Wednesday night, I drove myself for 30 minutes to a hospital in rural Taumarunui, New Zealand, where I collapsed on the emergency room floor in the most intense pain I’ve ever felt, in my stomach.

My nearest friend, Bobbie-Jo, was 5 hours away by car, in Auckland. My nearest family member was at least 16 hours away by plane, first to Auckland, then an additional 5 hours away by car.

I was, for all intents and purposes, alone.

I’ve received disrespect from some people for setting out on an adventure like this, which I don’t understand. I’ve also received vocal and positive expressions of jealousy from others, which I do.

Both parties, I think, miss in their own ways some important points of how hard it was to do this in the first place, and how hard it is, and can be, on a daily basis.

And that’s ok, because I haven’t shared either really, yet. Though I’ve started to. (Please see Part 1 of this series for context.)

Hospital image
The artistry of agony, a hospital ceiling.

The thing is, I knew that getting myself to a hospital in an emergency was a strong possibility before I left. In fact, I felt it was almost a certainty in India or Southeast Asia.

Before I departed from San Francisco I also wrote my Last Will and Testament, and a Do Not Resuscitate order (DNR). I hope I never have to use either.

And I said goodbye to each and every one of my friends and family, knowing that it may be the last time I see any of them again.

So when people disrespect me for living my life, it’s I think because they believe I have it “easy” while they or others are struggling. Perhaps they project I had or have no major responsibilities or challenges like they do.

The reality is, of course, more complicated. I will write more about this later, as this subject has weighed heavy on my heart.

When the other group expresses positive envy – “I wish I had your life!” – I think it’s not so much my life they want, as what they imagine my life might feel like if they were living it: glamorous, adventurous, liberated.

Certainly it has those aspects. But the core projection, expressed differently, is that I am enviously free from responsibility or difficulty. Again, the reality is still more complicated. (Although to be fair, many times their sentence ends with, “… but I could never do what you do.”)

In both cases, I accept my own part of the accountability for not sufficiently sharing the darker side of what I face and have faced, and allowing that to be factored into the picture of me alongside my photography of stunning locales and events.

Downtown Taumarunui
Taumarunui, New Zealand.

I have not done this in part because, despite my desire to be as open as possible, I wish to protect my privacy. And also because I try to find a place to express my challenges where I don’t sound like I’m complaining, which is important to me and isn’t always easy.

But to the latter group who so good-naturedly shares with me their jealousy, I wish to say one thing. It is the same thing I have been saying to people for 17 years now, though today expressed more directly:

Do not want my life. Want YOURS.

Ask yourself what is the one thing you would be willing to endure being alone, in excruciating pain, afraid of the terrible things that could be wrong, surrounded by strangers in a small rural town, to have?

Put in a bit less extreme and frightening way, what would you be willing to give anything to experience? What highest cost, that you are morally capable of paying (an essential point!), would you be willing to pay?

The possibility of this very situation was one of my answers to these questions for backpacking around the world alone.


I add this entry to my “Dark Side of Long Term-Traveling” series because a less-sexy, but better title for the series is, “The Hidden Psychological Costs of Long-Term Traveling.” Events like this aren’t often talked about in the romanticized and heavily-marketed portrayal of travel. But they are real. And this is one of the many invisible costs I agreed to pay to be here, doing this, and to have experienced and seen everything I have along the way. It probably won’t be the last time, either, though I really hope it is.

So I didn’t complain when I laid in the hospital room bed, in agony, while a nurse filled out registration paperwork for me because I couldn’t stand or write or think. I didn’t complain when it took two hours from when I first stumbled in the door to get a dose of painkillers via IV.

The cannula in my arm for administering my IV medications.

I was courteous and patient, to the best of my ability. The helpful nurse, Leigh, and I chatted distantly about New Zealand politics and Ghandi. I told the doctor, the good-humored Dr. Graeme Bain, the pain was the size of a kiwi, and realizing the irony, I laughed as best I could. Then I groaned.

He asked, “The bird, or the fruit?” I said the fruit because I’d never seen the bird! And we laughed together. I groaned again.

Because I chose this. I stood up to live and be counted, and I take responsibility for when it all goes right, as I do when it all goes wrong. There is no one to blame. Not even God. For this wasn’t His dream but mine.

And besides, it never helps to be a jerk to a doctor, or a nurse.


I was discharged from the hospital the next morning with four prescriptions and much reduced pain. We still don’t know what it was.

I drank a fair bit the previous weekend, though not an excessive amount, and not at all before the pain really came on. Or maybe it was something I ate. Or maybe it was something else. Only time will tell.

But a few hours after leaving I could eat and drink water, which I couldn’t do before I went to the hospital, and the pain had receded to a 3 or 4 out of 10.

In the hospital, I was at a solid 9, which I’m saying because I wouldn’t want to imagine worse pain than that.

Compared to that sensation, driving at a 7 with gritted teeth, pounding my chest to keep going, felt like a dream. I’m only thankful I listened to my intuition to hit the road when I did, because 15 minutes later I don’t know if I would have made it.

Meissa, Thursday night
My van at my campsite, Thursday night.

Thursday night, I parked my campervan at a site close by the hospital, just in case. I took my medicines and went to sleep alone, in the cool air of the New Zealand autumn settling in.

Today, Friday, I am further south, in Wanganui. Physically, I’m fine. I almost feel like these events never happened.

Then we’ll see what tomorrow brings.

I don’t mean to imply by all this that what I’m doing is not amazing and wonderful. I am incredibly fortunate, and this is beyond the experience of a lifetime.

However, I am still a man. I’m still a real guy living a real life, who has perhaps traded one set of challenges for another. I don’t want anyone, including me, to lose sight of that in the distance.

And I share all this in the hopes that, no matter how you feel about me reading this, you understand that the reality of travel, not to mention life, is always – always – more complicated than the surface.


Sunset shot
Sunset over Castlecliff Beach in Wanganui, New Zealand. Tonight

Special thanks to the artists Dance Spirit for making one of my top 3 favorite mixes of all time, which I put on because I knew it would help get me through a very long and tough drive, which it did.

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The Lost Pilgrim


  1. Beautiful words Will – beautiful spoken words as if you were speaking and not writing. Take care!

    • Will Spencer

      It’s funny you say that, Nicole. I read this post out loud before I published it. I’ve never done that before. I guess you heard me. For real. <3 Big hugs!

  2. Whew, I am so glad you’re okay! What a terrifying experience. I continue to be amazed by your strength and spirit. Love you!

    • Will Spencer

      I am too, sir. No joke. Was pretty scary. And thank you so much for your kind words. I love you too. Very much. <3

      (PS. In New Zealand there's a field on the medical intake form that says, "Are those your pants?" I had to put, "No." 😮 That was probably the scariest moment.)

  3. Wow Will. I’m so happy you were able to make it to the emergency room to get help. Your description of the pain sounds almost exactly like my experience with gallstones. Felt like indigestion at first but then intense pain in the upper middle part of my abdomen which went quickly from 7 to 9 and stayed there until pretty hardcore pain killers via IV and then was gone after 12 hours. Not sure exactly where your pain was or if they did an ultrasound on you to check things out but it sounds uncanny how similar it was to my experience. I hope that whatever it was for you doesn’t happen again. Sending hugs, love, and healing vibes your way. <3

    • Will Spencer

      Wow! That does sound really similar! But the doctor did a palpating check for both gallstones and appendix and I had none of the other symptoms like radiating pain to the back, vomiting, diarrhea, etc. It was just pain in that one area, and he diagnosed it as inflammation (gastritis). That feels right. But you never know. So I’ll be careful. Thanks so much for sharing your experience! And I’m so sorry you had to go through that. It sounds awful in its own way. And I receive and much appreciate all the hugs, love, and healing vibes. Our email exchange has been on my mind lately, as well. So I’m sure I’ll be picking that up again shortly. 🙂 Love love love

  4. Thanks for your beautiful and profound sharing, Will! I do have envy, particularly as I have been in your place in years past, yet I also fully choose what I am doing here. And I love how you share so richly of your many experiences, so that I can drink them in. Take care and have a rockin’ time in NZ!!!

    • Will Spencer

      Thank you, Fred! And yes I totally understand your envy. And envy coming from a place of having lived and made a new choice is different from envy coming from a place of haven’t lived. I confess, I have a bit of envy for you, as well, for the difference you make in the things you do, and being the person you are. For that reason, I enjoy our mutual admiration of each other’s choices for how to live. 🙂 And it continues to be my joy to share my experiences with you, good and bad, knowing you savor them so richly. Tomorrow I head to the South Island, and I expect much rocking to commence! So expect more good things. 🙂 Many hugs, and much love.

  5. Brother, thank you for sharing and very glad to hear you got through it and are doing better. I have much respect and love for you for following your dream and traveling the world. It’s very inspiring without any sense of jealousy/envy coming up on my part since I’m happy in my life and the adventures I get myself into, also with the inevitable struggle and pain, be it emotionally or physically, that comes with having a body a times. I also find it very inspiring that you share the “dark side of traveling” with all your vulnerability without glamorizing it. I’m sure it serves as a major inspiration for others who follow your blog and pics as well. Godspeed and may the Caramel be with you always. Big hug and much love!

    • Will Spencer

      Thank you, brother! I am so happy to hear reflected that you sense my intent not to glamorize this experience. There’s nothing glamorous about it, haha. And my intent always is to humanize, so it means a lot to know that comes across. Thank you. <3 Thank you also for living your life, being you, and enjoying the adventures you do, for they have affected me. So it's quite wonderful to me to know that we pass inspiration back and forth. Of course you have been part of my world-traveling dream, as well! I never forget that. And thank you for your blessings and support, always. May the Caramel be with both of us. <3

  6. Yay for following your intuition. Thank goodness you are ok and moving forward. Supporting you always and admiring your journey. Meli

    • Will Spencer

      Thank you, Meli! I think becoming intimately familiar with my intuition is one of the best parts of this trip. Certainly the presence of my intuition is like a great companion. Even through all the lonely days of travel, I never feel quite so alone. <3 Big hugs! And thank you for the words of love and support.

  7. Pheww, glad you’re feeling better! We have a story like that, from traveling in Thailand. Michelle was gradually overcome with an agonizing toothache, and it got so bad one night that we HAD to get her to the nearest dentist as soon as the sun rose… All plans were put on hold, and no matter our daily backpacking budget, we were going to need to get this taken care of.
    The next morning, we were at the doors as the dental office opened. To our amazement, she was taken care of immediately, and two wonderful dentists pulled 2 of her wisdom teeth in no time, and in a very clean modern facility. She was given two weeks worth of pain killers and antibiotics.

    We were very happy that she was taken care of so promptly and professionally, but we were concerned about the quality of care, and it’s inevitable cost. Was our backpacking trip over? After all, an emergency like this can easily cost you $1000+ in the US…

    We got the bill and couldn’t believe it: $33!!!

    Hopefully you will soon also learn that this was just a temporary roadblock, and hopefully even better; a blessing in disguise. Best of luck Will, let’s have a speedy full recovery!

    • Will Spencer

      Amazing story, brother! That’s exactly why I wrote my post. These things *do* happen. And yes, of course they can happen at home, as well. But abroad, there’s a whole new level of difficulty and concern. Fortunately, everything worked out for you guys, and for me as well. Sadly, I’ll have to pay a bit more than $33 dollars for my treatment. (Quite a lot more, in fact! lol). But before I left I purchased travel insurance, which will already pay for itself with this encounter. 🙂

      And yes this absolutely was a blessing in disguise. It showed me how much love and support is out there for me, just waiting. <3

      Sending much love to you guys!

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