One Texas State graduate turned his dream to travel into a reality after realizing he could hitchhike across the United States.
Hoang-Chau Nguyen, better known as Woncho, the man behind the "Where's Woncho?" Facebook account chronicling his journey across the country, said he never really knew what career he wanted to focus on throughout college.
“During my freshman and sophomore years I enrolled in classes and dropped them to get financial aid or grant money to fuel my travels,” Woncho said.
Woncho said the idea of obtaining a public relations degree began to grow on him after a chance meeting with a group of event marketers on campus.
“I ran into these guys who turned out to be event marketers that traveled around the U.S. working for the 'Got Milk?' cross-country campaign,” Woncho said. “I told them I wanted to do what they were doing and that’s why I decided to get a major in PR.”
Woncho said he started hitchhiking when he was 19. Eight years later, he said he could still remember the first time he stepped into a stranger’s car.
“I hitchhiked with my best friend Joey, who is crazy for adventures as well,” Woncho said. “You learn that no matter what age or background, there's a huge commonality between everybody: We are all human.”
Woncho said he has learned how to make the most out of each destination he visits.
“I have hitchhiked from Dallas to New York City with only $60 in my pocket and came back with $130 after 3 months,” Woncho said. “I used to go to Costco and Sam's and Whole Foods and walk in and eat all the samples.”
Woncho said he wanted to share the fun of traveling through most of the major cities in America, Canada and Mexico with social media users.
“'Where’s Woncho?' is a play off of “Where’s Waldo,” Woncho said. “When I was in kindergarten, the other kids would ask me how to pronounce my name and I'd say it like how my mom would say it. They'd be like, 'Woncho?' and I'd be like 'yeah,' so it got stuck.”
Woncho said he enjoys keeping family, friends and fans informed about where his travels take him and how the journey evolves through each new city he visits.
“'I’m still working on my YouTube series and plan on having a couple of episodes up before the year's over,” Woncho said. “I am also working on my website but that is almost done and it will be a surprise.”
Matt Merkin, freelance writer and photographer in New York City, said he met Woncho three years ago while visiting Austin.
“My friends were playing shows and we were crashing at his roommate's house,” Merkin said. “He seemed crazy and adventurous, which are good traits in a travel partner and friend.”
Merkin said he decided to embark on a month-and-a-half-long hitchhiking journey with Woncho from Oakland to New York City.
“Parts of it were so much fun and others weren't,” Merkin said. “But when someone does pull over and you get to meet all the generous or mentally insane people out there, it makes it worth it.”
Merkin said Woncho is making a difference in the lives of others by sharing his non-traditional travels with the world.
“People always imagine going on adventures, but usually they don't pursue it and they get their excitement secondhand from Instagram or TV shows or whatever,” Merkin said.
Tina Truong, a St. Edward's master's graduate, said she had been planning her own solo trip through the United States before she met Woncho in Austin.
Now, Truong said she has traveled most of the United States, Canada and a small portion of Mexico with Woncho by her side.
“He is trying to make the public see that the only barriers in life are self-made,” Truong said. “You set your own limitations and negative excuses as to why things aren’t happening and Woncho is just bringing it back to the basics of exploring your wants and needs and being accepting of everyone around you.”
Woncho said his decision to start hitchhiking helped shape him into almost an entirely new person.
“Hitchhiking has truly had a huge impact on my growth today,” Woncho said. “I take more risks, I am more patient, practical, personable, social and resourceful, all because of hitchhiking.”