Final Thoughts

It’s now 10:00 pm, and early tomorrow morning I get on a plane for Mexico. Here are a few random thoughts before I become Steve, World Traveller:

I think I’m ready. The past few weeks have been very busy, but in a low-key kind of way. There’s been a surprisingly large amount of stuff to do, but lots of time in which to do it. Given that I’m new to this whole world-travel thing, I don’t think I tackled my to-do list in the most efficient way. Most of it is done, some of it is postponed until my return in December, and some of it will probably never see completion. Nonetheless, I’m pretty sure I’ve got all the important stuff down. Once again, so much of my attention has been focused on the here-and-now practicality of settling my affairs that my mind hasn’t had much of a chance to wander to the road ahead.

Despite being a rather staunch pragmatist, there’s still room in my personal philosophy for a bit of superstition. So, I took it as a great omen that last week, as I drove away from my apartment in Seattle, on my way to Kate’s parent’s house, National Public Radio’s The Splendid Table chose to do a feature on Mexican cuisine. My mind wandered as my tastebuds danced to dreams of mole sauces and spicy stews. Is it a bad omen that they chose to air that particular episode during a pledge drive?

Here’s what lies ahead: I’ve got a comfortable bed waiting for me tomorrow night in Mexico City, and a hotel reservation in Oaxaca with my good friend Ana for a few nights. Beyond that, the road is open. I’m eagerly anticipating the excitement (and fear) of getting on a random bus to an unknown town with a neat-sounding name; the thrill of standing on a wave; the joy of trying one delicious mole sauce after another. But mostly I have no idea what I’m about to experience, and that’s the whole reason I’m going in the first place.

Moving

It’s 10:40 pm. The movers arrive tomorrow morning at nine to pack my worldy possessions and move them to Vancouver. I have no idea if I’m ready. I don’t know how to know if I’m ready.

Yesterday and today are a vague haze of sorting, filtering, stacking and moving. Mostly, I’m sorting everything into two categories: keep, and discard. The discard pile is huge. I’ve already made two trips to Salvation Army, dropping off everything from fans to a computer printer to 13 grocery bags’ worth of clothing. Every time I think I’ve got everything figured out I open a new door (such as the one to the garage) and discover more stuff. Man I’ve got a lot of stuff — and I don’t even have that much. Discarding and donating so much is proving both difficult (having to part with my delicious collection of more than 25 mustards and vinegars, for example) and rewarding (finally getting rid of the world’s most annoying clock radio).

There’s something very gratifying about boiling down your possessions. What do I really need? It reminds me of my bicycle trip, where I reduced everything to the essentials that I could hang off my bike frame. I’m going through the same process again, only I’ll be carrying even less than I did four years ago. Granted, there’s more stuff going into storage this time around, but I’m not just keeping stuff because I have it — I’m keeping stuff because I want it.

I can’t decide if there’s some metaphorical comparison I can make relating my lack of readiness for the move and my lack of readiness for the trip in general. If anything, I’m less prepared for the trip than for the arrival of the movers tomorrow. Other than a destination (Mexico) and general timeframe (6 weeks), I’ve done no other planning. I’m expecting things to just kind of take care of themselves. I guess the same applies to the move — people will arrive and start packing up my stuff, and if there’s a problem then I’ll deal with it at the time.

Dealing with the mechanics of the departure has definitely taken my attention away from the trip itself. Kate and I could be departing to our separate destinations in a little more than a week or so (depending when we finally get our plane tickets), and neither of us has spent much time thinking about what’s going to happen when we get there. We’ve been kept very busy packing, moving, getting shots, seeing friends, and generally tying our Seattle lives into convenient little storable bundles.

Kate and I had lunch with Ben and Vija Williams (world travelers and former web-travelogue editors) last Saturday. They are recenty back from their own round-the-world journey and we spent a few hours talking and watching their travel videos. It was great to finally spend some time casting our eyes forward to what we’re going to experience. There is a reason we’re going through all this hassle — and it’s a very cool one.

The next time I write, it’ll be from my parent’s house in Vancouver. Now, I need to pack up the computer.

The To Do List

Kate and I are both knee-deep in to do lists. Changes of address, packing and moving, vaccinations, shopping, farewell dinners…

I want to take the next hour or so to create yet another to do list, but one with items that won’t get checked off until after we start traveling.

learn to surf
eat upscale sushi in Japan
watch soccer matches (ongoing)
climb Mt. Kilimanjaro
zorbing
watch sumo wrestling
learn to scuba dive
lie on the beach (ongoing)
go tramping in New Zealand
bungee jump (maybe)
climb Mt. Fuji
watch an Aussie Rules football match
watch a Sumo match
study yoga
take a class in classic French cooking
discuss the finer points of international beer with international friends
discuss the finer points of local beer with local friends
sleep in a castle
buy a bottle of tequila from the source
learn to make sushi
wear a sarong and feel like it’s the most natural thing in the world
eat a Kobe steak
ride horses in Mongolia
ride the chicken bus (with actual chickens present)
cruise through the Three Gorges
trek in Nepal
study Gong Fu with the Shaolin Monks
write a short story (ongoing)
visit (and perhaps climb) Ayers Rock/Ululu
study buddhism
buy a kilt
do volunteer work (ongoing)
hold a meaningful conversation in a foreign language
sleep in a hammock in a bamboo hut beneath palm trees on a white sand beach next to a deep blue lagoon (waterfall optional)
full moon rave, Thailand
ride the Moscow subway
visit a Turkish bathhouse
visit a Japanese bathhouse
read, read, read (ongoing)
barge through the canals of England
Mecca

This list will continue to grow as new ideas come up and items get checked off.

Picking A Date

The Date

On October 2, 2000, I will begin Part 3 of my life. On that day I will celebrate four years of employment at Microsoft by quitting my job and pouring all my energies into getting my butt onto the open road.

Parts One and Two

Perhaps I should explain what I mean by “Part 3”. Well, Part 1 encompassed the years from birth to the age of 24. Through those years I grew and learned and excelled and pretty much did normal things. Then, towards the end of those years, I began to feel a kind of itchy despair. I felt my life being wasted. So on March 20, 1996 I began to keep a journal and opened it with these words: Welcome to part 2 of my life. I hereby swear that part 2 will be more exciting than part 1.Those words kicked off a wonderful summer of self-discovery that culminated in my Amazing Bike Trip down the Pacific Coast.

Part 2 of my life has continued to be a time of remarkable learning and growth, but over the past few years I have begun to grow comfortable — uncomfortably comfortable, one might say. In the spring I started thinking that the time was right for me to move on and see my dreams to fruition. In August, a week after returning from Mt Rainier, I told my boss that I’d be leaving in October.

A Change

In my second entry in this Going Global journal, I wrote about how important it was to me to travel alone. I wrote about wanting “to travel without the security blanket of a partner.” Despite those words, I’ve decided that the majority of my upcoming travels will be accompanied. I still think solo travel is important, though, and I’ll be spending some time at the beginning alone, in a kind of retreat, to learn some things about myself and how I like to travel. Then, I will hook up with Kate and we will travel together.

The decision to travel with or without Kate was a tortuous one. She and I have a special relationship like none I’ve experienced, but my travel intentions have loomed over us like an executioners axe. In June I changed my mind.

To me, travelling is about growth. As I wrote in March, “I expect to feel lonely, ostracized, scared, overwhelmed… and I want to learn because of it.” Eventually, though, I came to realize that instead of growing and changing independently, Kate and I could grow and change together. Travel with Kate could be just as fulfilling, and (importantly for me) just as challenging, as travel without her.

The Plan

We have a plan. It is a vague one right now, just fingers pointing ambiguously at vast swathes of a spinning globe, but it’s a start:

Phase 1, Late October to Mid December 2000: Mexico

I have one stated goal for this trip: to learn how to surf. Along the way I hope to solidify my Spanish, do a lot of writing, and just kind of figure some things out. I’ll be travelling by bus throughout the country, following my whim, the wind, and the waves. During this time, Kate will be travelling in New Zealand.

Phase 2, January 2001 to June 2001: New Zealand, Australia, and Southeast Asia

The adventure will continue after Christmas when I hook up with Kate in New Zealand. We’ll travel thoughout that country then head north through Australia into Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam, the Phillipines… we’ll return in June to attend the graduations of Kate’s brothers.

Phase 3, July 2001 to November 2001: Asia

In July we’ll hoist our bags again and hop over the ocean to Japan. We’ll climb Mt. Fuji, east some sushi, and somehow make our way across the Sea of Japan to Russia. From there, we’ll take the train into Mongolia where we’ll spend some time riding horses and singing. From there, it is south into China. I’d like to visit the Three Gorges area before it is flooded and lost forever. Tibet is a classic destination for any world traveler’s list. I’m expecting, though, that the whole country will be fascinating and the cuisine alone will keep me enthralled for months. In November, we’ll return to North America to attend a cousin’s wedding.

Phase 4, January 2002 to December 2002: Everything Else (except the Americas)

Phase 4 will begin in Africa, where we’ll do some overland travelling and climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. We’ll head north through Egypt, then across Saudi Arabia to the Indian Subcontinent. We’ll visit the important tea centers of India, then head northeast into the Himalayas for some trekking. From there, it’s back west and then north through all the ‘Stans to make our second visit to Russia. Finally, we’ll push our way west through Eastern Europe, into Western Europe, and probably end things off in Ireland. Please keep in mind that just about everything is incredibly vague at this point. But there’s more!

Phase 5, 2003: The Americas

Kate and I will buy some motorcycles (or perhaps a big SUV) and drive ourselves south from Vancouver (or maybe Alaska!) to the other end of the world at Tierra del Fuego. There, we’ll hop on a boat and visit Antarctica, completing our tour of all the earth’s continents.

Phase 6, Some time in 2004, maybe: Canada

To cap what (at the moment) will appear to be four years of near-continuous travel, I’ll fulfill yet another dream and ride my bicycle from one coast of Canada to the other. And then, in some sense of the word, I’ll be done.

Six Questions

I have been planning The Trip for so long it has achieved mythic proportions in my imagination. It is both escape and anchor, inspiring great cubicle daydreams and capping the potential of the present. It looms in my future like a great peak. I sit in the shadow, and peer up at the top, and dream of the summit to come.

I apologize for the melodrama. The essence of what I’ve written above holds true, though: The Trip is an abstract force that shapes my reality in the here and now, months or even years before the (as yet unknown) departure date. Fortunately, I do have some concrete ideas about what I want The Trip to become:

Who

I’m going travelling by myself. I’m a rather solitary person to begin with, and I have some very abstract personal growth planned for my voyage. I want to exploit and suffer through the consequences of solitary travel. Personal freedom is one factor, of course — the ability to see the world in the way I want to see it. But I also want this trip to be a challenge, and I want to travel without the security blanket of a partner. I expect to feel lonely, ostracized, scared, overwhelmed… and I want to learn because of it.

There’s another way to form the “who” question: who do I want to meet? I don’t have quite as firm an answer for this one. I want to meet everyone, I suppose. I learned an amazing amount from the people I met just in the last week of my Amazing Bike Trip. I learned the value ofdifferences, and I learned to let go of the prejudices that, in the past, had kept me from meeting some very interesting people. As I wrote in The Traveler’s Life: Waikiki: it’s the people you meet, the strangers who call you friend, that make the travel experience worthwhile.

Where

My ideas about where have evolved over the past few years, but one item has remained constant: I want to start in New Zealand. I really have no firm idea why, but I do have a few guesses. First, it’s about as geographically distant from home as I can possibly get. Second, I imagine that it’s a good place to get my travelling feet wet — language and culture are easily understood, and the more exotic locales of southeast Asia are relatively close. Last, but not least, I hear New Zealand is a beautiful place to visit.

As I said, the rest of my destination list is a little fuzzy. Several years ago, I had absolutely no desire to visit Asia. It was at the bottom of my list, just below Africa, and South America was my prime destination. Now, it seems like everywhere is on the top of my list. My travel ideas aren’t so much centered around destinations, but experiences — I want to trek through these mountains, visit these temples, shop in these markets, eat in these restaurants. I want to experience the highlights of the earth and her people, wherever they are.

When

That, my friends, is the big question. It’s one to which several people at work would love to have an answer. My manager knows about this trip, as does my manager’s manager’s manager. They, like me, have no idea when I’m going to go, and they’re probably much more eager to know. About all I can say right now is that I’m commited to stay in Seattle until August, 2000, when I climb Mt. Rainier. I’ll most likely stay longer for financial reasons.

This seems like a good place to talk about some other timing-related questions that are on my mind. Like: how long do I plan to travel for? Or: what about Christmas?

The first question gets answered with another all-encompassing vagary — I’ll come home when I’m done travelling. I expect to travel for at least a year.

The second question requires more responsible attention and comes with no attendant answers. My family, for generations, has held onto the importance of strong Christmas traditions. To spend Christmas away from family is easily the most foreign notion I’ve encountered in all my pre-trip pondering. On the other hand, I’ve romanticized the idea of a long, unbroken stretch of traveling — and the longer, the better.

What

…do I want to do? I want learn how to surf. I want to hike to Mt. Everest’s base camp. I want to eat curry and pho and couscous and pheasant. I want to meditate. I want to watch cricket, soccer, and sumo wrestling. I want to meet people who will change my life. I want to change the lives of people I meet. I want to learn about the world.

Why

I’m tempted to write this question off to human nature. Most people, if presented with the means to travel anywhere, for any length of time, would unhesitatingly sign on. That’s just the way we humans are. But I can come up with more personal motivations — skepticism about my cultural perspective, for example, or a desire for a deeper life experience. Most important, perhaps, is that I yearn for raw, first-hand knowledge about how the world really is.

How

I believe in developing a style of travel — a set of rules, customs, ideas and opinions about how to bring about the best travel experience for me. I don’t have much in the way of preconceptions about what my travel style is — except that it’s in development, and probably always will be.

Although I hope to have the means to travel in style, I don’t plan to. I imagine the best (i.e., easiest) places to meet people will be the cheap hostels that all travelers like to call home. I’m not particularly demanding about luxury accomodations, so I’d rather save my dollars for the unique (and occasionally expensive) offerings of my current locale.

I plan to travel slow. I envision spending a weeks in places, letting the culture sink in. I don’t want to just get to know a country — I want to know a city, a neighbourhood, a street corner. I want to sink down into the reality below the veneer that’s presented for easy consumption.

I hope to document as much of my traveling as possible. I’ll keep a personal journal, definitely. I’ll probably maintain an online version as well, although how often I’d update it isn’t clear. I’d love to travel with a laptop but worrying about its security could hinder my enjoyment. I do believe very strongly in this: to travel, and to not share what you’ve experienced, is an ultimately futile endeavour.

Manifesto

One day, perhaps in the not too distant future, I plan to go travelling for a long, long, time. I want to see every inch of the great multicoloured globe. I’ve made no specific plans, yet, and this website records just my thoughts and dreams about voyages still to come. One day, it should prove interesting to see what reality is born of the naivete and intuition recorded here.