Entrepreneurs, Wellbeing

This SME owner went from burnt-out tradie to bartering traveller, and now he’s urging others to do the same

Priscilla Pho /

Adam Valastro

Founder Adam Valastro. Source: Supplied.

Overworked, stressed and struggling, the emotionally suppressive culture of the construction industry put tradesman Adam Valastro on a dark path.

“[I was] an angry young man,” the business owner tells SmartCompany.

“I wasn’t driven. There really wasn’t loyalty or fun. It was basically just a paycheck at the end of the week,” he says.

“Every weekend was going out and spending the money I’d earnt that week to try to fill that void inside me.”

Although he comes from a family of tradies and construction workers, Valastro fell into his plumbing apprenticeship.

He didn’t have a passion for pipes, but he needed to pay his cousin rent, being “an 18-year-old trying to prove himself in the big smoke”.

“It was never something that I desired or wanted to do — it was kind of out of necessity,” Valastro explains.

The culture of the construction industry didn’t help. In the blokey world of trades, band-aid solutions like drugs and alchohol were “common in the industry”.

Even as he recognised this lifestyle was affecting his mental health, “there was no outlet to talk about it or be vulnerable,” he says.

At work, this was treated with a “toughen up, mate” attitude.

Adhering to this culture, Valastro “copped it on the chin”.

The tipping point was in 2014 when two of his coworkers took their lives within a two-week period.

Enough was enough, and before long Valastro had swapped his hard hat for a plane ticket.

Trading frustration for perspective

Taking this as “a punch to the face”, Valastro booked a one-way ticket to South America to “disappear”.

Once there, his lack of financial management skills meant he burnt through a third of his savings in the first month. Finding himself once again unwilling to go home, he began offering his skill set to the locals in exchange for accommodation, food and necessities.

“Our level of trade and our level of skill in Australia is quite high compared to the rest of the world,” Valastro explains.

He travelled like this for three years across three continents ⁠— spending less than $13,000.

The true exchange, however, was the “shift and understanding of things of importance in your life”, he says.

“I was there and I was finally gaining the essence of what I was trying to get without knowing it.

“And that was an understanding of people, places, cultures, food ⁠— a different perspective and an understanding of myself,” he adds.

Unbeknownst to him at the time, this exploration sated both his desire for adventure and helped him express his emotions ⁠— something he previously struggled with.

Building a solution

When he finally returned to Australia and saw other tradies struggling with “the same problems that I had felt”, the idea for Travelling Tradies was born.

Valastro hopes, through the platform, to connect vetted tradies with hostels that are open to the bartering system he relied on in his travels.

The goal is to offer others the same life-changing, “profound experiences”, Valastro explains.

Travelling Tradies is now crowdfunding to realise this idea after a successful trial run.

Valastro, however, has no intention of returning to the trade.

“I have a non-negotiable understanding of myself … I don’t want to go back to the trade full-time,” he says.

“It wasn’t because I didn’t enjoy it ⁠— I wanted to pursue something that I genuinely didn’t have to think about getting up for.”

If you or anyone you know needs help, call:

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Priscilla Pho

Priscilla is a reporter at SmartCompany. You can contact her at [email protected].