Monday, March 30, 2015


At the end of 2014, I reflected on the last year and made a list of things I had learned. Two of those items have stuck out to me the most over the last few weeks of traveling. The first, number five on that list, is that regular adventures are necessary to my overall happiness. I'd say that I've been having some pretty good adventures this year. I went on a road trip and did a couple of what Outside magazine calls the world's most dangerous hikes. I experienced Las Vegas for the first of what I'm sure will be many times. I visited Oklahoma in the snow, and beat a winter storm home from Nashville after a great few days in Tennessee with friends and family. I made my first trip out of the country and got to spend a weekend on Caye Caulker in Belize, and I'm finally living my dream of backpacking Europe. And it's only March.
The next item on that same reflective list, number six, is where the issue begins. Number six said that having a meaningful purpose is just as important to my happiness as having adventures is. Over the last few months, I have completely forgotten about number six. Throughout my entire life, I have had a plan and a goal to strive for. All through high school my goal was to attend West Point. I didn't get in the first time I applied, but I got a scholarship from West Point's Association of Graduates to attend Marion Military Institute. After my first semester at MMI, my purpose changed from West Point to the Intelligence Community. Over the next two years I worked tirelessly in both "real" work and my academics to propel myself into a career in the community. After I had to return to the University of Arkansas from Pennsylvania, I lost a lot of my motivation, but continued on with unparalleled determination. During my last semester at the U of A, my motivation and determination for anything but adventures vanished. I put $2,000 and my passport in my school bag and consistently thought about leaving. I was and still am completely burnt out on that direction in my life, though I plan on returning to it later. But now that college is finished and I've started towards my personal legend, I'm having trouble finding a meaningful purpose.
I know I need this break from the "real world" to gain some perspective and renew my focus, but that hardly feels like a meaningful purpose to me. I have always enjoyed being altruistic and helping people, but it's difficult to find people to help in a place where I'm the expat. If anyone needs help, it's me - which is something that has never sat well with me. So while I may be traveling and having a great time over the next several months, I'm convinced that, for me, this trip would be more fulfilling if I had a meaningful job to do. I know I won't be satisfied if I go home just yet though, so I'll continue to search for my purpose in this world as I scour the globe for adventure. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015


Before I even begin this post, there's one myth I'd like to debunk about Europe right now. 
Myth: Pretty much everyone in Europe under the age of thirty five speaks English. (I can't tell you how many places I've read this, or how many people have told me this. My German teacher told me it was pointless to learn German because everyone there spoke fluent English)
Fact: While most people can play charades and know enough English for you to order food, it's probably best if you just assume they don't speak any English and learn some Spanish. If not as a necessety, then at least as a courtesy. 

I was expecting to have to play charades with people, but I guess the reality of that didn't sink in until I was trying to order food off a Spanish menu. Not that I was asking questions about it. I don't care what I eat as long as it's edible. I literally have just been pointing at stuff or playing eeny-meeny-miney-mo with the numbers, but asking for directions, or how much the bill is is just.. Well, it's not English. Considering this is the first time I've ever been anywhere that they don't speak English as one of the main languages, I'd say I'm doing quite well. I'm also pretty glad that they speak Spanish instead of Czech, because I can at least ask for sangria, beer, and the bathroom in Spanish. Which is a surprise when you take into account the fact that I've never studied Spanish. I can still barely count to ten correctly. I have a much better handle on German than I do Spanish, and I could actually get around in Jordan since I studied Arabic in both high school and college.. A lot of good that's doing me in Spain. Am I surprised at people here not knowing English? Not at all. Would life be much easier if I knew more than how to order booze? Yes. 

Since Saturday my friend Dave and I have been driving around Northern Spain. I'm finding it hard to believe that there are places in the world more beautiful than this, but I can't wait to find them. I have what could be considered an unhealthy obsession with mountains, and Northern Spain has put every mountain I've seen in the states to absolute shame. If you only have a few days in the country and you like good scenery, there would be no better waste of time than to rent a car and drive around the northern coast. Bilbao, Gijon, Segovia, and Oviedo all have breathtaking scenery on the routes to get there. The cities aren't half bad either! 

One thing you'll probably notice about Spain on a road trip through (or even just visiting the cities) is how clean it is. When I say clean, I'm not just talking clean like the main streets of Pittsburgh type of clean, where there's some trash but it's not quite overwhelming you. I'm talking clean as in you're driving through a tiny old town where buildings are falling apart, but you still can't find any trash anywhere. The type of clean where you're pretty sure you're in the slums, but you can't even find a cigarette butt on the side walk to affirm your speculations. It's the type of clean that makes you think, man... Americans are fucking dirty!

While you're stopped in a city somewhere, go in for a drink. It doesn't matter what time of day it is. Eight in the morning. Noon. Three. Seven. Midnight. Sit down and have a drink. Then, have some tapas. Apparently, the Spanish invented this idea, and I don't know if I can continue my life without tapas whenever I go for a drink now. Tapas are just finger foods. They bring you a drink, and they bring you some tapas. It could be some type of biscuit, fish, or whatever. I had some today that was almost like quiche. I honestly don't know why this isn't popular in the states. The night before I left for this trip, a friend and I were having drinks at an actual restaurant and we wanted finger foods. They had no menu and no appetizers to offer at the bar. At least give me a vending machine to hold me over until I crave America's drunk food - Waffle House! I think I might start a protest when I get back. 

The last thing I think I've noticed about this incredibly beautiful country, is how weird the road system works. First off, it's expensive. Renting a car isn't a big deal, but petrol and diesel are both almost 2€/liter. To add to that, road tolls are insane! In the states, we have a couple rolls of quarters to get us through the tolls anywhere. Not here! One toll booth we went through was over 17€! That was just one. In the states, if you take the wrong exit and have to hop back on the freeway and pay the toll, it's maybe a $5 mistake. Imagine making a $30 mistake. Or getting off to fuel up and paying the same in tolls as you just put in your car. No. Thanks. And in cities, be careful where you walk. In the states we very clearly separate our roads from our sidewalks. Not so in the cities here. We were doing a walking tour of Madrid and were casually strolling between buildings when a car drove right through the crowd. In downtown areas, the streets and sidewalks become one... Don't get run over. 

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Caye Caulker, Belize.

0720 Wednesday 11 Mar 2015
Dave: "Too bad you have your party Friday night, cheap tickets to Belize for the weekend! You could test out your gear!" 
1920 Thursday 12 Mar 2015
Sitting at the Split on Caye Caulker (pronounced Key caulk-uh) in Belize. 

I've had friends tell me that the week before leaving for my first trip overseas I would be sick with anxiety. The fact that I had less than 24 hours to prepare for this hop to Belize probably helped with that. I wasn't anxious about the trip itself, I was anxious that we wouldn't get on our flights since we were flying standby. I'll be honest, I needed this trip a lot. I don't cope well with boredom, so this was the perfect getaway. And to those of you who had been planning on making it to my going away party, I'm sorry I missed you, but if I get back tonight we can try again. 

Belize was my first trip outside of the United States, and I didn't have a clue about the country.. Or customs processes or anything of that sort. I do know that when we were on approach to land I caught a glimpse of the jungle, and I'll definitely be going back to peruse through there and hopefully make it to some ruins! Once we landed, much to my surprise, everything in Belize was written in English. The taxi driver that took us and an American couple to the water taxi said that everyone in Belize learns English from day one. They speak Creole, but since it isn't a written language, they read and write in English because Belize is a British colony. As a result, most people, especially around the touristy spots, speak pretty good English. 

Once we finally got to Caye Caulker we met a guy who was the cousin of our Air BNB hosts, Rosie and Basilo, and he gave us a ride to the apartment we rented. I honestly would have preferred to have stayed in a hostel, but they were all booked. But! If anyone wants to grab a clean two bedroom apartment with a deck, full kitchen and living room with hot running water, check out Axios Sun with the Blue Sky Apartments. It was a nice place, and they have an adorable puppy that stays in their yard downstairs from where the apartment is. 

After we dropped off our stuff we changed and headed straight for the split. A few decades ago fisherman made a small canal through the island so they didn't have to go all the way around. Over the years with hurricanes and a strong steady current, the canal eroded and got bigger and deeper until it finally turned into what it is today. I wouldn't trust my eye on the distance too much, but my guess is that it's about thirty meters across. And you can definitely see the current through there. We chilled out and had a Belikin (the only beer they offer on the island, since it's brewed in Belize City) on the dock at the bar while the sun went down. That bar is basically the bar on the island. There were a ton of travelers hanging out there and we met a few cool people. Also, while we were sitting on the dock we saw some weird sights. At least, they were weird for me since I'm not really a water or beach person. There was some kind of huge fish that kept leaping out of the water to eat stuff, and some kind of bioluminescent snake swimming around. The tour guide we talked to later said it was probably algae, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't. That thing was definitely swimming. 

Later we went to have dinner and while we were waiting on our food to arrive the power went out. And stayed out. It didn't really matter though because all the stoves there run off natural gas, so we still got our food and ate by candle light. Apparently, the power on the island isn't the most reliable thing in the world, but the locals told us that it's usually only one end of the island that goes out at a time and only for a short time, and they usually still have running water when it goes out. There was intermittent running water and the power stayed out most of the next day. After the power went out you could see every star in the sky. They were everywhere and it was awesome! I love the stars. I can only spot Orion's Belt, and idk crap about any other constellations, but I love to look at them. 

If you're an early riser, there's not a better scene on the whole island than the sunrise. I went and checked it out, then went for a run and made it around the whole island. It's really not very big. The southern end of the island is more secluded, which is neither good nor bad in this place. It probably only takes an hour and a half to walk around the whole island. There's a little forest nature reserve that is unfortunately filled with trash near the ocean. I can honestly say that I never gave pollution much of a thought before seeing that. I've always made it a point not to litter, but after that, I think I might kick someone if I catch them doing it.

There are a ton of stray dogs on the island but they're all pretty friendly. If you're really missing your own dog, you can go to the pet shelter that takes in some strays and mistreated dogs and rent one for the day. It's free and they give you whatever dog you want to take for a walk or a run around the island. Kind of neat if you ask me. 

Dave and I did a half day snorkeling tour. It only cost $35 US, so it was pretty cheap! For those of you who don't know, I have a healthy fear of the open water. I was almost ready to vomit when our guide finally anchored the boat and told us to hop in the water and swim with the nurse sharks. Once I got in, I was fine. Our guide chummed the water and about 10 nurse sharks swam around and we got to pet them. And some manta rays. The Rays are like the cats of the ocean. You'll be standing around and they'll just swim right up and rub on you. Kinda scared the shit out of me the first couple times they did it. Our guide Juan told us that the biggest Ray out there us named Steve after Steve Irwin. We decided not to get kayaks to paddle around the ocean and went to the split instead. I chatted it up with a British fellow named Sebastien for a while. There were some dark clouds starting to move in, but they were at least as far as the reef. I asked Dave and Seb if they thought I could swim the split and back before the storm got there. They both assured me that it was plenty far away.. They were wrong. I dove off the dock and made it to the other side in no time. I didn't realize that the current was helping me out a little bit. I walked up the deep shoreline back to the east to try and counteract the current that I thought was only flowing west. It took everything out of me to get halfway back across the split against the current. When I realized that I was pretty much spent and only halfway there the thought of being swept out to sea (and in a tempest no less) gave me a new fervor and I switched from freestyle to the side stroke. Since the current was flowing west, it would have been ideal to be facing east for this part of the swim so I swam more up the current and didn't pass the dock. But the storm was getting close and the small waves I hadn't even noticed before were throwing tons of water into my eyes and mouth, so I turned around. Then about fifteen feet from the dock the rain started pelting me and the wind was blowing harder. I did finally make it to the dock, but the stairs to get up were a good forty feet up current. An older American man had apparently seen me and came over to pull me up from the water. Thank God for him. He said that he had gotten stuck out in the middle of the split a few days prior and a local had had to come save him. Apparently, they're used to less than intelligent travelers who think they're good swimmers. By the time we made it five feet inland the real rain began. It absolutely poured and a few kayakers got stuck out in it. They were on the west side of the island though, so they didn't have to fight with the current. Still, I was quite glad that we decided not to rent kayaks to go to crocodile alley. 

It was a short trip, but it was much needed and we met some pretty cool people. I can't wait until I get to Europe and get to meet a lot more folks! I'll have to make it home first though. Since im flying standby and separately from Dave, I may wind up spending the night in the airport tonight. As long as I make it home in enough time to get to the other airport to go to Spain, I'll be happy. 

Traveler tip: Money. Make sure you get plenty of cash (US or Belize, they will take both) as soon as you land or when you get to the island. I waited a little too long to get any, and Dave wound up having to pay for more than one of my meals because I kept running out. Most places can take a card, but not when the power is out! Everywhere that takes cash will take US dollars, but I want to accrue pirate money from everywhere I go. Note that prices are all posted with a $, but it's Belize dollars. Since Belize currency is pegged to US currency, it will always be exactly half of the price you see. So if it's $70 BZE to do a snorkeling trip, it's only $35 US. 

Traveler tip: Food. Honestly, everything here is pretty good! I suggest trying conch at least once in any form that it comes in. The seafood is fresh, and there's a pretty good selection at a lot of places. If you want hookah or top shelf liquor, the only place to get it is at the Hookah bar and restaurant. They also have a little dance floor where you can rave out until late at night. It's a little yellow building kind north of "town" but probably at least 100 yards south of the split. Don't eat the food there though. I like middle eastern food, but theirs was anything but tasty. 

Traveler tip: Timing. One thing I noticed about Belize (and Dave says a lot of the world is like this) is that nothing happens on time. The $25us taxi from the airport to the water taxi sped and wove through traffic. But from that point on, everything was slow. The water taxi didn't load until ten minutes after it was supposed to leave. Once we got to the island we were quickly informed that Caye Caulker is "the go slow island" and we needed to not be in a hurry. Your food will take forever to be prepared, so find someone to have a good conversation with. You won't be on time, but you'll get to where you're going. If you look like you're in a hurry, the locals will talk at you from their kiosks along the road, "why are you in a hurry? Slow down." That was really difficult for me seeing as I consider myself late if I'm less than fifteen minutes early, and if I'm running an errand, I always do it as quickly as I can. It was nice to slow down though. While you're on vacation here, just chill out. 

Monday, March 9, 2015

The Packout

I tried for a while (ok, five minutes tops) to find a comprehensive packing list for backpacking Europe AND camping while staying lightweight. My efforts were (unsurprisingly) met with disappointment. So I made one up myself. Considering I've never really backpacked, and I carried entirely too much shit when I did search and rescue, this might turn out to be a disaster. I'm not afraid to experiment. I'll let you know if on my way I figure out that I should have left half that crap at home, or really shouldn't have left some things. So here's what I've got..

Honestly, probably too much crap. I'm too inept and lazy to put little numbers on all the items to tell you what they are, but here's what you're looking at.
My backpack is a small, Gregory Cairn 48L backpack. I chose it because it fits my body type best and I would rather downsize to next to nothing rather than pack too much crap and be miserable carrying around 60lbs. It has top and side access, and plenty of pockets. It's also got a little rain cover to boot. I'm quite certain I'll be needing that.
I've got a pair of jeans, a pair of cargo pants, running shorts, and a pair of thin Patagonia cargo type shorts. I've also got 4 shirts, one of which is a Khul collard shirt that shouldn't really wrinkle or smell too bad, even if I do wear it for a few days straight.. (I will probably stink, but the shirt should be ok). And then there's undies and a bathing suit. All of that is in those blue, red, and green packing cubes you see. I'll be wearing at least one of those outfits at all time (I presume), so the cubes should be significantly smaller. At least when I'm wearing the pants.. I also have a light weight rain jacket for those shitty days when I get stuck out in the middle of a tempest, because if it's going to happen to anyone, it's gonna happen to me. I'm only taking one pair of tennis shoes that should be on my feet pretty much the whole time. They're Nike frees and I love them. I've been told to take hiking shoes instead or in addition, but in all honesty, I know me. I wouldn't wear them. I'm too damn stubborn for that. They dry pretty quickly and the tread is at least half way decent since they're new. Fingers crossed that I won't regret this decision.
I managed to fit my climbing shoes, harness, ATC, carabiner, leather glove, and whatever that long piece of multipurpose webbing is called into my bag as well. I plan on figuring out some way to hook up with some folks who are climbing and swing on their ropes with them. Honestly, if I don't get the chance to climb something, I'll be pissed. Those take up a lot of room and add a lot of weight. Obviously, this isn't a set of items most people would carry.
I've also got a sleeping bag liner from Sea to Summit. My mother wanted me to take a set of sheets for hostels. Let me tell you something. A set of sheets is huge, and I'm not one to put sheets on a bed to stay for one or two nights anyway. When I went to Marion Military Institute, I slept on top of my covers with a contraband blanket so I didn't have to make my bed every morning. I'll also note that every time the Col. inspected the female barracks, my room was always used as the standard. If you ain't cheatin, you ain't tryin! Anyway. I got the thermolite reactor extreme as a compromise. It's supposed to add up to 25C to a sleeping bag, so it should be plenty warm in a hostel, and it should also work pretty well for when I wind up camping. I've also got a small "tarp" I usually use when camp in my hammock to sleep under or on for when it rains.. because that will happen to me.
In my "camping" gear I've got 50' of paracord, a headlamp, batteries, some s-biners, a spork with weird little tools on it, water purifiers, and a little water bottle that rolls up when you're not using it so it takes up very little room. It's also got it's own little clasp for when you are using it so you can hang it on your pack. I've also got one of those flint/phosphorous blocks and some pansy little fire starter sticks. Why? Because I'm lazy and in addition to being tiny, they're virtually weightless. So why not? Since I'm carrying my backpack on instead of checking it, I'll have to buy both a pocket knife/multitool and a lighter once I get there.
In a little dry bag, I have all my electronic cords and converters as well as some benadryl, ibuprofen, and Tylenol. And headphones for train/plane rides. There's also a small first aid kit that has gauze, antibiotic ointment, vet wrap, and super glue and yes, I have a tourniquet. I can make one with a stick and a bit of cloth, but again, I'm lazy. In fact, I'll probably prove to be too lazy to even use it on myself if I need it. Fingers crossed that I don't need any of it.
I have a Sea to Summit antimicrobial dry lite microtowel. I got the XL so I can use it as a bath towel and run from a shower to a room without showing off my assets. I doubt I'll wind up in that position, but oh well.
The Gregory Cairn 48 has a sleeve for a camelbak bladder, so I took mine out of the camelbak I usually use to go mountain biking and stuffed it in there.
The toiletry bag seems a little obvious if you ask me. I've got another Sea to Summit microlite antimicrobial towel in there to use as a washcloth. I got the XS and cut it in half. I got it instead of a regular washcloth because it will dry much faster and I don't have to worry about it souring in my bag and making everything stink. Let's be honest, I'll probably smell bad enough as it is. If you don't know what else belongs in a toiletry bag, you probably shouldn't be backpacking without adult supervision. Let your "parents" pack for you and make sure it's one of those backpacks with a leash on it. 
The last item you might be able to pick out is a runner's pouch. It's kinda like a fanny pack, only tiny and it fits under your shirt so you might not get made fun of as much. I've been told countless times about people getting pick pocketed in Europe, and I'm sure I'll want to keep my passport with me most of the time, so that's what that is for. I'll have my passport and some backup cash in there. There's also a "secret" compartment in the side of my backpack that would be secret if the manufacturer didn't advertise it amongst it's assets (thanks, Gregory!) where I'll probably keep my passport card (virtually useless in anywhere but Canada, Mexico, and the islands, but if you lose your real passport, you can at least show that to your embassy to get a replacement quicker) and some extra cash. 
In addition to all this crap, I have a little messenger bag (or a satchel if you're Indiana Jones or Alan from The Hangover) that I'll use when I've got my backpack stowed in a locker somewhere and just want to run around town. It zips AND clasps, so the chances of it getting pick pocketed are slim. It's big enough to hold my iPad mini, a little journal notebook I've got, some pens, and a charger. I'm also taking a Jockery backup battery with me in it too. To say that I'm addicted to my technology would be the understatement of the year. I like to use it to talk to a select few people and ignore the rest. It also provides an annoyingly finite number of hours of music, movies, and other entertainment. This jockery I got is supposed to charge an iPad or iPhone ten times before it runs out. That should do me. I'll go ahead and point out for anyone that doesn't already know, international plans are EXPENSIVE. I won't be getting one. I'm putting my phone on a reduced rate service plan so it's only $10/month. I'll be switching out my sim card with one that I buy over there with some calling, texting, and data capabilities, but for the most part I'm just going to be relying on wifi. Which means that when I bike across Portugal I may have to actually find a paper map..
I had initially intended to keep my backpack under 22 pounds because that's the cutoff for RyanAir's carry on weight. I don't know how much I'll be trying to use them, but if I decide to, I don't want to be stuck on the ground because my backpack was too heavy. All of this wound up weighing in at 21.2 pounds. Can anyone here say "success?!" But also, the Cairn 48 is slightly bigger in dimensions than they allow.. Hopefully if I try to fly with them, they aren't being sticklers about that, or they have room in the hull. I may wind up ditching an item or twelve before I leave. I may also add one or two. Probably not. We're gonna see how this all plays out. I'll let you know as I go along!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Challenges

I'm not usually one to focus on the negatives, but for anyone thinking of just up and leaving - whether you're backpacking or moving to the next state - here are some of the challenges you might face.

1) The guilt trip - People will try to make you feel guilty for moving forward with your life. Honestly, nothing pisses me off more than this. When someone tells me, "I can't believe you're leaving me here!" I just want to give them a big "fuck you!" People like this should have no room in your decision making paradigm. Over a year and a half ago one of my best friends decided she was going to move to Colorado because she had always wanted to live there. Was I sad to be losing my best friend to what felt like a foreign land? Yes. But I was proud of her more than anything. She had a dream and she was pursuing it. Besides, it's only a 10 hour drive from my place to hers, and who doesn't love a good road trip?! Plus, now I had somewhere to stay when I wanted to go snowboarding! That same friend has been nothing but supportive of me and my decision to go to Europe. The friends who support me are the ones I'm going to actually want to keep up with while I'm gone. The ones who try and guilt trip me? I don't think I can even consider them friends..

2) Preparing - Due to my extensive planning and laid back nature, I am probably one of the least anxious people on the planet. I'm a 9-1-1 dispatcher, I have to be. But somewhere under this calm demeanor is a little minion wringing his hands. When I find him, I'm going to punch him in the throat. As with any move, I've had a ton of things to do to get ready before I leave. I finally managed to sell my car, so that has relieved a lot of stress for me. I had to get new lenses in my glasses before leaving, which is proving more of a hassle than it should be. Apparently, they got my prescription wrong on my glasses and are having to send them back. They're saying it may take two weeks, and I'm leaving in two and a half. I'm hoping they get it right this time.. I'd love to be able to actually see the sights.. Every trip will face it's prepping challenges. Just remember that life isn't out to get you, it's just happening to you. Learn from the mistake and move on.

3) Loved ones - While most people may find this to be the primary source of their moving anxieties, I've never had much of an issue with leaving my family behind. My parents raised me and my siblings to be independent, and it took quite well. I'm not one to miss people, and I'll be able to keep up with them via facebook whenever I have wifi. They'll still be here when I get back, so it'll be fine. That being said, I am desperately going to miss my morning gym time with my little sister. She is my best friend and every morning when we go to the gym it's like morning therapy session. And my mom. I can talk to her about just about anything. To me, she knows pretty much everything. If she doesn't, she knows what advice to give you to find out. It took me over twenty years to find out that little gem of information, but now that I know it, it's proven quite useful. Can't find something in walmart? Call mom. Need to diffuse a bomb? Call mom.

4) The noose of familiarity - Aahhh the familiar. The comforts of your own home. Seeing people you know. Eating at restaurants you love. Not having to look at a map before you switch gears from park to drive. Hearing your own language. These are all things I feel both excited and slightly anxious about leaving behind. Especially since I've never been out of the country before. In fact, I've never even been to either coast of these United States. Were this trip only meant to last for a week or even a month, I'm certain my inner anxiety minion wouldn't be wringing his hands, but since I don't have a clue how long I'm going for, or where all I'm going, it makes me slightly anxious. Truth be told, I've only ever used public transportation once before and it was a complete disaster. In my defense, the stop I was supposed to get off at was "down for maintenance" whatever that meant. Either way, my experience with it has been anything but stellar, and that will be my primary mode of transportation in Europe. I'm not one to back away from a challenge though. Navigating a new continent on my own in a language I don't speak? Sounds like a challenge to me.

These probably aren't the only four challenges I'm facing. To be completely honest, it took some thinking for me to come up with them, just because I don't think of life in terms of challenges. I've always been the type of person to just put my head down and power through and look for the next adventure. And I don't have a solution other than that. I know that if you feel the weight of these challenges, you can't just will them away. Anxieties will only subside with positive experiences and a bit of courage. And if you feel fear, drape that shit in a blanket of courage.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Why I Want to Travel

Whenever I tell people I'm going to go backpack Europe for the next several months, a common question is, "why?" To which I readily respond, "why not?!" They usually follow it up with a slight chuckle and then comment, "I wish I could do/had done that." Tonight I've found myself asking that same question. Why do I want to travel? What has possessed me to sell all the possessions that have helped me identify who I am in order to live out of a backpack on the other side of the world? The answer I've discovered is two-fold. Both of which sound quite cliché, but I'm going to say them anyway.

The first reason is quite simple. In 20 years, I don't want to be one of those people that sits there and says, "Man, I wish I had done that." Regret looks so ugly strewn across even the most beautiful face. I want to be one of those rare beings that enthusiastically leaps at the opportunity to share my stories, advice, and favorite places to eat. As much as I want to soak up every word these people say to me, it's quite impossible to do without a recorder. Even if I had one, I can't possibly go to all the places they've all told me in a single trip; even if it does last more than six months. But these are the people I enjoy talking to the most. Most of these people, especially the ones who traveled less often, or didn't travel lavishly, get a certain twinkle in their eye when they share their stories. Almost as if they were talking about their first love. Most everyone seems to have a person that can give them that eye twinkle, few have a life that gives it to them. I want to be one of those people. I want to be so in love with my own life that people feel inspired and infected by my enthusiasm for it. For me, loving life means regular adventures.

The second half of why I want to travel is experience. Experience, being an ongoing and very much individual process, is an arbitrary term; so allow me to explain what I mean. This is complete speculation on my part, seeing as how I have never been outside the United States and my entire knowledge of the "outside world" has come from  my "higher education," the news, the internet, and hear-say. I believe, however, that Americans are some of the most privileged, yet least culturally aware people on earth. According to the state department, only about 36% of Americans even own a valid passport. I, for one, have had a passport for several years, yet it has gone unused. I wonder how many of the other 36% are in the same boat as myself...

Most of this seems to be because of convenience. The United States is huge. It takes up most of the inhabitable portion of North America. Our only shared borders are with Canada and Mexico. The most prevalent foreign culture in the United States is the Hispanic culture, and no other foreign culture comes close to that percentage. We share so much with them that Spanish is taught as a second language in probably every high school in the United States. If there is a high school or college in the US that doesn't teach Spanish as a second language, I would be genuinely surprised. Also, to put the vast size of the United States into perspective, just pull up a world map (here you go, you lazy bastards). I won't lie, as a child I thought the United States was blown up on world maps because we were the best and most important. While I'd still give our great nation a high-five or some kind of secret handshake for being awesome, we're actually just that big. The puppy dog head (Sweden, Finland, and Norway) could literally fit inside Alaska with room to spare. In the same mileage it would take to drive across Texas from  wingtip to wingtip, you could drive across several countries in Europe, depending on what route you took. Having said that, Americans usually have to drive hundreds if not thousands of miles to cross an international border and experience an all new culture. Europeans, on the other hand.. Well, you can walk across Andorra in less time than it takes the sun to set on their beautiful mountains.

As exhausting/exciting as it sounds to take a road trip through the entire continental United States - and even most of Canada - you would be hard pressed to find a culture too different from your own. In fact, if you're ever forced to play a game of charades because of a language barrier with more than five people present, you probably took a wrong turn and wound up in Mexico. Even though America is filled with sub-cultures, basically everyone (with the exceptions of immigrants and expats) whether democrat, republican, Christian or atheist, everyone you run into in the United States is an American. We all share a common patriotism, language, and cultural history. This isn't so in Europe. Each country has a very unique history, patriotism, and language. Some countries even have several languages. Switzerland has four official languages! The argument could be made that Europeans are all still very European, and they are, but I still believe that with all the border hopping, the charades played to decipher languages (and learning several different languages), and even going from the old architecture of Budapest to the modern buildings in Copenhagen, there is a better understanding of the differences between people in the world. Also, I would like to point out that the European Union actually goes out of it's way to ensure that dying cultures stay alive in their respective areas.

The point here with the experience, I suppose, is that I want to experience the cultures. I want to know what differentiates the Austrians from the Swiss aside from a simple border and language. I don't want to just read about this stuff anymore. I want to go there, see it all for myself, and know it well enough to write about it. I want to be drenched, miserable, and lost. I want to be completely enamored by a picturesque scene. I want to drop a coin in the hat of a street performer and watch them come alive. I want to have the experiences and memories that will give me that twinkle in my eye when I think back on them. I don't just want to be a citizen of the United States. I want to be a citizen of Europe too. And Asia, and Africa, and South America, and Australia. I want to be a citizen of the world.