, being tardy and causing propaganda against others.

One day I got a call about my son, my wife said that he was segregated in school from participation in PE due to his autism. I immediately felt a deep pain, I was mad as hell and I felt very vulnerable. Then it clicked to me, I must make a change to solve my worry about my son. I thought I need to make sure he is financially well taken care off in his future. I decided to start a business, an engineering company. I began to recruit people.  I also decided to start a beer shop (growler30.com), the craft brew industry was taking off and I thought I could get a piece of the action. 

Last but not least, at that time I decided to enter politics. I put my name in for city council and got some energy moving in that direction too. I said fuck this feeling of being powerless, I’m going to take on the power myself. 

Is anyone laughing yet? :) Yes, I was spiraling out of control. Fortunately my engineering brain came to the rescue. One day I did an analysis on the amount of time I would be removed from the presence of my family because of all these initiatives. As you can guess, it didn’t look good at all. Especially if you multiply it into years or another 10 years. Then the madness stopped, I settled down to earth. And I gathered my senses, I calculated my finances, I took inventory of my skills, my investment record and I laid out my priorities.

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I looked within myself and realized my own hypocrisy. I was able to correlate how people found success by the decisions they made. I was able to find a potential path toward inner peace. I began to read about travel. I learned that it was sometimes less costly to travel than to live in America. I began to realize the viciousness of the societal traps. I began to find courage to take on the challenge of creating a happy future for my family. I also learned about the concept of observing ego and mindfulness. I found that the answers were all within our own nature as human beings.

So I talked it over with my wife and children, we all decided together to sell all and travel.

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I have blogged about our decision in detail here on my Blog

3. Which all places have you covered so far?

On this journey we have been traveling for 16 months and we have traveled through Japan, Korea, Phillipines, Malaysia, Taiwan, China, Thailand, Australia, Indonesia, Singapore, India, Turkey and US. We are traveling in an unconventional way, our pace is rather slow and our priority is to not stress the kids out from the fatigue of travel.

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We pick a spot and stay there for a month or so. This way we absorb more of the local way of life. We avoid tourist traps as much as we can mainly because of the hassle from the local vendors and the crowds. We also find that if we live like locals we get a better experience in each place. We don’t spend much time on research apart from safety issues and modes of travel.

4. Who all are travelling with you?

My wife and our 2 children who are 9 and 11 yrs old. I would estimate there are only a handful of people who are actually traveling long term as a family out of almost 8 billion people on our planet. I don’t think there are any other Asian families traveling long term. We hope that this will encourage more to evaluate where they are spending their resources and time and see that travel is possible as a family and can actually be a rewarding way of life.

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5. Which has been the best experiences so far?

There are too many to mention. We particularly liked Japan because of how well society functions-they are polite, harmonious, hardworking, clean, respectful and a great culture. We enjoyed some amazing cuisine, the children had their birthday party in Japan, I liked the balance between the environment and great Japanese infrastructure and the quest for them culturally to give full effort into whatever they are doing.

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The Shinkansen(bullet train) was a highlight for me, I remember in my parent’s momo/thukpa restaurant in Kalimpong we had a picture of the train hanging on the wall. As a child I used to stare at that image and think of it as a dream. Each train is separated by a few minutes and even though they travel long distances they are always punctual and arrive within a minute of its schedule. It's amazing how well the movement of people is coordinated in Japan. As an engineer it is even more delightful.

Spending a month in my wife’s village in Dholanji was another type of experience that was equally stimulating, I befriended a local named Bhagat Ram with whom I spend time learning about local construction methods, we partied Himachal style at his brother’s wedding and we got to see the tranquil nature of rural Tibetan life in India.

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Australia is a beautiful country, we drove along the amazing beaches on the Great Ocean Road and along the coast between Melbourne and Sydney. We stayed at a Rinpoche’s house while he was traveling abroad…our schedules clicked like some divine coordinator set it all up. In South Korea we lived in a modern development with a family and enjoyed some of their kind hospitality. In Thailand we have played with elephants, visited beautiful beaches and enjoyed some spicy foods. In Malaysia we drove to the most NW point of Sabah, Borneo overlooking the  and enjoyed one of the most beautiful sunsets on this planet. In Taiwan we lived near rice fields in an area surrounded by wind turbines which is of keen interest to me as I love technology that is sustainable and green. In the Phillipines we paid a small fee to the caretakers and we enjoyed a whole day at an abandoned resort just to ourselves.

We are lucky to have met beautiful and kind people everywhere we go. I have also met many of my old classmates from my school in India who are now scattered around the world.

6. What traveling does to you?

Travel above all gives you an astronaut’s point of view of our planet. Borders take very little meaning other than the formalities of getting permission and the change of currency and language. Travel increases our cultural competency skills, you learn to look at the planet and its people as a whole rather than by local boundaries. You learn to initiate all greetings with a smile because that is the best way to translate your intentions. Travel fills your memories with great views, smells, tastes, sounds and it touches your heart in many ways.

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The different authentic cuisines that we are enjoying is probably the main highlight of our daily activities. We are amazed at how food has taken such different forms. We are budget travelers so we are eating where locals eat budget food and many times these are the places where food is the best.

We are mostly observers so travel also makes it evident on the mechanical nature of societies. We notice the to and fro movement with a primary objective to make more wealth that is largely unchecked.

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While Asian countries are progressing in earnings, they are experiencing harmful damage to the environment and to mental peace. The income divide increases and the mall culture is creeping into every society.

Religion is more practiced as a tradition with performances and rituals rather than self enquiry. This seems to be a commonality everywhere we go, it really doesn’t matter what religion is practiced. It all has the same combination of visits to places of worship and using money as a way to seek divine intervention. There is a tremendous setback in individual freedom due to how religion is practiced. Even within our Tibetan society we are very ritualistic and we seek blessings from anyone in a red robe without giving much thought to the message of Buddhism.

We are traveling with 4 carry on size bags, we have sold all our belongings and all our possessions are in banks. So we have very little attachments. This in effect has given our minds a certain freedom to enquire about ourselves. I have found that this inner journey to be the actual journey because without it we would just be tourists without really understanding the world.

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The great Indian saint Ramana Mahashri said “Without understanding yourself, what is the use of trying to understand the world?”. It is this inner journey where I am beginning to find the wonders of our existence. Believe me, I am still at a beginner level in terms of the enquiry but just by starting in this direction I have found an amazing amount of truth in purpose. The teachings that reached Tibet from India many years ago is exactly the same as the teachings of awareness from many Indian masters. Yet we treat it all as different by the segregation of our temples.

The true blessing of our travel is the path of self realization rather than seeking fulfillment in the external.

7. Any inspirational thoughts on traveling you want to share with Tibetans?

Many of us don’t realize this but apart from his many accomplishments Kundun (His Holiness the Dalai Lama) is the world’s greatest traveller, he has travelled for more than 60 years with the primary objective of spreading compassion.

There is nobody else that does so. His travel accomplishments are truly phenomenal and if you place his message on top of that, it truly is remarkable how much positive change he has brought into this world. He said in his Nobel Peace Prize speech “When I meet people in different parts of the world, I am always reminded that we are all basically alike: we are all human beings. Maybe we have different clothes, our skin is of a different color, or we speak different languages. That is on the surface. But basically, we are the same human beings.” While we approach each new place with curiosity we also travel with the awareness that we are all the same. We meet many Chinese people, who by the way may have the most number of travelers in the world, we approach them not with prejudice but with a genuine warmth of meeting a fellow human being. And we do so with each new place.

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We Tibetans are scattered all around the world and now we carry many different passports, allegiances and ways of life. We speak different languages and we have transformed into a multicultural race. Many Tibetans are of mixed race and many have different religions. Even the Tibetans in Tibet have transformed and have adopted the Chinese language, the music and the arts are influenced by China and the culturally Tibetans are Chinese in many ways. However, what keeps us all calling ourselves Tibetans is our innate love for each other and our love for Kundun.

This bond keeps us together but we can learn to include in it all cultures. We can as a race continue the objectives of our ancient land. Before Tibet lost its independence, Tibet was a place of peace with its main objective to fully enquire and come to a realization of our true SELF through the teachings of Buddhism. I believe we were the most advanced race in terms of our evolution as human beings. If you look at the world right now with its race to acquire more and more material wealth, damage more of our precious resources, elect leaders who have built enough weapons to destroy the earth several hundred times over and continue the policies that create poverty-you would think that the human race is heading back into a primitive phase.

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Wealth and exploitation is not necessarily an advancement of the human race, it actually is a form of madness that sets us back. Humans will truly evolve when we are all in the same place in terms of understanding our true nature and find common ground in terms of how to collectively live as harmonious societies. Tibet was leading the way in this approach to world peace, I cannot think of any other society that lived in such peace with the land and its people.

We could break the fragmentation of a scattered people and come together in leading the world into the only way possible towards world peace. This crazy over optimistic possibility is what I feel can be done by the Tibetan people. We don’t need to congregate to do this, we can all achieve this in our own way at our own place and with the same commitment. It all starts with His Holiness’s message about realizing our true self. This way we can avoid the pit falls of self pity and low confidence and be a people that is self assured and truly compassionate.

8. What are the challenges faced?

We’ve had a few challenges but they were mostly minor and typical of long term travel. It took us a while for our stomachs and system to acclimatize to new foods and humid/hot weather. We’ve had some situations that were dangerous, like almost drowning in a rip current in Thailand, getting held up at gun point, a motorcycle accident but mostly we have been playing it safe and keeping away from danger. We are traveling with small children so safety is of utmost importance. I have taken many safety training classes in the past and as parents we are constantly training safety methods in travel.

Most of the time we feel safe, the world is not as dangerous as it might look while watching it in the media. There are many places that are much safer than the United States. 

9. How is your children taking this travel experiences?

Our children have adapted well. They do miss their friends but they are also making new ones on the trip. Our approach to their education is to keep them up to date with typical classroom curriculum by homeschooling but also to teach them other life lessons we have learned along the way. We are teaching them what little we know about mindfulness and awareness but leading them to enquire in that direction. We are also teaching them about different cultures, languages (they are practicing French), about politics, finances, religion and other aspects of how societies work.

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We also encourage our children to self learn. These days information is at our fingertips, our children love to read as well as play games so as parents we just provide them with guidance on how to use information and the practice of self learning. Our whole approach to their education is first to provide them with love. We recognize a typical education system can sometimes crush creativity by forced learning so we give them freedom to deviate from typical school curriculum.

We are teaching how to doubt. Doubt leads to enquiry which leads to finding the truth-whether it be a religious statement or a question about how things work. As a parent we must first question a tradition or belief before we suggest it to our own children. We must be willing to abandon false ideas.

10. Can you tell us briefly about your family? Where you are based, grew up and what you landed in US?

My daughter and son were born near Seattle, US and they coincidently share the same birthday even though they are 2 yrs apart. They are typical American children but they also value their Tibetan identity by the influence of the Tibetan community in Seattle and us as their parents. My wife grew up in the Tibetan settlement village in Dolanji.

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Her parents were farmers and sold clothes in Dhanbad, Bihar. Her late father was Amdo and her mother is from Toba. She has 2 brothers and 2 sisters. They had a unique and very charming life in the village. I met her during the Kalachakra in Bodh Gaya in 2002. She was there with her family and I was there with my mother and nephew.

My parents have passed away, my father was from Kumbum, Amdo and my mother from Toba. My 2 younger brothers, one site and I grew up under simple and loving circumstances in Kalimpong. My parents owned a momo/thukpa restaurant. I went to Wynberg Allen School in Mussorie and attended 9 different colleges (http://tibetannomads.com/2014/08) due to relocation until I got my B. Sc in Civil Engineering at the University of Washington in Seattle. I went to the US from India in 1990. I also happened to be room mates with our current Sikyong for a while at North Point college in Darjeeling.

I worked on many interesting projects such as plat developments, transit facilities, ecological restoration and public infrastructure projects during my career as an engineer for King County, WA. I have also enjoyed many other activities in the past such as climbing in the Pacific Northwest, skiing, mountain biking, soccer (we once beat team China in the Seattle league) and worked on a small team for a charity for many years that is based in Tibet. So far the fund raising has been used to build a hospital and provide training and education for Tibetans in the Amdo region.

11. Any additional thoughts?

Thank you for reaching out to us. We don’t consider ourselves specialin any way. We are lucky to be able to go on this path. It really is a lot of fun. What we are basically saying as a family is the notion of self empowerment. Each person can make their own decision on the outcome of their lives and within us all is the power to live full lives.

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We encourage others to look honestly at themselves and many times you will find an innate strength that is surprising and rewarding.

****************** END OF INTERVIEW *******************

We would like to thank Thinley la for taking out time for MeYuL to do this interview. This is an inspiring and a remarkable story that has moved me and made me rethink my priorities in life. As I look through my window at the busy streets of Dhasa, I am forced to think 'what exactly are we trying to achieve?' I hope I will find an answer someday before I'm too old to do anything.

We wish Thinley la and his beautiful family peace and good health through out their journey. 

Comments (14)

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  • Guest - Thupten Dolma

    Very inspirational and lovely story. Thank you for sharing. I love that you are trying to instill the mindfulness and Tibetan culture and identity with your children. This is something I think a lot about now that I am with a Caucasian man and we are planning to start our own family. We have also always wanted to travel like this. Looking forward to reading your blog.

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  • Guest - Guest

    It would be more meaningful if you carry free Tibet banners and distributed pamphlets regarding current situations in Tibet and no.of people self immolating get in Tibet. That way, you are traveling with some good purpose. It's sad to see many Tibetans in Tibet dying for freedom.

    0 Like
  • Guest - jigme Dadul

    to the "Guest". I find that comment unnecessary. Not everything, a Tibetan does has to come down to a characteristic of a political zealot. He is on a journey to find his own freedom. Let him have his share of the pursuit, for now. PEACE.

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