Ladies and gentlemen, the day has finally arrived. Exactly one year ago today, I left my entire life behind - my job, my home, my family, and my friends - to embarked on a trip across the world with nothing more than a backpack. Over the last 365 days I've traveled through 62 different cities in 20 different countries from Portugal to India - and I’ve done it all with a single 40-liter backpack! For the last 12 months, I’ve worn the same pair of pants, four shirts, eight socks, five pairs of underwear, and one pair of shoes (which have been resoled four times now) and I’ve never been happier to have so little in my life. It’s astonishing even to me that I’ve been on the road for this long. When I was planning this trip back in New York the idea of traveling for over a year seemed absurd – yet here I am!
It’s rather comical to look through old pictures, I’m wearing the same outfit in nearly all of them; I look like a freaking cartoon character!
Like I’ve done countless times before, today I sit on a restaurant patio on Calangute Beach in Goa looking out over the tranquil Arabian Sea as the sun sets off in the distance. In a country where I’ve been perpetually sweating since the moment I arrived, the alluring salty breeze is a welcome relief and the soothing trance music playing overhead makes for a wonderfully relaxing experience. Along the beach the last remaining seaside restaurants/huts are being deconstructed as the town slowly shuts down after another long tourist season. At the shoreline the last vacationers of the year frolic around in the water without a care in the world. Regardless of their age, everyone on the beach seems to react to the waves with the same level of childlike wonder and amusement. Since few Indians here know how to swim, the lifeguards have corralled everyone into a narrow strip of shoreline and spend their day chasing down swimmers who venture too far from land. Leaning back in my chair I gaze upon the scattered remnants of my lunch and an enormous bottle of Kingfisher beer before me. Never in my life did I imagine I could enjoy a delicious seafood meal and beer on the beach for under $12!
Only in India.
Slowly the resplendent orange-red aura dissipates as the sun falls below the horizon and I look up to see a luminous, porcelain-white crescent floating in the cool blue sky above. For the last year, the moon has been my proverbial “rock” so to speak and, lame puns aside, regardless of where I travel it's a calming reminder of home. Back in the Texas I never paid any attention to the moon and in NYC I rarely ever saw it through the towering skyscrapers, but now it's taken on a new significance in my life. While I love the novelty of travel, for the past year my surroundings have perpetually changed and I've come to appreciate even the faintest reminders of my old, familiar life. This small celestial body is the same rock I remember seeing back home and it is comforting to think that every night when it sets on my end of the world, my family and friends might be looking at it on the other side.
Funny, how now the only familiar thing in my life is a giant rock orbiting 238,900 miles away.
How my life has changed...
It feels like just yesterday that I was sitting on a rooftop in Istanbul writing about my six-month anniversary. I am constantly amazed by how quickly time passes and while the last 12 months have absolutely flown by, looking back I can remember more of this past year than any other one before it. Since I began this trip, every single day is distinctly unique and contains a special story that I’ll never forget. When I worked in New York, I remember tuning out entire weeks of my life as I drifted on autopilot simply waiting for the weekend. Back then, every day was exactly the same and not only did they blend together, but the monotony of the workweek was hardly worth even remembering. Thankfully this last year was infinitely more vivid, colorful, and entertaining, but what I love most of all is that I feel I'm actually living. For the first time in my life I'm not chasing some expectation of where people think I should be in life - I have no house, no car, no job, no serious relationship, and no semblance of a stable life. Personally I couldn’t care less, I’ve got a passport full of stamps and just off the top of my head this year I:
Island hopped in (and fell in love with) Croatia
Visited the Hagia Sofia and prayed in the Blue Mosque
Spent Christmas Day in the town of Bethlehem
Hiked through the ancient ruins of Petra
Visited the top of the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world.
Swam in the Dead Sea
Visited the Taj Mahal
Swam in the Ganges River
Attended a Indian wedding
Meditated under the Bodhi tree where Buddha attained his enlightenment
Watched a cremation in Varanasi
(I promise I'll eventually get around to posting on all of these things.)
Looking back, I naively thought I could venture all the way from Portugal to Japan in just a year - I should have known such an endeavor was impossible. There’s just so much to see and everything is so incredibly different from the culture and life I’m familiar with back in the US. After nearly constant travel for the last 12 months, I’m just barely about to finish my trip through India and I’ve yet to even step foot into Southeast Asia! It seems the more I see of this great world the more I realize how little about it I really know and how truly insignificant I am in the greater scheme of things. If anything, this entire trip has shown me just how ignorant about the world I am, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I've spent so much time lost, confused, or otherwise completely out of my element that it’s become the norm for me, but I’ve learned more in the last twelve months than in the last few years of my life.
“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” - Gustave Flaubert
Before I started my trip many people asked if I was traveling to “find" something. After the popularity of the infamous movie Eat. Pray. Love. (which I’ve come to loath) people believe that the only reason someone takes a trip like mine is to “find themselves.” People have frequently asked me if I’ve "found" what I’m looking for on this trip, but my answer is always a bit of a disappointment. My goal for this trip was never to find myself (or anything else for that matter), it was not to discover the meaning of life nor make my friends jealous back home or run away from the responsibilities of the “real world.” And even after all the meditation classes I’ve taken here in India, I have no intention of ever reaching enlightenment. It may shock some of you, but the entire point of this trip was simply to change my life in a dramatic way and see what happens - I accomplished that goal even before I left New York! At the end of the day, I only want travel for the sake of traveling, whatever else happens is just icing on the cake.
I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move.” - Robert Louis Stevenson
With that said however, I have gained a much better understanding on some of life’s big questions through my travels, but I was never (nor am I currently) on a quest to find anything. With regard to this whole “find yourself” thing, I come to fundamentally understand that there is really no “self” to find (shocking, I know). From the moment I arrived in Faro, Portugal, my surroundings have been in constant flux, changing quickly from week-to-week and even sometimes day-to-day. Thanks to the whirlwind of change in the external world around me, I could easily identify how my upbringing, culture, personality, education, etc. influenced how I interacted with the world. For a time, it seemed like there was a fixed version of “me,” but the more I travel the more I realized that my surroundings and experiences are constantly changing who I am every second of the day. I remember feeling like a different person when I returned from my exchange program in Milan back in college, but the reality is that you can’t “find yourself” because you are constantly changing - there's no fixed "self" to find. Instead of looking for who you are or who you are suppose to be - just be! It’s as simple as that.
“Wherever you are - be all there." - Jim Eliot
Back in Goa, I sit on my flimsy little plastic chair, cold beer in hand, savoring the stunning beach before me. The sun has long since set, but the stars and moon still hang in the endless sky just above the crashing waves. The restaurant is nearly empty now, but the amicable staff continues to offer me snacks and beers as I hog their table for hours at a time - nobody in Goa is ever in a rush to do anything. Over the speakers plays an infectious little tune called On The Hill while I sit lost in thought on this cool evening. Out of seemingly nowhere, a great smile unexpectedly comes over me and I restrain the sudden urge to tear up in the middle of the restaurant. If there's one thing I’ve truly come to understand this year abroad, it's gratitude.
I worked hard and spend two years saving/planning for this trip, but I might never have even had the opportunity to do all this if it wasn’t born in the US to parents who pushed me to excel in school, focus on sports, and taught me the determination to stick with a goal. Even then, my parent’s success is the result of my grandparents’ hard work that afforded them (and indirectly me) a better quality of life. I’m grateful for the support of my family on this absurd trip across the world, and to my brother Eric who I always know I can pick up the phone and talk to as if we are back home in Texas. I’m grateful to my alma mater for giving me the chance to study abroad in Milan and to my cousin Carlos who basically bankrolled the semester for me - it will forever be one of the most significant events of my life. I'm grateful to my friends Andrei and Sweta for introducing me hostels and showing what it means to travel as a backpacker. I’m grateful for my fiercely independent and driven friends who place a great emphasis on the value of travel. I’m even grateful to my old company; while I bad mouth them from time to time, it is because of them I got to live NYC, pay off my student loans, save for this trip, and see the in's and out's of the working world. I'm grateful to the dozens and dozens of the wonderful, generous people I’ve met while on the road that have shaped my perspective on life; without them this trip would be a very different experience. Lastly, I’m grateful to every person who’s messaged me say how much they like the blog; has donated through my site; has liked, commented, or read any of my posts; or even just looked to me for travel advice.
I’m here today because of you all, and not a day goes by that I don’t remember that.
While I have no idea what tomorrow will bring, I know this last year I’ve lived as much as I possibly could and I don’t have a single, solitary regret. If I could, I’d do the whole thing over again in a heartbeat. While you may not be as passionate about travel as I am, I can tell you that there is no greater joy than doing exactly what you want to do in life. It is worth everything you sacrifice to achieve it and I urge you wholeheartedly to go after it – whatever it may be. There is a quote by the American philosopher William James I love that goes, “To change one’s life: Start immediately. Do it flamboyantly. No exceptions.” I speak from personal experience when I say this is definitely the way to go in life. I’m beyond grateful to spend such a large part of my life traveling and I can’t believe it’s already been a year since I left home.
Here’s to the nomadic life, and the many adventures to come!