From War Zone to Wanderlust: This man left the army to travel the world

This article was created for The Travel Project by Walt Maiellano, a 28 year old Captain in the United States Army who caught the travel bug.

I was 24, and just over halfway through a 10 month rotation to Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan with the United States Army, when everything changed: My long term girlfriend suddenly broke it off with me.

I was devastated, alongside the pre-existing stress of being in a war zone. I confided with my parents back in The States, and my friend who was also in the same unit as me. They both told me to look at the opportunities that are out there. Besides a few trips to Niagara Falls and Quebec in Canada, I’d never left The States. Truth be told, I’d never even considered international travel, as I felt that The United States was a beautiful, diverse country with a lot to offer for the wanderlust soul. But, when my friend suggested that I take a trip somewhere after we made it back home, I decided to search for a new destination.


I eventually settled on a two week Contiki trip to Costa Rica, and shortly after my reunion with friends and family I found myself catching a plane to a place that would change my life forever. That trip set alight a fire inside of me. I was hooked. 

Having just come home from a place that threatened to take away everything from you at any moment, Costa Rica gave me a brand new outlook on life. I was no longer going to wait for things - I was going to go out and make it all happen.

Since my trip to Costa Rica, I’ve visited over 20 countries and made amazing friends from all corners of the globe. By far my favourite destination has been Cambodia. Angkor Wat was the most beautiful manmade structure I have ever seen –  I had no idea that a structure could be so moving.

That’s what travel has done for me: it’s shown me how beautiful our world, both manmade and natural, can be.

I currently live in Seoul, Korea, and I was fortunate enough to bring my parents over last year. After a few days in Korea, I took them to Cambodia, then Thailand and Bali. It was one of the best trips I’ve ever been on. More importantly, however, was the time that I got to spend with my family. That time has more often than not passed us by in the last six and a half years that I’ve been in the army.

Walt with his parents in cambodia

Today, the desire to travel overwhelms me. Every day I search for new destinations to visit. I daydream about the South African plains my dad and I went to, or the beaches of Indonesia I sunbathed on. I idolise modern day explorers such as Anthony Bourdain, Jim Shockey, and Jeremy Wade; those with a relentless drive for adventure, who aren’t afraid to go into the unknown. Those who not only see through walls and barriers, but knock them down.

This feeling has pulled at me long enough, so I've decided to resign my commission as an officer in the United States Army and travel the globe.

I’m giving up a decent career at 28 to pursue my dream. I would rather look back and know I did what I wanted, as opposed to looking back and regretting never following my heart because I was too afraid of going into the unknown. I want to see all the beauty that this world has to offer; life’s way too short to be sitting around doing something you aren’t happy doing.

In my line of work, I know better than anyone that it can all be taken away in an instant – and I don’t want to waste one moment of it.

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