Archive for the “My Love of Travel” Category

There is this guy Mark Pearson who publishes the “_______ from a Backpack” series. I got into Europe from a Backpack a year or so ago and I submitted this the other day for “Spain from a Backpack”, due out in a year or so.

It isn’t my most favorite thing I’ve ever written, but I don’t have much energy left for creativity these days…and it is a good story anyway.

I would attach some pictures of the trip…but you’ll see why that isn’t really possible.

Spain without a Backpack

I feel certain there is no book entitled “Spain without a Backpack”, so I am going to tell my story here.

Peter picked up two hitchhikers…probably just to make Heather mad. I remember sitting in the backseat pressed against the window chewing on chrorizo and wishing I had a bottle of wine. Two sweaty hitchhikers, two old friends, and one whiney chick all packed in a rented subcompact barreling south down the Costa Del Sol.

We stopped for gas and Heather told Pete to ditch the hitchhikers. I didn’t really want them either. We were three abreast in the backseat. I was pressed against the window and they needed a bath.

So we dropped them on the side of the road in the dark. In retrospect, that wasn’t a nice thing to do. I have no idea where they could’ve gone. I am certain they weren’t picked up again that night.

But they seemed happy, even though I wasn’t. I sat in the back seat trying to imagine what was to become of the two hitchhikers from Scandinavia to distract myself from….well, myself.

I was tired, cranky and we still didn’t have anywhere to sleep for the night. I should’ve picked up a bottle of wine. In retrospect I could’ve spared the two bucks.

Our plan was to rent a car and travel down the coast of Spain from Barcelona to Granada. We would park in the evenings at the most beautiful spot and camp under the stars, cooking over a small fire and sipping cheap red wine until we’d solved the ills of the world. Then the next day we’d do it again. It was a good and noble plan.

It just didn’t work out quite that well. The first night the highway didn’t run next to the ocean. We could see it off in the distance reflecting the moonlight but there was never a connecting road. So we turned down a farm road that led us on a wild goose chase that left us sleeping in a farmer’s field. At least I had a bottle of wine that night.

The next night we got drunk with a group of travelers from Germany at very cute and remote bar right on the coast. The bar owner told us to leave the car at his place and go camp on the beach. That was a terrific stroke of luck until we woke up at 5:00 in morning in the rain with a river running under our tent. I wasn’t happy, but I was very wet.

Heather was always grumpy in the morning and said she couldn’t function without an espresso and croissant. I was grumpy that morning too, but it had everything to do with too much alcohol, no sleep, and the fact that everything I owned was wet.

So we were due a good night I figured. We passed Alicante and the coastline rose to a cliff overlooking the sea at La Villa Joyosa (The Joyous Village). The weather was crisp and dry, the sky cloudless and under full moon. My stomach was empty and I felt a far off romantic stillness.

Peter found a great spot that night. We watched the moon rise over the Mediterranean like an evening sun making currents like silver hair over the water. We drank wine and ate embutidos and felt very good about ourselves.

We were suddenly best friends despite everything. Our whole lives melted away and the food settled and the wine warmed us and the moon rose. I still think of that evening now….disconnected from what happened next…as a lone perfect moment that no one can take away.

In the movies there is always a warning when danger approaches, but we woke as if it were any other day. Heather went to the beach to be beautiful and Peter and I cleaned-up camp. We took our stuff to the car, and went back to finish up….to gather what was left and sit and look out at the sea. We came back, just a few minutes later, and everything was gone.

I remember getting all sweaty and nervous. Maybe Heather had taken everything to the beach to keep it safe?? Looking back, that was a fantasy…but so was traveling down the Costa Del Sol. We thought everyone that passed had stolen our stuff. Everyone was a suspect, the old man with a cane, the little boy in the speedo. You freeze up and act like a kid who has been caught in a lie. We didn’t make any sense…even to ourselves. We thought maybe Heather had been stolen too.

Travel is not the international exhibit at Disney World. It has an element of danger to it that makes it real. Real things have consequences and that is part of what makes it great: It is no real accomplishment if there is no real risk.

At that point, understandably, traveling took a backseat to practicality. We filed a report at a dirty police station a half hour away in Alicante. The officer pointed out the irony of being robbed in a place called The Joyous Village. I didn’t think it was funny.

Police reports are hard to get done in Spanish. None of us spoke any past “Donde esta el bano” and none of us were well able to guess what our stuff was worth while exchanging currency in our heads.

I guessed on the high side just in case. I didn’t think any insurance company in its right mind would accept a police report in a foreign language. If they were crazy enough to do that, they were crazy enough to pay out my outlandish “estimates”. At that point I was sick with worry anyway. One day on top of the world….they next in the gutter. I do love travel.

Next we needed to get new passports, so we went back to Barcelona to the US consulate. Needless to say, spirits were not high. Peter still had most of his stuff though. He’d kept it with him, didn’t put it in the car. I learned a lesson from that. Now I travel with a hip belt, which I take everywhere, even to the shower.

Screw him anyway. I hate it when being prudent pays off. Peter fooled around Barcelona while Heather and I went to the Consulate. Bear in mind at this point I’d been wearing the same clothes for 3 days, with no shower, and was carrying around what belongings I had left in a plastic grocery bag. Great fun.

You’d think the US consulate would be an easy place to get a passport, a haven for distressed Americans in a foreign land. You’d think at least that they spoke English.

It went like this:

Me: I need a new passport.
Them (in bad English): We need to see some ID.
Me: I don’t have any ID. I just got everything stolen.
Them: Do you have a birth certificate?
Me: No. I just got everything stolen.
Them: You know the government suggests that you always keep a photocopy of your birth certificate separate from your passport for cases like these.
Me: (My temper is exploding. I didn’t think the “I told you so” was really appropriate at that moment.) Can I speak to someone else? MAYBE AN AMERICAN?
Them: There is no one else here.
Me: (Great. No Americans at the American Consulate. My tax dollars hard at work!!) I’ll tell you what I’m going to do. I’ll give you all the information I know about myself. And then I’m gonna go get something to eat. When I come back I want a fucking passport!! Call the Embassy, call Washington, call my 6th grade math teacher if you need to….I’ll be back in 3 hours.

So we left and ate churros, and then we got our new passports…thankfully. But the trip wasn’t over; we were still 4000 miles from home with no money and no one to call for help. “Let’s Go Europe” isn’t really designed for situations like this. I was still wearing the same clothes…unshowered. We’d been sleeping in the car for 3 days.

On that note, when we took the car back to the rental agency in Barcelona it had closed, with a small note on the window telling the new location. That made us late bringing the car back. So not only did they charge us an extra day for being late when they’d moved their location…they charged us for the damage done to the car while we were being robbed. They even managed to charge us for the gas we’d used while wandering the city looking for their new location.

I’d never felt better about being far from home for no good reason.

Heather informed us shortly thereafter that she was leaving to stay with an ex-boyfriend in Rome. We took her to the airport early the next morning.

I thought that was great and classic. The pretty girl goes to stay with some tall dark handsome Italian she doesn’t even like when things get rough. It was safe and likely she had a better time doing that than she’d have had with us the rest of the trip. That part worked out fine and now she and I are great friends about the whole thing. Disasters have a way of bringing people together….in the long run.

So Peter and I were left with the wreckage of our trip. I didn’t really know what to do. I was tired and low. Pete came up with the only logical solution (which I’m sorry I didn’t think of): a vacation from our vacation.

And that was the brilliant stroke: If halfway around the world traveling down the Costa Del Sol camping on the beach every night isn’t far enough away…you need a vacation….from your vacation.

So we bought two plane tickets to Mallorca.

In Mallorca I was stressed too….at first. Spain without a backpack isn’t the stereotypical travel experience. But you ease into it….and that is a great redeeming quality of travel: stick with it and it will show you all the undiscovered corners of yourself that you’d never have known otherwise.

We rented scooters and rode around the whole island. We slept on beaches, met locals, and wore the same clothes everyday. But this time it was good. Each day was its own. Each place was as random as the next. I loved the sun, my scooter, my plastic grocery bag, and travel.

I had everything stolen and was living like a hobo…and it was the best thing I ever did.

Someone asked me the other day….how do you deal with novel situations? How do you do under pressure? Tell me about a time when you overcame a significant obstacle.

People speak of travel as if it were some kind of permanent vacation. It isn’t…you’ll learn more and do more in 6 months of travel than you are likely to experience in the rest of your long and average life.

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— Selina Peng wrote:
From: “Selina Peng”
Subject: hello again
Date: Thu, 08 Jul 2004 00:51:35 +0800

hi elliott, u probly wont remember me, i emailed you a few months ago when i stumbled upon ur website it was just before my backpacking trip and u said to keep in touch and let u know how my trip went,

Yes, I remember you.

well at least i think you did anyway ive got 15 mins left on this computer and i suddenly thought of your site which i hadn´t read in a long time so right now i am in barcelona, ive been in europe for 8 weeks now and have one left to go, ill be flying to rome for the grand finale its all been rather amazing and bewildering at the same time,

It always is. Sometimes you love it and sometimes you hate….but you always miss it.

i always wonder how i will respond when i get home to questions like “so selina, how was it?” i dont think i can think of one or even two words to describe the whole thing

I don’t like talking about travel most of the time. People always ask me, “What’s your favorite place?” How are you supposed to answer that question????

That’s like asking about someone’s life and saying, “So how is it, you know, life…in general…the whole thing??”

Sadly, it has become a sore spot over the years. You often feel like an adult telling some kid how much he is gonna miss being a kid when he gets older….you know he isn’t gonna get what you’re saying.

And that is how it is with travel. You can talk about it, but unless someone has done it, it is a bird trying to explain to a fish what it is to fly.

i think the reason why i am emailing u is becos none of my friends have backpacked before and probly would not understand, last night i finally got pickpocketed after 8 weeks of smooth riding and i think its really having a rather large impact on me

i got lazy and careless and lost a lot of money, but not only that i chased and caught one of them (who did not have my wallet any more) and held onto him for about 15mins waiting for the police before he all of a sudden took off anyway

i know it was my own stupidity but i almost wish i had not chased after them cos spending that 15mins looking and screaming at this guy who had just ripped me off more money than i have ever lost, it changes the whole situation

Maybe it does. But you’ll miss it. You’ll think about it. Over time it will just become part of the story, maybe it even makes the story better.

It is part of growing up on the road….a rite of passage for travelers.

maybe its becos it is still so fresh in my mind and i havent had time to deal with it but today was the first time where i felt scared for myself just walking around alone in such a big city

The reality is that traveling can be dangerous. It is romanticized, but fuck….you are far away from everything….things will affect you and they will affect you more because your buffers are not there, your protection is 3000 miles away.

And you will feel alone…in a way you would never have experienced had you not traveled. It stays with you, that lonliness…that ability to bear the lonliness. I’ve felt it a thousand times. It sets you apart.

i loved travelling alone and have felt pretty confident for the last 8 weeks but all of a sudden my confidnece has been completely shattered and i am paranoid about everyone and everything

Ahh… I’m getting nostalgic. You’re getting close to what I miss about it. This is not only why you hate travel, but it is why you do it.

The emotional rollercoaster becomes the signal. The fix that regular life doesn’t offer. One day you are on top of the world….the next day you are literally in a ditch.

It is when you move past normal, move past yourself, and allow life to sweep over you and you feel every single bit of it in a way nothing else will ever allow.

i cant travel like this and all i want is to go home.

I’ve said the same thing a hundred times….even when I wasn’t robbed. You aren’t the only one to feel like that.

Sometimes you look up and wonder, “What the fuck am I doing alone on the other side of the planet? I feel so small.” And at that moment, the feeling is real and sincere.

i didnt mean to write such a big email especially since u dont even know me and i know u have better things to do but i guess i am wondering if anything like this has happened to you and if it changed the way you felt about travelling?

Yes it has happened to me. I’ve been scared many times.

I was robbed too (in Spain as well oddly enough). They took everything….and I mean everything.

I had the clothes on my back and a toothbrush I bought at the store. I started carrying around everything I owned (which was nothing) in a plastic grocery bag. My backpack got stolen. I was a hobo. I had nothing.

My passport is still from the Barcelona Consulate. I went to them and asked for a new one….they asked for ID. I told them it got stolen. They asked for a Social Security card. I told them it was stolen. They asked for a drivers license. I told them it was stolen.

The fuckers didn’t even speak good English (at a US Consulate!!). I thought I was going to start crying…after I killed one of them.

I’ve traveled many times after that though. You become a bit more distrustful perhaps…but lets face it: that may not be a bad thing. It can be dangerous.

i cant have the travel bug and be scared of it at the same time! theres so many more places i want to see ive already started planning my next trip.

Awesome. Go to Turkey. Go to Thailand.

maybe the fear will pass once ive had time to get used to it and stop replaying the whole thing over and over in my mind?

You just become more prepared….maybe prepared to be robbed.

I started packing less stuff. I packed less valuables (my camera is the only valuable thing I take and I am always aware that I might somehow lose it…that is part of the cost of traveling).

I wore a hip belt that kept my passport and cash…..and I fucking took it with me to the shower…and went to bed with it…it was gross and dirty from sweat.

maybe i will stop looking at everyone in the street wondering if they are about to rob me??

I think so. That passes. On the flip side, travel does have an element of danger to it….but that makes it real. Real things have consequences. It ain’t
Disney World…and you shouldn’t treat it as such.

That is part of what makes it great. It is no real accomplishment if there is no real risk.

my time is up, take care hope i didnt bore u too much!!

Bore me?? I get excited when someone else actually understands what I’m talking about.

I wonder sometimes about the people that visit the website and read my posts about travel.

Why do they like about it??? What part of it draws them??….because I know it isn’t the same things that motivate me to write.

Unless you’ve done it, it is extremely difficult to relate to the passions that make me relive it over and over again.

Not that I relive it conciously. It is just always there….a reminder.

And for those other folks out there, don’t misunderstand that it is travel in itself that is something to miss, nor will travel itself change anything for you. To see the Pyramids is a wonderful memory, but it is not the Pyramids that I miss.

It is that lucky circumstance that lets me feel, at some odd moment, what I could never have felt otherwise. In that moment, I have gone beyond myself and raised the standard for what is possible.

“It is the fact that, at a certain moment, when we are far from our own country…we are seized by a vague fear, and an instinctive desire to go back to the protection of old habits…At that moemnt we are feverish but also porous so that the slightest touch makes us quiver to the depths of our being. We come across a cascade of light, and there is eternity.” –Albert Camus

Good travels,


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I’ve been asked this question a thousand times.

And I’ve given a thousand different answers….usually something inspiring, because that is what people want. The draw is the romance…a life you don’t have, something safe to desire because you will never get it. People dream of far off places simply because they are far off.

What would be left to dream of if one day you went there?

The danger is when you desire something attainable. Then it has the chance of becoming real.

I got this email a few day ago, and was going to give him an answer, but I’ll post it here instead. I assume he stumbled across my travel journal somehow. It happens sometimes.

— wrote:
> Date: Tue, 30 Mar 2004 01:39:29 GMT
> To:
> Subject: hello….
> From:
> i was wondering what you do for a living and how you
> are able to travel the world? I’m 18 and would love
> to have such a job and explore and see what lies
> outside of this piece of crap known as Oklahoma
> haha. thanks!
> Joel

Dear Joel,

What do I do for a living? Hmm…..I thought you were asking about travel? The two are mostly unrelated.

I’ve met some people that made a living traveling. I met a guy in Morocco who was a “movie set locator” and part time asteroid hunter. I met a girl in Turkey who wrote for Lonely Planet…but only in that region. I don’t think she traveled very much.

I met some other folks too…most of them weren’t making a living traveling, but were simply travelers who got stuck somewhere and had forgotten how to go home.

Most of these people were either a) wacked in the head or b) gone for so long they didn’t care anymore that they were wacked in the head.

So…back on topic: What do I do for a living?

If you ever decide to really make a go at traveling then that is exactly what you will be doing for a living: Traveling.

When I tell the story of what I did for the 5 years between college and graduate school (something I rarely do) I say I was a professional traveler…because that is all I really did.

If I were to measure those years any other way they would be considered an unequivocal failure. I certainly have no material possesions to show nor any career advancement to put on a resume. How do you measure a life?

So….I don’t really see that there is a link between what you do for a living (careerwise) and travel. The few people who have linked the two have simply succeeded in taking the magic out of travel. Never turn it into a task.

Next question: How did I do it? This may be the more practical part for Joel and anyone else wishing to spend some years on the road.

Most people, when they ask “how I did it”, are asking about money. The short answer, from a financial standpoint, is that it is easy.

Travel is not the same as vacation. Vacations are expensive. One pays rent and car payments…insurance, phone and cable bills while they vacation. Vacations are pre-arranged for limited periods of time at specific locations. It eliminates hassles. I admit it.

Travel maximizes hassles. Travel is not a vacation. It is a lifestyle. One pays nothing while they travel but the night’s lodging, food and whatever it costs to get drunk. Travel is spur of the moment, for an undetermined amount of time in any direction that seems appropriate. It is immediate and visceral.

I remember I lived in Israel on the Dead Sea and traveled the Middle East for 6 months for 3500 dollars. How much money will you spend in the US over the next 6 months???

The fact is that it is cheaper to live abroad than it is to order Dominos Pizza and watch cable TV every night on your broke ass sofa back home.

I paid 10 cents a night one time for a “hotel” in Nepal. I paid 50 cents a night and 13 cents a meal in Jordan. That shit don’t add up very fast. You can stay gone for a long time on next to nothing. Of course I also paid 5 dollars for a crepe one time in France and 3 dollars for a Coke in Venice. It depends on where you go.

The question isn’t the money. We all run across the money eventually and it can be made on the road if you wish. I taught English for a year in Taiwan. I made a boatload of cash…at least from a travel perspective.

It is the desire, the compulsion to go that is in question. Remember travel isn’t a vacation, or even a very long vacation. It is a lifestyle. It is a drug.

The question is why to go in the first place. What is it about your present life that is dissatisfying? What do you hope to find on the road?

I will tell you: in the end all you will find is undiscovered corners of yourself. All destinations, however exotic, tend to look the same after a while. Whatever dissatisfaction you sought to alleviate on the road will only be magnified once you return home. The change you create in yourself will be a permanent reminder that nothing else changed in your absence.

And now we diverge into the mysticism of travel. Where do we find our religion? We all have to believe in something. It all becomes more than rational sooner or later.

So do I suggest leaving Oklahoma and taking up the travel lifestyle??? I don’t know. Actually, yeah. I suggest it. I’ll tell you why in a minute.

Am I just a bitter old curmudgeon who doesn’t appreciate the fact he has lived what other people only dream of? Uhh…sometimes I guess I am. But I refer you to the second paragraph of this post: “The draw is the romance…a life you don’t have, something safe to desire because you will never get it”.

What happens when you get it? I admit regular life is sometimes a little underwhelming after years of travel. You will have changed. Your former life will seem even smaller than it did before and it will be years before you are able to make peace with that.

So why do I suggest it? The name of my website is Chasing Eden. Notice I didn’t name it Finding Eden…cause that sure as hell ain’t any fun. But I promise you the time of your life chasing it.

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Lost in Translation is a very good movie, but I do not see the appeal for non-travelers. It tells so well what words alone fail to about the subtleties of life in the Orient. But if you’ve never been a Westerner living in the East, I fail to see the appeal.

People sometimes ask me: What do you do when you travel?? In the movie Scarlett Johanssen often walks around aimlessly, stumbling from one disconnected event to the next, always looking around, slight puzzled, slightly overwhelmed. That is what you do when you travel: You wander around puzzled and overwhelmed just sort of waiting for something to happen. And it often does.

In the first scene of the movie there is an off-handed comment by a Japanese man getting on the elevater. He says to Bill Murray, “Please to welcome you to Japan.” It’s little things like that on eternal repeat that turns life abroad into a carnival.

The movie captures so much of the irreality of travel, the circus atmosphere. So often while living in Taiwan I caught myself thinking: “Is this for real? People aren’t like this. The game is up. I know the cameras are hidden somewhere.” But they never are. And so very slowly the ridiculous bleeds into your daily life until it becomes normal….and at that point, when abnormal becomes normal, you’ve lost your grip on reality.

There are the lights of the city, sensory overload. And the people, billions of them, all short with black hair. And the stares you get, like you’re being asked one long unanswerable question. And the odd requests: “Please take a picture with me…” as if I were famous, or “Can I touch your face?” What is my reply to that? Soon you wonder when people don’t want to take pictures with you; you expect little kids to pull at the hair on your arms.

And the conversations with other Whiteys….there is so much to talk about, the country, the people, why you came, the locals, the beer, the women….but no one ever asks the question we usually ask first: “So, what do you do?”

Why not? Well, if you’ve felt the need to go to the other side of the planet chances are you don’t do anything. If you did something you’d be doing it back home and not seeking your proverbial fortune in the Orient. In the past Americans went West in search of something new. The Orient attracts those who felt the West just wasn’t quite far enough away.

I love those odd moments, like when you’re at some buddhist shrine and monks are chanting and praying, the incense is burning and some old woman shuffles by picking her nose and trips over a stray cat scrounging for the food. In life there are no second takes. Your preconceptions are nearly always less than the reality.

And through all that you catch those brief moments when you turn the corner and the sunset breaks through the smog and you hear birds chirp in the park over the din of scooter noise….and it all seems amazing and worthwhile…but still unreal.

The rice loving vertically challenged locals are trumped only by the foreigners, your bretheren. To be so far away from home one must rightly ask: “What the hell are you doing here?”

If you are in Europe perhaps the desire is to become more worldy or cosmopolitan, but as a Westerner in the East you are not running towards, you are running away. The question could be rephrased: “What was so bad at home that you felt you needed to run all the way around the world to escape?”

And those are the people you meet, the ones who are your buffer against the endless bowls of rice, days of rain and russian roulette traffic jams.

And so it becomes given that you are lost…if you were not lost before you came, you certainly have forgotten the reasons….adrift in a sea of karaoke bars and neon lights, a country-wide circle jerk of neurotic, worldy twenty-somethings desperate for something to hold on to.

There are no more anchors. Reality shifts below your feet. Everything is up for reexamination. There was a day in Greece 9 years ago I remember I wanted to call my mom to make sure everything was still real.

So there you are alone, making your way down the street by the polluted river watching the rats scamper along the docks. You stop by your favorite street vendor to order some yummy, but unidentified, treat cooked in a rusted wok from a tired old man with 3 long hairs growing out the mole on his face, handing over some monopoly money currency and wondering what the fuck you’re doing on the other side of the planet.

And so where do you go? The locals are pulling the rug out from under everything you once considered normal, your fellow Westerners are all fleeing the fallout of their former lives and alone you simply turn inward and feed on yourself, running around inside your head like a mouse on a treadwheel locked inside in a never ending b-rated kung fu flick.

That is life in the East. That is how one gets Lost in Translation.

Here is an insight. The movie does a terrific job of illustrating one of the great and secret draws of travel: Escape. Not necessarily escape from something or somewhere, but mostly an escape from yourself.

Escape from yourself….we do it through TV and alcohol, through sex and work, through religion…even gardening or sewing. Its like a temporary reprive from the weight of life. Don’t you ever get tired of being you? Are you really that great that you require your undivided attention every second of your entire life??

Travel is an extended vacation from that life. You cover more ground but skim across the top, a spectator, untouchable….you watch yourself like a movie, star in a few scenes and then dip out and show up a week later in Malaysia.

Travel is not your life. Travel is the life you want, the person you think you are. You are now the star of your life as a movie: exotic locales, lonely women with foreign accents, white beaches, cheap liquor and an overall sense of lawlessness. Don’t like the script? You’ll have a chance to rewrite it tomorrow in another equally exotic locale with cheaper liquor, even farther away…..

How far is far enough?? How many times do you escape before the escape itself becomes your new life….from which you would presumably need to escape again?? Can you take a vacation from your vacation from yourself? Am I really so self-loathing that I need such a vacation?? I never thought of myself as very self-loathing at all.

My past is a weight I cannot put down. Travel is the ghost that haunts my head.

Anyway….it was a good flick and reminds me why I don’t often do stuff that reminds me of travel.

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This was once the view from my porch. I looked at the Cordillera from this very same spot a million times while I was in Chile and it never offered me the same view twice.

At dawn the sky is fire. The sun rises up behind the Cordillera and if you’re awake to see it, which I rarely was, it is almost blinding….like some sort of fire and brimstone from an old Bible flic. For the record, it didn’t always look like that. This day was exceptional.

In the morning it is crisp and naked. This was taken on my very first morning of work at 6am on the way to the bus stop. It was the middle of winter, early July. I was so nervous and excited. I came to dread that job in the end, but the view never ceased to amaze me.

In the afternoon the Cordillera plays hide and seek with the clouds and sun. This was in the summer, right before I left for Patagonia. The weather was perfect that day, a bright sun and warm wind. I got really close with my roommate Christian, but we’ve hardly spoken since I left. He constantly had to remind the Chileans that he was from Austria, not Australia…which made me laugh.

In the evening the Cordillera is a theatre for the sunset. I was by myself this evening, coming home from work. Santiago sits in a valley with the Andes acting as a cup, keeping in the pollution. The Andes are east of Santiago so the sun actually sets opposite the mountains, not over them, but often the sky was so orange there was a reflection off the snow and the pollution diffused the light, making the whole sky brillant.

I remember one evening in Thailand throwing frisbee on the beach. The sun set purple and red over the white beaches and there was a lightning storm in the distance. It was all going on at the same time: lightning and frisbees and sunsets, laughing and drinking and banana pancakes and this little boy juggling fire.

Ever heard of the Green Flash? I haven’t either. The crew of the Jennifer kept telling me that on a very clear evening as the sun sets, right after it sinks below the horizon you can very briefly see the fabled “green flash”. They always gave me the binoculars and recounted tales of the first time they saw the great “green flash”. I think they fucking made it up. I never saw it. Sailors tell stories anyway.

Anyway, I never took the Andes for granted. I always figured I’d get used to it, but I didn’t. And if you take a look at the pictures, they are all taken from the same place on my porch. Notice the two lone palm trees?

People ask about my life. They wonder about my travels. I cannot answer those questions but to say that I have seen the seasons dance on the Cordillera and I am not the same for it.

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There was a time I stayed awake till 7 in the morning, eyes bleeding red, in the dark, staring at this same screen. I made 8,000 dollars that night hitting refresh on the browser, trading stocks, thinking I knew everything. The headphones played Alanis Morisette – Uninvited, Sheryl Crow – Riverwide and Enya – China Roses while Peter slept on the inflatable mattress 6 feet away. I remember all that and the rain, grey like a dirty window, neon lights and pigs floating dead in the river. I remember cigarettes on the beach and confessing secrets and making prayers with those silly incense sticks.

There was a time I left Spain at midnight on a train to Morocco devouring pages of my journal hungry with dreams of snake charmers and desert campfires. I was leaving one of the best runs I ever had and knew it. The first day in Tangiers I almost turned around. I was scared for my life even though I had 5 years on the road by that time. Good thing I didn’t leave. I would’ve missed this:

There was work in Chile, lunch everyday alone to get away from the office, trying to imagine how to quit gracefully, wondering at how most of the modern world can drag themselves through that gutter everyday. I remember calling my dad from the street, looking up at the skyscrapers, telling him how depressed I was. It probably was the worst I’ve ever felt, not in a sad way, but in a desperate way. Sundays I would wake late after a long night of drinking and wander Santiago aimlessly trying to feel far away, to forget that work was Monday. I would watch people in parks and restaurants with their friends and be pleased with what I imagined their lives were like.

There was that time in Israel I put up a flyer saying I was too lazy/drunk to hit on women but that if they wanted to sleep with me I was staying in room 22. We all laughed when I put it up. We laughed about everything in those days. What’s even funnier is that someone actually took me up on it. I still keep in touch with her. Here is a picture of the Moon (the flyer was on a bulletin board inside):

There was that evening in…..actually fuck it. I could go on like this forever. I have a thousand stories like these.

This is what I wrote as I left Salamanca that night:

I´m going to shave my head and catch a bus to Morocco tonight at midnight…me, the journal, a few books, and the thought that I´ve done the best i could here…I´m content…I´m younger than I´ve ever been. For me to say I´ve been lucky is almost blasphemy because i know little of it has been luck, but I´ve been lucky still. Its so hard to recover from the time of your life. The years keep rolling by and there is so much for me to miss, because there has been so much for me to love.

As true now as the day I wrote it.

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I am not one of those who equates their personal identity with the job they do. I have never felt worthless or less of a man because I don’t have a career. The lack of salary and a daily routine is also largely not a problem….after all, that has been my life for 7 years. I do not have the uniquely American productivity obsession, nor the misguided notion that work in itself has value.

In fact, unemployment affects me little in most respects. And that is the problem: Because I cannot adamantly and passionately identify my situation as bad, I cannot change my behavior.

People make decisions when their gut tells them that the status quo is unacceptable. I logically accept that my situation needs a change; however, my emotions have not followed suit. I need to feel it. “Feeling it” will not, of course, magically get me the job I want. But most of us realize that logic is a tool, not a motivator. You’ve got to want it, not know in your head that you should want it.

I have built a life (perhaps unrealistically) on chasing my heart’s desire. I only know how to do what I really want to do. Now I am in partial conflict with that and my past has me on a whipping post.

There is a skill people have that goes unnoticed because so many have it. It is called ‘doing things they don’t want now because they feel it will pay off in the long run’.

I have always said that the long run never comes. I do what I want now. In the long run we are all dead. And that is largely true, but it mustn’t always be true, otherwise what the hell are we all doing? There comes a time when there is something you want, but the time horizon is necessarily longer…years longer. Not everything can happen in six months.

Travel seriously shortens your time horizon. I was in another country yesterday. I’ve fallen in love twice in as many weeks. I sleep in a different bed every night. I rarely spend the same currency for more than a week. Time slows down. It all happens in a flash and there is no time frame. The present becomes everything and lasts forever. It is a useless and misplaced question to ask someone what they will be doing in six months when so much will happen in the next six weeks.

Its funny. The decisions you make trigger a series of events that shape your personality. Your past is you. It creates you and you are chained to what has happened. Sure…you make the initial decisions, but it is the event that shapes you. And how they play out is largely out of your control. The decisions are simply brief focal points. What endures is the experience…an experience you don’t control but defines how you view the world. To say your past has an enormous effect on you is a gross understatement. Indeed, your past in the only thing that does affect you.

On a whim I decided to study abroad in 1995. I could never have anticipated the chain of events it caused. I had no idea the effect it would have on me. Could I have known that because I drew such satisfaction and community from an environment where few worked and no one talked about jobs that it would cause me to so utterly devalue the work for food/career is life mentality? Could I have anticipated that the intensity of relationships and novelty of daily life one finds traveling would cause me to be bored with ordinary life? Could I have known that the speed at which everything happens while on the road would train me to think for the short term and disregard long time horizons as irrelevant? Could I have foreseen that raising my standards for what is possible in life and then having to live in a world that hasn’t would make me bitter?

When travelling there is a great opportunity for a real relationship. That is because there is no reason to talk to anyone other than for their own good company. No one likes you because of who you are, who you know, what you have, how you are educated or what you can do for them. Everyone is equal on the road. You have a backpack and a few changes of clothes…period. Your connections are all thousands of miles away. You are nobody and get by on your own merit or not at all. You talk to or travel with someone because you like them. There is nothing else they can possibly offer. Could I have known that because there are so many real relationships (however brief) while travelling that it would make me hyper-sensitive to any other kind and thus unable to relate to the majority of people on a deeper level?

These things are impossible to know, but have shaped my life. And so you see how you become your past.

There are some who would point out that I am romanticizing travel and that nothing is so perfect. That is somewhat true, but not the topic of this entry.

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This is Marmaris in Turkey. I remember the morning I took this picture. The entry I made in my personal journal pretty much sums up why the next few years of my life will suck: Nothing can compare.

I think I was half delirious when I wrote this:

There is nothing like moving….nothing. I had the most bestest time in Rhodos and I’m hungover at 7:00 in the morning waiting on a boat to Turkey. Everyone is asleep…the whole city. And I’m singing at the top of my lungs….singing…at 7 in the morning. I even hate mornings.

Travelling can erase even that. If I weren’t so fucking happy, excited about the coming day, in a new place, another country, I would be sad. I left a great girl…too fucking early to think. What else on the planet can make 7 in the morning and hungover one of the best mornings of your life? Only if you’re a month and a half on the road and going to Turkey, the sun rising over the city walls on empty streets.

These other people are just misreable, but they’re all looking at me, and I’m waiting too…and they’re better for it. There is nothing like moving…like an exclamation point in the book of your life. If I described my emotions they would scream fun, fun, happy, happy, way too early, I’m one of the luckiest people in the world, eat my ice cream and drink my coffee and just fucking enjoy it. Moments like this make everything worth it.

I got really drunk last night and bared my soul to an almost stranger….and she pretty much understood…in just one night. It is nice to have someone listen and more than I could ask that she actually get it. Amazing…Travel can be like a ticket off the planet…suspend nearly every rule I have…and it works. Imagine that??

Travelling really can be an ephiphany. At the end of the day we are all chasing that feeling anyway. We may look for rational explanations, but they are after the fact.

Life is an emotional act. We invent a rationale that suits how we feel about a given situation and wrongly assume we’ve made a rational decision. If our emotional reaction to a situation changes, we simply find a new rationale to suit how we feel.

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Here is an excerpt from my book, which is actually an entry from my personal journal….which is largely how I wrote an entire book in about 3 months:

Travelling is the Great Reset Button. Whatever you thought or thought you thought can and probably will be erased with enough time on the road. Everything you hold dear is useless somewhere in the world. What were your problems can become your assets; what was taboo is accepted. There are places sex is free and religion never heard of. There are people whose beauty will be ugly to you and whose paradise would be our prison. Travelling wipes it all away, sometimes the good with the bad, but it’ll show you that life can be so many different things and how dare anyone claim they have a monopoly on the truth.

People get their cars and phones and TVs and a little money and they think they know who they are and what life is. But they’re too stationary to know anything. If you drive that car, and talk to the same people, and sit on the same sofa everyday you’re a fixture the same as the your living room furniture. Those things you think you control have become you. They’ve defined your life for so long you’re not separate from them. If you took all that stuff away you would be left with someone who’d finally realize they didn’t know anything except how to use that money to buy a phone to talk to those same old people about stuff they’d forgotten why they cared about in the first place.

But thats how you come to know. Remove every one of the things that you have and strap on a backpack with a change of clothes and a tootbrush and just go without direction. Don’t let anything define your life. Let reality pass by so fast it blurs and whatever is left is you. That is the only way to really know yourself. If you learn something sitting still it only applies if props stay the same, but when you learn something travelling you know it for good and always..

I don’t really know if I agree with that anymore…or at least wholly. It is true that there are things you can only learn about yourself on the road.

It is very easy to get lost in the things and forget why you were doing it in the first place. It is true that the props define your life for so long they become you. And that is the place where I disagree with myself: The props become part of who you are. You can’t leave them and learn about yourself on the road because you have literally left yourself behind. The person you would learn about on the road would not be the person you really are….that person is partly defined by a set of props.

I guess my main departure is that before I considered the props to be a hinderance to learning about who you really are. But props can be good. You are defined by where you live, the sports you play, the friends you keep, your car, clothes, house, job, etc. Most people don’t really care that these things control their life….most people would consider these things as having a life. And that is one of the downsides of travel.

Travel has allowed me to know myself in a way few will ever experience. I know what I am like when nothing from the past and nothing familiar defines me. I know who I am at night when there is nothing else there. But I am not sure it has allowed me to know myself better…just differently.

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