Why A Trip Is Like A Trip

IMG_1819

During my recent travels, I had a random (and arguably unimportant) realization—that two of the main definitions for the word trip were extremely interrelated:

Trip (n):

1. an act of going to a place and returning; a journey or excursion, especially for pleasure
2. a hallucinatory experience/an exciting or stimulating experience/a self-indulgent attitude or activity

As I was breaking the plans to friends and family last summer about my recent adventure, I was fortunate to receive their near-unanimous support.

However, on the trip I met many people that weren’t so lucky, and where they expected or needed encouragement back in exchange for their news, they instead received accusations of selfishness, neglect, or even abandonment (of career, relationships, etc.).

Because long-term solo travel, like going on a trip of another sort, is seen by many as the ultimate form of self-indulgence.

Similarly, despite its proven benefits, tripping in a different organic fashion is seen as similarly hedonistic, and comes with its own batch of warnings (both warranted and unfounded), stereotypes, and judgement.  

But both, if done safely, can take you to places you’ve never been before, then return you with a cleansed lens of perspective, allowing you to see the familiar in a completely different light.

Once you get past both the external pressure (real or imaginary) and build up the courage to let yourself fall down the rabbit hole, travel and trips usually earn their reputation of being that stimulating, eye-open, and paradigm-changing experience.

(And after meeting many serial travelers on the road, some of which had ended up neglecting or abandoning another life back home, I’m not so sure travel couldn’t be classified as a drug, too).

I remember vividly being at the top of of La Piedra Del Penol near Guatape, Colombia when this thought forced me to scribble fervently in my notebook.

A 7,000-foot tall rock unlike anything else around it, climbing 740 steps rewards you at the top with a breathtaking view to take in as you try and catch your breath:

...to the Rock

Overlooking the series of lakes that once housed a lakeside getaway of Pablo Escobar (who probably enjoyed a few trips in his lifetime), I felt…light (beyond just my brain being 7,000 feet shorter on oxygen), reflective, and sentimental. Trying to take in every ounce of the view I could, I began to think about how different the first six weeks of my trip ‘felt’ so different compared to the current stage of my trip.

Although the beginning of my travels felt precarious and wobbly at the time, I realized at the top of The Rock that even though everything about my travel life that autumn was new and shiny—novel places, people, and experiences in every direction I stepped—the memories of the first six weeks especially felt this way because in a way, I was blind.

These early memories seemed ‘faded’ in my head due to of course both the passage of time and ignorance to my surroundings, as well as because the flash of the novel was everywhere, to the point where I often felt overwhelmed and many times, vulnerable. It was so much to take in, it was difficult to remember.

Travelling solo (or even with someone, really) you have two choices: remain in the dark and reject this blinding, new reality around you by doing the most familiar things you can find in an unfamiliar world. The upside to doing this of course is that you are less likely to get yourself into a compromising situation.

Or, you can be so open to the experience that you temporarily blind yourself as a whole new realm sinks its way into your skull. You can use your ego as a shield and remain unchanged, or ditch it entirely and willingly grope blindingly through the world as you regain your senses (or some illusion of them).

In my limited experience with trips, those options are options are mutually applicable.

Long-term expats and serial travelers would probably attest that truly adjusting to a place takes a lot longer than just a few weeks. Instead it takes months, years, or possibly, a never-ending process of both macro-adjustments (like figuring out how to order something in a restaurant), and less obvious micro-ones (like the adjustment of your tone and mindset when greeting someone).

Conversely, veteran psychonauts would probably affirm that their kind of journeys also take a certain amount of preparation, education, healthy fear, and of course open-mindedness to get the most out of them.

Both also take a combination of mental calibration with a heavy dose of concession and surrender to your new, and ever-changing environments. As you start to adjust and learn bit by bit about the new world you are in, you start to piece together clues about where you are, and then, who you are.

These stages in a trip of course can often coincide with our location as we move around, but the passage of time is often also marked in our memories with other things too such as mood, time of year, or learning something that brings us a small epiphany.

Which makes sense, as the end result of trips is seeing and experiencing the world in ways you could never imagine, and in ways you could never explain accurately to someone that wasn’t there.

Banner photo credit: Adrian Valentin

A 3-Month Solo Trip In One Second Clips

A little project I did during my recent trip around Central and South America was to take a one-second video, everyday, with the (appropriately-named) 1 Second Everyday app.

Spawned by one of my favorite TED Talks,  the app splices together your clips and sticks the date in the bottom corner, creating a sort of highlight reel for your life.

In the talk, speaker Cesar Kuriyama explains that he started doing this for a number of reasons. Among them were that he simply hated not remembering moments of his life, and also that simply by looking at a one second clip he was able to trigger memories of much more than just what was in that brief moment. In a way, it was also more than just a reminder to take a video, but to do so something out-of-the-ordinary and “worth remembering”, everyday.

Do this daily for a year and you’ll end up with about a six-minute video of your year to look back on (and a pretty priceless keepsake).

As a big journaler, I always loved this idea since it is basically the video (and less time-intensive) version of the same thing. I stuck with using 1SE reasonably well during the summers of 2013 and 2014, but always fizzled out with it for one reason or another. Unfortunately I am not sure if the clips are stored anywhere I can salvage them.

But ahead of my trip (and with a phone that could better handle the app), I decided to give it a go again.

Aside from the couple of weird/upside down shots and one of  me trying to be a little too sneaky in Spanish class, I consider it to be a success:

[embedyt] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HWlvLfnEFag[/embedyt]

I love taking pictures, however I find going through and sorting/editing/compiling them to be tedious and uninteresting. In terms of giving myself something to look back on from my trip, I love this 1SE idea much better than a photo album.

While it certainly ‘triggers’ my memory like Cesar says, I think it also gives back a much more honest feel to myself (and possibly to others, too) about what the trip was actually like. It also takes minimal effort since the app does just about everything for you (aside from pointing your phone at something cool and hitting record).

Since returning to the ‘real world’, I have been trying to keep the 1SE habit going. I’ve shown or told more people about Cesar’s TED Talk than any other, but the refrain I often hear back from many is that they don’t have anything worth capturing and that it’d just be them “sitting at a desk all day”.

But what I learned from doing this, both on the trip and before, is that a) there is something unique about everyday if you look for it and b) the mundane of routine becomes sentimental nostalgia tomorrow, and certain everyday details you take for granted now may be the ones you look back on with the most fondness in the future.

Sometimes I daydream about what my video might look like if I had started doing this years before, about what little details I took for granted then that I wouldn’t mind re-living now once more, even just in the form of a one-second clip: the empty pickle buckets we’d use as chairs and builds forts with at my fry cook job; the croon of the guy giving away A.M. NEW YOOOOOOORK inside Penn Station; the side streets I’d take home after high school so I could see the most autumn foliage possible.

Even travel isn’t without its fair share of tame moments. Take the clip of me eating gelato on October 22, for instance. Despite it (in my opinion) being one of the more ‘boring’ clips I shot, from that one innocuous second alone I can remember:

  • At the table seated next to me was what looked like a retired American marine (based on his build and hat) and his wife
  • A fluffy pooch was going from table to table asking for his own free samples
  • The owner of the place was setting up a keyboard in the corner of the shop, preparing to entertain his customers
  • That I was feeling kind of down and homesick that day
  • The teenage girl behind the counter was surprised that I ordered in Spanish

And so on. A picture could probably trigger all of that and more, but I feel that the “aliveness” of video adds an extra dimension to your memory that a picture never could.

You could argue that the mind already remembers whatever is worth remembering, but given how many perceived ‘brilliant’ ideas I’ve lost after neglecting to write them down, I personally have stopped trusting mine. I want to remember the minutiae, the trivial, and the easily-forgotten details that are both unique to my life, yet also help me relate with others in a way that makes them go, “that’s funny, I noticed or experienced that too!”

Life isn’t just the ends of the bell curve; it’s everything that lies in between as well. And any detail can become one worth reminiscing over if you put in the little amount of effort required, be it through journaling, 1SE, or something else.

Things People Say When You Quit Your Job To Travel

Conceptual royalty free stock image of a businessman carrying the world on his shoulders.

“Quitting, for me, means not giving up, but moving on; changing direction not because something doesn’t agree with you, but because you don’t agree with something. It’s not a complaint, in other words, but a positive choice, and not a stop in one’s journey, but a step in a better direction. Quitting—whether a job or a habit—means taking a turn so as to be sure you’re still moving in the direction of your dreams.”
—Pico Iyer

In August, I was able to finally pull the trigger on something I had been dreaming about for the past three years: quitting my office job in order to travel and write.

I am now drafting this post on a bus ride through the Panamanian countryside, the first week of about 12 I will spend outside “the States” (as I am learning to say); also my first time outside of my mother country, period.

So far, it’s been everything I hoped, and I have zero regrets about the decision. As of now I don’t really have any sort of concrete plan on what I will do upon my return to the U.S. in January. While I hope freelancing can continue to support me full time, it’s entirely possible I could be a 27-year old living back in my parents’ basement, but already I have made some memories and friends that I wouldn’t trade for anything.

The Hardest Part

Yet despite of what many in the “blindly follow your passion crowd” will tell you, this wasn’t the easiest thing in the world to do. Worth it? Definitely. Easy? Not the word I would use.

For every blog post (hell, book) written about how to “just quit and follow your dreams already”, an equal amount of words could be written for the burdens that come along with such an act. The planning (admittedly exciting, but also a pain at times), the logistics, the shopping, the packing and re-packing, the saying bye…and trying to explain to people “why”.

Even though I consider myself to be an extremely independent (some might even say bullheaded) person, the hardest part of this process was not quitting my great job, saying bye to my girlfriend, friends, and family, getting rid of a large chunk of my possessions, or moving to a country where I barely spoke the language (though all tough in their own right).

Instead, it was simply a fear of how others would respond.

Thick Skin Is Still Permeable

And I don’t mean this necessarily in an approval-, permission-seeking kind of way; great books like The Art of Non-Conformity and The Happiness of Pursuit have conditioned me enough to know that usually (definitely not always), if you are getting shallow opposition to a big idea or life change, then it’s usually a sign that you are on the right course.

But with everything that must be done for an endeavor like this, receiving opposition (rational or not) from friends and family that you feel like should be supporting you unconditionally can make for an exhausting experience.

In the months leading up to buying my ticket or even deciding what country I wanted to go to first, I was an almost daily visitor to reddit’s r/solotravel board. There I was finding answers to any question I could possibly have about backpacking abroad and alone, what gear I needed, what to look for in a hostel, how to go to Thailand as a single male and not be accused of sex tourism, and most importantly, affirmation and inspiration that I too could go on a trip like this.

Despite building up (what I thought) was pretty thick skin, I kept my plans close to my chest for a long time. I simulated scenarios in my head about what I would say in response to reactions I anticipated hearing such as:

“You’re throwing your career away.”

“You’re going to be so lonely, there’s no way you’ll make it three months.”

“You really don’t like living here that much?”

“What are you going to do about the gap on your resume?”

“You’re going to say the wrong thing and get locked up abroad.”

Eventually though, it came time to do the uncomfortable in revealing my plans (awkward is turning down an invite to go to an event in three months because you are going to be busy with something you can’t talk about) and facing the peer jury.

What People Actually Said

I will say I am extremely fortunate in that I have a very strong support group of friends and family (aside from anything to do with this trip), many of whom are well-traveled themselves. However, drastic life changes can be a hard thing for those close to you to understand. And as irrational as it sounds, there were times it felt like I was abandoning people and things that had been great for me—there was absolutely nothing “wrong” with my life in Colorado.

But by writing down the reactions that stuck out the most, it allowed me to distance myself from the less-supportive comments, look at them more objectively, and identify what kind paradigm they were coming from. Additionally, I hoped that I’d have a list of responses I could someday share with anyone that might have the same fears I did about doing a long solo trip like this.

What I hope you’ll see is that the “worst” of the bunch usually had rational concern behind their comments (or just were innocently naive):

1. The Logistical

Why Panama?

But you don’t speak Spanish.

Did you just spend a million dollars?

But you have a job.

Where are you going to live?

To do what?

Is Panama safe?

What are you going to do about money?

You’re going alone?

Why?

Far and away, these responses were the overwhelming majority. And why wouldn’t they be? Even though I had gained intimate familiarity with the plan in my own head, it’s still quite the bomb to drop on someone in casual conversation. And some of these undoubtedly have been the first things out my mouth when I have (enviously) discussed with others their own travel plans.

For the career-concerned ones, it’s important to know that many of my friends are young-twenty somethings, either fresh into the “real” career pool or obsessed with getting into it. Their concern about what was going to happen to my job makes complete sense, as it goes against the grain of what their brain has been conditioned to focus on for years and years.

And for the safety-concerned, the only thing many (myself included before planning this trip) know about Panama (besides that whole Canal thing) is the reign of dictator/FBI informant Manuel Noriega in the 1980s. Once I realized these types of questions were coming from a place of naivete and not an assumption that I just threw a dart on a map when deciding where to go, they were zero skin off my back and also took zero effort to field graciously.

And to be fair, many of the “Why” questions weren’t so much in the existential sense, but more just asking if I had fallen into some sort of volunteer, Workaway, or other job opportunity.

2. The Extremely Positive

You are an incredible person, Andrew! You are intelligent and focused, with a seemingly unflappable outlook on life and it’s joys and challenges! You are loved, and supported! We are all cheering for you! (via text, my friends aren’t that quite that hokey)

Sounds like an adventure!

Travel while you’re young, man. Good for you.

You should teach yoga!

You’ll become a more aware and deep person by an order of magnitude. Rip away all of your circumstantial habits and rituals and find out exactly who you are really are. Fucking metal.

Ah yes, the people that “get it”, with no explanation needed. Most of these people have traveled a fair amount themselves, understand the benefit in doing so, and why it was important for me to go (even if we would miss each other immensely).

Not acting like they were a dime a dozen, but these people were definitely a breath of fresh air and a nice, affirming change of pace from the same eight or so responses above.

And I could teach yoga, I suppose. I’ve done more random things.

3. The Envious

Aw man, I would totally take a trip like that if I wasn’t married with kids/didn’t have a mortgage/both.

…can I come.

I’m extremely jealous.

Every time I received an envious reaction, it was just more positive affirmation that yes, while scary, I was doing the right thing in taking advantage/control of my life situation in a way that many others wish they had or never could. I was also quick to extend an invite for these people to come visit if they so desired.

4. The “Negative”/Innocently Ignorant

That’s awesome—but you should go someplace different.

Don’t get kidnapped.

Where is that?

That’s awesome! But why Florida?

Here they are—the “worst” of the bunch, none of which were remotely related to responses I feared receiving the most. While the first one admittedly got under my skin for a day or two, I faced no personal attacks or point-blank interrogations about my motives like I was sure I would. Like I said before, the country I chose (for many well thought-out reasons) isn’t the most well known other than the Canal, and the list of things I knew about Panama was probably just as short before I began researching it.

And the fourth one I’m a little surprised that it didn’t happen more often.

I could write all sorts of cliches here about not caring what others think, but in reality, when you are trying to create a major life change for yourself, what others think can matter. A whole lot, in fact.

It can take months if not years of confidence building and positive self-talk just to convince yourself that you are capable of throwing yourself into a drastically new and unknown situation—and for every doubter you encounter during this volatile stage, this fortress of self-confidence you are trying to construct gets another chunk of bricks taken out of it.cs_studyabroad734[1]

However, there’s also an important distinction to be made between not caring what others think and recklessly not heeding their advice. And in the beginning, at least for me, it was very hard to differentiate between the two.

Advice that could possibly make your trip more enjoyable by adjusting your itinerary to avoid a rainy season or a hectic (and perhaps unsafe) time in the city, for instance, is probably worth listening to. Some of the sillier responses above, while ridiculous now, probably aren’t, though in the early stages they can all unfortunately carry equal weight.

Parents for the most part want their children to have secure lives and be “fat and happy”. Friends like your Friday bar nights just the way they are. And employers don’t want to go through the grind of hiring someone to replace you.

Ultimately, It’s important to remember that in the end, 99% of people have your best interest in mind.

But it’s also important to remember that 99% of people don’t necessarily know what that is.

Airports and Planes: Emotional Zoos

Airports and planes.

No place a better exhibit of human emotion:

Joy arises out of greeting long-lost Love
As does Despair, leaving newly-found Love

Fear arrives out of leaving it all behind
and departs when thinking of everything that’s ahead

Greed lives in the chatter of businessmen making the next big deal
While Modest asks if you’d like a drink with that

Honorable and Prideful are welcomed home with standing applause
Disparaged and Distraught take off to hopefully heal

The sounds of Gleeful, Cheerful, and Merry turn festive the neutral walls
Just as Longing, Delayed, and Stranded make them a cold purgatory

Energetic skips past Sleepy curled up in a corner
While Enlightened rises from a tome two chairs down

And Wanderlust, one of the rarest and most sought emotions of all
Begins to be released—or succumbed to?—here

In flight,
Calm sits next to Anxious
While Bored and Caring attend to us
Behind, Curious gazes out with Admiration
And Faithful hopes something beyond can turn him into Tranquil

Nostalgia’s weight could ground many flights of homecomers
And Ecstasy’s fuel seemingly gets us there quicker

Behind all that, Lust has its release in sneaky fashion.

I decided to get out of my writing comfort-zone for National Poetry Month (which was actually in April), and lately I’ve also been enjoying the “anti-poetry” of Robert M. Drake, Marisa Crane, and Joe Straynge on Instagram. 

Photo is mine, taken while being stranded overnight in Denver International Airport in August 2014.

 

Travel=perspective

wallhaven-80016

“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.”

-Henry Miller

If you’ve lived in one place your whole life, can you really be prideful of it?

Ever since I was young and my family would take annual summer vacations to the southern United States, I have been fascinated with travel.

The fundamental similarities interwoven with all of the considerable differences in each state intrigued me to no end. How something as insignificant as a few hundred miles and a border drawn up on a map could make for such large distinctions in the way people acted, thought, and lived, injected me with wanderlust.

Seeing a chain of grocery stores or gas stations that were foreign to me had my young mind entertaining the thought that we all live in slightly parallel universes, as did seeing completely different stories take the front page of newspapers depending on what state I was in.

Daily life is rendered anew again through the lens of travel, and something as simple as figuring out where I am going to eat dinner becomes an adventure to me.

The idea that travel gives perspective is not a new one by any means.

I have been fortunate enough in the past year to acquire a job that allows me to go to many new places for both work and for pleasure. And while so far it’s only been within the continental United States, travel has given me an immense appreciation for both where I’ve come from originally and where I live now.

Living in Ohio for the first 22 years of my life, a place that in my head was as mundane and plain as one could get, working in New York gave me levels of pride about my home state that I had never had before. I began to see my old home in a new light and began to really take notice of all of the unique and great things it had to offer.

There is certainly nothing wrong with not having the travel bug and wanting to stay close to your roots. I actually admire the level of contentment people can have with staying in one place compared to my gross addiction of change and new experiences.

However, I find the the hubris of some of those that have lived in one place their whole life baffling. Because in reality, it was the travelers (moreso in the pre-internet age) that dared to venture outside their borders that ended up defining a place’s identity by discovering what was unique about it.

Only from travel could the true character of a place be cultivated. Having points of reference to other places on the map allowed discoveries like “they’re the only people that do this” or “wow, this dish I ate every week as a child is actually a really unique thing to where I am from” to be made.

I realize travel is a luxury and that my situation is incredibly fortunate compared to most.

However, I can’t help but shake my head when I encounter bullheadedness towards even the idea of travel combined with stubborn ethnocentrism towards the randomly-determined home that the offender happened to be born into.

The ideal they cling onto so proudly only exists because someone else has traveled and seen the differences in how they and others live and don’t live.

Would Southerners boast about their corn bread, sweet tea, and grits if people in the Pacific Northwest were making the same dishes? Highly unlikely.

And not only does travelling give me a kind of geographical and cultural perspective, but also a personal one.

Travelling takes me out of my daily routine, and as much as I love what I do every day, when I get taken out of this groove it allows me to view how I am going about my life from afar. This gives me a new angle on what I can do differently when I return, or just simply reignites my drive after a mini-vacation of sorts.

For instance, the majority of this post was actually written in an airport cafe (one of my favorite places for reflection) on the way back from a trip that ended up helping me re-discover how grateful I am for my current life situation and location.

But had I not shined the light of awareness on how others are living, objectivity towards my own life would still be in the dark.

If not by travelling, how do you personally gain perspective about your life and the world?