Originally from: Connecticut, USA
On the road since: June 13, 2015
Returning home: May 11, 2016
Alex and I volunteered together in Bali back in October of 2015. She arrived just before I was leaving, so our time together was short, but we still bonded quickly. In the short time she’d been at the school she managed to paint a beautiful mural in the courtyard and win over the hearts of the kids (and other volunteers).
On my last day seeing her, I was having a rough day. She listened to what I was going through, helped solve the problem, and then she gave me the warmest hug that I won’t forget.
1) Your initial journey was only meant to be for 2 months in Australia and New Zealand, and instead turned into a year-long journey to multiple continents. Was taking a longer journey the right decision?
I initially planned to travel for about 10 weeks, and I remember stressing about whether to buy a return ticket for my journey or to buy a one way. In the end I bought a return ticket to Australia.
At 27 I thought I was "too old" to leave my travels open ended. I guess I thought that a return ticket would give some structure to my plans and help guide me back home. At the time, I felt a lot of pressure to get cracking on things that all of my friends seemed to be doing - steady jobs, new families, home purchases, etc. And don't get me wrong, I do want these things for myself in my own way and as life presents them to me, but now I know not to force it. Anyways, it's a good example of true irony.
Shortly after I began traveling, it became clear to me that I needed to extend my travels, so I lost that ticket and several hundred dollars. The short term loss was worth the long-term gain, and I knew it would be. It was one of the best decisions I've ever made.
What changed your mind and made you extend your travels while you were in Australia?
In short, Alchemist-style (I highly recommend Paulo Coelho's book, "The Alchemist"), one experience led to another. In particular, I met Marcin, a traveler from Poland who became a close friend and indirectly inspired me to extend my travel. He had hitchhiked all the way from Poland down through Southeast Asia and then made his way to Australia and New Zealand. Marcin was accustomed to traveling in a much rougher way than I was travelling at the time - very low budget, lots of camping and hitchhiking.
Meeting Marcin influenced me a lot in a positive way - I felt that I was missing a more "rough and tumble, down and dirty" traveling experience, and I asked Marcin if he would consider traveling with me for a short while. I wanted to experience travel in the way that he did, and somehow I knew that there was a lot that I would learn from this man. Marcin was experienced, wise, intelligent, and open-minded. When he agreed to effectively take me under his wing and travel together, I knew that taking a longer journey was the only decision for me. It was natural.
In reality, we’ve spent so few hours together in person, yet I feel like I know you quite well! Why do you think travel seems to have that effect of quick bonding?
A few important lessons I've learned in the past year will help me answer this question.
1) Your vibe attracts your tribe
2) Quality, not quantity (this applies to time spent with someone)
3) Go with how you feel, even if logic can't explain it.
Anyways, to tie those thoughts together - I've certainly met some people while traveling that I feel a close and immediate bond with (like you). I think travel brings like-minded, open-minded people together which helps foster interpersonal bonds, though I'm not convinced that travel alone causes this. I think in life it's entirely possible/probable to meet people with whom you just instantly and spontaneously connect, and it's important to be open to this kind of chemistry - it's special!
I remember you had a rough morning when we stayed in Ubud on a weekend trip. You were having a hard time hearing from people back home and said that it felt like you were trapped outside the door to your old life, and no one was answering anymore when you were knocking. That stuck with me. Can you describe that feeling in more detail?
It's interesting you mention this - I remember this morning quite well myself. At the time, I felt acutely aware that what I was doing -- traveling open-ended, often shooting from the hip - was much more different than what many of my friends and family back home were doing with their lives.
I was used to having more contact with these people I care about, and I guess I just felt disconnected. In some ways, I suppose I was experiencing a "fear of missing out". However, in the following months, I thought back to this morning - eventually this feeling melted away entirely and melded into a more natural "go with the flow" vibe, for lack of a better word. I let go of my need for validation and forced connection with others, and felt/feel at ease letting things happen as they unfold organically. Sometimes I talk with someone a lot; sometimes we fall out of touch. Either way, it's ok.
You completed a Vipassana retreat in Malaysia. Can you explain what that is and what it was like?
Vipassana is a 10-day intensive meditation course that helps you learn how to handle life's ups and downs in a more balanced way. It is a sensation-based meditation practice that emphasizes the impermanence of everything in life, and helps you to experience life in real-time (rather than the future or the past). I explain it in more detail in my blog, and there is great, straight-forward information online at dhamma.org, but it was one of the most rewarding and challenging experiences I've had, and I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested.
What’s been the toughest moment you had on the road, and how did you grow from it?
The toughest moment(s) for me have actually often been self-created. Where there was no problem, I found myself unconsciously making a problem - something to needlessly worry about. This could be something "big" or something "small" - insert anything. When I was in Vipassana, I was silent and isolated for 10 days, so I could sit and worry as much as I wanted, but (of course) it didn't change a single thing. In Vipassana, it was easier for me to see my stress from a distance and notice just how useless and futile my worries are! I learned a lot from this experience and use it as reference now - when I see myself headed towards worry, I remind myself to focus on whatever I am Doing Now. Besides, whatever I'm worrying about is impermanent anyway.
Can you share a specific moment or experience that you've had when you were completely overwhelmed with joy?
Actually, a lot of this journey for me has been about rediscovering Joy. And I didn't know that I'd actually lost sight of Joy until I felt it again for the first time in a long time.
This was a wacky and powerful experience - I was in New Zealand, staying with a family on their small farm and winery. I was pruning vines 4 or 5 hours a day as a volunteer working for food and accommodation. Nothing special - repetitive, mindless work. But every day, I was surrounded by the lush, green rolling hills dotted with sheep and cows, and the fresh wind in my face and hair, and the brilliant stars at night. All of this natural beauty and time to enjoy peace and quiet for myself must have done me some serious good, because I just remember having this ... feeling. And I knew what it was, because I'd felt it before. Except I hadn't felt it for a long time - I knew this vaguely familiar feeling from nearly 10 years ago, back when I was 17. And I knew exactly what it was, like when you smell something familiar and everything associated with that smell comes rushing back to you. It was Joy.
You’ve surfed on peoples’ couches more than a few times now. Why choose that over a hotel?
Hostels and hotels can be great, especially for meeting other groups of travelers and socializing - I've met amazing people in hostels! Not to mention creative ideas, spaces and book exchanges. However, after 5+ months of backpacking through Southeast Asia, I was growing tired and itched for a change of pace. I missed having a little more space to myself, something a little quieter, a little more intimate, a little more like "home." I've really enjoyed meeting people through Couchsurfing because it's social without being a constant, higher energy crowd. That quality one-on-one time can be refreshing and a good way to get to know a new place. Plus, I’m happy to entertain myself, so I don't really rely on the company of a host, though I always enjoy good company. For me, it's been win-win.
What would you tell other people in their twenties who think about travel but are afraid of the challenges?
Trust yourself, and take it one day at a time. If you want to travel, listen to that instinct and follow it - don't give energy to the "what ifs." If travel has taught me one thing, it is that life may not always give us what we think we want, but it does have a way of giving us what we need. Go for it and everything will fall into place.
How does all this travel ‘end’ for you?
This travel is just the beginning :) ■