Story and Photo by Lisa Anderson
In his twenties, Blake Spires worked as a brand ambassador for several large companies. His contracts, usually three to four months long, took him all over the country. In fact, he has been to 48 states.
He lived in hotels and ate food all paid for by the companies who contracted him. He was earning a lot of money and wasn’t really spending anything. That’s when he started thinking about traveling abroad. Admittedly, he didn’t just jump onto a plane. “It took me two years to make that plunge. I thought about it for way too long,” Blake admits.
A friend recommended Brazil. “My first thought was, ‘Where is that? What do they do there?’ I’d heard of the country, but [I] just pictured swamp and things [I’d] never heard of.”
Taking the Plunge
Despite his lack of knowledge of the country, Blake decided to go. He researched, booked hotels and Air B&Bs, and even met someone online to teach him Portuguese. The three-month trip was planned, and his new friend met him at the airport. “It was one of the first times I put my trust in someone other than myself or a close family member.”
The plane landed in Rio de Janeiro. Blake’s online friend picked him up as promised, took him to lunch at Copacabana Beach, helped him check into his hotel, and then Blake was on his own until the weekend. It was a Tuesday. “I remember when I checked into the hotel, they took my bags, and I had packed way too much. What a rookie,” he laughs. “I didn’t know the customs about tipping. Do I tip? Do I not tip? Some of that stuff is different.”
Blake decided to tip and be the big, wealthy American. He had already exchanged his money prior to leaving for Brazil. He pulled out what he thought was the equivalent to three or four U.S. dollars. Later, he discovered it had only been 12 cents. “I was so embarrassed for a long time.”
Once in his room, Blake refused to leave for the rest of the day and night. “I was just freaking out. Like, what am I doing? I didn’t speak the language. How do I eat? How do I order food?”
Eventually, hunger won. He left his room in search of a meal, which he did manage to find, but his senses heightened as he went into survival mode. He eventually learned some Portuguese, but he was always having to think about how to get food, ask for a bathroom, if an area was dangerous, or even how to call the police for help. “Fast forward through those three months. My parents picked me up from the airport. When I landed and stepped foot in the airport and everyone was speaking English, it just felt like I got violently woken up from a dream.
“The amount of stuff I took away from that experience, that trip, it really propelled me into the next stage of my life. I’m always so curious about what would have happened if I hadn’t done that. I don’t know what kind of person I would have been.”
He’s fairly certain that he would not have been as curious or adventurous.
His trip to Brazil opened his eyes and he was addicted to the world of travel. His bucket list went from the abstract travel abroad to traveling to specific countries. He went from too much luggage and hotel rooms to a backpack and hostels. By the time he was 30 years old, Blake had traveled to 30 countries in just five years.
A Shift in Priorities
In 2017, he decided he wanted a bit more stability, and he exchanged his contract job for a permanent position in Atlanta. By 2019, he started thinking that it would be nice to have a travel buddy. Then COVID hit in early 2020 and effectively ended his world traveling and his full-time, stable job.
Though he certainly is not done traveling, Blake feels he has “other priorities now. I came back to Ocala for a reason.”
Those reasons actually included a couple other bucket list items: The purchase of a house and owning a business. He’s bought the house, and his business Brilliant Bins, a trashcan cleaning service, is scheduled to launch in January 2022 (as of the writing of this article).
“You make sacrifices in your life, and sometimes you don’t know you’re giving up one thing for something else,” Blake muses.
When he was working as a contractor and traveling the world, he was sacrificing stability, friends in a static environment, girlfriends, and family life. Now, he’s focused on building relationships and his new business, but he’s still adding things to his list.