William Taylor Gleason ran with bulls in Spain, rode elephants through Thai jungles, scaled the Pyramid of Khafre in Egypt, swam with great white sharks in New Zealand and sand boarded down dunes of the Dubai Desert.
At 22 years old, Gleason has visited over 60 countries in less than three years. The UCLA alumnus said traveling has changed his life in ways he could never have imagined.
Gleason created an Instagram account to share images and videos of his trips which has now amassed 65,000 followers. Gleason plans to print a book in 2017 that will recount his adventures around the world – from the icy peaks of Norway’s Trolltunga cliffs to encountering a near-death experience in Thailand.
Gleason traveled to several countries while in high school, including Italy, Spain and Morocco. The trips inspired him to learn more about foreign cultures and locations through travel. At UCLA, Gleason studied English with minors in film and global studies, which he felt would be complemented by studying abroad.
“I felt happiest and at my best when I was abroad,” Gleason said. “I felt sure that I could … do what my heart felt was right and what it was calling me to do.”
Gleason began his international travels at UCLA in 2013 when he flew to Tokyo with UCLA’s Campus Crusade for Christ, called Cru. Gleason had sought out opportunities for travel that would allow him to earn credit toward his degree. English Undergraduate Counselor Janel Munguia provided Gleason with resources and information about the University of California Education Abroad Program.
“Travel is one of the best educations anybody can get,” Munguia said. “Travel affords a form of education that attending classes at a university could not replace; the world is its own teacher in a lot of ways.”
In June 2015, Gleason embarked on his final study abroad in Shanghai. Gleason completed the study courses and decided to extend his stay abroad without notifying friends or family. During his time in Asia, Gleason traveled through Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, South Korea and North Korea. Despite warnings from UCLA officials and his parents, Gleason entered North Korea through an official guided tour.
“I wasn’t looking for the typical college experience,” Gleason said. “I have a ‘do it now and never regret it’ mindset.”
Gleason toured North Korea with UCLA alumna Paulina Shafir, who studied with Gleason in Shanghai. Gleason said they enjoyed North Korean delicacies, visited museums and cultural sites and made sure to respect the traditions of the people, including bowing to the frequent statues of Kim Jong-un and Kim Jong-il.
“I learned a lot about unexplained histories,” Gleason said. “I got to see different points of view and that’s the way you should travel.”
Gleason also encountered dangerous situations in his travels. While traveling in Koh Phangan, Thailand, Gleason was drugged, stabbed and robbed during an impromptu and ill-researched trip to a full moon party where tourists rave on Haad Rin beach to celebrate the monthly full moon, he said. Gleason was left bleeding on a dirt road and stopped breathing. Tourists found him and took him to a hospital, where CPR was administered and he recovered.
Despite his near-death experience, Gleason said he cherishes his memories and plans to continue to explore the world.
Brittany Kriegstein is a Business Insider lifestyle intern who is working independently with Gleason to produce his book. Kriegstein said development for the book has been focused on exploring how millennials travel as well as Gleason’s personal anecdotes.
“(Gleason) has so much material … for a project he’s passionate about,” Kriegstein said. “His determination and perseverance have taken him places others will never go.”
One of Gleason’s favorite moments abroad was a last-minute trip to Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina and Uruguay.
In August, Gleason spontaneously booked a flight to São Paulo to catch up with friends he had met only two weeks prior. A few days later, Gleason was strolling along the warm sand of Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro. Running on less than five hours of sleep, he had spent the morning exploring all that Rio and the 2016 Olympics had to offer.
Gleason found it difficult to return to his home in February after his initial trip and enter the workforce in Newport Beach, California, after growing accustomed to constant travel. The whirlwind of cultural, geographical, political and religious differences he encountered took a physical and emotional toll as he learned about lifestyles outside of Western culture, he said. After nine months of Red Bull, sleepless nights and countless lengthy flights, Gleason said he’s happy to be home.
“I live so fast and the lifestyle is hard, but I’ve only got so much time to be a kid,” Gleason said.