“Six months down and approximately another 4 ½ years to go,” is how Travis Talbot ended an email exchange with Samaritanmag recently. The 39-year-old Calgary native gave up his lucrative career as a restaurateur and nightclub owner and donated all his worldly possessions to charity so he could travel the world seeking out people to help.
He calls his journey “goodwill travels” or a pay it forward expedition and has set up a web site, www.goodwilltravels.net to chronicle his deeds. He’s up for anything. To prep for his work with the homeless, he even slept on the Calgary streets for four day. More recently, he was in Montreal where he volunteered at the NDG Senior Citizens Council, throwing the last fundrasier and even dressing as Santa. He is now in Boston, where he hopes to work with a homeless outreach program, and will be returning to Calgary in January or February to “recharge the credit cards.”
Samaritanmag interviewed Talbot via email when he had a chance to borrow someone's computer.
What motivated you to give up everything to give?
“There was no singular event or epiphany that specifically motivated me. It was a combination of incidents, inspirations and ‘near life’ experiences that kind of all came together just after the [Vancouver] Olympics [Feb. 2010]. After years of living like a rockstar, it was time and felt like a calling. I would say, however, that a quote that my mom passed along when she was losing her battle with cancer was definitely a spark and is always at the forefront of everything I do: ‘Life is a gift and gives us the privilege, opportunity and responsibility to give something back by becoming more and doing more.’”
Was the decision well thought out?
“Definitely not well thought out as far as planning and preparation. I have no idea what I am doing, where I am going, how I am going to make ends meet or even where I will be sleeping next week. The desire to ‘do good’ has been inside of me for a couple of years, but the decision to actually make the leap of faith, give up my life and make this a focus was all pretty spur of the moment.”
What would you have done differently?
“I guess at the top of the list would be to have been more financially prepared and having more resources before departing. However, having said that, I also know that I was making a ton of excuses for the longest time about why I couldn’t embark on this journey: too many responsibilities, credit card payments to make, ‘stuff’ to take care of, obligations to my employer etcetera. Although I am literally living hand to mouth, if I had not forced myself to go regardless of the circumstances, I would still be back in Whistler [British Columbia] talking about it and not doing it.”
Does it take guts?
“If you ask my dad, he will say it’s all guts and not a whole lot of grey matter. It takes determination, patience, trust, ‘faith’ — not the religious kind but just the notion that it will all work out — and, above all, a sense of humor.”
What have been some of your accomplishments so far?
“For me, and without sounding too corny, it is the smiles, hugs and thanks that I get in return for whatever help I have offered that are the biggest accomplishments. After 20-plus years in the hospitality industry, you don’t receive a lot of heartfelt thanks, so when I get these by doing good, I feel like I’ve accomplished something worthwhile, even if I’m unable to tell you specifically what I did that made a difference.
“So far though, I’ve spearheaded or participated in fundraising initiatives that have literally helped to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars. I have been fortunate enough to have had involvement in putting together programs that have helped to put clothes on hundreds of homeless teens, raise awareness for homeless families, worked in shelters helping feed homeless nutritious and restaurant quality food, helped save a number of horses from slaughter, helped to rehabilitate horses that were victims of abuse, supported grass roots organizations that save puppy mill pets from being put down, helped clean houses of hoarders and drug addicts, played Santa for seniors Xmas parties etcetera.
“There have been lots of activities along the way so far, but the accomplishments are really when someone tells me I made a difference or, even better, have inspired them to make a difference and get involved.”
This takes a certain amount of trust from all parties—a stranger offering to help; you helping strangers. How can you/they be assured of legitimacy and is it dangerous to stay with strangers?
“Trust is definitely something that keeps this alive and, ironically, has also been a challenge in being able to offer a hand. I have had many ‘No thank-you’s’ along the way, many organizations or groups that do not want the help, many people that ask what ‘the catch’ is etcetera.
“As far as legitimacy, many people refer to the website to see testimonials, pictures, newspaper articles. Others ask for criminal background checks, reference letters, and referral contacts. One variable that helps to establish trust is that I never ask for anything in these endeavors other than a place to stay and perhaps a lead on potential work. I’ve been covering all my own expenses, take no fees or compensation, never handle any of the money for fundraising events. As I said, it takes people back a little when I say I am doing everything with no expectations in return, but the walls usually come down pretty quickly once I actually get to work and as people see the intent is sincere.
“I have not ever felt a sense of danger even though I have been staying in some pretty ‘colorful’ places, including living on the streets for a while in Calgary (an initiative to raise awareness about homelessness), but I guess that it’s because: A)I am trusting by nature; B) that it’s one of my ‘mission’ statements in this journey to prove that people are generally kind, generous and compassionate — you get back what you put out kind of ethos.”
What would you say to others who would like to do the same thing?
“As the Nike slogan goes, ‘Just do it.’ It’s a grind and so many days I want to throw in the towel, but when you know that you’ve made a difference in just one person’s life, it’s the most unique rewarding feeling that is almost difficult to articulate. I would say that you have to be mentally prepared. Since taking on this ‘mission,’ I’ve slept on the streets, relied on church programs to get the occasional meal, seen some horrific sides of life and carry with me every day the anxiety of not knowing what will keep me going.”Supreme