As far as I can tell, I have hit the publish button on this site around 6,000 times. That’s a lot if you stop to think about it, even if I’ve been doing this for eight years. To be fair, many of those are News Roundups and Daily Photos, but still the narrative posts number around 2,700. I don’t even dare count how many words that is, but needless to say I’ve filled a few shelves with my thoughts about travel and the incredible world around us. On a grey and drizzly Saturday morning in March 2010, I sat down to the kitchen table with my laptop open. I had been planning to start a blog for a few weeks, but it took me some time to 1) figure out what a blog was and 2) figure out the doodily-gooks of the technology that allows them to occur. I’m not a tech guy, but I knew I wanted to have a voice – that I needed it.
A trip to the Galapagos just a few months before had reignited my wanderlust. Although, to be fair, it was always there. All throughout my life I have had a fierce love of seeing the world. It’s what I wanted more than anything else, and yet for many years all I could do was dream. My parents hated to travel and our yearly vacation consisted of a long road trip to Maine to spend a week or two with my grandparents. It was fine, but I wanted more. I wanted to see as much of the world as I could, and so I started planning. When I was 8, I didn’t have Van Halen or Madonna posters, no, I had the Scottish Royal Standard and a map of the world. I had the Union Jack next to a flag of China, knick-knacks at purchased Pier 1 proudly displayed since they were from the mysterious “overseas.” Throughout my youth books were the way in which I traveled the world, and they weren’t only a fantastic substitute, they were the best educators I would ever have. In college and then in graduate school, my studies focused entirely on international relations, with other subjects meant only to bolster those skills. I was preparing for a life overseas, for a life traipsing around the world and I was excited.
The summer before I started grad school, I spent a month fulfilling a lifelong dream – finally visiting the UK. I had worked 5 part-time jobs the year before in order to afford it and backpacking around England and Scotland was the culmination of many years of planning. It was also a soul-enriching trip. I was alone, truly alone, and on my own for the first time and it helped me in ways I could never have imagined at the time. I did a lot of soul-searching, trying to divine who I was and where I wanted to go. This was a time before most people had cell phones, when the internet was a curiosity and not the necessity it is today. I still remember sitting in a quiet pub near the harbor in Mull, an island in Scotland. I had missed the connecting ferry to Iona and was waiting to head back to Oban for the night. I sat down inside the warm pub, escaping the freezing Scottish summer. Everything was made out of wood, there was a soccer game on the television, and locals came in and out smiling and laughing. The air smelled distinctively of fried food and beer. I had a plate of food in front of me and a pint of something, the perfect tools to help me gather my thoughts on paper. I opened my journal and dutifully started to write. I still have the journal, and even read it once in a while. The trip helped me come to terms with many aspects of my life I had been running from. It was at such an crucial juncture in my life that I could feel the importance of the decisions I was making then and there. Well and truly, that was my first blog, just of the paper and pen variety. But it showed me the power of personal writing aside from the technical or professional. It demonstrated to me that I needed it in my life, I needed an outlet. And then I forgot about it all.
After grad school I moved to DC without a job or a place to live. Of course I wanted to work in the international arena, I had spent my life preparing for that. But I also needed to eat and not be homeless. After mailing out what felt like hundreds of resumes on the fanciest paper I could afford – 24 lb weight, watermarked and in a vanilla cream color thank you very much – I finally had an offer. The only problem was that it wasn’t in my dream field of international politics, no, it was in domestic policy. I’ve never like domestic politics, barely studied it throughout 6 years of higher education and certainly didn’t want to do it for a living. But I needed that paycheck. I took the job and then something happened that happens to many others. I became comfortable. I learned how to do the job, got promoted, applied for and got better jobs with other companies and so on. Before I knew it, I was Director of Government Relations (lobbyist) for a small trade group and 12 years had passed. I was also totally and completely miserable.
The tricky thing about being miserable is that many times one doesn’t truly fathom the depths of the sadness, how it impacts everything and how to get out of it. That’s where I was. I was overweight, depressed, angry – you name it, that was me. It’s only looking back at it that I can see how bad things were. It’s only now when I’m a happier person that I can see how miserable I was. We need those highs and lows in life to make both stand out more clearly. Learning more about the world though was always in my heart. I saved every last cent, accumulated every reward point and mile I could, and jealously guarded vacation days so I could take a couple of trips a year. The Caribbean, Europe, Southeast Asia, I slowly but surely was visiting places I had always dreamed about seeing. But it wasn’t enough, not even close. Then I went to the Galapagos and my life changed forever.
I had won a contest and suddenly found myself on a luxury cruise around the Galapagos archipelago. It was astounding and reawakened something much more powerful than a love of travel, but a spirit of exploration. It’s a feeling I love more than anything else, and that trip forever changed me. Upon my return I joined Twitter and started following some early travel bloggers, still not fully understanding what a blogger was or did really. They were (and are) exciting to follow and subconsciously I began plotting my escape from a life not at all well lived. Eight years ago this week I took that important first step of launching my web site, of posting my first article and then just sitting there seeing what would happen. Not much did at first, but then as I wrote more and shared more, I found an audience. Or, better said, they found me. We began to experience life together, through all of its many ups and downs, we grew together and evolved. Six years ago I left that traditional job and dedicated myself to making this weird career work on a full time basis. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, but so far it’s worked out ok. It’s not all puppies and rainbows, but nothing in life is. What is important though is that I am finally, after decades of trying, living the life I was always meant to live. I’m fulfilling the wishes of that eight-year-old kid reading through Charlie Brown’s ‘Cyclopedia of the World, dreaming of visiting far off places and meeting strange and unusual people. Along the way I’ve learned a lot, I’ve become a better person and that, more than the travels themselves has been the most important change in my life.
Years ago I read a book by Michael Crichton called “Trips.” Totally unlike his other tomes, it’s a collection of short essays about pivotal times in his life. He isolated key moments when his life went on a different track or he made an important decision. It’s about his physical travels, but also his metaphysical ones. It’s a remarkable book and I encourage everyone to read it because I think it will inspire you just as it has me over the years. That’s what I want more than anything, I want to rise to my full potential and to be true to myself. I want to divine and follow the path I was meant to take and while I’m closer to achieving that, I’m not there yet. It’s a process though and I’m comfortable with how far I’ve gotten. That’s the great thing about life, we never know when those key turns will happen; we only know that they invariably do.