It was 2 years ago today, March 13, 2007, that I closed on my house, handed over the keys and began what I mark as the start of my adventure. While I didn’t technically leave the mainland United States till about a month afterward and still had many details to take care of, this date marks the point of no return and is the one I choose to commemorate.
Last night I was walking back to my hostel and I realized something. I was walking down a side street in a foreign land, exotic music playing (there was some sort of celebration going on), smells of grilled meat in the air, old men on the sidewalk smoking their shishas and drinking tea, and women walking about in their hijabs. This was exactly the sort of scene that people dream of being in when traveling. I really didn’t notice. It was just another day for me.
When I began my trip, I was like everyone else who dreamed of traveling. I read books and websites, I made lists, and I awaited for the day to arrived. I spent about six months with my house on the market before it sold. Eventually, everything came together. I found a buyer, found storage, rented a truck for all my crap, got rid of somethings and sold other things. The night before I closed on my house I didn’t sleep because I grossly underestimated the number of boxes I’d need for some things. I had to move the excess stuff to a nearby motel so I could be out in time. I was very tired.
Having previously moved all my stuff to a storage unit near my parents house in Wisconsin (I lived in Minneapolis, Minnesota) I drove to Wisconsin to stay with them for a few weeks while I took care of final business: getting shots, buying bags and clothes, and taking care of insurance. I really didn’t do any packing or actual preparation until I was out of my house. I did everything in about 2 weeks.
I get many questions from people about how to this or that when traveling. The answer to all questions is to just jump in and swim. When you are in a new place where you do not speak the language, you will be forced to figure things out. You really can’t plan for it. At first you might be apprehensive, but eventually you realize that you can get by and many of your worst fears will not pan out. The things you see on the news are not the reality on the street and no matter where you go, it is just full of people going about their lives just like anywhere else.
I am also often asked what I’ve learned while traveling. I’ve given this some thought. Here is what I’ve come up with:
- I can remember almost everything from the last two years. I can usually pinpoint to within a day or two where I was or when something happened. There are entire events I can’t even peg to the correct year from before I left. Everything sort of blurs together when you do the same thing every day of your life. I’ve have moments where I’ll stare out in space just because I end up with a flood of memories which were spurred by something I just experienced. What I’ve written about on this site is only a fraction of what I’ve done and seen.
- I’m pretty sure I can do anything. Not that I suffered from a lack of confidence or anything before I left, but when you spend two full years with nothing by your own wits and no one else to fall back on, I can’t say I’m too worried about the future.
- I don’t worry about little things. I see many people on vacation who flip out over very simple things. Incorrect change, miss communication, etc. I don’t get worked up over things I have no control over. (the only exception is the delay in getting my new website up because my web designers decide to just cease communication with me for weeks at a time). I had to spend a week in Samoa once because I missed my flight to Tonga. Oh well.
- What you see on TV is a lie. The news media likes to sell sensationalism. Boring doesn’t sell. Most of the world is boring. It is people going about the business of living. The result is that people are terrified of places they only know about from the bad news on TV. Murders and disasters in their backyard as dismissed, but the same things elsewhere are exaggerated. Even in war zones, if you do the math, the odds of anything happening to you would be well less than 1%.
So what does the future hold for me?
I am often asked how long I’ll be traveling for. The answer I’m giving is: forever. I have every intention of making this into a career. That doesn’t mean I’ll be on the road non-stop for the rest of my life, but do plan on keeping this site and what I’m doing going indefinitely. I’ve begun talking to several book publishers and have a fairly solid plan for what I’m going to be writing. I also will be opening up my photography for sales in the near future. I also hope to be doing speaking engagements once I get back to the US.
I will not be gone for two years stretches at a time anymore. I’m planning on taking 3-5 month trips to different countries and regions like China, India, Russia, the Caribbean, Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Those trips would be huge trips for most people, but having done this trip, I think I could do 3 months standing on my head. Doing shorter trips will allow me to focus more on taking photos and video and processing it all when I’m doing. Currently, I have to process everything on the road.
I’m also interested in timing my trips to coincide with certain events. I have been traveling without real thought to when I’ll be in a place. I’d like to go be in Rio for Carnival, I’d like to be in Spain for the running of the bulls.
I will also travel with someone else and do more video and podcasting. I’ve put this on hold until I can do it properly. I don’t see any point in doing something half-assed on a schedule I can’t keep. Expect a few podcasts to dribble out in Europe if I can find someone to help with the camera work. I have no idea who I’ll travel with. On Twitter I made a joke about doing something like the “Worlds Best Job” contest but make it the “Worlds Worst Job” because you’d have to travel with me :) Surprisingly, my joke got a lot of serious responses.
I’m also going to explore North America. The more of the world I see the more I realize that there are a lot of amazing things to see next door. I plan on taking a road trip out west sometime this summer and visit Yosemite and the Grand Canyon, both of which I’ve never been to. I’d also like to spend more than a day in Yellowstone, which is all I’ve been able to see of the park.
The final thing I want to do is to meet with more people while I’m on the road. As more and more people discover me and what I’m doing, the greater the number of people I can meet while traveling. I could have met up with many people in Japan or the Philippines if I had only known about them when I was there. A second trip to those countries would be a totally different experience now.
As for the next few months, I’m undecided as to what I’m going to do. My initial plan was to get back to the US sometime around March/April after going through Europe. Clearly that isn’t going to happen. I still want to spend 3-4months in the US before setting out again later in 2009. It will be a matter of how much of Europe I want to go through before I do that. I’m considering going to London directly from Rome and leave most of Europe for a future trip.
So that is my rambling annual State of the Trip report. I thank everyone for following along and for all the emails and messages I get everyday. I do appreciate it.