How I Let Go Of 178 Pairs Of Basketball Sneakers To Jump Start A Trip Around The World

Once upon a time, I owned 178 pairs of basketball sneakers.

Let me clarify. I didn't own all 178 pairs at once. Some have come and gone, some donated to worthy causes, some replaced by newer models and others succumbing to general wear and tear. However, If I tallied up all the sneakers that were once part of my collection, it would add up to the 178 figure.

If you are shaking your head at why someone with only two feet would own that many pairs of sneakers, this is why:

Image courtesy of Urban Dictionary

Image courtesy of Urban Dictionary

Yes, I was one of those. That definition above describes a sneaker hobbyist (fondly referred to as "sneakerheads") to a tee and is by no means any kind of exaggeration. Like any kind of valuables collector, it was that serious!

It turned into a full blown addiction when I lived in the sleepy little college town of Missoula, MT where I went to the local college (shout-out to all the UM Grizzlies out there) and subsequently got my first big boy job post graduation at the height of the 2008 recession, no less. At this point in the story, I may have owned about 5 pairs of sneakers including my prized Air Jordan Retro XIII Black/Red that I purchased many years prior on a trip to Indonesia. Before I knew it, one new sneaker a month turned into a new pair every week. It escalated to the point that I was receiving 4 - 6 new pairs a week.

On feet: Air Jordan Retro XIII (Black/Red)

On feet: Air Jordan Retro XIII (Black/Red)

Back then, Missoula was a very retail deprived city heavily dependent on online retailers to supply a variety of consumer goods. This applied very heavily to sneakers. There were one or two sneaker stores at the mall but they would not, or very rarely, get the good stuff - the crack that sneakerheads get a high from.

Still not convinced about this whole sneakerhead movement or wondering how big it is? Then check out this
TED talk from Josh Luber, a former acquaintance of mine and founder of Stock X (a stock market for sneakers), who shed light on a 1.2 billion dollar sneaker resell market in the United States alone. There were many that shared the love of footwear like Carrie Bradshaw from Sex and the City. In fact, there were millions.

In my heyday, I would be laying in bed on an average Saturday morning with my laptop balancing precariously on my belly nervously hoping for my online order of the latest and greatest release from Nike to go through. When I first got started, ordering was easy. First, I set an alarm for 6:55am MST, woke up, flipped open my laptop, kept refreshing the product page till the sneaker became available, selected my size, checked out with my credit card, and then fell back to sleep. The feeling of seeing "Your Order Is Confirmed" through my still half closed eyes is indescribable. I resumed my slumber victorious with a smile on my face, rather strange for someone who is now US$150 - 200 poorer with nothing but an email to show for it. The following week would climax when a brown box made its way to my desk that Friday. I knew exactly what it was but opening that box was like Christmas morning over and over every week, only eclipsed by a double dose of an early delivery on Thursday and another pair arriving the very next day. With my footwear trophies for the week in hand, I opened them one last time after I got home before making them another brick in my shoebox wall and prepared for the next week's challenge. This euphoric cycle occured weekly for almost a year. How can I ever come down from this high? The boxes piled high and it would be very rare for a pair to actually touch my feet. The more expensive they were, the higher the likelihood of them being permanent art fixtures and never to be worn.

My Friday "Christmas" ritual at the office

My Friday "Christmas" ritual at the office

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The culture was catching on and it reached critical mass with riots and worse, deaths of innocent people trying to get their hands on the Nike's latest wares. Critical mass also led to a huge shortage with demand hitting Mt. Everest like proportions. My Saturday mornings were now becoming less and less successful and I had to catch myself from wanting to fling my laptop into the wall in utter frustration. NIKE, JUST TAKE MY MONEY! I would then resort to buying the very same pair in the resell market for 2 - 3 times more than its retail value from someone who was successful in procuring it just hours before. The art of sneaker reselling have made a select few rich and many, like me, poorer and jaded with the whole process and hobby in general. My weekly Christmas ritual was now tarnished. I grew angry and unabashedly frustrated with trying and failing repeatedly to buy something I already had too much of. This can't be life...

My frustration led me on a search to find a new obsession. It then hit me like a wave: travel. I've always had wanderlust and as I got deeper and deeper into the world of miles and points, the whole world suddenly opened up to me with wide open doors. I was beginning to see that I could go anywhere in the world for less than a round trip ticket from Austin, Texas to New York City. Just as crazy as my sneaker obsession got, my insatiable wanderlust hit fever pitch after I started racking up huge mileage balances from credit card sign up bonuses. A big turning point in my life came in 2015 when I had learned that I was being laid off from my employment. It was the classic cubicle dweller story. I was miserable but was too afraid to NOT have a job. How would I live without any money?

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Another wave hit me (clearly, I love the beach). What if I took some time off and travel around the world solo for a whole year? I proposed this idea to my girlfriend who wasn't onboard at first (for obvious reasons) but she begrudgingly warmed up to the idea of me finding myself out in the world and made me promise repeatedly that I would come right back. After wallowing about the prospect of getting laid off later in the year for almost a week, I was instantly rejuvenated. I couldn't wait to be unemployed as it meant a wild adventure awaited on the other side! Looking at my bank account, I had about US$6,000 - 8,000 in savings but that was not nearly enough for a year long trip. After doing some research online and speaking to people who had undergone such a journey in the past, US$20,000 seemed to be the magic number. Unfortunately for me, my life of excess thus far also put me about US$5,000 in credit card debt. Crap. I was nowhere close to the US$20,000 I needed.

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It was finally time to turn my sneaker collection into cold, hard cash. I knew going into it many years ago that if I played my cards right that many would still hold its value several years later. That notion then paid major dividends when I began selling them pair by pair. In fact, I had 20 - 30 pairs that collectors were salivating over and getting rid of them for almost double what I had paid was child's play. The problem really was with the other 100 or so pairs that were not as high in demand. I had to work hard to get rid of those. I took to twitter primarily and used the hashtags #SneakerSaleSunday and #RetailTuesday in my tweets to offload about 10 - 15 pairs per week. The money was now flowing in and I soon vanquished my credit card debt in a matter of weeks. Now it was a question of how close I could get to that US$20,000 mark. After several months and many trips to the post office later, I was down to my last 19 pairs. All my ads for the remaining pairs remained unanswered but it was not all for naught as I had reached my stretch goal of US$20,000 after selling other personal items such as my mountain bike and electronics. The metal racks that struggled to house my entire collection were now barren with only a small handful of sneaker boxes to keep it company. I had somehow managed to dwindle down everything I owned to fit in the trunk of my car. The feeling of escaping overindulgence was zen like. Could this be the inner peace everyone keeps talking about?

My puppy looks on at the dozens of sneakers littered on the floor

My puppy looks on at the dozens of sneakers littered on the floor

Fast forward roughly six months and I am two weeks away from going on my first RTW trip and carrying almost all of my possessions in a single backpack. Don't get me wrong, I really enjoyed my stint as a sneakerhead and talking to passers by who admired the colorful footwear I had on. With that said, travel to me seems to be my higher calling. On the cusp of realizing a life long dream, I look fondly at the sneaker savings account I had and the blessings that came with it. Well done, past self, well done.

To wrap up, a question you may have is whether I kept any of the pairs following the mass sell off. The answer to that is yes, I sure did. I kept two of my most favorite pairs that I will never part with. The two pairs are the Nike LeBron 8 "South Beach" that signified then Miami Heat basketball superstar LeBron James's arrival to South Beach from Cleveland, and the Nike KD IV "Weatherman", representing what Kevin Durant's (Oklahoma City Thunder superstar) career path would have been if he didn't dominate the hardwood. Both pairs are currently valued at around US$1,000 each and it took a lot of soul searching to not give those up. US$2,000 is a lot of money and could have been put to great use on the road, but I wanted to keep a small piece of my sneakerhead past.

Nike Zoom KD IV "Weatherman" (street value $1,200)

Nike Zoom KD IV "Weatherman" (street value $1,200)

Nike LeBron 8 "South Beach" (Pre-Heat) (street value $1,100)

Nike LeBron 8 "South Beach" (Pre-Heat) (street value $1,100)

How about the remaining 19 pairs that went unsold? A former co-worker and all around great person, Clarence ("Mo"), took them off my hands to distribute to the local high school in Austin, Texas. Thanks a lot my man!

Facts & Figures

Total pairs

178

Total spent

US$32,841.60

Median purchase price

US$160

Average purchase price

US$184.50

Most spent on a pair

US$1,250 (Air Yeezy II "Platinum")

The infamous Air Yeezy II designed by Kanye West (street value $3,000)

The infamous Air Yeezy II designed by Kanye West (street value $3,000)

Least spent on a pair

US$52 (New Balance x Herschel 420 Red)

Number of unworn pairs

88

Number of pairs sold

155

Total earned from sales (before fees, s&h costs)

US$26,855.58

Average sale price

US$173.26

Highest single pair sale

US$1,770 (Air Yeezy II "Platinum")

Number of pairs sold for more than purchase price

51

Number of pairs donated

20

Number of pairs disposed of

2

Number of pairs kept

2

I hope you enjoyed going down memory lane with me! Catch me if you can on the road with my Nike Flyknit Racers on. :)

Photo courtesy of Nike

Photo courtesy of Nike

Nico Atienza is a Philippines born, Sri Lanka raised traveler who sold everything, quit his job and escaped the rat race to travel the world in 2016. Apart from his love of travel, he is an award winning volunteer, miles + points aficionado and perpetually epicurious story teller. You can peer into his life by following him on Twitter, Instagram or send him an Email.