From delivering a presentation in Pyongyang, North Korea to having breakfast with the late Mother Teresa in Calcutta, Henry Biernacki has done it all. That is, perhaps, why he’s known to many as ‘The Global Henry”.
Novelist and author Biernacki is also a pilot with Virgin Airlines, but his drive to travel the world started years before he first stepped onto a plane. At eight years old, he recalls being mesmerized by the world map sitting at the front of his convent classroom in Pennsylvania.
“I was asking what it all was and learning about places and languages,” Biernacki says.
Nine years later, when he stepped on a Greyhound bus from Colorado, where he lives to this day, to Mexico, he was kickstarting his new way of life. This lifestyle has brought him to over 120 countries and given him countless experiences that many only dream of. But Biernacki asserts that if he can do it, anyone can.
At 24, after graduating from university with a degree in languages, Biernacki took the $3700 he had left in his savings after paying down student loans and bought a plane ticket to London, England. He didn’t know it then, but it would be over a year before he returned home.
In London, he stayed in a guesthouse, and quickly realized that his travel budget would dwindle rather quickly if he spent his nights with a roof over his head.
“I paid attention instead to what I needed. I need to breathe, I need water, and I need food. There was no reason I couldn’t sleep outside,” he said. “It was January though, so it was freezing.”
But, in his newfound spontaneity, instead of spending money on hostels, Biernacki would literally go to the city limit, lay on a cardboard bed, and carry on at sunrise the next day. He would also aim to eat only one meal a day.
“I wasn’t suffering, by any means though,” he admitted.
On this trip, Henry Biernacki realized earlier on that he wasn’t looking for luxury, rather he was in search of liberty.
“I had freedom beyond freedom to go wherever I wanted to go and constantly do whatever I wanted to do and see the world at 24 years old.”
The reason he was able to do this with such a limited budget was, in no small part, a result of the kindness of strangers. And a resistance to schedules.
“You can’t plan. You just have to do things. People and opportunities would present, I just had to accept them.”
He was fed by strangers, and even given space in their homes. Many of these people are still acquaintances he keeps to this day.
These random occurrences ranged from acquiring Dengue Fever (where a doctor assured him “You will either suffer or die”) to breaking bread with Mother Teresa, three days before she passed away.
“She was willing to meet and talk to me. We talked about traveling, life, health. Her body was weak, but her glare was intense. It was bizarre to see the intensity, but peace, in her eyes. That was, out of all my experiences, one of the most extraordinary,” he said, recalling his 10am breakfast with her in India after a morning mass he attended.
His adventure was not always easy, but he always found a way. To get around, he took trains, hitchhiked, walked, took rickshaws, and did whatever he could to tour the world. He didn’t set foot on an airplane after landing in Europe until he got to China and Siberia, to keep his costs down.
Though Biernacki has not replicated his trip since then, he has continued to visit new places in search of new experiences. As a pilot for Virgin Airlines, it’s not uncommon for him to “show up at the airport, look at the departures board, and find a place to go.” Most recently, such an exercise found him enjoying some chicken and waffles in Atlanta then hopping on a plane to Argentina.
For others who crave the travel and spontaneity, Biernacki is confident that it’s something anyone can do (although he admits that having connections in the airline industry makes it easier from a financial perspective.)
“But even if you don’t know anyone on the inside, there are always deals out there.”
For those on the fence about whether spontaneous travel is even in them, Biernacki himself went through that.
“It was only when I left for overseas with very little money that I even learned that I could be spontaneous,” he said, pointing to the self-discipline he had previously known. “I really do believe that if people let go, they can be spontaneous.”