David Byrne was 28 when he recorded “Once in a Lifetime.” 28 seems like a lifetime ago. I guess it was. A lot has happened in the last 12 years. My friends from then are married, some now divorced, most have kids. I made new friends, lost touch with others. I guess that’s the story of life. Maybe the story of my life is told in song lyrics. My high school yearbook quote was “what a long, strange trip it’s been.” That really was a lifetime ago, but I was oddly prescient.
Today is the 5-year anniversary of my Grand Experiment. I had bought a one-way ticket to Australia, to see about a girl, but more than that, to see about life. Computer screens and adjustable chairs, air conditioning and fast food, my life had stagnated. Often I’d wonder, if something happened, how many days would it be before someone found my body. When day-to-day the only people I spoke to were those who served me food, the answer was: many.
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5 years ago today I got on a plane with a one-way ticket to Australia. It was the best decision I’ve made in my life, even if it didn’t go exactly as planned. The beginning of what I’ve been calling my Grand Adventure. Since then I’ve visited dozens of countries all over the world, met amazing people, and had a lifetime’s worth of adventures. Here’s to another 5 years and more.
It was, and is, the best decision I’ve ever made. A high-speed off-ramp in the inevitable sad course of my life. It didn’t go the way I’d wanted at the time, but it turned out the way I needed.
I can’t believe that was 5 years ago. Time compresses as you age. That seems like the day before yesterday. Yesterday, though, I was lying in a hospital bed. Wait, no, that was 2017. Doped up on dilaudid and feeling every bit like someone had scooped out my insides for a looksee, I had the introspection anyone would in that moment. High as fuck and fading in and out of consciousness, I had a serious talk with myself.
“Geoff,” I said.
“This dilaudid is legit. Absolute magical shit.”
“Yes, Geoff, but that’s not the point.”
“Purple is a funny word.”
“Tastes like cinnamon.”
“Dude, come on.”
“This could have been it.”
I realized three things lying on a drip in that bed. The first is obvious, that life is a fluke and one moment you could be eating a cookie, the next you’re getting cut from stem to sternum as surgeons frantically try to stop your artery from detonating. YOLO!
The second thing I’ve talked about before, and it’s the satisfying answer most people like to hear. That I looked at what I was doing with my life, and thought, yeah, let’s keep doing that. You see, I’d had my crisis of existence in 2013. My offramp had taken me through Australia, and then on to the world. There were ups and downs, but mostly ups, fewer downs, and I’m far happier today than I was then. Happiness is not a choice. Fuck that insidious bullshit. Happiness is a journey. You need to figure out how to be as happy as possible, as much as possible. If that means medication, so be it. If that means exercise or travel or puppies, go for it. If you’re not hurting others or yourself in the long run, fucking do it. You’re the only one who can figure that out.
The third thing I realized, or at least thought about more, I haven’t talked about. It’s not great but it does tie this all together. You see, I drove myself to the hospital. My life, like everyone’s, is a series of decisions. The decisions I’ve made, starting with the one to move to LA, have resulted in me having the pieces of an externally-amazing life. The house, the shiny cars, the months of travel. It’s a life that seems to instill Facebook jealousy and Instagram envy. But it is also a solitary one. When it came down to that moment on the cliff over the abyss, I was alone.
Except… I’m not. I did drive myself to the hospital, but only because my friend and roommate had gone out that night. The following days were filled with visitors of friends and family. Messages from all over the world flooded in and made me feel more loved than I could have imagined. My LA friends are my family, and I talk to my parents all the time and see them several times a year. I talk to my best friend so often that the physical distance between us is irrelevant. I don’t have the traditional family, of the wife and 1.9 kids, but so be it. That’s not the path my life took.
My sister-from-another-mister Lauren has an oft-repeated joke: In everything, Geoff is the exception. I like it, and as often as not, it’s true. I have a truly peculiar life. It’s unlike anything I would have imagined, and unlike anyone else’s I’ve met. It’s not perfect, but for the first time I can truly say…
I love it.
50 down, 150+ to go
Last year I explored my 50th country. I doubt I’ll see them all. This isn’t pessimism, it’s just not how I travel. I’m not travelling to tick boxes off a list (though I do love ticking boxes on lists). While in Japan last summer I had a deep conversation with Lauren, via Messenger across an ocean, as one does.
I think she was trying to figure out, or perhaps help me figure out, why I spent so much time travelling. The TV show answer is that I was running from something, but that’s not it. I suppose an argument could be made that instead I was looking for something. Or at least, I was.
I think the reality is less dramatic. I’m content at home, I’m content on the road. I have good days at home, and good days on the road. But I think I have more great days on the road. So why not do that? Her questions got me thinking, though, as I’m sure she intended. What did I get out of so much travel?
The truth, as best I could figure it, is rather simple, but also rather odd. I’m searching for what life could be. I want to sit in that magical place where the food is always good, your friends are always around, and tomorrow is the beginning of a new adventure. More than anything else, I think this explains why I travel, and even where.
This magical place, of course, doesn’t exist outside the ends of comedies and the beginning of tragedies. However, I can explore pieces of it. I can spend a few days or a week with a friend in their city, eat, drink, and be merry, and leave before we’re all bored. I can do that again in a different city, and then I can meet new friends in a new city and do it all over again. All the while, talk every day with my friends back home. Then after a few months on the road, I head home and spend time with my amazing friends there. Pieces of greatness to add up to a greater whole. Maybe I just wanna see some palm trees.
I suppose the argument could be made that this isn’t particularly healthy. PG-13 hedonism. A Disneyfied version of life. Except… why not? I’m more successful in my job now than I was when I first started, I have more friends, more good days, far more great days, and far fewer bad days than I ever have. It is, I’ll grant you, a pretty bizarre life. But as far as I can tell, it’s working. I’m not diminishing my long term for the short term. The reality is, I have stronger relationships and friendships now than I did 5 years ago.
Maybe in 5 years I’ll have a different answer. Maybe I would be more content with the wife, kids, and picket fence. I have no idea. I think the only reason I’m curious about that is it seems it’s what everyone else does, despite a lot of people really hating it. That’s not a judgement, just an observation. I see that life like I imagine someone who thinks they might be allergic to shellfish sees oysters. Could those be a satisfying treat, or anaphylactic shock. We may never know…
I certainly have no idea if my life would work for anyone else. I’m not advertising it as such either. I cringe whenever someone says, I assume as some sort of compliment, they “want my life.” No, I don’t think you do. You want parts of my life, just as I want parts of yours.
Because no one has it all. That’s a myth. Everyone has pieces of the magical place. At least, I hope you do. That’s as much as I’ve figured out in my 40 years and 50 countries. You have to figure out what works for you. If you’re not happy, figure out how to get happy, whatever that means to you. Or to be more specific, do whatever you can to be as happy as possible, as much as possible. This crazy Grand Adventure worked for me. I hope you can find what works for you, if you haven’t already.
And wherever that adventure leads you, I hope we can meet up along the way.