As a Binghamton basketball player in the 1998-2000 seasons, 6-foot-9 center Eric Giuliani had to squeeze his large frame into bus seats for away trips.
Fifteen years later, Giuliani is still navigating close quarters on crowded buses. But now instead of traveling to the likes of Felician and Green Mountain colleges, he's been using public transportation to get from Cape Town to Cairo and points in-between.
Giuliani is nearly one year into a remarkable journey around the world and one he is expertly documenting with vivid photography, video and introspective commentary. Giuliani is logging his entire experience on his travel website traveltall.com and also on Instagram and Twitter [@TravelTall for both], where he has more than 70,000 followers.
As of late August, Giuliani had covered roughly 25,000 miles across Africa, the Middle East and Europe using only public transportation. No airplanes and no guidebooks. Currently in London, his goal is to cross northern Europe, then Russia, China and Southeast Asia. From there, he plans to travel to Australia and New Zealand, catch a boat to the United States, then tour North and South America and finally return to his starting point in Africa, likely during the 2018 calendar year. Giuliani will do all of it by bus and boat - and much of it by the seat of his pants. For him, the travel is part of a personal mission - one that began out of disenchantment with the 9-to-5 routine but is really more about a quest for exploration and personal growth.
Career began as a school teacher
Giuliani received his Binghamton degree in human development in 2002 and went on to earn his master's degree in education from St. Joseph's University. He began his career as a high school social studies teacher in Hawaii and after four years of teaching there, he became an educational consultant in Seattle, traveling through Alaska, California and the Pacific Northwest to help school districts implement educational software. The pay was good but the payback wasn't. Giuliani requested and was granted a transfer to Miami in 2010. He hoped the scenery change would inspire him but when it didn't, Giuliani took a three-month leave of absence and pondered making a drastic change in his life.
After some soul-searching and a lot of research, Giuliani decided to forgo his successful professional career and comfortable living in Miami in favor of something more meaningful. He was trading in his career in education for a world of education.
But the required preparation was daunting. While he had traveled to parts of the world during and after college, he had never used a camera, never written for public consumption and never produced video. He turned his living room wall into a huge vision board, writing down a "To Do" list and outlining his goals.
From his blog:
"I hatched a plan to transform my life and I gave myself one year to learn as much as I could about photography, filmmaking, travel writing and website design. I wrote down a list of everything I needed to do: find a beginner photography class, learn about aperture and shutter speed, learn basic rules of grammar, find my voice, buy a camera, stay positive, etc. The list went on and on. I turned off the TV, started reading more and I took classes at night and on the weekends at the local community college. I also took online classes in travel writing and filmmaking. And I watched just about every YouTube video that was out there so I could hone my filmmaking skills."
Twice he downsized apartments to save money. He took a second job. He delayed his journey by a year as the financial costs of classes and equipment and the steep learning curve of mastering new skills all took their toll. He saved more than $20,000 and sold most of his belongings.
And on September 3, 2014, his journey began with a flight - his only one - to Cape Town, South Africa.
Giuliani's narrative and videos offer fascinating glimpses into the cultures he has literally walked into and also his own psyche, which has been battered around by hardships and self-doubt. Being dangerously close to terrorist attacks in Nairobi, Kenya and the Sinai Peninsula, Egypt. Traveling alongside Syrian refugees in the Middle East. Being detained for taking photos in Sudan. The end of a romantic relationship. And that's to say nothing of the harsh accommodations, limited food and perils that run the gamut from public transportation to bed bugs. How does a 30-hour bus ride followed by four days on a cargo ship strike you?
But the education is rich and the images are beautiful. Giuliani has been reinvigorated time and time again by the people he has met and what he has learned about himself.
"Following your dream is the hardest yet most rewarding thing to do in the world," he says. "For me, travel is really about self-discovery. I want to know myself. I want to get to the bottom of what being a human being is all about. I just wanted to challenge myself to the max and I want the world to give me all it has. It feels like it's doing that some days [!] but it hasn't broken me and if anything, it's made me stronger."
Parents provided base of support; sports developed his drive
The core of Giuliani's inner strength can be traced to his parents and his sports background.
"My mom and dad always have wanted me to follow my dreams," he says. "They knew it was time for me to pursue this, that I had something bigger inside me that I needed to get out. They have always supported and encouraged me and I am so blessed to have them with me each step of the way. From the first time I touched a basketball to traveling the world today, they've been my biggest fans."
So what did he learn from basketball that has helped him on this journey?
"It's about getting more out of yourself than you think is possible," he says. "When playing basketball at a high level, you really have to dig down and find that extra gear when you're tired and want to quit. Traveling now, especially the way I do (no airplanes), I have to dig deep like I'm running that extra suicide or it's late in the game."
At Binghamton, Giuliani played in 52 games spanning two seasons during BU's transition to Division I. He amassed 275 points and 213 rebounds. But it wasn't always easy.
"I'll never forget my first day of practice," he says. "I felt like I was in way over my head ... guys were taller, stronger and quicker than me and they were all all-stars on their own high school teams as well. I was used to being the best player on all the teams I had played on, but in our first scrimmage, I was the last man off the bench. But coach Norris really believed in me and pushed and by the fifth game of my freshman year, I was a starter. Playing basketball at Binghamton was the first time I ever realized that we all have an extra level we can get to and I'm beyond grateful for Coach Norris pushing me. I wouldn't be where I am today if it wasn't for him."
Vivid images highlight first year of journey
Actually, it was in a Binghamton uniform that Giuliani took part in some of his first international travel. Norris took the team to England and Scotland in summer 1999. Giuliani credits that trip with kickstarting his thirst for seeing the world.
Asking Giuliani to offer a quick highlight of specific places, people and moments on his travels is akin to reading CliffsNotes for a literary shortcut. The complete narrative on his website, with its adjoining imagery, is so much better. But he obliges.
"I've met some amazing people in India, Peru, Italy, Australia and Thailand," he says. "A few things have literally taken my breath away: the first time I saw the sunset on Lake Malawi [African Great Lake], the Bahah'i gardens in Haifa, Israel and standing at the base of the Egyptian Pyramids. Seeing London Bridge the first time when I wasn't expecting to see it. Cage diving with great whites in South Africa and free swimming with whale sharks that were 30-feet long in Mozambique."
As for people, Giuliani quickly references one week in India, when he zigzagged across the country with an enlightened taxi driver named Rajinder. But that story is best shared in detail by Giuliani himself here.
The website is equal parts education and fascination. Think of Discovery Channel meets Reality TV. Fully immersed in Giuliani's video episodes, you are drawn deeper into his personal quest. His journey becomes yours, played out on a continuously changing, breathtaking landscape that is expertly captured through his lens and narration.
Giuliani will slow down the pace in London, as he plans on staying two months to regroup and catch up on his postings. But don't try to pin him down on either a travel itinerary or next career step.
"Even though I want to circle the globe, I don't feel like I have a finish line," he says. "I want this to then spur on the next part of my life."
Turning his writing into a book and his video episodes into a documentary-style movie are possibilities, as is motivational speaking. Displaying his best photos in an exhibition seems obvious. One thing is clear, the sky is the limit for Giuliani.
"I always think that one big dream begets another and another, so I just hope I keep dreaming and believing in those dreams. My main goal though, is to do what I love for as long as I can, in a creative way that hopefully has the power to inspire others to live out their own dreams."
Even at 6-foot-9, Giuliani is still growing.