Ten years ago today, at 10:10PM, I boarded United Airlines Flight 839 to Sydney, Australia. It was a 1-way ticket. I had a vague plan of traveling around the world. More than that, I needed to get out. I needed to change my life. It was scary and it was exciting and I had no idea what would happen. No idea if I’d be able to do it. Within weeks I realized it was the right decision. Looking back, with the wisdom afforded by time, it was the smartest decision I’ve ever made. In every way my life is better than it was at the start of 2014. I’ve stood in places I’d only ever seen in photos. I’ve met remarkable and wonderful people and been lucky enough to call many of them friends. I’ve had adventures I’ll remember forever. And two weeks from now, after all of that, the culmination of another dream: my first travel book will be in stores all over the world.
This kind of navel-gazy, self-indulgent post isn’t the kind of thing I normally write. That’s probably why I’m putting it here, on my blog, rather than somewhere I’d actually get paid for it. It felt weird not to say something about this anniversary, though. Ten years is a long time. I feel like I just started traveling, yet I’ve been doing it longer than so many other milestones in my life. College was 4 years, my first job, so influential for both who I am and what I do, was only 7 years. Granted, there was certainly a ~2 year gap in that decade for the Global Unpleasantness, but still.
Travel has changed my outlook in countless ways. I’m more empathetic than I was, I think. I am certainly much more aware of the privileges awarded to me by how I look, how I was raised, and where. While that topic is certainly worthy of an essay or a billion, that’s not the heaviness I want to talk about here. What I want to talk about is something perhaps related, or perhaps more abstract: perspective.
Life’s time zones
My parents love to travel, and I was lucky enough to go with them when I was a kid. First were road trips, then when I was older, elsewhere in the US, Canada and eventually England. When I could afford to on my own, I’d spend a vacation somewhere whenever I could. It was always for the corporate-prescribed 2 weeks. Despite all that, the world still seemed like such a massive place. Everything was so far away.
When I first left for Australia, it seemed so distant. From the dead of winter I was going to the height of summer. A full 19 hours ahead, I’d leave Wednesday night and arrive Thursday morning. The daunting task of then going from that faraway land to someplace even farther, seemed inconceivable.
For various reasons, I didn’t end up going farther than Asia on that trip. I’d begun planning the next stages and realized what I really wanted was to rejoin my new friends in Australia. That, too, turned out to be a great decision.
In the years since I’ve done a full circumnavigation 4 times, traveling for several months. None of those times seemed as far as that first flight to Australia nor as endless as those first few months of that trip. Two things changed in my perspective between then and now. The first was the matter of time. It was a huge mental change being able to break out of the “2-week vacation” mindset battered into the heads of most Americans. I remember being on the phone with a friend when I first told her of my plans to visit Australia. It was for 2 weeks. She replied, “Why just 2 weeks? Why not a month?” The thought had literally never occurred to me. It was like finding a new door in your house and revealing you had a huge backyard this whole time. Why not go for a month. Or more? I was, and largely still am, lucky enough to have a job I can do from anywhere. I travel a lot not because I have tons of money. I travel a lot because I have tons of time. Being able to take advantage of that time is by far my biggest luxury.
It’s a small world, after all?
The other shift in perspective started later, and I’m not sure when. The world just seems smaller to me now. Not in a bad way. Again, just as a matter of perspective. Before my big travels, places seemed very distant. I imagine this is how many people feel. If someone has never left their town, state, country, things can seem very far away. This isn’t a criticism. I can certainly understand it. It’s just a way that my perspective has changed over the years. Distances don’t register in my head like they used to. I’m lucky enough to have friends all over the world. They don’t feel any farther away than friends who live in Los Angeles, other than the need to figure out if it’s the middle of the night when I send them a message.
I think this perspective started to emerge in 2016. During my first year of big travel everything was still glorious madness. Every moment an adventure. Even so, I still planned trips to a degree I find amusingly restrictive now. In 2015, that started to loosen a bit, and by the summer of 2016, the world had definitely, irrevocably, shrunk. Everything was in my backyard. Road trip through Croatia and Slovenia? Sure! Stop in Bosnia and Herzegovina because an Instagram post looked cool? Yep! Fly to Dublin to surprise my mom on vacation? Definitely. Birthday in Japan? Why not? Careful budgeting and copious use of frequent miles can do wonders. Hmmm, I should write a book about that.
The decade ahead
It’s natural to be introspective at the start of a year. No one knows what the future holds. During my heaviest years of travel, at the beginning of the year I at least had a general idea about where I’d head and when, even if it was just a continent and a rough window when I’d leave. That’s harder to do now. In 2019 I’d almost completely transitioned to travel writing. That all went away in 2020, obviously, and I was lucky enough to devolve back to my former tech-reviewing self. Now my work is more of a hybrid of both. I still have time to travel, but not in the same way. I can’t leave for months at a time anymore. More, but shorter, trips are the norm now. That’s not a complaint, perhaps just a lament, because I can still make it work.
Maybe things will stay the same. Maybe they’ll change. Who knows? I’d like to continue this as long as I can. It might be a small world, but there’s still a lot to explore, and only so much time to do it.
Thanks for joining me on my adventures. See you out there.