How Failing the SAT Helped Me Make Enough Money to Travel the World

By Mark Wiens 62 Comments

This is Part 1 of the “Foundationology of Migrationology” series.

SAT Exam
Exam Photo Credit: tapascreation

I failed the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test)

[the SAT is a standardized examination that many American universities use as a scale to determine your scholastic knowledge (little to do with what you really know – but that’s my opinion)]

While living in Nairobi, Kenya, in my senior year of high school, I applied to attend Arizona State University. They saw my SAT score and declined.

I didn’t know what to do next.

By the default of not applying for any other universities, I wound up at a community college .

[For those who don’t know, a community college in the United States is a public funded educational institute that anyone can attend. The cost is cheap (about $1500 per year – full schedule) and it attracts students from all walks of life, ages, nationalities, and plenty of folks that don’t take school too seriously.]

My parents normally work and live in Africa for 4 years and then return to the United States for 1 year to complete an entire term. My first year at university happen to be their 1 year in the United States. I was able to live with my parents (and eat their food).

All the while, I knew I’d get back to Africa, or continue the migration lifestyle. I wanted to graduate with a degree from university, but the goal of traveling the world (= Migrationology) was at the front of my head – and I knew I could live in a way to reach it.

I soon found that community college took only about 2 – 3 hours per day (if that), and I needed to do little studying or homework to get A’s (the standards aren’t that high).

eBay
Selling things on eBay and Craigslist

I started selling things on e-bay and Craigslist.

At first I began small, selling small odds and ends (mostly old clothes, shoes, books).

It was more of a hobby than anything else. Business expanded and with some work, I was able to start researching the most popular clothing trends and selling to meet the needs of fashion hunters.

After my 3 hours of community college I would spend a few hours printing addresses, packaging items, and going to the post office. Sometimes I’d ship 50 – 100 packages per week.

The first year came to a close. My parents went back to Africa, and I re-applied to Arizona State University. This time, after proving my scholastic success at community college, I was accepted.

I moved into an apartment with a friend. Continuing with e-bay, my room looked more like a warehouse than a dwelling.

My last 2 years of university I was able to arrange all my classes on Tuesdays and Thursday, opening up my time.

I got a job and worked for a company on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I was a glorified garbage man working for a full junk removal service. I got to drive a truck around all day and pick up what anybody wanted gone.

Junk or opportunity?
Junk or opportunity?

There’s a lot of valuable junk in America.

People throw away things that still have so much value – especially when you open your market to the online world.

I was able to keep the things I picked up, as long as it didn’t interfere with the day’s work. Of course, I would strategically drive past my apartment, make a drop-off and continue with my route.

Small (easy to ship) things I would sell on e-bay while the bulkier items like treadmills, I would post on Craigslist.

From the job and from sales, I was able to pay for school up front, never having to take a loan or borrow money. ASU was around $5000 – $6000 USD per year.

I Lived with a Goal.Playing football in Indonesia

I wanted to see more of the multifaceted realms of the world, connect with cultures on their home turf, and experience a migration – I had no idea where it would take me.

I’ve never been a big spender, saving was a block of my foundation laid by my Father.

It might be part of my personality, what my Father taught me, or that living comfortable and well is my personal opinion for myself – it’s NOT to be compared with others.

Somehow after living in Africa so long, I just could rarely get myself to eat a meal out for $10. Sure I would occasionally do it, but even ask my good buddies in the States and they would tell you that I would often eat my rice and beans at home before we all went out for dinner (at which point I’d just hang out and eat the chips and salsa – sometimes unlimited and free at restaurants in the US).

This is just one example of living with an aim to reach a goal (more in the series to come).

After Graduating from University

I graduated from University with a degree in Global Studies. I had paid for school, was debt free, had no monthly payments, and had about $8,000 USD saved.

$8,000 is not hard to make or save with goals in mind and living wisely to pursue them.

So it wasn’t just a poor SAT score that allowed me to make and save enough money to travel the world, it did involve a lot of hard work and effort to reach my goal. But it did force me to get serious fast, by making the most of my free time to discover what was possible – selling things online.

Failing the SAT kicked me in the butt and got me going.

Think about this:

“When you have a goal at the FRONT of your head (instead of the back of your head), you live to pursue it.” – Mark

I’d love to hear your questions or comments below.

————————————————————————————————————————————————-

This is Part 1 of the Foundationology of Migrationology series.

Don’t miss the next article (12 July 2011): 7 Simple (but Effective) Strategies to Save Money to Travel

Enter your e-mail below to sign up for my (FREE) monthly newsletter to get more long term travel tips and advice on how live a life to pursue your passions.

Stay tuned for the next articles in the series!



62 comments. I'd love to hear from you!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • animesh

    2 weeks ago

    hey Mark, I’ve been watching your videos and now even my Wife’s who has no interest in travel vids is watching them with me. haha,
    Mark, we admire your spunk, what you’ve done with your life basically from scratch, living your dream and your essential goodness. Hope you’re able to grow your channel further. Best, Animesh

  • Ross

    4 years ago

    Great site. I never knew you could make that much money in college from selling junk, or not junk as the case may be. A case of working hard when the chips are down with the business and with the SAT’s.

    • Mark Wiens

      4 years ago

      Hey Ross, thanks for stopping by. Yup, turns out there are so many treasures in junk.

  • Taylor

    4 years ago

    Hey Mark!
    I’ve been watching your videos on youtube for a year now and I only just stubbled onto your site and i’m disappointed i didn’t come onto it a long time ago! The way you live and have came to where you are today is inspirational… well to me you are! So much hard work and determination to get to where you want to be and what you want to do. It’s just something a lot of people lack in today.
    I’ve always had the dream to travel around the world (Mainly just because of the food! watching your videos drives me crazy some days!) You really want to make me fulfil that dream!
    You’re a very interesting and inspiring man Mark!
    Keep up the amazing work!

    • Mark Wiens

      4 years ago

      Hey Taylor, thank you for watching my videos and checking out my blog, I really appreciate it! Glad to hear that you love to travel and eat too. Things can definitely be tough at times, but keep pushing for your goals and doing everything you can. Thanks again for following!

  • Pete

    5 years ago

    Hi Mark,
    at my old days I am not travelling around any more BUT I appreciate very much what you are doing and I am just happy that there are young people like you -open minded and big hearted-in this world.

    Keep going!!!

    Best wishes Pete

  • Leif

    5 years ago

    I really dig your story Mark. Just read this again. That damn that sat and those silly community colleges. I went to the most ghetto cc in Los Angeles.

  • Claudia

    5 years ago

    Hi Mark,

    Greetings from Australia!

    I stumbled across your youtube videos by chance recently which lead me to migrationology.com and i have to say that It’s absolutely fantastic to see someone so passionate about experiencing life in different cultures live out their dream, regardless of any obstacles that may be in the way.

    I recently have been feeling the urge to set out on my own solo adventure but had some minor fears and drawbacks – but after reading through your inspirational articles i’am determined to conquer my fears and make it happen.

    Thank you for sharing your adventure with us, you are an inspiration to many!

    Claudia 🙂

    • Mark Wiens

      5 years ago

      Hey Claudia, thank you very much for sharing – I’m so happy to hear you’re interested in a solo adventure trip. Makes me so excited that you’re inspired and determined now to conquer your fears! I know for sure you can do it, if it really is your goal and you make all efforts to accomplish it you will! Let me know if there’s anyway I can help!

  • Pu Pungna

    6 years ago

    Hi Mark, you are another good book !! ;0
    not many blogger keeps me smiling when reading and importantly you do you simple and exciting aspects of life is many of your stories. I have not read all but .. Youtube VDO, some stories on this page.. so well, i should put something here. I first saw you Youtube VDO talking about Esarn food in Bangkok and i just thought that “hey, Yam Ruam Mitr is not Esarn Food !!! “.. but then more and more reading, watching.. YOU knows much more places and stories in my own country than what i have learned and seen it.. so, just one menu, not big deal 😉 I l travel and love to travel, but didn’t have chance to stay anywhere so long time, i have my family, my work.. yeah.. anyway, I love the way you tell the stories, love your attitude to life, its fun and real and simple !! Keep going man !! Not only that you digest food, i sense that you digest the culture pretty well.. and i wanna see.. Garbage man??? You are amazing !!! 😉

    • Mark Wiens

      6 years ago

      Thank you Pungna! I’m so happy to read your kind comment and thanks for watching my videos and reading through my articles. I still don’t know too much about Thailand, but I’m learning more and more and I love Thai food so much. Where are you from in Thailand? I loved what you said about “digesting culture,” that’s a perfect phrase. Thank you again for your support!

  • Sandra

    6 years ago

    Hi Mark,

    I found your site through watching your youtube video of burmese street food. (Just a side note, I’m Burmese, and I could NOT watch that video on an empty stomach. GAH SO MUCH NOMZ.) I just wanted to leave a note thanking you for staying true to yourself and doing what you want to do.

    As a college student right now, I’m always trying to find ways to make some extra cash. I’m on a work-study program at school, but I want to be able to support myself fully, y’know? I’ve been a bit hesitant about selling stuff through ebay but having read your article, I think I’m gonna give it a shot. Thanks for the motivation!

    PS. I grew up in Singapore and Malaysia, and returned to Myanmar for high school when I was 12. Been in the US for the past 3.5 years for college. My point is…MAN, do I understand that wanderlust you talked about in your bio!

    KEEP MIGRATING!

    • Mark Wiens

      6 years ago

      Thank you Sandra!
      I really appreciate you taking the time to read this article and to leave a comment of your thoughts. Also, that’s cool to hear that you are Burmese – I had an awesome time visiting Yangon and I also loved the food, so delicious! You should definitely give e-bay a try. It’s been a few years now since I’ve sold things, but when I did, it was an excellent way to make extra money from things I didn’t even need / use in the first place.
      I wish you all the best with University in the States. Will you go back to Burma after you graduate or will you travel or will you stay in the States?

  • Andresa

    6 years ago

    I’m feeling low right now and reading your post (actually posts because I’ve been reading several before finally deciding to comment) lifted my spirits. After reading the series, I felt reassured. A big dream such as traveling the world is possible, even if circumstances are not so easy. Your words resound to me, because if one truly wills, there shall be a way. You’re truly inspiring Mark. Thank you.

    • Mark Wiens

      6 years ago

      Hi Andrea,
      Thank you so much for stopping by and for taking a look at my site and articles. I’m extremely glad that you were able to find a little bit of inspiration despite being in a low time at the moment. I’m really just a completely ordinary guy, and I really don’t make much money, but it is enough for me to travel, live in Thailand (for the moment), and most of all – I really get to focus my attention on doing things that I love to do. Andrea, I know that you can do it too, if you set your mind to it and adapt your life to make it happen. You too can pursue your passions! By the way, I checked out your blog and looks like you are also a lover of traveling and eating – awesome! Love your photos too! Keep persevering and pushing to reach your goals! Feel free to send me a personal message if you need any advice or suggestions. Keep your head up – you can do it!

  • flipnomad

    7 years ago

    inspiring man… you made an opportunity out of what happened to your SAT 🙂

  • Eileen Ludwig

    7 years ago

    Amazing discipline. I sold things on ebay about 7 years ago before the pricing sent the small time person out of their doors. Scammers have taken over much of it now. Was a great Flea Market, yard sale place for a number of years

    Glad you could save so much to travel

    Eileen

    • Mark Wiens

      7 years ago

      Hey Eileen!
      That’s probably about the same time that I was selling things on eBay, I think I started in 2004 – 2005. I agree, selling was really good back then and it was a great flea market!

  • adventureswithben

    7 years ago

    This was a great story. I almost went to ASU too!

    • Mark Wiens

      7 years ago

      Dude, that would have been cool, we might have met back then!

  • Grace

    7 years ago

    I wish more people thought like you. Really inspiring to know how you paid your way through college. But it is true a lot of folks throw away things in order to buy more things. I’ve started to acquire this habit but now I am on the road to becoming more of a minimalist. Less IS more.

    • Mark Wiens

      7 years ago

      Appreciate the kind comment Grace and glad you are making steps to need less. So many people get wrapped up in new the and latest things and forget about the things they have that are still fully functional and adequate.

  • The Travel Chica

    7 years ago

    Interesting story about how you got where you are today. I am always intrigued by experiences in people’s lives that seem to be failures or disappointments but are not at all when we look back on them. They are simply just experiences that are part of the journey.

    • Mark Wiens

      7 years ago

      Yah Stephanie, thanks for the comment. I can look back on things I’ve done long ago and remember a few instances of failing and giving up – and that’s what I don’t ever want to do again. Maybe there’s just a different way to do something and you need to find the way.

  • Nomadic Samuel

    7 years ago

    I think being resourceful is a skill to be admired. I also worked part-time and full-time jobs throughout university in order to cover the costs of living and tuition with a bit of help from home. I finished with savings instead of being up to my eyeballs in debt – the same as you.

    • Mark Wiens

      7 years ago

      Good for you Samuel – It was hard working through university, but I’m sure it’s paid off for you now. Great site by the way!

  • Debbie Beardsley @ European Travelista

    7 years ago

    Einstein failed many times too! Its not that you fail, its what you do when you do! Great story that many people could use. I am horrified when I hear about the amount of student loans young adults are coming out of college with. Very scary!

    Good for you! I am looking forward to the next edition of how Migrationology got started.

    • Mark Wiens

      7 years ago

      Thanks Debbie! You’re right about failing – there’s a fundamental difference between failing and giving up. Student loans really seem to tie down a lot of people these day. Thanks for following the series Debbie.

  • Laurel

    7 years ago

    It’s sad how something like a bad SAT score can negatively impact people’s lives when obviously you’re a very smart guy. Kudos to you to using it your advantage and turning it into something positive.

    • Mark Wiens

      7 years ago

      Thanks Laurel! I think the SAT is just a single form of measurement, but there are so many more ways to measure knowledge and not everyone thinks in the same ways.

  • Jason

    7 years ago

    Mark — you are awesome. I can really identify a lot with your story.
    Cheers
    Jason

  • Senaf

    7 years ago

    What a remarkable life you are having. To start off your education in the direction it went after failing the SAT and to be able to pay off your college debt with an ebay business is outstanding. Your father’s advice on saving money has helped you to take care of your debt and to live just on what you needed. I am amazed at how much junk we accumulate and when we are done using them, we get something better and toss the old in the garbage even if it is not broken, but it helped you resell them. Great blog on how you started traveling and blogging.

    • Mark Wiens

      7 years ago

      Appreciate the comment Senaf! Yah, even on top of throwing things away, many in the States would choose to pay our company to take good things away. When I first started working there I couldn’t even believe it, and then I just got used to the things people would discard.

  • ayngelina

    7 years ago

    Mark I love this story, it shows how determination and imagination can create anything.

    • Mark Wiens

      7 years ago

      Thanks Ayngelina! Those two attributes are limitless!

  • Dayne

    7 years ago

    I wondered how you did that Mark. A person with a goal and the will to go after it is a force to be reckoned with.

  • Laura

    7 years ago

    That’s a great idea! I’m paying off student loans right now and have been thinking of different ways to earn money. Since I’m moving back to the States soon, that could be a good plan. Thanks for the idea! Looking forward to the rest of the series.

    • Mark Wiens

      7 years ago

      Thanks for following Laura! Yah, that would be great to get some things together that you (or anyone else) isn’t using anymore and sell them on eBay! I’d love to hear about your experiences doing this!

  • Christy @ Ordinary Traveler

    7 years ago

    Good for you for not having any student loans. Those are a pain in the butt to pay off. I only went to community college for 2 years, so needless to say I don’t have student loans, but at least 50% of the people my age have them. Having a job picking up other people’s junk sounds like a nice gig. It’s crazy what some people throw out. It’s actually pretty sad considering most of that stuff goes in our landfills. All they would need to do is put a FREE sign on it and stick it somewhere with a lot of traffic. It will be gone within hours.

    • Mark Wiens

      7 years ago

      Yah, those student loans seem to hold down a lot of people and put them into a lifestyle of worrying about working to pay them off. Great that you also graduated without having loans, it really was a relief and allowed us to live a little more freely. So much good junk in the US!

  • John D. Wilson

    7 years ago

    Good for you Mark,
    You were intelligent enough to listen to your father about money.
    When you “failed” it did not hold you back, but might have actually pushed you forward.
    Great read.
    Good go, man.
    As a mentor once told me, “Don’t tell me, show me.” Your actions make a grand statement about yourself – in a very positive way.
    Cheers,
    John D. Wilson

    • Mark Wiens

      7 years ago

      John, appreciate you taking the time to read this post. I definitely do owe it to my parents for the solid savings foundation they instilled in me from an early age. Failure is often an opportunity to do something in a different way – and what a great quote about showing rather than telling. Thanks again!

  • Christy @ Technosyncratic

    7 years ago

    I really enjoy hearing about how full-time travelers get started, so yay for this series! And clever use of eBay; I’ve never really heard of anyone using it consistently as a source of income. Seems like a neat idea.

    • Mark Wiens

      7 years ago

      Thanks so much for checking out this series Christy! When I first got into eBay I didn’t really know what I was doing, and had no clue it could be a valid source of income, but I’m glad that I did try it out!

  • Renee

    7 years ago

    You are so right about waste in the USA. I think if you are used to having so much, you take things for granted….things that you deem disposable others would treasure it. If I have something that I no longer need, I will donate it to Goodwill, Salvation Army or even put it on the curb at the end of my driveway…so someone can take it. There are some people who really are into “dumpster diving” or I guess it would be called “skip diving” in the UK because they love to see what goodies can be found. Glad you didn’t let one rejection letter send you to the brink….instead you used your available resources wisely. Great story…looking forward to part two.

    • Mark Wiens

      7 years ago

      Thanks Renee! I would also try to donate some things to Salvation Army and Goodwill, but it’s amazing how picky they have become (due to the massive supply of waste). If a sofa has a small rip in it, not affecting the use of it, they often don’t even accept it anymore. Yes, it’s definitely true that there can be some real goodies in dumpsters!

  • paulo

    7 years ago

    What a great tale Mark. Really inspirational to anyone that has a dream they want to follow.

  • Leif aka The Runaway Guide

    7 years ago

    Hey, this sounds a lot like me. My calculator broke on the math section of the SAT’s and I received a terrible score. So, I decided to runaway from home(literally) and travel around around the world without any money. A few years later I went to community college in Los Angeles and then got a degree in Global Studies from UCSB. Unlike you however I wasn’t able to get my BA debt free, good on ya.
    Safe travels,
    Leif

    • Mark Wiens

      7 years ago

      Hey Leif, thanks for the comment, I enjoyed reading your runaway travel guide – thanks for sharing.
      Incredible man, sounds like we both didn’t do so well on the SAT, and that’s a pretty big blow when you are 16 – 17 years old. Your calculator broke and I didn’t understand some of the cultural parts (especially the grammar section if I remember correctly), but it pushed us in other directions. Also cool that you got a degree in Global Studies!

  • Kat

    7 years ago

    Good of you to share this, Mark. I’ve seen & heard a lot of stories from folks who say they want to go to uni but can’t because of lack of funds. I firmly believe that it’s easy to get funds so long as you put your back into it. It’s not easy, as it involves some work, but it can be simple. Can’t wait to read the rest of your series & I hope it serves as an inspiration. 🙂

    • Mark Wiens

      7 years ago

      Thanks Kat! I’m with you on that – there are many opportunities and if one can make money and use it wisely it’s not as difficult to pay for school up front as many say so (or course there are some variables in the equation).

  • jim

    7 years ago

    Epic.

    When I lived in Japan I was looking for used things to set my new apartment up – but I couldn’t find them anywhere. People told me that the Japanese typically just threw things out instead of sold them – tvs that still worked, etc. They sit them out on the street and wait for any of the eight different recycling trucks. Nothing is really stopping anyone from being that “glorified garbageman” in Japan and selling decent used goods on ebay or craigslist.

    Great story – good to know you can always save up some quick cash when you need it.

    • Mark Wiens

      7 years ago

      Thanks for the comment Jim! Wow! Looks like setting up a shop selling used things in Japan could be lucrative – especially since you could accumulate pure profit from free things! Where I worked, people sometimes knew they were throwing valuable things away, but were either too lazy, too busy, didn’t know how to sell them, or just didn’t care. There’s really a lot of waste, but if we can leverage other people’s waste, it can be a great way to recycle and gain a little extra income.